Distressed Jeans and the Fabrication of Institutional Contempt


I wear blue jeans almost every day. Being a gardener, spending a lot of time weeding my vegetable patch, my jeans get worn out at the knees within a year or so and I replace them with an intact and robust pair that will protect my tender skin.  Instead of demoting the old ones to become cleaning rags, perhaps I should sell them for a fortune on e-bay as rare genuinely work-distressed garments.

There is now a huge market for manufactured distressed clothes, created by carefully calibrated machines and artisans that make new clothes look old or damaged – with precisely-placed rips on the thighs or buttocks of jeans, bullet holes through t-shirts, or jacket collars that look as though they have been nibbled by a rat. While some people distress their own brand-new clothes, many are happy to shell out even hundreds of pounds to buy pre-damaged garments sold by the big brands of the fashion industry.

A few days ago, I asked a 15-year old boy why he distresses his jeans. He thought for a while before saying that he supposed that it was because it was “fashionable” and because his friends did it. One commentator claims that people do it to “foster the illusion of work”, while another writer goes as far as saying that pre-ripped garments provide “a costume for wealthy people who see work as ironic”. I see it as a deliberately visible but fairly harmless way of signalling personal dissatisfaction with the norms that society imposes on our daily lives. Like purposefully dishevelling one’s hair, it is a means of asserting one’s non-conformity and claiming that one deserves special attention.

The problem arises when such non-conformity, rather than being allowed to remain a symbol of individual idiosyncrasy, is nurtured and fanned into a collective disrespect towards the institutions, laws, conventions and norms that have grown up over many years to foster a sense of common decency and mutual respect, to protect the rights and freedoms of individuals and especially minorities, to prevent crime, and to foster truthfulness and trustworthiness.

One of the most curious aspects of the present crisis facing Britain is that we have never had any serious dispute with the European Union since we joined on New Tear’s Day 1973. I suspect that it is also true that very few UK citizens can point to specific cases in which their own lives have been blighted by EU regulations. Yet, in a few months in 2016, a majority of voters was persuaded through a skilfully orchestrated campaign, backed by the massive use of social media, to call for us to leave the Union. “Take back control” and “regain sovereignty” became powerful rallying calls, even though there no evidence was put forward by the advocates of Brexit to show that we had lost any control or forfeited significant elements of sovereignty.

Lots of voters were – and continue to be – rightly disaffected by their lack of self-advancement and were easily persuaded to blame this on “the bureaucrats in Brussels” and the influx of European migrants.

We are now in the contradictory situation of having a prime minister who, having called on us to uphold British sovereignty, seems to be intent undermining – or simply avoiding – scrutiny by parliament (the locus of British sovereignty) of his immensely damaging proposals for leaving the European Union without a deal.

What is evident is that. in this age of distressed jeans, it is much easier to drum up popular antipathy towards the public institutions – whether international or national – that shape our lives rather than to persuade people to acknowledge and defend their generally benign impacts.

The greatest danger now facing our country is that our new prime minister, driven less by his beliefs – if he has any – than by his personal ambitions, will knowingly lead us (and our children and grand-children) into a deeply self-harming future. The most obvious sign that this is his intention is that, having happily approved the use of billions of taxpayers’ pounds to finance ‘no-deal planning’, he has appears not to have given the slightest thought to the nature of the long-term relationship that he would like to see with our European neighbours. Without such a vision, he is bereft of any basis for successfully negotiating any deal with the EU.

For the past 3 years the Conservatives have failed to make a convincing response to the result of the 2016 referendum. If only by prolonging uncertainty, this failure has already done immense economic harm to our country: it has undermined the respect that other nations hold for us; it has fostered deep divisions between people who have happily coexisted in the past, and it has put at risk the integrity of the United Kingdom.

We are now engulfed in a national crisis of unprecedented proportions which has been created by the present government and from which it is patently incapable of extracting us. It lies within the reach of MPs who are opposed to a no-deal Brexit to defeat the government in a no confidence vote that would sooner or later lead to either a general election or a referendum.

The opposition has also wasted the last 3 years through its indecisiveness and its failure to engage in a well-orchestrated campaign to convince voters of the real benefits of staying in Europe. There is an urgent need to talk with them frankly of the dangers associated with any Brexit but especially with a ‘no deal’ outcome and to argue that it makes common sense to continue with the status quo at least until there might be a genuine breakdown in our relations with other EU nations rather than a fabricated dispute.

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March for Change – 6 Simple Thoughts for the Day


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March for Change

20th July 2019

6 Simple Thoughts for the Day


  1. Has Britain ever had a big dispute with the EU since it joined over 40 years ago?

NO – So why stir up discontent?


  1. Can you point to any way in which your own life has actually been damaged by our EU membership?

If not, what is to be gained by you and your own family from getting out of the EU?


  1. The Single Market provides for the easiest possible trading between 28 neighbouring countries. Can you think of any good reason to pull out of it?


  1. We are geographically part of Europe and share many problems and opportunities with our neighbours. So, doesn’t it make sense to work together to solve them? Think about preventing the spread of diseases, safe travel, scientific research, security and crime control, food safety, environmental management, climate change – you name it…..


  1. Our parents lived through two horrendous wars of European origin and lost many of their friends and relations. We have enjoyed a long life in peace largely because the EU nurtures trust and confidence between its members. Don’t you think that, by leaving the EU, Britain raises the risk that our children and grandchildren end up fighting?


  1. The Brexit process has already mucked things up for 3 divisive years. Any Brexit or a No Deal will prolong the agony and uncertainty for years to come. If we decide to stay in Europe, there will be no need for more negotiations and we can return now to our normal – friendly – ways.



Boris got us into this mess, driven by his ambition.


He’s not the person to get us out of it.

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We Are All In The Same Boat But It’s Time To Pull Together!

This blog was written on 3 July. It is now largely redundant as the EM has since announced its support for the March for Change.



As anyone rowing at Henley this week knows, it is not enough to simply “be in the same boat”. For victory, you have to “pull together”, eight people rowing at full power in absolute unison, egged on by a vocal cox.

The race to decide on Britain’s future relationship with Europe has dragged on, inconclusively, for three years.  Parliament has remained deadlocked. We are now watching an extraordinary palace coup unfold in the just-ruling Conservative party. The party leader was ousted through a rebellion led by her right-wing opponents, two of whom are now fighting it out to replace her, with the winner almost certainly to become the country’s next Prime Minister.

The selection of our next Prime Minister happens towards the end of this month. The process is being run by a Tory party which has little legitimacy to govern, having failed three times to gain parliamentary approval for its flagship EU withdrawal legislation, after which it suffered an ignominious defeat in the recent election of Members of the European Parliament. To stay in power, it has had to use public money to buy the support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

It is now clear that the most important decision on who will lead our country forward will result in us being led by a Prime Minister from the extreme right of the party, because both candidates are vying with each other to gain the support of a group of about 160,000 party members who are reputed to be dominantly elderly, white, male and supportive of restoring the death penalty. One wonders how moderate members of the party will vote, with no candidate available to represent their views.

The long-term future of our country and the livelihoods of the young looks like being decided by those with one foot in the grave.

Although both Johnson and Hunt claim to be responding to the “will of the people”, they both espouse a “no deal” outcome for the Brexit process. Neither has yet proposed an alternative plan. While a “no-deal” outcome appeals to many of their ancient electors, it would be a move that was not sanctioned by the Referendum verdict and one which even the candidates admit will be hugely damaging to the British economy and to the nature of our future relationship with our neighbours.

The only way to stop Hunt or Johnson from becoming Prime Minister is a massive boiling-over of public indignation against their possible appointment in the coming weeks. This will only succeed if all those organizations and individuals that are aghast at the idea of a “no deal” Brexit – or, indeed, any Brexit – immediately “pull together” in the most effective possible way.  It is not enough to “work alongside” each other, as they claim to be doing: this is too passive.

In a very sensible and pragmatic move, London4Europe is calling on its members to join the March for Change, orchestrated by pro-Remain Groups in London on 20th July. It is an extremely well timed event which has the potential to demonstrate a massive lack of confidence in the government’s handling of the Brexit situation, which could embolden MPs from all parties to come together to win a motion of no confidence in a government led by either Johnson or Hunt.

I have subscribed modestly to both the European Movement and the People’s Vote Campaign and hence receive weekly EM Insider Briefings and usually several self-praising messages every day from People’s Vote campaigners. Till now I have seen no notice whatsoever about the March for Change or any indication of any move on the part of either EM or PV to get their act together with the Remain Groups.

I may be very naïve, but it would seem to make a huge amount of sense – indeed it is absolutely vital – at this critical moment for EM, PV and the Remain Groups to ‘pull together’ in every sense – developing joint campaigning strategies and tactics (for example, systematically ensuring combined action in each of the UKs 650 parliamentary constituencies), sharing communication materials and mailing lists, mutually supporting each other’s events, and so on.

The only chance for arriving at a situation in which Britain decides to stay in the European Union is if all organisations that subscribe to this goal get their act together and redouble their efforts to show that this is now what the majority of British people want. This is a majority that now seems to exist but which must be brought out into the open in a really big way. The immediate task is to prevent the formation of a government led by either Johnson or Hunt, neither of whom can be trusted to steer the country safely out of the mess that they have helped to create and our now exacerbating in their election campaign.

The first move in this direction must be for the European Movement and the People’s Vote campaigns to immediately – and unconditionally – throw their full weight behind the March for Change, calling on all their members, including MPs from many parties, to take part.

We must make it abundantly clear that the British people are totally fed up with a government that seems to be driven more by the personal ambitions of its hard-liners than by any sense of responsibility towards the population at large – a government that has wasted (and hugely upset) – 3 precious years of our lives and still not arrived at a credible plan on our future relationship with Europe.

I suspect that there would be a huge sigh of relief if a new government was to emerge which had the guts to tell us in all honesty that, at least for now, staying in Europe is the best solution. Like “no deal”, it requires no planning and no negotiation but it carries no risks and would allow us to revert quickly to our “normal” lives!

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Pot! Goes the Weasel!

I am no good at singing or – for that matter – dancing, so there is no obvious reason why the song “Pop! Goes the Weasel!” came to my mind when I learnt from the radio that Michael Gove had confessed to using cocaine in his young days as a journalist. I had not heard the song for a good 50 years and had trouble remembering the words.

It then struck me that, if sung with a slight change in wording, it could provide a fine way of highlighting the ludicrous but disturbing situation in which we discover that at least half of the people vying to serve as Tory party leader admit to taking drugs. Maybe, when they are in the company of any of the candidates, whether drug-using or ‘clean’, those of us with half-decent voices could start singing:


Pot! goes the Weasel|

Half a gram of tuppeny Coke.

Half a gram of Ganja.

That’s the way the money goes,

Pot! Goes the Weasel!

Whether in its original wording or these new words, the song is nonsensical but it is catchy. If sung widely – and loudly – when any of the candidates appear in public to stake their claim to be the best person to run our country. this would help to remind people that we are witnessing one of the most absurd events in British politics in recent times.

We are faced with the spectacle of a prime minister sitting in 10 Downing Street watching – presumably with amazement – a circus of her former colleagues, several of whom had ganged up to oust her as party leader, now vying with each other to replace her.  None is honest enough to admit that, over the past 3 years, we have learnt that any Brexit deal will be self-harming for the country.

While it is clearly legitimate for a party to choose its own next leader, it seems all wrong that whoever is chosen has a right to assume that he or she automatically becomes Britain’s next Prime Minister. The Conservative party could not have maintained a majority in the present parliament without the support of the Democratic Unionist Party which was shamelessly bought with sleight-of-hand dashing out of public funds – and will presumably repeat the same deal.

One would have thought that a government that has failed – three times – to gain parliamentary approval for the single most important piece of draft legislation that it has put forward in 3 years should gracefully admit defeat and accept that it has forfeited its right to govern us.

The greatest absurdity of all is that, in spite of our pride in our democratic institutions, our next aspiring prime minister will ultimately be chosen by just 160,000 paid-up members of  a single party which has been deliberatly infiltrated in the past two years by members of other parties on the extreme right.  It seems most unlikely under these circumstances that a party leader will emerge who even has the backing of the rank and file of Tory voters.

The candidates’ Coke and Ganja problems may be there, but they are dwarfed by the apparent flaws in the current Tory leader selection process.

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A Healing Process

A Healing Process

The morning after I had spent a day in hospital having a hernia operation, I shared some reflections on my first visit to an operating theatre in the ultra-modern facilities of our local public hospital. The experience reinforced my admiration for EHIC – the European Health Insurance Card – which provides for free reciprocal collaboration between European health services, including the NHS. I learnt that over 27 million EHIC cards have been issued by the NHS in Britain, but, worryingly, that there is no certainty that they will remain valid if there is a no-deal Brexit.

When I woke up this morning after a couple of days of discomfort and tiredness, I felt little pain, had an appetite for a good breakfast – including a delicious slice of plum tart, freshly baked by a neighbour “to aid my convalescence” – and felt more energetic. Our neighbour also brought me a flask of home-made wine, proposing it as a pain-reliever.

All this prompted me to marvel about the extraordinary capacity that our bodies contain to heal themselves after traumas, rebuilding damaged tissue, veins and skin. Mine was a small trauma but clearly the process was moving forward rapidly automatically.

When societies have been through traumatic periods, they, too have an in-built capacity to heal their divisions which grows as people become tired of conflict. The very fact that we can, as British citizens, feel welcome to live here in Italy, a country with which we were at war when I was born, is testimony of the capacity of former enemies to engage in reconciliation, rebuilding of trust and participation in joint action for the common good.

My most vivid exposure to national healing processes took place just over 20 years ago in Angola as the country moved towards the formation of what was to turn out to be a short-lived Government of National Unity and Reconciliation. As leader of a small international team trying to foster the emergence of a consensus between the two warring parties on future agricultural and rural development policies, I landed on a small strip near Bailundo, the UNITA headquarters. My Angolan colleague, who worked for the government side, took about ten minutes to summon the courage to come out of the plane. Within minutes, he found himself hugging members of the reception team, several of whom had been childhood friends but had ended up on different sides in a futile war.

Most of us naturally abhor conflict and so it is surprising how easily we can get drawn into it and how difficult it is to return to a situation in which we can go about our normal lives at ease. Fortunately, the people of Britain are not in open conflict. But the way in which the 2016 EU referendum was conducted stoked up tensions between us, even within families and amongst neighbours, in spite of the fact that the nature of our relationship with other European countries had not, until then, been an issue of the slightest concern to most of us. During campaigning and after the referendum result, there has been a rise in xenophobia and in the incidence of hate crimes which have made many foreigners who have been living and working in Britain for years – just as we reside in Italy – feel less welcome.

The impression we get – albeit from a distance – is that the majority of British people would love to see their lives return to the normality of four years ago. The problem is how to trigger this de-escalation of tensions, especially when there is no agreement amongst our leading politicians and our MPs on what kind of future relationship we should have with our European neighbours.

It is encouraging that May and Corbyn have been jointly exploring a way forward. However, it is unlikely that they will come to an agreement unless they both have the courage to admit that they have looked at all Brexit options but have concluded that there is none that can offer the country a brighter future than staying as we are and having a voice in making decisions which, if only for geographical reasons, are bound to affect us. If they have the guts to stand up to the vocal extremists in each of their parties and put their conclusion to a public vote, they will learn whether they have correctly properly interpreted the current will of the majority of the people who now have a better idea of the likely consequences of different ways forward.

A week ago, Jeremy Corbyn hinted that this was the way in which he was thinking when he said “we should include the option of having a ballot on a public vote on the outcome of the talks and negotiations on what we’re putting forward. I would want that to be seen as a healing process and bringing this whole process to a conclusion.”

Hopefully Theresa May will also be bold enough to take the same line in the coming weeks and that, together, through their self-honesty, they can begin to nurture a badly needed healing process.


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