Ignorance ain’t bliss. Why I learned to turn off the TV news and go and do something less self-harming instead

war_is_peace___1984_by_abhijitdara-d53sienMuch as I have tried to impose my own personal news blackout on Article 50, Brexit, everything to do with the ignorant moronic fool in the White House and Scotland’s never-feckin-endum – well, it’s not just hard, it’s impossible.

The reasons I prefer to watch Storage Wars: Texas rather than tune into TV or radio news programmes are too numerous to note.

But one strand features strongly across all of the things I mentioned in the opening par – the rise and acceptance of wilful ignorance, not simply from ordinary folks who don’t want to engage with reality but by politicians who now know adopting this tactic is their easiest route to success.

Psychologists say we human beings can experience three types of ignorance: ordinary, wilful and higher.

Ordinary ignorance is when you move from unknowing to knowing through learning; higher is when you accept that there mysterious things, the truth of which may never be known to you.

Wilful is, to my jaundiced eye, the bastard brother of those other types. Because this is a deliberate choice to ignore the facts of what you know to be true and pretend that something else altogether is actually correct, either for peace of mind or for personal gain.

Alt-facts, if you will. Fake news, perhaps.

And I’ve had my bloody fill of it.

Once upon a time (like, a decade or so ago), politicians, policy-makers, academics, experts would be reasonably patient in the face of the wilful ignorance often demonstrated by the public.

The media (I’m not counting the redtops here) would help by presenting the actual facts of a situation or problem – not without their own inherent bias, of course, but not usually, as too often happens now, with their own “twist” on the truth.

I’ve made my feelings plain on Brexit before. For all the faults of the European Union, I believe leaving the EU for an extraordinarily uncertain future is a matter of supreme economic and social self-harm, which will likely lead to the break-up of the UK. And it is based not only on a tissue of lies but also on wilful ignorance promoted enthusiastically by the Leave campaign and elements of a media that has long promoted Brussels as the seat of all evil.

That sort of behaviour is infectious. It happened in the first Scottish referendum in 2014. An element of it swayed the 2015 general election. It swept Trump into power where even his growing number of policy disasters and blatant untruths unveiled since haven’t dented the “belief” of his followers.

It’s the entire modus operandi of UKIP who consistently say one thing – Europe is terrible, we need to be free, immigrants are ruining the country – and do another (fill their pockets with EU money, insist that Welsh farmers should still get European finance after Brexit, marry German women, shag French women…). Black really is white with these chancers.

The last decade and a half has been, in my opinion, horrendous for UK politics. The next looks a million times worse.

And until we, the electorate, stop accepting the bullshit that suits us when it suits us, we will continue to get the politics and politicians we deserve.

Switching off the news might be the start.

Busy doing nothing but for once it’s worth it

There are some bonuses to being confined to bed for a short time. Netflix, box sets, on-demand TV are certainly up there. Right now I’m hard pressed to think of many others, aside from being offered and accepting endless cups of tea.

In the eight days since my operation rendered me NWB (non-weight-bearing) and my horizons have been limited to bed, bog and occasionally couch, I’ve started to write a blog about a dozen times.

Each time I’ve been too easily distracted by something on Twitter, daft memes on Facebook, on Wednesday by death and destruction in London and on Friday gleefully joining in the schadenfraude at Donald Trump’s public humiliation.

There’s the other thing about being stuck in one place with your only – ha! – contact with the outside world being social media, 24-hour rolling news and the bing bing bing of texts and Whatsapp notifications.

You are never really alone.

My view for the last week – and the next

I’ve had weeks – months, in fact – to prepare for this. I told myself I’d use the time productively, that I’d rest properly and use all those quiet moments for contemplation and serious thought as to where I’d direct my future career. I’d start reading that pile of novels by my bedside and even finish ( or at least re-start) writing my own book.


I’ve slept a lot. But mostly I’ve obsessively browsed social media, read far too many think pieces, watched far too much rolling news.

All those other things I promised I’d do? Not so much.

And having done nothing but immerse myself in news, I’ve experienced several times that terrible feeling of being completely overwhelmed by all that’s happening; a feeling exacerbated by the knowledge that, for the first time in my life, I am physically incapable of doing anything in response.

It’s disconcerting, more than a little terrifying and yet has been oddly liberating, too.

Because, for the first time in my life, I’ve accepted I can’t do everything. In fact, I can’t do anything. No more mini messiah complex of thinking only I can help, only I can do it, only I can sort things.

So instead of lying here fretting because the carpets need hoovered and Debbie hates hoovering and I don’t want her to do stuff she hates…

Instead of anxiously and fruitlessly worrying about the effects of proposed healthcare reform on poor Americans…

Instead of obsessively following the machinations of Brexit and Indyref2 and giving myself an ulcer over how I can influence either…

Instead of agonising over the terrible, tragic and pointless loss of life in London and wondering long into the night how I can personally persuade angry people to take a deep breath before saying or doing something they might regret forever…

Well, I’m not doing any of that – not any more.

So I have found one other bonus of being confined to bed. The frustrating time for recuperation has been the space that unexpectedly let me work out that too often I’m busy doing nothing. That my reaction to all those big overwhelming events is too often to throw myself into a frenzy of activity, as if by mere movement alone, I can magic any problem away.

It’s chastening to accept that no matter how essential you think you are to the world turning, the reality is that life goes on regardless of whether you’re spring cleaning, joining protest marches or – as I am right now – adopting a Zen-like approach to an almighty itch halfway down a stookie*.

My recovery from the operation could take up to nine months. I appreciate how lucky I am that it’s not more debilitating, and while I hope I get better faster than that, the long-term aim of short-term physical limitations has to be that I appreciate better the times when I really can do something that matters.

Until then, I’ll be busy doing nothing.

*Scots word for plaster cast

How Brexit has freed the Tories to remodel the UK as anti-immigration – and why that can’t be allowed

The first tweet above was me on Sunday.

The second was me yesterday.

The third was me today after RTing a whole host of ever-more incredulous tweets on the insane direction in which the Government is now taking the entire nation to prove that “Brexit means Brexit.”

I have temporarily stopped punching myself in the face to have a furious shout at both telly and t’internet about just how mental this whole thing has become.

And while I didn’t intend to write about this whole debacle, here goes.

Between Brexit Minister David Davis telling us it’ll all be our own fault if Brexit is a disaster, the disgraced Cabinet Minister Dr Liam Fox deriding the UK’s business bosses as fat and lazy and his own Department for International Trade saying it’ll all be fine because the French want our jam, you’d be entirely right to think this government has completely lost its collective minds.

But the true nub of the matter has been laid bare by the speeches and interviews coming out of Hades – sorry, the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham.

Because no matter how much they pretend that it really wasn’t about immigration, it really is all about immigration.

That most slender of Vote Leave victories – remember, 52-48 percent on a turnout of 71.8 percent or 33 million voters – has been spun into a mandate to pull up the drawbridge and declare Britain not only Brexited but damn well closed.

So non-UK medics in the NHS are told they’ll be offski as soon as we train enough doctors to replace them. Which will be 2025. Or when hell freezes over, whichever comes sooner.

The loathesome and tiresome Andrea Leadsom says British teenagers can become apprentices in fruit picking to replace the 67,000 seasonal workers the agricultural industry needs annually, most of whom come from the EU for the season then go home again.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd threatens to jail landlords who rent to illegal immigrants while scaring away the foreign students upon whom our universities depend for their funding.

The hateful, anti-migrant rhetoric of Farage and his fellow travellers has become official government policy overnight.

Meanwhile, the Twitter account of the leader of the official opposition has had this to say on a day that’s seen the UK take an almost unalterable lurch to the right:

Vote Leave won a single non-binding referendum.

The Tories won a general election with the slimmest of Commons majorities.

Neither of those events gives the current Government a mandate to introduce policies and negotiate a way out of the EU that impoverishes the UK financially, culturally, morally and emotionally.

Immigration is not out of control in the UK. The way too many people react to immigration is out of control.

So, before Article 50 is triggered…

Before another half-baked anti-immigration policy is announced…

Before we reach a point of no return that destroys the social fabric of the UK, we need a general election that allows all of us a vote that might stop us falling off a very big cliff.

Because the alternative looks very bleak from here.

Edited to add this, written 70 years ago yet still so relevant. We really never ever learn, do we?

We’re simply pawns in the politicians’ games

Courtesy of @cartujakds

Six days ago, I was depressed beyond belief, not quite taking in how we had somehow contrived to vote to leave the European Union.

Today I am angry. Fucking furious, actually.

Two spoiled baby men, aided and abetted by people who should know better and many who never will know better, have allowed their schoolboy rivalry to make the UK the laughing stock of the world.

Racists, both closeted and up front, have decided the leave vote has given them carte blanche to express their bigoted, foul views on anyone who doesn’t quite look British enough.

And to put the tin lid on things, the Labour Party has picked this week of all weeks to start sniffing glue and embark on its greatest bout of in-fighting in three decades.

So businesses shudder with the realisation of what Brexit means for stability, for jobs, for investment; many Leave voters express bewilderment that we’re actually going to HAVE TO LEAVE and want to change their vote; the EU prepares to play hard ball over leave negotiations; the media, both social and mainstream, practically eats itself with the minute-by-minute implosion of the UK’s two major political parties; and MPs, political activists and commentators indulge in their very favourite pastime of backstabbing, gossip and intrigue.

In the meantime, no one appears to be at the helm of UK plc.

All of that is farcical enough to raise some gallows humour. I’ve spent the last week trying to look on any kind of bright side – usually helped by reading the acidic penmanship of the peerless Marina Hyde – and thinking that we’ll somehow muddle through this self-inflicted crisis.

But today I got one of those BBC News updates on my phone and it made me mad as hell.

It revealed that Boris Johnson would not, in fact, be standing for leader of the Conservative Party, despite spending the last four months ostensibly batting for leave but really simply auditioning to be the next prime minister.

The bumbling buffoon act turns out not to have been an act at all, BoJo outfoxed at the last by his fellow Outer Michael Gove.

Blue on blue action is usually entertaining, but right now I don’t fucking care that the Tories are effectively stabbing each other in the front. I don’t even care that yesterday I actually thought I’d prefer Theresa May as PM to any other candidate (actually I care a lot more about that than I’m going to discuss right now).

I care that the UK economy and the lives and livelihoods of millions of people have been put at risk because a bunch of overgrown schoolboys thought it would be fun to play political games.

I care that the wider Europe I loved being part of is soon to be denied me.

I care that people who think they have no voice have found theirs in bigotry.

I care that a man who campaigned on a tissue of lies used his ambition to gamble on this country’s future – and lost.

I care that voters on both sides of the EU argument have been betrayed.

Never mind the so-called new kinder politics – insert hollow laugh – the Corbyn-era Labour Party was supposed to usher in.  They’re no better than the rest.

Politics is only a game to those at its heart. For them, their strategies and manoevres and machinations have no bearing in the real world – until they tragically do.

Until politicians, their hangers-on and the media scrum that follows their every move look outside their enormous bubble, the only kind of politics that is thriving is the divisive kind.

Grow up, the bloody lot of you.

Our safe European home? Yes, yes it is

I saw that tweet the other day. It’s funny cos it’s true (apart from the errant who’s that should be whose, but this is no time to be a grammar pedant).

In just over a fortnight, Britain will vote in a referendum on whether to remain in the European Union or to leave.

The stakes are high. The rhetoric – on both sides – ridiculous. This week the Brexiteers are celebrating a lead in several polls, thanks probably to its decision to focus on the emotive topic of immigration. Bremain keeps focusing on the economy, stupid.

Actually the reality is that for the most fervent people on both sides of the argument, their belief in either in or out is such an article of faith that it wouldn’t matter if they were promised a glimpse into the future to confirm their choice was a disaster. They would still vote in or out, regardless.

Many people are likely not to bother either to vote or even to register (on that note, if you are not already a registered voter, you have until midnight tomorrow  June 7 to ensure you get to cast your vote on June 23).

Elements of this campaign are little more than a rerun of the Scottish independence referendum that still bitterly resonates almost two years on.

That referendum polarised Scotland – still does if you tiptoe around social media – and regardless of the outcome of the vote on June 23, EU in or out is going to poison public discourse in the UK for a generation.

Go us!

If you haven’t already made up your mind, here’s my entirely unscientific and emotional guide as to why you should vote remain on June 23. If you want an economic argument to sway to remain, try here and here and here. For Brexit, well, you should probably go elsewhere.

A UK committed to Europe would be welcomed with open arms – and can set the EU on a new course

Since joining the EEC back in 1973, Britain has never been more than a reluctant partner in the whole European Union project. Successive PMs, even ones as Europe-friendly as Blair, have always given the impression that Brussels is nothing more than a pain in the backside. A UK government fully committed to a reformed European Union (and by god, it needs reformed) could set the agenda and help forge a new path. Hey, I know I sound like Pollyanna but it could happen!

Britain might be an island, but in a globalised world, cutting ourselves off from our nearest neighbours and allies is an act of shortsighted folly

Too much of the language around Brexit has been about taking our country back and stopping immigrants coming over here and taking our jobs. There’s a pining there for a lost Britain, for the Britain of the empire where the sun never set. Theirs is a Britain that probably never actually existed but is highly visible in rose-tinted spectacles. And even if it did exist, we can no more go back to the future than we can close our doors on the world.

Globalisation cannot be halted. Mass immigration may never be halted. It can be shaped – but only if you’re willing to participate, willing to provide some solutions to a problem that transcends national borders and local politics.

The EU has made a total hash of the current refugee crisis, but it’s not too late to formulate policies that save lives and help restore order to the chaos in the Middle East. Better to be in shaping future policies than out dealing with the fallout.

A united Europe is a better Europe

The generation that survived the Second World War is gradually leaving us. We should give thanks every day we have never had to live through what they did. Making trading partners of former foes and knowing that onetime enemies can be relied upon to provide support on social policies has probably been the EU’s finest achievement.

In recent years, we’ve seen the rise of nationalism across the continent again. It’s rarely pretty when folks claim exceptionalism based purely on where they were born. That kind of thinking fetishises flags and singles out the other as the potential enemy. Not for me.

Spoiled for choice

I love French élan, Spanish wine, Italian cuisine and German football.

Danish crime dramas, Swedish flatpack furniture and pickled herring.

Belgian chocolate and Austrian wiener schnitzel.

Irish stout and Hungarian goulash.

Of course I can still have all of that if Britain is no longer a member of the EU, but somehow that feeling of being part of the continent would be diminished.

And would we even be able to play under the EU flag in the Ryder Cup? You might scoff, but that flag and that team have been a remarkable symbol of unity for 30 odd years.

And then there’s this…

I’m sure many Brexiteers are not small-minded individuals terrified of immigrants. Or right-wing politicians determined to destroy environmental regulations and make a bonfire of workers’ rights but who will still themselves be financially secure no matter the economic fallout of leave. But…