Category Archives: Political Women

#UKIP Myth: Toy Story

When Leo sits down with his Toy Story jigsaw puzzles a cold hand grips my heart. Sunday evening, I want to feel cosy, and he brings out those garish, creepy figures.

But there’s no escape. ‘Come, Mummy,’ says my two and a half year old, extending the beckoning hand that can’t be refused.

toy story jigsaw

Added to the first horror of sorting out four jisaws that have been jumbled together, I then have to pore over every limb of these gruesome zombie like objects: the corpse with the drooping eyelid (Leo calls it ‘baby’); the giant locust crossed with the Incredible Hulk (Leo calls it ‘green man with yellow pants’); the sickly pink fluffy monster (‘teddy bear’ to Leo), the leathery octopus, the eight-eyed monster…. I want to hide these four jigsaws (once we start we have to do them all) in a cupboard, but his favourite babysitter gave them to him for Christmas, so it wouldn’t be diplomatic.

I wonder if this is how Ukippers feel about the European Union: weird alien creatures they don’t want to understand. And I sympathise.

But I have to learn from Leo who assumes that everything around him is animate, and in some way connected to the world he already knows, and so he can relate to anything. The doll is a baby, the eight-eyed monster is a different kind of frog.

Maybe even Farage is just a different kind of frog.

Maybe we can relate to the Other without losing ourselves.

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#Pilgrimage in #Terror: Day 5

Day Five: Trust. 

Zubiri to Trinidad de Arre (14km).

Honore-Daumier-Don-Quixote

Sandra and I began the day with a search for the post office. We were directed to a magnificent old mansion. In the style of the region, it was dusty cream-coloured stone on the outside and rich and dark with carved wood on the inside. I am trying to think what sweet would give the same effect – some kind of white chocolate with a dark fondant filling, I suppose, dusted with icing sugar. A chunky oak staircase rose from the hall and the floor was black cobble stones arranged in fan-tail patterns.

A man was standing in the shadows, next to four bicycles. We felt very silly in the intimacy of his private house. Clearly the house was not a post office. We apologised and explained what we were looking for. He motioned to one of the heavy oak doors: ‘There. That’s the post office.’

We were surprised, but tried to believe him.

He knocked on the door, but there was no reply. ‘I don’t know where she is,’ he said.

We went back out into the sunlight, with our friend following behind. ‘Ah! There she is!’

A woman was walking along the river bank with her shopping bags. He introduced us. She agreed that she was the post woman. What did we want? She waited attentively while we got the words out, and then looked a little disappointed. Oh, stamps. She didn’t have any stamps.

We stood on the mediaeval bridge where I had seen the old woman the previous evening while Sandra went into her musical Virgin-Mary-receiving-the-holy-spirit routine, tipping forward repeatedly and shaking her head. Certainly this visit to a post office had been an unusual one. After a while I became stern and drew her away from laughter onto the business of the day. We set off.

Sandra progressed in a lurching gait from one hedgerow to another in spasms of berry-led greed. I was reminded of times as a teenager when I rode some cynical old pony in a long line of cynical ponies on a ‘hack’ for horse-sick teenage girls. My creature would get his head down onto the grass and could not be pulled up or budged. Kick, kick, kick went my little heels, but without making the slightest dent on the consciousness of my animal.

The sun climbed. At half past eleven it began attacking in earnest. The path left the shade of the river and joined the road. There was no shelter now. I had on all the defences I could muster. I was smeared in cream and obscured by a floppy white nylon-straw hat and a pair of bug-eye sun glasses.

My friend began her Behold-the-handmaid-hee-hee routine again. In a serious moment she asked, ‘Do you always dress like that?’ Did she really imagine that I walked around London in a skirt with an elastic waistband, a huge pair of trainers, and a floppy nylon hat? But then, I suppose, she had never seen me in anything else, and my normal clothes were probably only a fraction smarter.

We passed a man in a dried up wasteland of a field. He was gathering armfuls of vetch to feed his livestock. Sandra asked him to take a photo of us. This was cruel, but she was carrying my things in our communal bag, so it was small price to pay. The man got the giggles looking at us through the view-finder and it took ages for him to calm down enough to hold the camera still and click the button.

For lunch, we walked down to the river through an orchard of cherry trees too old and shrunken to yield much fruit. Around them grass, vetch and herbs grew in a profusion of brown stems. They crackled underneath our feet and gave off gorgeous scents, half dying though they seemed, and flickered with insects. Clouds of butterflies rose ahead of us as we walked. I hadn’t seen such profusion of butterflies for years. I remembered holidays in Cornwall in the ’70s and ’80s when the stone-and-turf walls trembled with Meadow Browns and Cabbage Whites and the lilac bushes were smothered. But butterflies are so sparse now in England I had begun to doubt my memory. Here there were Cabbage Whites and Blues, presumably feeding on the vetch, and one orange butterfly and a large brown and white Fritillary.

We sat in the spattered shade of a grove of poplar trees. I dug into my potato crisps, Sandra spread her strawberry jam. We had known each other now for four days, shared long conversations, silence, evenings and mornings. We each knew the other had a boyfriend, but we had stayed off the subject with a delicacy, a desire not to fall into the clichéd confidences of normal female conversation. Now on a hot afternoon, sitting on tree stumps, curiosity bubbled up….

War on Terror: the Score

Autumn 2001

st martins

On Sunday 7 October 2001 the Coalition for War on Terror began bombing Afghanistan. On the Monday afternoon, two weeks later, a cricket scoreboard stood on the steps of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, recording the number of civilians killed as a result of the bombings. War on Terror, it said, the score.

There were three sub headings: ‘Killed’, ‘Refugee’ and ‘Starving’.

The board stood there every Monday, from two o’clock to six o’clock, until Christmas. The numbers were a foot high, white on a black ground to show up on failing autumn afternoons, and visible from across the square, a pitch length away. Red double-deckers passed, and tourists on their way to the National Gallery or the theatre district; and limousines with darkened windows, headed for Whitehall. As the afternoons darkened, the numbers climbed.

I stood beside the board. This demonstration was my demonstration. I still have problems explaining it to myself or anyone else. My friends were surprised. So were my family. ‘We’ve never seen you like this before.’

I had never been an activist – except once as a teenager in the 1980s I sat down in the middle of Oxford Street over something to do with Libya, I didn’t really understand what.

My jobs didn’t stand out as social conscience jobs. First I was a reporter for Investors Chronicle, helping the rich to get richer with tips on investment trusts. Then I was a Classics teacher in a private school for girls. The closest I had come to activism was being in the union at Investors Chronicle. Now I might be moving leftwards, as I was in adult education, but I never thought of my anti-war demonstration as left wing – at least, not originally.

It was like a reflex action to do that demonstration. It was difficult for me to explain it, because it was so obvious to me. People who supported the war were the ones that needed to do some explaining, in my view.

If there was no other consideration at all, simply the name of the campaign was an insult to human experience. War, against Terror? Only people who hadn’t suffered war and had no capacity to imagine it could talk about war as if it wasn’t in itself terrifying. Only very powerful people could get away with such a contradiction in terms. In fact, the use of such a phrase was a subtle intimidation in itself, a throwing one’s weight around, a saying what the hell one liked. It reminded me of the sinister nonsense in Orwell’s Animal Farm: ‘All animals are equal but some are more equal than others.’

On Saturday 20 October, while US Special Forces were attacking sites in southern Afghanistan (‘The Pentagon said US troops had met only slight resistance,’ said the BBC), I was in a van with Stan and his wife, edging down Regent Street, a cricket scoreboard lying on sacking in the back. Everyone seemed to be out shopping. It took us half an hour to make that quarter of a mile through walls of cars and taxis. The American troops in Afghanistan probably met less resistance than we did.

The verger of St Martin-in-the-Fields showed us where we could store the board, which was six foot high and ten feet wide, beside the stairs going up to the bell tower. When we had the board safely settled, Stan and I shook hands. ‘I hope it works out for you,’ said Stan. ‘It’s a sad business.’ He put a few coins into the church collection box and left to go back to his workshop in Leicestershire where he could get on with making normal scoreboards.

On the Monday, two weeks after the start of the War on Terror, the demo began. It was lunchtime. A Mexican was sitting on the steps eating chips. I asked him if he would mind helping me move the board. He put his chips down and we shifted it together. We propped it up against the railings in front of the church’s portico. We tied it in place with ropes that attached to hooks Stan and his men had nailed in the back of it. It was conspicuous. The whole top end of Trafalgar Square could see it.

The Mexican went off and bought another load of chips and came back and sat in front of the board scoffing them. ‘I am hungry today,’ he said.

I arranged the glossy white numbers on the board. I’d never seen a cricket scoreboard up close. It was clever. The numbers you didn’t need you hooked up, the numbers you were using stayed down. Two weeks after the start of the bombing my figures were:

Estimated Dead, 750

Refugees, 300,000

Starving, 400,000.

On that first day the board drew anger like a magnet. Men stuck their heads out of vans and cheered at the figures. Cheered at death. ‘How come they can bomb us but we can’t bomb them?’ they called as they waited at the traffic lights, and then screeched away when the light went green.

I sat down in front of the board to munch on some hula-hoops and heard a voice above my head: ‘You make me want to vomit.’ I looked up to find a man in a black turtleneck and a cream suit standing over me. He had jewel blue eyes and the sort of blemishless older-man face that would look perfect in an ad for Evian water.

‘Person is too good a word for you,’ he went on. ‘You’re not humane. You haven’t an atom of humanity. You aren’t worth the space you stand on. You make me RETCH!’ I stood up, in case he actually was going to be sick. Evian Ad gestured at my estimate of the dead. ‘What about the thousands the Taliban have killed? They built a stadium just for public executions. But you don’t care about that, do you?’ His mouth was creased nearly into a smile. His face was so inscrutable I actually wondered if in fact he was on my side and just mimicking what opponents might say.

A bearded man detached himself from the passers by and hurried up the steps. ‘She has a right to say what she thinks.’

Evian continued with his struggle to find an insult equal to the task: ‘You’re like those skinhead yobs that live off social security and then go off to Afghanistan, paid for by the British government, and then, when a few of them die, they complain!’

Protester against war equals unemployed person equals skinhead yob equals soldier who doesn’t like it when his friends get killed. An instinctively Tory part of my nature wanted to shout, ‘I’ve never taken hand-outs!’

‘She has a right to free speech,’ said the bearded guy.

Turtleneck pushed off.

‘Are you okay?’ asked my supporter, before carrying on on his way.

A handsome man in a tweed jacket trotted up the steps. ‘Can I have one of your leaflets?’ I was glad and smiled at him. He ripped the leaflet in half and gave it back to me.

A ginger-haired man in a barber charged up the steps and changed the figure for the dead himself, from ‘750’ to ‘7,750’, on the basis of out of date statistics from New York. At this I snapped. ‘If you want a demonstration about the dead in New York, you can pay for a board and you can stand next to it all day in the cold!’

He leant into my face. ‘It’s people like you that make this country what it is today.’ We looked at each other for a moment, both of us startled because it was such a cliché. Then he added: ‘Liberal and weak!’ – and skimmed along the steps and out of sight without ever bending his knees, so firm, upright and disciplined was his posture.

After a couple of weeks I got a helper. She was Flora, a Catholic lady – ‘But I don’t like to push church things on people.’ She had endured the Blitz. ‘People these days just don’t know what it’s like to be bombed!’ She wore gloves and smart coats, always just the right coat for the weather that day, and she beamed at people as they passed. The angry men shrivelled up. From her gloved hands my leaflets flowed out into London. She could get rid of 400 in a day. And she never took breaks.

Flora and I compared notes on the kinds of people who took leaflets. We both noticed the same trends. People that were dressed in bright colours, whether men or women, took leaflets; similarly people that wore hats, whether wacky or traditional. Smokers were big takers of leaflets. A smoker juggling ciggy and lighter, with a mobile phone gripped in the crook of his neck, would still somehow find a finger free to take a leaflet. Although he was on the phone, his eyes would clock Flora or myself and react.

Expensively and conventionally dressed men and women were less likely to take leaflets. In this group, the women were more closed to it than the men, and younger women especially so. A young professional woman with smooth blonde hair and a trim grey or navy suit would never, but never, take a leaflet

Men with facial hair, like the brightly coloured people, were more likely to take leaflets. I remembered that the man who had supported my right to free speech on the first day had worn a beard; and the man who had offered money had had side whiskers. There seemed to be something beyond co-incidence here. But what was it that connected these things? Where in the brain was localised that small bundle of grey cells that chose to read political leaflets and grow facial hair?

As the autumn evenings drew in, people became less certain about bombing Afghanistan, and less interested. The white numbers continued to climb.

The snows fell in Afghanistan and the valleys started to be cut off. Flora took to wearing a fur hat on our afternoon stints. The thousands who arrived in the refugee camps were given one blanket each. One blanket in a mountain winter. There were different reasons why people were fleeing but the most common was ‘the bombs’.

In November one of our government ministers rang the vicars, concerned that my demonstration was a ‘security risk’ for the church. He also thought that my estimates were inaccurate and misleading. The red-haired vicar came out to see me on the steps. He reassured me that he himself did not view me as a security risk, nor did he really believe that the minister did. He was disappointed in the minister. ‘We’ve worked with him well in the past on gay rights. I am a bit surprised.’ Still, we had to take the suggestion seriously. Could I make some kind of risk assessment which he would present at a meeting of the vicars?

I wrote five pages examining the demonstration from every possible angle of risk. I said that the people who had been angry with the demonstration had never shown any signs of being violent; that they had been respectable (in a sense), prosperous citizens, unlikely to resort to terrorist tactics. I also wrote to the minister saying I was sorry that the estimates were inaccurate and misleading. I had hunted on every relevant government website and had been unable to find any figures for dead or injured in Afghanistan. Could he help me with more accurate information?

The vicars allowed the demonstration to continue, and I continued to have to rely on estimates cobbled together from news reports. There were a few British and American soldiers now among the figures for the dead. It was tough, building statistics this way, because I couldn’t avoid the anecdotes that brought the numbers to life. One boy arrived in a refugee camp having lost all his family. He was clutching a pet bird. I kept wondering what would happen if the bird died. As our allies, the Northern Alliance, gained the upper hand, there were increasing numbers of Taliban prisoners. Whether all those ragged men had really wanted to serve the Taliban dictatorship we couldn’t know; but they did surrender. The Northern Alliance shipped them to prison in metal boxes. In one trainload, all died of asphyxiation except three who shared a hole in the metal, by which they took it in turns to breathe.

Numbers are clean and seem mutually exclusive: the number alive, the number dead. But life is a long drawn-out struggle with death and towards it. The slowness frightened me; the families that had nothing much to do in the refugee camp except look into each other’s faces and watch each other failing. As winter deepened, the babies and the old people couldn’t hold on.

The cost of a winter’s supply of food for every person in Afghanistan was a fraction of the cost of bombing them.

We stood beside the cricket scoreboard distributing leaflets while junk food wrappers blew up and down the steps. More nutrition in one central London bin than in some households. An ex-marine passed us sometimes and waved.

At dusk homeless people crept in and squatted beside the scoreboard as if it would give them shelter. A woman in a mac with pale brown skin and large dangly earrings passed. ‘Do you know a café?’ she said. ‘There used to be a café round here, an arty sort of place where you could meet people, get a drink and talk. Do you know where I mean?’

Another man came dancing up the steps with his arms opened wide as if he was going to embrace the scoreboard. ‘Why should I give love to everyone?’ he called over the roar of traffic. ‘They haven’t given love to me.’

‘They killed everyone in Babylon,’ came a voice, speaking with a cockney accent, as if chewing on a sticky bun. ‘They poisoned the water with wormwood. I know about wormwood. I know what it does.’ A young man in an arty brown bobble hat stood directly in front of me with his hands in his pockets, motionless as a statue. His almond grey eyes were clear of any emotion. ‘It makes you nervous and restless. You can’t sleep, you can’t do a single thing. I know about it from my past lives. That’s why I’m different from my brethren. They only have faith but I know.’

‘Which church do you go to?’

‘Kingdom Hall.’ He saw that I didn’t understand. ‘Jehovah’s witnesses. But I’m different from them. I know everything of what has happened. I have the keys to my past lives. Angels gave me the keys.’ He didn’t blink, but at the end of each statement something flickered in his eyes as if he was testing whether I would believe him. I nodded. ‘If he had only answered my letter. If Tony Blair had only answered my letter.’

‘Yes, he didn’t answer mine either,’ I commiserated.

‘If he had only of had audience with me, none of this would have happened. I know about demons. I’m stronger than what they are. I’m stronger than every single demon. The devil tries to frighten us but he is the weaker one. A demon attacked me when I was born. He tried to take my life and split up my family. He gave me drugs. But I am stronger. He tried to get to me through noise. He made the people next door make noise all the time to drive me out. That’s how I came on the homeless scene.’

In his arty hat and suede jacket he made it sound like the coolest scene in town.

What had begun as a grandiose speech about the world had ended up as a description of the specific problems of his own life. Listening can have this effect, of creating a turn. Writing can also turn things around. I wondered if I was in need of some kind of turn myself. I was perhaps not as far away as I would like to think from the pathetic grandiosity of Mr Bobble Hat. ‘If he would only of had audience with me,’ was something I was capable of thinking, even if I wouldn’t say it.

After all, what did me standing on some steps in a pinky-orange suit next to a cricket scoreboard actually achieve?

By the end of December, the civilians dead from direct attack in Afghanistan stood at around 4,000 on my count and at around 5,000 in a study I eventually found reported on the net compiled by Professor Marc Herold of the University of New Jersey. The civilian dead in Afghanistan had outstripped the dead in New York.

www.stopthewar.org.uk

#LibDems: Death of a Class

In 1997 I had the honour of being a journalist at the Financial Times. One afternoon we were summoned by our chief exec to the large lecture hall to hear a presentation he’d entitled ‘The Cascade’.

Long-standing foreign correspondents, eminent leader writers and small fry such as myself, a sub editor somewhere towards the middle of the second section, sat in the half dark while flow-charts flashed across a screen. It was in the days when Management was still on honeymoon with PowerPoint.

On the CE’s screen, boxes were arranged in pyramid formations, with vertical lines joining them up. These pyramid shapes appeared to be what had given rise to the CE’s title ‘The Cascade’.

The presentation centred around who was now reporting to whom in some new structure, of little interest to the journalists who ethically kept away from the commercial departments and simply reported to their Managing Editor of the day who operated like a ship’s captain, making instant decisions that commanded instant respect.

Now and again the CE mentioned his new word: ‘Delight’. Then he would click on a box, which would magically open up to reveal an inner core of bullet points – how that department was going to ‘delight’ its ‘stakeholders’. When we got finally to the Editorial box and the click was made there was just one item: Free Giveaways.

‘How are we to delight our readers?’ asked the CE. This was a rhetorical question. He didn’t await the journalists’ views. Instead, he reminded us that recently the FT had offered free gold-plated pens to readers.

We should have walked out then.

It was business doing the two fingers to the professional classes, on whose expertise that business depended.

I had already encountered management bullying and disrespect in smaller financial magazines: well-educated apprentices working all hours in the hopes of being kept on, only to be fired and replaced by a new eager apprentice; long-standing reporters constructively dismissed over tiny errors. Coming from a private school and Oxford, I had already by age 25 seen the necessity of joining my union.

But this, in front all the journalists at the Financial Times, when that paper was probably at the height of its prestige (the year it told the City to vote Labour), was an insult on a new scale.

It should have been a call to arms for the entire intelligentsia. But the intelligentsia has stayed mute about its own interests as a class, its members by long British tradition ashamed to be middle class, instead joining in others’ narratives, either sycophantically identifying with the toffs or sentimentally identifying with the remnants of the working classes whom they are now rapidly joining, to nobody’s benefit. It is this unwillingness to identify with the middle classes, in both Liberal Democrat politicians and their natural voters, the educated middle classes, that has led to the demise of the Party and, with it, a class, a way of life, a way to make a living.

Since 1997 I have seen more restructuring flow charts than I’ve had hot dinners. I moved into teaching but it made no difference. Skilled labour is replaced with unskilled labour. Inspections and targets are used to bully teachers, but doing well by those measures is no protection against sacking. Teachers at every level of the education system including university lecturers are forced to re-apply for their jobs. In my sector, Further Education, most colleges have a cull every summer. The result of all this is that the hirers and firers, the managers, practise bullying and favouritism on a grand scale. End-users suffer from the instability and the lack of motivation and skill in staff and the amount of sick leave.

Anything that can call itself a profession has been attacked: the civil services, the social services, the police, the military, the creative industries, academia, librarians, medical practitioners. Professionals have lost job security, pension and prestige. Doctors are well paid, but we don’t train enough doctors, so opportunities within the NHS are limited if you are British. Lawyers can survive because they have private clients, but the underlying justice and prestige of the legal system is eroded by the lack of Legal Aid and thus also the lack of test cases involving poorer people feeding into Common Law. Scientists and engineers can get jobs in industry, but who will educate the next generation of scientists?

I come from a family that has done just about all the professions connected with words and reason, counting over the last few generations a lawyer, a vicar, an archaeologist, writers, editors, a Maths teacher in a secondary modern, an actor, a master of an Oxford college, a History professor (and some of those have been women). My uncle was the first to leave, setting up his own business in the 1980s, trading in books, caught by enthusiasm for Thatcher. Now I am switching to business too. I am the main carer and main provider for my son and I think I have a better chance of developing an income stream going forward, and having time with him, even having some kind of pension, if I let my spare room and self-publish my own text books. I may not have sufficient business in my background for it to work. No guarantees. No doubt the Tories will self-righteously approve of my insecurity – professionals brought down at last.

I won’t have time to write novels about the state we’re in that can’t get published because Waterstones wants to run a limited number of titles, mainly celebrity cookbooks; or to be an activist in a Party that has to work twice as hard as the main parties for every vote; or time to try and influence public opinion and society at all.

Here ends the chattering classes, the chatter and this blog.

Adventures in Tory Land: Democracy in Middle England, comic tales of the canvassing trail, is available on Amazon.com for £2 here: http://amzn.to/1GpXY1F

Or, if you want to twang your heartstrings more, listen to ‘What I Did for Love’ sung by Engelbert Humperdinck on youtube: http://bit.ly/1JBe0Wi

Popular Myth 3: You’re all the Same!

Wouldn’t that be nice? Responsibility off our shoulders. Sit back and relax. The Parties are all the same.

The Camel-Coated One by Asbjorn Gundersen in Adventures in Tory Land: Democracy in Middle England

The Camel-Coated One by Asbjorn Gundersen in Adventures in Tory Land: Democracy in Middle England

Here’s a quick quiz:

Which party thinks the Environment is the most important issue?

Which party is committed to protecting private wealth?

Which party is strongly in favour of public spending and state intervention?

Which party wants us out of the EU?

Which party puts Liberal values and Democracy first?

Wasn’t hard, was it! The hard thing is resolving those conflicts inside ourselves.

Katie Barron tries to canvass a particularly self-righteous suburban mum on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. Here is one side of the conversation….

http://liberalengland.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/guest-post-youre-all-same.html

The Mother by Asbjorn Gundersen in Adventures in Tory Land

The Mother by Asbjorn Gundersen in Adventures in Tory Land

http://liberalengland.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/guest-post-youre-all-same.html

Adventures in Tory Land: Democracy in Middle England, tales of the canvassing trail, is available as an ebook and paperback through Amazon and in Waterstones St Albans. Yours for £2. For a laugh, click here! http://amzn.to/1GpXY1F

#UKIP Myth 2: #Race

Leo is two and eight months and still hasn’t noticed skin colour. He knows his colours, and he’s got no qualms about making personal comments, remarking loudly on beards, moustaches, moles, hats, shoes and walking sticks. Very occasionally he talks about hair colour. ‘I’ve got brown hair. Mummy’s got brown hair. Daddy’s got…. grey hair!’

On Saturday we were coming back from the big Quaker meeting in Friends House in London and Albert pulled up in his car to talk to us. Albert is from Trinidad. After the chat, Leo asked me, ‘He’s a boy?’ ‘Yes, he’s a boy. He’s a man.’ ‘He got a willy?’ ‘Yes.’ With that cleared up, Leo went back to talking about trains.

The Racist Animal Lover by Asbjorn Gundersen

The Racist Animal Lover by Asbjorn Gundersen

Adventures in Tory Land: Democracy in Middle England, by Katie Barron and Asbjorn Gundersen, is available as an ebook and paperback through Amazon and in Waterstones St Albans. Yours for £2. For a laugh, click here! http://amzn.to/1GpXY1F

#Tory Myth 3: Life is Tragic

I hope I meet Byl Wringe again some day. Last heard, he was teaching Philosophy in Turkey.

When we were students together he had a moustache he fiddled with. We were Young Fogeys, at the end of Thatcher’s era. Byl said he couldn’t be a Christian because Christians denied Tragedy. But things do go wrong, he said. The centre doesn’t always hold. To deny that fact is to deny also the vulnerability of the world, which is its beauty, its lovability.

Believing in Tragedy is believing that irresistible forces meet immovable objects, that there are problems that can’t be solved. In the tragic world view, Economic Growth is pitted against Environmental Protection; Housing against the Countryside; Employment against Inflation; Human Rights against Human Responsibilities; Security against Peace.

Poster for Sophocles' Electra, performed by students at Kings College London in 1989

Poster for Sophocles’ Electra, performed by students at Kings College London in 1989

That’s what the Ancient Greek Tragedies did. They took abstract nouns and hurled them at each other. Antigone can’t reconcile Respect for the Dead with Respect for Authority. Electra’s love for her Dad drives her to hate her Mum. Pentheus is torn between sensuality and dignity, in the end literally torn.

What’s the answer to these clashes of opposites?

‘Sacrifice!’ say the Right Wing. ‘One Good has to be sacrificed for another Good!’ (Oddly, it’s often someone else’s Good that has to be sacrificed.)

What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?

Possibly a transformation of both?

What if transformation were possible? What if reconciliation were possible? What if there were solutions?

‘Love hopes all things.’

What if the tragic outlook missed a trick, turned out to be a little wooden, seeing the murdered tree of the cross, and not the dynamo that was forged?

Byl, are you out there?

Buy Adventures in Tory Land: Politics in Middle England at amazon.com/co.uk or click here:

http://amzn.to/19GvXqE