...a blog by Richard Flowers

Monday, April 03, 2017

Day 5932: The Firebird and the Dragon


So it has happened. Theresa May has sent the “dear John” to Donald Tusk (good elephant name, just sayin’) to let him know we are all shooting ourselves in all of our flappy feet by triggering Article 50.

Remember, if we all get BEHIND the Prime Monster, then when SHE goes over the cliff… we DON’T have to follow!

The Brex Maniacs tell us to be optimistic. So I’ll tell you what I am optimistic about: we CAN turn this around. We can FIX this. WE CAN WIN.

Let me put it in a story:

Never upon a time… the Island of Briton was without magic or stories. And the people were sad and angry.

So the King and the Queen put up a proclamation and asked: who among the free citizens will go to faraway lands to return with a magical animal to bring stories to the people.

From the people who stepped forward, the King chose a rich country squire, who spoke with clever words how he knew better than anyone what the people needed. But the Queen picked a stable lass who came from the city with a lot of pluck and a cheeky wink.

So each went out on a boat.

The rich man, who was very old and very wise, sailed off to the lands of iron and gold and returned with a Dragon. And the maid who was younger but some would say wiser, set her boat towards the sun and returned with a golden Firebird.

And the King said to the Queen, the Dragon is very large, and very cunning and very very strong: it can protect us from all of our enemies and they will fear and respect us. What good is your songbird, then?

And the Queen said to the King: what use is a land ravaged by your Dragon. My Firebird will sing and give people hope.

And the Dragon was just as large and just as cunning and even stronger than the King had said, but it was also envious, and avaricious, and gluttonous, and full of angry fire. And it ravaged the land from end to end, eating many of the people and stealing all of their money, before crawling into a deep cave and coiling up to sleep on its huge hoard of stolen gold in the dark heart of its dungeon lair.

And the people heard phoenix song and had hope.

The Dragon woke up angry and afraid. It didn’t like this at all. And it flew out of its cave in a fury to find the Firebird and burn it to ashes.

But from the ashes, the Firebird was reborn to sing its song again.

This made the Dragon even more afraid and even more angry and it came and burned the Phoenix to ashes again. And stomped on the ashes for good measure.

But you cannot kill a song like that. And the Firebird was reborn to sing once again.

Time after time the Dragon burned the Firebird. And time after time, the Firebird came back. Hope born again and again, in spite of every defeat.

And seeing all this, the people started to sing the Phoenix song. Just a few at first. But more and more. And this made the Dragon so frightened that it went away and hid.

And the people were able to live in hope and happiness, at least for a while, until enough of them might give in to greed, or fear, or envy and the Dragon might come back.

Because Dragons live forever. But hope never dies.

We are the Firebird, the Bird of Freedom; however much they burn us, we keep coming back. And we can beat the Dragon of fear and anger. With hope.

As a fluffy elephant, inheritor of the WOOLLY MAMMOTHS, I might just have a better claim to be a NATIVE Briton that any of you monkey-people who wandered here over the Doggerland in the last Ice Age or the many peoples, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, Normans, and all the rest who migrated here since.

I am English, and like most English I am a bit of a MONGREL. I’ve been a Londoner, an East-Ender; my Daddies are from Stockport; one is half-Scottish half-American; the other is of Yorkshire stock; we are from ALL OVER.

But Europe is my home and my family, a family that has spent my entire life – and my DADDIES’ entire lives (which is AGES!) – working for peace and prosperity, through art and science, through learning and living together as much as through trade. We make each other so much better off in so many more ways than just money. We show the World that there is another way, a better way, than wars and dictators.

The Leave campaign – never fact based – placed its great emotional appeal on two weapons: the grass is always greener and nostalgia for a better past.


I want people to remember the great days, the glory days when stopped being the SICK MAN of Europe and started to get better off, when we could AFFORD an NHS that treated people on time, when we could HALVE child poverty, when we could SAVE Bosnia AND protect the Falklands, when we could confidently INTRODUCE Human Rights and Freedom of Information, when we could feel we were good.

I want to them to remember ECONOMIC MIRACLES and COOL BRITANIA and remember that they happened WHEN WE WERE IN THE EU.

But this doesn’t need to be just nostalgia.

Europe will evolve without us, they have to, and hopefully they will become both a stronger economy and a fairer democracy. We have forfeited our right to be part of leading that change. But that does not mean we cannot continue to engage, to listen to what Europe wants, learn from them, help if we are able, if we are asked. Europe will be the green and pleasant land 21 miles away across the Channel.

The Tories have such a NARROW and PETTY vision of Britain, not a Great Britain but a GREY Britain, a cold offshore tax haven, under the choke of the Dragon.

But we can be BETTER THAN THAT. We WILL be better than that.

Tell the story of a Britain that listens to HOPE, not to FEARS, and takes our place again among the family of nations. The story of a people who are look bravely outward to new challenges, not inward to past failures. The story of how we can become again that Great Nation that leads in Europe, no need to cower away.

Tell them we ARE the Firebird. And we can SING.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Day 5909: Mr John Humphrys in Muddy Waters


Today’s lesson: when @BBCR4Feedback call an hour early and say they can call back in an hour… they aren’t going to call back.

How did we get to there? Well, the usual start to the week – listening to Daddy Richard shout at the radio – was interrupted by a moment of shocked silence when, as he tweeted, THIS happened:

“Jaw dropping moment as John Humphreys asks: doesn't it muddy the waters if we call far right terrorist murder of Jo Cox "terrorism" #r4today”

Life in the Today Programme goldfish bowl...

That generated… a fair number of retweets and replies, one of which said we should make it a proper complaint to the BBC. So that’s what we did, and posted it up on the Facebook too:

“After a jawdropping moment on this morning's Today programme, I have submitted this complaint to the BBC, via

During an interview with Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, in charge of Counter Terrorism, Mr Rowley warned the public should not forget the terrorist threat from right-wing extremists, and cited the murder of MP Jo Cox.
John Humphreys responded by asking "didn't that muddy the waters" and suggesting that the murderer Thomas Mair was mentally ill.
The judge, sentencing Thomas Mair, said: "There is no doubt this murder was done for the purpose of advancing a political, racial and ideological cause namely that of violent white supremacism and exclusive nationalism most associated with Nazism and its modern forms."
Dismissing genuine terrorism as actions of "lone mentally ill person" is factually wrong and dangerous to public safety. And the implication that terrorism is something done only be foreigners / non-white people / Muslims is dangerously close to accepting the premise of the racists that Thomas Mair represents.
If the police are describing the Jo Cox murder as terrorism, the BBC should not be questioning that, but asking itself serious questions about the climate of right-wing hate that has been allowed foment in the UK, for which the BBC by airing or repeating (as here) the views of these people bears some responsibility.

And THAT generated another lot of traffic and clearly a LOT of other people were quite cross too, because that was when the Radio FEEDBACK programme got in touch and asked if they could talk about that Tweet and the reaction to what Mr Humphrys said.

So they said that they would call between 10am and 1pm, Wednesday. Actually they called at 9.15, just as we were getting on the Jubilee line.

So, IF this ever happens to you, do not let them say: “it’s fine we will call you back in an hour”. No! You say “I WILL TALK TO YOU NOW”!

Anyway, here is what we WOULD have said:

Why was I so taken about by John Humphrys suggestion that calling the murder of MP Jo Cox terrorism was “muddying the waters”?

The Facts – the police, the crown prosecution service, the sentencing judge all agreed that this was a politically motivated terrorist murder. These are not liberal snowflakes, they are serious people. Jo Cox’s killer, Thomas Mair, was psychiatrically examined and found to be in his own mind and fit to stand trial for his actions.

This is the BBC’s own report of the sentencing judge’s remarks: - note the emphasis on the high degree of planning and premeditation, as well as the political motivation. This was not the random act of a “madman”.

The right wing press – who have an agenda – might question this. But I expect very senior BBC journalists to know the facts and not repeat propaganda.

The Context – the interview was with Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley asking the public to contact the police with information if they are worried or suspicious about their neighbours. And as a Liberal, I’m not 100% happy with his “be afraid and inform on your neighbours” agenda here. So actually, I was giving him some credit when he was reminding people that there is far right political terrorism to watch out for as well. When Mr Humphrys interrupted. But if anything is going to “muddy the waters” it is the suggestion from the interviewer that some terrorism isn’t as worth while contacting the police about because it is a fascist rather than ISIS who is threatening people’s lives.

And I think you could tell that the Assistant Commissioner was somewhat taken aback by this sudden derailing of the interview, too.

The Narrative – because it’s all very familiar to hear white terrorists described as “a lone wolf” or “mentally ill”. These excuses get repeated whenever a white person commits an atrocity like this. Anders Breivek who killed all those children in Sweden; Timothy McVeigh the Oklahoma bomber; Dylann Roof, the man who shot nine black churchgoers at a service in Charleston Carolina; the list goes on, back to the Unabomber and earlier.

The message is “white people don’t commit terrorism; only brown people do terrorism”.

And it’s wrong.

We don’t hear people challenging the idea that the murder of Lee Rigby was terrorism. We don’t hear people suggesting that the shoe bomber Richard Reid was mentally ill. And it’s not like we have no experience of white sectarian terrorism in this country.

The BBC has a responsibility not to perpetuate this myth, which leads to…

The hate crimes – we’ve seen a surge in attacks against women and minorities, particularly people who are immigrants or even just perceived as immigrants, fuelled by the xenophobic language of the Leave campaign and UKIP and now even the more right-wing elements of the government. The murder of Jo Cox happened at the height of the most horribly divisive and racially charged referendum campaign and on very the day Nigel Farage was unveiling his Nazi-imagery-evoking “Breaking Point” poster.

And people want to deny there is a connection.

The right wing, the nationalists, want people to think that only foreigners can be terrorists. They want people to be afraid. But they don’t want it to come back on them. And they won’t take responsibility. They want to deny that there are extremist views on their side, and that among those extremists are some people who use violence and murder for their political ends.

I do not expect senior BBC journalists to be giving support to these people.

The excuse – the excuse given in reply to my complaint was that John was just putting a challenging question. Well, firstly, it wasn’t a question. It might have had the form of a question, but it was just an assertion. It was not posed as a question, more a muttered aside. And it presupposes that Jo Cox murder could not be terrorism if the “question” put is whether that statement muddies the waters.

But also, if you’re going to ask challenging questions, why start at that point? Why not challenge the Assistant Commissioner over why the terror alert is still at the second highest level after years and years, and doesn’t that make it a bit pointless? Or challenge him on the threats that the police say that they’ve defeated – what sort of threats are we talking about: knife attacks, anthrax letters or something on the scale of 7/7? That would give the public a genuine insight into the threat level, in a way that questioning whether Jo Cox murder was terrorism would not.

The Farage agenda gets far too much of a free ride from the BBC already, with UKIP – or their proxies in the Tory Party – on the air far more often than their support however you count it would justify. But this was a particularly poor interview – unquestioning of the authoritarian agenda at the start and then then tossing in this unjustified assertion that would not have been out of place in the Daily Mail.

John Humphrys has a reputation to live up to. We should expect more of him.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Day 5882: The Prophecy


This is a version of my entry to the “Britain in 2030” essay competition run by “Your Liberal Britain”. But because of their 500-word limit you lucky readers get about 50% more stuff!

Congratulations to winner, Lee Howgate, and all the runners up.

Now… I feel a vision coming on…

It is 2030 and Tim Farron’s Liberal Democrat-led government is seeking re-election after a remarkable if turbulent five years.

Sal Brinton, elected as presiding officer of the new Senate of the Commonwealth of British States and Nations, reflects on the three outstanding achievements of the Lib Dem Prime Minister.

First is the rescue of the economy from the disastrous protectionist experiment – the so-called “Trump Slump”. Freedom to trade and travel across 35 countries of the European Union has seen a flourishing of new ideas and new jobs. The young people who had felt their future torn away by “Brexit” rediscovered a new global sprit of Britain. The older generation have remembered that they actually liked going to Europe. True, the end of the pound was a high price to pay for readmission, and the process nearly foundered because of it, but the huge boost given to the economy by joining the Euro at such an advantageous rate has left many wondering at the “Project Fear” scare stories of the discredited Brexiteers.

Second was the healing brought about through the “Big British Conversation”, inspired by the way that new members of the Liberal Democrats in 2015 came up with new ways for the Party to review its goals and policies, which was the starting point for the constitutional reforms. For the first time people across Britain had felt that their ideas were being listened to, that they were in control of the outcome. Not everyone got what they wanted, but almost everyone felt the outcome was fair enough. The conversation has even been such a success that Ambassador Clegg is now being asked to help the Union roll out a similar process to rebuild the institutions of Europe.

Agreeing the framework for government devolution, instead of the haphazard approach that had resulted in a wildly differing powers from Scotland’s Parliament to London’s Mayor, gave people back the feeling they were all of equal importance to the country. Regional identities such as Cornwall, Wessex, Mercia, Yorkshire and Northumbria re-emerged when, after years of nationalist demands for an English identity, it turned out that there wasn’t one.

No one had expected Prince William to decline the throne, but no one was surprised when Kate Middleton-Windsor beat Tony Blair by a landslide to become our first elected Queen. Sean Bean had modestly laughed off moves to make him hereditary King of the North.

The axis of politics had shifted, from the old, backward-looking workers v capital left-right of the Twentieth Century, to the Twenty-First Century “Outward or Inward” of Liberal Internationalists versus Protectionists. The old two-party system had finally admitted it couldn’t cope, leading at long last to fair votes. While the right-wing Tories struggled on in alliance with former-Faragists in the newly-merged United Kingdom Conservative Party, some places saw up to four candidates competing for the label True Labour. Jeremy Corbyn remains leader of one of them. No one is sure which.

(As for Mr Farage, he was unable to take up the peerage offered him in the resignation honours of the last Tory Prime Minister as the House of Lords was abolished while he was still away on a six-month junket in America.)

Third, and in many ways most important, are the foundations laid for a future of opportunity.

Today, the Secretary of State for Sustainable Development Sarah Olney is at the ceremony to break ground on the first of four new fusion reactors, while Environment Secretary Liz Leffman cuts the ribbon on the latest tidal lagoon power plant and is able to announce that the Zero Carbon Britain target has been achieved. Health Secretary Norman Lamb will welcome the completion of the National Health and Care Service, and Home Secretary Caroline Lucas is widely praised for the latest figures that show implementing Liberal Democrat reforms to the drugs law has both cut crime and the number of people sent to prison.

On the World stage, Foreign Secretary Alistair Carmichael is at the United Nations getting them to agree to establishing no-fly zones and safe havens that will protect civilians threatened with war. He was right to resist calls to join further American military adventures, and instead we have pioneered the use of drone aircraft for delivering humanitarian aid not bombs. Meanwhile our forces in the Joint European Defence Initiative, led by Lord Ashdown, have now participated in four UN Peacekeeping Actions and rescued more than a million refugees from the Mediterranean.

Britain is getting back to work. British-made Jaguar-Tesla self-driving electric autocars are driving themselves to France, Germany, Italy and Poland. West Country Hemp is already established as a world leading brand. ARM holdings has bought out the remains of Apple, and are planning to launch a “retro” ZX iPhone. British and international cast and crew are filming Star Wars Episode XII at Elstree. People are working fewer hours but producing more, and Chancellor Ed Balls (International Labour) will announce the increase of the Citizens’ Income, sharing the growth in GDP.

We will build our success on openness to bold new ideas, to sharing our wealth, and on being part of the ever-wider family. This is now a Liberal Britain.

Alas, it’s only just over a month later, and this already seems shockingly na├»ve. The notion that we might somehow swerve and avoid the worst of Brexit and Trump Presidency has been shown to be hollow in the light of Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech setting out her 12-point plan for a hard-as-nails cliff-edge Brexit and a first fortnight from the new Administration in Washington that has seen a blizzard of executive orders and Constitution-baiting and plumbed new depths of deceit, from illusory crowd sizes to invisible walls to imaginary massacres.

Theresa May makes her plans if not clearer at least fractionally less opaque – and they are plans for a cold and cheerless tax haven Britain, lowest common denominator Britain without social care and a rundown NHS, where the Fat Cats can protect their assets and the just about managing just about can’t.

Now firmly in the claws of the Brextreemists, they drag her further and further to the exploitation right, seeming almost gleefully to desire the failure of our exit negotiations so they can go buccaneeringly alone, quite wilfully ignorant to the fact that we can’t just “adopt WTO tariffs” without the agreement of the WTO’s 169 members, one of whom is the EU.

And our non-opposition Opposition of Jeremy Corbyn is three-line-whipping his Labour rabble to support the Tories as Theresa takes her suicide-leap into the arms of the odious Trump.

And as Boris “punishment beatings” Johnson tells us that it trivialises the holocaust to compare Theresa’s fawning love-in with the man who has placed an actual White Supremacist in charge of America’s security with the rise to power of the 30’s iteration of Fascism, satire lies weeping and bleeding.

So what use is a fluffy little homespun future, when all about us the darkness gathers and the very worst of human spirit is in ascendance? All the use in the world, if it gives you hope.

Find hope where you can.

History sometime rhymes in odd ways. After the Scottish Independence Referendum, the Nationalists were galvanised and swept to stunning victories in Holyrood and Westminster elections. I think a lot of people assumed the EU Referendum would be the same. Except the SNP lost that Referendum, whereas the Farragist Nationalists won on Brexit. And as in Scotland, oddly rhyming, it is the losing side that is now winning.

Support is coming back to the Liberal Democrats. Sometimes in very surprising places. We understand the big swings to the Gold Party in Remain areas like Witney and sensationally Richmond Park, but there are some even bigger swings in those Labour/Leave heartlands of Sunderland and Rotherham. This cannot just be a surge of Remainiac votes; there’s got to be some change of mind behind this.

Perhaps what united and energised the people in Scotland wasn’t crude “nationalism”; it was a sense of a bright future ripped away.

Perhaps what’s behind this change of mind, is a sense that this is not the change people voted for.

Find hope where you can.

Stay strong, my fluffy lovelies, stay safe. Resist the urge to fight hate with hate. Though the darkness closes around us, there is still a hope of light. We will build that Liberal Britain. One day.