5 things about this week (21 Feb 2019)

by Stephen Tall on February 21, 2019

This week saw the birth of the long-awaited new centrist party, The Independent Group. Who knows what’s going to happen?

My heart says I hope it thrives. At last, a handful of the grown-ups in our two main parties have had the courage of their convictions and done something constructive, positive. Just perhaps it will force a response from the Conservatives and Labour, a reversion to the sensible, moderate mainstream; a rejection of their current adherence to their controlling extremists, whether ERG or Momentum.

My heads says it’s bound to get squashed by our stultifying electoral system, which stifles at birth all insurgents (ironically, Ukip only prospered thanks to the proportional system of the Euro elections). That the initial excitement will give way to predictable squabbles about leadership and policy direction.

But, for just a few days, I’m going to suspend my analytical pessimism. There’ll be plenty of time for that. For now, I’m just enjoying the sight of 11 MPs once again happy in their own skins, liberated, feeling free to express the views and values they’ve always held without the cold disapproval of their rigid parties.

And what absolute stars Luciana Berger and Heidi Allen turned out to be. There’s long been a commentariat assumption any new party would need a famous name with gravitas to succeed. But maybe the opposite is true, and the pleasant surprise of calm, honest, down-to-earth decency is what will give TIG traction.

It’s been a long time since I’ve watched the news with any sense of cheerfulness. It was enough to persuade me to chuck them a tenner, to wish them well.

**

You only have to look at the decision of home secretary Sajid Javid to revoke the British citizenship of Shamima Begum, the Bethnal Green youngster groomed and radicalised by Islamic State, to see how low our current political leaders will stoop to grub for popularity.

As international law forbids a citizen from being made stateless, it’s highly likely Mr Javid’s decision will be overturned. But, from his point of view, it’s served its purpose: he can pose as the strong voice of common sense for the right-wing media, no matter that the tough-minded decision would be for this country to step up and take responsibility for one of our own, rather than attempt to shunt the problem onto another country.

As The Times’s Anthony Lloyd, who interviewed Shamima and reckons she would be an ideal candidate for a de-radicalisation programme, writes:

… if the home secretary were to make his decisions based upon security, then he would push for the prompt repatriation from Syria of every single British Isis member, including Kotey and Elsheikh. The current situation, whereby more than 900 foreign fighters and nearly 3,000 foreign family members from 49 countries are cooped up in camps alongside thousands of Syrian and Iraqi Isis members in one of the most unstable parts of the Middle East is unsustainable; a calamity waiting to happen.

Yet so far, in the week since Ms Begum’s story emerged, little evidence of reasoned, informed consideration and debate has appeared. We would do well to realise that victory against Isis will be measured in no small part by our ability to have the confidence in our own legal system and values in dealing with British citizens who joined the jihadists.

If our institutions and sense of worth cannot deal fairly and appropriately with a runaway schoolgirl from Bethnal Green, who may well be more deserving of rescue and rehabilitation than hatred and condemnation, then we will indeed have become a very little England.

**

Speaking of little England, here’s the obligatory Brexit paragraph… I don’t know to what extent the UK’s bonkers decision to leave the EU played a part in first Nissan’s decision to shift production of its X-Trail from Sunderland to Japan, or of Ford to to scale back engine production in Bridgend, or of British carmaker JLR to cut 4,500 jobs, or of tyremaker Michelin to close a factory in Dundee, or of German car-parts maker Schaeffler to close factories in Llanelli and Plymouth, or of Honda’s decision this week to shut its Swindon plant with the loss of up to 7,000 jobs… but, alongside the downturn in the Chinese economy, it’s fair to say it was in the mix.

This is the Brexit reality: a sharp and sustained economic decline which Leavers will shrug off, pretending either its unrelatedness or else reckoning that the short-term pain will be worth the long-term gain.

Remember: here’s the link to donate to The Independent Group.

**

I never much liked Martina Navratilova in the 1980s. I hope it was simply that I preferred underdogs and that’s a label that never really applied to one of the greatest female tennis players of all time. But, looking back, I was probably also influenced by the distaste some felt at the time for a no-nonsense independent woman who was an outspoken advocate of gay, lesbian and trans rights.

But I was nothing but impressed by her article in this week’s Sunday Times pointing out that allowing transwomen to compete against women in sports events is intrinsically unfair. It’s not just that I agree with her, but also the way she modelled her argument, noting that, after her initial comments a few months ago triggered a Twitter row, “I promised to keep quiet on the subject until I had properly researched it”:

Well, I’ve now done that and, if anything, my views have strengthened. To put the argument at its most basic: a man can decide to be female, take hormones if required by whatever sporting organisation is concerned, win everything in sight and perhaps earn a small fortune, and then reverse his decision and go back to making babies if he so desires. It’s insane and it’s cheating. I am happy to address a transgender woman in whatever form she prefers, but I would not be happy to compete against her. It would not be fair.

She’s right and her bravery in speaking up (in spite of the inevitable wokelash) has prompted many other female athletes to make the same point, such as Paula Radcliffe: “If you are born and grow up male you cannot be allowed to compete in female sports simply because you ‘identify’ as female. It makes a mockery of the definitions of male and female sports categories.” Let’s hope this opens up the space for a long-overdue debate, minus the tedious slurs that those sticking up for single-sex spaces for women are ‘transphobes’.

**

This week I watched Netflix’s documentary, Fyre: the greatest party that never happened, about the catastrophic failure of a “luxury music experience on a posh private island” orchestrated by a compulsive liar called Billy McFarland, who seems to have taken The Wolf of Wall Street as an inspiration rather than a cautionary tale.

And this week, I resume my 9-day fortnights Yes, I’ve opted for a 90% contract at work at least until my eldest child starts school in September: time to enjoy with him every possible moment of his last few pre-school months.

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No need to ask "Did you enjoy nursery today?"

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