Thanks for all the fish – and farewell

Having had a good relationship with so many people that I have never met – on social media and in the comment columns of some of our (better) newspapers, I feel rather guilty that for the last six months or so I have gone very quiet. So I decided to explain all in this blog.

Day one: Friday the thirteenth. The thirteenth of March 2015 to be exact. This isn’t really day one but it seems the right place to start this blog.

So day one: a room in our hospital with four people being me (obviously) my wife Marcia (who many will know as she is a very popular novelist), a consultant nurse and a surgeon. It is his unpleasant duty to tell me that a recent scan has uncovered a tumour in the oesophagus just above my stomach, that a biopsy has indicated that it is malignant and that as things are I have a life expectancy of between four and six months.

Oddly, at the time I found could take part in a reasonably intelligent and unemotional discussion as to the options open to me. It was only later that I began to suffer from shock – and I think the same thing was true for Marcia.

The first item on the agenda was to take a decision: to operate or not to operate. Such an operation would involve some pretty formidable surgery which could easily prove fatal to a seventy-six year old man with a heart condition (plus problems in other areas which are showing the signs of age), would be followed by a long period of discomfort assuming I survived it and there would be absolutely no guarantee that it would be successfull. Did I want such surgery? Did I want to go away and think about it before coming to a conclusion?

Can you imagine how horrid it is to have to give that sort of news to anyone? How often do we stop and think about the way the medics have to cope day in and day out with dealing people in my position?

A quick look at Marcia and a prayer of thanksgiving that we understand each other as well as we do and can almost read each others’ thoughts to make sure that we had come to the same conclusion and I found myself saying, quite simply: ‘Thank you but no, thank you,’ or words to that effect.

And so home with a good deal to think about and with both of us fighting to remain unemotional (and, sadly, not always succeeding).

Day sixteen: having rejected surgery, the next stage was a PET scan and today there is a meeting with an oncologist (rather than a surgeon). The PET scan confirmed the presence of that tumour and also showed I have secondaries in my liver. Now for a different decision: to see if the cancer could be controlled using chemotherapy (the medics ruled out radiation treatment as being fairly useless in my case). This one is a more difficult decision than the first so we listen very carefully to everything that the oncologist has to say and leave it at that for now. We need to give ourselves time to talk this through and so we leave for home with a good deal to think about and with both of us fighting to remain unemotional (and, sadly, not always succeeding).

The facts are simple: if no treatment is given I shall die within months (although nobody can predict how many), if treatment is given that time will be extended by a few months (but, again, nobody can predict how many) and the treatment will have unpleasant side effects (although, because we are all different, nobody can tell exactly what they would be nor how unpleasant). So does treatment offer an extension of quality life or not?

The decision is not so simple but suffice to say that we decided against treatment as we felt that the repeated trips to the hospital alone would create more stress without taking into consideration the side effects and we feel that after thirty-five years of happiness it would be dreadful if the end was one of misery. Better that it be a bit shorter but as happy as possible under the circumstances. In short, time to move on.

Now, nearly a month after Day One, I am still finding it difficult to come to terms with what I now know but now I feel more able to share it with a wider audience (I have already explained the position on my regular Friday blog).

Before I finish there is one thing I would like to add. We have the most wonderful health service and the medical staff are fantastic. Of course there will be times when we want more from it than we get but I would ask those who have to wait longer than they want to in A & E or those who suddenly find that an operation has been postponed to ponder on the fact that for the vast majority of people on this planet there is no A & E and operations are not even a faint possibility.

I welcome comments from anyone who feels that they have a worthwhile contribution to make and I will respond to any comment that requires a response – until the time comes when that is no longer possible.

Will I write any more blogs here? I honestly do not know. Certainly I have no desire to write more than I have about politics. So – on the basis that this may well be my last blog – many thanks for all the fish and farewell.

General Election and the Debates and How Much We Subsidise Big Business

Originally posted on Madkentdragon's Blog:

So the debates are going ahead whether the Prime Minister takes part or not, fine – but I won’t be watching.


Well, I sat and watched all the debates last year and quite honestly, they were all a waste of time and effort.

How many of the statements of intent have come true?

I’ll give you an example “I agree with Nick” – but what did Nick do?

He backed down on all just to become a part of the government.

I will state here that I was brought up as a Liberal and when they became the Liberal Democrats, I was over the moon; it looked like we had strong party leaders who could influence government. Do I vote Lib-Dem now? That’s between me and the ballot box – if I told you what I voted and you followed suit and it was a disaster, I’m not taking…

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Balls and the EU

Isn’t it time that the cold light of day be allowed to shine in on this whole EU matter. There is no good economic reason for being a part of the EU (or if there is one I have yet to see it expressed by way of a convincing argument). There is no good economic reason for leaving the EU (or if there is one I have yet to see it expressed by way of a convincing argument). So, sorry Mt Clinton, for once it is NOT “it’s the economy, stupid”. In that case what is it all about? Well, it could just be that the EU has overstepped the mark when it comes to ignoring people. There are tensions building in the EU which are disturbingly similar to those that built up in the old Austro Hungarian Empire prior to WWI. Clearly these tensions have been created mainly by the introduction of the Euro – but the way that was handled was hardly a prime example of democracy at work. It could be that deep down a lot of people are beginning to think, “The EU is going to end badly – and fairly soon by the look of things. Perhaps the risks associated with taking the UK out as soon as we can in a planned, controlled and civilised way are far less than the risks associated with remaining in the club.” I’m not saying it is – but I for one am now coming round to that way of thinking. Up to now I have wanted the EU to sort out the democratic deficiencies it has created and become properly financially accountable and under those circumstances I would have voted to stay in the club. However, the handling of Greece (and whether we like it or not the people in Greece have spoken) in recent days suggests that the EU cannot offer any solution other than brute force. OL – economic brute force for now but . . . Now, if you don’t give a toss for democracy you will think very differently. If that is the case, please stand up and be counted AND tell us what form of governance you would suggest for all nation states in the EU.

Yorkshire First – Standing Up To Be Counted

Having worked with Lucy Brown for a number of years and both influenced her political thinking (or at least had some small part in it) and been influenced by her, I consider Yorkshire First to be a most important development which I hope will be replicated in other counties.

Yorkshire First – Standing Up To Be Counted.

Yorkshire First – Standing Up To Be Counted

Originally posted on One Yorkshire Voice:

So, barring problems with nominations or any other twists and turns in the saga that constitutes my life at the moment, it gives me great pleasure to tell you I’m intending to stand as a candidate in the local elections in May for Yorkshire First.

For those of you who haven’t heard of YF, they are a group of people from across the political spectrum who are united in their belief that Yorkshire folk deserve more control over our own destinies. A core belief is the principle of devolution to the lowest feasible level; that is, bringing decision-making closer to the people that those decisions affect.

It’s early days and there’s a long time to go before May. However, I’m really looking forward to working with Yorkshire First and getting our message out there. No doubt I’ll post much more regularly in the coming months and I’d highly recommend…

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Governance – the Preface

For some years I have been gradually collecting the material for a book on governance: a book which explores ways in which a 21st century UK could be governed to the general advantage of all its people. Because I am getting on now and with a number of what are euphemistically known as “health issues” there is a real question mark over whether or not it will be written – especially as I intend to continue to support Marcia with my weekly Friday blog about life with a novelist plus there are four more parts of the five part series I am writing as companions to her novels. Anyway, putting all of that to one side, there is one thing I feel we need to take on board as a nation if we are to survive as a free country during what I believe will be difficult times: difficult because of two major issues: we are running out of natural resources and vast numbers of people in places like India and China are entering in the ‘developed world’  (and there is no reason why they should not) which will – is – changing the way the world’s trade operates and not always to our advantage. In simple terms that ‘thing’ is to face up to where we, the human race, came from. Most people will not want to know (will, indeed, refuse to accept) these truths and will prefer to cling to political thinking that is based on an entirely false view of mankind. Such thinking has been in fashion for a whisker over two hundred years out of man’s history which stretches back over many hundreds of thousands of years but already many are beginning to question the results. This ‘thing’ is the subject of the preface to the book yet to be written. Here is what it has to say.


Man is the dominant species on earth. That fact – and how it came about – has a huge impact on the environment, it has a huge impact on all other species and it has a huge impact on our relationships with each other. In short, it has a huge impact on politics and on governance for it is the way in which we are ruled and the way in which our rulers are selected (or self-selected) that determine whether or no those relationships create generally benign or generally malign outcomes.

What is extremely odd is that most of our political thinking for over a century has been based on a model of man (and throughout this book I would ask you to accept that ‘man’ and ‘mankind’ cover everyone regardless of gender, race, religious belief or any other matter that divides people) that bears little similarity with reality. Thus before we even start talking about governance, we need to try to work out what sort of animal man is. Then we can look at the best way for men to relate to each other.

I suppose it all started for me when I read African Genesis by Robert Ardrey many, many years ago – probably 1962 shortly after it was published. The opening paragraph sets the scene.

“Not in innocence, and not in Asia, was mankind born. The home of our fathers was that African highland reaching north from the Cape to the lakes if the Nile. Here we came about – slowly, ever so slowly – on a sky-swept savannah glowing with menace.”

Ardrey, born in Chicago in 1908, attended the University of Chicago where he studied anthropology and behavioural sciences but then turned to the writing of plays for the theatre and the screen at which, I should add, he was extremely good. But then, in the 1950’s, his interest in anthropology was re-awakened by the reports of work by two groups of people: one was scrabbling around in the earth hunting fossils and the other was carrying out long and careful observations of animal behaviour in the wild.

It was Raymond Dart – the Australian anthropologist and anatomist – who, having discovered the first fossil of an ancient hominid that he named Australopithecus africanus (the South African Ape) in 1924, started to question received wisdom: that man had arisen in Asia and had done so thanks to his giant brain. The Tuangs skull (the skull was found near a small town called Tuangs in the North West Province of South Africa) suggested otherwise. As more and more fossils were uncovered, it became clear that this hominid was carnivorous, a hunter with a particular predilection for baboon flesh – and one with a small brain. The world of science was not willing to release its hold on the ‘big brain out of Asia’ model and controversy was still raging when Dart retired in 1958.

Meanwhile other work being carried out in the 1920’s was to result in a profound discovery. Few people have heard of the British bird watcher Eliot Howard although he was considered to be the leading authority on warblers. That was to change with the publication of Territory in Birdlife in which Howard explained that a lifetime of observation proved to him that male birds do not fight over females: the fight over property. It would seem that it Howard was the first person to use the word territory in a zoological context.

Clarence Carpenter, an American primatologist of much the same age as Ardrey, proved by years of patient observation of chimpanzees and monkeys in the wild that amongst these, our closest living relatives, territoriality – in this case social territoriality – is universal.

Another important link in the chain was Robert Broom, one of the world’s greatest zoologists. In 1936, at the age of seventy, he was to discover the skull, teeth and brain case of an adult Australopithecus africanus. This enabled Broom to confirm all the projections that Dart had made from the fragments of the infant skull from Tuangs. Digging at Sterkfontein stopped shortly after war broke out and it was not until 1946 that Broom could get back to work. More and more fossils were found and eventually, Sir Arthur Keith (the British anthropologist) joined those who dropped all opposition to Dart’s theories.

Amongst this select band it is probable that Dr L S B Leakey was the most famous. Over many years he worked in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanganyika with Mary, his wife, uncovering hundreds of hominid fossils including, in 1959, the first maker of stone tools.

Ardrey realised that his class – the Class of 1930 – knew nothing of this work and, as a result, sought the attractions of a classless state peopled by men defined by characteristics that simply do not exist.

Thus it was the great thinkers and writers who have had great influence on the way we think about ourselves, about human society and about governance built the most complex and fascinating theories on foundations of shifting sand. I am thinking of men such as Thomas Jefferson (the main author of the American Declaration of Independence), Adam Smith (the Scottish political philosopher), Karl Marx (the revolutionary socialist) and, of course, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Contemporary wisdom had it that we were descended from peaceful and almost entirely vegetarian apes who might, on occasion, take a mouthful of some succulent insect – and that we became what we are because, by some mutation, we developed an enormous brain which enabled us to become what we are. In those days nothing was known of the drive to gain, maintain and defend the exclusive right to some piece of real estate now familiar to most of us (thanks in large part to people such as Sir David Attenborough whose television programmes bring nature into our homes) as territoriality. They did not know that chimpanzees are far from being vegetarian but actively hunt and kill smaller animals including monkeys – their close cousins. They did not know how important to all social animals is the sense of hierarchy: the drive to dominate and if that is not successful the willingness to be dominated. They did not know that both territoriality and, in social animals, rank are what drives males – not sex as was commonly believed (a belief based on observations of animals in zoos unable to exercise their normal instincts. They did not know that the human drive to acquire property and possessions is based on animal instincts that pre-dates man by many millions of years. They did not know that (and here I quote Ardrey) “status-seekers are responding to animal instincts equally characteristic of baboons, jackdaws, rock cod, and men”.

They did not know the first man was a killer – an armed killer – and that it was the computing power needed properly to control his weapons that led to the big brain. Nor did they know how powerful are the genetic instructions we receive from our DNA, instructions that we obey unknowingly and without thought even though they had their birth millions of years ago.

Today, however, we do know these things. You do not have to take my word for it (some of the works mentioned in the appendix will offer you substantial proof) and this is not the place to demonstrate those truths. However, we should always bear in mind that there are going to be new discoveries that will (as they always do) make us question some of our assumptions and think again about our responses.

Another quote from Ardrey: “Man is a primate. All primates are social animals. As social animals, all primates have developed to one degree or another such instinctual bundles as guarantee the survival of their societies. There is no reason to believe that man in his African genesis inherited from primate ancestors a bundle less complex.”

Suffice to say that this book is based on the fact that man is where he is in the world today because he has very sharp elbows, is totally ruthless and is a typical social animal: where the society in which he lives is highly territorial and those living within it are for ever striving for rank, possessions, celebrity – and tribal (national) status which is almost always expressed in terms of military power. Why else would we retain nuclear weapons when all know that their deployment would result in the annihilation of humanity? As a deterrent – and one we know to be false?

There would be no need for this book were it not for something quite incredible. Although so much is now known about the way social animals behave and interact and control their societies, the image of mankind that was fostered by men such as those I listed above remains the model for all politicians when they try to determine policies or control events.

The result, as my wife so often says, is that politics don’t work.

So what can we do? What should we do? These questions are probably unanswerable although I shall do what little I can to address them. If answers are to be found, answers which marry our modern desire for open, compassionate and democratic societies with our inbuilt instincts for survival and domination there is only one thing that can be certain: they must be based on man as he is and not man as we would have that he was. In short, they must be based on truth.

It is over fifty years since I read African Genesis (which was followed by The Territorial Imperative and The Social Contract). It is not that after fifty years I have come to any firm conclusions but rather that I think there may be something worthwhile in looking at politics from a very different view point and I am now old enough to be indifferent to either praise or criticism and so am able to express views that I know will be considered by some (especially those on the extremes be that left or right) to be anathema. Here are some of those views to indicate what I mean.

  • Men are not born equal

  • Striving to create equality is a waste of time and energy

  • It follows that equality of opportunity cannot exist

  • Life is not fair (which is not to deny that very British concept: fair play).

  • Men and women are different: they offer different skill sets and both skill sets are equally valuable and should be equally valued. There are, of course, some skill sets that are common to both sexes and there are some men whose skill sets are more the norm amongst women and vice versa.

  • Man has no rights. If he is lucky he lives in a society where, in return for meeting certain responsibilities, he will be able to enjoy certain benefits.

The time has come to see where this leads us. Welcome to a journey where we shall encounter many more questions than we shall answers and where the few answers that we do trip over will suggest actions which, paradoxically thanks to man’s innate characteristics, many would reject as either impossible or immoral.


Once again people are talking about “those who voted for a coalition” completing over-looking the fact that nobody did – they all voted for the candidate of their choice or (far too often and very sadly) decided that they wouldn’t vote at all.  It is tempting to assume that these are people who are abrogating their responsibilities as good citizens but we should spare a thought for those who, after long and hard deliberation, decide that they are not prepared to endorse any of the available  candidates.

Anyway, just for the record, I reproduce below a blog I put up shortly after the election in 2010. It may be of interest so here it is.

I want to try to find the answer two questions. Who actually determined the outcome of the last general election which was to result in a coalition? Who actually determined the candidates who became MP’s?

Before looking at some answers, the following may be of interest.

650 seats were contested meaning that to hold a majority a party needed 326 seats. No party contested all of the seats: by a remarkable coincidence the three main parties all fielded 631 candidates.

10,703,754 people voted for the Conservatives giving them 306 seats (47.1%) and 36.1% of the votes.

8,609,527 people voted for Labour giving them 258 seats (39.7%) and 29% of the votes.

6,836,824 people voted for the LibDems giving them 57 seats (8.8%) and 23% of the votes.

If we convert the ratio of votes cast to seats Conservatives should have had 234 seats, Labour 189 and the LibDems 150 with the remaining 77 going to the other parties (who actually gained 22). These ‘others’ included the Nationalist Parties of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales plus one member for the Green Party. This would have resulted in a coalition but it would have included the Labour party rather than the Conservatives (assuming that the LibDems would have felt happier being in coalition with Labour rather than Conservative).

Out of an electorate of 45,597,461 the votes counted were 29,687.604 (65%). There were a further 303,867 votes but these were on ‘spoiled papers’.

Now to look at who determined this outcome. To start with I decided to look at any seat won by one of the three main parties where the majority was less than 2,000. That is, of course, an arbitrary figure and I later realised it was the wrong one to choose but I decided you might like to share my thought processes.

65 seats fell into that category – 10% of the total. Here are the figures.

  • Seats won by Conservatives with Labour in second place: 20 with 17.567 votes.
  • Seats won by Labour with Conservatives in second place: 18 with 18,680 votes.
  • Seats won by Labour with LibDems in second place: 9 with 6,630 votes.
  • Seats won by Conservatives with LibDems in second place: 7 with 4,848 votes
  • Seats won by LibDems with Labour in second place: 5 with 7,141 votes.
  • Seats won by LibDems with Conservatives in second place: 4 with 3,061 votes.

As you can see, these continue to support the view that some voters have far more power than others. Conservatives beat Labour 20 times with a total majority of 17,567. Had ‘voter power’ been equal, the 18,680 majority in favour of Labour would have produced 21 seats and not 18.

The only plausible difference would have been for Conservatives to have gained 20 more seats thus avoiding the need to enter into a coalition and so all we need to consider is the most marginal 20 seats. These include the 4 seats taken by the LibDems where the majorities were 3,061. The other 16 seats would have had to come from Labour so we can discount 2 of the results. The majority in the other 16 seats was 15,073.

So there we have it, 18,134 voters determined that we should have a coalition (not that they would have thought about it in those terms, of course. Nobody – but nobody – voted with the intention of creating a coalition). Interestingly, it would not have mattered for what other candidate this group voted (or none). Take those votes away from those 4 LibDems and 16 Labour candidates and there would have been a Conservative government, albeit with the tiniest imaginable majority.

In percentage terms 0.62% of those who voted actually made a difference. If you prefer, this is 0.04% of all those entitled to vote.

Now for question number two. In the best case scenario, a candidate is chosen by a democratic vote. My best research seems to indicate that party membership in any constituency rarely exceeds 200. Since that may be a bit low, we will work on 500. 500 people in each of the 20 marginal seats where the result of the last election was determined involved in selecting their candidate means that only 10,000 selected those 20 MP’s and I suspect the figure to be far lower than that and I could choose many examples of events that fuel that suspicion.

The selection of Gloria de Piero as Labour PPC for Ashfield (following the announcement that Geoff Hoon was standing down) was mired in controversy. This is not a problem confined to the Labour Party. As the Daily Mail reported in February 2010, the relationship between the Conservative Association in Surrey East and David Cameron became somewhat strained over the matter of selecting a candidate.

So there we have it. In this much prized democracy the vast majority of us have no say in which party will take power and even less when it comes to the people who grace the green benches in the House of Commons.