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The MP's who overturned 200 years of parliament saying "yes" to war

War and peacePosted by john sloboda Sat, August 31, 2013 00:03:06
This is the list of UK members of parliament who successfully voted against military action in Syria on 29th August 2013, thus ending a tradition of over 200 years whereby parliament has always supported military action advocated by a Prime Minister. According to some commentators, the last time Parliament voted down a Prime Minister in this way was in 1782, at the time of the American War of Independence.

Whatever one's position on the vote, all can agree that this is a remarkable moment in British politics, and one that could have far-reaching consequences.

Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Amess, Mr David

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Bacon, Mr Richard

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Baker, Steve

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Baron, Mr John

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Bingham, Andrew

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bruce, Fiona

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burnham, rh Andy

Burstow, rh Paul

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Cruddas, Jon

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Wayne

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Geraint

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobbin, Jim

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Drax, Richard

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Francis, Dr Hywel

Galloway, George

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

George, Andrew

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hancock, Mr Mike

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Hillier, Meg

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hoey, Kate

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Huppert, Dr Julian

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Dame Tessa

Joyce, Eric

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Lewis, Dr Julian

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Long, Naomi

Loughton, Tim

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McCartney, Jason

McClymont, Gregg

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, Dr Alasdair

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

McPartland, Stephen

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Mills, Nigel

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Percy, Andrew

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rogerson, Dan

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Shepherd, Sir Richard

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Swales, Ian

Tami, Mark

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Mr Andrew

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walley, Joan

Ward, Mr David

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Weir, Mr Mike

White, Chris

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Williams, Roger

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Wilson, Sammy

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wood, Mike

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

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When is a referendum not a referendum? Sleight of hand in the Falklands

War and peacePosted by john sloboda Thu, August 08, 2013 11:13:03

When is a referendum not a referendum? Sleight of hand in the Falklands.

On March 11th 2013, some – but not all – Falklands Islanders took part in a “referendum” whose widely publicised results were that 99.8% of those who voted, answered YES to the question

“Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?”

What is less well known is that (a) this was not a referendum in the usually understood meaning of the term, and (b) that the announced result was based onthe views of only 64% of the adult population. 36% of them did not participate in the vote. I’ll explain why these are relevant, after outlining some international reactions to the vote.

International Reactions

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said Argentina should take "careful note" of the referendum result and that Britain would always be there to defend the Falkland Islanders.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said:

"All countries should accept the results of this referendum and support the Falkland Islanders as they continue to develop their home and their economy"

Argentina's foreign minister, Hector Timerman, said:

"The United Kingdom lacks any right at all to pretend to alter the juridical status of these territories even with the disguise of a hypothetical referendum"

Alicia Castro, Argentina’s ambassador to London said

"This (referendum) is a ploy that has no legal value," said Alicia Castro. Negotiations are in the islanders' best interest. We don't want to deny them their identity. They're British, we respect their identity and their way of life and that they want to continue to be British. But the territory they occupy is not British"

The Argentinian government has never accepted British claims to sovereignty. It believes that the territory belongs to Argentina. It will continue to hold to this position until and unless Britain comes to the table and engages in serious negotiations.

In 2012 a poll to mark the 30th anniversary of the Falklands war indicated that 89% of Argentinians support the sovereignty claims of Buenos Aires. Many believe the timing of the 2013 referendum is linked to the discovery of extensive oil and gas deposits, as well as growing interest in the Antarctic, which is likely to become an important source of fresh water and other resources. Veterans say it is absurd that the small community of islands should decide the fate of an strategically important area of land and sea that is bigger than Argentina itself.

The International Community is hardly enthusiastic about Britain’s claims. The United Nations has passed several recent resolutions calling on Britain and Argentina to negotiate on a range of issues concerned with the Falklands. Britain has consistently refused.

Immediately after the referendum, only one state, Sweden, announced public support for Britain’s position. Even the USA, supposedly the UK’s most significant global ally, remained silent on the issue. On the other hand, Latin America is vocal and united in support of Argentina’s historic claims of sovereignty.

On 4 June 2013, the organisation of American states (OAS) adopted a declaration that calls for negotiations between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the ‘sovereignty’ of the Falkland / Malvinas Islands. The resolution was passed as part of the 43rd annual OAS assembly in Guatemala. All Latin American countries expressed their full support for the measure. Canada was against the OAS final declaration, while the USA did not take a position on the matter.

I’m not attempting an assessment of the strengths of the opposing sovereignty claims here, other than to say that it is clear that neither side possesses an overwhelmingly convincing and unproblematic case. Otherwise the dispute would not have rumbled on for 180 years, and have been the occasion of a war between the two countries in 1982.

What I want to focus on here is the “referendum” itself, and how Islanders (and British politicians and mainstream media) have depicted this event in unsubtle ways which don’t fully reflect the reality.

Was this a valid referendum?

The term “referendum” is a technical term for a kind of consultation that involves the entire electorate of a nation or province. By custom and practice, only a state can mount a referendum. The Falkands Islands is not a state. The British Government played no formal part in the exercise.

This referendum was organised by the Islanders themselves, with no official involvement of any government. They invited John Hollins, the former Chief Electoral Officer of the Canadian province of Ontario and the current Chair of the Board of Directors of The Delian Project, to act as an election observer.

In general, for a referendum to be considered valid, those posing the question need to assure the population (and the international community) that all relevant individuals have received the invitation to vote, have had a free and fair exposure to both sides of the argument, and have been able to express their views freely – without fear of pressure or coercion – at the ballot box.

Nowhere can I find any statement that the Argentinian Government were able to put any proposals before the Falklands voters for their consideration.

What proportion of the population actually voted?

In relation to who voted, I have been able to piece together the following, mainly from information supplied by the Guardian’s excellent data blog:

At last census (2012), the Falklands population was 2,841. This is a decline from the high of 3,053 in 2001. 16% of the population (454) identify as Chilean or St Helenean, not British. The majority of people living on the Falklands today were not born there. They are immigrants, many of whom presumably went there for work. 1723 of the adult population are in employment (75%). 485 of these work for the government (28% of all jobs). Other major sources of employment are fishing-related and tourism. 25% of adult Falklands residents are not in paid work.

Approximately 20% of the population are under 18, so ineligible to vote. So the adult population is approx 2300.

Only 1649 of the Falklands population were deemed eligible to vote in the 2013 referendum (adults who were born there or who are long-term residents). Thus these 1649 eligible voters constituted 71% of the adult population. This meant that 29% of adult residents (650) were denied a vote.

Only 92% of the 1649 people eligible to vote actually did so (1517), comprising 66% of adult residents. Thus 34% of adult residents did not vote, most because they were denied the opportunity, and so the world does not know their views.

These facts are largely unknown, and have not been reported or further investigated by journalists, certainly not in Britain. They seem to me to tell a much more ambiguous and inconclusive story than most have cared to tell.

Why does this matter?

It matters because Falkland islanders deserve security. Security can never be guaranteed by Britain alone. It has to involve some viable accommodation with the people and politicians of the country and the continent where the Islands are, backed by processes supported by the International community at large, through the UN. Those in the British political and media circles who paint the “referendum” as some kind of black-and-white decisive moment, do the people of the Falklands no favours. We need to understand and grasp the complexity and subtlety of the situation if Falklanders’ lives are ever to be lived other than under the threat of further insecurity, whether political, military or economic.

I’ll be coming back to this issue (and similar issues facing Britain around the world, such as in Gibralter!) in future blogs.

Key References

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Sainsbury's at Wilmer Place: a travesty of local democracy

PoliticsPosted by john sloboda Wed, July 31, 2013 22:33:24
Tonight, the Planning Committee of Hackney Borough Council approved (by a 4:1 majority) plans to build a massive Sainsbury's Supermarket in a crammed plot between Stoke Newington Church Street and Abney Cemetary (a notable and historic nature reserve). This vote came in the face of massive local opposition, growing ever stronger in the face of repeated re-attempts by the developers, Newmark Properties, to bulldoze their way through local wishes. A selection of their ghastly developments can be seen on their web site at

Church Street is one of London's few remaining "village high streets" almost entirely given over to small independent local traders. It is one of the loveliest communities in London, and those who live near it and use it are passionately committed to keeping it that way. Last year I wrote my own pictorial "hymn of praise" to its multiple attractions, which can be found at

A moving video of the last stages of the campaign can be found at . This a real tribute to the broad support of ordinary people for the campaign, whose website at tells the story of the long fight.

The chair of the Planning Committee is Labour Councillor Vincent Stops. His contact details are given at

Below is the letter I wrote to him tonight. I expect he and his colleagues will receive many similar letters. The campaign is not over - but sadly it will have to move to a less comfortable phase for those determined to continue to fight.


Wednesday 31st July 2013

Dear Councilor Stops,

I am one of the thousands of local residents who have been telling Hackney Council that we don't want a Sainsburys on Wilmer Place, ever since the idea was first mooted.

I don't know a single person in Stoke Newington who is anything other than passionately opposed to this.

You cannot imagine that the vote of your committee is going to suddenly make that opposition vanish.

Your committee's decision tonight was a travesty of democracy, and reminds me of the worst behaviour of New Labour while in power.

Tony Blair took Britain to war in Iraq against massive public opposition, and it was, eventually, the end of his political career, and the main reason why Labour no longer governs the country.

I predict that tonight's decision will be the beginning of the end of the Labour Party's far too long stranglehold on Hackney's politics. Many, if not most, of the people I know locally who oppose the development are Labour supporters. You will have strained their loyalty to breaking point.

Yours sincerely,

John Sloboda.

(PS - although I am 20 yards outside the borough boundary, just into Islington, Church Street is the street I identify with and shop on, and will fight to the end of my days to keep it the preserve of small independent local traders, and the very special place that the likes of Sainsburys and Newmark Properties will never understand)

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Change has come: Istanbul June 1st

PoliticsPosted by john sloboda Sat, June 01, 2013 17:01:54

Lisa Morrow has lived in Istanbul for a number of years, and writes on daily life and customs in turkey, and her book "Inside Out in Istanbul was recently published. Today she sent a report by email to many of her friends and contacts, asking for it to be passed on widely, and to the media. The report is reproduced in full below.

"Change has come: Istanbul June the 1st" by Lisa Morrow

By now most people around the world will be aware of the protests taking place in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and other cities around Turkey. Most likely the news reports are saying people are protesting against a new shopping centre and that the protests are violent. Both statements are half-truths that need to be explored.

For the last few months peaceful groups have been meeting on weekends in Gezi Park, the last green space in Taksim, central Istanbul. They are demonstrating against the planned destruction of the park, in order to build a shopping centre and a mosque. Taksim Square has long been associated with Ataturk, democracy and modernity. It is a busy place and popular with students, tourists and activists from both sides of the political spectrum. The Gezi Park demonstrators have been meditating, holding barbeques, doing yoga, or singing in an attempt to publicise the threat to the park. Things suddenly escalated in the last week when the bulldozers were moved in and a small group began to camp out in the park. On Friday morning about 5am, the police threw tear gas into the tents where people lay sleeping, and when they ran out police targeted them with water cannons. If this wasn’t enough the police then set fire to the tents.

By Friday night thousands had begun to gather in the square, despite the police building a barricade around the park to keep both them and the media out. Istıklal Street, a famous thoroughfare, was crammed with people, as was Cumhurriyet Boulevard. Police riot squads descended on them, forcing people to flee into nearby shops and cafes where others were just going about their normal day. When the water cannons were fired into Starbucks, tourists as well as Turks ran out screaming. Nearby side streets became battle fields and also sanctuaries, with chemists and other shops providing first aid and people hanging signs from their houses saying “Come to my apartment if you are injured”.

More police were sent to the scene with more tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons but nonetheless the momentum built quickly. This morning at 2am we were woken in our sleepy middle class suburb of Göztepe, on the Asian side of the city, by the sound of clapping and chanting. When we looked out the window we saw a group of people banging spoons against pots, slowly moving through the streets to Kadıköy. This group joined the estimated forty thousand people determined to walk across the Bosphorus Bridge to join the protests on the other side. By 10.30am they had made it to Besiktaş, about a kilometre from the square, where they were stopped by police. Throughout the day I have received texts from friends, telling me they were safe after being sprayed with pepper and tear gas. Others told me how people are being beaten up for no reason and that family members had been trapped on the metro when the police turned their focus there. Facebook is full of photos of bloodied people of all ages, some there to protest, others just passing by. Some of the images are from journalists but most are from people living in the area whose lives are affected regardless of their political beliefs.

Yes, things are now violent. One person is dead and hundreds have been injured However this is not because the demonstrators want violence. Peaceful actions have been met with violent over-reaction as water cannons are targeted at men’s genital regions, at people standing in submission with arms raised, at men, women and children who are fighting for their country. What began as a small action against a proposed shopping centre has catapulted into a popular movement for government change from people who have had enough.

In the last few years the ruling party has overstepped the mark by manipulating evidence and arresting scores of former army officers for supposedly plotting a coup, done for the greater good of the people, in the name of democracy. In the name of democracy they have changed the laws so that students from religious Imam Hatip schools can freely enter universities even though they lack the basic educational requirements expected from everyone else. The separation of religion and state has blurred more and more. Most recently new public transport ordinances were released requesting decorum on the metro in Ankara. A ‘kissing’ demonstration was curtailed by a heavy police presence and opponents wielding knives. Permission to celebrate May Day was denied on the grounds a gathering of 50,000 people in Taksim Square was unsafe, although about a million people pass through there every day. Just last week the sale of alcohol was severely restricted in order to protect Turkish youth although there is no data to suggest alcohol consumption is a problem here. These and other incidents are behind this spontaneous uprising and calls for the Prime Minister to resign.

To repeatedly say it started due to a protest in a park, as is happening on a lot of international media, is to belittle the political intelligence of those involved. To report violent protests without clearly stating the violence began with heavy handed police actions, is to cast the demonstrators’ actions in a sinister light. As I write this I am nearly being deafened by my neighbours, ordinary people, beating their saucepans and blowing whistles in support of the protestors. Thousands more are heading for Taksim square, seeking an end to government interference in their lives. The call for change has come to Turkey. Now it is up to the government to answer that call.

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PoliticsPosted by john sloboda Sat, April 20, 2013 20:56:03

A lost generation: a parent's view of the experience of Young Adults in the UK.

(This was written in 2004 and circulated by email to friends and associates. This is its first on-line publication. Looking around today, I see much the same now, if not worse. The age range to be included would probably extend nearer to 40 than 30 now! Names* and details have been changed to protect anonymity.)

A lot of my friends and acquaintances have children aged between 18 and 30. Most times we meet, or correspond, we tend to share information about our children, their friends, and the circles in which they move.

Looking back over these conversations, especially the ones which have taken place in the last 5 years, I have begun to see a pattern, and it is quite a disturbing one. It is even more disturbing when I take into account that the vast majority of the people I talk to are highly educated graduates, professionally successful, caring, liberal, and generally deeply invested in their children in one way or another.

One friend tells of his son Nick*, intelligent, talented, and popular. Nick went to University to read Physics. Although he had a great time socially, he found less and less to enthuse him in his University course, despite being passionate about Physics at School. He struggled on to the end of his degree course, with less and less motivation, eventually gaining a third class degree, far below his ability. On graduating he decided he wanted nothing to do with the subject again, moved back home, and has for the past three years been living at home, surviving on a series of unrewarding temping jobs, and feeling directionless.

Mary* left school at 16, convinced that education had nothing more to offer her. She found it hard to find work, and was part of a set that encouraged her into drugs, casual sex, and petty crime. She eventually enrolled for A-levels at a city college – but found the teaching uninspiring – she dropped out again before finishing the course. Now, at 20, she is embarked on a different set of A-levels at a different college, still not sure what she wants out of life.

Andrew* appeared to have everything going for him when he got his 2.1 in History at the age of 21. But he couldn’t find a job that truly satisfied him, and moved from one job to another over a period of 6 years, moving also from city to city. Then, at the age of 27 he decided that he wanted to be an architect. The only way to achieve his ambition would be to start all over with another full-time degree course. Now he is saving hard to scrape together enough to allow him to re-enter University, which he might do, if lucky, by the age of 30.

These are not untypical stories. Variants on them are as common, if not more common, than stories of steady progression through education into stable careers.

As we parents puzzle over the tortouus paths of our children, we find it hard to relate their experience with ours of 30 years earlier, when a degree course seemed to be a rapid passport to a career which, in one way or another, made use of the skills and enthusiasms which we had developed before and during University. By the age of 25 many, if not most, of us were already drawing a full-time salary within the stable career that would see us through the major part of our working lives. None of us were living with our parents, few were financially dependent on them. We were, at least in career terms, “grown ups”.

The pattern that emerges from the multiple stories of today’s young adults is very different. Adult children are far more often living in the parental home into their late 20s, they are far more likely to be financially dependent on parents, they are less likely to have found a career to which they can wholeheartedly commit, they are less clear about the form and direction of their lives. So many of them seem lost.

Of course, our children do also sometimes have conventional successes. And we parents are happy and proud for them. I greatly enjoy hearing news of these successes. But I have noticed something about many of these reports: they are delivered in tones of surprised relief. It is almost as if we parents know that such success is by no means guaranteed, and that we have no particular wisdom about, nor can we claim any particular credit for, the route to success. We don’t truly understand the causes of our children’s successes any more than we do their failures. There is a sense that we share in our children’s “lostness”, and we can no longer read the signs of the times in ways which allow us to be reliable resources for them. We all have many experiences of being told, in one way or another, by our children, that we just don’t understand how things are now for them. Our wisdom is dated.

Some of us might detect, in our children’s rejection of our wisdom, the so-called “youthful rebellion” against advice which they will eventually learn to accept as they “mature”. This is, I think to misread the situation. I think we should be prepared to accept that something very fundamental has shifted in Society over the last 25 years, and that the rules we learned (or pieced together) to enable us to create coherent lives, can no longer be a reliable guide for our children. The pressures on them are not only greater, they are different in their form and contour; and conversely, the social instruments and institutions which might be looked to for support and enlightenment have changed, sometimes beyond all recognition.

Public discourse, contributed to by politicians and pundits, and rehearsed through the media, offers far too little. One primary tactic is to “problematise” young people and their behaviour, so that solutions are focused on “changing the way they behave”, either by superficial external controls, or through “education”. For instance recent public debates on how to stop binge-drinking have focused on changes in licencing laws and commercial restraints on town-centre drinking establishments; together with attempts to publicise the negative health and social effects of alcohol abuse. It is rarer to see analyses that focus on the underlying causes of destructive cultures. People who are leading fulfilled lives – with meaningful goals – and effective support to achieve those goals – don’t have time or inclination for self-abuse.

Another common tactic is to apportion blame. Variously, pundits blame parents (particularly those formed by the “permissive” 60s”), schools, the media, multiculturalism and the decline of “traditional” morality. In general, these are seen as giving “too much freedom”, and the proposed remedies involve, in one way or another, a return to “Victorian values” of control and prohibition. Changes in parenting, education, and the like are all indeed manifestations of cultural change, but it is both simplistic and dangerous to invoke the past. The past that is generally invoked is not an active, subtle and complex lived past, but a conveniently selective image of the past, a reinterpretable and subvertible construction, onto which powerful elites can project their own current interests, interests which are rarely take into account the true human needs of those they seek to influence and control.

To find a better way forward, we need to step back from the simple slogans of politicians and newspaper editors, as well as ready made “answers” that might be offered from belief systems that were shaped in different times and places.

Spaces and safety needs to be created for young adults to tell their stories, fully and without interruption or criticism. People of other generations need the resources to be able to hear these stories, fully, respectfully and undefensively. Then, out of this “bottom-up” growing understanding, we may have a chance to construct a positive agenda, whereby young people and adults, working together, can create an agenda for the restoration of meaningful lives for young people. There can be no more important or urgent agenda.

Can we create a space in which the right kind of deep mutual listening and creative problem solving can take place? This may need a private dimension (to protect individuals and create trust) but it must have a strongly public “front-end”. This work is not, primarily, about finding more effective forms of therapy for distressed or disabled individuals (although outcomes of the work may, practically, be very therapeutic). It is about creating an agenda for stimulating activity which could lead to real and practical social change, an agenda that empowers young adults and their chosen allies, and leads to practical and observable changes in the way that people live together and support one another.

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War and peacePosted by john sloboda Sat, April 13, 2013 08:56:03


April 13th 2013

I was 29 when Margaret Thatcher won her first election in 1979 and served as Prime Minister for 11 years. Prior to her election, I had little or no interest or involvement in politics. It was her eager and unprecedented agreement to allow US nuclear weapons onto British soil (in Cruise Missiles at the US Military Base in Greenham Common, Berkshire) which catapulted me (and many around me) into political awareness and activism.

The early responses to Margaret Thatcher’s death have given surprisingly little attention to this aspect of her premiership, which was, at the time, one of the most controversial and contested. Indeed, only two of the many tributes to her in the special session of the UK Parliament held on 10th April 2013 even mentioned her deployment of Cruise missiles.

It is worth recalling that under the inspirational leadership of former Catholic Priest Bruce Kent, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) became one of the most formidable and effective foci for opposition to Thatcher’s policies. In 1979, when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, CND membership nationally stood at 4,000. By 1984, under Kent’s leadership it had risen to 100,000, with another estimated 250,000 members of local branches around the country. October 1983 saw 400,000 CND supporters rally in London against Thatcher’s nuclear policies, one of the largest anti-government rallies in modern history (only exceeded 20 years later by the February 2003 rally against the Iraq invasion). So effective and articulate was Kent’s CND in publicly opposing her policies that individuals and organisations with close links to Thatcher and her government were spurred to mount a well-funded propaganda and “dirty tricks” campaign against CND, which involved such things as infiltration of their offices, and promotion of spurious claims that CND was funded by the KGB.

The Falkands crisis was an extremely fortunate opportunity for Thatcher to regain public support for British militarism in the face of the extraordinary political successes of CND in challenging the raison-d’etre of British defence policy and spending. Many within CND supported the Falklands War and argued that CND should not oppose it, as a “distraction” from their main purpose.

For me, however, the Falklands War was as disturbing (perhaps even more so) as the nuclear issue. It re-established in the national psyche the notion of Britain as a country of successful expeditionary war, sending British troops to far-off places, against the odds, to kill and defeat odious enemies. It needs to be recalled that since the 2nd World War, the only major expeditionary involvement of Britain was the disastrous Korean War of 1950-53, which involved 100,000 British troops and ended in stalemate with more than 2 million people killed. The equally disastrous British response to the Suez crisis, alongside the rapid unravelling of the British Empire, meant that by the late 1960s it was no longer clear what the British military (as a fighting force) was actually for. The Falklands War was, in my estimation, the “touch paper” that prepared national consciousness (and mood) for the far more consequential and ugly British military involvements in Kosovo/Serbia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

In one sense, I need to thank Margaret Thatcher. It was her definite and uncompromising policies, translated into equally definite action, that helped me define my own stance on these issues in reaction, and motivated me to become active in pursuing the goals that have developed into the specific peace-oriented projects that now take up much of my time and energy. Perhaps sometimes one needs to become more sharply aware of what one is against before one is able to work out what one is for and what to do about it. Margaret Thatcher was a towering and formidable force in British and World affairs, who showed me very clearly a view of Britain’s role and place in the world which is not the one I want for it, or for myself as one of its citizens. Britain maintains the world’s fourth largest military budget. I hope I might live to see Britain move way down this hierarchy, as a matter not of national disgrace, but of national pride and joy.

(For a more comprehensive account of the British anti-war movement, see Sloboda & Doherty, 2007. The Psychology of Anti-War Activism (1): The British Anti-War Movement 1956-2006. In R.Roberts (Ed.) Just War: Psychology, Terrorism, & Iraq. Ross on Wye: PCS books. Downloadable freely from

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A great orchestra fails to convince

Art and MusicPosted by john sloboda Mon, March 25, 2013 22:04:02


24th March 2013

I have the privilege of living a few miles from the Barbican, home to the London Symphony Orchestra, which has the reputation of being Britain’s finest orchestra, and I also have the privilege of being able to afford a £25 or more ticket to such events on a relatively frequent basis.

Last night’s performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto by the Russian violinist Nicolai Znaider was immaculate, not only for his virtuosity and sweetness of tone, but for some well-judged chamber-music-like orchestral playing, particularly from the wind section, with the opening oboe solo of the 2nd movement being played by Fabien Thouand with exquisite sensitivity, supported faultlessly by his fellow players.

This was playing of utmost professionalism. And yet……

Why did I go away feeling unsatisfied?

The LSO is a Rolls-Royce of an orchestra. It purrs luxuriously and effortlessly through the most demanding of repertoire, making it sound oh-so-easy. It smooths all the rough edges away and burnishes its playing with a glossy and immaculate sheen.

But glossy and immaculate somehow does not meet, or even honestly represent, the power of art music to touch and provide a real encounter, whether intimate or unsettling. It is all too self-confident, pre-packaged, settled, even complacent. It felt to me as though the orchestra had come to some kind of unspoken compact with its audience not to surprise or disturb, but to provide a familiar and comforting spectacle, where we could marvel at the virtuosity of this very familiar music without getting too involved, before consigning the event to memory as a “nice evening out”, similar to, and soon merging in the memory with many similar events over the years.

I compare this, to me, rather sterile experience, with something utterly wonderful (and free) that I attended a few days earlier. Colleagues at the Guildhall, Armin Zanner and Dinah Stabb had the beautiful and original idea of re-creating (in music, drama, and wine) a party held by the singer Jane Manning for the Austrian Composer Ernst Krenek on a visit to London in 1970 (see ). It was held in the drawing room of the Austrian Cultural Foundation, and was laid out in salon format, with tables for the audience of 50 or so. An actor spoke some of Krenek’s actual words, a scholar of Krenek explained some of the background to his work and philosophy, and Jane Manning (and some others who had attended that party) reminisced on what Krenek was like, and how he behaved at that party, and what their reaction to him was. The young singers sat among the audience, talked to them, and then, suddenly one of them would stand up and start to sing. Every audience member was welcomed personally by one or more of the cast, invited to drink wine, and was drawn deeply into the event, physically, socially, intellectually, emotionally. Everyone was involved, engaged, and at the end came out bonded and uplifted, and having got to know excellent music that many of us had never heard before. There was absolutely no compromise on musical standards – which were impeccable. But huge value was added by the passionate engagement and commitment of every single participant. This, for me, is the classical music event of the future. I will remember and savour it for a long time. Alongside it, sadly, the kind of audience experience that the LSO offered last night on the Barbican stage seemed thin, faded and one-dimensional.

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PoliticsPosted by john sloboda Sun, March 24, 2013 23:48:03


March 24th 2013

I have just finished reading one of the most profoundly important books I have come across. Charles Eisenstein’s “Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, & Society in the Age of Transition” offers more answers to the economic and societal ills we face than anything I’ve read before.

The book is available in the normal way through web booksellers, but it is also available free at

It’s basic concept is that we need to reshape money to be consistent with the fact that the things of the greatest value are the gifts we give to and receive from each other. Money, as currently organised, and particularly, lent or borrowed at interest, is inimical to the development of a gift culture – in fact it destroys it – and in the process, destroys community.

Eisenstein offers seven clear and practicable elements of a money system that serves, rather than undermines, human benefit.

1. Negative interest currency. In this system, money, like all else, loses its value the longer it is held onto. Negative interest forces money into circulation rather than being accumulated and kept out of circulation.

2. Elimination of economic rents. Owners of land, property, patents etc. pay tax on their holdings. No-one should be able to profit from merely owning a thing without producing anything or contributing to society.

3. Internalisation of social and economic costs. Pollution, and other forms of environmental costs must be borne by the polluter, not the general society or future generations.

4. Economic and monetary localization. In local economies we know personally the people we depend upon. Main Street will be revitalized by authentic local businesses.

5. The Social Dividend. Technological advances have made production of the quantifiable neccesities of life easy. These advances should become the common property of all humanity. The proceeds of 2 and 3 above should be shared among all citizens equally as a contribution to covering life’s necessities.

6. Economic degrowth. As production is no longer necessary to fuel economic growth, we will not need to work so much for money (especially with the social dividend). We will be freed to exercise creativity and indulge in beautiful work without having to earn money from it.

7. Gift culture and person to person economics. There will be an ever-increasing use of gift-based and open-source production. What used to be paid for will be given away. Mutual credit systems will be set up without the intermediation of banks and financial institutions.

He goes on to show how each of these elements have operated in a range of times and places, including the present. He also deals with a wide range of objections and difficulties that might be felt by people as they contemplate a system where money is no longer their security, but their reciprocal relationships of need to other people.

I want to quote two medium length passages that epitomize for me the vision he is holding out, first for the economic realm and then for art.

“Earlier in this book I described the disconnection and loneliness of a society in which nearly all social capital, nearly all relationships, have been converted to paid services; in which distant strangers meet nearly all of our material needs; in which we can always “pay someone else to do it”; in which the unspoken knowledge I don’t need you pervades our social gatherings, rendering them vacuous and dispensible. Such is the pinnacle of civilization, the end point of centuries of increasing affluence: lonely people in boxes, living in a world of strangers, dependent on money, enslaved to debt – and incinerating the planet’s natural and societal capital to stay that way. We have no community because community is woven from gifts. How can we create community when we pay for all we need?

Community is not some add-on to our other needs, not a separate ingredient for happiness along with food, shelter, music, touch, intellectual stimulation, and other forms of physical and spiritual nourishment. Community arises from the meeting of these needs. There is no community possible among a group of people who do not need each other. Therefore , any life that seeks to be independent of other people for the meeting of one’s needs is a life without community.” (Chapter 22, page 419-20).

“Money can buy songs, but not a song sung specifically to you. Even if you hire a band to play in your home, there is no guarantee, no matter how much you pay, that they will sing to you and not just pretend to. If your mother sung you lullabies, or if you have ever been serenaded by a lover, you know what I am talking about and how deep a need it fills. Sometimes it even happens at a concert, when the band isn’t just putting on an act but is actually playing for that audience, or really, to that audience. Each such performance is unique, and its special, magical quality vanishes in recording. “You had to be there”. True we may pay money to attend such an event, but we receive more than we pay for when the band is truly playing to us. We do not feel that the transaction is complete and closed, that all obligations are cancelled out, as in a pure money transaction. We feel a lingering connection, because a giving has transpired.” (Chapter 22, page 423).

For me, this book “reaches the parts the others haven’t reached”. It fills the gap between the anger, hurt, and confusion expressed in so many places, as focused by outbursts of dissent as the “Occupy” movement, and a viable and inspiring way forward. What Eisenstein persuasively argues is that the road towards the new economy and the new society need not be accompanied by collapse, chaos, and pain. Each element of the new way of thinking and acting that we can incorporate in our lives will bring quick, and deep, gain to our lives, enriching rather than depleting them.

I would be delighted to hear the reactions of anyone else who reads this important book.

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