The Aegean idea

There are 47,500 migrants stranded in Greece at the moment. These are the ones who are counted and regarded as part of the ongoing “EU migration” process. There are countless more who have found a way of hovering on the fringes of Greek society, making a buck in the cinemas near Omonia and begging or stealing whatever they can to get by. Certainly the current agreement does nothing for them and does little to sort out the squalor that remains in Idomeni. All it will do at best is to send a signal to the people who manage the boats in Turkey that this Aegean crossing is closed. After 4 years, that is modest progress, but I was talking about the dangers of this people-smuggling issue nearly 15 years ago and no one paid much attention to me then.

So what is changing now?

An agreement about illegal migration to Greece may well have taken place, but to implement it will involve the movement of countless judges and lawyers from Athens to the islands, as well as the 2300 experts cited by Tsipras and imported from mainland europe to oversee the process, because presumably each of the migrants landing on Samos or Lesbos or wherever will demand and be entitled to a legally responsible decision before being shipped back to Turkey (lest the plan fall foul of the declarations made by the UN under the Geneva Convention). More than that, the EU deal will not process back those refugees already on Greek soil- Turkey ruled that out on 10th March!merkel

I find it hard to see how Greece will be able to manage this in practice, so whether the deal with Turkey and the EU is morally or legally sound, it still faces a practical problem. What has taken months of legal work in Athens so far will now be done in a matter of hours in makeshift courts along the seafront of Samos- I doubt it somehow! As I understand it, however, the Syrians who are deported from Turkey to the EU will be sent to specific EU countries to be processed, so this might ease the burden on Greece  in the long run and that thought alone might energise the process a bit.

Amnesty calls the EU/turkey agreement a “historic blow to human rights”, though to be fair, when I was in Greece, Amnesty had been infiltrated by some very peculiar people, some of whom were certainly illegal migrants. So, as Christine Keeler might have said, “They would say that, wouldn’t they!”

It seems unclear, at the moment, whether Greece is also being awarded extra funds to deal with this. If not, I await the outcry from Athens (a) that Turkey is being unfairly awarded 6 billion euros and (b) that this much hyped agreement merely moves the problem from one country to another. It might deter the boats in the Aegean, but it will hardly stop the boats already arriving again in Malta from Libya and Tunisia..

And it does not answer the moral question at all- why should a country like Turkey accommodate so many more refugees/migrants than the 28 different countries currently in the EU? I worry that we have somehow shifted all discussions away from the bigger picture and we are focused only on making a quick “deal”- in other words, have we just all become barrow-boys or costermongers in some sort of market-place… oh yes, we have! And wasn’t it once called “the Common Market”?

Whatever trading we do, we must not forget the bigger picture. We need a moral centre, not just a tidy profit or a quick solution.

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Edward Lear and the Play of Poetry

Oxford University Press has announced the publication of the book collecting the 2012 bicentenary essays, it will (probably) appear in August and will have 400 pages! Meanwhile, Bonhams is selling …

Source: Edward Lear and the Play of Poetry

Do not fear!

welbyI need to choose words very carefully here- I am stepping over (or into!) the shoes of the current Archbishop of Canterbury. I am certainly challenging what he said. Justin Welby preached “fear” and that, to me is a red line that should never be crossed. Gone are the days when the pulpit offered such entertainment. Today we can cast our minds back to “Hammer Horror” if we want a thrill, or we can look to the diet of films that have played out in the few years since the millenium. Here are a selection of such films for a man evidently hooked on “fear” like the current Primate of Canterbury- “The others” (2001), and Mulholland Drive (2001), “the Ring”(2002), “Orphan”(2009),  “the descent” (2005), “Bug” (2006), “Let the right one in” (2008) and its sequel “Let me in” (2010). We do not need fear-mongers in the pulpit and certainly not those who advocate principles that fly in the face of their own vocation. At a time when the TV is filled with the xenophobic rants of Trump, I believe Justin Welby makes a bad problem worse. In short, as the senior cleric in the UK and leader or guardian of our moral health, he had no right to sanction our fear of migrants.

Wesley’s rather than Welby’s “fear”

But, to be fair to Welby, “fear” is a confused word in the mouths of English Churchmen. “Work out your salvation”, says Paul in the King James Version, “with Fear and trembling”. It seems to me, for instance, that there is certainly room for this kind of “fear” in the next few months because we shall be making a collective decision at the Referendum that will determine the way this country works and to do that casually would be folly. We should be mindful and in the language of John Wesley, therefore, that might mean we should be “fearful”; in other words, we should be respectful and careful. My own name calls out the same message- “Timothy” comes from two greek words meaning literally to “fear God”, but the sense of this name is to be “respectful”, not to be cowering in terror or worried about whether God might steal my job.

Calling for fear in this debate is tantamount to a licence for racism or at least xenophobia and that must be wrong in the mouth of an Archbishop.

The Fear stuff comes in an interview published in “House” magazine where Welby concedes there is , in his words, “a colossal crisis” because of migration into Europe. That is perfectly reasonable. He then says that people who express fear about this migration are not racist -“There is a tendency to say ‘those people are racist’, which is just outrageous, absolutely outrageous.” He went on and added ” and the UK should be “taking its fair share of the load”. (well, thank God he concedes that much!)

“Fear is a valid emotion at a time of such colossal crisis.

“This is one of the greatest movements of people in human history. Just enormous. And to be anxious about that is very reasonable.” (*TW: note how he’s already back-tracking. anxiety rather than fear, so he knows he said the wrong thing!)

However, it seems to me that fear is not a valid emotion in this context (though I admit there are instances where migrants have behaved badly) and in a country where there is actually a good deal of wealth, we should be better placed to manage people’s insecurities and at the same time, offer significantly more hope to those who have turned to us with outstretched arms, looking for a better life or looking for any sort of life at all!

These words, of course, play well in the hands of the BREXIT group- as Ian Duncan Smith intoned-

“These are rational comments from the archbishop – they’re to be welcomed – but you wonder just how late they’ve come from various people in institutions, so I congratulate him. If you think back, for far too many years what’s happened is that in a sense the elites have all said ‘It’s terrible to talk about immigration and if you do you’re racist’, so they’ve shut down the debate for many, many years.”

But we should not be engaged in this debate and certainly it should not have been started or been licenced by the Archbishop. Welby’s job is to preach the Gospel, and he would do well to heed the message in Matthew 25:36- to provide for the needy, the poor, to visit prisoners, the sick and the dying. He might also look at Gen 23:4, Ex 2.22, Lev 25:23, 1 Chron 29:15,Ps 39:12, 119:19,  Hebrews 11:13 and reflect on the fact that we might all migrants and all in need of shelter. There, but for the grace of God…

The Greek example:

I also refer the Archbishop to the example of the villages on Lesbos, Kos, Chios, Samos, Rhodes and Leros who have good reason to fear for their security in an economoc crisis frankly imposed on them by Northern European bullies. These islanders have routinely shown migrants pouring on to their shores the hospitality and shelter that Welby ignores.There may be fear- but it is Welby’s job to preach an answer to fear, and that answer is kindness.

The islanders in Greece deserve a nobel prize in the same way that Welby deserves to be stripped of his office (or at least suspended for the duration of the Referendum). This is what Spyros Limneos said,

“By opening their hearts the islanders sent a powerful message that humanity is above races, above nations.”

Humza Yousaf, up in Scotland, has the right idea, of course! Certainly he’s ready to debate the idea without all this “fear” nonsense. But really, he is not alone. We may talk about the many things we must thank the waves of migrants for over the years- from fine tailoring to fish and chips but we must still also be ready as a Nation to help those who need help now, and- as for economic migrants: well, many of those we need too- they are the ones with the vision and maybe the skills to kickstart our economy. Fear-mongers are just plain wrong!

humza

Oh, and unless it looks like I advocate a migrant “free for all”, not at all. Our responsibility is to be ready without fear to welcome these strangers but the response to our kindness and hospitality is also responsibility and people who come here have their own responsibility to learn our language, promote our values and engage in our society.

Migration is not part of the Referendum

I understand many of the arguments put forward by BREXIT as also by the “staying in” camp, but there are enough valid issues to be discussed without touching on that of migration: economics, fishing, farming, political independence and so on. Moreoever, the migration issue was surely done to death last year by the nasty brigade that lurks within UKIP (Believe me, there are some very good and noble UKIPpers who, like me, think the migration issue should be off-limits). Migration is a separate deal that will be solved by finding a Syrian peace, and by working in harmony with our neighbours to deal with the flow of migrants: the migration issue will continue whether we are “in” or “out” of the EU and the Archbishop gives a very cheap and simplistic lead in what he says today. What he also says is categorically against the spirit not only of Christianity which he represents, but of Judaism and Islam. It is wholly wrong. Leave it to others to preach fear if he must. BUT If he intends to stay in office, or indeed leave office with any honour, this garrulous priest needs to shut his mouth for the rest of the summer.

Boris

Boris lightened the tone today by referencing Welby’s comments and saying that after the referendum, we may need prayer. We certainly need unity and we need to work on that now. the referendum may well energise our democracy but we must be careful that it does not fracture our society as indeed the Scottish referendum threatened to do. We need to engage in this debate without fear, and look at both sides so we can reach a decision that leads us to make a reliable and informed vote in the summer. It is the role of the churches and faiths to bind us together during this process: we will remain a single Nation and British whether we are “in” or “out”. I would like to see us become a better Nation for this debate.

to the Queen

http://www.breitbart.com/london/2015/06/25/exclusive-buckingham-palace-backs-queen-on-europe-speech/

queen1There is a great moment in the play “A Man for All Seasons” by Robert Bolt when Thomas More is finally brought to trial for treason and faces Sir Richard Rich (played in the film by John Hurt), the man who has perjured himself and More asks, “Is it probable that after so long a silence on this the very point so urgently sought of me, I should open my mind to such a man as that?” As Richard prepares to leave the chamber, More looks at his new chain of office- “the red dragon?.. Why Richard it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world, but for Wales?”

This exchange is very much in my mind as I read about the alleged indiscretion about EU by Her Majesty the Queen. Quite apart from the fact that private conversations are by custom never made public, the question lingers- why would a monarch who has spent 63 years carefully avoiding political controversy open her heart to the people at lunch that day on 8th April 2011? I simply find it unbelievable. The Queen is above party politics and this story should not have been splashed over the front page of The Sun. But as it was, it is worth looking in a bit more detail to see that is actually alleged to have been said-

In 2011, the Queen is supposed to have told Nick Clegg that she believed the EU was going in the “wrong direction”. She was apparently very forceful in the presentation of her views. This was when the Euro was in full-blown crisis, with a deeply dodgy Italian Prime Minister clinging on to office despite a gathering sex scandal, and just before the first IMF bailout to Greece. The lunch took place on 8th April so a quick trawl through the internet shows that on 7th, Portugal joined Greece in requesting financial help. So, (a) Her Majesty’s alleged views well-precede any serious discussion on a Brexit, and are long before the PM called a Referendum and (b) are little more than a statement of fact. I cannot imagine anyone with sanity believes that EU has been infallible or foolpoof and indeed, most people would agree with the Queen, even today, whether they advocate an “in” or “out” option in the Referendum. If she said anything at all, then some serious “spin” has been added to the telling.

However, both Lord Mcnally and Nick Clegg deny that any such views were expressed at all at the Lunch. Nick Clegg said on TV this morning, ‘It is not true. I have certainly, absolutely no recollection of a conversation like that, which I suspect I would have remembered if it had taken place. I just think it’s wrong that people who want to take us out of the European Union to now try and drag the Queen for their own purposes into this European referendum debate.’

However, there can be no doubt at all that the EU has followed “the wrong direction” and requires (radical) reform, so that simple statement, whether made by the Queen or not, neither supports a BREXIT nor a “stay in” vote. It is simply common sense. I hope enough noise is now made about the referendum that, whatever the result, the EU tidies up its act significantly. There should never have been reason to campaign for the fishermen in Cornwall, but their livelihood is in danger as indeed is the whole British Fishing industry. The way Europe has treated Greece is deplorable and its handling of the Syrian refugee crisis has been tardy, sanctimonious and foolhardy. There are times when urgent action is demanded and instead, the EU has observed a number of serious crises, from the banking crisis to the humanitarian crisis that is Syria and, frankly, fiddled. “The wrong direction?” Most certainly!

But to draw from this comment in 2011 the conclusion that the Queen favours BREXIT in 2016 is absurd and cheap. A number of people today are being exposed as the possible source of this Palace leak- and how petty, weak and insignificant they appear – dragging the Monarch into a debate she never entered and scoring a cheap home-goal.

Among those who deserve a smack is the otherwise admirable Rees Mogg: He was reported in the original Sun report as saying “I’d be delighted if this was true and Her Majesty is a Brexiter.” He later tweeted “The Queen will be mortified to have been manipulated thus. It does Brexit enormous discredit.”So, let’s hope Mr Rees Mogg was also been mis-quoted by the people in the Sun. It wouldn’t be the first time.

gove

Apparently, beyond Mr Clegg and another Liberal, Lord McNally (both champions of the “In” campaign anyway), there are two likely candidates for leaking the alleged comments- they are, firstly as forerunner and chief suspect, Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary and a prominent “outer” who says he had “no idea” where the claims came from and whose department underlined his innocence  this morning with the statement that, ‘We don’t comment on private conversations with the Queen.’ Secondly, the Welsh Secretary, Cheryl Gillian, who, so far, has issued no denials – what should we conclude?

“Why Cheryl, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world, but for Wales?”

 

PS: here is a link to a Breitbart article. This organisation is very pro-UKIP so I think more reliable than most to stress the Queen’s pro-EU thoughts. It claims her speech was written for her, so does not express her views… but I think it restores balance and frankly is in tune with the Queen’s approach to what matters- unity and kindness. Whatever our views on the referendum, we must now look beyond that to ensure that unity in our country is fully restored as soon as any decision is made.

http://www.breitbart.com/london/2015/06/25/exclusive-buckingham-palace-backs-queen-on-europe-speech/

“Since 1945 the United Kingdom has determined to number among Germany’s very strongest friends in Europe. In the intervening decades, Britain and Germany have achieved so much by working together. I have every confidence that we will continue to do so in the years ahead.

“Our work together includes every part of life, from politics to commerce, from industry to every aspect of the arts, in particular, music, museums and education.

“In our lives we have seen the worst but also the best of our continent. We have witnessed how quickly things can change for the better. But we know that we must work hard to maintain the benefits of the post-war world. We know that division in Europe is dangerous and that we must guard against it in the West as well as in the East of our continent. That remains a common endeavour.”

“Since 1945 the United Kingdom has determined to number among Germany’s very strongest friends in Europe. In the intervening decades, Britain and Germany have achieved so much by working together. I have every confidence that we will continue to do so in the years ahead.

“Our work together includes every part of life, from politics to commerce, from industry to every aspect of the arts, in particular, music, museums and education.

“In our lives we have seen the worst but also the best of our continent. We have witnessed how quickly things can change for the better. But we know that we must work hard to maintain the benefits of the post-war world. We know that division in Europe is dangerous and that we must guard against it in the West as well as in the East of our continent. That remains a common endeavour.”

Getting real in London

khanSometimes, even as an artist who admires Aubrey Beardsley and Erte, I have to bite the bullet and admit that substance is more important than appearance. The race for the London mayor is one of those times. It may seem like some sort of abstract Platonic argument- that we need to ignore the glitzy images and look at the reality behind the razamatazz, but that is how it is. The reality stinks and we have to identify it for what it really is: bad judgement, and demagogy.

Today, Sadiq Khan revealed who he really is and this is disappointing, even if I have been repeatedly warned. There has been alot of things said about a possible Khan win confirming the dreadful Corbyn in his place as leader of the opposition and that this win would confirm the position and the power of the man who presides over the destruction of the labour party- why would I care about that? I am a Tory! But I enjoy the challenge of a good debate and since Corbyn came to office, that has been missing in the House of commons. Instead, we are treated to a self-satisfied litany of what Betty said to Sally and what Bert thinks of Dave. What we want are some facts rather than a series of quasi-religious quotations. The commons, anyway, is not the time for semi-anonymous or barely-invented hearsay.

But it is the self-righteousness of Corbyn that dominates.

corbyn-tim

Rhetoric:

What I loved about Tony Benn and particularly about Michael Foot as orators was the element of conviction which was matched by the possibility of doubt in what they said. Another way to put that is to use the word “humility”. I am sure no one has ever accused Tony Benn of humility before, but he was a man who knew his place as did Foot. Yet I admired their skills in speaking even if I rejected what they said. There is nothing I can admire in Corbyn. I think Corbyn has yet to learn what his place should be. He has been thrust into the political spotlight too fast, and while on the Breakfast-time sofa on TV, he sounds reasonable, he has not yet found his place as a national orator or leader in the Commons. He might well be a nice man- who knows? That is not important- Corbyn’s job is not simply to represent his party -he does not incidentally- but he is also the voice of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition. He represents a challenge across the political parties to the sitting Prime Minister- he demonstrably does not do that either. Instead, he represents  a small vocal faction of the Labour party. So, Mr Corbyn fails absolutely to serve his country. He serves himself and his clamouring supporters.

But should Khan win in the Mayoral race, just like a second Oldham by-election, Corbyn’s position will be even more protected and we shall have to suffer even more litanies from his makeshift lectern of what John and Jenny, Mary and Jo have to say when all we really want to hear is the authentic voice of the Leader of the opposition. Any opposition! Without that voice, Mr Cameron must look to his own party to find a challenge: we have not elected a dictatorship.

If Mr Corbyn continues to demonstrate that he cannot do or does not want to do this job, then in the interests of Parliamentary democracy, someone else must surely do it for him. I do not want to hear any more about John and Jenny, Mary and Luke or whatever improbable names are chanted in the prayers Corbyn leads weekly (or weakly?) at the dispatch box. This is not the Bidding prayers in a local church. So, now might be the time for the SNP to step up, maybe and assume the office so abandoned or mutilated by Corbyn?

Lame Duck quacking in Commons

Let me be clear, as a Tory supporter, I do not see any advantage in having a lame duck Leader of the Opposition. Let the lame duck lay eggs on the backbench with the other quacks. If he wants to do TV shows with Michael Portillo, that too would be great news- anything indeed, save this travesty at the dispatch box week after wretched week.

And so to Khan himself. Whatever rosette is worn by any candidate for Mayor, we ought to presume competence, but today Khan demonstrates his utter INcompetence by trusting a man who has apparently a homophobic record and then sacking him. I am not sure which is the worst offence. If the homophobia was so much a thing of the past (some reports say this was recently on twitter, but some say this was stuff from 2012) then it no longer matters and the man should have kept his job, but if it demonstrates a continued prejudice, then clearly he should go and the question lingers about Khan’s own judgement- Khan sacked Shueb Salar after a letter from our own Priti Patel. He was badgered into action because he failed to act decisively in the first place, or he failed to check or worse still, he faild to notice or to care. And however it is spun, the fact remains, why could Khan not see that such prejudice undermines not only his campaign, and his credibility but the claims that Labour repeatedly make for the moral highground. This is what Ms Patel wrote,

“This man has a Parliamentary pass and thus privileged access. Do you not think it is incumbent upon you to check the background of those who are given such access in your name?

“Is Mr Salar therefore still on your payroll and is he still receiving taxpayers’ money while the investigation takes place?”

“Even if you didn’t run checks on him before appointing him, his comments could easily be viewed on Twitter as recently as a week ago, particularly as your account follows his. … You appear to hesitate and/or turn a blind eye when you come into contact with those whose views are deplorable. And you appear to regularly come into contact with such people.”

I think this event shows one of the biggest of Khan’s failings and it is a failing shared by Corbyn. Indeed, it sums them both up because they both want to say what they feel their own particular cronies, or their own particular audience want to hear from them. Khan says whatever will win him votes (he has no shame)- and Corbyn says what he thinks will please the people who voted him into power- John, Jane and Jenny who he talks about so often in the Commons and who clearly pull his strings. But in both cases, their intended job is bigger than this miniscule audience of alleged admirers. That is their common failing!

the modest bow

And that is why Boris was so much better. Because Boris managed to appeal beyond his core voters and across party lines.

While Corbyn has developed a joy in displeasing those MPs among whom he stands, in an effort to please his latent supporters penning letters in the labour heartlands, Khan has developed a slippery fish-like quality of pleasing whomsoever he happens to be talking to. But while Corbyn looks limp and lame,  Khan looks false. How is this possible when essentially they are following the same brief? However, Khan, Like Blair, when he is caught in a fix, thinks a quick attack on an old trusted friend will do the job, but it simply exposes the lie- Mr Khan either knew his friend was a homophobe and did not care, or he sacrificed his friend because a Conservative minister inconveniently dug up dirt from the past.  Mr Khan fails the loyalty test or he fails the far more important test of trusting the wrong people in the first place.

We need to believe that the future Mayor of London will have the right friends, will command loyalty and will make the right decisions for the right reason. we have to trust he will not be badgered into action by the media, or say something just because he is caught in the headlights of public attention.

For what it is worth, I would like to see London led by a Muslim Mayor. But not this one.

 

PS: This is what Boris said today (a few days after I posted the text above, sorry:)

boris speaking

Boris Johnson

The murder of Lee Rigby was an event that outraged and sickened Londoners, and the memories of that tragedy are still raw. I find it absolutely incredible that Sadiq Khan, a candidate for the office of Mayor of London, could hire as his speechwriter someone who has suggested that event was in any way fabricated.

To my mind that shows an appalling lack of judgement, and I do not see how Mr Khan could command the confidence – or the support – of Londoners.