Inconsequential words

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Well, I just watched the hustings show on the BBC and quite frankly I think it was a huge waste of time.

Emily Maitlis seemed to spend most of the limited time Boris Johnson was given talking over him trying to remind him of things he said. Indeed, most of the questions seemed deliberately worded to allow Emily to go on the BoJo offensive – she had all her embarrassing Boris quotes lined up ready – although in fairness she did once do the same to Jeremy Hunt. Both Jeremy and Boris did a great job of ignoring her, although Boris realised this and his apology to her was one of the lighter moments of the show.

I’m not sure any of them came out of it particularly well. Rory Stewart seemed a bit vague and waffly at times (but did talk some sense), and Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt were competent, but in the most part didn’t say much of consequence. Michael Gove seemed to have a lot of air-time, and as a result may stick more in people’s minds, but his heart-felt thanks to each person who asked a question (when perhaps he should have just been answering the question) made me cringe.

I don’t think any of them said anything we didn’t already know, and none of them really properly answered any of the questions, or for that matter, really interacted with the people asking questions. None of them, for example, had the courage to tell the young lady who asked them to commit to cutting carbon to Net 0 by 2025 that it just isn’t economically possible. The poor Imam who asked the question about ‘words having consequences’ just looked like he’d been set up by the BBC to have a poke at Boris. The woman from Southampton mentioned that her husband’s job was at threat from a No Deal Brexit, but no-one asked exactly how that would happen (I couldn’t figure it out, and presumably neither could they from their answers).

I’m not sure what was worse, the BBC’s efforts to make them look daft, or their own inability to add anything useful to the ongoing debate. Either way, as I’m not a member of the Conservative Party, so don’t get to vote, it’s just an hour of my life I won’t get back…

Too late to change?

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Interesting to see Tom Watson argue today for Labour to come out in full as the anti-Brexit party. My suspicions are that is is driven more by a fear of the ‘resurgent’ Lib Dems and recently quiet, but still potent Brexit party, rather than really trying to shore up the inconsistent stance Labour has taken on Brexit (although that does deal with that too). The combined Lib Dem/Brexit Party threat must be perceived as more potent than the fact that they might stand to lose a lot of voters of a leave variety.

On this weekend’s Coffee House Shots Podcast (and in the Spectator), Katy Balls was musing about a potential early general election, possibly in the autumn. Given that short time scale, it would make sense that Labour want to shore up their stance in the anti-Brexit direction to regain those they think they’ve lost in recent weeks to the parties that have a definite stance.

To me, Jeremy Corbyn’s somewhat indistinct stance on Brexit makes perfect sense. Brexit is not a strict political decision, you can vote left or right and leave or remain, depending on what is important to you. It looks like someone has got wind of something in the offing and decided that something has to be done sooner rather than later about the voters they had obviously lost to both the Lib Dems and Brexit Party, although to me it seems a little late for them to join to the ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ movement.

If there is an autumn election, the feelings that drove people to move away from Labour (and the Conservatives for that matter) to one of the smaller, but definite stance, parties will still be fresh in people’s memories and I rather think that they may well be tempted to keep voting that way, no matter Tom Watson wants.

Come together

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There’s some depressing stats in the Guardian today around how little faith the UK has in the government and generally how pessimistic we are at the moment, with lots of people thinking that recriminations between Remainers and Leavers will get worse in the next year, that the Tories are generally useless and that Britain is the laughing stock of Europe.

Not sure they really needed to poll of 2000 people in London and Leicester to mine those gems of wisdom, (or maybe I’m just more prescient than your usually pundit – highly unlikely), but it’s good to see someone trying to get a good representative poll going, even if the results, particularly among the under 30’s, are fairly grim.

What did surprise me was the upbeat conclusion drawn in the article. Rather than wallowing in misery and gloom, it picked out the fact that many people think (as I do) that we Brits are pretty resourceful and that with the right leadership and the usual British resilience, we will get on with things whatever the eventual outcome of Brexit may be.

But it we do need leadership, and not just from the new PM, but from the whole government. The article ended on a comment from a remain voter who said he wanted to see us leave the EU to regain some national pride.

This also means Labour not trying to turn everything into a political stunt to oust the Conservatives at any opportunity. They have to take notice of this poll and realise that we will only get through this if we pull together. It may be painful for them, but they have to try, at least in the short term.

Whoever wins the the PM role will quickly need to recapture the spirit of 2012 and, preferably, somehow get the cost of housing and living down, while getting us out of the EU. I sense that all the candidates to some degree get this, as well as most of the Conservative MPs, given the number of votes cast this week in Boris’ direction. Let’s just hope they all deliver quickly.

Mindfulness for Capitalists

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There’s a fabulous long read in the Guardian today giving a wonderful view of a left-winger’s attitudes towards Mindfulness. It’s written by a chap called Ronald Purser, who I’d not heard of before. Apparently he is a Professor of Management at San Francisco State University and likes to write culturally critical articles. He’s written a book called ‘McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality’.

The long and the short of the article (as you might guess from the title of his book) is that Mindfulness is a load of baloney because it makes you think about yourself and therefore makes you selfish and a Capitalist. And because lots of people are practicing mindfulness, society is collapsing because we are all becoming selfish and Capitalists, when really we should all be preparing for some great revolution (presumably based on his design) because society is completely broken and if we’re all gazing at our navels, then we aren’t out there bringing down the horrible Capitalists.

I’m guessing he’s not actually tried Mindfulness, because if he had, he’d probably know that by being mindful of your surroundings in the present moment and not following the incessant chatter of the neocortex (which mostly focusses on inane predictions about the future or wallows in useless nostalgia of the past), you tend to become more aware of other people and your relationships with them, not less, because at that point you’re looking out, not in.

It’s when you become mindful, that you tend to have moments of clarity about bigger issues, because it allows the subconscious to present you with ideas that are complex and interesting, which your chattering brain normally tends to drown out with it’s mundane rubbish.

I must agree with him that the whole eating slowly thing is a bit spurious, but that is just a small part of Mindfulness, usually a beginner’s exercise to encourage the practitioner to become more aware of their surroundings and to train the brain to actually see what the senses are presenting to it, rather than what it expects the senses will probably pass to it and ignore (see Prediction Engines).

Alas, in his eagerness to present Mindfulness as a “bad thing”, Mr Purser somewhat misses the whole point of it.

Wrong again

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Well blow me, those wiley foxes in Westminster suffered an outbreak of common sense yesterday and voted against Labour’s patently absurd plans to stop No Deal. I was almost as surprised as on Brexit day, and possibly a lot more pleased (my main reaction on June 23rd 2016 was ‘faaaaaaaaaaaaaackin’ ‘ell, what have we gone and done?’ – I honestly felt my vote was somewhat wasted, but the whole sovereignty issue was too important to not vote to leave).

I do like being proved wrong in these situations. Yesterday I was being, despite protestations to everyone not to be, a pessimist, so fed up am I with the incumbent set of MPs and their undemocratic, remainer bent, and Labour’s apparent intent to just vote for anything that might get them into power, no matter how silly or contradictory.

One thing I learned early in life is that there’s no point getting het up about having to be right. I spent my formative years as a vaguely evangelical christian, before I went to Uni and had that nonsense kicked out of me (in a positive, scholarly way). I’m still embarrassed about some of the stupid thing I said in those naive days. But since then I’ve learned to respect other people’s opinions (something I was also severely lacking), and allow apparent contradictions in life to just be.

We don’t know everything, we never will, and this is the beauty of life; it will always surprise us. It’s how we react to that surprise that counts. Too many people, dare I say of an intelligent, if left-leaning persuasion, get hung up on being right. They will keep coming back with arguments well after the conversation should have moved on.

I always find this a little depressing. I guess we all to it to a degree, the trick is to smile, accept that you disagree, and move on.

The Milkshake Wars

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It looks to me that today we will see Parliament throw a giant milkshake at Brexit by (I suspect) almost certainly voting to ‘take no deal off the table’ for good, or at least try to change the table, which is probably the more accurate simile.

I think the likes of Oliver Letwin and any other Conservatives should be somewhat ashamed of themselves for getting involved in such a scheme at this time when the bulk of the candidates for Prime Minister are laying down the mantra that Brexit must occur before or on the 31st October.

To me, it’s clearly a scheme cooked up by Labour and the Lib Dems to undermine the Conservatives at this time of perceived weakness, so as to fortify their ‘gains’ in the recent elections/by-elections.

I’ve no doubt that No Deal is not the best scenario by a long way, and not one I would strongly advocate – leaving with a deal would be the optimum (even Theresa May’s one). At the same time, I don’t share the opinion that No Deal would be the complete Doomsday scenario that many people do, purely because I just haven’t seen the evidence to back it up (if you have some, I’d love to see it). All I’ve seen is hysterical hyperbole and passionate rants, much of which is driven by self-interest and an ultra-conservative mindset. Again, it comes down to the optimists versus the pessimists.

But to take the best card in the negotiators hands away completely will surely result in no Brexit at all, as there’s no deal negotiable in that situation that would pass muster. This would indeed be the end of the Conservatives, fuelling the further rise of the Brexit Party (further weakening the Conservatives) and gifting number 10 to Labour. And a lot more milkshakes flying about.

Stepping Out

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While I’m on the Paul McKenna buzz, I must just quickly share one technique of his that has saved my sanity on more than one occasion, and kept depression from my door for a good ten years now.

Much in the same way as I mentioned yesterday about visualising who or how you’d like to be and stepping into that vision of yourself, so stepping out of repeated bad memories that have plagued me also works like a charm.

In the past I have become fixated on negative emotions and memories, quite often playing the same sequence in my head over and over again, making myself feel utterly lousy. So, by consciously playing that memory, but then mentally stepping back from the image, so you are no longer immediately in the frame, and then draining the colour from the mental image, drains its emotional hold over you.

You can then go one step further by putting a frame around the image and then imaging that frame disappearing off, or being blown up or shrinking to nothing.

Then you are left with just you in the present moment, and the emotional hold that mental projection has over you is massively weakened. Of course, the bad images come back, but each time, go through the process and each time they come back weaker, and eventually not at all.

Just be

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I’ve read and listened to a fair few self-help books in my time, and for the most part they were a complete waste of time.

Most dwelt on the fact that I was listening for some reason, usually a lack of something. Yet, few actually gave helpful advice, and those that did (and I’m only looking at a few people here), gave very similar advice.

That advice boils down to just be. Be the person you want to be. Don’t focus on what you think you don’t have (confidence or patience or some other personality defect). Very few people have bundles of confidence day in, day out. We all have our ups and downs. We all get frazzled and ratty with other people. A lot of us get depressed.

If you do feel the need to go down the self-help route, for whatever reason, I’d strongly recommend Paul McKenna – primarily, because his techniques revolve around visualising the person you want to be and stepping into that person. This is a powerful tool. Learn it and use it.

Not so Sweet Like Honey

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I’ve never had much time for Michael Gove. I’m still of the opinion that his actions in the last leadership contest, stitching Boris up as he did, was the catalyst that got us to where we are now with Brexit. (I realise that may be a little unfair, and the fact that 17.4 million people voted for Brexit in the first place also had a lot to do with it, but who was one of the leaders of the Leave campaign…)

Anyhow, now he appears to have gone one better. My son is just taking his GCSE exams, exams we parents have been warned from the outset would be much harder than the ones we sat, with no coursework to soften the blow. And whose bright idea was that? Our good friend Mr Gove.

So what an appalling time to confess to dabbling with class A drugs, just as thousands of stressed out kids are battling their way through new, tougher exams (with an incomprehensible marking system), and he’s swanning about looking to become PM. Admittedly, his experiments with cocaine appear to pre-date the plans to change GCSEs, but that hasn’t stopped a raft of humourous memes flying about the Internet.

If he does succeed, there will be a whole generation of people coming to voting age at the next scheduled election who will be less than impressed with the incumbent Prime Minister.

Late again

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Several times in the past fortnight, my daily commute to London has been disrupted by signalling issues. It turns out that signalling is part of Network Rail’s jurisprudence, and it came of something of a surprise to me to find out today reading Martin Vender Weyer’s article in this week’s Spectator that Network Rail is in fact completely nationalised. It’s one shareholder a certain Mr Grayling.

The article lists several major cock-ups in recent years that fall to the calamitous Network Rail, not least the new, severely delayed, Crossrail project.

So for all of you left-leaning thinkers under the impression that nationalised businesses are the bees knees, I urge you to think again. Even if they are only as half as bad as Network Rail, the country will surely fall to pieces in very short order.