Category Archives: Opinion


IMG_0873I wrote this piece more than ten years ago when someone was bullied on-line by several people after making an innocent mistake:

To me the word “compassion” implies an empathetic understanding of the suffering of another and thus is a step beyond pity, which nevertheless is a sympathetic appreciation of another’s plight.

It is perhaps not too difficult to understand the anguish of those with whom we are not acquainted. If we see news footage of a starving child or hear about victims of the Asian tsunami of course we feel emotion. However, unless there is any direct involvement (where for instance someone we know was killed or bereaved) we might perhaps send a charitable donation but we are otherwise unable to help in a practical sense and do not become greatly engaged emotionally.

Sometimes, though, it seems to us that someone we know has been seriously wronged, or we have a deep sense of injustice or sympathy for that person’s anguish. If that person who is our friend or colleague has been deeply hurt or is vulnerable, we are anxious to rush to that person’s side, to help fight the battle. That is a very noble and honourable thing to do and it will be helpful to the person wronged to know that he or she has the support of others through a difficult time.

Nevertheless, often in human relationships there are two sides to every story. That does not mean that the person wronged is in any way to blame, but perhaps the behaviour of the supposed perpetrator has to be seen in the context of his or her own situation and probably that person’s emotional state. That person should not be demonised and it may be that that person requires some understanding too, indeed some compassion; an empathetic understanding as to why the person acted in the way that he or she did. Perhaps the wrongful act was an accident or a simple indiscretion under stress (if it was a criminal act then that is for another discussion another time), and in some circumstances it might have been a cry for help.

These situations occur in online relationships too, and of course it is very likely that they will affect people’s daily lives. Compassion for the “wrongdoer” does not require us to agree with someone’s actions but if we make an effort to understand the circumstances it may assuage our anger.

My Oxford Pocket Dictionary defines compassion as “pity inclining one to spare or help”. Online or offline, it is always important not to rush to judgement, but to help and support the parties involved and show compassion to all those who need it.

Blue remembered hills

DSC02433I went to the funeral of a client. She was a lady who had lived a very long life. She had overcome adversity having been orphaned at a very young age and fostered out, as well as being separated from her siblings. She became a professional in health care in her thirties and ran her own practice. It sounded to me as though her life was anything but simple, and she achieved what she did though determination and hard work.

I happened to have a chat with the minister who took the funeral service. We agreed that there were less distractions for children growing up than there are now with all the technology, social media and, perhaps consequently, shorter attention spans. However, it seems to me that what my late client achieved in her younger days was actually much harder than it would be now. For one thing she was a woman, no one had the “right” to higher education when she was eighteen just before the Second World War, and a decade after the war when I was very small those opportunities were still not available.

When we were growing up as kids, we were not short of food. In many ways we were quite insulated from adversity, so I cannot say we suffered like the Four Yorkshireman. Our diets were more restricted because there was not the variety of food, there were few supermarkets, and those that there were carried nothing exotic. In the Sixties, even if we had money, there were few package holidays and because the Labour government had devalued the Pound, they were expensive. The Government had also restricted the amount of Sterling people could convert into foreign currency to go on holiday anyway. The country was regularly brought to a halt by striking workers in the public sector because of the economic problems and pressure on wages. Yes, your heart would not bleed because people were deprived of holidays in Spain, but the point is that many things we take for granted now were simply not available.

We live now in the Age of the Internet. Anything we might be able to buy, we can find. We can shop for almost any variety of foreign food we like, thanks to our outward looking trade connections and of course the immigrant population who have also created the demand. Life for most people is incomparably better than it was for those living in the Fifties and Sixties. Of course there are those who have missed out, and they can be resentful, quite understandably. Most of us, even the poor, have more than we might have had half a century or so ago.

Somehow, many have forgotten this; even those who were alive then. They forget how their parents struggled. They forget how difficult travel was, unless as a special treat on the train, or daily on the school bus. They forget the boiled potatoes and cabbage, the awful school meals, the school masters who beat them for some misdemeanour.

Where has this discontent got us? It has got us to a point where many voters want to wind back the clock to a time when their country was more isolated, when there were fewer immigrants, and when life seemed easier. It was not easy. If we were alive then, we were children and even poorer parents mostly shielded their kids from the worst.

People vote for nostalgia, even when what they hark back to is not real. They vote for Brexit, and in America they might vote for Donald Trump, when as Harold Macmillan once said of Britain “we never had it so good”, which relative to earlier times was true.

Those who vote for the past rather than the future threaten our way of life, and theirs. They believe the storytellers of the past and their false memories. Let us try gently to bring them back to the present.

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again

A E Housman, from A Shropshire Lad (1896)

My journey through the Brexit referendum

I was not going to write down my views post the referendum, but I have felt deeply affected by the outcome and just need to get it out of my system. I would normally keep my voting preferences private.

As a young chap I voted in the 1975 referendum to remain in the European Communities. The issue from the then Labour Government’s point of view was mainly that the Common Agricultural Policy kept food prices too high, though they had ideological issues too. The Government thought its renegotiation was largely successful. I thought that access to a free market close by at a difficult time for trade in Britain was what the country needed.

By the Eighties our membership contributions seemed to be getting a bit pricey. I became more Eurosceptic, though I am not sure the term had been invented then. In 1984 Margaret thatcher negotiated a rebate, which is still in force today. There are a lot of figures bandied about as to what the UK contribution is today, but it is probably not much more than around £200M a week (or at least it was pre-June 2016), about one-tenth of the budget for the NHS. Actually, I still think Maggie’s deal was pretty good and has stood up well in over thirty years.

This is not supposed to be a history of the UK in the EU. There was a lot of anguish in the Conservative Party over John Major’s “bastards” who opposed the UK signing up to the Maastricht Treaty which did sow the seeds for future monetary and probably political union. I became most Eurosceptic then. Teresa Gorman was one to whom Major was referring and one day she was signing copies of her book The Bastards when I went into W H Smith in Liverpool Street station to buy a magazine. She spotted me, possibly feeling lonely, and offered me one of her books. I told her I had bought a copy the week before and produced it from my briefcase. She signed it for me. She would probably not have appreciated a comparison to Edward Heath, of whom it was said that un-autographed books were rarer than the ones he had signed, so desperate was he to get his books out there.

I digress. Fast forward to 2016. In February David Cameron negotiated a “deal” with the other EU member states. He then called the referendum. I thought the deal meant very little and was purely cosmetic. The UK would avoid Euro bailouts and would not be drawn into closer political union with other countries which aspired to this.

The deal on immigration and benefits was meaningless as a deterrent to prospective EU immigrants. I tried to explain to a number of people before the referendum that immigration was likely to be largely unaffected by the UK leaving the EU, assuming there would be stability in the UK economy. People would still want to come, EU citizens in work already contribute their skills and also a lot of tax to the Exchequer. We need them and will still need them. As regards non-EU immigration, the issue and the problem is unchanged. The sub-Saharan conflicts have been going on for years and the Syrian disaster was unforeseen. In or out of the EU we have to try to cope, and have compassion.

As a Eurosceptic, I examined every argument carefully. The campaigns, Leave and Remain, made some outrageous claims; for example, Leave about the cost of membership. The Remain side operated Project Fear, concentrating on negatives rather than the positive reasons for staying in the EU, which are actually the single market and the freedom of movement, even if the latter might have been marginally hampered by the “deal”. In my view, David Cameron’s threat to state pensioners present and future was a grave error as was George Osborne’s “Emergency Budget” warning. People do not like to be threatened or ordered about and will tend to do the opposite.

Remain could well have done without wheeling out Gordon Brown, an irascible type held by many responsible, at least in part for the 2008 crash damage, because he borrowed too much. Alan Johnson, his former Labour colleague, was a much better performer.

We could have done without the interventions of Jean-Claude Juncker, who is like Gordon Brown on the sauce.

Nevertheless, with all this Project Fear noise and claims that economic life outside the EU would be great, there was precious little additional information. I supposed that the Leave campaigners would have sounded out various countries with whom they wanted trade deals. I thought there must be a plan, but we never heard it.

I had to vote on what I knew. Our economic stability was based on relative certainty with regard to our European partnerships, as well as taking the medicine some EU countries had refused to take, notably France. It was based on confidence that we knew the road ahead.

I made my decision quite late.

I decided that we were better off with the devils we knew that those we had not even met yet, so I voted with the status quo. I did not have that positive feeling, because the EU has so many faults. It is unwieldy, and although in a way democratic, it is slow to act when some states go it alone on factors such as immigration. That means strong leaders like Angela Merkel (whom I sort of admire) can go off on their own and present policies as a fait accompli before anyone else has reacted.

So where are we now?

  • The pound has gone south
  • The cost of petrol and diesel, bought in dollars, will go up.
  • The price of food will go up because of the fuel costs and tariffs.
  • People’s incomes will be squeezed.
  • Less confidence means fewer jobs
  • Fewer foreign businesses will set up in UK
  • There will be fewer start-ups except among those forced because they have lost their jobs
  • There will be more austerity medicine because of the loss of tax revenue and the increase in the UK’s deficit, the difference between what the Government receives in and what it needs to spend.
  • My pension fund value has gone south and at my age it matters.
  • There was no plan and I have shed tears – really.

Our economic prospects have been set back years and unlike with a General Election we cannot vote to make another change in five years’ time. No one knows what the UK will be like in five years’ time, and whether it will still be united or down to three countries. We fell off the wall.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.