Lincoln Drill Hall

Monday, 20 June 2016

Anger, hate and fear

We do not yet know the motive for the murder of Jo Cox. The due process of law will uncover that. It dose seem though that it came about most probably because of the growing atmosphere of hate that allows extreme expressions of anger. For most people this anger could be processed and expressed in other ways; for the murderer it took the form of extreme violence which is wholly unacceptable and will be punished.

Jo's family and friends are now faced with an irreplaceable loss; the nation has been robbed of an exceptional politician.

What of the anger?

I surmise that it was the far reaches of the anger felt by many as a result of their not being listened to. Some have tried to express their fears. Fears for their future where the world has changed and the jobs that used to be are no longer there. Fears about immigration which have been fuelled by newspapers and political movements, but no less real for that.

They have not been listened to and if people are not listened to, anger is the result.

This anger born out of fear produces hatred which then becomes the cancer of society.

This anger could now find expression in ejecting this nation from the prosperity and safety of the EU.

I believe that the anger has now been heard by all the major political parties. I believe that they have now listened to the fears and will take action.

In a few short weeks we as a nation have almost come to accept expressions of hatred and anger as the norm of political debate. They are not. They cause terrible damage.

The underlying fear, though, has to be listened to and addressed. This requires men and women of the stature of Jo Cox. Her husband has eloquently suggested that the whole debate on refugees and migration has to change and get to the heart of the issues.

I sincerely hope that the anger of which I have written does not take expression in a vote to Leave the EU. With equal sincerity I hope that, should we stay, we work hard to address the fears expressed by so many and build an EU worthy of Jo Cox.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

The EU was born after two horrific wars - it's a baby too important to throw out

Babies and bathwater

Over the last weeks we have heard a lot about what’s wrong with the European Union, but
hidden in all that dirty water there’s a baby, and, like all babies, it is precious.

My daughter led me to stumble upon the heart of it.

By her own admission, she’s not the greatest historian. She was reading a novel set in 1916 and asked me whether that was in the First World War. It was. 

‘So when did it start and end?’ 1914 to 1918.

‘What about the Second World War, you know that your book is about?’

I said it started in 1939. I found myself adding that I couldn’t imagine what parents who had survived the first war could have felt watching their children go off to the second. 

Silence, and then she asked, ‘why hasn’t it happened again?’ 

This took me by surprise, but perhaps for someone who has grown up far away from war it was not so odd. 

The answer too was a bit of shock, The European Union: for it was those waring nations that came together in peace to make sure that it could not happen again. 

That is some precious baby.

As I pondered that, more of what the European Union has achieved came to mind. The former dictatorships that have joined and that are now democracies. The millions of employees whose rights are protected. The environment which is far better cared for. The fact that our young people are free to go and work in any member state of their choosing.

There is then perhaps the greatest strength now, the fact that we can together face the enormous challenges that the global economy will throw at us. Multinational companies, who try to pay no tax or who seek unfairly to dominate a market, are fearful of Brussels. There are others including, of course, migration.

Migration is the difficult one. Is it baby or bathwater? Neither, it is people like you and me. People who may be escaping oppression or worse, or those seeking a better life. The question is whether we pull up the drawbridge and hope the English channel will isolate us, or whether we engage with the issues.

The problem is huge and needs the cooperation of nations to address its root causes. We need to make home countries safe and and we need to invest to grow their economies. No one I met in Lesvos wanted to come here; they wanted to go home.

We are a nation of migrants. Saxons and Vikings, Normans, West Indians, Africans, Indians and so many more, more recently those from other EU countries. This makes for a rich and diverse culture. We have learnt a huge amount about how peoples from different cultures can live in harmony. We can offer this experience as these issues are faced and tackled in the years to come. As a nation we have always engaged with the world around us.  

The EU is not perfect. But it has the structures that can and do benefit us, other member states and indeed our world. As I wrote in my previous article, this needs the best people to get involved. It is about leading and not leaving.

This article was published in the Lincolnshire Echo on 16 June 2016


Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Why we should all vote on 23 June

I was leafleting by the University and a woman told me that she never votes. She was adamant. 

The trouble is at an abstention in a Referendum is a vote for the winning side. If that is what an elector truly wants, then so be it. If not, then please vote.

All this reminded me of a piece I wrote before last year's General Election. It is printed below and sets out the story of parliamentary democracy. 

Is the Referendum different? I would say that it was a mistake; the issues are far too complex and should have been left to Parliament. Nevertheless we do each have vote on 23 June. In a sense we have all been made a Member of Parliament for a day. We must exercise this privilege with a profound sense of duty to all those who down the centuries gave birth to and nurtured democracy, but also to those who come after us. 

It is not a vote to be exercised lightly.



This is what I wrote in May 2015.

The Reform Bill was introduced to Parliament in 1831, the year my grandfather, Alfred Hamlyn Williams, was born. When the Bill became an Act of Parliament it began the process of injecting a note of realism into parliamentary democracy which has continued through the emancipation of women to the universal franchise we enjoy, or are supposed to enjoy, today. In May of 2015 there will be another test of this enjoyment when we will see just how many of those eligible actually vote in the general election. There is a disconnect between the paper and the practice.

Disconnection can be traced back to the document which many assert is the bedrock of democracy, Magna Carta. In 2015 we celebrate the 800th anniversary of the sealing by King John of this charter of some 3,500 words written in medieval Latin, which, but for the serendipity of history, may have been forgotten.  

Claire Brey, the curator of the forthcoming Magna Carta exhibition at the British Library, told Dr David Starkey, in his excellent TV programme on Magna Carta, about the phone calls she receives on a fairly regular basis from members of the public who think they have been treated unfairly, asking how they might quote Magna Carta in the particular argument they are having. Of course she has to reply that it probably can’t help, nevertheless the complainants are right in seeing this ancient document representing fairness in the face of oppression.

The story of the big charter, as opposed to the smaller charter of the forrest, was all about English Barons seeking to temper the excessive demands, mainly for money, of their king, John. The story continues that, no sooner had it been sealed, King John ran to the Pope to have it annulled. 

On 5 February 2015 the House of Lords staged an exhibition of the four remaining engrossments of Magna Carta which they placed alongside the Reform Act and the 1629 Petition of Right. I was lucky enough to be invited to the exhibition and I was struck in a number of quite different ways. 

The four engrossments look different, but David Carpenter, in his new book Magna Carta, assures us that their wording is almost identical. The manuscripts are written in tiny neat letters and I couldn't help thinking of the painstaking care that the clerks must have taken in producing their art, for art it is. I was then drawn to the thinking by Archbishop Langton and others, painstakingly built over many years, which arrived at the view of kingship and the exercise of power that Magna Carta expresses. These ideas were hedged in by a great deal of detail about the particular arguments of the Barons, but at its heart there was a delicate green shoot of how societies should function. My wonder is how it survived.

Magna Carta was reissued and revised many times in the thirteenth century and finally ‘became law’ in 1297, although some will argue that, with legal ‘time’ beginning only in 1189, Magna Carta was itself an iteration of Common Law. 

The Parliament exhibition of the Petition of Right was the next stop on the journey. This was again an argument about kingship. The Stuarts sought to assert that they were kings by divine right. The Petition of Right, challenged this and it was further and significantly tempered by the Bill of Rights of 1689 under which William and Mary came to the British throne. 

With the work of the great seventeenth the century lawyer, Sir Edward Coke, we move across the Atlantic and see Magna Carta quoted in the foundation documents of many States and indeed in the US Constitution itself. I was lucky enough to attend the academic symposium run alongside the exhibition of Magna Carta at the Library of Congress in Washington. The exhibition pointed with great clarity to the way Magna Carta has been viewed in the US over two centuries rather than getting bogged down too much in its origins. For the founding fathers, there was no doubt that bad King John was then bad King George. 

In the USA, the power of the President is tempered by the Constitution; in Britain the power of the Government is tempered by Parliament. This is where disconnection comes, since in reality President Obama has his power tempered, not by the Constitution, but  by Congress with the effect of stalemate. Prime Minister Cameron has his power tempered, not by Parliament, by his fear of non re-election by a minority of electors. But it is more than this, as David Starkey pointed out, both governments ignore the core principles of Magna Carta with their assertion of the right to imprison terrorist suspects without trial. In her insightful short radio programme, Helena Kennedy took a slightly tangential view and saw governmental power tempered by corporations which outmuscle most nation states, principally the massive financial institutions and internet providers. 

So, where does this leave us? In this country, with an urgent need for all electors to use their vote in putting pressure on government to adhere to Magna Carta but as importantly stand up to the shadowy corporate King Johns of the 21st century.

That's what I wrote in May 2015. I would just add that our membership of the EU means that some decisions are taken by the Council of Ministers and oversight is exercised by the directly elected European Parliament. This link to a more recent blog explains this a little more. To me this just emphasises the importance of people of high calibre standing as MEPs who will take their duties seriously, attend the parliament and challenge the Commission. 
St Albans Cathedral where the Magna Carta tour began in 2014

Sunday, 5 June 2016

It seems that we matter

The Guardian on 4 June 2016 offered views from a number of writers from other European countries. I found them inspiring. This is just a flavour of what they had to say.

'Staying together is no longer an option but an obligation and an urgent necessity' Elena Ferrante - Italy

'Simply knowing that this small island spent years resisting tyranny and invasion is enough to make us all want to be able to count on its continuing presence.' Javier Marias - Spain

'What is the EU? It's the consequence of the second world war...60 million people had to die before most found it a worthwhile ambition' Timur Vermes - Germany

'It must be so tempting to shut the doors and pull the curtains, keep the money under the mattress....Don't go. you will not thrive, and we want you to thrive. You are still family to us.' Anne Enright - Ireland

'The reason that I want you to stay in is that voting to leave will not get you "out". Rather than escaping the EU, Brexit will keep you tied to a Europe that is nastier, sadder and increasingly dangerous to itself, to you, indeed to the rest of the planet. Yanis Varoufakis - Greece

'I think Brexit would be the beginning of the end of an unprecedented period of peace at the heart of Europe. Without you the EU will crack at its seems. I wish you would stay, and that all of us together - in toil, tears and sweat but not blood - will steer the peace project that is the European Union in the right direction.' Jonas Jonasson - Sweden

'Let us not be fooled that there is some better place, once we drift away. There isn't. There is only the cold Atlantic Ocean.... Europe is not a monoculture. It is a place where people ride reindeer, grow vines, and call themselves Shetlanders. Kapka Kassabova - Bulgaria

'Europe is caught in a vicious cycle, oscillating between the false opposites of surrender to global capitalism and surrender to anti-immigrant populism...socialist nationalism is not the right way to fight national socialism. Slavij Zizek - Slovenia

'Imagine the famous picture, The Congress of Vienna, without the British delegation. Have they really left the table? Our problems are manifold, but 50 years of peace is too precious to gamble with' Cees Nooteboom - Netherlands

These hearts felt views make the referendum decision even more important.