O'Really?

September 19, 2022

Mind the gap at the end of the Elizabethan line

Elizabeth Line roundel by Transport for London via Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/5iib

So we’ve finally reached the end of the Elizabethan line. Not the the CrossRail route that straddles London but the seventy year reign of Elizabeth II from 1952 to 2022. Like many, I have mixed feelings about our monarch and monarchy but the history of the last seventy years should fascinate republicans, royalists and anarchists alike. So here are some historical facts about the start of the Elizabethan line for your amusement:

  • ūüá¨ūüáß In 1952 Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary of York became Queen Elizabeth II en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_II
  • ūüá™ūüáļ In 1952 The European Economic Community (EEC), precursor to the European Union (EU), did not exist. That came five years later in 1957, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Economic_Community
  • ūüŹ≥ÔłŹ‚ÄćūüĆą In 1952 Alan Turing was working on two new areas of research he’d recently pioneered called ‚ÄúComputer Science‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúArtificial Intelligence‚ÄĚ (AI). The very same year Turing was prosecuted for being homosexual which was shamefully labelled ‚Äúgross indecency‚ÄĚ and illegal at that time. He tragically committed suicide two years later in 1954 after being chemically castrated by the government of the UK. Her Majesty’s Government was led at the time by some bloke called Winston Churchill, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gross_indecency
  • ūüáļūüáł In 1952 The England National Football Team were recovering from their debut appearance in a FIFA World Cup two years previously. In a pattern that is now familiar, England failed to make it through to the final stages of the 1950 tournament in Brazil after beating Chile but losing to both Spain and the United States, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v_England_(1950_FIFA_World_Cup)
  • ūüéľ In 1952 Alan Turing and Christopher Strachey had recently finished experimenting with creating the worlds first computer generated music, to accompany the worlds first computer game (draughts aka checkers), you can listen to the music they made (a tune you may have heard of called God Save The King) on a Ferranti Mark I computer in Manchester at blogs.bl.uk/sound-and-vision/2016/09/restoring-the-first-recording-of-computer-music.html
  • ‚öõ In 1952, Geneva was selected as the site for the Organisation Europ√©enne pour la Recherche Nucl√©aire (CERN), the vast network of underground tunnels and machines that can be found there now were just an idea seventy years ago see home.cern/about/who-we-are/our-history

It’s easy to view the events of the 1950s as ancient history and evidence of how far we have travelled down the Elizabethan line. However in 1952, when Elizabeth was 26 years old, her son Charles was 4 years old, Alan Turing was 40 and Winston Churchill was 78. So the history is not that ancient, especially if you’re an octogenarian or a nonagenarian.

Yes it is a long time ago, but it is almost within living memory. Almost.

Mind the Gaps

What a remarkable seventy years of history, so much has happened in a relatively short period of time. At the end of the journey, it feels like there’s a big gap at the end of the Elizabethan line as we search for our connection and onward destination. Not just one gap but lots of gaps:

  • The gaps between wealthy elites and everybody else
  • The gaps between those educated privately (including the royal family) and the other 93%
  • The gaps between London at the rest of the United Kingdom
  • The gaps between the UK and the rest of the world
  • The gaps between expectations and reality
  • The gaps between historical memories and the present day
  • The gaps between the Elizabethan line and the Carolean line

I wonder where we will be after another gap of seventy years, if the human race is here at all in the year 2092?

As the station announcers often warn as you disembark on the London Underground, mind the gap.

July 1, 2016

Dear Europeans, do you know who your MEP is and what they do?

banksy-does-brexitAlong with 16 million other people on the 23rd June 2016 I voted to remain in the European Union (EU). I believe the benefits of EU membership exceed the costs. Free trade and free movement have been beneficial to me personally, many of those around me, as well as the wider UK economy [1]. I even married an EU migrant too, so I love Europe in more ways that one. Life outside the EU is very difficult to imagine, professionally, financially, culturally and personally.

So when I woke up to Brexit EuroDoom¬†last Friday, to find I was in a minority outnumbered by 17 million leavers who disagreed, I felt sick. After a gloomy week of miserable soul searching, I realised I didn’t have the foggiest notion who my Member of European Parliament (MEP) was or¬†how they got elected. Although not a student of (or¬†expert in)¬†politics or economics, I don’t believe I am apathetic or unaware. I follow the news,¬†vote in general elections¬†and write letters to my MP.¬†I try to understand what is going on in politics¬†and bend¬†my head around the dismal science of economics. But until this week, I had little or no idea how the European Parliament (EP), let alone the European Commission (EC) or lots of other acronyms starting with E, actually work in practice.

Now if you are also a participant in the failing (?) European project, do YOU know who your MEP is? Any idea what they actually do? The chances are you don’t because Euroignorance is widespread [2]. Fortunately, Professor Google can help us. In Manchester, the MEPs for the North West Region of the UK comprising Cumbria, Lancashire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Cheshire are:

Unfortunately, I’d¬†only heard of two of those MEPs beforehand, and neither of them because of¬†their activity during the EU referendum. Nuttall I’d heard of because the comedian Stewart Lee performed¬†a brilliant satirical piece¬†mocking Nuttall’s views¬†on¬†immigration¬†[3]. Woolfe I’d heard of because his campaign¬†leaflet¬†came through¬†my letterbox during the 2015¬†general election. How did they get elected as MEPs because¬†I can’t¬†remember seeing¬†their names on a ballot paper?

MEPs are elected using¬†the D’Hondt method¬†[4], a form of proportional representation (PR) used in the¬†European elections in 2014¬†and elsewhere. As of 2016, the three largest UK parties in the European Parliament are: UKIP (24 MEPs), Labour (20 MEPs) and The Conservatives (19 MEPs). Isn’t it remarkable¬†that so many of these MEPS¬†were neither seen or heard¬†during¬†the almost entirely fact-free¬ģ¬†debate [1] preceding¬†the UK EU referendum?

So what is the nature of an MEPs power? Back in 1998, a politician by the name of Tony Benn proposed five democratic questions to understand the powerful:

‚ÄúIf one meets a powerful person–Rupert Murdoch, perhaps, or Joe Stalin or Hitler–one can ask five questions:

  1. what power do you have?
  2. where did you get it?
  3. in whose interests do you exercise it?
  4. to whom are you accountable?
  5. how can we get rid of you?‚ÄĚ

According to Benn, anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system. [5] Personally, I’d like to get rid of¬†UKIP from the European parliament. How can I do this? While I can’t vote for individuals, I can vote for political parties. However, turnout in european elections is often embarrassingly¬†low, in the UK¬†a pathetic 35.6% showed up¬†in 2014. Which means two thirds of UK voters¬†were¬†unaware or didn’t care who their MEP was, including me.¬†My bad. You could call this¬†democratic deficit, not one where people can’t vote but one where people are unaware¬†or¬†don’t bother.

Right now, it is really hard to see how any good can¬†come of what is unfolding in Great Britain and Europe. Brexit leaves the sector I work in, and many others, facing huge uncertainty¬†[6,7,8]. Let’s hope one thing will happen, a reformed EU where those in power¬†are¬†more engaged and accountable to¬†the people¬†they claim to¬†represent. Personally, I am not in a position to judge if the European Union has a democratic deficit or not [9,10]. Neither can I judge if the European Union¬†is as anti-democratic as some eurosceptics have suggested [11, 12,13]. But I do know¬†something has gone badly wrong with the EU¬†if many europeans have no idea¬†of who their parliamentary representatives are and how they can exercise their democratic rights to get rid of¬†them using¬†the ballot box.

If you are staying in the European Union you have a duty to find out who your MEP is and ask them the five democratic questions above. You better do it quickly before risking a Frexit, Czechout, Swexit, Departugal, Grexit, Bygium, Italeave or bidding Austria La Vista.

References

  1. Zanny Minton Beddoes (2016) The Brexit Briefs:¬†The 17 things you need to know before Britain’s #EUref‚ÄĒin one handy guide, The Economist
  2. Oana Lungescu (2001) EU Poll reveals huge ignorance, BBC News
  3. Stewart Lee (2014) Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, Series 2: England
  4. Jeremy Vine (2009) D’Hondt Explainer, BBC News
  5. Anon (1998)  House of Commons Debates, Hansard, parliament.uk
  6. Anon (2016) Brexit vote sparks huge uncertainty for UK universities, Times Higher Education
  7. Alison Abbott, Daniel Cressey, Richard Van Noorden (2016) UK scientists in limbo after Brexit shock: Researchers organize to lobby for science as country prepares for life outside the EU Nature, Vol. 534, No. 7609., pp. 597-598, DOI:10.1038/534597a
  8. Anon (2016) Brexit vote highlights lack of leaving plan: Scientists ‚ÄĒ just like everybody else ‚ÄĒ have little idea what will happen now that the United Kingdom has voted to exit the European Union. Nature, Vol. 534, No. 7609., pp. 589-589, DOI:10.1038/534589a
  9. Andrew Moravcsik (2008) The Myth of Europe‚Äôs ‚ÄúDemocratic Deficit‚ÄĚ Intereconomics, Volume 43, Issue 6, pp 316‚Äď340¬†DOI:10.1007/s10272-008-0266-7
  10. Michael Dougan (2016) The UK’s position following vote to leave the EU, University of Liverpool, School of Law and Social Justice
  11. Tony Benn (2013) Tony Benn speaks at the Oxford Union on Euroscepticism, The Oxford Union.
  12. Martin Durkin (2016) Brexit: The Movie (warning: contains Nigel Farage and dubious opinions europhiles will find offensive, factual content is highly questionable in places)
  13. Tony Benn (1975) Letter from Tony Benn to his constituents about the UK European referendum of 1975, The Spectator, Coffee House

* Disclaimer, like I’ve already said, my grasp¬†of politics and¬†economics is pretty basic. I have made every reasonable effort to get the facts right but¬†correct any mistakes I¬†might have¬†made below. These are personal views, which do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

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