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Lewes, East Sussex, United Kingdom
Hello and welcome! I am Colin Bell, a novelist and poet, previously a TV producer-director of arts programmes, also known as the blogger Wolfie Wolfgang. I hope you find something here among my daily blogs. I write about anything that interests me - I hope it interests you too. Let me know.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

A perfect summer evening for a less than perfect production of Mozart's Marriage of Figaro at Glyndebourne.




Le Nozze di Figaro at Glyndebourne, 2016.

It was a lovely day for a wedding. Yesterday Glyndebourne Opera house looked at its most seductive on a hot golden day sitting among those corn fields and rolling downland sheep pastures. It was a lovely day for a picnic too sitting out there under a peach tree among England's chattering opera-goers and champagne tipplers. The wedding, of course, was Mozart's supreme masterpiece, and, possibly, opera's supreme masterpiece too, Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro, 1786).  If Mozart wrote an opera that is surely the nearest we will ever get to operatic perfection, then, maybe this, a revival of the 2012 Michael Grandage production, was not the best way to appreciate the beauties,  ambiguities and subtleties of Mozart's tale of a particularly chaotic wedding day.  We've all been to weddings where there were lovely, emotional moments when love is celebrated as really being the sweetest thing and we've all seen relatives behaving badly, guests in silly costumes and a fair amount of world-weary cynicism.  All of these traditional wedding characteristics were on display yesterday evening, sometimes on the stage, but also out there in the beautiful Glyndebourne gardens during that long dinner interval which was particularly sun-kissed last night.


Susan Bickley (Marcellina), Alasdair Elliott (Don Curzio), Gyula Orendt (Count Almaviva), Carlo Lepore (Dr Bartolo), Rosa Feola (Susanna) and Davide Luciano (Figaro).

Michael Grandage's production, however, which was certainly both fun and colourful, was high, in both senses, on the opera's comedy and cynicism but, by being carried away by its oh-so-smart concept of  hedonism in a '1960s'  setting,  it lost many of the darker and more nuanced aspects of a piece which is a great deal more than slapstick farce.  The 1960's, as far as this production was concerned, was a time of cynically practiced free-love (a nice comparison to pre-revolutionary France), a lot of cannabis and,  most depressingly, what appears to have been the birth of 'dad dancing'. Like some of the other tired old jokes on display here,  everyone found time, even the Countess,  to show us that they could twist again like they did last summer.


Serena Malfi (Cherubino) and Rosa Feola (Susanna).

Of course, especially after the dinner interval, slapstick often gets the wildest applause at Glyndebourne. and the performance reduced most of the people sitting near me to charmingly childlike giggling. I know, don't knock it, it's wonderful these days to find people happy to spend any time at all enjoying opera.


Gyula Orendt (Count Almaviva) and Rosa Feola (Susanna).

The main problem with Mr Grandage's production was the way he reduced the role of the philandering Count Almaviva to a rather silly character, mostly high on cannabis, easily tricked by all around him and thus, when Mozart's music reveals the character's real anger and danger, all we get is dope-crazed  slapstick.  Gyula Orendt was perfectly fine, with his light and, mostly, flexible baritone, but having to play the role as a youthful and caricatured, Whitehall farce, version of the notorious hippie aristocrat, the 7th Marquess of Bath (born 1932), drained the interpretation of soul and the opera of its beating heart.


The 7th Marquess of Bath.


Rosa Feola (Susanna) and Gyula Orendt (Count Almaviva).

It's not, I hope, me being resistant to opera directors up-dating their productions to find the work's relevance for modern audiences - there have been many thrilling productions, not least here at Glyndebourne,  that have justified what has, in all truth, become a bit of an easy cliché. It's that this, of all operas, is a marvel of character analysis in music and, by turning the Count into a joke, all the light and shade so intricately woven between the other characters unravelled.

It was still a lovely wedding! The cast were all on top vocal form. It was great to have such a fine ringing tenor  from Alasdair Elliott, in the tiny part of the notary, Don Curzio. Too often the tenor line in the great Act 3 sextet goes missing but not last night. There was a classic Dr Bartolo from Carlo Lepore, a silly (sorry Mr Grandage) but gloriously sung Cherubino from Serena Malfi, an unusually solemn but well-sung Susanna from Rosa Feola, and a magnifiently dark-voiced  Figaro from rising star Davide Luciano who was, in this topsy-turvy production, deprived of most of the comedic side of his role.


Davide Luciano (Figaro).

Accolades though for the limpid singing and glorious phrasing from the thrilling South African soprano, Golda Schultz, who, in spite of struggling to walk in those ridiculous platform shoes,(and to do the twist in them), was allowed to let her lovely voice, perfectly produced throughout its range, to take us to that place where only Mozart can transport us. Brava!


 Golda Schultz (Countess Almaviva).

 Conductor Jonathan Cohen and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (with some nifty fortepiano playing from Ashok Gupta) gave us Mozart in all his glory too, allowing us to hear all the details, the pain and danger of love,  the pride and the prejudice, and yes, the humour, but, most of all, the humanity so vividly caught in this wonderful music.

On such a beautiful Sussex summer evening, Glyndebourne reminds me just how lucky I am to have this small miracle of opera just down the road from my home in Lewes. On such a beautiful Sussex summer evening, Mozart, too, rises to the occasion, in spite of the some of Michael Grandage's trip wires,  and sends us all home with joy and, yes, sadness in our hearts.


Monday, 11 July 2016

The Last Brexiter exits - what a load of wallies!




Exited BREXITER Andrea Leadsom stands down from the Conservative leadership election.

So there they all go! Whoops. After the Leave campaign in Britain's EU Referendum claimed victory, it all looked like celebration time for its leaders, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom. It was not long before the champagne went flat,  the bubbles burst and those conquering heroes all fell like flies caught by a self-aimed can of fly spray.

Andrea Leadsom, the last one to go, had been one of two contenders for the Conservative Party leadership election, called after Prime Minister David Cameron's resignation after losing the EU Referendum debate. Her ill-considered and hurtful remarks about her credentials as a mother making her a better candidate than the childless but massively more experienced Home secretary, Theresa May, did for her as it should've done even if in her stepping down speech she claimed that it was all to do with the good of the country blah blah blah.

Actually the brutal truth is that she was never up to the job, only an MP for a short time, a junior and hitherto invisible force in the Conservative government, she was quite plainly out of her depth not only as a potential prime minister but as a credible spokesperson for the rapidly withering BREXIT leadership.

No one could've guessed that within a couple of weeks of their triumph, these out-spoken and  wool-pulling politicians would've all fallen from their perches.  The BREXIT leaders lied and exaggerated when they weren't just plain wrong. Now they are paying the price wth their public humiliation. We, the poor Brits, will pay a heavier price however when the full consequences of BREXIT are revealed.


Exited BREXITER Michael Gove, who betrayed his friend David Cameron in the Referendum campaign before betraying his other friend Boris Johnson in the race to the premiership. 



Exited BREXITER Boris Johnson, the betrayer betrayed. He turned on David Cameron too in a bid for the premiership before receiving a traditional Conservative Party assassination.




Exited BREXITER Nigel Farage. Self-proclaimed BREXIT leader, side-lined by the Conservative BREXITERS, disliked by his own UKIP politicians. There was nowhere else for him to go but away.


David Cameron cried when the truth of his political failure sunk in.

It was all prime minister David Cameron's fault for gambling on the EU Referendum in the first place. His career has ended in tears and there is no reason for him to smile even though all of his leading opponents in the Referendum campaign have choked on their own malice.

So, here we go again, the UK is showing the world how it won its so-called democratic independence from Europe and Theresa May, the new prime minister in waiting, will lead the BREXIT from the European Union, unelected, even by the narrow majority that voted leave in the Referendum. Folks, this is how we made the greatest change in British history since the Second World War.  Not with a bang but a whimper. Is it time yet for Britain to reconsider the wisdom of a Referendum decision so blatantly based on misinformation  that it no longer has validity?


 Theresa May, Britain's next prime minister - the only actor left standing.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Ho-ho-ho! Britain has got its sovereignty back and it's all going to be democratic again. Or will it?



David Cameron and his wife, Sam, celebrating their narrow victory.

It all seems such a long time ago doesn't it. Dave and Sam Cameron getting one of the biggest shocks of their lives in 2015 when the Conservatives scraped in with a tiny majority in the first Conservative General Election victory for 25 years. OK, Dave had been prime minister of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition but you can see Dave and Sam Cameron's surprise when they squeaked in with 24% of the electorate's votes, giving them a 'working majority' of 16 MPs.  Before we knew what our voting system had done, we found that, yes, even though no one really wanted it apart from those UKIP people, we were going to have a Referendum to decide if the country should stay in or leave the European Union.


David Cameron and Boris Johnson begin their campaigns.

As is now well-known,  Dave's decision to hold a referendum was all to do with keeping his right-wing back-benchers tame in the face of an expected but failed surge in support for the EU hating UKIP party. In the end UKIP only won one seat at that election but the nation's fate had been sealed as a result of the Conservative Party's internal power struggle.

The nature of that struggle became only too obvious when Dave's old friend and rival, former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson seized the opportunity to lead Leave against Dave's Remain  campaign. Then all hell was let loose with one of the nastiest political campaigns in British history. The EU Referendum was not only unnecessary in a country that is a parliamentary democracy, but it was ill-thought through from the start, being a simple, or even simplistic, in or out vote (Leave or Remain).The debates were simplistic too. The Remain campaign was,  the BREXITERS said, Project Fear:



Remain poster that was accused of being Project Fear.

And, the Leave campaign was, well, yes, untruthful to say the least:



Boris Johnson by the campaign poster which has now been discredited as untrue.

That £350 million pound claim was quickly dropped when Leave discovered that they'd won. Many but not enough of the Leavers distanced themselves from UKIP's Nazi-style anti-immigration poster.


Nigel Farage and the infamous Breaking Point poster that was accused of being racist.

Very soon, in spite of an almost invisible Labour Party Remain campaign lead by Jeremy Corbyn, it became clear that Britain wasn't really debating the EU at all but, immigration.


Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn campaigning for the Remain vote.

The EU Referendum had become the Immigration Referendum with added electoral anger aimed at rather nebulous ideas of 'reclaiming control' of the United Kingdom, well, England actually with the Welsh, a major recipient of EU funding, amazingly, in support. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to Remain indicating a future constitutional crisis in the United Kingdom. English people were angry, it seems, about a perceived lack of democracy in the European Union and wanted to get their 'sovereignty' back and to have all the nation's decisions made by proper democratic voted majorities as the best way to represent Britain's electorate.  Ho-ho-ho, as Father Christmas says.


Wales voted to leave the EU in spite of being a net beneficiary of EU funding.

Ho-ho-ho as the UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, could've said too on the night when the United Kingdom found that it had voted, by 4%, to leave the European Union.


Nigel Farage celebrates BREXIT

There was much initial rejoicing from Leave voters but it was followed by a lot of confused expressions as the reality gradually dawned.



The majority was small and the division has split the nation between the young and better educated, whose futures will be the most effected by BREXIT from the older generation whose working lives are nearing conclusion.


Well, we're now all told that the decision, a democratic one, has been made and that, whether the 48% who voted Remain like it or not, the UK, well, England and Wales, anyway, will be leaving the European Union by 2020, the scheduled date for the next General Election. In the meanwhile, we can all sit back and worry about the economy.



The men, and they were men, who got us into this mess, have all resigned or been pushed from their various leadership posts leaving the country shocked, confused and for the time-being, leaderless. David Cameron resigned as Prime Minister on the morning after the result came in.


David Cameron resigns as Prime Minister.


Boris Johnson resigned when it became clear that his great leadership gamble had faltered.


Boris Johnson says he won't run for the Conservative leadership.

Then Nigel Farage resigned, finally realising that, he was going nowhere fast in Britain's political system even after BREXIT.


Nigel Farage resigns

I wouldn't be so rude to call these gentlemen rats exactly and I don't want to exaggerate by calling Britain a sinking ship but, well, you know what I mean. Luckily for all three of our former leaders, they will not be much inconvenienced by a new burst of austerity, falling share prices or rising unemployment. They can all watch the rest of us struggle from their comfortable nests.

So where are we now? Oh yes, we've got 'control' back and we're now going to be more democratic now that we're going to be out of Europe. For all those people overseas who always thought Britain was the mother of democracy, they must be really wondering now. The prime minister who was elected by 24% of the electorate has gone and we will now have either, Home Secretary Theresa May or Business Minister Andrea Leadsom, as Cameron's successor. 199 Conservative MPs voted for May and 84 voted for Leadsom in the final round of the parliamentary leadership election. The winner will be announced when the 130 thousand members of the Conservative Party have their vote.


Theresa May


Andrea Leadsom

So, our government, elected by 24% of the electorate, brought in the Referendum which was won by BREXIT by 4%, bringing down the prime minister but, instead of holding a general election at a time of national crisis,  our new leader will be decided by just 130 thousand people out of an electorate of 44 million, seven hundred and twenty two thousand people. So much for democracy, folks. Ho-ho-ho!


Saturday, 2 July 2016

Me, Marc Bolan and David Bowie - meeting again in The Fib Review.





David Bowie and Marc Bolan in rehearsal at Granada Television in 1977.

In the early years of my TV career at one of Britain's leading independent television companies, Granada, I came across many famous people and soon found out that celebrities, like people you meet in a bus queue, are usually no more extraordinary or unusual than anyone else you might encounter that day. Sometimes though,  even a full-of-himself young TV employee could be impressed by a sudden explosion of star-dust.  First it was Marc Bolan,  the glamourously charismatic lead singer of the band T-Rex. Marc was making a series, called Marc, for Granada and I was working in the music department there. We met over some backing-track issue which is now long forgotten, but we hit it off well enough to go for a few drinks together while he was staying in Manchester. His days of mega-stardom were waning and, sometimes, a beer encouraged him to open his heart. We got on. For the final show in the series, he'd asked his old friend David Bowie to take part. This was a bit of a coup because Bowie at that time had just recorded the album Heroes, one of my favourites,  and he performed the song for the first time in that programme.

I had been a fan of David Bowie since the Ziggy Stardust days and couldn't believe that the great man was actually in the Granada studios. Anyway, he was and, as I found out, he was as normal a bloke as the next man - charming and talented too of course. I was going for what is euphemistically called a bathroom break and it happened to coincide with a break in rehearsals for Marc.  Without a thought, I walked into the male toilets situated under my office and next to the studio entrance. It was there, unglamourously no doubt, I found myself in glittering company. After, the call of nature, three guys washed their hands and Marc introduced me to Bowie, who was quiet, pleasant and remarkably low-key. We shook newly-washed hands and went our separate ways.

Many years later, wanting to make some commemorative gesture after David Bowie's unexpected death, I decided to write one of my Fibonacci poems about the incident. Today, along with two other new poems, it is published in the latest issue of the Fibonacci specialist journal, The Fib Review. I'm an enthusiast for this demanding short-form poetry style and I feel honoured and fortunate that The Fib Review has supported me over the last eight years by publishing my work - with these three new ones, they have now published 62 of my 'Fibs'.

http://www.musepiepress.com/fibreview/




David Bowie, of course, was not the only one of those two stars to have died since that meeting. I met Marc again for a drink before he left Manchester and we said, as you do, we should get together again the next time he was in town. That wasn't to be because a very short time later he was dead, within the month I think, but my memory is unclear about the dates. I was genuinely shocked and saddened after my first real encounter with the death of a celebrity.

So here's to Marc Bolan and David Bowie - it was an honour to  have met you guys.





Here's that recording of David Bowie singing Heroes and then, a clip of the two of them closing that final show:







Tuesday, 28 June 2016

What should we BREXIT from next?




Horrified grenadier guard hears the EU Referendum result.

So now that Britain has caught the Referendum habit and voted to leave the European Union, what next? Shock horror is still taking the fun out of Britain for me, but I'm trying to look on the bright side. After BREXIT, maybe we should do it again. After-all, it's typical of Northern European puritanism to encourage us to give up the good things in life. After Europe, a good thing, I've always thought, what else can we give up?

Well, the obvious answer is football, the English National Team did their own unilateral declaration of BREXIT when they decided to give up any skills they might've had in the interests of giving non-EU Iceland a famous victory. and had to leave  Euro 16.  Yes, let's BREXIT from football. I hope someone will draw up a Referendum so that we can vote to either Remain as football losers or Leave the game to people who know how to play it.  The trouble with that is that if we BREXITED from football, we wouldn't be giving up a pleasure. Anyway, the team's already done it and the manager has done a Dave Cameron.



Horrified English football team after their BREXIT from Euro '16.

So what else could we give up by Referendum? I suggest the Olympic Games. It was great and fun when it came to London and Rio is a city of sunshine and laughter. Yes, lets vote to Leave the Olympics. We could abandon all those athletes that have been training for years to win, we could upset loads of other countries around the world, make Britain look like a bad loser,  Nike and Adidas shares would collapse, and we Brits would lose another holiday destination. Sounds perfect.



So lets vote Leave and carry on enjoying the misery of BREXITING.


Until the next disaster, sing yourself a happy song - this perhaps:

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Little England let the dogs out.


I'm sorry fellow Europeans, I voted remain as did many other people here in Britain, please lets strive to remain friends.

The country has voted and the result is official. The United Kingdom is to leave the European Union on the strength of an ill-conceived and little-understood referendum campaign which became a debate around prejudiced and unfounded theories about immigration.

It is too easy to blame the 52% of the electorate who voted Out - they were mostly people from deprived parts of England and Wales,  often poorly educated,  mostly from an older generation out of tune with modern Britain and suspicious of 'foreigners' - I could call them bigots but that kind of remark got our previous prime minister, Gordon Brown, into trouble, I could call them, well some of them racists, or at best ignorant, but I'm not going to because many of the 52% have problems enough. Sufficient to say that I think they were not only wrong but that their decision is bad for Britain, bad for Europe and bad for the World. Sadly, frighteningly even, by their big error, the electorate has opened the doors to the real bigots, racists and worse, and we will have to act to contain the poison.

The decision is made and I find myself, not for the first time, in a minority. Actually I was always in a minority at school and at university - not that I could do anything about it, I am who I am, but being in a minority has become a habit. If I look for crumbs of comfort, I actually feel rather chuffed to be in such a large minority of 48% - I've never felt so much in common with so many people. I'm chuffed too, looking at the demographics, that the 48% (surely a number to be worn with pride on t-shirts) is made up of a large proportion of young, bright-eyed optimists who look out to the world and who love to be not just a part of Europe but to be free to  work in it and travel around it without contstrait. I hope that they won't mind an old fool like me joining their ranks. I'm unhappy though that the old have voted to disenfranchise the young - it's not in the natural order of things.





If I'm trying hard to forgive the BREXITERS, I'm much less forgiving of Prime Minister  David  Cameron. It was a shameful dereliction of duty to risk the break up of the European Union and even the United Kingdom for narrow party political reasons - to offer the red meat of the EU Referendum to the right wing of his own party when there was no need for one and when no one in the country had been asking for one.



He is gone, in real terms, and the voters have decided, I should stop whinging, I know.  Cameron should be only remembered now as a warning to the country.  I have no sympathy for those tears outside No. 10 Downing Street. They are his business, for his conscience and for his own realisation that his political legacy will be the memory of a man who let down his nation. Enoch Powell said that most political careers end in failure, David Cameron's should be read as the biggest political failure in the post-war history of modern Britain.



All eyes now on the Trump-like Boris Johnson - the charismatic and intelligent journalist who was so good at writing sound-bites and headlines even if they weren't true and even if he didn't actually believe them. The 52% did believe him so he must take the praise or the blame for the result, depending on your opinion of the outcome.



One last moan. I believe in parliamentary democracy and dislike the simplistic yes or no, in or out, love them or hate them, polarity of referendums (a) - we, the people, are not economists, we simply did not know the level of detail needed to make a decision on something so important as this. I suspect no one actually knows what this will mean for the country, for the United Kingdom, Europe or the world.  One thing seems to be obvious though, that this bad-tempered, dishonest and hateful campaign has ended up with Little England letting out the dogs. Gawd help us all.

UPDATE:

This is a second version of this blog as the first one got deleted because of a technical fault. I'm sorry that a reader's comment was deleted too. Apologies to  Stefano Cecchini for the deletion. Thanks so much for your comment. I'm glad you took some comfort from my posts and felt that here in the UK many people are upset by this BREXIT. 

Here is Stefano's comment:






 Stefano Cecchini has left a new comment on your post "Little England let the dogs out.":

I feel less alone reading these two essays. Thursday night, I did not sleep for the result of your referendum. Look for the reasons that unite is a difficult exercise, but brings great joy that you get used to and take for consolidated and do not remember that instead are the result of a job that must be constantly renewed. In Europe we have the Switzerland that does not bother some for the stability of the continent, but with the United Kingdom (?) It is different, the difficult international policy choices will become even more difficult. Switzerland is a rich country, but the Swiss are not recognized as a great people succeed in spite hold together at least three large groups. With the British there was a different, consider that for Italians Conrad is an English writer and this is not out of ignorance. Strength and courage even if in addition to our town the Sunday before the left has lost the City in favor of the 5 stars in Europe were the group with Farage but now the group will not be for lack of deputies Farage. excuse the translation.

Mi sento meno solo a leggere questi 2 saggi. Giovedì notte, non ho dormito per il risultato del vostro referendum. Cercare i motivi che uniscono è un esercizio difficile, che però porta a grandi gioie a cui ci si abitua e si danno per consolidate e non ci si ricorda che invece sono il frutto di un lavoro che va costantemente rinnovato. In Europa abbiamo la Svizzera che non preoccupa certo per la stabilità del continente, ma con il Regno Unito (?) la cosa è diversa, le difficili scelte di politica internazionale diverranno ancora più difficili. La Svizzera è un paese ricco, ma gli svizzeri non sono riconosciuti come un grande popolo nonostante riesca tenere uniti almeno 3 grandi gruppi. Con gli inglesi là questione era diversa, si pensi che per gli italiani Conrad è uno scrittore inglese e ciò non per ignoranza. Forza e coraggio anche se in aggiunta nel nostro comune la domenica precedente la sinistra ha perso il Comune a favore dei 5 stelle che in Europa facevano gruppo con Farage ma che ora gruppo non saranno più per mancanza dei deputati Farage. scusate la traduzione.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Are You In Or Out? I Know What I Think






I've been tempted to stay silent through the EU Referendum campaign here in the United Kingdom assuming, after last year's depressing General Election result when 26% of the electorate voted in the incompetent government that has led us all the way here to the worrying final days of a national debate on Britain's future which appears to pay very little attention to the complexities of the EU itself or the reasons for Britain being a member of that much criticised institution. 

Let me put it clearly (as all obfuscating politicians, on both sides of the debate, keep repeating), I didn't vote for this government and I disapproved strongly from the beginning in the idea of the referendum especially as the subject is particularly complex. I do, however, believe in parliamentary democracy. We hope to vote in MPs who will represent us and our interests and who will strive to unravel the very complexities that have so confused and worried the British people in the months building up to this week's potentially nation-threatening referendum. We are the people, we want the best for the country but we're not economists.




It was, I think, a major dereliction of duty, for the British Prime Minister, David Cameron,  to risk the future of the country for his own narrow interests in the future of the political party that he is currently leading. He now says it would be a disaster for the British economy and for the future of Britain to leave the EU. If he knew that then why did he risk such a disaster by asking us, unqualified economists all, to settle such an important issue with a simple yes or no poll? He was worried before the last General Election about the dangerous influence of the emerging UKIP leader Nigel Farage and the potential split that UKIP's anti-European policies could have had on the election result and on the large number Eurosceptics in the Conservative Party.



Farage, of course, didn't even get elected as an MP and only one of his party's members did, but the damage had been done,  he has been helped by the referendum debate, and we are now in risk of having to live with the consequences now that not only the Conservative Party but the nation has been plunged into a deeply unpleasant debate which has resulted in a shocking escalation of racist, jingoistic and simply incorrect opinions being banded around as if they were traditional British values which they most definitely are not.



Anyway, the referendum has been implemented, at an enormous financial as well as national cost, and it is too late now for Cameron to change his mind about what he must realise was just the most serious of a long list of mistakes he has made since becoming possibly the weakest Prime Minister in living memory. British politics too, since the General Election, has descended into a series of miscalculations and mistakes where any objective observer must wonder if Britain is actually capable of governing itself any more. The electorate, understandably underwhelmed and confused by its leaders, has sought consolation in single issue politics - the politics of simple solutions which ignore the complex nature of practical politics, economics, and international relations.

It has become too easy, in this party political vacuum, for easily digested emotional ideas to take on the form of concrete policy whether it be to the right or the left. In a democracy this is truly dangerous and it is even more so when major decisions are made by referendum. That is why we hear more outrage over that shot gorilla than we do for the four hundred thousand people who have been killed in Syria in the last five years. That is also why , if the polls are correct, a large number of British people think it is worth risking the collapse of the United Kingdom because they confuse the fate of fleeing refugees with an ill-thought through economic analysis of the effects of immigration on a nation. An analysis often based on the politics of hatred encouraged by  UKIP and some of the nastier members of the Conservative Party.




I have been told many times, mostly by taxi drivers, that many people want to leave the EU because 'they want  their nation back,'  that they are frightened that immigration will 'swamp' traditional British values. Apparently, the Great Britain that they are nostalgic for actually existed.  When questioned, that traditional Britain appears to mean white blokes in pubs  free to be 'politicly incorrect,' a nation where everyone was a racially pure Englishman who 'ruled the waves,'  and that was on the best possible terms with the former colonies of the British Empire, and where everyone was financially secure before those evil Europeans started to take all our cash.   It doesn't take much for people to pine for a past that never existed and which will never be created by leaving the EU. 




Those pure-blooded Englishmen who lament Great Britain's demise by being 'swamped' by other cultures, really do need to look at their history books. Being British in the 21st century is indeed something to be proud of and anyone whose family can be traced to the shores beyond the last two hundred years or so, can feel truly proud of their heritage, whether their DNA can be traced to the Ancient Britons who now live on the British Isles' furthest extremities, or to the Roman, Viking, Danish, Anglo-Saxon or Norman French invaders who all in various quantities ultimately settled and intermarried with the peoples that they found here. It was the very mix in British blood that gave the nation its unique character that has benefited from modern developments and a forward-looking acceptance of change . Modern Britain continues to benefit from new ideas often coming from talented and energetic peoples who have fled from less fortunate nations.

Many of the problems associated with immigration are the consequences of failures in government. We are a rich nation that can well afford to house our peoples, educate them and look after them in sickness and in health. If a majority of voters worry about these issues, as they should, they should look to their elected politicians to make the changes in housing, education and health policies that would address these issues without putting the blame on immigration.

Similarly, if we don't like the structure of the European Union then we, represented by our elected leaders at the council of Europe, should campaign to make the very necessary changes. I don't particularly like my local town council but I don't expect to abolish it and somehow live without it.




I went to York last weekend and, on Sunday, I visited York Minster with the express idea of hearing the excellent choir performing at the main services there. I must have been one of the few people in Britain to have failed to notice that all over the nation there were national celebrations of the Queen's official 90th Birthday. It was true also in York Minster where the main event, at evensong, was Handel's great coronation anthem, Zadok The Priest, the one with that magnificent long introduction which has thrilled anyone with ears to listen since the great German  (nationalised English) composer, George Frederick Handel,  first composed it for the coronation of the German Prince George as King George II of Great Britain in 1727.  I'm not a royalist but, like many would-be republicans, I can still admire the elderly woman who has worn the crown as well as anyone ever could and, in that wonderful German music, I could recognise the deep emotions that we all wish to invest in the ideals of our land of birth and which Handel was so brilliant at evoking. I was moved not just by the music but by the reminder, in that wonderful French-style Gothic architecture, listening to the 16th Century English words of Archbishop Cranmer, that Britain should take full delight in its European inheritance and those promises of a great shared culture to come. Don't knock the best about Britain, often it's the best about Europe too,  I thought, just think of Syria, and North Korea, if you think things are so bad.




York is a beautiful city, rightly proud of its inheritance - proud of the Roman and Viking invaders who were so influential in its creation. York is also a centre for new archaeological research into the ethnicity of those Romans who settled there and who settled even further north along the famous Hadrian's Wall. It is now becoming clear that, far from being shivering Italians in sandals and mini-skirts, the Roman invaders and settlers of Britain mostly came from France and Germany and some even from Africa. Being a Roman, as the excellent Mary Beard has been recently stating in her BBC television series, did not mean being an Italian born in Rome. To be a Roman was to be a citizen of the largest and most successful union of peoples in the ancient world.




In York Minster that day, one of the Bible readings was from The Acts Of The Apostles, Chapter 21. Now these days, I'm always wary of people who quote Holy Scripture, they usually do it to reinforce their prejudices, but I was intrigued to hear this section about St Paul (not the most liberal of the saints) who had been arrested in Judaea for allegedly blaspheming against the Jewish religion. Whatever happened to St Paul in the end, on this occasion he was not convicted by Judaean law
because the Roman Governor of judea, Felix, found out that Paul was a Roman citizen.





'And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned? 
When the centurion heard [that], he went and told the chief captain, saying, Take heed what thou doest: for this man is a Roman. 
Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? He said, Yea. 
And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was [free] born. 
Then straightway they departed from him which should have examined him: and the chief captain also was afraid, after he knew that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him. '

Now, when I hear all those complaints about the EU being undemocratic and how people want all legislation to be controlled by Parliament,  I go back to that depressing General Election of last year and remember that only 26% of the electorate voted for this government. A government where its beleaguered leader struggles on a daily basis to avoid being pushed to the authoritarian right in his own party and who, as a result of the referendum campaign, whichever way it goes, is now severely weakened. If you like the sound of a right wing government then don't relax too much either. Those of you that dread a Corbyn premiership, might also wish for another legislative tier.  If Britain leaves the European Union, many Britons may well regret losing that right of redress that they once had in Europe.



I was reminded of the great Spanish painter Goya's etching in an article in the Guardian newspaper last week and it was well chosen. The Sleep Of Reason Produces Monsters (1799). I am more than worried that not only has reason been allowed to sleep during this referendum campaign but that here and overseas, some of those monsters have already started to appear.

So, please vote, if you have a vote, for Britain to remain in the EU. Vote for the EU and then campaign with all your strength for the reforms that many citizens of the European Union would like too.



In case you need reminded about the glories of that Handel anthem, here's Zadok The Priest as sung by the choir of Westminster Abbey. However ambivalent anyone is about the coronation elements, I for one will be singing the words to 'let all the people rejoice, alleluia,' if the nation votes as it should to celebrate this country and its rightful place in Europe on Thursday: