“I disapprove of what you say….”

Hands up who knows how this quotation, allegedly by Voltaire, finishes.

I disapprove of what you say.....

That’s right: “….but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

It strikes me that this point of view needs repeating and repeating, needs re-examing and needs debating, especially in our modern times.

I read that a group of ‘antifascists, feminists, and people who participate in the class struggle’ felt it was appropriate to disrupt a speech by well-known right-wing M.P. Jacob Rees-Mogg.

I also read that well-known left-wing M.P. Diane Abbott has been receiving ‘sickeningly racist and sexist abuse’.

I have only picked two examples, which seem to me to typify some of the standards of poitical ‘debate’ which are seen as acceptable at the present. I would like to widen the argument to include more censorship issues, including art, film, theatre, music (yes, really) and no doubt others, but you, dear readers, are all intelligent and aware enough to provide your own. Just look up ‘modern examples of left-wing censorship’ or ‘modern examples of right-wing censorship’ on any search engine (more than one is available) if you want more. BEWARE if you have high blood pressure.

In principle, I feel that speech should be free. Something about the basic principles of censorship appals me. If you start to censor anything, where do you stop? Who does the censoring?

I hope you notice that in the course of this confused amble through my thoughts I have avoided expressing any political opinions; unless a basic objection to censorship is political.

I tentatively conclude that free speech is important and that censorship is wrong. Every case where it is advocated should be considered very carefully. (Personally I feel, for example, that nobody should be allowed to advocate violence; but you may well disagree.) It hugely worries me to see free speech of any sort being suppressed.

Footnote 1: The quotation of the title was used by one Evelyn Beatrice Hall to summarise Voltaire’s views; they are not his words.

Footnote 2: An alternative to Voltaire was expressed by Samuel Johnson: “Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it.” The picture, sharp-eyed people, is of Dr Johnson.

Footnote 3: I also note that the BBC’s political correspondent, Laura Kuenssberg, needed a bodyguard at the Labour Party conference. Meanwhile, a local politician here in sunny Hampshire was telling me how anti-Conservative Ms Kuenssberg is. When the BBC gets flak from both sides of the political argument (sorry for the warlike metaphor) they must be doing something right.


The Independent Republic Of….. Me? You? Us?

Big news this week has been the independence ballot in Catalonia. This part of Spain is apparently the size of Belgium and there is a strong urge for self-determination. The Spanish government says the vote is illegal and told police to seize ballot boxes. Awful violence ensued. (Catalonia is apparently an economic powerhouse for Spain.)

I find the regional variations of Spain interesting and evocative. I know a little about the Basque desire for their own country, now less intense and much less violent. The Basque territories do extend into southern France, which is an added complication. Books like George Orwell’s ‘Homage to Catalonia’ and Laurie Lee’s ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’ have added to the mystique. In my own experience, Mrs O’s Andalusian/ Spanish gypsy accent, acquired in her childhood, was mocked in more Madridean areas. She points out that Catalonia was treated apallingly under the Franco regime.

Despite this, it’s not my place to give an opinion on the Catalonian issue, apart of course to condemn violence of any sort. However it does have many connections with other self-determination issues, some of them closer to home. What about Scotland? What about Wales, Northern Island? What about Cornwall and Cambridge?

Cambridge? There was an intriguing little development just after the Brexit vote, in which some people in Cambridge thought they should become independent so they could stay in Europe. More widely discussed in the country as a whole was the contentious issue that although there was a majority of the vote for Brexit, this was not a majority of the electorate.

The independence movement of Cambridge might enjoyably view that wonderful film, ‘Passport to Pimlico’, which gives a great fictional account of how the Pimlico area of London declares independence. That bid failed; but apparently 30 new nations have come into existence since 1990, such as Montenegro and South Sudan. Even more fascinating is the existence of ‘micronations’, small areas claiming sovereignty but not recognised by any other nation or organisation such as the U.N. (See Micronations on Wikipedia.) Examples of these are The Republic of Molossia,  The Kingdom of EnenKio, and The Kingdom of Haye On Wye. Really. Sealand, based on a fort in the North Sea, is often called a micronation but still claims to be a sovereign state with de facto recognition by the UK and Germany.


It should be pointed out that lots of these micronations are either tongue in cheek, reactions to a particular issue, or financial operations. There are also historical enclaves. I’m intrigued by the idea that some groups declare themselves a nation across the internet, without geographical commonalities.

(The series of books starting with ‘Europe in Autumn’, by Dave Hutchinson, takes as its setting a Europe which has fragmented into small states, sometimes cities, and one which is a railway line. Recommended.)

All this begs several questions. What gives people the right to self-determination? What sort of democratic process makes the decision to leave a super-national grouping, such as the EEC, acceptable? What constitutes a legitimate majority of an area or group to attempt independence? A simple majority of voters? A majority of those eligible to vote? If there is a clear majority, what will the outcome be?

The final, huge question is of course: What is a nation?

There are no easy answers to these questions, as the people of Catalonia are finding out.

(Flags of micronations declared as free to use or share in image search.)

[Although I have said I don’t feel it’s my place to express an opinion on Catalonia, can anybody please expain why the Spanish government didn’t let the Catalan referendum go ahead and then ignore it or stall any action because their courts had said it was illegal?]

Election Notes 7: It’s easy, go and do it.

Making a pencilled cross on a piece of paper isn’t such a big deal; yet, when I vote, it always makes me feel great. I live in a country where it’s allowed; where it actually makes a difference. Nobody can tell me how to vote. Nobody can know how I voted.

It’s not difficult. Get your polling card (although you actually don’t need it) and go to the polling station given on it. You can ignore the people outside; they are party representatives trying to work out how many of their supporters have voted. (I always politely just say “no” when they ask me.) They CANNOT by law ask you how you vote. Go inside, give your card to the nice person behind the desk. They will give you a ballot paper. Go to the booth, make a simple cross against the name of your chosen candidate with the pencil provided. Resist the temptation to write or draw something rude. Fold the paper, put it in the box. Thank the nice person behind the desk (not obligatory, but it’s a thankless job). Go out, ignore the canvassers again and go for a coffee (not obligatory).

That’s it. Simples. Of course, that doesn’t have to be the end for another five years. You can get involved, write, campaign, etc. More on this later. (No groaning at the back there.)

Oh, and if you still aren’t decided, pick the candidate whose policies you dislike the least.

People died for the vote. I cannot get out of my head the image of South Africans queueing for hours in the sun to vote after the end of apartheid. Don’t let apathy win.

Vote Oblique

Note: There is a good article for first time voters here: BBC News- What can you NOT do in a polling station?

Election Notes 6: The Others

Just for the sake of balance and completeness, here are election pamphlets from the other political parties in the our constituency. We had not yet received them at the time of my post Election Notes 5: Who Should I Vote For?.

None of them have photos of their party leaders, although the independent candidate probably is the party leader.

As usual, I am sitting on the fence until the splinters hurt too much; but a vote for a minority candidate is not a wasted vote; if that person fits your views best, then you have made your views known.

DSCN6746 DSCN6747DSCN6745

Election Notes 5: Who Should I Vote For?

Well, don’t ask me. I am still undecided, and I wouldn’t tell you how to vote anyway.

I have said before that if you don’t know about the issues, it’s your duty to find out. I’m aware that’s incredibly naive of me.

At least you could look at the election fliers that come through your letterbox. They do give some sort of indication of what is occupying the minds of the parties. Here are the ones we have had since the election was announced.

Interestingly, only one uses a photo of the party leader. One uses a photo of the leader of another party. I’ll leave it to you to guess which one. The problem is that I agree and disagree with points in all of them. That’s democracy, folks.

Additionally, at least two other parties which have fielded candidates in the past have not yet posted pamphlets. Does this mean they are not running? Does it mean they can’t afford the cost?

(I did, in my usual anxiety to be fair, place the above in alphabetical order.)

Election Notes 4: Registration

If I sound as if I’m obsessed by this, I do not apologise; I am deeply concerned that everybody should vote, and if I can persuade just one person who was not going to that they should exercise their democratic right and responsibility, then it will have been worth it. If you are a UK citizen and you haven’t been registered, it’s dead easy. Just go on this website:


It takes about five minutes or less and all you need is your National Insurance number. It doesn’t matter if you have already done it- you don’t get two votes! (Yes, if you’ve already got a polling card you don’t need to do it.)

Then you can vote in the June 8th election. You can choose by hair colour, dress sense, personality, political party or even (for goodness’ sake!) their policies.

Just do it. But register before midnight on Monday May 22nd or you will be disenfranchised. Painful.

England, My England

All sorts of odd thoughts abour imperialism, multiculturalism, patriotism etc. Not very entertaining or worthwhile unless you’re a retired teacher with time on your hands.

I started to write this while listening to ‘Impi’, by Johnny Clegg and Juluka, a rousing song about the defeat of British forces by Zulu warriors. It’s stirring, passionate stuff. I suppose that very few would argue that the European armies which invaded Africa and a lot of other places had right on their side. I think however that Jonny Clegg has probably some sympathies with the British soldiers: the ‘poor bloody infantry’.

It got me thinking about all manner of things: what it means to be the descendant of imperialists; what it means to be a white man in a multicultural world; what it means to be patriotic; what it means to be English… or is it British?

In no particular order, then: multiculturalism (whatever that means) is a fact of life in my country. (Just for the sake of argument, let’s call my country England.) No amount of posturing or opposition is going to change that. I think that my children don’t really notice colour or culture. I do, because I am a late middle-aged white middle-class man; but I try to embrace it and not to let my upbringing prejudice me. Multiculturalism brings its difficulties, but also huge rewards.

So does multiculturalism mean that we- or I- can’t be patriotic? I think that we can.

When I talk about being patriotic, I mean that I have a strong feeling for the country I live in. That includes all its multicultural elements. I won’t begin to give examples, because I’m sure I’d offend somebody, or myself. (Oh, alright then. Music, art, food…. and music.) I do not mean my country, right or wrong. As Tim Stanley said in the Daily Telegraph, if you think your country is doing wrong then you have a patriotic duty to correct it. I love my country, but if I didn’t, I would try to change it or get out. (Yes, I know Dr Johnson said that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel; he was talking about a particular instance, not the term in general.)

Yes, I am also very aware of my country’s imperial past. A huge amount of what was done was wrong. But it wasn’t my fault! If slavery had been happening in my lifetime and I had been aware of it I would have tried to change it. I did not support the Iraq war; to my shame I did no more than fulminate about it.

I particularly love the tolerant attitude of very many of my fellow countrypersons. Maybe they are even a majority? Most people I meet don’t give a ****** **** about colour, race, religion, or choice of dress, food or music. I realise I live in the soft South; yet Southampton has quite a high immigrant population, and I love sitting in a café and watching mixed race couples or grous of friends wander past with no comment at all. Yes, I know this is a very small piece of England/ Britain…. but this blog has to be about how I see it from my corner of the world.

So, let’s look at that list of issues that Johnny Clegg started….. I see I haven’t covered the English/ British debate. I think I’ll leave that to another time, as it seems to warrant more thought. There is also a hidden issue, that of English song, which I keep avoiding writing about. Look up Johnny Clegg- he’s no relation to Nick Clegg, as far as I know. The music is excellent; what you might call early ‘world music’. I imagine however that he might be quite scathing about my privileged first world musings.

By the way, I am finishing this blog listening to “Drone4Daevid” by various musicians.