politics


If you pride yourself on being liberal there comes a time when the biggest elephant you have ever seen will walk across your living room, out into the hall, into the kitchen and then simply refuse to leave. It will stamp its foot until your whole house shakes and threatens to cave in around you. You will try to ignore it and for a while it will sit and pout but it is doing more than sulk. Have you ever tried not to see it? The more you try, the more visible it becomes and the bigger it grows. In fact, there is no escaping that elephant even if you are a conservative by nature because it is an elephant that attempts to turn the tables on its trainer whatever their political views.

Who is the trainer? The trainer is YOU. The elephant wants to be invited to dinner. It wants to sit down with your family and friends and eat you out of house and home. It wants to trample on your goodwill and turn your comfortable values into one steaming mess of elephant dung and it does so by constantly reinforcing the idea that you can’t be one thing if you are to actively embrace another. The elephant in the room is born out of the nature of the herd and its need to agree on all things for the sake of survival. It looks innocent enough, but it wants to suppress sensible discussions and once it has destroyed your tidy living room and broken down your door it invites its nasty friends in to pillage your world.

The elephant in the room

So who is that elephant anyway? The easiest way I can describe it is by its actions and effects on otherwise reasonable human beings. The elephant will claim to be tolerant of something meaningful to you, such as being LGBTQIA. Then it will say:
“If you are L, you shouldn’t like B or T. If you are B, you must be confused or dishonest. If you are T you are not a real person. If you are A you have to be in the closet.”
Or it may say:
“You cannot possibly believe in God if you are any of the above,” or “there is no such thing as a practicing homosexual Christian.”
The elephant will bring its great weight to bear on issues of human rights and try to make you forget one colossal abuse of human rights by saying the once abused race are now even worse abusers of yet another race. The truth of the matter is that two wrongs never cancel each other out but the elephant does not want you to see that truth, the elephant wants to divide so that those less reasonable can more easily take power.
The elephant lives on a diet of maxims and manifestos. It thrives on causing division and chews up real people so they can more easily be used as cannon fodder to fight battles that benefit nobody except those who profit financially from violence and warfare. It claims to be tolerant but is actually very intolerant, it claims to be peaceful but invites conflict at every turn even in the name of peace.
So next time you are entertaining guests or enjoying the company of like-minded friends at the local ale-house and one of them invites the elephant in what will you do?

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Finding a tribe of my own? This is something that never seemed important to me as a youngster. I moved around so much in my childhood that I just learned to mingle with everyone and not become too involved with anyone. The pain of repeatedly making friends and then having to leave them simply switched off my will to try and in many ways I learned to be an island. I know from my reactions to some situations that I am neuro-diverse anyway. It takes a huge amount of energy to do little things at times. Sometimes that is too much energy to invest but equally well, once invested I will usually pursue something through to its conclusion at a frightening pace. I have frequently stayed up all night to edit a story or mix a piece of music that could easily have waited or been spread out over a period of days or even weeks. This can make writing an exhausting task. Music is worse because I will be haunted by the melodies as earworms long after I am finished. Anyway I digress. I wanted to talk about tribes, not obsessive behaviour.

I suppose the time, place and manner of my upbringing steered me away from tribes, peer groups, gangs, classes, cliques, affiliations, denominations – whatever you want to call them. It left me outside looking into several groups, not knowing whether or not I should feel lonely and never quite belonging to any. It also made me more tolerant of differences and disagreements. This is something I cannot actually change and in some ways I am glad. Our world has swung so far towards groups, tribes, niches and nationalism in recent years. I often wonder where it will all end.

Have we not grown out of hatred yet? The answer seems to be no. The most successful politicians have learned to tap into the human desire for conviviality and belonging and, even more worrying, some have tapped into the desire to exclude others because of their differences. Sometimes these differences are obvious such as skin colour or religion; at other times they are less so. The similarities are what interest me more though; the similarities we share with all mankind and indeed with all of Creation itself. Despite rampant diversity in Nature, a close study of genetics shows we really are so similar and for that reason if no other we should learn to respect the desire that is common to all living beings to achieve happiness, to be safe, to be loved. That is my thought for today.

The battle of Culloden lies at the very heart of A Crofter’s Tale , literally as well as metaphorically. It is a vital plot driver and takes up a whole chapter of the novel. Why is this? When writing the novel, I was torn between giving too much detail (history) and too little (romance). For some romance writers it might have been enough to give a paragraph or two’s description of the carnage and Robbie’s escape and to ignore the various political and personal dramas that actually destroyed the Jacobites. It is very easy to blame the Duke of Cumberland’s brutality or the inept leadership of Charles Edward Stuart too. That is fairly standard.

The reality is much more complex though. This disaster would not have happened had the Prince trusted his most senior general, Lord George Murray, and it would not have happened had negative political manipulation not been going on in the background. I believe the defeat at Culloden was a natural result of plotting and power play behind the scenes and for this reason, using dialogue and quotes from the time, I have shown it in A Crofter’s Tale . Rejecting Lord George Murray’s advice ultimately led to the massacre and the atrocities that followed. In my opinion Culloden need not have happened at all and, even if it did have to happen, there were serious but avoidable errors in choosing the field of battle and preparing for Cumberland’s forces. The American people have given us the best possible word for it: Culloden was a clusterfuck.

If you have ever stood on Culloden Moor and experienced the emptiness of the place or visited the visitors’ centre and seen the battle brought to life in front of your eyes you will understand that dilemma. This was the one event that turned the 1745 rebellion into a tragedy that brought about genocide in the highlands and lives on in the hearts and minds of anyone with Scots ancestry. I agonised for months over this chapter, how much to give and how much to withhold and if I erred on the side of history rather than romance I apologise now. Time will tell.

I wrote last week about the pigeon holes we assign to ourselves as readers and as writers and how these make it difficult to assign genre at times. Since then, I put out a new LGBT story I had been working on for some time. Coming Home for Christmas is a sweet lesbian romance on the surface but it is also story about wasted years, old attitudes and a time that is probably better consigned to history. Its heroine, Rebel, is ironically far from being a rebel in real life. I can see young women getting quite angry about her behaviour towards Laura and I am not sure how sympathetic she will be to anyone under a certain age. I thought the best thing to do is let Rebel speak for herself:

“Hi Rebel, or shall I call you Jill?”
“Jill is a pseudonym, only Laura calls me Rebel. Perhaps it might be better to call me Eleanor. It feels more relaxing.”
“Well, I am not sure I want you to relax too much, Eleanor. I have a few difficult questions to ask you.”
“I’ll survive!” She laughs. “Fire away!”
“OK! I’ll start with a tough one then. Why didn’t you pull the trigger?”
“What? I can’t believe you’d ask me that right off the bat.” She looks shocked.
“Well? Why didn’t you? You were obviously suicidal.”
“Because the gun only fired blanks of course. What would be the point, Lisa?”
“Sorry, Rebel, but I have to ask. I was told only yesterday by somebody in the know that Bruce Lee’s son was killed with a gun that fired blanks.”
“Really? Wow! You really do believe in putting a girl at ease, don’t you?”
“I’m a writer, it’s my job to get to the point quickly.”
“That’s not just quick. That’s brutal.” She is visibly shaking. “I always knew I was lucky to get through my teenage years but I didn’t know just how close I actually came…”
“Well, I am sure your readers will be glad you didn’t shoot yourself. What they would probably like to know is why you very nearly did.”
“That’s not hard. It was tough in the 1970s. Tougher than you might think. People always go on about the 1960s and the permissive society and all the new freedoms young people had but for people like me it wasn’t so rosy. Folks always talk about rock stars – glam rock, Queen and Bowie – being gay, lesbian or bisexual was a fashion with celebrities. There was a lot of parody on TV too, some of it quite cruel, but in ordinary life there was gay bashing, name calling, inequality under the law, you name it and then there was this whole thing of coming from a religious background.”
“Did you have many gay and lesbian friends back then?”
“Not that I knew of. It wasn’t something you shouted about. When I went to College I met a few students who were “out”. I thought they were incredibly brave at the time.There was discrimination going on in so many fields; the armed forces, teaching, anything with responsibility it seemed. It was tough to get a job. Despite the outrageous show biz stuff we were just ordinary kids.”
“Any element of being provincial in that?”
“Oh, I am sure you’re right. The more insignificant your hometown, the more likely these things are to be driven underground. It’s different if you live in a big city; sheer volume of numbers I suppose and with that comes bravery. I was never brave.”
“But you got through what was in effect a nervous breakdown…”
“Yes, and without treatment. I was in denial of course and I went through a phase where I would go with men just to convince myself I was straight.”
“I got that. You were married twice I see. But no kids?”
“It never happened although we did try. It’s just one of those things I suppose. I’m not too worried about being child-free though. I don’t think children should be compulsory you know.” She laughs again.
“So what brought you to tell your story now?”
“Meeting Laura again. The way I behaved towards her was cowardly and unforgivable. I am not proud of myself. I don’t know how she forgave me to be honest and all that is largely personal but I look around and see Christians, many of whom are otherwise lovely people, calling us every name under the sun and trying to take away our freedom. I wasn’t brave enough to fight for it but so many were. If I was sixteen now I don’t think anyone other than my parents would bat an eyelid. They loved me and I am sure they would have accepted me in time but the fact is that so many kids still need to be brave. They shouldn’t have to be. There are too many to this day who are thrown out or forced to conform and there are countries where love still carries the death penalty. To me, that is the real abomination in the sight of God.”
“Thank you for your time, Rebel, and thank you for your honesty.”
“No, thank you for giving me the chance to explain how it was for me back then and how it still is for some young people today.”
“So we might say you are now a Rebel with a cause?”
“Yes, I think I probably am,” she laughs.

I was deliberately leaving this post for a week, post election, to allow for some clarity and time to think. In the course of that time things have changed and not for the better. A week is a long time in politics, and in that week I have come to terms rationally with my own disappointing result. It could have been worse of course but it wasn’t great. I will start there because emails and phone calls I received after showed that voters were more upset by the result than I was. You don’t fight an election to lose although you might fight it to “fly the flag” in a seat where you see little chance of success.

Bearing that in mind, when things go to plan there is always the chance of a political upset. Not so in the recent General Election. A few seats swung by a small margin between the first and second placed political parties last time round. One or two targeted seats were won by huge effort, others were lost despite it. On the wider front, analysis showed both main parties increased their share of the vote dramatically and squeezed third party, smaller parties and independents out –
resulting in hundreds, if not thousands, of lost deposits nationwide.

“Good,” say some (usually left-wing) activists. “They should shut up, or grow up and join one of the main two parties.”

“Good,” say some journalists. “It shows they are irrelevant.”

I say “Bad!” because democracy suffers the more we polarise party politics. There is no room for the Middle Way or for rational discussion. There is only “What can we do to win Murdoch’s readership?”

In Britain we have been brought up to believe consensus politics is bad and certainly coalitions have always been bad for one of the partners but many other countries cope really admirably with their hung parliaments. It filters out extreme policies and wild swings one way and then the other. It better represents democracy.

The trouble is that the system we have and the influence of hard-hitting political journalism on the results is actually polarising our nation at a time when it badly needs to be united. This takes many forms, but the most extreme example for me this time round was the treatment of Tim Farron on television. This man, a decent and honest working class liberal Christian, has effectively now been bullied out of his leadership position simply because he is decent and honest. He did not lie about his Christianity, nor did he allow his Christian beliefs to define him but he was castigated for those beliefs. Those of us within the Liberal Democrats who identify as LGBT or allies had no issue with Tim’s Christianity but the media did.

A defining moment of journalistic nastiness was Andrew Neil’s so-called “interview”. On the proposed referendum on BREXIT terms, Farron was constantly shouted down mid answer and then blamed for running out of time. That way, the party policies were kept under wraps and a whole political party made irrelevant to those who did not know the policies. It is easy to suggest after the event that he might actually have done better to walk out saying “I thought this was an interview, not a speech by you.” It might have got him press coverage for what he wasn’t allowed to say.

I would have been disgusted by Andrew Neil’s arrogant and rude interview technique whichever leader he had turned his venom on. His approach is often boorish and I have to say extremely narcissistic. I am really so sorry that Mr Farron feels he has to leave the political stage because of this bully. I am even more sorry that there will be political activists out there in the main two parties who think it is fair game to be intolerant of religious differences. Now the same blinkered journalists are trying to make out that the election was about BREXIT; it wasn’t, for vast swathes of people it was about social justice and the Labour Party were not the only proponents of that. They just cashed in on a lot of tactical votes.

Finally, I honestly believe it is time for the BBC to move away from pretty graphics, endlessly looping sound bytes and egotistical, bullying presenters and move back towards what the licence fee we all have to pay was intended for – public SERVICE and public INFORMATION. There should be no place for the cult of “The Great I Am” in an organisation that claims to be politically neutral and every place for informed comparison of policy differences. This is happening on the internet through new apps which will, in time, make main stream journalists superfluous unless they grow up and stop showing off. Democracy is not about THEM. It is about the people.

Imagine the situation. You have a serious medical condition that holds you virtually bedridden for most of the time. It is an invisible illness that saps every ounce of your strength. You are painfully thin. Sometimes you can’t lift a fork to your mouth to eat and even if your carer does it for you you can’t swallow your food without a huge effort. You can’t have a bath without help because you no longer have the strength to get in and out unaided. You are only free from pain when you sleep and the pain stops you from sleeping. Your GP has retired. The new one doesn’t want to know.

For years you have been receiving Disability Living Allowance then with one slip of the pen you are thrown into the category of “new case” and new rules come into play. Despite the reassurances you have had in the past and old rules that the DWP stuck to for a while you now have to prove your level of disability, that you are unfit for work and deserve PIP at both levels. A “nurse” comes to assess you at home where you are so ill with a migraine that you can’t even speak, let alone answer the questions.

You are given a painkiller and it takes seven attempts to swallow it. The “nurse” notes this down as “Capable of swallowing, drank a glass of water in my presence.” Your carer, when attempting to answer questions is repeatedly shouted down and told to “Shut up and let her answer”. Every question is a trap, every answer is a minefield and you are given the very lowest benefit level possible and you are now subject to regular “assessment interviews” because of her skewed and unfair assessment.

You phone a stranger, reaching out in desperation because you can’t cope with the stress of the next interview. All that stranger can advise is that you record the interview. Let them KNOW you are recording it for your records (or for the Press perhaps). She will try and contact them to delay, rearrange or reconsider your case but has been told they will not discuss anything due to confidentiality.

This is a situation that is playing out day after day across Britain as a group of “Jobsworths” being paid to do the ugliest job possible do their best to deliver efficiency and cut benefit bills. Everyday, sick people are being driven to desperation, some contemplating suicide even, because of CAPITA’s Disability Assessments and Disability Work Assessments.

“Was this the creation of wicked Conservatives?” you might ask. No, it was the brainchild of a Labour minister but they did nothing to stop or reverse it. Somewhere in this cruel scenario that plays out like a Kafka story the people have been lost, humanity and compassion have gone out of the window, common decency is moribund if not dead. It is a scenario that probably costs more to administer than it could ever save, even if those people did not desperately need the help that a decent society should ungrudgingly provide.

Never mind Theresa May’s “money trees”, what we have here is a screening process that probably costs more to deliver than it actually saves. We witness untold pain and suffering caused to vulnerable people. There is actual fear of the bullies (and yes they often are bullies) employed to enforce benefit cuts on people with terrible and almost totally incapacitating conditions they never chose to have. Does this make you feel proud to be British? Personally, I think politicians of both Red and Blue varieties should hang their heads in shame at this vicious travesty of justice.

Please share. Please comment if you have been treated in a similar way. Somehow we HAVE to make them leave their ivory towers at Westminster and listen.

The wheels on the bus go round and round – unless you were with me this morning. I found myself car less when Theresa May called the snap election she had said she would never call. Getting to a meet and greet session with Age UK in Horncastle is not so easy if you are car less. Although Horncastle actually has a better service than, say, Louth or Mablethorpe it is still limited to one bus an hour. Evening services in Lincolnshire are virtually non-existent. You could travel to Louth in the afternoon and easily find yourself having to stay overnight if you miss the last bus back at around four.

Nobody who actually lives here has ever claimed that public transport in Lincolnshire is adequate, of course. Our rail services are limited and indirect, thanks to Mr Beeching, which is terrible news for our coastal resorts. Compared with London, Sussex and Kent we are undoubtedly a poor relation and an embarrassment. You can travel until midnight or even later on trains in South England. Busses run well into the evening to connect London with towns nearby. How can you have a busy city and a great night life without public transport? Well, in Lincolnshire you don’t travel far at night, to party or otherwise, unless you have a car and a designated driver. No wonder we are a sleepy lot!

So, my trip to Age UK for a meeting and coffee morning involved two busses. One to take me to Lincoln and that arrived at eight in the morning. I kicked up the dust and trialled my shooting stick – a necessary travelling accessory as there are no proper benches at Lincoln bus station. (I suppose because they don’t want to make it easy for our rough sleepers). At nine, I gratefully got on the Skegness service, which stops at Horncastle amongst other places, and sat back to enjoy the beautiful scenery en route.

We were well on schedule until, having just left Wragby, I heard a colossal bang.

“Jimminy cricket!” I exclaimed (the way you do). “What in tarnation was that?”

I didn’t think domestic terrorism had travelled to rural Lincolnshire just yet. Perhaps some oik who was bored on half term holiday had fired an air rifle at the window? A few seconds later we heard the unmistakable whine of a slipping clutch and the bus slowly ground to a halt in the middle of the back of beyond – or somewhere very farm-ish between Wragby and Hatton.

The driver was efficient, polite and tactful in the emergency, he called Lincoln and Skegness for mechanics and a replacement bus. He allowed parents with small children and a large dog to stroll along a farm track. He let me use his mobile phone as I couldn’t get a BT signal to use Skype on my notepad. Shortly after the mechanics had arrived, declared the bus undriveable, and the ten o’clock from Lincoln had passed us by, we all piled into a replacement double decker and cheerfully set off. The driver even told us to claim a refund of our fare because of the inconvenience.

A lady from Manchester led the singing. We sang “The Wheels on the Bus” and “If you’re Happy and You Know It”, much to delight of a three year old boy who had been positively angelic all through the journey. Then she launched into a cumulative rugby song about boils on noses of the women of the harem of Caractacus which frightened the little soul, probably because he was as confused as I was trying to figure out the words.

Well, they didn’t mind that I was an hour late. We joked about making this a social media opportunity about the poor public transport links in Lincolnshire. It wasn’t traumatic or stressful. There are much worse things happening in the world than a bus breaking down in the countryside on a glorious sunny day but we really, really need a decent transport infrastructure in this county.

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