A Brazilian Funeral…

ZeZé `s funeral

Funerals – and especially funerals in Brazil have had a passing mention before in my blog, but we have had a funeral closer to home this last week. Fatima`s mum, who was 84, died early on Thursday morning. She had been a bed-ridden invalid for quite some time now, suffering the great indignities associated with that state, so, in truth, her passing released her from a life with little quality to it on a day to day basis.

Her name was José-Maria and, whether it is a female José or a male José, the commonly accepted appellation was always ZeZé (pronounced zare-zare as in bare-bare).

So, ZeZé had had a stroke about four years ago and because she had been in the house alone at the time, she had suffered a lot of damage before being discovered, collapsed on the floor. She had lost her ability to speak, most of which unfortunately stayed lost, despite speech therapy, and she had lost most of her right-side mobility too, which had improved slightly with physiotherapy.

Then two years ago she had had a slight fall and, though she appeared to land lightly, she nevertheless broke her femur. At first, the health system in Brazil more or less wrote her off and it was only after some fairly robust complaining by Fatima that they managed to find her a hospital that would mend her broken leg, having to boost her anaemic state first. Since then she has needed a wheelchair to be moved around.

I may have mentioned this before, but the health service rules as they apply here in Brazil, mean that if you are over 65 and in hospital you have to have a relative (or it can be a friend) stay with you ALL THE TIME. This, of course, saves the health service a huge cost of what I think we would call auxiliary services because the feeding and other hygiene requirements are catered for by the family member(s). At the time Fatima was still working, so this added to the stresses of family life here.

When she could come out of hospital, we found a place in an old folks` home for ZeZé. Then, when Fatima was going to be in the UK for a longer period last year, one of her cousins agreed to take on the burden of looking after ZeZé for a modest consideration. And, finally when Fatima came back to Brazil before Christmas, we took back the task of looking after her – but ZeZé`s health had been gradually declining over this long period, with senility setting in as well. And, for the last few weeks, it had become a challenge as she was now hardly eating or drinking. Clearly “not drinking” in the heat of Brazil`s summer is not conducive to good health and so we had had to take her to hospital a few times where they boosted her up with glucose drips and the like.

What they did not pick up, just over a week ago on the last hospital visit (and they should have done, but the final outcome may only have been delayed a very short while even if they had!) was the fact that she had, by this time, started to suffer with pneumonia. So, on Wednesday evening, after a relatively quiet day for her, we took her into the local small hospital again in the early evening.

Sadly, despite everyone else there being as sweet as you like, the doctor who dealt with us looked at ZeZé, then at Fatima and said, “Hm. You again! Nothing much I can do here, she should be in an old folk`s home, where they can deal with her properly”. Fatima was, as you may expect, rather disturbed by this response and answered rather sharply – “You think if we could afford that on a full-time basis we would be here!?” “Well the hospital at Bacaxá is full,” he said, “so we`ll see what we can do”.

“If that`s the case,” said Fatima, “you had better give me a note to that effect and I will go and report it to the Minister of Health!” At which point Fatima came out to let me know that they were going to give her some glucose, as before, and I might as well go home for an hour and come back to pick them up when they had finished and she phoned me. So, that`s what I did, calling to fill the car`s tank up on the way home.

No sooner had I got home, three-minute`s-drive away, than Fatima phoned to say that as soon as she returned into the hospital it became clear that they had decided to transfer her to the larger hospital in Bacaxá, about an hour away, after all! The power of forthright speech and an underlying threat! The trip was interrupted about halfway with an unscheduled stop at the equally small hospital in Saquerama, apparently due to the fact that Zezé’s heart had stopped. She was resuscitated, intubated and supplied with oxygen and then the ambulance continued onwards to Bacaxá.

We then stayed there, while she was in intensive care, hoping for improvement, but not truly expecting such. And around 2a.m., as we were making the decision to come back home again and return to the hospital early on Thursday morning, the Bacaxá Doc came out with the news that she had died moments before. This Doc, by contrast, was a lovely man, with an excellent bedside manner, too, and very helpful with the necessary paper-work process. This took little more than half an hour – after which we did come home to prepare for the next stage. The funeral itself.

That part of the episode, by the way, reminded me of Spike Milligan, notably a hypochondriac, who apparently had these words inscribed on his headstone – “I told you I wasn`t well!” – a story I was able to relate to Fatima, for one of those sad, smiling, moments associated with death.

The Funeral

As you may know, in common with many other countries which are hot, the law here is that the funeral must take place within 24 hours of death. As pointed out by my cousin Pat, who has spent a lot of time in Paraguay, this is something of a double-edged sword, providing a sense of rapid ‘closure’, but also piling on the pressure of making the arrangements at extremely short notice.

Fatima has a ‘family plot’ at a delightful, well-run cemetery in São Gonçalo, and they have a multitude of “chapels” available to cater for multiple funerals if necessary. The health insurance covered all the associated costs and organisation details so very few phone calls were required to set the process in motion. And because everyone is aware of the legal requirements for speed, I guess most families have pretty efficient “telephone trees” to spread the news.

So, before 8a.m. on Thursday, we already knew the funeral would take place at 4p.m. at the Parque de Paz and, by the time we arrived there around 1p.m., ZeZé was already in the allotted chapel, in her coffin with the lid leant up against the wall. A major contrast to UK culture is that the deceased is presented to mourners to give their last respects, surrounded by flowers in the coffin, under a lacy cover. Of course, in UK, it is possible to visit a funeral home to see the deceased, but I think relatively few people choose to go for a “viewing” these days.

The phone tree worked well enough that a couple of carloads of ZeZé`s nephews, nieces and great-nephews and nieces had time to come from at least four hours` drive away from Fatima`s home-town of Macuco. And considerable family numbers were made up from more local relations and friends.

Dress code

The `dress code` for funerals is pretty informal here – it can be summed up by `smart-casual` I think. Jeans and a neat summer shirt seemed to be the majority expression for both male and female and muted colours were preponderant, plus some muted skirts and tops, or dresses for the ladies. For our particular funeral I don`t think there was one black tie present and I only saw two ties all afternoon in the whole area.

The chapels are in two rows of five and on Thursday there were four of our row of five in use, with funerals timed at quarter of an hour intervals. Each chapel is about 8 metres square, glass-fronted with partially frosted glass, and air conditioned. Outside the row of five, there is a three-metre-wide covered area with granite-covered seating all along the length of the row. So, as people are gathering, there is quite an assemblage building up. We were in Chapel B at 4 o`clock and Chapel A was due for 3.45 – so by 2.30 the overall noise level was building by several decibels per minute as relatives and friends greeted each other outside Chapels A & B – and to a lesser extent, Chapels C & D.

As you might anticipate there were tears and hugs as well as gossip and (mostly-controlled) laughter. I recall that many, many years ago my father made the comment that if you wanted a lot of people at your funeral it was “…best to die young.” On this basis, it seemed that the occupant of Chapel A was a much younger person than ZeZé, as there were perhaps nearly twice as many mourners there, of which the average age was considerably younger than for our Chapel B.

The strangest outlier from the dress-code was also associated with the Chapel A gathering and was represented by a young man with a dark grey, `Trump-style`, peaked cap, displaying the message “WHO THE F**K THIS?” Apart from the poor grammatical structure of the question, I must say it seemed somewhat out of place at a funeral, not least because, in the actual embroidered inscription, there were no asterisks.

Otherwise, ZeZé`s funeral was conducted with dignity. The coffin was then placed on the funeral version of an electric milk delivery float, or golf cart, and trundled around to the actual grave at walking pace. A light rain was falling so there were a few umbrellas keeping at least some of the mourners dry, and, of course, not everyone took part in the procession to the graveside. As the actual interment was taking place a group of four very noisy Brazilian lapwings were having a disagreement across the hillside of the Parque de Paz, untroubled by the human intrusion in their space.

Then we all made our way back home. Altogether, it was a pretty exhausting 48 hours, but we were left with the sensation that at least ZeZé was now at peace, her long, slow suffering curtailed.

RIP ZeZé.

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Once upon a time in a land as dark as night…

Once upon a time in a land as dark as night…

Maybe you have heard of Marielle Franco, assassinated in March of 2018 in Rio de Janeiro?

Marielle Francisco da Silva, was born in July 1979, the same year I joined the Liberal Ecology Group and the same year Mrs Thatcher was elected Prime Minister. Marielle was a feminist Brazilian politician and human rights activist, elected to the Municipal chamber of Rio de Janeiro as a councillor for the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL)

She had been an outspoken critic of police brutality and extrajudicial killings. She was also highly critical of the federal intervention by Brazilian president, Michel Temer, in the state of Rio de Janeiro which resulted in the deployment of the army in police operations. After a long period when it seemed likely that her killers would “never be found” and were somehow being protected by the system, two former police officers were arrested, charged and convicted of her murder.

Brazil has an unenviable record for killings by its police force. Human Rights Watch, reporting in 2019 put the figure for 2017 (their latest data) at over 5000 – averaging 14 per day. If these numbers are anywhere near correct, that is around five times as many as are killed by police action in the USA. Worse, the Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, not only sanctions brutal police action but made his way into power with a slogan “30 bullets for each bandit” and looks fondly back to his days as a military Captain during the Dictatorship years in Brazil.

That any beauty can come out of such brutality, shows a fascinating “other side” to the human spirit – but this poem came into my purview recently and I pass it on to you with no further comment. It is spoken alongside a video of some delightful sculpturing skill which you can see here… well worth your time to see and listen. Enjoy and then read the poem again for yourself.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4VUl9DCh8AI

 

Once upon a time in a land as dark as night

Where nothing would grow

In despite of every woe

There was an unusually happy girl

And, since she loved life and, since she loved beauty

She decided that it was her duty

To plant sunflowers on dry hard sand

And perhaps her heads would help to mend

Through the soil and turmoil of that land

The people there, seeing her endeavour,

Smiled again and thought they would forever,

As they noticed flowers strong and bright

And thought they were tired of the night

The evil forces however frowned

And opening a hole up in the ground…

… [sound of shot fired]…

Watched her being swallowed deep

Until she could no longer speak

Or see, or dream, or sigh, or resist

But what they could not predict was this

Her love was such that it spread across the mud,

And thousands of flowers grew nourished by her blood

And now every time a flower`s pluck`d

Many more will grow at present speed

And the girl will always, for her deed,

Be remembered by the name – of “Seed”

 

Poem by Renato Campello

 

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Green Resolutions for the New Year and New Decade

Green Resolution

As an antidote to my, perhaps rather downbeat, posting yesterday, I thought I would write a more optimistic upbeat post today. It is about setting “Green” resolutions for the New Year (New Decade, even!) – so you can add one or more of these resolutions to your own list of how you will seek to be better in 2020 and going forward.

2020 – even the number of the year invites clarity and visual resolutions!

Resolution #1 Seeking Clarity on the status of our websites

This was prompted by a thread on FaceBook earlier on the new Environmental Smart web group – https://www.environmental-smart.co.uk/  – which was talking about the massive use of fossil fuels to run the internet and the fact that we can choose to ensure we are using internet hosts which are consciously as green as possible. The article pointed out that the Internet as a whole was one of the largest emitters of carbon dioxide – and if it were a “country” it would not be far behind China and India as a greenhouse gas emitter.

If you want to check on a website YOU have an interest in, you can go to the https://www.thegreenwebfoundation.org/green-web-check/ , put the URL of your chosen site in the check box and find out. So I did exactly that for my blog post host WordPress and, sadly it turns out that it is a “Grey” site.

Equally sadly, the hosts for the Green Liberal Democrats site, in which I have an interest of course, as well as the Liberal Democrat main site and the company that manages these sites, Prater Raines all turn out to be “Grey” sites.

So, it looks as though we have some work to do on the GLD Exec committee next time we meet! GLD`s Green New Decade Resolution is sorted!

I am, however, pleased to report that the site hosting Environmental Smart, gets a clean bill of health

If you want to pursue this action further, the Green Web Foundation provides a list of 25 hosting organisations in the UK who can prove they are reliant on renewable energy for their site support. Here`s the list….

Green Hosting (Partner)

Wholegrain Digital (Certified Gold Partner);  34SP.com;  Athaneum;  Core IX;  Dsgnone

Easynet;  erjjio studios;  Fasthosts;  GreenNet;  GreneIT

GURU Cloud Hosting;  HostPapa UK;  Krystal Hosting;  Kualo;  Lightbeing Creations

Memset Hosting;  Netcetera;  NetWeaver;  Nimbus Hosting Ltd.;  Rackspace UK

Solar Web Host;  The Positive Internet Company Ltd.;  Uni Link Solution;  VI

Resolution #2 – Plant more trees

This was a major feature in the manifestoes of the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and the Labour Party – but the Tory target was much lower, so I think we need to add our own efforts into the mix as a Green New Decade resolution.

The Woodland Trust – https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/ – during 2019 had a major campaign aimed at schools and communities in November 2019 with a view to planting around 700,000 trees. Mostly they were “whips” – i.e. a short stick with a root on! – so if you are patient, these are the easiest to deal with, but it is likely that a fair proportion of these will not survive unless they are watered during their first year in the ground, especially if there is an extended dry period in the weather. Certainly, their chances of survival are probably higher where there is a good community motivation to look after them well.

If you have a garden of your own, even if it is only a modest size you can order and “Bee-friendly pack” of four small trees from the Woodland Trust for just £12.95. Alternatively, if you have a bit more room and can envisage a small copse in your garden or community area you can get a selection of 30 trees for just under £50.

I consider myself to have been fortunate enough to be able to buy a couple of fields around 12 years ago, which were sheep pasture at the time, but which are beginning to look like woodland these days. The very first silver birch trees we planted are now towering above me at 25-30 feet when I wander around my haven. Even the slower growing oak trees which had been lovingly cared for in plantpots for a few years, before acquiring the fields, are now resplendent at fifteen to twenty feet.

And, this last couple of years in particular the huge ash trees along the field edges, which must be over 100 years old, are now finding spaces to spread their genes. I have not been able to count the number of ash seedlings that are coming into their own, but I have been moving quite a few of them to “better” positions for my own aesthetic preference! Fortunately, our ash trees seem to have so far avoided the ash “die-back” problems around the country.

My Green Resolution for 2020 certainly includes another large batch of new trees for my woodland area. And please get in touch with me if you don`t have room for your own trees – I would love to plant some on your behalf.

Resolution #3 – Change your electricity supplier to a Renewable Energy Company

I changed my supplier only fairly recently, from SSE – which promised a proportion of renewable energy in its mix, but which was also responsible (and still is) for paying me the Feed-in Tariff for my rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) renewable energy.

I changed to https://bulb.co.uk/ and have, so far at least, been very happy with their management of my account and the costs associated therewith, representing a considerable saving on my previous costs. If you would like to change and quote this link, www.bulb.me/keithm4966   we`ll both benefit by £50.

There are, of course, a number of other companies out there that sell “only” renewable energy, although the last couple of years have been somewhat unkind to a number of smaller companies which have collapsed. Apparently, something like 28 companies have disappeared from the market since January 2018. Ofgem does provide protection for consumers unlucky enough to have chosen a supplier that goes under – see here – https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/

Resolution #4 – Continue to reduce meat eating

I am by no means a vegan, nor, indeed, a vegetarian, but I have cut back considerably over the last few years on the total amount of meat consumed and propose to continue to try and do so to a greater extent. There is a distinct tension between the greenhouse gas contribution of animal husbandry and the need to maintain soil quality (and quantity) over the long term. Equally there is a tension between agricultural and other possible land-use and land-management scenarios, not least with regard to hilly areas and the potential food-production capacity of different quality of land.

Climate Change pressures certainly require lower quantities of meat-eating, but this is a difficult area for small-l “liberals” who prefer individuals to have the greatest latitude to make up their own minds about as much of their lives as possible. There now seems to be strong pressure for the need to legislate some form of “encouragement” to behave in a more responsible way as far as food is concerned. If this does not happen in a reasoned and politically acceptable way in the short term it seems almost inevitable that there will be strong pressures for a much more centrally controlled set of changes in the medium or longer term as the climate change pressures grow.

The recent political experiences in the UK, as well as in the USA and Brazil and, indeed, some other European countries towards a more “conservative” set of cultural norms does not augur particularly well for the success of voluntary change going in the right direction.

“Militant” vegans will tell you that the only answer is to go vegan, but, as well as requiring dietary supplements to avoid long-term health problems of purely vegan diets, there are often hidden environmental downsides to replacement products. So, milk-production using dairy cows certainly has climate change consequences, but soya milk sourced from soya grown on farms created by clearing Amazon rainforest, or almond milk, which requires large inputs of sometimes scarce water supplies also creates environmental problems.

Clearly it is one of the areas where the idea of a New Year resolution has an impacts shown by the graph shown in a BBC article earlier this year. The figures were sourced from Google Trends. All we can do is to try and minimise our Climate Change footprint in ways we know we can sustain in behavioural terms as individuals.

Resolutions

Good luck with setting your Green New Decade Resolutions and let me wish you all my personal greeting for a greener 2020.  Happy New Year

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View from my hammock…

You may guess from the title that I am in Brazil again at the moment!? And you would be correct!

As I may have said already in a recent blog post, we had booked to come for a seasonal visit to Fatima`s homeland before the General Election date was decided, so we actually missed the election itself. Probably something of a relief, given the nature of the result – however we were not able to gather with friends to commiserate.

Anyway, facebook chats fairly quickly subsided after the election so it seems as though everyone has, to some extent at least, put the election behind them and hidden away with family and friends concentrating on Christmas.

So, to the thoughts in that hammock…

Darwin`s View

Our “summer” place in Brazil is in the small seaside town of Jacone, near Saquarema in the Lake District of Rio State. And the hammock is between two wooden pillars on our terrace, overlooking the Lagoa de Saquarema. This lake features in Darwin`s record of his journey to the Galapagos islands (I have certainly mentioned this story before but I hope it is worth retelling now, for readers new to my blogging.)

On his travels to the Galapagos Islands back in the early 1830s, The Beagle stopped off in Rio de Janeiro for a little R&R and re-stocking and the young Darwin, just turned 23, had organised a horseback excursion from Rio which brought him along the coast to the region lagoa. He is very critical of the general level of hospitality they met with on this and other journeys through the Brazilian hinterland but on the 9th April 1832, the day ended better than it had started and they happened to stay in a better quality Vanda – or Inn – if it may be described thus. Let me quote his own words as he describes the visit:-

April 9th, 1832.-We left our miserable sleeping-place before sunrise. The road passed through a narrow sandy plain, lying between the sea and the interior salt lagoons. The number of beautiful fishing birds, such as egrets and cranes, and the succulent plants assuming most fantastical forms, gave to the scene an interest which it would not otherwise have possessed. The few stunted trees were loaded with parasitical plants, among which the beauty and delicious fragrance of some of the orchid were most to be admired. As the sun rose, the day became extremely hot, and the reflection of the light and heat from the white sand was very distressing.

We dined at Mandetiba; the thermometer in the shade being 84°. The beautiful view of the distant wooded hills, reflected in the perfectly calm water of an extensive lagoon, quite refreshed us. … the vanda here was a very good one and I have the pleasant, but rare remembrance, of an excellent dinner …  

No longer called Mandetiba, it turns out that the delightful inn and the refreshing view were literally just around the corner from our Jacone house and my view over the lake was Darwin`s view nearly 200 years ago. It is no further away from our house than one hedge of my English fields is from the opposite hedge!

Saquarema Lake

So, there I was in my hammock on the terrace – sipping on a glass of cold beer – the temperature almost exactly the same as it was for Charles Darwin all those years ago. There were, and still are, a few clouds about, so the lake is reflecting a cloudy sky and is ruffled by a modest breeze, so I am not getting the reflection of the “distant wooded hills”, but at least the beer was “refreshing”.

Reflections on Politics.

No wooded hills, but my mind was reflecting on recent politics. And very disappointing reflections they are. Regular readers and long-time friends will already know that it was the dire result of the referendum that brought me back into politics in 2017, after `retiring` from Party politics back in 1998.

These same readers and friends will also know that my retirement then was partly triggered by a frustration that environmental issues – although reasonably well represented in Lib Dem policy papers was never presented “front and centre” during elections. Also my long-term Liberal view that nuclear weapons were immoral, dangerous and wasteful, had been superseded by the Lib Dem acceptance that they were somehow justified as a deterrence.

Frankly what they are now deterring for us – as a small gaggle of islands off the north-west coast of Europe – is rather moot!

The optimist`s view

As a glass-half-full person (and, no, I am no longer talking about the beer – that glass is now well and truly empty!) I was anticipating a thumpingly good general election for us this year. The party had won a huge number of local council seats in the May elections and then 16 MEPs in the Euro elections that followed.

We were (apparently!?) on the right side of history, being so clearly a Remain party, after a couple of hugely attended marches through London. And, for me, the party manifesto featured very clearly a critically good response to the Climate catastrophe, which should have captured the hearts and minds of the young generation of eXtinction Rebellion protesters. I had even had a hand in helping to write the policy paper that was central to the Climate change section of the manifesto.

We had a whole slew of environmental activists in winnable seats who would have been capable of changing the nature of the debate in Parliament about the climate catastrophe and many other environmental issues. And, along with a few colleagues in the Green Liberal Democrats, I spent many an hour writing up profiles of these “Green Heroes” to help them along in their elections. Many of those hours were spent in our first week here in Brazil too – my politics did not just stop after the journey from London.

“Bollocks to Politics?”

So, What`s next? A very tempting scenario from the lofty view of my hammock, glass of beer in one hand, was the “bollocks to politics” option. I first got involved in politics during a mock election at school in 1964 when the Liberal Party had just six MPs. During much of my adult lifetime I have had to try and keep explaining why Liberalism should bother to continue – and here again, there have been journalists and others wondering out loud why we bother. We struggled and fought to achieve a position, where, despite the huge bias of the FPTP electoral system there were over 60 MPs gracing the Liberal Democrat seats in the Commons.

Then Clegg`s “bromance” with Cameron with a neo-liberal and libertarian approach to economics made the party toxic among many left-leaning voters. The Environmental inheritance showed through in our Green Investment Bank and the huge increase in renewable energy, but the Tories sold the bank off and claimed the renewable energy growth as theirs when they had the place to themselves. And we were relegated to a very minor party status with just eight MPs in 2015 – back to the Party in a taxi jokes!

I am now comfortably in my eighth decade on this planet and there are people in my life who now and again ask – “Why do you bother?” It was a question I was asking myself in the hammock earlier – and I was not getting any very positive answers springing to mind.

The answer is a Question!

It turns out that the answer to my question “Why should I bother?”  turns out to be another question. That question is this – “Can I actually influence the nature of the Party, as it struggles with its own sense of purpose with just 11 MPs and a huge uphill task of justifying its existence?”

Well, as I said above, I am an optimist, so despite many years experience of feeling that my influence has often been overlooked, there are instances where one feels perhaps that it is not all doom and gloom. The sentence that best sums this up is that sentence, to which I have referred before, which I managed to write and get inserted into the Liberal Democrat Preamble to the Constitution in 1988 – “We believe that each generation is responsible for the fate of our planet and, by safeguarding the balance of nature and the environment, for the long term continuity of life in all its forms.”

So, I shall keep trying (at least for the moment!!) Perhaps we shall get a radical realignment of the left leaning, Green focussing, Climate change conscious environmentalists. Perhaps we will get a Party Leader who does not say “Yes” enthusiastically when asked a question about pressing the Nuclear weapon button as Prime Minister. Perhaps we will even get to change the name of our Party to what is currently the name of a significant and growing pressure group – perhaps the “Green Liberal Democrats” can change the political narrative for us all.

If not, then perhaps I shall get to write that autobiographical memoire I have tentatively entitled “Failing with Gusto!” during my less optimistic moments!

Posted in Elections, Environment & Sustainable Development, Lib Dem Leadership | Tagged | Leave a comment

Let`s not RUSH the Leadership Election!

Ed Davey – Interim leader for how long?

My view on this is that we should not rush into an early leadership election for the Liberal Democrats for a number of good reasons…

A Bruising Election

First, we have been through a very bruising general election and despite adding more than 55% of our last vote share two years ago, the failed electoral system has rewarded us with one fewer MP than then and ten fewer MPs than we notionally had just before the election. Of the new team, four are first timers who will require some time to establish themselves in their roles. Two more are relative newbies, leaving five experienced parliamentarians, one of whom has already been leader and resigned.

Second, Johnson has a significant majority in parliament so there will be no general election for at least three years, more likely four (unless there is a complete crash – though I suppose that cannot be entirely ruled out!) Therefore we have time to take a very considered view of how we go about this.

Safe Pair of Hands

Third, if we elect a new leader too soon s/he will have to hit the ground running in the midst of Brexit chaos, since, despite Johnson`s simplistic “Get Brexit Done” mantra, we all know that ain`t gonna happen! Ed Davey, we KNOW will provide us with a safe pair of hands during the next few months at least. This is, for me a very powerful point for not going too soon.

Fourth, whether Ed decides to stand for leader or not, there will inevitably be much hand-wringing about the recent general election strategy. Some, at least, of the overall responsibility for what went wrong will inevitably be laid at Ed`s door, whether deserved or not. Frankly all those discussions about what went wrong (as well as what went right, of course) need to take place BEFORE the leadership election and not during the leadership election. That will inevitably take a few months and take us past the spring conference at least.

As part of that discussion there will have to be equally long discussions about the nature of strategic decision making within the party. There seems to be a strong undercurrent of dissatisfaction about that, including general party governance issues which need to be signed off before a new leader takes over. Vince Cable was effectively an interim leader for about a year at least whilst such discussions took place, some of which may  well need to be revisited.

What about our competitors?

Fifth, we also need time to see what happens regarding other parties after the failure of the remain alliance to pay any real dividends. This includes a view of how the Labour party works its own pain out. I have already written about the potential for there to be a radical realignment of the environmental left of centre political activists (NOT including socialists by the way! See my previous blog post.). I have made the point that the probable lack of action by the Conservative government relating to reducing carbon emissions will mean that the next government will have to react VERY quickly to make up for lost time.

Frankly, we may already be too late to stop some of the environmental tipping points scientists have been concerned about for a while. Five more years of relative inaction could be five years too much!  (Especially in the light of the recent failure of the COP 25 event in Madrid to reach any satisfactory conclusions.) Therefore, realignment needs to happen quickly if it is going to mean anything – a safe pair of hands with ENVIRONMENTAL credentials will be important. Ed Davey has these, despite the Labour trolls giving him grief about his record as a Cabinet Minister.

Sixth, it is apparent that Ed is going to have to consider very carefully whether it is right that he stands for the leadership. Both Jo and Ed were targeted by journalists about their responsibility, in coalition, for all the austerity decisions so derided by those Labour trolls. Both apologised for mistakes, explained that Labour were proposing to be just as austere if not more so, but that argument was damaging to the Lib Dem narrative. Various FaceBook threads have already given vent to these issues and at least one commentator made the point that the Liberal Party suffered 35 years of battering for supporting the Conservatives pre-WWll before coming out of that trough of “hatred” by Labour.

Only Ed knows whether he has the internal strength to withstand several more years of nasty Labour trolling but there is little doubt that much will be made of that in a subsequent leadership battle, even from colleagues within the Lib Dems.

Strategy debate and (more?) changes to Lib Dem Constitution?

Seventh, for at least some of the reasons above, I would not be surprised if we did not end up having a re-run of the debate about whether there should be a change in the constitution to allow a leader from outside the Parliamentary coterie of MPs. Strictly speaking the rules should not allow that debate to take place again so soon after the constitutional decision was made last year – but these are unusual circumstances. However, it will be Spring Conference before that discussion gets to the conference floor and if there is overwhelming feeling for change, such a decision can only be made by Autumn conference (or, possibly, a special conference) In either case that discussion must be finalised before the new leadership election is held, otherwise the party will be accused rightly of navel gazing for too long.

Of course, if there IS a radical realignment, there will probably be new contenders for leadership, not currently in the party (I have already seen suggestions that Caroline Lucas would be favoured by some as a new Leader – and THAT is before any realignment has taken place!) and some may argue for such an eventuality to be welcomed, but that will inevitably slow the process down.

Finally, for the moment, I take the view that Ed`s experience of being a Cabinet Minister will give him far greater leverage in the first months of the new parliament than any new leader could muster, however good s/he may be. Whether or not Ed decides to stand again and whether or not he wins, these first few months of the Johnson Government will be vital in setting the tone for the future.

Jeremy Corbyn is a busted flush (and frankly has been for a long time, but that`s a discussion for another day) so a strong performance by the Lib Dem party leader will be a very visible challenge to the new government. Ed has the forensic skills AND the ministerial experience allowing for a strong challenge in the House of Commons. This should not be disregarded – we need every advantage we can muster in current circumstances.

Also, Corbyn has indicated he is not resigning straight away so it is likely to be late Spring before the Labour leadership debate is started. One of last year`s disappointments was that our leadership debate was crowded out of the media by the Tory version. And, frankly we need all the publicity we can get.

Conclusion

So, my conclusion is that we should extend Ed Davey the courtesy of some months at least as interim leader. We should not be shrill in calling for an urgent leadership contest because there are sound reasons for allowing the 2019 electoral dust to settle. I want to see some real progress towards a “radical realignment of the environmental left” – let us give it time to happen whilst we have a safe pair of hands at the tiller.

Also, we should be spending a lot of time this year working  on how we target COP 26 at the year end. There is no Planet `B` if we get this wrong.

 

 

Posted in Elections, Environment & Sustainable Development, Lib Dem Leadership, Politics, Radical Liberal | Leave a comment

Reviewing the Election

So, I am back in Brazil for Fatima`s family Xmas (we had our trip booked before they announced the General election date) That meant I was hearing the election results from several thousand miles away – and that does give some perspective. It doesn`t make the results any less unpleasant – but there is a certain detachment possible – and, at least the sun is shining.

What is the correct word? Disappointing? Devastating? Disaster?

Well, I think I have seen all three used on FaceBook threads. Certainly, there has been an outpouring of grief from some FB contacts and no wonder, really. Life is going to get a lot worse before it gets better and, indeed, there is little reason to believe it will get better any time soon.

The only consolation I can offer from my lifetime involvement in the political sphere is that it WILL pass. The “Winter of discontent” passed; Thatcherism passed; even the Iraq war passed. The problem is that some people will not live through it, either because they die of old age or disease or accident before said period passes. Or, worse, they die BECAUSE of whatever difficulties we are facing. And THAT is the most troubling aspect of this current situation – the government`s own figures show there will be a lower economic performance in ANY form of Brexit – and that means some people will suffer setbacks at least, maybe worse, as a consequence.

I am not about to rerun the election campaign, however. You may rest assured of that and carry on reading. My thought processes are more concerned with the question “What do we do next?”

No more petitions

One of the first things that struck me this morning was someone on FaceBook suggesting a petition about something – honestly, I forget quite what, but it was something I would normally relate with and, probably, sign.

NOPE! No more bloody petitions – we had several really big ones relating to Europe/Brexit – didn`t do a scrap of good! No more marches – went on several, wearying, marches with lots and lots of nice people, cost a lot of money for train fares – didn`t do a scrap of good!

I have to say that I have never been a great believer in “demonstrations”, “manifestations” or even “civil disobedience”. There is possibly some evidence that the suffragette movement changed hearts and minds. But what is the point of universal suffrage if the voting system is corrupt and not fit for purpose; or if the media ownership is monopolised by the ultra-rich; or if ordinary people don`t bother to vote…

Canvasser…knocks on door. “I am here to ask which way you might vote on Thursday…”

Resident… answers door. “No, you`re alright thanks!” Closes door – what does that even mean!?

…or Resident, sees you are there at the door… doesn`t answer, carries on watching TV.

Let`s stop being “Tribal”

There was an attempt to build a form of remain alliance, which meant moving away from tribalism a bit and a small core of seats had one or more parties stepping down to give the others a better chance of winning against the Tories. At the time of writing I have not yet seen an analysis of how that panned out (but clearly not well enough to alter the result!) But that failed overall because the Labour Party chose not to opt in – arrogance or ignorance, I am not yet sure. But then Momentum trolls, having accused many, (most? All?) Lib Dems of being “Yellow Tories”, wanted these same Lib Dems to stand aside for their tribal representatives. Without any quid pro quo either.

Aside from the inherent nastiness in this scenario, it reflects a wrong analysis of current politics. Economic changes, technical changes, industrial changes and, of course, political changes mean that the overtly class-based labouring class versus capitalist-class model is now much more complex. Sure, it still has relevance, but the concentration of economic power into the hands of the tax avoiding, tax-evading mega-rich at the expense of virtually everyone else has changed the narrative.

It has allowed the story to thrive that xenophobic British (perhaps just English?) less-well-off voters need to “take back control” from grubby forriners who come over here, take jobs from us all and clog up the NHS and social services at our expense. The fact that it is not actually true has become immaterial. The populist story-tellers have simply made it believable by large swathes of naïve ill-informed voters. They are ill-informed, of course, because the media barons have deliberately mis-informed so many people with myths, pedalled not least by the opportunist liar now inhabiting Downing Street.

So, the attempt by Corbynist, socialist strategists, to appeal to their former tribal base has been thwarted by the populism and proto-fascism of the Johnson government. Fed-up with the never-ending soap-saga of Brexit a large, previously Labour-leaning cohort of northern voters fell under the spell of the simple (and simply untrue) message “Get Brexit done”.

So, being tribal is now a hindrance, not a vote-winning strategy.

The Climate election

There was some hope at the beginning of the election campaign that a major feature of the election might well be a realistic reaction to the very obvious rapidity with which the Climate Catastrophe is bearing down on us. Not least, the fact that even the Tory Party notionally set a date for achieving zero carbon emissions as 2050, suggested that the issue may be seriously debated. No such luck!

Neither the Tory leader, nor the Brexit Party leader turned up for the Channel 4 “Leaders` Debate” and they were both empty-chaired and represented by melting blocks of ice. Perhaps it was inevitable that they ducked out, given that the Tories at least scored only a paltry 5.5 for their environmental manifesto against 30, 31 and 33 for the Lib Dems, the Green Party and the Labour Party, respectively. (We`ll set aside the probably under-marking of the Lib Dem manifesto by Friends of the Earth relative to this essay – perhaps taking that up another time!)

Realignment

So, now I have got to the heart of my reason for writing this blog today. The large degree of overlap in potential solutions to the Climate Crisis between the Lib Dems, the Green Party and the Labour party (at least as far as the manifestoes are concerned) was something we need to build upon. Some of you, at least, will know that I have long argued for a closer working relationship with the Green Party. It is now also apparent that there is a seriously green strand within the Labour Party too – although that did not appear to include any Members of Parliament, since none of their front people were at all convincing talking about it.

It was clear from the Channel 4 debate that Jeremy Corbyn had been well-schooled by somebody since he did speak the correct words in most cases, according to the questions asked, but, for me, he did not show a real belief in many of the things he was saying. But, yes, well schooled.

What REALLY disappointed me was the very lacklustre performance of our Liberal Democrat leader, Jo Swinson, who showed the same sort of schooled `functionality` as Jeremy Corbyn, but it really did NOT come from the heart. There were several questions where Jo Swinson`s responses could and should have shown real leadership by the party, since our policy was well thought out and should have emphasised the urgent nature of starting the decarbonisation process NOW. Sadly, that did not come across at all. And she was put on the back foot immediately by the unambitious 2045 end-date for zero-carbon neutrality.

The Channel 4 debate was, as far as I was concerned the start of the unravelling of the Liberal Democrat position. I will say no more just now about that, since Jo Swinson has paid a heavy price for not getting things right. But before I leave the topic of our leader I do have to say, that after one of the other leaders`  debates I put her in clear third place to Nicola Sturgeon and Caroline Lucas, where one of the questions was about whether each of them would “press the nuclear button” if they were prime minister.

Jo Swinson`s pathetically easy “Yes”, with a side-swipe at Corbyn, was sad to hear. If we are being truly environmentally responsible with our planet, saving it from the Climate Catastrophe, how on earth can you also say you would press a button that would kill millions, potentially billions and may make the planet uninhabitable for aeons. Coming from the lips of a young woman aspiring to lead the mother of democracies and hoping to enthuse new generations of young political activists, that “Yes” was anathema to me and, no doubt, to many others.

What next?

As I said earlier my thought processes with this article are more concerned with the question “What do we do next?”

My answer is that we should seek a real realignment of the radical left of centre, joining with the Green Party and green (primarily non-socialist) environmentalists from the Labour Party. We must lose the `us & them` attitudes associated with former party tribalism, in order to force through Proportional Representation, without which this country, and maybe the planet we live on, are screwed.

There is no Planet B – and if we want real change, let me pinch the Green Party election slogan and say, “If not now, When?”

Posted in Elections, electoral reform, Environment & Sustainable Development, Labour reform, Lib Dem Leadership, Politics, Radical Liberal | 1 Comment

Europe, Energy, Transport and the Environment (& our internal Party elections)

Europe, Energy and the Environment (& our Party Elections!)

I think I have mentioned, recently, my status as an English Rugby fan and the crisis of conscience that caused me to sell back my hard-won tickets for the matches in Japan to avoid over-burdening my Carbon footprint ( read my last blog post for details – Pushing the Green Liberal Imperative – at https://keithmelton10.wordpress.com/ )

This week I have a more immediate crisis since I may miss seeing some of the England Quarter final match through having to travel to London for the Bollox to Brexit march.

Fatima and I are going to have to catch a train from Newark which may entail leaving home before the final whistle has blown. The alternative may be to leave home during half-time and watch the second half streamed on my phone, but that may risk me not having a good connection, thereby having to wait for the recorded version later in the day. But if that happens, I know there is no way I shall get home without hearing the result first – I hate that!

This potentially troubling scenario, however, has made me reflect on the way the world has changed since the first referendum on Europe back in 1975. I was a spokesperson for the European Movement back then, full of optimism about the role a newly united Europe could play (and, indeed HAS played) in bringing peace and great economic benefits to our peoples, following the devastating war that was over before I was born.

An avid reader of science fiction in my youth, I was still optimistic about the possibilities of nuclear fusion as a clean source of energy, although I had already decided nuclear fission was not to be trusted. And economic wind energy was not yet in sight, nor was solar energy a realistic possibility, apart from passive solar heating of water on the roof (possible but still expensive!)

Nearly 50 years later

And yet, here we are nearly 50 years later, reading headlines about renewable power overtaking fossil fuel power as the primary energy source for the UK in the last twelve months. Not as much as it might have because successive Tory Governments, left to their own devices after the Coalition, have backtracked on renewable energy generation, as they have on so many other things where we Liberal Democrats had pushed for rapid advances. Nevertheless, progress of a sort!

The last three years and more of bickering about Brexit has prevented any real debate on issues that, at the end of the day, will have more impact upon our existence than our involvement or otherwise in the European Union. We should be pushing hard for MORE renewable energy provision and talking with our European neighbours and colleagues about collaborating much more closely on getting rid of fossil fuels altogether.

This is what the march on the 19th October is all about for me. Let us, for goodness` sake, kill Brexit off once and for all and get on with saving the world. For there is no Planet “B”!!

Our European holiday – a fresh view of Public Transport

Some of you, at least, may have seen photographs on FaceBook from our very recent three-week holiday – our (not-so) Grand Tour of Europe. The weather has been a bit mixed and it can get a wee bit cold at three in the morning in a caravan, but we have seen a fair bit of Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Switzerland as well as motorway dashes through parts of France.

As keen readers of my blog may recall, I first became involved in environmental issues way back in 1971 as a returning Master`s Degree student at UMIST. It was entirely serendipitous (for the full story see my post from way-back…. https://keithmelton10.wordpress.com/2018/08/18/update-keith-a-green-liberal-democrat/ ) but the essence was that I became persuaded of the case for better and cheaper public transport – a belief I have cherished ever since.

Indeed, I was struck by the better state of public transport in many of the places we visited – none more so than the centre of Freiburg in Germany. It was a delightful place, the centre of which was pedestrianised apart from the many trams available for moving around. I just felt “at home” there as we walked around at leisure. The picture here shows the tramlines in a quiet city-centre street with a tram in the distance…

A little earlier in Luxembourg we had remarked on the plethora of buses there (indeed, I added a quick pic of one to my last blog – but since they were so colourful I thought you might not mind seeing another bendy bus in this post!) And they were also very inexpensive to ride on – so they were mostly either electric or, at least, hybrid, comfortable, large and colourful.  Also, when we were in Luxembourg it was a Friday, so we were treated to a Climate Strike demonstration on the bridge, too, as you may have seen on my FaceBook post. So, although it was a holiday, I kept getting reminders of my political life, too.

There is no doubt that for very many reasons we will be much better off remaining in the European Union (there is no Brexit Deal that can match the current deal we have as members of the EU) but the motivation for me to march on 19th October is almost all related to the need to tackle the overwhelming environmental threats of Climate Change and biodiversity loss, in partnership with our fellow members of the EU. It has been very clear from the hints and indications that we see in the media, that the current horrendous, so-called, Government is set on stripping away many of the great environmental protections the EU has put in place over the last 40 plus years.

Liberal Democrats are the distinctive REMAIN party, but one of the key reasons we are is that we have `care for the Environment` set in our DNA. As I have said elsewhere, I regard it as one my life`s most significant moments that I managed to get the following sentence embedded in the Preamble to the Liberal Democrat Constitution back in 1988. The fact that it is still there and still relevant is a considerable source of pride and the underlying reason I am putting myself forward for the Federal Policy Committee and/or the Federal Conference Committee in this year`s Party elections.

“We believe that each generation is responsible for the fate of our planet and, by safeguarding the balance of nature and the environment, for the long-term continuity of life in all its forms.”

I know our current Chair of the Green Lib Dems, Graham Neale, feels similarly motivated, and he has his name in the hat for Federal Board and/or Federal Policy Committee. Between us then, we would greatly appreciate your consideration of first and second preferences for these elections if you are eligible to vote therein…

So, if you are Green at heart and want the Party to put environmental issues front and centre in our General Election Manifesto…

please VOTE FIRST PREFERENCE for Graham Neale for Federal Board

please VOTE FIRST PREFERENCE for Keith Melton for Federal Conference Committee and

please VOTE FIRST and SECOND PREFERENCEs for Keith and Graham for Federal Policy Committee (whichever way round you choose!)

Posted in Article 50, Environment & Sustainable Development, Politics, Rugby World Cup | Leave a comment