I seldom write about travel, and when I do, it’s only about spectacular experiences. I have never written about misadventures that caused so much anxiety and grief that I wonder why we carried on when things started to go wrong. But when you have such an experience that lasted from the time of beginning the journey to the very end, and beyond, I thought on the hindsight, it was an adventure worth remembering, even though we were not that amused when it all happened.
It began when we started our journey to France on a mid-June Monday. We had already moved from our Kent home, so we stayed overnight in Ramsgate. In the morning, as we left for the ferry from Dover, it was a last minute dash because of the roadworks along the way. As we were waiting for the ferry, I realised we forgot to book the European breakdown cover. I made a last minute frantic call to the breakdown provider (I had three covers those days, don’t ask me why and how!) and selected an option that was slightly high priced but provided more cover. To be honest, that was the best last minute call I’ve ever made; if I hadn’t done that, we probably had had to come back without the car. So with the breakdown sorted, we set sail on the way to our destination, Normandy. We planned what we’d do each day, and had a busy schedule ahead but we were sure that we were going to have a great time. Only if we knew what lay ahead of us.
Here, I’d flashback to the week before we started our journey. I was on M25 on my way home and I suddenly felt the car lost all its power. As if it went into a limp mode. The car was only over a year old, so you don’t expect a major fault to develop. The breakdown mechanic couldn’t fix it, but he reset the warning light and asked to start and see if the traction is back. It worked. So I thought it was a freak incident and I must have done something to cause that. The dealer could not have a look in such a short notice, so we decided to carry on with the plans and get the car fixed later.
Coming back to 20th of June, we did the usual. On reaching Calais, a trip to Adinkerke to buy cheap tobacco and Speculoos, a quick trip to Carrefour Mivoix and late lunch at the McDonalds there. With all that done and a cranky terrible two, we headed for belle Normandie. Except that we were running a bit late and looked like we wouldn’t get to the campsite before 8:30 pm. It was a long drive but that never bothered us. Not until the things started to go wrong very quickly. We were approaching Boulogne-sur-mer on A16 where the road goes on an incline. It’s not steep by any means, but the car generally needs to work harder. Whilst on that section, the car lost power again! Second time within a week. I exactly knew what went wrong when the engine warning flashed on the dashboard. It made me panic a bit. A breakdown on a foreign country is a terrifying prospect, let alone that happening on the autoroute meant we’d have to pay highway authority the fees to be towed away from the autoroute. So I decided to carry on driving at 50mph until we reached the next exit. Thankfully it was a country road and I carried on driving for a while before we stopped on the verge. My satnav said it’s a place called Beuvrequin. I remember the place we stopped, with houses on the right and the other side of the road, had vast fields.
After we calmed down our crying daughter, upset that the holiday might not go ahead, I called the breakdown agency. I reported the breakdown and was told that the wait time is about 45 mins. Being parked on the pavement by a country road was not the best of the places, especially getting stares from people who had to go on the grass. A few minutes later, I received a call from the French contact from the breakdown company, telling me that they cannot send assistance because during my application I said we’ll be going to Belgium and then France. So, tow away will have to come from Belgium, and they don’t to towing across borders. Infuriated and anxious, I called the UK number, and after explaining the situation, they said we should get assistance and they will arrange with the French colleagues. Another 15 min later, which is almost an hour since I was told that the assistance is 45 min away, I received another call from the French number saying they are sending breakdown van and it’ll be coming around 5:45 pm. By then, I doubted any garage will be open.
The breakdown truck arrived slightly earlier than we were told. As expected, the mechanic didn’t know a word of English. I thought that would be ideal to practice my French. I probably would have, if I knew all technical terms. I didn’t even know what brakes are called. Anyway, the guy picked the car on his truck and asked us to go in the truck to the garage. I think that was the highlight of the day and my daughter loved travelling in a truck. We went to a garage in Boulogne-sur-mer. He met another colleague who had a computer to connect to the engine management system. They decided that it’s beyond their knowledge and learning that the car was under warranty, they said the work can only be done in an Opel garage. By that time we gave up our hope to get the car fixed that day because it was already nearly 6 pm. The mechanic said he’ll take us to their garage to keep the car overnight and we can arrange the taxi pick-up from the garage. We were offered a replacement car or stay in a hotel and get the car looked at the next morning. I was confident that it’ll just be resetting the alarm and we’ll be able to drive on. So we chose the hotel and waited at the garage. The taxi came around 6:30 pm to take us to the hotel in Boulogne.
The hotel was pleasant and it was located close to Boulogne city centre. We walked down to a square called Place Dalton and had a nice dinner, trying to forget the headache we’re about to have the following day. The following day we had nothing to do but wait for the updates from the breakdown company. So we were just cooped up in the room. About 9 am we received a call saying that the breakdown garage will take the car to the nearest Opel garage. I thought it would be done in minutes, so our hopes of having our holiday soared high again. But that state of euphoria didn’t last long as a follow up at 11 am confirmed that the car was still in the garage. The agent said she’ll call me back shortly. When she did, it was even worse news. Opel garage was fully booked and they wouldn’t be able to fix it before Wednesday or even Thursday. At that point, we thought we’d had enough and started thinking of cancelling the holiday and go back home. As a last ditch attempt, we demanded a replacement car. After waiting another 10 minutes for a callback, we were told that our only chance was if we left the hotel immediately because the car hire place they use will be shut from 12 pm. It was already getting towards 11:30 am. So we picked all our tonnes of luggage, waiting for the taxi. Then the taxi dropped us at the wrong place, which meant we had to drag all our luggage and a toddler across a busy junction without crossings. When we arrived at the Enterprise Cars office, there was only one employee, waiting for us. It took another half an hour to get sorted. But in the end, we had our car.
I wish our story could end here, but it wasn’t unfortunately. Our understanding of the breakdown cover was that we get the hire car until the time we are ready to return to Boulogne on our way back. On Wednesday afternoon, as we’re exploring the American war memorial in Colleville-sur-mer, I received a call from the breakdown company that our car was fixed and they want the hire car back. Shouting or swearing is normally my cup of tea, but if I lost my temper that day, I’d expect people would have sympathised with me. I kept my calm but said that they are expecting me to make a 600 km journey because they screwed up a breakdown repair. It also seemed like the day of our return, Saturday, is only for the Car buyers at the Opel garage and the repairs department is shut. I was told very sternly to go back on Friday to which I refused, agreeing to pay the difference for an additional day of car hire. Half an hour later, I received another call that the garage had been very understanding and made a very rare exception of opening the repair garage on Saturday.
With the good news that the car was fixed and that we can get on with rest of the holiday, we felt relaxed then and enjoyed the rest of the days. Except the fact that Normandy is where it rains most in France and it rained really bad the week we went there. Unlike previous caravan holidays, we opted for tent that time, and the floor was filled with water because of the leaks in the floor sheet. We spent most of our stay in the tents mopping the floor, wet feet, soaked trainers and a damp tent. Despite this little inconvenience, I felt the time in Normandy was much more enriching than in Paris. Just when we were about to enjoy the holiday, having lost nearly two days, it was over and it was time to come home.
We started with plenty of time in hand, thinking of collecting the car early so we could go to the cheap wine store in Calais. We got to the Enterprise Car place at about 12. But then we realised that they are shut in Saturdays and we needed to drop the keys at a hotel opposite the car hire place, past the big junction. Les Gens de Mer — the hotel looked quite nice as we browsed the lobby and menu while we waited for the taxi. The taxi arrived late, and we were on our way to the Opel garage near Outreau where our car was getting repaired. When we got there, the manager said everything was done and they are getting the car ready. It did surprise me a bit because the car was ready on Thursday. We waited nearly 45 minutes before we were given the keys. We were at the last minute rush again, trying to get cheap fuel from Carrefour and head for the ferry. That was the beginning of another nightmare journey.
As we headed back to Calais, I noticed that the tyre pressure warning sign came on. I was not too worried at the beginning, because sometimes if one tyre had less pressure than the others, the sign came on. But as we went closer to Calais, I started to get more and more worried as the pressure kept on dropping. When the other tyres read 38 psi, the fourth tyre was at 25 psi. There must have been a leak, I thought. But where would that have happened? The car has always been at the breakdown garage or at the Opel garage. Did they just find out and handed me a car with a leak? Surely they can’t be that unscrupulous! But everything signed that way.
So we went back to Carrefour, filled the tank and put some air in the faulty tyre thinking it might have some problem that’s going to fix itself. When we boarded the ferry, I left the car with 35 psi on the tyre and hoping that it should stay like that when we reached the UK. 90 minutes later when we came down to the deck, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The tyre was completely flat. And we had landed as well, so we didn’t have any time to change the tyre. It was a Saturday afternoon and most of the garages would have been shut by 4 pm.
Now I made a faux pas at that moment. I had the option to come off the ferry and get the tyre changed with the spare tyre. We could have then driven home because our spare tyre is a full spec one and there is no speed restriction. Silly me, I didn’t remember that at the moment of madness when I thought if I take too long changing the tyre, and something else is wrong, I might lose the last chance to get home that night. So I decided to drive on to the next open garage, which was Kwik-fit. As I drove on the alloy wheel, the sharp and annoying screeching deafened our ears despite the windows were up. I was worried that there will be damage to the wheel as well but it was a relief that there wasn’t.
Kwik-fit changed the tyre straight away and we also got another tyre which was getting towards the legal limit. After that, we hit the road, hoping to get some dinner at Bluewater or Lakeside, places that we used to visit often but missed a lot when we moved. After a filling dinner, with our daughter falling asleep in the car, we finally felt that after all this, the holiday is coming to an end. But there are more twist in the tale that one can imagine. Just because everything had to go wrong on that trip, as we were on M6 nearing Coventry, my daughter woke up and started crying. We didn’t want to stop, being so close at home, and as I tried to accelerate harder, BANG! The engine warning light came back on and the car won’t speed beyond 50 mph. The sting in the tail that was waiting for us before we reached home. So all that fuss at the Opel garage, did they do sod all apart from puncture the tyre? Nevertheless, my daughter’s incessant crying made me carry on rather than stop and ask for another breakdown. I just pushed the pedal down and used the downward slopes on the road to speed up and use the momentum to drive the car at a higher speed as the road became flat or went up. Without much difficulty, we reached home, bringing a close to the worst travel experiences we ever had.
Like many stories have an epilogue to the end, the tale of our misfortunes does not end there. I had to take many days off as I was unable to commute to work while getting the car fixed. Back then, I was doing a commute of 300 miles! During next few days, the car was repaired, and the fault reappeared almost immediately at times. In the end, it took a call to their grievance line to report the issue to get the technical team involved, who sorted the problem. One of those days when the car was broken down, I had to hire a car to go to a meeting in London. There, as I was trying to get on the Hammersmith bridge, I was caught at the box junction and was fined £70. Now the car belonging to the hire company, they received the fine notice first. By the time I received it, I couldn’t appeal online, so I had to send it over email. I then got the email address wrong and was then facing a court action since the first notice was received much earlier and the normal 2 weeks response window had gone. This dragged on until November. So nearly 5 months after that week in June, we put an end to the dreadful journey, but before that end, I had to pay out the final amount which had since doubled.
So, there we are, our story ends here. Terrible experience to sum it up. And I believe we won’t forget it very soon. Yet, the good memories will last longer. Visit to Utah, Omaha and Juno beaches, our daughter’s excited walk in the sand, the American war memorial and its deafening silence at Colleville-Sur-mer, the Bayeux tapestry, Caen, beautiful village of Beauvron-en-auge, riviera of the north Deauville and Trouville-Sur-mer, surreal grace of Lisieux abbey, sunrise over the trees at our site in the middle of nowhere at Château Le Brévedent, the quaint villages Le Pin and Blangy-le-château near our campsite, the bridge at Le Havre — the memories are countless and one day, if not already, they will outweigh the dreadful experience about the journey.
Just as I finished this with a positive spin, I remembered to add one last note about our holiday from hell. The year this happened was 2016, and I guess we all know what happened that year between 20th and 25th June. Yes, Brexit. That happened while we were on this holiday as well. Before we left, we were all confident that it was just a paper exercise to finish off UKIP, and in fact felt smug to see the smiles disappear from the leavers’ faces. On 24th when the results came out, we were going to Trouville-sur-mer. The entire day was spent in disbelief, then frustration and then anger, as all the lies started to surface. Brexit was the pinnacle of the catastrophes that week and I believe it was symbolised by everything that went wrong with the car. It was a nightmare, getting a simple thing done took forever, service on both sides of the border was equally appalling, and above all, since it happened, things were never the same. You live in fear that things will go wrong again, and so it did. The car proved my premonitions, and Brexit will go the same way. I think there will be a time in future where all good and terrible memories will fade away, and we will remember the journey just as our own Brexit disaster. I think that should say it all.
We were just returning from our week long break in Paris. The day was hot, at times in mid-thirties. We anticipated a cooler weather in the UK. When we reached Folkestone, the temperature didn’t plummet. I thought for a brief moment that it was perhaps the wrong week to be on holiday. It would have been better had the weather here been worse.
But that thought made me think further. Why is it that the weather had to be worse here to make a holiday abroad seem more pleasant? Is it because spending all the money and effort for a break away from the usual cold and damp weather now seemed worthless because anybody who stayed here enjoyed the sun just the same? And is it not the same problem with the wealth? No matter how well off one seems to be, they don’t feel exclusive enough if the others had what they have. That we are not happy with what we have got, no matter how much it is — isn’t that the first symptom of inequality of wealth? Sunshine is ubiquitous, just like all resources on earth that we exploit, but we all want a bigger share. So when we look in contempt at other people for being wealthy and not doing enough to help the poor, we should look at ourselves as well. WE, are part of it, and it needs reminding all the time if we even hope to make a difference one day.
The day after, we were eating Father’s Day dinner in a restaurant. It’s not a Michelin star place, but a chain restaurant mainly catered for middle-class clientele. I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation at the table next to us. A middle-aged man, his Aussie partner and opposite them sat a young man of early twenties with headphone on the ear and a woman about the same age. It seemed it was the boy’s family and the girl was the girlfriend. They were talking about the Grenfell Tower and the young woman was vociferously explaining the shortcomings of the councils, the legal implications, where Labour was wrong, where Tories were wrong. She sounded compelling and had won the debate at the table.
Yet, her argument, albeit filled with facts and legal jargon, lacked a basic factor. It lacked empathy for the families that were ruined — the human factor in the equation of the accountabilities. She is a Uni student, and with her knowledge, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was doing politics. I thought of the a time if she became a politician. She could present an excellent speech but could still be totally aloof from the people she’s standing up for.
The political elite of this country, irrespective of the party, has this issue of connecting with the common public. If not all, the majority of them, especially the party frontbenchers, hails from a privileged upbringing, and learned politics as theory and analysing the history rather than following the first principles of politics — understanding people. And by not understanding the public or by making the public think that politicians are above their class, it alienated public from most mainstream politicians and paved paths for opportunistic populist parties. The image of one Nigel Farage holding a pint of beer comes to mind.
Brexit results showed the danger of populism and the permanent damage it’ll inflict on the course of UK’s future. It’s about time that the mainstream parties start diversifying their candidate portfolio. A number of barriers have been broken in recent years in terms of politics and inclusion of candidates of various background, but classism is another hurdle to overcome. Social engineering in UK public service is a fact, and unless this prejudices are removed, a politician will never be representative of the public they are meant to represent.
And this realisation brought home the two random thoughts together. We live in a society where we are taught seek more, have more than others. Our actions define our own future, and others’ as well. Until we reach a point where we learn to think differently or our inherent tendency to create inequality is neutralised by a system fair to all, we will not be living in a society we can be proud to be a part of. And to achieve an equal society, the equality should not be devolved or merely representative, but the equality which will be entitled, ubiquitous.
But then, will it ever happen? After all, sitting here, writing about all this rather than doing something about it, I’ve just followed the benevolent socialist bandwagon, who talks about reforming the world but does nothing.
A good friend once told me this story:
There was a devout man. He prayed to God every day and thanked him for his existence on earth. He always believed that if he was in any kind of trouble, God will help him out. And so God did. One time when his child had fever, and he prayed and prayed. The next morning his child was cured completely; he even went to school. Or the other time when he ran into debt and after praying to God, he had the dream and found an untouched scratch card lying inside a book, and he won enough money to clear his debts.
One day our devout man was working in his office. It started to rain heavily around the lunch hour. The people thought the rain would stop soon. But it carried on, and the water started to rise. The banks of the river nearby had burst, and a flash flood followed. There was a TV at the pantry area in the corner. In the middle of share price displays, there was a woman on screen with an angelic face, making an announcement that everybody should leave the area straight away. Everyone in the office packed their bags and rushed to leave the building. Everyone but our friend. He started praying, so the disaster would stop. Colleagues tried to dissuade him, but he was firm in his belief. His colleagues thought he was mad, but he knew God will help him.
Half and hour went by. The water is gushing inside the building. The devout man is still asking God to put an end to this awful weather. There was a loud honk outside. A rescue truck is rescuing stranded people to take them up to high ground. Our friend looked out of the window.
“Hey there! Come downstairs, there’s nothing to worry. The water isn’t deep. We got you”
“Thanks, but I’m fine here. God will save us. You should pray as well“
“What nonsense! Come right now, we got other people to rescue and the water is getting higher”
“God will make it all stop. You’ll see. You carry on, help the others“
“Thanks, but I’m fine here. God will save us. You should pray as well“
“What nonsense! Come right now, we got other people to rescue and the water is getting higher”
“God will make it all stop. You’ll see. You carry on, help the others“
And the truck drove away. The man went back to his prayer. Half an hour went by. The ground floor is under a waist deep water. A big siren and flashing lights outside. A fire engine is passing by. It comes to a halt as the fireman noticed the man looking out of the office window.
“Hang in there fella, we’ll get the ladder to you!“
“I don’t need your ladder. The God almighty will soon put an end to this.“
“What a load of rubbish! Get on the ladder now. We can’t stay here long, water will get in the engine“
“You save yourself my friend. God will save me. He always had in the past“
“Good luck to you on that.“
“I don’t need your ladder. The God almighty will soon put an end to this.“
“What a load of rubbish! Get on the ladder now. We can’t stay here long, water will get in the engine“
“You save yourself my friend. God will save me. He always had in the past“
“Good luck to you on that.“
And the fire engine went away. The man was feeling a bit anxious now. Is God not happy with him? Has he done something wrong? “I promise I will pray more, dear God! It’s just the thoughts about work and family distracted me lately. But I will, once again, be your true servant“. He started praying more feverishly. Half an hour…then an hour went by. It’s getting dark, and there is no sign of the rain to stop. The water has come up to the first floor. Our man went to the roof, so god can save him. “Ah I see. He probably wasn’t planning to stop the rain. It must be a boat, like Noah’s, that will save me. I know now why God waited for so long. He wanted the water to rise so he can send the ark“. The man suddenly felt that God hadn’t forsaken him, and he was too blind to see it. He watched out for the boat, but was disturbed by a very loud whirring noise again—
A helicopter is circling over the buildings. Our man is suddenly flooded with shining light from the helicopter. They lowered the rope ladder, to rescue the last few stranded people. A booming voice came from the copter
“ Hello there! Grab the ladder carefully and climb up inside”.
The man thought that wasn’t the way he expected the help to come. And he refused. The pilot explained that he won’t be able to come back and he must escape. But our man refused. There will be a boat soon. The helicopter flew away.
The man started praying again. Minutes went by, then an hour. The water has risen to the roof. He is standing facing the sea of water that engulfed all buildings around. He is suddenly panic-stricken. That God wouldn’t help him this time. He started wondering what sins he had committed that God is annoyed with him. The water is rising fast. It’s up to his ankles, then waist and in a few more minutes he was standing with his chest under water. He held on to the handrails, knowing it’ll all be over in a few minutes. Faces of his wife and son flashed in front of his eyes. And that all his prayers didn’t manage to move God, that was more hurtful. He felt betrayed. With water almost up to his neck, he lets out a desperate howl, “Why dear God did you abandon me? I have always been faithful to you. What have I done wrong? Please help me!“
Suddenly there was a bolt of lightning. And a few more. The dark sky was lit up with electric blue flashes. Then, as our man looked up, silhouette of a man appeared, and the God spoke,
“Fucking idiot, who do you think alerted you of the flood, and sent you the truck, fire engine and the helicopter? I thinks it’s better to have no followers than the blind ones like you!”
He disappeared in the clashing and colliding clouds. The water isn’t rising anymore. The devout man gazed at the sky, awestruck.
“I was right! My lord has saved me again. I saw his face! I’m glad I waited until the very last moment” – he thought.
And then, there was a loud sigh, then out came a big wave, and the man was washed away into nothingness. Even the God had had enough of this delusional moron.
Over 17 million people voted for Brexit out of 46 million electorate. Within the first hour of the shocking morning of the 24th June, it was clear that all the promises and dreams of claiming back the glory land was a farce. The first lifeline was the desperate call for a second referendum. The second, the utter chaos that followed in the Tory and UKIP camp, as their bunch of lies came to light one after another. Then there was the High court and the Supreme Court ruling for giving MPs a vote to trigger Article 50. There were options for a soft Brexit with access to single market and free movement. And then the vote. The final say before it was all over. And it was. Thanks to the deluded 17 million, thanks to the jokers Farage and Boris, thanks to the scheming Daily Mail and Daily Express, and finally thanks to the bloody three-line whip from Corbyn, the fucking show is finally over. There’s no more lifeline; only the grim future with a racist molester as the main ally for UK. Or possibly the only ally left. The road to perdition starts here…
“Yes, I am a traitor, if you are a patriot, if you are a defender of our homeland, I am a traitor to my homeland; I am a traitor to my country… if patriotism is the claws of your village lords, … if patriotism is the police club, if your allocations and your salaries are patriotism,… if patriotism is not escaping from our stinking black-minded ignorance, then I am a traitor” – Nazim Hikmet
There are two pieces of news circulated in the media, at two different corners of the world, last week. In India, the famous actor, producer and director Aamir Khan stated in an interview that his wife Kiran was scared of the future of their children due to growing intolerance in the country. On the other corner of the world, cinemas in the UK refused to broadcast Lord’s Prayer before the films, for the period building up to Christmas festivities. Both these news caused uproar and debates in social spheres and the media flared the gravity of the incidents beyond proportion, creating national headlines. Although the two pieces of stories are seemingly unrelated, they are intertwined by the concept of intolerance, and social vigilantism. This is an attempt to analyse first incident using the latter to demonstrate that intolerance is not only limited to the confines of a region, religion or country.
Aamir Khan is one of the most gifted mainstream actors of Indian film industry. After featuring in films with resounding success, Aamir moved into directing his own films and made films on contemporary issues in the Indian society. One of his recent films, PK, based in the religious vaingloriousness of the humans, became a big hit in India, despite the ultra right-wing Hindu groups threatened closure of the film and vandalised the cinemas in a number of cities. With a huge fan base, gained since his first film around 1989, Aamir is also one of the most successful Bollywood actors. Despite being nominated for the national awards a number of times, Aamir refrained from attending as he had no faith in selection procedure for the awards. In a recent interview, he admitted that despite living all is life in India, it’s the first time he is concerned about the future of his children as there appears to be a growing unrest and intolerance in the country. I only came across the news the next morning by the tempest in the teacup, as the Facebook was found flooded with condemnation and criticism, mostly personal attacks on his ethnicity and religion. Aamir instantly became the target of social media witch hunt, a traitor and a Muslim sympathiser of terrorism. It wasn’t only limited to the overzealous public venting off their feelings, but other celebrities weighed in as well. This affair culminated in Aamir releasing a public statement. The statement was more of a clarification of his interview rather than a reconciliation to the growing media pressure, expecting a public apology. The nation is still enraged, and the abuses are continued as observed in social media.
I may have heard the Lord’s Prayer before, but wouldn’t recognise it. Some of the words are like this-“…Give us this day our daily bread,and forgive us our debts,as we also have forgiven our debtors.And lead us not into temptation,but deliver us from evil…”Church of England made an ad on Lord’s Prayer and wanted to broadcast it in cinemas before the films started. Majority of the cinemas including Odeon, Cineworld, Showcase have refused to play the short film due to their policy. A public uproar ensued in the island nation, with a dismayed portrait of Archbishop of Canterbury featuring front pages of nations newspapers, BBC tirelessly garbling out angry reaction from public to celebrities. A public petition started on the official parliament website to overthrow the decision by the cinemas, whilst the conservative media and politicians launched a scathing attack on the cinemas management policy. The petition gathered momentum throughout the weekend and by Monday it received enough signature to be debated in the parliament. Three days later, as I’m writing this, the petition has been officially rejected citing that forcing the cinemas to play the ad does not come in the jurisdiction of the parliament, it falls under the Digital Cinema Media, so all disgruntled Christians should write to the DCM, if they wanted the decision overturned.
Two separate incidents, two geographically contrasted locations, yet one inference could be drawn from both is the growing social vigilantism and the intolerance of the public. Starting with Aamir’s interview, it lasted about half an hour, where many constructive points were discussed regarding Indian society and its progress, and after he mentioned about the heightened intolerance in India, the journalists asked him a number of questions regarding his views on double standards of politicians as well as his views of terrorism incited by Islam. Aamir aptly clarified that he criticised the extremist mentality that is in the rise, regardless of the community, and the terrorists carrying Quran, did not legitimise their Muslim belief. However, the sensationalist Indian media only scooped the section that would produce the most uproar, and they succeeded brilliantly. Overnight Aamir became victim to a nationwide hate campaign, with the most lenient ones blaming him of heresy and betraying the country he built his career on, whilst the more vociferous ones went way further, from proposing to throw him out of the country to declaring 100,000 Rupees for someone to slap him in public. Even after Aamir released his statement people are maintaining their stance that he did an about turn facing such a strong public reaction and he insulted the country and de facto, its 1.25 billion people. The debates continued, and people promptly responded to the call for unsubscribing the android app Snapdeal, which Aamir is a brand ambassador of. However, this is neither the beginning, not the end of the debate around growing intolerance in Indian society.
The right-wing parties such as the present ruling party BJP and its ultra right sections such as Shiv Sena, Visva Hindu parishad, Bajrang Dal as well as BJP’s youth corps Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha or RSS, took over the role of protectors of the interests, culture and heritage of India’s Hindu population, and any attempt to criticise, satirise, question any of the centuries old practices and custom was met with severe and at times violent reactions. Apart from being the self proclaimed harbingers of Hindu identity, their stance was severely anti-Muslim, the second largest ethnic group in India. Not much later than the Rushdie affair involving Satanic Verses, the renowned Indian painter Maqbool Fida Hussain was criticised for his depiction of Hindu deities in nude, especially his painting of Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom, similar as Minerva of Athena in Roman and Greek mythology. The death threats, court petitions for defamation, ransacking his art exhibitions hounded Hussain until his death, and after, although the paintings were done in ’70s. The fact that Hussain was a Muslim helped the right wing hooligans in their anti-Muslim agenda provoking racial hatred in the spheres of art and creativity. The next incident, where the Hindu fundamentalists felt their feet trampled, was not so straightforward when it came to apportioning the blame. In 1996 a film was released by Deepa Mehta, “Fire” that portrayed a married woman’s lesbian extramarital relationship. Adultery and homosexuality, both were deemed damaging to the fabric of Hindu ideology and was vehemently criticised by the BJP and its extremist factions, calling for public apology from the director and instant ban on the film. The next film on the sequel, “Earth” in the partition of India and the ensuing communal violence also attracted cries for shutting down the film. The third film, “Water” featuring an affair of a widowed Hindu woman in the holy city of Benares, was met with vehement opposition from the right wing Hindu nationalists citing defamation of the sacred city as well as tainting the characters of widows, who, regardless of their age, are expected to lead life if a recluse. The production of the film was halted several times, as the mob attacked the film sets. The release was much delayed than the planned release around 2000-01. The then cultural minister of West Bengal offered Deepa to have the film shot in Bengal. However, the double standards of the communist government came to light as they offered Deepa Mehta to shoot Water in Bengal to snub right wing parties, trying to prove that the left is progressive, but in case of Taslima Nasreen, the exiled author from Bangladesh. Despite providing asylum to her in Calcutta, the government stance soon did an about turn, in face of growing protests from the Muslim communities in Bengal, harbouring the blasphemous author. The hypocrisy of various governments’ at various times in order to protect the free speech always affected the Indian societies. In recent past, the right wing factions began to promote a Hindu lead actor in Bollywood such as Hrithik Roshan, in order to diminish most of the public support divided amongst the three Khans, Aamir, Shahrukh and Salman. Incidentally, all three of them being Muslim, caused ire of the right wing Hindu supremacists.
Apart from the creative media, the propensity to disfigure the truth has never been so blatant than what was used by the BJP and the other right wing Hindu factions. The 1992 Babri masjid demolition was a first demonstration of the blind malicious side of the right wing nationalist parties to a republic. They also tried to stop celebrations of the Valentine’s Day as the true celebration of love was expected to be the birthday of Shri Krishna, a Hindu god with 16000 wives. BJP and their crony bunch of intelligentsia have been and still is instrumental in claiming the invention of numerous modern day best practices in medicine, science, astronomy, politics to be rooted in ancient Indian civilisation, which they proclaimed to be world’s oldest at 5500 BC, contrary to the archaeological findings and most factual historical findings of around 2000 BC. The latest addition to the hilarious claims was made in 2014, when the new Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed that the full head transplant was invented in ancient India deriving from tales in ancient Indian mythologies. BJP also tried to manipulate the educational system and the history by portraying Shivaji as a national hero because of his Hindu origin, and also introducing Saraswati Vandana, a prayer dedicated to Hindu goddess of wisdom Saraswati, to be recited in every school, rather than the national anthem. In 2007, a major sea canal project between India and Sri Lanka was permanently stopped, due to relentless disruptions by the right wing Hindu activists claiming the sand shoal in the shallow waters spreading between the two countries was in fact made by Lord Rama, another mythical character, purported to be a true person. The assassination of the renowned Karnatik author and free-thinker M.M Kalburgi in recent times, only proved the fact that the BJP and its other right-wing Hindu extremist factions would go to any length to promote their version of Indian history and culture and pulverise, not by logic and information, but by brutality, any voice of reason contradicting them.
As I said before, Aamir’s case did not start with his interview last week, but is rooted far deeper. Whilst Indian market opened to the world in late nineties, bringing the much needed deregulation, it was at that time, when the Hindu radicalism was on the rise. As exemplified above, along with state sponsored violence observed in riots in ’92, Gujarat riots on ’02 and many other individual attacks spreading communal violence, BJP and its cronies used their propaganda to promote Hindu nationalism, and any view that questions their superiority would be criticised and castigated. Their agenda also included the idea of Hindu supremacy, and hence by side-lining the Muslim population, apart from the one trump card they used to gain Muslim votes, by supporting Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam for the role of the president. With the rise of social media, apart from the right wing mouthpieces like newspaper, party pogroms etc, BJP also had another platform to permeate its agenda of nationalism. It was evident from the election campaign in 2014, which shared numerous photoshopped images of PM candidate Narendra Modi, as well as denigrating the free thinkers like Mahatma Gandhi, Tagore. With such a background, it was expected that the general public would refuse to bring a tyrant like Modi, who has blood on his hands, to power. Yet, no other opponent proved to be strong enough to stop the NaMo juggernaut, as public voted by the glamorous election campaign, and exasperated by the fading Congress’ nepotism, corruption and sycophancy to the old Nehru empire. After BJP was elected with absolute majority, it was clear that the propaganda machinery will be in full motion, promoting Hindu supremacy from day one. Aamir’s statement about growing intolerance in last 6 months, therefore, riled the BJP, and the media reported the case to the Indian population portraying Aamir as a heinous character, that he is ungrateful that all his films are made in India. Aamir was an easy target, his surname is Khan, and his fear of the growing intolerance in his surroundings is something that could be presented in a manner making him an unpatriotic person.
Having lived by first 30 years of my life in India, the only way I could summarise it is chaos. Chaos – not in a negative way, but the country is in a state of chaotic equilibrium. Nothing is perfect, yet everything works. Trains run late, yet the Indian Railways, world’s second largest public office, runs like a clockwork to make the unimaginably complicated system work. The dabbawalas in Mumbai deliver packed lunches to millions of people without a complicated IT system, and so does the dhobiwalas cleaning the laundries for millions of people, yet achieve a remarkably high accuracy. India is a curious place, a conundrum for the outsiders, a quest to the ones who know the country, how are we so different, yet there is a common emergence of a unique national character? This is why I revered India, but never fell into the glorious trap of patriotism. India was, and still is, my country, but never my mother, the bharatmata. India is also a land of contrasts — not just two, but many different contrasts at various degrees intermingle at every instant, and hence, stereotyping India is a difficult task. Indians are driven by boundless aspirations, trying to keep abreast to the tides of change modern time is bringing, yet in adherence to the archaic custom and cultures which has no place for coexistence. It’s not a dilemma between old and new, but instead of progress against regress.
This conflict between the two has always existed and still does, and it shapes our thought process and logic. When we speak about unity in diversity, that diversity mainly focusses upon the regional, cultural, linguistic diversity; although the religious orientation of all such diverse constituents is still Hindu. Despite a large number of non-Hindu communities residing in India, Hindus still make nearly 80% of the population, and therefore, any image projected of India largely constitutes portraits of a country for the Hindus, and as the second largest minority, Muslims. Other minorities, although they are part of an incredible India, their stories often go unheard. The Muslim fishermen on Kerala, or the Chinese shoemakers in Calcutta, or the Jewish and Parsi communities in Bombay, or a Gurkha tea plantation worker in Darjeeling – they remain away from the limelight of the Incredible India vision. As do the multitude of tribes spread all across India – from the central plateaux to the North-Eastern provinces to the Andaman & Nicobar islands. A majority Hindu population creates in public mind vision of a state with Hinduism at the centre of its raison d’etre. Impaired with this vision, anything that contradicts the key dogma of Hindu faith, the disagreement is often seen as the blasphemy, and denouncing the Hindu identity is tantamount denouncing India. Majority of the Indian population are reactionary, and therefore, easily manipulated. The right wing parties, irrespective of Hindu or Muslim, capitalise on this mob tendencies, along with a lack of clear thinking and decision making abilities. The lack of analytical thinking causes the mind to be easily led, to believe anything they read or listen or see, and whether that image fits to the preconceived notion of a Hindu India. With such warped concepts, a Hindu is also seen as an Indian, whereas a Muslim Indian is still a Muslim, a Hindu Bengali is a Bengali, but a Muslim Bengali is just a Muslim. The borderlines between nationality, regional identity and religion are blurred and intersect with each other – making a complex maze of identities. This fuzzy identity lies at the centre of the Aamir Khan scandal, which was started as a question on growing societal intolerance in India, but flared up as saying India is not tolerant, and that statement coming from a Muslim actor, his Indian identity is promptly ignored, and the debate is portrayed as a muslim insulting India.
The biggest pride I have in India is that since early days of independence, it is a republic and remained a republic state. A republic gives every citizen to express his/her opinion without fear, hesitation and discrimination. In Tagore’s words, “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high/ Where knowledge is free/ Where the world has not been broken up into fragments/ By narrow domestic walls”—the vision of India portrayed in his poem is far from the reality as observed in the twenty-first century India. What Aamir alluded to in his interview, about growing intolerance in the society, was only a fear, for the lives of his children. Yet, the following few days, and the mob witch hunt that was witnessed since then, only strengthens the truth in Aamir’s statement. The public reaction claiming Aamir’s statement as an act of insult to the country, heresy and treason, is no different than Saudi states — the intolerance of free speech is still the same. The concept of constructive criticism is of course non-existent in the sub-continent, where parliament session means the ruling parties and opposition shouting at each other, throwing abuses, often breaking into fights, and the smaller insignificant parties walking out. Many circulations and re-posts are going around in social media since Aamir’s statement, yet I have not seen a single person come up with simple logical facts to refute his claims. The biggest criticism was, what if Aamir said something about Islam? If India was intolerant, can he think what would have happened to him if he was in Saudi Arabia? The answer to these questions are, may be a lot worse, but that is an absolute ludicrous way of dealing with a criticism. It’s as silly as explaining why you failed a test to your parents saying ten other students failed as well. We call India a democracy, we say it’s a diverse country, but of course it’s easy to state that being the majority, of course Hindus can claim to the world that they live in harmony with Muslims, Christians, Jews, Jains, but can those minorities say the same with equal ease? Can they say that they enjoy equal opportunities and are not marginalised? Can they boast of the unity in diversity? They can’t, because the moment they do, they will be branded unpatriotic, be subjected to the harassment Aamir has been through in last one week. As a republic, we have a lot to learn, a long way to go before we can truly boast of our diversity which does not depend on numbers but everyone believes in it.
This brings the discussion back to the Lord’s Prayer debate. Like India. Britain is a democracy, and it is a country with majority white Christian population, although, unlike India, a large number of Christian born population do not identify with Christianity any more, they are confirmed atheists. Christianity has been and is part of the main fabric of the country; although Britain can boast of a widely diverse demography in present days, Christianity is an undeniable part in forming the popular custom, language and festivities. Christianity shaped the UK in its present form as we know it. So the public may celebrate Yom Kippur or Chinese New Year with equal excitement, Christmas and Easter is still the biggest festivals of the season. Considering the vast majority of the confirmed Christian individuals are not church goers, and don’t live their lives by the Ten Commandments, it is surprising how a refusal to pray Lord’s Prayer before the cinema made it to the national news! The numerous public figures blaming the decision to be shambolic, right wing parties licking their lips finding a topic to win supports on their white supremacy agenda, the petition seeing an avalanche of supports to overturn the decision — what we saw is a reactive intolerance, from a large number of the public in one of the epitomes of democracy and multiculturalism. The British public, who cried out loud “bring our country back”, never cared what Church of England was doing, but with that refusal, they are all united in protest again, against policymakers implementing multiculturalism, against a harmonious society. Whilst in India, general public is too blasé about the feelings of the other minorities, in Britain, the general public is, although more liberal, too uncomfortable to be seen of having any prejudices. However, instances like this present a rare glimpse of the undercurrent of the prejudices that run deep in people’s psyche, and the outcome is not the finest example of tolerance. That Britain is a democracy and irrespective of the background, the common sense that playing Lord’s Prayer in the cinema is plainly unacceptable — it hasn’t permeated through the minds of the people crying wolf. To them, this is a sacrilege that the country isn’t a Christian country any more, the country is being taken over by the immigrants, who dictate how the country should be run. Britain has never been a Christian country, when it became a democracy and brought in the immigrants to run the country better. But of course only a logical mind would think this. For the rest, if you are not born British and Christian, you are expected to show allegiance to the country in every step — revere the Royal family, celebrate Christmas, wear the poppy. The allegiance to the gimmicks became synonymous to adherence to the values.
As I started this discussion to analyse the incident of Aamir khan’s statement about intolerance and the reaction of the Indian population in light of the Lord’s Prayer ban in cinemas in the UK — both these incidents show us an undercurrent of intolerance, of different degree and manifestation, but identical in its concept. The boundaries between religion, ethnicity, language and nationality is blurred and all is brought under the same canopy of patriotism, the almighty word that tells you if you love your country. You must be a patriot, support your country in every deeds to make your existence in this universe meaningful! What’s the life worth it doesn’t want to sacrifice itself for the country? The tales of heroes and martyrs emerge, tales of great heritage, but wasn’t it how a Mein Kampf was born?! The intolerance that exists in the society is omnipresent, as does the tolerance. One cannot exist without the other, otherwise “to err is human” would have no relevance in our lives. Intolerance is not limited to the boundaries of a country, or religion, or ethnicity. It is our inherent fear and tendency of distrust the others. Being intolerant does not mean that people are not tolerant at all, it only alludes to the fact that they are not 100% tolerant. What needs to happen is acceptance of the intolerance and to address the issues constructively, not by declaring sums to slap a person who raised some concerns, nor by saying the country is taken over by immigrants.
This brings to two other factors that are vitally important for the discourse related to intolerance in the society. First, the role of the media. In these two incidents, apart from people’s shortsightedness about tolerance and its meaning, media is the next biggest culpable factor. In their rat race to increase ratings, media twist the facts in such a manner that it creates a headline, unconcerned of whether the facts are true, semi-true or blatant lies. The hype Aamir’s story received is completely due to the fact that they repeatedly broadcasted only two minutes of an interview that lasted half an hour, where a number of other social issues were discussed. Just in the same way BBC and ITV telecasted repeatedly the same news of CoE ad ban for next few days. Especially for India, with lower literacy rate that hinders the analytical reasoning, media needs to play a more responsible role than fuelling mass hysteria. The majority of Indian and british working class and uneducated sections don’t have the time nor luxury to delve into arguments and counter arguments, and perhaps draw an informed conclusion analysing all the facts. They probably take every news on its face value as seen of heard in the media. The flippancy of media observed in both these cases only made a much detrimental effect in maintaining a diverse society. The other factor is of course the role of the minorities in eradicating the intolerance from the society. Just by saying that the ethnic majority is intolerant, it doesn’t mask the fact that it runs in the minorities as well — illustrated by a gathering of thousands of radical Muslims in protest when a captured terrorist in India was hanged or people seen celebrating Paris attacks. Like BJP and its Hindu supremacist cronies, undeniably there are radical Islamist groups in India as well, as does separatist mujahideen outfits fighting for independent Kashmir, or militants in the north east. By being a free thinker, a voice of reason, one doesn’t have to stand up for minorities in every occasion, right or wrong. The question of right and wrong, good or evil eluded us since the early days of civilisations. We still form our opinions based on our understanding of the social filaments, our views towards life. It is a continuous struggle against ourself as well, where we need to break the stereotypes and paradigms layered over the years. If the reaction to Aamir khan’s statement was termed intolerant, my analysis is intolerant as well, as it represents intolerance of such intolerances.
So, what does the balance sheet look like, of the Aamir Khan controversy last week? Media gained, of course, with their heightened TRP and circulation of extra newspapers. Aamir lost a few dedicated fans and may not have his Snapdeal contract renewed. But he also won, although a handful, of admirers for speaking out the truth while the others shied away. Aamir’s wife Kiran has suffered the full brunt of public wrath, for having no opportunity to defend herself as Aamir did. Snapdeal, the company Aamir was brand ambassador for, despite losing nearly 100,000 memberships, gained in rating due to increased interest on their website for the controversy. But the biggest winner, from this debate is BJP and the PM Modi, as no official reprimand was issued through government of India. This is a surreptitious way BJP let its far right factions do the dirty work for them, such as maligning Aamir, his achievements and personal life; yet officially kept a safe distance from them to project an image of neutrality. Of all the involved sides, Modi’s image emerged as a leader who is calm and stoic, unperturbed by the scandal, his incredible India and swachh Bharat remained untarnished — much to the dismay and disconcert of any liberal person, as sycophantic praises poured in all over the media and Internet. In few weeks all will be forgotten, but this controversy will hush all the voices willing to ask questions, or point fingers at the government. The returning of national awards by scholars has already been much politically polarised, and their protests were degraded by the predatory right wing activists and Modi sympathisers. With Aamir added to this list of quarantined personalities, this paves the path for an unrivalled Hindu indoctrination of the country. The brooms of swachh Bharat movement will swiftly brush away the voices of criticism. India will be promoted as a country for its space programme, IT and manufacturing prowess, but the dark sides of caste system and discriminations, sectarian violence and intolerance, honour killings and female foeticides will be neatly tucked away. One may even ask at this juncture that if an actor is worth three billion rupees, is there really a concern for his children regarding social intolerance? If he is rich enough to possibly buy an entire security company, was there any ulterior motive? Will Modi go to the media with grand gestures of pardoning Aamir as part of Indian tradition and other similar nonsense, boosting his image up as the results don’t show the achchhe din or the good days he promised is imminent? We’ll never know this…
It’s been over a week now, since both these scandals broke out. People have now gone back to their daily humdrum life away from the uproar. Perhaps the nerves are still a bit raw in India, as the Aamir story still dominates internet and social media. In Britain people have forgotten about Lord’s Prayer already and engrossed in Christmas shopping spree. The guise is back, in both worlds, until the time something else flares up, when the fangs and talons will lash out again, baring our primitive instincts. Until then, we are all back to our pretentious social harmony, back in our sheep’s skin.
On the eve of the UK general elections 2015, I hoped a much awaited Labour led coalition government after five years’ dismal rule by the Conservatives. Eight hours later, that hope was shattered by a Tory majority. All the myths, predictions, analyses were proved wrong, including a number of hypotheses I had drawn in the past on British politics and its future. Being a dress down day at work, I wore a t-shirt with a bold statement, which showed the flag of the UK with a skull at the background. In my opinion, nothing better summarised the outcomes of the general election than that t-shirt, the coming five years will be tarnished with disaster, despair, poverty, death. This is an attempt to analyse the build-up to the election and its aftermath with a historical and social context.
• Campaign and fallacies in 2010 elections
Although the Conservative agenda always circles around championing the individual excellence, which is the cornerstone of the capitalist world-view, in practice, this meant further inequality in an already fragmented Britain. In 2010, the coalition came in power due to the follies of Blair government in Iraq war, as well as widespread mass hysteria regarding migrant workers from EEA taking over jobs from British working class. During 2010 elections, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats also blamed the previous Labour government of excessive spending, resulting to an increased national debt, as well as of a slow recovery from the recession of 2008. Also, the fiscal policy adopted by the then labour government to recover from the recession was in direct contrast with the capitalist ethos of monetary corrections, and it was apparent to common British voters that Labour spent a lot of money, and in the way, lost its credibility to run the country to the road of recovery.
It was only after the election was won that the devious and untrue nature of the Tory campaign, backed by the Rupert Murdoch funded British media were becoming clear. The economic recovery in the entire western world has been sluggish, and Britain was no exception. The recuperation of the German economy was cited many times during the election campaigns, but the recovery came through the fiscal reforms, by making people spend their way out of the recession, not by introducing cuts. Labour tried the same method as well, but was only let down by the British public due to risk-averseness and not taking the incentives offered by the government. Also, the national debt that was proved to be another downfall for Labour, it was proved that the national debt inherited by Labour government at the end of John Major government was already high, but the media represented the figures as though the debt was incurred only during the Labour regime.
• Synopsis on Tory rule 2010-2015
Although the Lib-Dems were part of the government, and they attempted to implement a number of policies they have pledged for prior to the 2010 election, it was clear from the outset that the Conservatives will start the austerity and cuts to social services straight away. It was evident when within a year in the government, the highest earners’ income tax was lowered to 45% from 50% that previous Labour government introduced. If this was not a clear indication of which sector of the population the government is protecting, nothing ever would. Not only benefiting the higher earners — be it through tax reductions or offering tax havens to non-domiciles, it did not stop there. The working class has been squeezed through reduction of the child relief thresholds or proposing to increase the working age. NHS saw further privatisation whilst the practices were to be controlled by a trust, redundancies for nurses and stretching the already stressed system to its breaking point. During previous Labour regime, a maximum time limit was set for the consultants to offer treatment to their patients within three months from the first appointment. Under the Tory rule, these time limits were disbanded, hence achieving a saving in the running cost, but at the expense of patients’ health and recovery. Then came the damned bedroom tax rule. Admittedly benefits were there, but no exceptions were allowed, hence leaving people with disability needing carers paying for the extra rooms or move to a house where there would be no room for carers to stay. In educational sector, struggling schools were bullied into becoming Academies, managing their own budget or be threatened to stop all funding. Between 2010 and 2015, the employment sector has improved, but this was more attributable to the recovery of the global economy rather than positive contribution from the government. Thus time will be remembered for the much maligned Back to work scheme where people without work have been encouraged to go and work for employers without any form of payment, hence, effectively working for free.
The ultimate evidence of Tory connivance and their cronies and the extent of corruption in media, governance and juridical system during the Conservative regime was brought into daylight in the News of the world controversy. Andy Coulson, who worked closely with David Cameron was the prime suspect of the phone hacking scandal and was jailed, but News of the World being a Tory mouthpiece, the involvement of the phone hacking during the previous general election was exposed. The same goes for the acquittal of Rebekah Brooks, who was a close friend of David Cameron as well. News of the world went out of publication, but the full extent of Tory involvement in the phone hacking is yet to be known.
From these and numerous other similar examples, a general observation was evident; the Tory regime had paved the path for big businesses and staunch Tory benefactors to increase their wealth, whilst punishing the rest of the 99% of the population. The number of food banks opened have been quadrupled, poor people got poorer, heading towards a precipice.
The only unambiguously praiseworthy action taken by the previous Conservative government was legalisation of gay marriage amidst scathing criticism from Tory backbenchers through insistence from David Cameron.
• Nationalism and Britain
With the financial interest of the 1% top earners ring-fenced, the Tories have then managed, not only to distract the downtrodden 99% from their woes, but they did it so discretely that it left the nation divided into many fragments. On one side, there was the vilification of the poor working class, often referred as “feckless”, and on the other side they have created a red herring in the form of EEA migrant workers and the concept of all minimum wage roles going to the foreign workers. This second ploy led to thriving a number of right wing nationalist parties, mainly UKIP. In 2014, Britain was swept by a spate of nationalism, first, during the Scottish referendum, and then later in the celebration of the centenary of the First World War. Scottish referendum not only affected Scotland, the dichotomy also resulted in strong nationalist sentiments at the south side of Hadrian’s wall as well. The Scots were divided in opinion almost equally between Yes and No for an independent Scotland, and finally managed to stay within the UK by a whisker, as the uncertainty of being outside the aegis of UK and EU outweighed the hopes to break free of the shackles from the controls of Westminster. However, this instigated a strong feeling of Scottish nationalism as a large number of people, who voted No only did so to think of their immediate financial situation, despite the urge of breaking were felt strongly. On the other hand, the big brother England felt a different sense of nationalism, the English nationalism, whereby the public saw Scotland as an appendage to the English state, a partisan and not contributing to the government by an equal proportion. The view of the intelligentsia may have weighed up or down the benefits of gaining independence from the situation, the public opinion hovered around seceding from the Scottish union, and “let then grovel back to us for funds in six months”. This was a situation reasonably reaped by the nationalist right wing parties and the popularity soared for then and UKIP became a major threat in realising Labour’s aspiration of forming a government. Although the UKIP policies would have sent the nation teetering back, the white working class that saw Labour as their saviour from Tory atrocities so far, saw a change of heart as UKIP offered them more tangible benefits — no foreigners taking jobs, cheap beer, no EU.
• The Labour opposition
The Lib-dems were almost out of the fray the day they joined the coalition government as the long standing supporters felt compromised from their anti-Conservative position. Hence, it was only down to the Labour to oust the coalition led government, unlike in 2010, when Lib-dems proved to be a potent adversary to the incumbent. Labour’s ascent since the failure in 2010 was not smooth, within months from the election, the leadership vote became a fierce encounter between Miliband brothers, Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and others. Then a Labour member, I voted Ed over David expecting his trade union background would prove more belligerence in character than the suave Blairite David. On Ed’s election saw the Miliband brotherhood broken, and it took a long time for Ed to gain credibility amongst Labour’s most loyal supporters, let alone winning over the Conservative voters. Personally, with my left wing visions, I saw Labour gradually becoming a quasi-Tory entity, especially during London mayoral elections — the policy offerings were not different enough to sway the voters, and I gradually became disillusioned during the mid-term of the Tory government. Then came 2013, as Ed Miliband delivered his most fiery speech since the ascension to leadership, and the Labour proposed the most ground-breaking proposals — the bring back taxing the highest earners at higher rate, increase inheritance tax, or the free rein of energy companies and create a new bank from British Investments — offering the most radical changes to the British economy and governance. A clear lurch towards left, and the everybody was anxious — the capitalist market, the investors, Tory British media, and the government. Some argue that that’s what the Conservatives always wanted, a left wing Labour so they can oppose it with the old communist line of attack. Ed Miliband was immediately branded Red Ed, and it was not a contest between Conservatives versus Labour any more; all other stakeholders to be affected from the Labour government weighed in. Labour’s popularity soared as they won council elections by a large margin, but the English nationalism element in the British psyche saw a number of votes poached by the UKIP. People were swayed, but the stigma of immigration and Eastern European workers still haunted Labour, as did their propensity to support minorities, with the horrid details of Lee Rigby’s murder or the recent rise of ISIS still alive in people’s memories, they didn’t trust Islam, nor Labour as the mouthpiece for minorities and equality. With UK fragmented from various counts, it was absolutely important to launch an election campaign that offers some dividends to all such segments, for a re-unified country and government. Treading on eggshells, Labour had to offer a proposal alluring all segment of voters, and what interest one faction would drive another away from them, keeping a knife-edge balance on its election campaign.
• Election campaigns 2015
The election campaign started with the usual hype in the media and the Middle-class and the casual indifference from the working class. 2015 was going to be the year of the women, with Nicola Sturgeon of SNP, Nicola Bennett of Green Party and Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru took the centre stage. There was only one clear winner emerging from the first debate, and it was Nicola Sturgeon. With a clear Scotland-centric agenda and a number of policies veered away from the safe grounds of central left or central right, SNP already offered something for the Scottish people that would have been a part of Labour’s agenda. This should have raised alarms on Labour policy makers, as it wood have, when Nick Clegg stole the show during 2010 debates; and last minute alterations were needed to offer equally bold policies to steer the Scottish nationalist votes back towards Labour. Instead, seeing the election results of the previous year, Labour leadership trod on the side of caution and published a manifesto that, without the Labour logo, is hard to guess which party they were from due to its lack of USP. All the hard work over two years, all the hopes it kindled in the minds of the followers were all undone in a moment of hesitation and panic. The legitimacy of the Labour election campaign was hard to make credit due to the leadership issues, but the poor manifesto possibly alienated the voters willing to change their view. Labour’s stand on immigration, austerity, debt, spends on defence especially trident, sustainability, employment and social security failed to convince the British working class that they can offer a star government capable of resolving all the hardships the families face by the Tory regime. In issues like environment, SNP in Scotland and Green Party across UK took much more firm position than Labour and it perhaps disillusioned the environmentalist lobby, which makes a large proportion when the election results will show that Green emerges as the fourth largest party in the UK. Similarly in governance, SNP proposed reforms that was expected fro Labour, and even they were identical in areas, a Labour vote meant devolving power to Westminster whilst an SNP vote would see the poets and policies staying at Holyrood and being implemented in Scotland. In fact if it were not for the female trio, ration debate would have been a lacklustre event as none of the other parties manages to set themselves apart, excluding the conflagrating opinions by Nigel Farage. From that respect, David Cameron has been the most consistent and credible contender, backed by the continuous vilification of Ed Miliband in the Tory biased media and the Conservative election campaign, arguably funded by the wealthy Tory donors, with a possible return of favours following the election triumph. The Conservatives have even featured themselves as working people’s party, but the basis for such incredulous claims were not established, as was the fact with no details on funding cuts but showing additional investments based on these funding cuts.
• Poll result Analyses
At 10 PM on the election day, the exit poll figures on BBC were surprising, and with the benefit of hindsight, analysts with political astuteness should have guessed such an outcome if the trends were followed in recent months and their reason were not clouded by feelings. The exit poll results were pretty devastating for all parties except Tories but people kept their heads high. By the following morning, it was all over, the Conservatives even improved the exit poll predictions, even though not by large amount, but significant enough to provide absolute majority to form a government without coalition. Geographical division of seats were even more interesting and thought provoking. Whilst in 2010, all Scotland was painted red, Labour lost almost all the seats in Scotland. Wales was still a Labour majority but looking at England, the picture was catastrophic. Barring some spots of red in North of England, and London and Birmingham, Labour was obliterated everywhere. The reds have lost their appeal to Scottish people as they did to English population. Lib-dems were decimated, the much hype about UKIP was proven to be non-existent, but a trend was clear — the sweep of nationalism on both sides of the Scottish Border. The SNP emerged as strongest party to lead and defend Scottish interest whereas for England, fear and greed has swung the election in the favour of Conservatives.
In my opinion, there are no better weapons for winning the election than hunger and fear. With the number is homeless destitute persons on the rise, and all the austerity measures in place, it was a simple deduction that the people would want to see the tides change, they want this desperate time to be over. But there were two factors that prevented the full effect of hunger factor to be reflected in the results. Due to Lib-dem interjections, the Tory austerity measures were not as severe as if would have been had they won the absolute majority in 2010. Also, the average voters hovering around 70% mark, perhaps the worst affected part of the population was not interested in taking part of the election when the food for the next day has to be thought of — change in government wouldn’t change that fact overnight. And then there was the fear factor. Evolution of mythology is a proof that we want to know what we are afraid of; and this gave rise to millions of various depiction of monsters, ghosts, demons. In this election, a fear was instilled in the voters’ psyche, a fear without a shape or form, presented with the back up of data. From the fateful day in 2013 at Labour Party conference, the capitalist biased media has been trying to infuse fear in the minds of English population — be it direct demonising on the tabloids or subtle connotations in The Telegraph — media made it a private vendetta against Labour and its leadership. They feared. They feared of a liberal centre-left government would spell doom for the Conservatives, give voice to the Tory backbenchers already questioning the leadership of Cameron, a regrouped Conservative party will have long roads of reform. Amongst the people feared were the big businesses and Tory donors, whose tax evasion and preferential treatment would have come to a halt as well. The media turned this fear into a fear that the working class could relate to, hence the reasons were changed to immigration, jobs, economic reform, whereby keeping the facts clouded under vague predictions did help Tories turning the public against Labour’s ethos. Britain’s ageing population also meant that there is a huge Conservative royalist support base, who would see the large changes as a threat to the state, an anarchy in the development. Looking at election result, this fear of unknown and unseen regime that is purported to stop all businesses working, open doors to all EU workers, harbour radical Islamists under the name of ethical treatment, let EU interfere in all interim governance matters — threats of a communist state, has driven the voters especially in England, where people chose to opt for the incumbent. Looking at the possible results with a proportional representation system makes the situation grimmer with UKIP winning 82 seats based on its number of votes polled. This is a failure of the mainstream political parties when popularity of right wing parties like UKIP soars up, which is a real threat to unbalance the British society, its rich multiculturalism and liberal values. Too much was and will be said about Labour policy ignoring English voters as well as the middle class, but if Conservative approach to tackle challenges faced by the middle class is more acceptable by the society than Labour’s, this must be a major concern on society’s view on politics, ethics and governance. It’s not that Labour failed to rise up to the expectations of the British public, it was rather the public became risk-averse on the prospect of a radical reform to the political system, which is essential to avoid the society heading towards a state of static inertia. At the beginning I mentioned that the results proved some of my views on the electorate wrong. I assumed that since 2010, a trend was created that all future governments will be coalition and no party will be able to meet demands of every different combination of factions. The results showed I was wrong. However, the Conservatives seem to take no risk in terms of targeting its agenda biased towards its biggest support base — English middle class. And this is where Labour failed, as they put more focus on UK as a collective identity than to be populist. This is where my second hypothesis went wrong. I expected the British electorate to be progressive, embracing the new values and changes, but it turned out that the public were anything but that entity. This is a protectionist, risk-averse, myopic state that people would rather want to be a part of.
On the other side, Labour’s failure and rise of SNP in Scotland was shocking but imminent, the leadership must have felt the change in the tide. Referendum on Scotland left the Scots divided on opinion but unified them under the same Scottish flag, realise the potential of a political party fighting for the priorities for Scotland and its people. A very regional approach, contrary to a one UK concept, but limiting the target audience helped SNP secure the record number of seats, leaving all other mainstream parties almost obliterated in Scotland.
• Aftermath of the election results
As an immediate aftermath of dismal performance by all major parties but Conservatives, there was a public outrage amongst party backbenchers to remove the leadership. First to step down was Nick Clegg, who, with the decision to join coalition in 2010 had already done a political hara-kiri to the reputation and trust for Liberal Democrats, yet managed five years of reflected glory being in the shadows of David Cameron. Ed Miliband followed suite during the midday when he took the full responsibility for Labour’s calamitous results. It was a gracious speech, delivered in his typical automaton fashion, eyes hardly lifting off his notes. But his eyes said it all — looking beyond the vacant stare, there stood ask struggling to control his emotions, perhaps hundreds of questions were going through his mind but without any answers. And finally, in a very dramatical manner Nigel Farage cast his resignation as promised, but gave a hint that until August when he might even be re-elected because without him, UKIP had no identity. With all three leaders of main opposition parties resigned, UK is a dangerous situation, as nothing is stopping Tories spearheading with their harsh cuts and other measures of austerity before even the oppositions have regrouped and chosen their leaders. It’s not only the leadership that pushed the parties on the back foot, but also the party stalwarts, who would have led the opposition during parliament question hours, have fallen as well in their bid to win a seat at the House of Commons. A first Tory majority government in 18 years, brings bitter memories from Thatcher era. The government is hardly going to be working people’s party as it preached to be, and the austerities will be brought about straight away. This will be an advantage being incumbent, as Cameron once claimed business as usual from first day. The Conservatives have also got Boris Johnson elected as an MP from a safe seat; doldrums in the other parties will give Boris to settle down fast and pave his way to possibly become the next Tory party leader after 2020. The 2010-15 reign might not be classed as the worst the Conservatives could be, that period has definitely paved the way for a more stricter, hardline Tory rule, breaking up the British society into further class divisions. This will also give them time to achieve an agreement with Bruxelles on the issue of EU referendum. The situation on the other side of the fence is getting worse. Labour leadership elections have always been fraught with fierce rivalry amongst candidates, exposing the internal fissures in the party. The MPs already declaring their willingness to stand up for the leadership position is similar to, as someone aptly put, taking jewellery off the dying relatives. The ex leaders have been too prompt to criticise Miliband as leader, but failed to acknowledge the fact that Labour lost the election due to their Thatcherist compromises in the party command. Adding further woes, Allan Sugar resigned from Labour membership. I am not personally as much concerned with this at one level, because in the end he is a businessman, trying to make a profit, which Labour policy curbed. His defection however is crucial for the party as the election is now won outside the leaders’ debate and speech, or the candidates knocking on the doors of the voters, it is a battleground for business houses, media, and to fight fire with fire Labour do need funding, and they have lost a valuable donor. I still hope they don’t grovel back to him once the new leader is elected, trying to compromise policies for funding. However, all in not bleak and gloomy in this crucial juncture of British politics. Green Party has evolved substantially and nearly annexed Lib-dems in proportional representation analyses, showing a growing trend for the future general voters to choose more radical liberal and social reforms orientated parties. This is also a period with highest number of female MPs. And the most unifying news in the end, BNP which has been in the surge during last general election is obliterated from the arena of British politics, proving a point that people don’t tolerate the right wing politics, and the fate of UKIP will follow the same trend, it’s just a matter of when.
• Future of British Politics
The next five years of Tory rule will be earmarked for its atrocities on the lowest strata of the population. The food banks will be on overdrive, more people will be homeless, further cuts will drive struggling families to fall apart or into desperation, cuts will continue to happen in all public services — stretching them further to the breaking point. The NHS, although promised to be ring fenced, will see longer working hours in the name of providing better service, yet without any extra resource. Zero hour contracts will be the only way one can secure s job, thus making it impossible to have a stable income when companies can exploit the system. The Labour will still have another bloody leadership battle, and the leader will either face the challenge of going back to neo-Labour coined by Tony Blair or continue the work Ed Miliband has started. A politically pragmatic move would be a more centrist Labour to win trust fro working class across UK, before going into more radical socialist reform, although that long-term goal should be set from the day the leader is elected, so the party works towards the same goal as they have in 2015, but with more caution keeping in mind that British population is still not mature enough to embrace the reforms Labour was proposing to bring about.
This brings to the conclusion, a look on the future of British politics. More crucial questions to be raised, that parties like Greens and SNP already started to ask, such as the future if the trident programme — why is this still being funded, which goes back to the question of fear again. A nuclear Armageddon is an American ploy used since cold-war era which they need as the biggest arms dealer in the world. Questions need to be raised on the relevance of House of Lords, with their pompous red ornate seats, and the hereditary peerage. Also the relevance of the Royal family and the monarchy. Free the Queen, rest of them will probably still live their life as celebrities, but what relevance is there of their role on British politics than just the term constitutional monarchy? What does the royal goodwill tours achieve that the businesses and politicians can’t? It is reassuring to find that the Buckingham Palace has to run on its own budget, nevertheless this is a huge outlay when the government is trying to claw back every penny being wasted, what is more important 500 NHS nurses/policemen/public service operatives or a bunch of people leading a lavish lifestyle on public money without any contribution to the economy. We are too quick to use terms like feckless scroungers on poor people, but the family supposedly at the helm of this “constitutional monarchy” (sounds as mouthy and vain as balderdash and hobgoblin) are no different either. There is so a public outcry for stopping foreign aid and immigration. Contrary to popular belief, foreign aid merely constitutes a minimal percentage of the nation spending, and a country with a long and dark history of colonialism should rather start by looking at the past before blaming all developing/ undeveloped nations for the misery of the Britons. Apart from all these contentious questions, a close look is needed on the electoral system as well, firstly to encourage and as the next stage penalise people for not voting. The role of media in making the nation is also questionable. At present, there are the tabloids, crude and distasteful cheap tack, yet the working class have not rejected this type of populist reporting. On the other hand, the broadsheet newspapers retained their snobbish reporting only targeted at the business leaders, academicians, bureaucrats and similar higher echelons on the social strata. The extreme bias between the Labour and Tory orientated newspapers are nauseating, where one news would be reported in completely different tones. Media will have to be liberal, arguably it is the fourth estate, but rather than snide and vitriolic attacks on anyone with a different perspective, the space for constructive criticism needs to be created, and media’s role during the election should be of a unbiased adjudicator, challenging ideas of all political parties and praising for changes for a better future. Also, the election mechanism starting from using electronic voting machines to dissolution of first past the post system — a lot needs changing and this will be a pithy challenge on any party running the government. Liberal parties will have to find the solution and convince the British public that the changes are essential to live in a synergistic compassionate world of tomorrow — expecting this from Tories would only result in frustration and desperation as they are only interested in culling foxes and the poorest of the poor into extinction.
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