Tag Archives: Democracy

So Long, Leonard Cohen, Poet, Novelist, Singer-Songwriter, RIP 1934-2016

Leonard Cohen, d.2016 – a year of losses

Over the last year, Brexit, Trump and the Right have been winners, the liberal Left losers this year. Leonard Cohen’s “Democracy is coming to the USA” is darkly ironic. Apart from Cohen, the arts world has also lost Alexis Arquette, David Bowie, Prince, Lou Reed, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder and many more including too many comedians, just yesterday, Napoleon Solo – Robert Vaughn. Cohen died aged 82, the day before the American Presidential Election. At least, he now joins 1960s partner Marianne, to whom he wrote shortly before her death a few months back:

“Well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine…. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”

So Long, Marianne, 1967

Cohen met Marianne Jensen on the Greek island of Hydra in 1960, whilst seeking some healthy sun, as recommended by his dentist! A woman of wisdom and beauty, she captivated him and had recently been left by her Norwegian novelist husband, and so began a love affair that lasted the 60s.

Spanish love affair

Cohen sang that before he fell for Marianne he “used to think [he] was some kind of Gypsy boy”. He was inspired by the Spanish poet Lorca, assassinated, aged just 38 during the Spanish Civil War.

At an awards ceremony in Spain, he said that in search of a voice, “It was only when I read, even in translation, the works of Lorca that I understood that there was a voice.”

“It is not that I copied his voice; I would not dare. But he gave me permission to find a voice, to locate a voice, that is to locate a self, a self that is not fixed, a self that struggles for its own existence. As I grew older, I understood that instructions came with this voice. What were these instructions? The instructions were never to lament casually. And if one is to express the great inevitable defeat that awaits us all, it must be done within the strict confines of dignity and beauty.” Leonard Cohen’s acceptance speech at award of Prince of Asturias literature prize, 2011 (Other awards)

Musically, Cohen also learned just five or six Flamenco chords from a Spanish guitar teacher who killed himself before his fourth lesson.

“Journalists, especially English journalists, were very cruel to me. They said I only knew three chords when I knew five!”

Nonetheless, they became the musical basis of his mournful music – that, and the gravitas of his gravelly “golden voice”.


It was, however, the combination of his sounds with the poetry of his own soul searching that leant it real depth, despair, darkness and désolé.

Your letters they all say that you’re beside me now.
Then why do I feel alone?
I’m standing on a ledge and your fine spider web
is fastening my ankle to a stone.
Now so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began …
For now I need your hidden love.
I’m cold as a new razor blade. (So Long, Marianne)

(So Long, Marianne)

Cohen once joked that his record company should package razor blades with his records. His sometimes subversive humour amidst the angst and anxiety, strangely softened the pervasively painful lyrics.

“Any startling piece of work has a subversive element in it, a delicious element often.”

He sought in his own way “to be free” (‘Like a bird on the wire‘) and his writing in all forms drew you in if you were among the “inner-directed adolescents, lovers in all degrees of anguish, disappointed Platonists, pornography-peepers, hair-handed monks and Popists.”, as he wrote to his publisher.

More positively, he said and sung:

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”


Bob Dylan

Recent Nobel Literature Laureate, Bob Dylan, would probably acknowledge that he could have shared the prize with Cohen. The pair were discovered by the same music scout in the early 1960s, and whilst many – including himself, regarded Dylan as the number one, (Dylan joked he was number zero to Cohen’s one) Cohen was a strong contender for the number two spot as greatest songwriter for a generation.

“Second only to Bob Dylan (and perhaps Paul Simon), he commands the attention of critics and younger musicians more firmly than any other musical figure from the 1960s who is [was] still working at the outset of the 21st century.” – Bruce Eder


Annoyingly, for Cohen at least, he worked hard at what came more easily to Dylan. What took Cohen five years to write Dylan could knock out in hours or less. Most famously, ‘Hallelujah’ took 5 years to write, probably down to the near-infinite number of verses, and almost a generation to rise to its modern reputation and dubious honour of being on the Shrek soundtrack.

Faith and Drugs

Cohen came from a Canadian-Lithuanian-Polish line of successful and literate Jews, Talmudic scholars, businessmen, and synagogue founders. He practised his Judaism, but that didn’t interfere with his spiritual exploration of other beliefs from Scientology to Buddhism in the 1970s, leading to his ordination as a Zen Buddhist monk in the 90s. Of Jesus of Nazareth he said:

“I’m very fond of Jesus Christ. He may be the most beautiful guy who walked the face of this earth. Any guy who says ‘Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the meek’ has got to be a figure of unparalleled generosity and insight and madness…A man who declared himself to stand among the thieves, the prostitutes and the homeless. His position cannot be comprehended. It is an inhuman generosity. A generosity that would overthrow the world if it was embraced because nothing would weather that compassion. I’m not trying to alter the Jewish view of Jesus Christ. But to me, in spite of what I know about the history of legal Christianity, the figure of the man has touched me.” Leonard Cohen: In His Own Words (1998)

Perhaps he was a depressed Spock-lookalike figure, at times, but he also pursued life in all its fullness. From drugs to drink to women and wisdom, he ploughed life’s lows in search of its highs. In the end, he was neither a pure Buddhist nor a “really good junkie” but somehow the former, even as a drug in some way itself, held off the latter.

As he turned 65, he finally felt at peace with himself and the world, to some degree at least. He described it as acceptance and learning to ignore rather than solve himself.

Kurt Cobain wrote in Nirvana’s ‘Pennyroyal Tea’ (1993)

“Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld
  So I can sigh eternally.”

After his suicide, Cohen wished he’s been able to speak to Cobain:

“I’m sorry I couldn’t have spoken to the young man. I see a lot of people at the Zen Centre, who have gone through drugs and found a way out that is not just Sunday school. There are always alternatives, and I might have been able to lay something on him.”

Democracy and Darkness

He leaves behind, millions of devotees, missing the mournfulness and aged adolescent agonising of his search for meaning. Even now, his songs remain poignant, if somewhat ironic, like ‘Democracy‘, and it still feels like ‘You want it Darker’ (2016) lies ahead, but perhaps too, we’ll also find the peace, that he found and now rests in.

“I’ve seen the nations rise and fall,
I’ve heard their stories, heard them all.
But love’s the only engine of survival.”

“Sail on, sail on
O mighty ship of State
To the shores of need
Past the reefs of greed
Through the squalls of hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on”


Battle of Brexit continues as Government loses High Court Article 50 ruling

Article 50 & the Battle of Brexit Britain

So the Battle of Brexit is back on as Theresa May v Parliament, the alleged powers of the crown and office of PM v ministers, Leave vs Remain, UK v EU, England v Scotland, UKIP v itself, presses on. The High Court has ruled that the UK government must consult Parliament before triggering Article 50 to leave EU. In addition, the original drafter of Article 50 reminds us that the treaty clause says nothing about canceling the process if the political landscape changes, another referendum or general election changes things, or the likely ‘Hard Brexit’ deal is unappealing.

Newspaper Response

Brexit High Court ruling newspaper response 4 Nov 2016
Brexit High Court ruling newspaper response 4 Nov 2016

The Right Wing tabloids such as the Daily Mail went for character assassination of the High Court judges, including describing one with disdain as “openly gay”, or like The Sun attacking the petitioners as elite and/or foreign. The Daily Telegraph published a column by Nigel Farage on the front page.

Dominic Grieve, the Conservative former attorney general, said reading hostile coverage in the Mail and the Daily Telegraph “started to make one think that one was living in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe … I think there’s a danger of a sort of mob psyche developing – and mature democracies should take sensible steps to avoid that”. – The Guardian

Social Media Response

North East English Defence League Brexit Riots
North East English Defence League Brexit Riots?

Hard Right Brexiters and the EDL have promised riots if Parliament votes against Article 50. The nature of things to come?

So, the battle to stay or go has been reignited.

The Government is going to appeal to the Supreme Court but this is embarrassing for Theresa May and will add delays to the process. The appeal, may, ironically, end up in the European Court of Justice! Something that would not appeal to Nigel Farage.

The so-called Democratic Party have launched ‘Operation Beacon‘ to “enforce Brexit”

Gina Miller who led the petitioners bringing the court case against the government has now received death and sexual assault threats from online trolls following the High Court victory.

Labour leadership contender, MP Owen Smith has now called for Labour to amend a parliamentary Article 50 Bill to include a second EU referendum on it.

Crown & Prime Minister v the People

The argument by the Government that it can use the Crown’s royal prerogative powers is itself a smack in the face for democracy and Parliament’s sovereignty – the very thing Brexiters claim was the main reason for leaving the European Union. Yes, the EU Referendum was democracy in action, albeit with huge lies, fearmongering and bribes, on both sides – but, then saying that the PM now has the final say, reverses that very democracy. The PM is unelected and is not sovereign over Parliament’s MPs – who were elected on a stronger more honest mandate than a yes/no poorly managed Referendum campaign only brought in to appease the Tory Right so that they did not join UKIP. So just who is the Crown and who are the People? UKIP seem to be laying claim to being the voice of the people – if that it the result of Brexit then everyone loses in the long run.

Article 50 may not be final

Article 50 The Lisbon Treaty of the EU
Article 50 The Lisbon Treaty of the EU

So, the leaving process can and could be halted, not just by court action, but also since Article 50 is not irreversible according to its drafter. John Kerr, a former UK chief diplomat, and Secretary General of the European Convention, has stated the obvious, that anyone reading Article 50 can discern for themselves, that:

“It is not irrevocable – you can change your mind while the process is going on.” Lord Kerr

Indeed, Kerr suggested that the purpose of Article 50 was to slow down dictators from taking existing members out of the EU too quickly, nobody envisaged a country democratically withdrawing – although that right, should and does exist.

Hard Brexit would sink UK like the Titanic

Former equivocating Leave campaign leader and now bumbling Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said, this week at the Spectator Awards that Britain would make a “Titanic success of Brexit”. When the audience yelled out “it sank!”, one has to wonder whether he knew or was well aware of what he was saying.

Adding further poignancy to the event, Nigel Farage won the Spectator Lifetime Achievement Award. This recalls the Brexit Battle on the River Thames earlier this summer.

Currency & Stock Market Response

The Pound has leapt 1.5% against the Dollar and nearly 2% against the Euro in just a morning on the currency markets in response.

The near 20% fall in Sterling since the EU Referendum has made exports cheaper, but the cost of using Microsoft software for business has just risen 22%. Lenovo and Apple have raised their prices 10-20%. For the poor and vulnerable, food, drink, energy, and transport costs are all rising. The Government is guaranteeing that car manufacturers will not suffer during trade and tariff deals, meaning that they will find a way to compensate (itself against WTO rules) them or negotiate a trade deal on a sector-by-sector basis, something the non-car producing nations may block.

The FTSE-250 jumped 1.5%, it is made up of more British revenue-based businesses. The FTSE-100 lost 0.6% as it is more made up of multinationals with balance sheets in Dollars.

Where are the lines of democracy drawn?

Whilst a slim majority voted for Brexit, it was not a majority of either voters or the population. It was also regionally divisive. Northern Ireland and Scotland votes to stay, as did London and Norwich! More interestingly, Wales voted to leave, yet is concerned that England is driving the terms of Brexit against the wishes of regionally devolved parliaments like the Welsh and Scots.

Carwyn Jones, First Minister of Wales, has now called for votes on Brexit terms and negotiating positions to take place in Cardiff, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as Westminster. Democracy may have begun a process to take the UK out of the EU, but it may also have triggered a process to take Scotland and others out of the UK. With the Government playing hard ball against the regions, nay countries, of the UK, we are storing up future problems and questions over whose sovereignty is paramount.

Theresa May seems to be arguing that the courts should not stand in the way of the Government. So the Government is above the law? Suzanne Evans, of UKIP, agrees, and has called for the judges in today’s decision to be sacked!

Whilst many fearmongering scenarios may be unlikely, and initial economic data post-EU Referendum is not as bad as feared – yet, it does show that continued discussion and opposition may be fruitful, whether to change our negotiating position with the EU, or to wriggle our way out of Brexit itself. If that is a possibility, there needs to be a wider political discussion before a clearer and cleaner campaign and a second referendum on any final EU deal. Paddy Power have, today, halved the odds from 10/1 to 5/1 of a second EU referendum taking place before 2019.

So, as the Battle of Brexit reignites, with the threat of appeals and riots, this is neither over nor barely begun in divided Britain. After the last 6 months of the EU Referendum campaigns, increased hate crimes, rising stock markets and falling Pound, the likelihood of fresh devolution votes – Britain will not be healed or united by either leaving or remaining. Crown and Parliament have been set against each other, and democracy and debate seem to be the losers. Leave campaigners think the former is ignored if the Referendum vote it upheld. Remainers believe the vote was tarnished by lies and a politically-motivated campaign run for reasons other than the over-simplified seemingly consequence-free question being asked. At the very least, the debate should remain open to challenge Hard Brexit and Brexit means Brexit positions, and to see how the mind of the EU and the UK changes over the duration of Article 50, should it be triggered, and should it lead to Brexit, given that it is possible to cancel the process if the terms of #Brexit are too hard to bear.


‘Honest’ Nigel Farage & his “victory for real, ordinary, decent people”?

Real, Ordinary, Decent Nigel Farage?

More lies from Leave.EU and UKIP‘s ‘normal Nigel’ – I’m glad I’m not normal! Presumably, unlike Nigel Farage and his supporters, I’m not real, ordinary or decent, either! That said, he stood by his convictions, and was more down to earth than other EU or UK politicians, no wonder his message, however much I disagree with it, clicked with an increasing number of working class people. The worry – where do we go from here and what next for English and other nationalists? Democracy sucks when you’re on the losing side!

“We’ve got our country back” – Nigel Farage

“Dare to dream that dawn is breaking on an independent united kingdom…” – Nope, we are disunited and the Kingdom is likely to fracture and Vote Leave the UK next.

“a victory for real, ordinary, decent people” – What does that make Remainers?

“we have fought against lies, corruption and deceit…honesty, decency is going to win” – Erm no, you perpetuated and propagated lies about migrants, EU costs, fishing and more.

“we have done it without having to fight, without a single bullet being fired” – Tell that to Jo Cox MP.

“let’s get rid of the flag, the anthem, Brussels and all that has gone wrong, let June 23rd go down in history as our Independence Day”

Destroying the EU and the UK?

“The E.U.’s failing. The E.U.’s dying. I hope we’ve knocked the first brick out of the wall.” – Nigel Farage

And so it begins. The BBC described the UK’s Brexit as “receiving a rapturous welcome from Europe’s far Right”, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Worrying praise indeed.

Geert Wilders calls for E.U. Referendum in the Netherlands, “The Netherlands will be next”, he said. A Dutch television station Een Vandaag had a recent survey polling that a majority of the Dutch would vote ‘Out’ on a European Union referendum.

In FranceMarine Le Pen said that “The French must now also have the chance to choose”.

Spain is calling for Gibraltar back. Sweden, too, has suggested it might Swexit along with Frexit and Nexit.

Nicola Sturgeon says that Scotland will be drawing up legislation to leave the UK to protect its position, after “significant and material changes in circumstances”, subject to the Scottish Parliament’s will, and this will take place the 2-year Article 50 timeframe.

“The entire island of Ireland should be able to vote on unification”. Sinn Fein called for a referendum and said that the UK had lost the mandate to speak for Northern Ireland.

Even “Remain” London is stirring up London’s independence – #londependence! The vintage comedy film, Passport to Pimlico, comes to mind!

£350m a week “free money”, a “feather bed”

Nigel Farage Brexit thanks
Nigel Farage Brexit thanks

But it won’t go the NHS, despite the ads. The ads were a “mistake” and nothing to do with me, says ‘honest’ Nige, in an ITV Good Morning Britain interview with Susanna Reid.

UK EU Referendum results

51.9% voted for ‘Leave,’ 48.1% for ‘Remain’
Leave won 17,410,742 votes to Remain’s 16,141,241 votes

If Economics is Heartless, how can Politics realistically deliver the Heart

A Political Confession

Between you and me, I once voted Tory – 30 years ago, and never yet Labour until Jeremy Corbyn inspired me. The Labour Leadership campaign, until Corbyn’s shoe-in to liven up the deadly proceedings, had initially deadened me to more of the same public school Oxbridge blue Labourites. Corbyn added heart, soul and principles – I don’t have to agree with him entirely, but we need a Tony Benn or Michael Foot for their beliefs and ethics, not just electability or the in-word according to Radio 4, credibility.

In the intervening 30 years I’ve voted LibDem and Green believing in free speech, equality and the environment. I have an Economics degree to my name, and so understand the economy – but it’s not an exact science, it’s more like being a meteorologist or historian with failed predictions and over-analytical hindsight still not faithfully dictating future outcomes.

“true Labour not blue Labour”

Corbyn has injected humane passionate inclusive positive politics back into the mix, he’s avoided criticism of the other candidates and made politics appealing to all ages once again. He’s packed out halls up and down the country. He’s apologised on behalf of Labour and welcome new and old members to Labour’s fold. He is, “true Labour not blue Labour“.


Globalisation is here to stay – and that is a good thing. I believe in a true globalisation, a fair trade where second and third world (what classist terminology) countries can export through economies of scale and relatively cheap labour until they rise up the economic rankings like the BRIC nations have but Africa, bar Nigeria and its oil, haven’t.

Capitalism and the not-so-Free Market

Capitalism exists not because of free market forces, but because those with power and economic privilege are able to fix the market. Under a true free market capitalism the banks, Iceland, Greece etc would have been allowed to go bust and would no doubt have been reformed and rebuilt (probably with outside support and freedom to reset currency) like Germany and Japan were post-War.

The EU or the fixed federal currency market, is not a free market, nor is protectionist America.

I no more believe in socialism as a divorced from reality theory than I do conservatism or capitalism, I do however believe in equality, human rights, opportunity and globalisation – as opportunity and undeniable reality. What this means is that my voting intentions lie across the field from Green to Liberal, Labour to Conservative, though given half the chance north of the border I’d probably vote SNP.

Nationalisation and Investment

I do believe in the re-nationalisation of basic transport, energy, and broadband, or their shared ownership by not-for-profit community interest companies as an alternative to buying them back. The Internet and fast transport are the modern industrial revolution, changes that cannot and should not be rolled back.

I also believe in responsible re-investment whilst interest rates are low and we have AAA rating. In infrastructure, for example, that will enable entrepreneurial expansion – something even Corbyn has voiced, he is not stuck entirely in the 1970s or the 1790s as Boris Johnson has termed it. Housing, transport, green/new-energy and technology need investment. Corbyn has said, as part of his Better Business plan:

“The current government seems to think ‘pro-business’ means giving a green light to corporate tax avoiders and private monopolies. I will stand up for small businesses, independent entrepreneurs, and the growing number of enterprises that want to cooperate and innovate for the public good.”

Socialism and People First

Vulnerable people need protection – Capitalism does not provide that. There has to be compromise with free market economics to achieve community care, compassion, and ethical responsibility. The focus on prosperity and opportunity ignores the needs of fair provision for all people and those disadvantaged by lack of possibility.

Socialism cannot meet that need without compromises either. I’ve always been a free market relative small-‘c’ capitalist with a socialist heart, green environment and liberal free speecher – that doesn’t mean a compromise candidate, but a strong-valued candidate willing to balance means and objectives, and prioritise people not power, not compromise principlesLabour has gone too far down the compromise route.

The language of “we cannot deliver principles or priorities until we have gained power (by any means)” leads to voter distrust. The politics of the majority may well be those of aspiration but the needs of the many are actually those of desperation and disenfranchisement.

“Something deeply attractive to most people in society of the idea of the cohesive, the coherent, the collective. The idea you don’t blame minorities, the idea you don’t make people with disabilities suffer, you don’t walk away from people with mental health conditions, you don’t walk away from people with problems. There’s something strong about a cohesive society…” – Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn & Political Change

Personally, switching from privilege to privation, through life and mental health circumstances, changed my politics. Politics now lacks principles and heart, Corbyn, Nicola Sturgeon, Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood bring back something of that. They may yet reinvigorate the electorate.

Andy Burnham appears to be an opportunist, accused of flip-flopping policies for best outcome – remember he’s stood for leader before. Yvette Cooper has political history and association with the Blair-Brown years, and Liz Kendall is way too Blairite – and now cursed by the other Miliband. A cabinet composed of all of them stands a chance but bar Burnham (who seems to be manoeuvring himself to hedge his bets whilst everyone bets on Corbyn 1/4 whilst Burnham is 4/1) the others have stubbornly refused to share a table with Corbyn and Labour luminaries have done everything possible to derail and invalidate the democratic revival the leadership race has brought.

Democracy and Mass Appeal

By mass appeal I’m not talking majority aspiration, but appealing to the masses, the people who exist near the bottom bent under the weight of everyone else getting ahead by aspiration and avarice, and leaving them behind. Those forgotten, that even David Cameron cynically swore in 2010 before the election that he would not forget, during austerity. The poor, those on benefits, immigrants, the disabled, those with mental health issues, the forgotten and might as well be ‘disappeared’.

Facebook Labour Leadership Likes
Facebook pages – Labour Leadership Likes

If print media column inches are counted then Jeremy Corbyn is streets ahead,  and if social media is anything to go by then his Facebook campaign has 62,000 supporters (& 78k on his personal page) to Andy Burnham’s under 5,000 (18k on his personal page) Yvette Cooper’s 400 (20k on her personal page) and Liz Kendall’s 115 (7k on her personal page). Among my friends alone, 70 have liked Corbyn’s campaign page, 1 Burnham’s, and another has a declared interest for Kendall. It may be the Facebook generation that he is reaching, but by a long chalk he is the one Labour leadership contender reaching it. A spoof page for Liz Kendall for Tory leader has 3 times as many likes as the one for Labour leader.

Labour Leadership stats on Facebook
Labour Leadership stats on Facebook

Aside from social media, Corbyn is taking towns and cities by storm to packed-out venue crowds and queues down the street if feedback from  Norwich is anything to go by. More than 1500 registered to attend an 800-seat event, so Jeremy stepped outside to address, without notes, those who couldn’t get in. Many chose not to attend once they knew it was over-capacity. this was Norwich’s biggest political rally in decades.  This over-capacity story was repeated in Ealing, Glasgow, Leeds, London, Newcastle and other locations.

“This is a phenomenon, the like of which I haven’t seen in 40 years of watching Labour from close-quarters. Because it’s feeding off an aching for change that’s coming from ordinary Labour supporters below, not being imposed by rulers from above” – Brian Reade in the Mirror

Opposition – A Party of Protest

We could not have a better Leader of the Opposition for the next 5 years, certainly post-Miliband’s silent slide from the scene post his #EdStone and election loss moment, than Corbyn. During the interregnum Labour has been impotent and were the SNP to be a UK-based party one might have seen Nicola Sturgeon as the true heir to opposition leader in Parliament.

The fear that Labour would be consigned to “oppositional politics” or be a “party of protest” were Corbyn to be at the helm, is not a bad thing. The third of the electorate that don’t vote include people disillusioned with politics and politicians who all seem the same, 50 shades of austerity rather than any alternative vision. We have had more Blue Labour post New Labour and at the last election could barely tell the parties apart.

Janet Daley, among others, writes that the Tories are now waking up to the fear that Corbyn may win, after their initial glee at his rise, thinking that Labour had shot itself in the ‘Michael Foot’. Electing someone the Tories fear will create true opposition and debate, not an establishment bi-party centre-right duopoly. We’ve had the political equivalent of price-fixing for too long. The female-led Greens, Plaid Cymru and SNP gave us a taste of political change but could not break the mould other than in Scotland.

When the Right calls a political spade a spade:

“The only way that Labour can win that contest is to become (as they see it) a Tory-lite party: Conservatism with a human face. And that is not, absolutely not, what they are interested in. If, in order to be electable, you must relinquish all your socialist precepts and learn to love the free-market economy, then there is nothing perverse in turning your back on electoral victory.”

And, when Right wing Boris Johnson and Janet Daley are in agreement with Labour’s Dan Hodges, one has to wonder that a politician this scary may actually be quite good.

Principles over Power

Standing up for principles over power, may inadvertently deliver power. Focusing on power at any cost, as Blair did – delivered electoral victory and increasing disillusionment among the faithful as they witnessed the rise of Tory Blair.

In fact, the interventions of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Miliband, Alastair CampbellPeter ‘Machiavelli’ Mandelson, and even Neil Kinnock are all proving counter-productive and appear as attempted establishment saving, rather than actually listening to the disenfranchised, for whom Labour was founded. The new class war is for the voiceless and voteless against the vices of the entrenched political victors (New Labour and New-but-increasingly-old Conservatives).

We could perhaps have a golden age of re-expansion with current cheap, albeit borrowed, money and investment, but it needs to be carefully managed not overspent – I’ve no idea who could deliver that, but I’d rather a realistic way to deliver Jeremy Corbyn’s heart were found than a heartless way to deliver Kendall’s power-hungry realism were.

Elections – Psephology, Psephologists, Psephos, Pebbles, Politics and Polls

Psephology is literally the -ology or study of pebbles – Greek ψῆφος psephos, or ‘pebble’, or the more prosaic, study of elections. It is a branch of political science notoriously fraught with failed election predictions via pre-election sample polling that can totally miss the main result. The term was first used in the UK in 1952 by historian R B McCallum to describe “the scientific analysis of past elections”. Elections and ‘scientific’ seem somewhat oxymoronic to me!

Athenian Secret Ballot Discs WikimediaVoting using pebbles or such common items such as mussel shells was certainly in use in 5th century BC Greece and earlier. By the 4th century BC some were using bronze or lead ballots with solid or hollow axles through the middle to distinguish between voting outcomes. The ballot with the pierced axle is inscribedpsephos demosia” or “public ballot”.

We get the word “ballot” from the Italian word ballotta or medieval French ballotte, a “small ball”. The casting of ballots is not to be confused with the throwing of stones such as done by a ‘ballista’, the medieval siege engine that could fire heavy bolts or large round stones. Latin ballista comes from the Greek βαλλίστρα ballistra from the Greek verb βάλλω ballō “to throw”.

Ostraka OstracismBy the 2nd century BC the Romans were beginning to use paper ballots – more practical than the Greek use of ostraka, shells or broken pottery sherds/shards, used to inscribe the names of people to be voted for as election nominees, or for rejection, as persons to be ostracised. Hence why, and from where, we get the word ostracism.

Votes, for or against, guilty or innocent – often a black stone for the former (hence ‘blackballing’ someone) and white for the latter, were deposited in urns or jars and subsequently counted. Initially, votes and voters were not secret or private, but, ever-innovative Greek democracy was beginning to establish the need for secret voting by the 5th century BC.

Ancient Greek Voting Ajax British Museum WikiA Greek wine cup of the period,in the J Paul Getty Museum Collection, depicts an early voting scene with an unhappy outcome. During the Trojan War, after the killing of Achilles, two Greek heroes, Ajax and Odysseus, both claim and compete for Achilles’ possessions – his weapons and armour, Ajax having saved and retrieved Achilles’ body from battle with the Trojans. Rather than argue or duel a vote is held. The terracotta wine cup shows Odysseus getting more pebbles and Ajax’s head-in-hands disappointment leading to him committing suicide by falling on his sword. He’d lost by just one vote and ironically took his life on a pebble beach, as depicted on the inside of the cup.

Well it was civilised up until that point! One can only imagine the losers in modern elections or contests like Eurovision and X-Factor falling on their swords after losing. Although, the psychological pressure to win in these talent competitions is so intense that I don’t doubt many end up depressed, self-harming or worse.

In the Bible, in Acts 26:10, St Paul describes how pre-conversion he’d sent Christians to their deaths by casting his vote (psephon, Strong’s Number #5586) against them.

Psephos is also the eponymous name of Adam Carr’s excellent Election Archive, the world’s largest online archive of election statistics from 182 countries and counting – Eurovision, So-and-so’s Got Talent, and X-Factor shows are not included! It includes excellent coverage of Australian, US, and UK, elections down to regional results.

Paul the psychic Octopus WikimediaPolling and predictions are perilous tasks for the non-psychic, being as relied upon in reality as an aquarium octopus vulgaris divining the World Cup results. Actually, Paul the German ‘common’ (for that is what vulgaris literally means) octopus was fairly accurate in his short 2 year life at predicting German football results! He was 85% right about the 2010 World Cup results and 100% right about the German games.

In order to better illustrate, inform, and “sex-up”, the presentation of political results, the BBC began, as far back as 1955, using the now infamous Swingometer – not an indicator of how polyamorous one is at certain private parties! Initially, the Swingometer was created to show swings between the two main political parties. From 1964 it began to illustrate the likely effect of voting on the composition of the UK Parliament, number of seats, majority or hung parliament outcomes.

SwingometerThe Swingometer was invented by Peter Milne and enhanced by psephologist Robert McKenzie, who, though Canadian, was one of the main BBC’s General Election programme presenters (1955 to 1979). McKenzie had also been, in 1963, a strong interviewer, a.k.a. early Jeremy Paxman-style, of Lord Hailsham during the infamous Profumo scandal.

The ebullient Peter Snow took over, following McKenzie’s death, and became renowned for his excitable gesticulations and reintroduction of the Swingometer from 1992. In 1994, he parodied his election night role by presenting analysis of the Eurovision Song Contest entries.

With the onward march of technology and television, election coverage has become ever more graphic, not in the Game of Thrones violence sense, just a plethora of graphical data, charts, numbers, infographics, visuals – but it seems the predictions are no better and people no more interested in participating.

Referendums (or referenda – see below) have been held recently in Crimea and Donetsk with dubious methodologies and legitimacy. Voter turnout of around 75% and pro-Russian support were surprisingly high for a nation that 22 years ago voted 90% in favour of leaving the Soviet Union. But then, that’s politics for you. Political affiliation and union, these days, needs its own swingometer to measure current dissatisfaction with the incumbent rulership.

The UK will soon have its own referendum on full devolution for Scotland – why not Wales, Northern Ireland, London and Greater Birmingham too? The fabulous 1949 Ealing Studios comedy, Passport to Pimlico, comes to mind with its comedic declaration of independence!

The main political parties are also under pressure to offer a referendum on leaving the European Union, unfortunately it is the European Broadcasting Union we would have to leave to get out of the Eurovision Song Contest!

At least pedants will always be able to argue whether it is referendums or referenda – it doesn’t affect the outcome, but is something to talk about during the vote count!

[Parts of this article were first published by me here]

Image Credits

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Swingometer.jpg low resolution fair use for the purpose of identification and reference

World Press Freedom Day – Journalism is essential to political accountability and personal liberty

May 3 is the twentieth World Press Freedom Day, a day to be celebrated, whether you like the media you read or not. Doing their job and trying to write free of political pressure or censorship has meant 200 journalists are currently imprisoned worldwide in countries like Azerbaijan, Bahrain, China, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Iran, Palestine, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

Freedom of the press means several things. Firstly it should be free of government influence, free to criticise in-power politicians, free to champion the causes of out-of-power ones and those who may have become political prisoners. As the recently deceased Tony Benn MP once said of democracy and those in power: “To whom are you accountable? How can we get rid of you?” – surely one of the tools of challenging politicians is a free Press which should go hand-in-hand with democracy. Tony Benn power democracy quote 2005 No journalism will ever be completely free of personal or political influence, therefore to be truly free, we need journalism of all flavours, passions and persuasions. From long established broadsheet papers like The London and New York Times, The Telegraph, Washington Post and Guardian, to Internet HuffPost, Wikileaks and even tabloid or so-called “gutter press” papers, and combative Radio 4 Today Programme and interrogative Paxman Newsnights – they are all necessary. If we believe in freedom of speech/writing then we cannot seek to control that based upon personal preference for a different style of news or belief on what constitutes news.

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” – Thomas Jefferson

Journalists should equally be free to write without editorial or media-owner pressure to toe a particular line. Any piece that bears their name should carry their opinion and theirs alone. They should even have input and a veto on headlines, which are so often written by others after their piece has been edited and approved. This is a part of journalistic transparency which we should be able to see in every article or story. Either in tandem with this, or in addition, there should be rules preventing monopoly and/or government ownership of the Press.

A sad but now inherent part of newspaper history was the so-called “Yellow Journalism” of the 1890s as William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer II of Pullitzer Prize fame battled it out for readership, lowering the tone and truth of reporting in the process of pursuing profits over accuracy. We would now call much of this “Tabloid Press” now, though the shape and size of a paper need have no bearing on its quality of content. The “Yellow Press” has, however, still been responsible for bringing people and politicians to account, even if it can also be blamed for causing offence, ‘outing’ people – whether their sexuality, gender or infidelity, it has been cited in cases that have led to suicide – so I am not saying that the media is perfect, just that it is necessary in an open, if not for, an open society.

“Freedom of the Press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose” – George Orwell

Whilst writing should, in principle, be free of ‘hate’ speech, libel and slander, it must, however, be free to express opinion and should only incur sanctions when breaking human rights, equality and defamation laws. A right to disagree and be disagreed with is paramount to press freedom and journalistic integrity. That said, opinion pieces should have a right to reply and/or comment with moderators being sure to only police hate speech, insult and injury, and not rights to express personal, political or religious beliefs. Noam Chomsky said that “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all”, it is freedom for all or it is censorship. “You can’t pick and choose which types of freedom you want to defend. You must defend all of it or be against all of it.”, as Scott Howard Phillips said, albeit concerning the US 2nd Amendment and right to bear arms. In John Stuart Mill’s 1859 book, On Liberty, he wrote much that holds as true today, if not more so, as 150 years ago:

“If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

“We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.”

“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

In the Danish political drama, Borgen (Season 2 Episode 2), the female PM, Birgitte Nyborg, is encouraged by her faithful friend and gruff colleague Bent Sejrø that a clever politician gathers around themselves people who may disagree with you. Not just as part of the episode’s Sun Tzu “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer” theme but in order to create better policy. Only surrounding yourself with people who agree with you will not save you from mistakes.

World Press Freedom Day

World Press Freedom Day was declared at the end of 1993 by the UN General Assembly. It is commemorated on 3 May, the anniversary of the 1991 Declaration of Windhoek (Namibia) to promote “Independent and Pluralistic Media”. Among other principles Windhoek declared that:

  1. Consistent with article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the establishment, maintenance and fostering of an independent, pluralistic and free press is essential to the development and maintenance of democracy in a nation, and for economic development.
  2. By an independent press, we mean a press independent from governmental, political or economic control or from control of materials and infrastructure essential for the production and dissemination of newspapers, magazines and periodicals.
  3. By a pluralistic press, we mean the end of monopolies of any kind and the existence of the greatest possible number of newspapers, magazines and periodicals reflecting the widest possible range of opinion within the community.

Back in 1946, the UN had declared “freedom of information” to be a “fundamental human right”. Press Freedom Day, therefore, seeks to:

  • Celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom;
  • Assess the state of press freedom throughout the world;
  • Defend the media from attacks on their independence;
  • Pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize

On 2 May an independent panel of media professionals declared Turkish journalist Ahmet Şik the 2014 UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize winner. An investigative reporter and exposer of human rights abuses and corruption, Şik was injured whilst covering the Gezi Park demonstrations in Istanbul last summer.

Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom Award

On 1 May Al Jazeera English Egypt producer Mohamed Fahmy, who is currently under arrest and detention, was awarded the Canadian Press Freedom Award for a “Canadian journalist who has made an outstanding contribution to the right to freedom of expression in the face of inordinate persecution.” Fahmy had previously worked for the BBC and CNN, and wrote an account, Egyptian Freedom Story, of the Arab Spring of 2011. Fahmy has donated the $2000 prize money to the family of another journalist, Mayada Ashraf, who died whilst covering political demonstrations in Egypt last month.

Al Jazeera Journalists detained in Egypt

Journalism is not a Crime, Amnesty International #FreeAJStaffAmong the hundreds of journalists gagged, detained, or killed, worldwide, are two other Al Jazeera English staff – former BBC journalist, Australian Peter Greste, and Baher Mohamed, held in detention by Egypt for “broadcasting false news” – for “false”, whatever your opinion, read “disapproved”. In the prison where they are being held pen and paper are banned yet the power of journalistic truth and persuasion won Fahmy access to them and he was able to smuggle out a letter this week:

“I hereby appeal to the global advocates of press freedom not to hold Egypt, the country of my birth responsible for our wrongful detention. Only certain individuals in the system who lack the understanding of the fundamentals of journalism are to be held accountable. One way to reverse this misunderstanding is to start with the man next to you, and in my case that would be the illiterate prison guard convinced that by broadcasting protests in Egypt to the Western world simply makes me a traitor. His more educated disgruntled boss who has prevented me from having a pen and paper in my cell has become more lenient by time when I continuously highlighted certain values of journalism like transparency and the importance of having a watchdog to question the government that pays his salary and evaluates his performance. The metamorphosis has begun and the fact that this letter has been released from prison and published is in itself a victory to be celebrated and hopefully not the last.”

Another Al Jazeera journalist, Arabic correspondent Abdullah Elshamy, has been imprisoned without trial since last August and has now been on hunger strike for weeks and lost nearly 35kg and not received medical attention. [Update: Elshamy was released on 17 June after 10 months in prison without charge or conviction.]

Fahmy described this as a blatant “breach of human rights” and added in his letter:

“I see no better occasion than today to remind the world about the plight of these men and that there are dozens of respected, local Egyptian reporters and citizen journalists who are suffering in prison awaiting trial, they are simply prisoners of conscience.”

(See and hear the letter read out in an Al Jazeera English video) The Egyptian judge at the 3 May bail hearing wished the 3 detained Al Jazeera journalists a happy Press Freedom Day then refused bail with no sense of irony at all. At the hearing Peter Greste said for the benefit of other reporters present: “You can’t have a free society without a free press. In Egypt today you know that you can’t provide balance as long as you can end up in prison like us.”

[Update: Sadly, the 3 reporters – Peter Greste, Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, were handed down guilty verdicts on 23 June for 7 years for spreading “false news” and supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood, charges they continue to deny and say they were only carrying out their duties as journalists and reporters. Nine other defendants tried in absentia, including three foreign journalists, received 10-year sentences, two have been acquitted. Of the twenty defendants in total nearly half are Al-Jazeera journalists. #AJTrial]

[Latest: Fahmy and Mohamed are among 100 prisoners to be released and/or pardoned today as part of Islam’s Eid al-Adha holiday and Egypt’s attempt to re-legitimise its Western standing]


Early 20th century Ukrainian-Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov – he was born in Kiev, but moved to Moscow – managed to simultaneously both offend and please Joseph Stalin and have books and plays not only banned but also protected by him! He superbly put that a journalist without freedom is like a fish without water:

“To struggle against censorship, whatever its nature, and whatever the power under which it exists, is my duty as a writer, as are calls for freedom of the press. I am a passionate supporter of that freedom, and I consider that if any writer were to imagine that he could prove he didn’t need that freedom, then he would be like a fish affirming in public that it didn’t need water.”Mikhail Bulgakov, Manuscripts Don’t Burn: Mikhail Bulgakov A Life in Letters and Diaries


If Press freedom is like water for journalists, just as the air all of us breathe, it is not something that can be restricted. The right to free expression and opinion is a universal human right. I’ll end with the infamous non-quote by Voltaire:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

This was actually said by his biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall, The Friends of Voltaire, 1906. What he did say in a 1770 letter, was:

“I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.”

Many have given their own lives in order to report the news or their views, whether professional or “citizen journalists”, but Press freedom means supporting the freedom to express even the views we may detest or disapprove of. Press Freedom Day means reminding the powers that be that the “world will be watching” their treatment of journalists and freedom of speech.

This article was first published on Bubblews and subsequently a version was published on my Google blogger/blogspot account.