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There are many across the globe – it would seem – who have over the last half decade or so (and certainly since the financial crisis of 2008) come to feel that the society of which they are a part has been of late seriously in ‘democratic deficit’. They may be right.

Certainly there have been in recent times a plethora of elections and referenda throughout the western world and in the melee that passes for electoral normality these days the body politic has done its best to destroy any possible vestige of complacency in those who govern us – by means of the delivery of a number of short (and not so short), sharp shocks to the system. Once upon a time we might have called this ‘sticking it to the man‘ – but we were all a great deal younger then!

In the UK the repercussions from the 2016 Brexit referendum will rumble on for years yet and may even lead at some point to a rerun of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. Prime Minister Theresa May – in an effort to demonstrate irrefrangibly the strength and stability of her government – has decided that the UK has not suffered enough at the polls in recent years and has called another (apparently one-sided) election for June. She has presumably been seduced by the prospect of doing to the UK Labour party what the Progressive Conservative Party did to the Social Credit Party in the 1984 Canadian federal election (and in turn had done to them by the Liberals in the 1993 election!).

Trump’s administration in the US is the gift that keeps on giving… should you happen be a satirist (or indeed just a smug cynic who likes to be proved right!). The orange one has only held the reigns of power for a few (though seemingly endless) months, but has already provided enough material for a trilogy of (extremely weird) mordant film-scripts. You quite literally could not make this stuff up!

The outcome of the recent French election was met with divergent reactions throughout the western world. The heavy sighs of relief from well-meaning social democrats everywhere as the French (following the example recently set by the Dutch) chose to reject the far-right populism of Le Pen for the centrist Emmanuel Macron were, of course, to be expected – not to mention welcomed with open arms. The howls of rage of those on the right in countries having little connection with France took me momentarily aback. A little contemplation, however, shed further light on the matter.

In a manner somewhat akin to that of the Bolsheviks in the early years of the last century (who believed that their communist revolution must not be limited to Mother Russia and her colonies but must sweep across the civilised world) those on the far right require that all nations should bow to their brand of populism… that the European Union must be seen to fail, that all forms of collaboration must be suppressed and that the globe should revert to comprising a set of adversarial nation states.

As ever there are some areas in which the right and the left are practically bedfellows. Both strains reserve their greatest hatred, not for each other, but for those who occupy the centre ground. The recognition in the latter part of the last century that elections are primarily won and lost in the centre inspired such dogmatists to paroxysms of rage. What they required of the centre was a large pool of clear blue water, such that their class war might be kept alive indefinitely.

One thus finds oneself assaulted by those on both flanks (though particularly by those on the left in this case) braying about the failure of centrist, liberal politics, along with the demand that such be consigned to the dustbin of history – all the while conveniently ignoring the fact that their own brand of dogma has itself demonstrably failed repeatedly.

Such ironies…

In British Columbia – meanwhile – the recent provincial election resulted in the first minority government for many a long year, with the crucial balancing riding being won by a mere nine votes!

Now that’s how you send a message!

 

 

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Image from Wikimedia“The worst part about being lied to is knowing you weren’t worth the truth”

Jean-Paul Sartre

The release this week of UK cabinet papers from the 1980s reveals as true something that opponents of Margaret Thatcher’s administration have long protested – that she and other leading tories had continued to plan the dismantling of the welfare state – including the privatisation of education and the National Heath Service – even in the wake of her sophistical proclamation that “the health service is safe in our hands“.

It is – of course – jejune to be shocked at the mendacity and dishonesty of politicians of all hues… a truism that has been borne out in spades this year. As far as I can recall I graduated my own education in such matters shortly after the 1979 UK general election in which Thatcher came to power. That election campaign had featured prominently the infamous Saatchi and Saatchi advert showing a long snaking queue for the dole (unemployment) office, under the banner heading “Labour isn’t Working“.

In 1979 the tories inherited an unemployed total of 1.4 million. The monetarist policies pursued by the Thatcher government saw this figure rapidly rocket to north of 3 million! It subsequently became apparent that the thinkers behind the tories’ strategy – and in particular Keith Joseph, the chief architect thereof – had known all along that their policies would indeed cause unemployment to soar… a price that they considered ‘worth’ paying.

Such hypocrisies have led me to adopt the attitude attributed to Louis Herren – foreign correspondent for The Times in the 1960s and 70s. He would ask himself – on being briefed by some politician or other – “Why is this lying bastard lying to me?“.

Good advice!

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Image from Pixabay…of optimism – if I may (though not, sadly, for the short term!).

Political events on either side of the Atlantic over the past months have left those of centre and left of centre persuasions reeling. The next few years are going to be bloody; there is no getting away from it. There is also, sadly, little that can be done to improve matters in the short term.

It is, however, time to start looking beyond this immediate grim future… and therein – I believe – will be discovered the tender shoots of optimism. By way of explication of this unlikely notion I must first needs muse a while on that oft abused ‘philosophy’ – Neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism has its roots considerable further back than the 1980s, but it was during that harsh decade that it reappeared renewed in its most virulent and corrosive form. The petrol crisis of the early 1970s that ended the long boom of the post war years led directly to the 1973/74 stock market crash and the 1974/75 recession. The years of discontent that followed unbolted the door to conservatives on both sides of the pond and they gleefully kicked it in. Carried to power on a now familiar wave of populism Thatcher and Reagan led the forces of the right on a rampage through the economies of UK and the US respectively – slashing regulation, selling off the family jewels, disposing of the unions and setting in motion the destruction of long established manufacturing industries.

So powerful was this tidal flow that in the UK the left was swept away on a tsunami of free market ideation. For a decade and a half it looked as though there would never again be a route to power for left and centre left parties. In the end the Labour party re-imagined itself (as did the Democratic Party in the US – though it had considerably less far to travel) as a party of the centre by adopting much of the ideology of the right. The much vaunted ‘third way‘ claimed to offer the benefits of both sides – the market discipline of the right with the social conscience of the left. Once the Tory Party in the UK had succumbed in its usual manner to avarice and corruption this cocktail brought New Labour victory in three successive elections.

The problem was that the ‘third way‘ was not actually a third way at all, but one of the original two ways with a slightly better user interface. In fact the centre parties on both sides of the pond had actually swallowed Neoliberalism hook, line and sinker. It may perhaps be that some thinkers on the left (and of the centre) thought that the creature could be tamed. They were to discover to their cost that it could not.

Though the true nature of the beast might have been determined from the start had anyone looked closely enough it took the financial crash of 2008 to finally bring home the repellent side effects. By opening the world to unfettered global trade (much aided by advances in technology) Neoliberalism enabled corporations and individuals to effectively detach themselves from individual nation states and thus to remove themselves from political influence and control. This trend has had many unpleasant consequences, not the least of which is that those concerned now pretty much only pay taxes when, where and to whatever level they feel inclined. This inevitably only increases the ever growing divide between the less than 1% and the rest of us.

The financial crash itself was enabled by totally inadequate regulation of the worldwide financial system; a result of decades of compromise and of paring back. This only encouraged the arrogant beliefs on the part of those immediately concerned that the credit bubble by which means growth had been ‘sustained’ into the new millennium might be extended indefinitely through sharp practice…

…which brings us smartly up to date with Brexit and the US Presidential Election. The unexpected outcomes of those ballots were not only the result of the lost millions expressing their anger at being left behind by the ever increasing inequality, but more so that those souls (along with many others who might themselves actually have done reasonably well) were left feeling utterly powerless to influence events through the democratic process, since that process itself – as a direct result of the Neoliberal agenda – was no longer able so to do. Little wonder then that when an opportunity presented itself to raise a finger (or two) to those seen as representatives or lackeys of the ‘elites’ the electorates grasped the chance with both hands.

 

Yes – I do realise that this peroration has thus far not exactly exuded optimism. Well – here’s the nub…

What has transpired this year has been a massive wake-up call. In neither the UK nor the US can politics carry on being ‘business as usual’. That model is broken. What now needs urgently to happen is that the centre and the left of centre must start over and build themselves completely afresh – learning not only from what has happened, but also from how and why it happened. This represents a huge opportunity – such perhaps as has not been presented since the end of the second world war. And – concerning that prospect – I feel optimistic.

Thinking caps on…

…flame off!

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Image from PexelsAnd you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right?…Am I wrong?
And you may say to yourself
My God!…What have I done?!

“Once in a Lifetime” – David Byrne, Brian Eno, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison and Tina Weymouth

I have not been averse – within the bounds of these jottings – to venturing occasional comment on matters relating to current affairs. My motivation for so doing – it must be said – is usually engendered by feelings akin to horror and even despair at the manner in which at least some of the inhabitants of this fragile planet choose to conduct their (and by extension our) affairs.

I have made no comment thus far on the 2016 American Presidential Election. In common with many on this side of the border I find myself watching in fascinated horror the interminable slow-motion train wreck that has been what feels like the longest electoral contest in history. How can the observer not be rendered slack-jawed at the effect on the campaign of the extensive computer hacking by unidentified foreign agencies – or of the farcical on-again/off-again (but very public!) enquiry by the FBI into the modus operandi of one of the candidates?

In a race in which neither of the leading contenders inspires much in the way of confidence there is – amongst many to whom I have spoken here –  frank disbelief that the Republican candidate could even have qualified to stand for office – given the outrageous and frankly libelous nature of many of his pronouncements – let alone to be yet in the race for the presidency.

It does make one wonder at the hordes of apparently immutable devotees who seem so determined to deal a blow to the American political system that they could be so utterly blinded to the nature of the beast that they intend to install in the White House. It seems that no logic – no rational debate – no reasoning can get through to them. Truth is meaningless to those capable of holding contemporaneously such totally antithetical beliefs.

It is impossible not to compare the situation in the US with that in the UK, which has itself appeared over the last few years equally determined to self-harm to the greatest degree possible. I have ventured previously some horrified comments on the apparent willingness on the part of a small majority of the population to take a gigantic and unprecedented gamble on the economic and social future of the nation – again apparently based on the hazy notion of turning itself into some chimerical wishful-thinking fantasy version of the country that never was, nor ever could be.

The latest twist in this self-destructive saga came at the end of last week when the UK High Court ruled that the British Parliament should be consulted and hold a vote before Article 50 (the mechanism that would lead to Britain leaving the European Union) could be triggered. The executive had intended to put this into effect without any such consultation. This piece of democratic common sense was greeted by some of the more repellent UK newspapers with headlines such as “Enemies of the People” over images of the judges involved. The deep irony that a key feature of the Brexit campaign was supposedly the return of sovereignty to the British Parliament was utterly lost on those apparently unable to think clearly through the fog of their own rage.

Given the real tragedies that are being played out in the Middle East and elsewhere it seems wrong to fixate on the political idiocies of first world nations – however much their antics may cause us to rend our garments and tear our hair.

Bah!

Enough seriousness, though. My next post will feature photos of BC in the autumn (fall!).

Promise!

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ballot“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Winston Churchill

Following the abrupt and unlooked-for result of the EU referendum in the UK at the start of the summer the British Labour Party has set about sustaining the sensation of stupefaction amongst the good inhabitants of that bewildered territory by doing its best to tear itself apart. The challenge by one hundred and seventy two members of the Parliamentary Labour Party to the stewardship of its previously unexpected leader, Jeremy Corbyn – based notionally on his perceived non-electability in a general election – reached its denouement with his re-election as leader with an increased majority of party members’ votes.

Might this be the end of the matter? Hell no!

The battle behind the scenes is not just about the party’s chances in the next general election. It concerns rather the wildly differing views of the nature of democracy itself held by the constituent members of the organisation. Fundamentally, those to the left of the party do not believe in parliamentary/representative democracy. The idea that those who are chosen to represent the electorate should be gifted power once every five years, on the basis of an agreed manifesto, is anathema to those who believe that ‘true’ democracy requires rather that power should rest continually in the hands of its party members.

To those who wish to be constantly engaged in politics this is perhaps understandable. British democracy – as in many other parts of the western world – is predicated upon a direct but limited connection between the electorate and those who represent them. Once elected the members of parliament are largely protected from interference by those who put them there – until subsequent ballots allow the electorate to issue a judgement as to how well – or how badly – they have performed. This actually suits the majority of voters well – preferring as they do not to have to think about the grubby business of politics more than is absolutely necessary.

To those on the further left such a state of affairs will not do at all. These people hold the view that the members of a political party should be able to exercise judgement on its elected representatives at any point by de-selecting them should they be deemed not to have toed the party line. Further, these zealots would like to be able to dictate policy through decisions taken by the membership at party conferences. It should be clear that this could well mean that the wider electorate could not only lose the ability to pass judgement themselves on their chosen representatives, but that they might also wake up to discover that the party for which they had voted no longer subscribed to the manifesto on which they made their choice. By such means the actuality of democracy would be re-calibrated away from the involvement of the forty six million plus who make up the total electorate toward the half a million or so who are members of the Labour party.

When it comes to the hard core – of course – there are those on the left who do not believe in party democracy either. They are playing a long game in which they believe that ultimate power rests with a smaller number of party activists who – in the longer term – can utilise a palette of well documented strategies to ensure that the motions adopted as a result of ‘democratic’ votes are those of their preference. Such devious manipulations are – naturally – to be kept at arms length from those in charge of the party, but to those of us who witnessed such methods in use during the 1970s and 1980s – be it by political parties, trade unions or even in student politics (as did I myself) – present denials that we are in fact experiencing a re-run of that period in the Labour Party’s history ring somewhat hollow.

Churchill quote was apt. He recognised the failings of the UK’s parliamentary system, but he was also right that pretty much anything else would be worse. Certainly recent experience should warn the nation away from any experiment which attempts to extend democracy by increasing the use of referenda. My view – which I have long espoused and which I have seen championed increasingly across the various media in recent weeks – is that the most effective way to improve democracy in Britain would be through electoral reform.

That the Labour Party is vehemently opposed to such a course speak volumes.

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Image from Pixabay“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

Bob Dylan

The British people have spoken…

…well – just over half of them have and it was more of an incoherent cry of rage than anything cogent – but democracy demands…

I have pontificated a number of times in these pages concerning the increasing inequality between those in the ‘one percent’ and the rest of the world’s population. In this post from February 2013 – entitled ‘The disenfranchised‘ – I wrote:

History would suggest that were this trend to continue unchecked, at a certain point a revolutionary ire would finally be aroused, the formerly silent majority would declare that enough was enough and an insurrection – in some form or other – would almost inevitably follow. The difference this time is that the 1% – by becoming a global phenomenon and by disassociating themselves from any particular nation state – have thus essentially rendered themselves untouchable.

And if not the state then against whom should we rebel – and how?

I believe that we may just have had the answer.

Consider these details from the polling:

  • London, the major cities, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted by decent margins to remain in the EU.
  • Younger voters in the main wanted to stay in.
  • Those who benefited from higher education tended to vote in favour of remaining.
  • Bankers, economists, scientists, academics and other ‘experts’ mostly supported the status quo.

It seems clear that the UK has divided along a fault line that separates those who have done reasonably well over the past four decades and those for whom what can now clearly be seen as the end-game of the Thatcher experiment has seen year upon year of slow decline and ever decreasing influence on the direction that the union has been taking.

There are those – of course – from middle and higher class backgrounds who did campaign for Brexit – both politicians and entrepreneurs. It is quite likely that one of these will shortly hold the reigns of power now that Cameron has done that which he declared Britons would not do – and quit. That his successor will have been elected by the mere 150,000 members of the tory party and foisted upon the rest of the electorate is one of the ‘delightful’ ironies of the situation. Dare we hope for an early election – or is that just too grim a prospect? Actually, now that the Labour party seems hell bent on self-destruction that seems increasingly to be the most likely outcome.

In any event, the motivation of such people should – as suggested in my last post – be carefully scrutinised. We have already been subjected to the most unedifying spectacle of a number of the leave campaigners furiously backtracking on what many voters consider to have been firm campaign pledges – particularly with regard to funding and immigration. Hardly has the dust settled on this grim chapter than those who cynically rode a wave of disaffection to bring about their desired outcome have set about demonstrating just why those on the receiving end were right to be disaffected.

Clearly, if these political (and commercial) chancers have any belief at all it is in taking any possible opportunity for their own advancement, promotion and enrichment. By the time the ‘disenfranchised’ realise that when it comes to ‘taking back control’ they have been sold down the river – simply swapping one unaccountable elite for another – it will be far too late. The victims may at that point attempt a more forceful rebellion against the state, but the culprits will simply take the money and run, merging imperceptibly into the untouchable global elite that sees every world event – however cataclysmic – as an opportunity for personal enrichment.

It is most telling that amongst the leaders (or would-be leaders) of the rest of the world’s nations – who are even now contemplating with disquiet the happenings in the UK – there are only two who – for their own reasons – express unalloyed delight at the decision that the British electorate has taken… Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump!

I trust that no further comment is needed…

One final thought. Some on the far right have been voicing hopes that – following the UK result – other European peoples will demand similar referenda with a view to leaving the Union. The ultimate desire of these right-wingers would seem to be to see the whole European project collapse. Quite apart from the dazzling hypocrisy of those who complained bitterly about the UK having rules and regulations foisted upon it from without now wanting to dictate to other nations what they should or should not do – this hankering in some quarters for a return to a Europe of independent nation states all jockeying for position would seem to betray a longing for the continent to return to its conformation of the years before the Great War.

Perhaps some of those of the far right are hoping for a re-match!

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image from Wikimedia“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.”

H.G. Wells

I have done my utmost thus far to avoid adding to the hideous cacophony that surrounds this coming week’s grisly event in the UK – the referendum that is in danger of permanently tearing apart a nation that I love. After the appalling happenings of the last few days, however, I find myself compelled to say something – anything – regardless of the utter pointlessness of so doing.

Politicians on all sides are currently performing an intricate dance to avoid drawing any connections between the wicked slaying of MP Jo Cox and the rebarbative and vicious campaigns that have been waged on either side of the ‘debate’. Good form suggests that this is out of respect for the life – and tragic death – of a politician whose example clearly puts to shame the venal efforts of certain others. It would not be entirely cynical – however – to surmise that some of the shameless hucksters concerned are also desperate to avoid their own words and actions becoming associated with – or even blamed for – these awful events. When the full truth finally emerges they may find themselves considerably less lucky than they are hoping for.

Those leading and supporting the campaign to remain in Europe have much to be ashamed of. The manner in which they have tried to frighten voters into backing their position – rather than having faith that a reasoned and full debate would carry the day – betrays the lack of trust that both they and the electorate have in each other.

Those campaigning for the UK to leave are – however – far, far worse – for they are perpetrating a great deception on the British people. That they will eventually be found out and punished for it is of little comfort. By then it will be too late.

These devious villains – whilst peddling a romanticised notion of a ‘golden age’ that never existed but to which an exit from Europe might somehow return us – are banking on the great mass of their acolytes having no grasp of history at all. They are relying on the population not knowing or caring just how and why this great European project came about. They want us to believe that this has all been a plot by those devious foreigners rather than grand scheme for the protection of the entire continent, of which we in the UK were the joint architects.

The Brexiteers dismiss any notion of a united Europe being essential as a means of avoiding a repeat of the calamitous wars of the last century. They posit that times have changed – that there are no more fascist dictators and that with the end of the cold war Russia is no longer a threat(!). They do so – mind – whilst at the same time invoking the spectre of Hitler and Napoleon in reference to our European partners. In any case – they demur – our defence now lies in the hands of the Americans.

What these ‘educated’ men (public school and Oxbridge all) wish their followers to forget is that the causes of the second war are to be found with few exceptions in the outcome of the first. The Great War itself became tragically inevitable as the individual nation states of Europe – competing against each other for power, influence and wealth – bound themselves into a Gordian knot of treaties, arrangements and deals that ultimately tipped the continent into a cataclysmic and unlooked-for war over a relatively trivial issue – because by then none of the ‘educated’ elite could find a way to extricate us from it. It was these events that led directly to the European project – that which some are now determined to dismantle in an effort to return us to a situation not dissimilar to that which led to the conflict in the first place.

The other great lie that these shysters will sell to anyone who can be persuaded to fall for it is the notion that – once we can govern ‘ourselves’ again – all the ills that bedevil the modern UK will be resolved. Let us be clear. These unscrupulous millionaires do indeed want ‘control’ returned to the UK, but they have no intention of sharing it – or any of the corresponding wealth – with any of the ‘great unwashed’ who might be persuaded to follow their cause.

These men (and they are in the main men) would love to see a return to nineteenth century employment practices – to see swept away all of those inconvenient protections that were hard-won throughout a century of endeavour – both in the UK and across the continent. They would also like to see the UK withdraw from that beacon of post-war achievement – the European Convention on Human Rights. Should you believe that those who peddle this line have at heart the interests of the whole of the British people then I fear that you are in for a rude awakening.

Nothing is quite so sickening as observing the carrot of higher NHS spending – posited as a potential outcome of leaving the EU – being dangled by those who do not actually believe in a state-funded health service at all. They would much rather see it privatised and added to the pool of money-making opportunities for them and their egregious buddies to paddle in.

Nothing is quite so sickening as watching those who would happily exploit any source of cheap labour playing the race card to pander to the oldest fear of all – that of immigration swamping all that we hold dear. When those responsible for these falsehoods betray those who have placed their trust in them – as they inevitably will – the guilty men will aim to have made their millions and to be long gone.

Surely in such desperate and dangerous times we should be doing all in our power to find ways to work together across continents – to co-operate with each other? Is that not the true lesson of the twentieth century? The belief that we can isolate ourselves and set ourselves apart from our neighbours sets us on a precarious path that I for one would fear to tread.

It scares me to hear Brexiteers argue that we should stop listening to the advice of ‘experts’. In Wells’s ‘race between education and catastrophe‘ there can be only one acceptable winner.

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Image by Superbfc at the English language WikipediaYou might have thought that my recent post regarding the outcome of the second inquest into the causes of the deaths of the ninety six victims of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster would be my last word on the subject. I suspect, however, that there will be yet more to come as the saga continues to unfold over the years.

This truth was brought home yet again last night in harrowing fashion as I watched Daniel Gordon’s two hour documentary – ‘Hillsborough‘ – made for the BBC and ESPN. The first version of this brilliantly judged work was completed nearly two years ago and shown in the US and – subsequently – in New Zealand. It could not at that time be shown in the UK for legal reasons; for fear that it might prejudice the outcome of the second inquest which had then just begun.

The film has now been extended in the light of the outcome of that inquiry and can now finally be seen in the UK and elsewhere. Should you yet feel uncertain as to the import of these recent events – or should you even perchance still harbour some misconceptions as to the truth of what really happened on that dreadful day and throughout the intervening twenty seven years – I urge you to take the time to watch this chilling memorial to the suffering of the families whose loved ones did not return home from that intended day of celebration.

Though I have been reading about the tragedy since the day that it happened, even so I learned things from this film that I had not previously known. This merely demonstrates anew just how much the authorities tried to keep hidden over the past two decades and more.

For example, I did not know that there had been another not dissimilar crowd control problem at an FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough – some eight years earlier. On that occasion the crowd at the Leppings Lane end had been allowed to spill out of the stands onto the border of the pitch itself to avoid the crush. When – during the post mortem to that event – it was suggested that there had been a lucky escape and that modifications might be required to prevent future injuries or deaths, the ground’s owners and engineers dismissed the suggestion and did nothing.

Indeed – in the intervening years matters were made very much worse as a result of the FA’s misguided attempt to combat the hooliganism which seemed endemic to the game during the 1980s. The standing room terraces at the Leppings Lane end of the ground were turned into pens by the construction around them of fences of spiked iron railings. When lightening did indeed strike a second time the supporters were unable either to escape onto the pitch or sideways along the terracing as had previously been possible.

In another unfortunate circumstance the vastly experienced police superintendent, Brian Mole, who should have been in charge of the crowd control operation on the day of the disaster, was moved to another district a couple of weeks prior to the event. This followed a ‘hazing’ incident some months before in which a young police constable was one night subjected to a mock abduction by masked gunmen posing as armed robbers but who were in fact colleagues from the constabulary. Those concerned were disciplined firmly and Mole – though having no involvement himself – was moved.

His place was taken – at two weeks’ notice – by a man who not only had little experience of supervising such major events but also clearly had little understanding of football or of the habits and motivations of its followers. David Duckenfield was responsible for the two key actions that shaped the tragedy that followed and the appalling campaign that succeeded it.

First, he took the decision – when the crush of Liverpool supporters trying to get through the totally inadequate number of turnstiles at the Leppings Lane end looked to be getting out of hand – to open one of the exit gates to allow a large body of fans through to relieve the pressure outside. This was done without first having either sealed off the immediate entrance to the two already packed pens which was directly in front of the exit gate, or of ensuring that there were an adequate number of stewards or police inside the ground to direct fans to the still mostly empty pens to either side.

Then – as the inevitable tragedy was still being played out immediately beneath the windows of the control box in which he was located – Duckenfield lied to Graham Kelly (the FA representative at the ground) telling him that drunken ticket-less Liverpool supporters had broken down the very exit gate that he had himself ordered to be opened. Kelly naturally believed what he was told by the senior police official present and wasted no time passing the information on TV commentators and journalists. Thus was born the false myth that the supporters were to blame for the deaths of the ninety six, which was then seized upon by those in charge of all of the authorities concerned as a means of covering up the truth as to the multiple liabilities for the fatalities.

Daniel Gordon’s documentary is not an easy watch but it is an essential one if we are to fully comprehend this recent period in our history, for it has implications far wider simply than those for game of football or for this one appalling, tragic, but completely avoidable incident.

 

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justice-collectiveThis day – twenty seven years after the event – the second inquest into the Hillsborough disaster – having been convened after the findings of the original inquest were quashed following the report of an independent panel four years ago – finally declared that the ninety six Liverpool Football Club supporters who lost their lives on that terrible day were killed unlawfully.

Though this is far from the end of the process – the Crown Prosecution Service may now decide to commence criminal proceedings against those deemed to have been culpable – it is to be hoped that the relatives and friends of those whose lives were lost can now finally grieve them properly and that – for their sakes – a line can be drawn. The shameful treatment to which they and others were subjected throughout this outrageous miscarriage of justice must, however, never be forgotten.

It is now clear that terrible mistakes and lapses of judgement were made both on the day and beforehand by those charged with ensuring the safety of the fans attending the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest that was to be played at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium.

Terrible as were the events of the day itself, however, what followed was in some ways even more awful. The twenty five year campaign of obfuscation and misinformation that was waged by executives of all of the key agencies – the aim of which was to draw attention away from those actually responsible for the disaster, in large part by pushing the blame on to the supporters themselves – should of itself in any just world give rise to criminal proceedings.

That these attempts at evasion found support through the active or passive collusion of other forces of the ‘establishment’ leaves a stain which may not be removed in our lifetimes. The then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s press secretary – Bernard Ingham – wrote a letter to one of the Hillsborough campaigners in the mid 90s blaming the tragedy on “tanked up yobs“, a slander for which he still refuses to apologise in spite of the new inquest’s complete exoneration of the supporters’ behaviour.

The divisions in English society that have been increasingly actively fostered from the 1980s onward must surely in part be to blame for such reprehensible attitudes. As long as a monied and powerful elite – puffed up with its own sense of entitlement and residing primarily in the south east of the country – determinedly sets itself apart from humbler mortals throughout the rest of the land, the notion that the latter belong to some lesser order that can be traduced as desired will – though unspoken – continue to prevail.

It seems to me inevitable that – unless the growing inequality that blights modern society can be reversed – such travesties on the part of those in authority are likely to continue.

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Image from PixabayToday was Remembrance Day – the eleventh day of the eleventh month – which marks the falling silent of the guns on the western front at the end of the Great War.

In the UK it is a normal working day and the occasion is marked – for those who mark it at all – by a two minute silence at the eleventh hour. The UK has always made more of Remembrance Sunday, which is held on the nearest Sunday to Armistice Day itself.

In Canada the day is a public holiday!

Either way it is entirely right and proper that there should be an annual reminder of – and a chance to reflect upon and give thanks for – the sacrifices made by those obliged to become engaged in armed conflict on behalf of their countries and who have paid the price thereof. It is a time also to extend thoughts and sympathies to those left behind.

I have always personally felt ambivalent about the wearing of the poppy, though it is a splendid symbol and the campaign raises essential monies for a truly worthy cause. During the sixties and seventies – when I was in my youth – the campaign in the UK featured the tagline “Wear your poppy with pride”. The prevailing mood at the time seemed very much to celebrate our glorious military history.

I couldn’t help feeling that – whereas pride might be an appropriate emotion for the combatants themselves, given the part they had played – for those of us with no direct involvement neither pride nor glory had a place in the remembrance of loss and sacrifice. It was surely more appropriate to feel sadness, regret and shame… shame that our country had been obliged to ask its young men to kill the young men of other countries and to make the ultimate sacrifice themselves.

Whatever one’s notion might be of ‘just’ war it is indisputable that of all the conflicts that have raged throughout history wars that could truly be thus classified are far outnumbered by those that could have – should have – been avoided. It is a shameful reflection on humanity that, whereas we continually spend vast fortunes and devote considerable ingenuity to developing newer and more hideous ways to kill each other, we are incapable of making a similar investment towards bringing war itself to an end. We struggle even to terminate the most prosaic of conflicts.

Perhaps on this day of remembrance we should also turn our minds to all those who are responsible – through their madness, their bigotry, their misguided idealism, their fanaticism, their political ambitions, their misplaced xenophobia and jingoism, their greed, desire, lust – for any part in fomenting or promoting armed conflict.

It seems – tragically – that remembering the dead alone is not enough to bring an end to war. Perhaps we must also keep fresh in our memories all of those whose actions – or lack thereof – have helped to sew the seeds of conflict.

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