My husband Ian and I disagree on Scottish Independence. He is a Canadian of Scottish descent and I am English, but our ethnicity has nothing to do with it. He is an historian who has spent his career examining the question of nationalism and the harm it causes. He’d vote for the union. Like him I’m wary of all nationalisms, but I know full well that if I were a Scot, then I’d be voting yes in September. My heart would rule my head, and the chance to make sure I was never ruled by a Conservative government again would trump any other consideration.
Edmonton Alberta. -11°C with windchill.
The journalist Michael Den Tandt has the following article in today’s Edmonton Journal attacking musician Neil Young’s opposition to the Tarsands. I reproduce the first few paragraphs, but with some substitutions, imagining what a journalist with the same mindset as Den Tandt — that immediate profit trumps ethics — might have written a hundred and fifty years ago:
Neil Young is probably no more, and no less, a moral coward than the next person. But he is a moral coward.
That’s because — like most of the rest of us — he declines to face the logical consequences of his beliefs. He fails to extend. The failure to extend is endemic in the broadening debate about the sources of labour, its cost and follow-on effects. It reduces this debate, for the most part to hyperbolic babble, in which combatants trade volleys like medieval theologians arguing over whether angels have mass.
Does Young have the right to use his celebrity to stick it to the Slave Owners? Clearly he does. As Stephen Maher of PostMedia News has pointed out, this is a poet’s classic role — to act as goad, inciter and rabble-rouser. Artists are like Shakespearean court jesters. They get away with saying things no one else will or can, and they should.
But let us, for a moment, talk turkey, about the politics of slavery, and labour, and the related moral choices that we each make.
As many have noted previously, slavery is not going away in our lifetime…..
Edmonton Alberta, -38°C with windchill.
In Alberta the ‘flu vaccine is offered to everyone. Each autumn vaccination centres are set up in shopping malls and at Public Health Centres (Public Health Centres are something we don’t have in the UK; they deal with vaccinations, mother and baby health, and children’s dental services).
Take-up seems to depend on the public perception of risk. I think I first tried to get the jab four years ago but there was a scare in the news about avian ‘flu, which increased demand. When I went to the vaccination centre at my nearest mall, I was sent home because the queue ahead of me was too long, and I didn’t get round to trying again. The next year I had no problem, or last year. This year I missed the regular clinic in the autumn. I’m probably fairly typical; despite the availability of all vaccines only around a fifth of the eligible population bother to get vaccinated.
Now vaccination has become urgent because there is a ‘flu epidemic. Over a thousand cases have been reported, hundreds hospitalized and there have been five deaths. The health minister is urging everyone to get immunized, and additional clinics have been set up, but they keep running out of vaccine. I tried to get immunized on Friday afternoon, but the clinic had run out. I made an appointment for myself and Ian at the local Shoppers’ Drugs Mart for today, but got a call earlier saying they had also run out. The next scheduled clinic at my local Public Health Centre is on Tuesday.
Both Ian and I fall into categories offered free immunization in the UK, Ian because of a chronic health condition, and me because I’m a member of his household. Ironically, however, we only know about Ian’s health condition because of the superior screening service offered by Alberta Health Care compared with the NHS. So, even though we’d find it easier to get immunized in the UK, if we’d never moved to Canada, we wouldn’t know that vaccination was advisable.
The ‘flu outbreak is of H1N1. Ian was immunized against that two years ago, and I was immunized last year, so hopefully, even if we never find a clinic with the vaccine, we will be OK.
5.30 pm, -18°C with windchill, snow.
We try to make sure that we give at least 1% of our net income to charity. That is not overly generous, but in our defence, we do normally give more. My policy with regards to charitable giving has been fixed for several decades: With some exceptions for local and environmental charities, I try to make sure my donations go to the developing world. But, I was made to think about my charitable giving for two reasons this year.
The first was the issue of executive pay as reported in the Telegraph in August. The fifteen leading foreign-aid charities pay six figure salaries to their chief executives, and these are the charities which receive the bulk of my donations.
My problem with this is the same as with politicians pay: Both I and my husband are educated to post-graduate level. Neither of us has ever had a salary even approaching that of an MP. Yet, we don’t feel poor or badly paid. On the contrary, we have a good lifestyle and feel very fortunate to be so well off. We still have incomes and savings well above the average in either Canada or the UK. So, it is very difficult for me to understand when I’m told that six figure salaries are necessary for charity executives. Nevertheless, for the time being I haven’t changed my pattern of giving, but I will be looking out for the report of the Public Administration Select Committee’s.
Secondly — Food Banks. I’ve blogged on this before, so I’ll keep it short. When I visited the UK before Xmas, I saw that the Food Bank industry has taken another step forward in the march to the domination of most pernicious, inefficient and wasteful means of poverty relief to ever undermine the welfare state. In Tesco’s I was mugged by staff handing out food bank vouchers. The supermarkets love these in Canada too – always less than enough to buy a substantial item of food, so you will add to it with your own money. The next step is to pile excess stock on the counter, so if you haven’t used your voucher, you can spend it on almost time-expired tinned tuna, or something similar. Outside Waitrose a woman volunteer had set out a table and asked me to remember to buy something to donate. Yes, that is such a good idea, paying over the odds for Waitrose tinned tomatoes to be given to someone on benefits, who could have bought two tins for the same money in Poundland. I told the Waitrose woman that I didn’t think the upmarket supermarket needed charitable help. I don’t think she understood me. I resent being made to feel like Scrooge by Christians with more good intentions than common-sense.
My politician of the year is George Osborne, though I say it with an embarrassed wince. He seems to be loathed equally by the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph, which suggests he is doing something right. While I take the opinions of the CEBR with a pinch of salt, the fact is that the UK economy is doing OK, unemployment figures ain’t too bad, and appointing Carney to the Bank of England was inspired. It looks as if Labour will get landslide in 2015, and that is a pity if it means Balls takes over.
Happy New Year everyone.
Edmonton Alberta, 5.30 pm, -26°C with windchill, snow.
2013 has been a good year for me personally, though it hasn’t felt like that all of the time. The big event was selling our house in Edmo and buying a coastguard’s cottage in Devon. I thought it was the right time to sell and move our capital back to Blighty, and for once my financial judgement seems to have been correct. And we have avoided a lot of the stress of repatriation by selling well in advance of our move next June. I’ve also had a couple of articles published this year, and I’ve got a credit in a book; although my real ambition is to finish my novel and get it published, these small achievements boost my confidence.
As far as politics is concerned, I end the year a far less enthusiastic Lib Dem than I was at the beginning.
There were a couple of things this year that really got to me emotionally. The first was Thatcher’s funeral. I loathed Thatcher. So did a half the population during the time she was in power. There was no way she was entitled to a
state ’ceremonial’ funeral. It was an insult to great leaders like Wellington and Churchill who had state funerals, and it was an insult too, to great Prime Ministers like Attlee or Lloyd George who didn’t. The funeral was divisive, and reflected badly on the politicians of all parties who attended it, showing them up as shallow opportunists.
Shallow opportunism was also in evidence after the death of Mandela. It was unfortunate, to put it mildly, that the same MPs who’d fallen over backwards to praise the supporter of apartheid, and bosom friend of torturer General Pinochet, were a few months later wanting to remind the world they’d once shaken hands with Mandela, or if not, knew someone who did. Mandela’s long march to freedom would have been significantly shorter without the Iron Lady.
Overall, the intellectually vapid and histrionic performance by MPs of all parties in 2013 left a bad smell, and will have done nothing to counter the general cynicism with which politicians are viewed nowadays.
Secondly, I still feel upset about the prejudice being whipped up towards the Roma people. I’m not able to view this issue with emotional detachment. I’m not sure why: I am not Roma, and my connections with the Roma community are historical and tenuous. But, I find the hatred being expressed to the Roma both appalling and quite frightening. At the very best, it takes our society back to the levels of prejudice shown against the Afro-Caribbean population in the 1960s. At worst we are part of a European trend that will end in ethnic cleansing, 1930s style.
And that brings me on to the subject of Nick Clegg. I’ve come to the conclusion that Clegg is just not an instinctive liberal. Time and time again, when he has to think on his feet, his pronouncements are illiberal, and then have to be corrected at a later stage, if at all. He had been described as a Europhile Tory, and that is probably correct. His comment about the Roma, quoted by Tanya Gold in her excellent Guardian article this week, was the last straw. It is really shameful that the comment of a Liberal leader gets quoted as an example of racism. I don’t like him as leader of the party. If we are to continue in coalition, then we need a leader who is liberal to the core. Until he is replaced, I’m going to be picky about what campaign work I involve myself with.
I end the year despondent about environmental issues. When we get to Devon, we will be retrofitting our cottage to reduce our carbon footprint as much as is practicable, or we can afford; but, it seems a futile gesture; no more than a means of reducing our fuel bills and placating our consciences. With no international agreement in sight that will result in significant reductions in emissions, anything we do as individuals, or as a country, is just pissing in the wind. In that context the coalition’s failure to live up to its green promise seems almost irrelevant.
I’ve decided that the only way I can stay in the Party is if I opt out of canvassing and other support in the next General Election. After his statement about the Roma in Sheffield, which I regard as racist, I don’t want to work to put Nick Clegg back into power.
I will still vote Liberal Democrat, and I’ll work for local council candidates, but I don’t want to go round arguing for Nick Clegg on the doorstep. I’d find it too embarrassing.
For most of my twenties almost the only literary fiction I read was feminist fiction. I read Simone de Beauvoir, Sylvia Plath, Erica Jong, Marilyn French, etc. etc. and, of course, Doris Lessing. Lessing was of particular interest to me, because like the young Lessing had been, I was at the time a member of the Communist Party. Indeed, some of the Party’s leaders, that I knew were portrayed in her novels.
So, I should be joining in the chorus of “she changed my life” right now, except that she didn’t and what is more, forty years later, I cannot recall what I saw in the novels at the time, any more than I can remember the process of faulty reasoning and exact level of appalling ignorance that led me to join the CPGB when I was seventeen.
Some of the women’s literature that I read then has stayed with me. Plath’s The Bell Jar meant a lot to me because I’d suffered from a severe depressive illness intermittently since I was eleven years old, and Plath described very accurately what that was like. I found Lessing’s description of mental breakdown in The Golden Notebook far less convincing. It was a very literary breakdown she described, and what was mental turmoil to Lessing was like a description of one of my better days, and probably would have seemed so to Plath too.
The Lessing novel I remember enjoying the most The Grass is Singing. Like most of her feminist readers, I stopped reading her when she started writing science fiction.