Tag Archives: UK

A Response to Theresa May’s Mansion House Speech

2 Mar

Once again, Theresa May has fulfilled expectations.  She has made a key speech that is, as usual, rhetoric over substance; a chimera of false hope over actuality.

Mrs May, your five tests for Brexit are nothing more than a mix of misdirection and mirage, playing to the gallery and hoping we’d be fooled.  Let’s look at what you said.

“First, the agreement we reach with the EU must respect the result of the referendum.

The referendum has divided Great Britain like nothing else since the War of the Three Kingdoms, and like that particular fracture, it is England once again bullying the other British nations (albeit not by military force) by exploiting a slim majority in what was a non-binding, advisory vote.

It was a vote to take control of our borders, laws and money.”

It was nothing of the sort.  We already had control over all three of those areas.

It was a vote for more money for the NHS; a vote for xenophobia; a vote for nostalgia for an imaginary UK that never existed; a vote based on numerous lies, inter alia about sovereignty, immigration and funding for the NHS.

“And a vote for wider change, so that no community in Britain would ever be left behind again. But it was not a vote for a distant relationship with our neighbours.”

Yes, it was a vote for wider change but not in the way you allege.  It was a protest vote against your Government’s continuance of its failed austerity policy and not a vote for further anguish through unnecessary damage to the economy, which is the inevitable outcome of Brexit.

You and your predecessor, through your austerity policies, which attack the weakest and most vulnerable in society,  have ensured that many communities are being “left behind” irrespective of relationships with our neighbours or elsewhere.  Loss of EU funding will only make this worse as places like Cornwall are quickly coming to realise.

“Second, the new agreement we reach with the EU must endure. After Brexit, both the UK and the EU want to forge ahead with building a better future for our people, not find ourselves back at the negotiating table because things have broken down.”

The UK was always going to be at a disadvantage in the negotiations, as the 27 were bound to unite to protect their union.  There was never any chance that the UK could “have its cake and eat it” as the EU was never going to offer the UK better terms than  it had by being within the EU.  Only an arrogant moron would suppose otherwise.

This hurdle has been aggravateded by the UK’s failure to negotiate effectively – in part due to divisions within your own Cabinet and, in part, due to the incompetence of your Brexit Secretary –  meaning that the most likely outcome is that the UK will crash out of the EU with no deal (let alone a transition period!).  After your speech, and the rate at which time is running out, anything else is a mere pipe dream.

“Third, it must protect people’s jobs and security. People in the UK voted for our country to have a new and different relationship with Europe, but while the means may change our shared goals surely have not – to work together to grow our economies and keep our people safe.

Quite how you imagine that Brexit will protect jobs and grow the economy when your own government’s Brexit Analyses – which, unsurprisingly you did not want to make public – showed that in every scenario Britain will be worse off through leaving. Places like Grimsby are waking up to the fact that their jobs, which are dependent upon exports to the EU, are in serious jeopardy because of Brexit.  Furthermore, EU agencies are already leaving the UK, as are many EU citizens, and some Financial Services organisations are making contingency plans to leave.  So, lovely rhetoric but, like your first speech as Prime Minister, it is little more than candy floss for the naive.

Fourth, it must be consistent with the kind of country we want to be as we leave: ”

Well, Brexit’s put paid to that!

The country can’t agree on what it wants.  The Remainers don’t want the kind of country Brexit offers.  the Leavers, in turn, are utterly divided in what they want from Brexit.  Scotland and Northern Ireland want different things from England or Wales.  To top it all, you squandered a parliamentary majority in a vanity snap-election which left you hamstrung by a bigotted, insular, minority party you cannot afford to offend.  Not even your Cabinet manages consistency under your wavering leadership.  Not so much a second ‘Iron Lady’ as the ‘Plastercine Housewife’.

“…a modern, open, outward-looking, tolerant, European democracy.”

In your dreams!  Brexit Britain is none of those things.  It is a nostalgic, insular and intolerant country, in which your Government has tried to by-pass Parliamentary democracy at every stage of the process, only  being thwarted by the courts.  The UK also has, in the House of Lords, the second largest unelected political decision-making body in the world – hardly a symbol of a modern democracy!  Nor has your Government shown any regard for the democratic mandate of devolved governments, which you ignore and exclude, and/or the democratically derived Devolution Settlements which you are trying to ride over roughshod.

“A nation of pioneers, innovators, explorers and creators. A country that celebrates our history and diversity, confident of our place in the world;”

Meaningless piffle and waffle designed to try and make your pig’s ear look like a silk purse.

Typically backward looking to what was and hoping against hope that it can be repeated if we can just bring back the Blitz spirit.  Revisionist history (in which only Englsih history counts) abounds as Brexiteers try wistfully to make out that the British Empire was a great force for good and optimistically claim that our imperial past can be recreated in a global expansion of trade.  As for diversity, hate crimes have rocketed since Brexit.  Hardly, the basis for anything other than false confidence.

“…that meets its obligations to our near neighbours and far off friends…”

Your Ministers repeatedly calling for the UK to not respect its responsibilities on leaving the EU, along with your government’s abject failure to meet its post 2014 obligations to one of its nearest neighbours (Scotland), make it very unlikely that England can be trusted to do so further afield.

“…and is proud to stand up for its values.”

The the most prominant British values, following the Brexit vote, seem to be hypocrisy, mendacity, trickery, xenophobia, intolerance and resentment, of which you and your party can be justifiably proud!  Many, however, are saying that they no longer know what to be British is.  Others are saying that they either cannot identify with Britishness  or are ashamed of it.

“And fifth, in doing all of these things, it must strengthen our union of nations and our union of people.”

Brexit is a disaster for “our union of nations”; it has fractured relations between Edinburgh and London, and Cardiff and London; it is imperilling the Good Friday Agreement (your rhetoric over the Irish border is as specious as it is vague).  The uniformity imposed by England on the Union under the pretence of unity, is in tatters due to the empty platitudes and broken promises of your Party.  Indeed, you and your predecessor have arrogantly done more to break the Union than anyone else in its 300 year history!  What you seem to be attempting is to join four corners of a circle apparently without the faintest idea that it has none.

“We must bring our country back together, taking into account the views of everyone who cares about this issue, from both sides of the debate.”

If you have listened to those from the Remain side of the debate, you either did not hear what was said to you or simply chose to ignore it.  There has been no evidence of your taking account of any opinion outwith your divided Cabinet.  And given that you cannot even unite your own Cabinet, let alone your own Party, I don’t rate your chances of even uniting England, let alone the disparate nations of the United Kingdom.  Best of British!

As you started your speech by quoting what you said in your first speech as Prime Minister, let me quote from the open letter I wrote to you in July, 2016:

“…you’ll forgive me if I don’t believe a word of your rhetoric which is so cognitively dissonant with your track record in government…”

“You talked  about uniting the country; it will  require more than platitudes.”

“Your precious Union, as always  since 1707, has less to do with unity than with domination and exploitation.”

Your speeches and Brexit strategies would seem to confirm that I was right on all three counts.

 

 

 

The Disunity of the Union Jack

25 Sep

The Union Jack is supposed to be a symbol of the unity between the increasingly dysfunctional “family of nations” that make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain.  Yet, as a flag of unity, it is deeply flawed.  It was designed (whether deliberately or accidentally matters not) to show English dominance over the “Celtic nations”, just as it was in the days of  Empire a symbol of oppression and servitude under a supposedly philanthropic (sic) British rule. It was the design submitted by English heralds, which was most favoured by James VI & I who approved its use, perhaps on aesthetic grounds or more likely to appease his new subjects.

However, many in Scotland objected to having the Cross of St George superimposed over the Cross of St Andrew (just as there was fury during the recent Independence Referendum, when BritNats placed a Union Jack in the top left corner of the Scottish Saltire – which is illegal in Scotland – to proclaim Scotland a mere colony of the UK rather than a “Home Nation”).  Instead they used a Scottish version in which the St Andrew’s Cross cut the St George’s Cross into four triangles.  The Scottish version, which was never official, was banned by law after the Acts of Union in 1707.

Yet, heraldically (and flags are governed by heraldry) the Union Flag does not combine the English flag with the Scottish Saltire as the colour used is a royal blue, which is mid way between the sky blue (or azure) of the Saltire and the navy blue  of the flag of the Island of Tenerife (which, incidentally, the English failed to subdue in 1706 and the British (under Nelson) in 1797.

Thus, heraldically, though the blue is supposed to represent Scotland, it does not (as was recently pointed out to me by the Serbian Royal Herald) as it is neither one thing or the other. It seems that it was assumed that the St Andrew’s Cross would be understood to refer to Scotland even though St Andrew is also the patron saint of Barbados, Greece, Romania, Russia and the Ukraine (only one of which has been under British rule!).

However, Scotland, receiving some kind of representation through the cross of St Andrew (though not through the Scottish Saltire) is considerably better off than Wales, which has no representation either in the Royal Arms or the Union Flag.  The English excuse is that at the time of the Union, Wales had been absorbed into England by its Tudor monarchs and, therefore, was not party to the Treaties of Union and so needs no representation other than the Cross of St George.  Yet St George is not, and has never been, recognised as having any role is Wales (other than conquest).  Wales’ patron saint  is St David, whose symbol (a yellow cross on a black field) was used informally on flags in Wales from 1921.   Not until 1959 were they granted an official flag (the Welsh red dragon), which is based on a variant of Welsh flags used since the 1480s.

Ireland is represented by the so-called Cross of St Patrick, though there is no good evidence to suggest that it was ever used prior to the foundation of the Order of St Patrick in 1783.  It has been suggested that the design was based on the arms of the powerful Fitzgerald family who, as Earls of Kildare, were Lords Deputy of Ireland and, as Dukes of Leinster, the premier peer in the Irish House of Lords. Indeed, despite a number of official bodies (eg the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) adopting it between the foundation of the order and the act of Union of 1800, it has never had wide acceptance in Ireland, outside of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy.  For most Irish people it was seen as a blood-stained Cross of St Andrew, forever reminding them of  the English imposition of  Scottish settlers in Ulster by Cromwell.    The traditional cross of St Patrick, a cross patée, which has been used for centuries, is widely used in Catholic Dioceses, but eschewed by the Church of Ireland (Anglican) which, unsurprisingly, uses the red saltire of the British establishment.

It has been argued that it is appropriate for the Cross of St Patrick (sic) to remain within the Union Flag as the 6 northern counties which make up the Province of Northern Ireland are subject to the Crown.  However, the red saltire is not widely accepted in Northern Ireland either. The sectarianism there means that Loyalists prefer the Ulster Banner, which was the official flag of Northern Ireland from 1953-1972, as they regard the Cross of St Patrick as Irish, while the Republicans favour the Irish Tricolour, seeing the Cross of St Patrick as a British imposition. Though it has sometimes been used as a neutral flag, neither side of the sectarian divide is entirely happy with it in that role.  Far from being a symbol of unity, the Union Flag, despite the success of the peace process, is a symbol of on-going division in Ireland.

In the Union Flag, the English Cross of St Patrick has been placed, counterchanged, into the Cross of St Andrew, further diminishing any representation of Scotland it may have had.  The resulting hotchpotch also means that 95% of the British population (and 99.9% of foreigners) have no idea whether the  flag is the right way up or not!  Thus, at least half the time it is flown upside down, which is an international distress signal.

So here we have a flag that is supposed to represent unity but which is actually an offensive mishmash that uses the wrong colour for the Scottish Saltire, uses a detested cross for Ireland (of which only a small Province  tacked on to the UK remains), and gives no representation whatsoever for the Principality of Wales.   It is noticeably absent from the flag of the Commonwealth of Nations, all but one of which were British colonies, as in some parts of the world it is despised for its imperial (and post imperial) connotations and in other parts for its once proud association with  the international slave trade.  Little wonder then that there are moves to extirpate the “bloody butchers’ apron” from their national flags, even in countries which remained colonies well into the 20th century  (eg Fiji),  just as they did their Governors General on gaining independence.  And it is niot confined to countries that were former colonies; even countries which are still under the Crown (eg New Zealand) are debating its removal.

So, if it doesn’t symbolise unity, what does it signify?  For some – a minority to be sure – it represents far-right wing British Nationalism as displayed by the BNP or Britain First; for others – a rising number it seems – it represents the xenophobic “little England” nationalism of UKIP; for others, it represents a corrupt and greedy, self-perpetuating, plutocratic elite that will hold onto power at any cost; and, yes, for an ever-dwindling number, it represents the UK and Britishness (whatever that might be).

But its advocates (who are, by definition, nationalists – British nationalists) will doubtless defend their flag on two counts: a) military campaigns and  b) fashion.

a) They will waffle on about how we fought two World Wars under the Union Jack and liberated Europe, without also recognising that it was used to invade Iraq on the basis of a lie, or that there are only a scattering of countries worldwide that the UK has not invaded (or tried to invade).  Also, they conveniently forget that it was the flag that flew over numerous slave ships and the ships of their Royal Navy escorts (both on the jack and in the top left  corner of the red and white ensigns).

b) Citing the Union Jack’s use in fashion (despite the fact that the days of 1960s Carnaby Street and BritPop fashion in the ’90s have become, like the two World Wars, nigh nebulous memories for many) they claim that it is the most recognisable symbol of Britain.  While it is true that versions, often crudely drawn, are used as decals and designs on cheap, sweat-shopped tat or tasteless souvenirs, the majority of the non-British purchasers of such garments (and souvenirs) don’t equate it with the UK (just like the other instantly recognised symbols: Big Ben, Tower Bridge and the Queen of England – notice a pattern here?), but with England, unconsciously having understood that the UK is just a euphemism for England “writ large”.

Whereas my grandfather, born in the age of Empire, proudly served under the Union Jack, both as a career naval officer and as Lord Lieutenant, I feel no pride in it; no sentiment for it; just antipathy.  As with those nations, which want to remove the Union Jack from their national flags, it does not reflect my identity in any meaningful way and so is only of historical interest like, say, the flag of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

If the government (of whatever stripe) in Westminster are serious about unity within the oft vaunted “family of nations”  (rather than the usual uniformity they try to hawk – the genesis of which is a casual arrogance), both the Union Jack and the Royal Arms need to be revised and modernised to reflect the diversity and the equality implied in the family metaphor.  Failure by the Union (which was so valuable that  it could only be saved through lies and threats) to do so will merely reinforce the view of the Celtic Nations that they are being not very subtly subsumed, whether they want to be or not, with even less status than a colony, into an increasingly uncaring  Greater England.

It is surely time to consign this ragbag of a flag, which has such a  chequered past, to history, where it belongs.