A Perfect Maze of Intrigue

‘Society bristles with enigmas which look hard to solve. It is a perfect maze of intrigue.’ Honore de Balzac

Brexit is certainly an enigma, a perfect maze of intrigue, ostensibly growing more and more disastrous every day… What a mess, even after all this time there is still no clarity on what the country wants, and at this point I wish we could just take back control once and for all and revoke Article 50 forever… please!

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Intrigue

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May’s Makeshift Brexit Mayhem

The latest overture in our ongoing bloody awful Bexit brou-ha-ha comes courtesy of the intervention of Speaker of the House John Bercow, who has just stated (quite correctly) that according to Parliamentary rules, having already had her Brexit deal voted down twice Theresa May cannot now take her current motion back to the House without first making substantial changes to the terms.

My understanding is that it was Labour MP Angla Eagle who initially reminded the Speaker that buried deep (page 397) in the Commons Rule book sits the statement that ‘A motion or an amendment which is the same, in substance, as a question which has been decided during a session may not be brought forward again during that same session.’

I say ‘overture’ because although we may only be 10 days away from our legally agreed exit from the European Union, this now is only the beginning of Parliament finally (hopefully) being treated fairly and honourably by a Government that has to date ignored and bullied and chided and refused to listen to reason to anything other than their own blinkered viewpoint.

It seems clear to me that to date Mrs May had deliberately run down the clock on Brexit in the hope that the threat of a No Deal (or alternatively a long extension to the process) would inevitably force MPs to accept her deal ‘or else’. But she simply cannot continue speaking to the Members of the House of Commons as if they are behaving like recalcitrant teenagers objecting to her matriarchal authority and expect them to toe the line just because she says so…

So it seems the saga of Theresa May’s makeshift making-it-up-as-she-goes-along Brexit mayhem is set to continue unabated… sigh!

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Makeshift

Division Bell

Since Parliamentary democracy has been televised live, I’ve got used to watching how the House of Commons debate and vote on issues, and the sheer anachronistic physicality of it all never ceases to amaze me. In a modern world where we can all use technology to assist us in simplifying so many labourious or repetitive daily tasks, we still rely in Parliament on people – on our politicians – actually getting up and voting with their feet.

After an issue has been thoroughly debated – usually quite vociferously – in the Chamber, the Speaker of the House asks for the Members of Parliament sitting in the House to vote ‘aye’ or ‘no’ on the matter. And if there is no clear difference in the decibel level between the two, the Speaker shouts ‘Division!’ and the whole Chamber clears to allow individuals to pass through one of two lobbies to cast their vote.

The Division Bell rings, and not only those present in the chamber but all MPs present in the building will drop whatever they are doing to rush to the particular lobby of their choice to vote. If they are not present, they do not get to vote, and some MPs actively choose to abstain from voting (for whatever reason). Obviously the bigger the issue (like with the current Brexit votes) the more MPs are present for each vote, and as each motion requires the same procedure, with votes often occurring one after the other in straight succession, there can be a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and milling around waiting.

Once the MPs have voted, everyone returns to the Chamber awaiting the result, where after the votes are physically count one of the four ‘tellers’ of the House stand at the front and read out the total numbers of ‘ayes’ and ‘noes’ for that vote. The Speaker of the House then repeats these out loud for the benefit of everyone, and states whether the ‘ayes’ or the ‘noes’ have it, before the results are formally recorded for posterity.

I suppose as well as tradition, there are very good reasons for having one vote for one MP in person – there can be no confusion, no obfuscation, and an indisputable transparency of process that cannot be hijacked or fiddled about with. We all know – and often see – how each MP votes on each motion, and who defies the Whip (and sometimes even resigns their Cabinet post) to vote with their concsience rather than along party lines.

And as we currently have a political party Government in power without a majority of MPs to necessarily vote in their favour, these individual votes have a far greater signifiance than when a party is in Government with a clear majority across the House. There is often no foregone conclusion, and so the actual voting procedure is no longer just a basic formality of Parliamentary process.

The fact of the Government having to rely on every individual vote makes it all the more uncertain as to the result of each motion, which may be proving exteremely frustrating for Theresa May at the moment but is democratically just for the country as a whole. The country seems to be as divided now on the question of Brexit as it was three years ago, and this division is inevitably showing within the House of Commons too.

To the rest of the world it looks bad, laughable and incompetent even, but the current Parliamentary stalemate over Brexit is nevertheless giving an accurate political reflection of where we all are right now as a country – a thoroughly disunited kingdom – so whether we like it or not, it shows us all clearly that our democractic process is actually working…

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Division


Chuntering From a Sedentary Position

After a couple of very stressful days watching our so-called democratic processes derail so definitively here in the UK there has certainly been plenty of chuntering from a sedentary position in our house – it’s a common refrain from the Speaker of the House of Commons when disgruntled politicians in that place sit and mutter and more at what is being said without standing respectfully to show their desire to speak in turn.

What can I say about the train-wreck that is our current Brexit negotiations other than mumble with embarrassment at the sheer ludicrousy of it all. In my personal opinion it was ludicrous for Prime Minister (at the time) David Cameron to call a referendum in the first place, ludicrous for his successor Theresa May to negotiate with the EU without at any point considering the opinion of Parliament, and completely ludicrous for her to expect to now be able to bully Parliament to follow her lead through sheer stubbornness.

The supercillious smugness of Theresa May’s self-centred and self-righteous autocratic response last night after failing in her quest to keep her dubious bargaining chip of No Deal on the table was to my mind a disrespectful smack in the face to Parliamentary will. Especially after changing her mind about offering a free vote to Conservative MPs and applying a three-line whip to vote down her own amended motion out of sheer desperation to hold on to her fast-depleting political power.

Mrs May and her Brexit bullies never shut up about respecting ‘the will of the people’ by insisting that the British people have spoken and there is no need for a second run at a referendum. And yet at the same time although her dodgy withdrawal deal has already been resoundingly defeated twice now in Parliament, she seems perfectly happy to ignore the will of the House and keep on asking the same question until she gets the result she wants.

What adds insult to injury is that the result of the referendum was really close, in horse-racing terms a photo-finish race won ‘on the nod’, whereas the result of both Parliamentary votes to date have both been defeated by a clear undisputed gap of several furlongs. If the PM expects politicians to be given the chance to change their minds by effectively re-running the race, then surely she has to be open to allowing the British public to change their minds in a similar fashion also?

Enough chuntering from a sedentary position from me for now – I can’t help but wonder what tonight’s exciting installment of political power-play in the Houses of Parliament will bring… what a bloody mess! 😦

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Power

Fandango’s Provocative Question: Freedom of Speech

Another provocative question this week from Fandango:

“Do you believe that social media sites should be able to censor what people post on their sites and ban content creators from posting? Or do you consider such actions to be a violation of freedom of speech, which is guaranteed as a right in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?”

If you don’t live in the U.S., please weigh in with your thoughts about freedom of speech versus social media sites banning content contributors in your country.

So, where to start with this one… Hmmm… how about looking at what is NOT allowed on social media or anywhere else for that matter – for example, hate speech in all is forms…

Here in the UK, we certainly do believe in freedom of speech but also legislate variously against hate speech. For example, according to Wikipedia –

‘Expressions of hatred towards someone on account of that person’s colour, race, disability, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origin, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation is forbidden. Any communication which is threatening or abusive, and is intended to harrass, alarm, or distress someone is forbidden. The penalties for hate speech include fines, imprisonment, or both.’

I tend to agree with this approach, as in my mind it is OK for people to hold extreme opinions about others, but not necessarily to air them unsolicited and unregulated across social media platforms – opinions are opinions, but I believe they still need to be backed up with real facts in order to be legitimately broadcast to the world. Preventing hate speech to me is not a violation of freedom of speech, but a necessary safety-net to ensure equality across all groups, safe-guarding all minorities as well as the often self-styled majority within any given society.

Of course, here in the UK we don’t have a 250-year-old Constitution (plus Amendments) to hide behind to try to justify our outrageous bluff-and-bluster statements and actions which to much of the rest of the world may seem closed-minded and extremist, based on out-dated societal and cultural viewpoints and an ongoing arrogant elitist sense of entitlement. We certainly do have clear differences here in the political interpretation of statistics leading to huge arguements and debates, and we all tend to accept that to a certain degree all politicians are parochial and partisan, but obvious downright lies are generally called out and clarified, not covered up and condoned.

I’m not in any way saying things are in any way perfect here in the UK – not by a long shot – but here most extremists eventually tend to find themselves effectively shut down, backed into blind alleys and abandoned corners, hoist by their own petards. People in power who deliberately say inaccurate, inappropriate or unacceptable stuff on social media frequently find themselves unceremoniously catapulted out of office, or at least frozen out on the fringes, forgotten before long. And the people here who follow them soon follow suit.

Yet I’ve often listened to the propaganda-based political profanities spewed forth via all media channels, social and traditional, by the current incoherent incumbent of the US White House that seem to be such blatant bare-faced lies that UK laws would surely have the slanderous and libelous transgressor law-suited and booted out before he could scream ‘fake news’, and I’ve often wondered why it is simply allowed to happen across the board with such regularity and without any real legislative resistence?

It seems to me to be a real-life modern-day ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ scenario where no-one with any serious level of clout dares to tell Trump just how much he’s exposing himself as butt-naked ignorant of solid facts and is instead dressing himself in little more than a transparent fiction of delusion, whether on Twitter or via his press-puppet Sarah Sanders…

So intrigued by Fandango’s question, and in order to better understand what lies behind Trump’s apparent ability to lie deliberately, incite violent outbursts in others, and then vacillate and eventually deny any involvement himself, I thought I’d better check out US law relating to freedom of speech and hate speech. And guess what I found? There ARE actually types of speech that are NOT protected by the First Amendement!  These nine categories include:

  • Obscenity
  • Fighting words
  • Defamation (including libel and slander)
  • Child pornography
  • Perjury
  • Blackmail
  • Incitement to imminent lawless action
  • True threats
  • Solicitations to commit crimes

Well, well, well, look at that – looks like the First Amendement is NOT in fact the global panacea it is made out to be, not a free-for-all perpetual pardon for foul-mouthed fantasists, not even the President…

Even a first cursory glance leaves me questioning Trump’s fighting words about the media being the enemy of the people, and the Democrats being evil – and that’s just his view of his fellow Americans, never mind legal and illegal immigrants. And what about his constant defamation of Hillary Clinton? Incitement to imminent unlawful action pretty much covers his condoning (through complete lack of condemnation) of the far right white supremacist extremists who rioted in Charlottesville in 2017, causing the death of a young woman…

Seriously, no wonder ordinary opinionated American people think they can act with impunity online via social media platforms when they see their President spouting forth such blatantly vile vitriol and getting away with it, time after time. Constitutional Freedom of Speech is one thing, but in my opinion Hate Speech legislation should always trump that precious First Amendement right, come what may, whoever is trying to tip the balance from right to wrong…

Upholding the Lie…

We’re still following the news in America with bemusement, amazed that the blustering White House still maintains that Flynn was ambushed by the FBI, even when everyone else – including Flynn himself – admits this was not the case.

Trump seems intent on upholding the lie to the bitter end… he can bleat ‘Fake news, fake news’ with regard to the media coverage of his presidency all he likes, but surely ‘Fake judge, fake judge’ won’t hold water, even with his blinkered base…

Maybe we should all start to denounce Trump by chanting ‘Fake President, fake President’ every time he continues to peddle his warped world-view, whether personally or via press secretary puppet Sarah Sanders…

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Denounce