VE Day and the world around the corner

Today marks seventy-five years since VE day; the day which felt like the end of the Second World War for most people in Europe (though of course the war in Asia would continue for several months).

I’ve always struggled with days such as this, where remembrance drifts towards nostalgia and perhaps jingoism. Both my grandfathers fought in WWII, one in the Army, one in the Navy (where his actions earnt him a DSC), and I believe they were both decent men, yet I don’t believe I could do now as they did then. Perhaps I am wrong? Would I have been swept up by a sense of duty and patriotism?

Regardless for the first time in a while, I feel more than regret at an act of remembrance. Because VE day is about a collective overcoming of a deeply destructive, hateful ideology, and crucially, about what came afterwards. It represents a turning point.

After VE day, Europe began to rebuild, and it did so, in many ways, collectively.

The U.S. Marshall Plan funded the recovery of Europe. Resources from across the British Empire (itself rightly coming to an end), were crucial. It was a commitment to preventing further destruction which gave us the United Nations, the UN Declaration of Human Rights & the UN Genocide Convention. Europe began to reunite, through the efforts of organisations such as the Community of the Cross of Nails. Eventually, the seeds of the European Union were sown.

Of course, reconstruction is a process not an event. It took until 1991 for Europe to be truely reunited, and we see today just how far we have yet to go. I have little time for the current U.S. administration. The UK is still grappling with the nature of our relationship to the rest of Europe, all too often in alarmingly agressive language, which deliberatly evokes a mis-remembered history. And one need only look at the failure of both national and pan-national responses to COVID-19 to see how far we have yet to go.

But I despite all that I remain hopeful.

Last night, I spent the evening talking to some German friends, based in Berlin. In so many ways this would have been impossible 75 years ago. Despite our distance, and our failings, things could be so much worse. As Hans Rosling, the late Sweedish academic, points out in his book Factfulness, while many things remain bad, the world is getting better. It is so much easier to see, and to understand, someone else’s world now than it was 15 years ago, let alone 75.

VE day came at the end of a period of senseless hatred and destruction, but it was followed by a huge amount of progress so that, in many ways, the world in 1950 was better than the world in 1930.

Today, Coronavirus presents a challenge which is neither a severe, or as malicious as Fascism, but which still requires collective national and international efforts to overcome. And through it, we can glimpse how the world might be brighter. We can see a world where care workers are paid what they deserve, where homeless people are not left to sleep rough, where cycling is given priority over the car, and where our cities have clean air.

VE day is a turning point. I do believe we can build a better world around the corner. But we can’t do it alone.

What can you do?

This is a non-exhaustive list of good ideas to fill the time, keep us sane and get through COVID-19.

The great thing is that lots of these are mutually beneficial. For example, exercise will help with sleep and mental wellbeing. Crowd-sourced research with Folding@Home can help beat Covid-19. Learning a new instrument can be a great part of a daily routine. 

I’m regularly updating the list when I see good things (feel free to share and send me any recommendations you may have).

Also, don’t worry if you can’t do All The Things. I went in to this thinking how much I would do, but tbh, I am more busy than I was. Don’t hold yourself to unreasonable standards. Just keep being great at being you. 

Living healthily at home

  • Get dressed, and eat regular meals
  • Keep to a routine, and get a proper night’s sleep (if you are struggling with the latter, check out Every Mind Matters’ Sleep Page)
  • Pray or meditate, even if it’s not normally your thing.
    • Church services have been suspended, but they remain open for prayer. I know churches are looking at live streams (and radio 4 does a Daily Service), and I am sure that Mosques, Synagogues, Temples etc will be doing the same. There’s a thread of Choral Evensong here from Bristol Cathedral, which is rather sweet. Cuddesdon College has begun streaming their daily prayer here, and Coventry Cathedral is doing the same here (to pick a couple – many more available).
  • Try positive journalling – write down positive/productive things you’ve done today.
  • Plan a holiday – it will give you something to look forward to, and you can book it as soon as things calm down.
  • Try not to spend all your time on social media and watching rolling news – have set times where you watch the news (say 8 am and 5 pm or 6 pm).
  • Take the opportunity to spring clean (physical or digital), sort clothes to donate, and do those odd jobs you’ve been putting off.
  • Get fresh air and/or exercise.
    • Unless you are isolating because you or someone else in your household has symptoms of COVID-19, you can go out for walks/runs/cycles/games in the park – just stay at least 2 metres from other people. Why not try Couch to 5k.
    • Cardio, sit ups, press ups etc are easy. to do at home. You can find Pilates, Tai Chi, Yoga and more on youtube. And I bet your personal trainer/yoga instructor will be keen to do online tuition.
    • Joe Wicks is now doing daily P.E. classes on his youtube channel.
    • The NHS has loads of free fitness exercises and videos here, as do Public Health England and Sport England.
    • The Guardian has a useful list of home exercises you can do.
    • Many Gyms have online classes – see if yours does. Some have even made theirs free for the time being.
  • For some light relief, try the #HomeTask from Taskmaster. It is delightful.
  • If you are more logically than emotionally minded, you may find it helpful to read the science.
  • If you are struggling with self-isolation, or if you are worried about your mental health, talk to your friends and family. There is also useful advice available from Every Mind Matters, the NHS or Mind.

Arts, Culture, Sport, Hobbies etc

  • Read books!
    • Most libraries have digital collections of magazines, ebooks, audio books etc.
    • Project Gutenberg has thousands of free ebooks for things out of copyright.
    • My favourite historical library collection, the Corpus Christi Parker Library, has digitised its medieval manuscripts. They are things of beauty. Many other libraries have done similarly.
  • Google Arts and Culture provides free online tours of museums like MoMA and the Guggenheim in New York, the Van Gough museum in Amsterdam, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence the National Gallery in London, Musée d’Orsay in Paris…. sooooo many. Why not plan a trip there?
  • Dig out those craft projects, puzzles, colouring (physical or digital – free colouring pages here) and so on. I have a chair to re-upholster, and photo albums to make.
    • Cambridge Art Makers are doing a daily Covid Crafting challenge via their Facebook page.
  • Learn a new skill, play an instrument or learn a language (I’m teaching myself R and learning German).
    • If you have a skill, offer to teach it online – and if you want to learn from people, pay them (the creative industries are bad enough at the best of times).
    • A huge range of online learning options exist. I like some of these ones, but there is something out there for literally everyone.
      • Duolingo – languages – lets see who can get the longest streak!
      • Crash Course – Good stuff from the Vlog Brothers
      • Openlearn – run by the OU
      • Datacamp – if you’ve always secretly wanted to be a data nerd
      • EdX
      • Skillshare
      • BBC Learning – an oldie, but a goodie – everyone loves bitesize
      • All of the Reith Lectures are available here. Always interesting.
      • Lots more MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) here.
  • Watch artist livestreams (and support the artists if possible). Some I know know of are below (but follow your favourite bands, and keep an eye out – I’ve already seen Frank Turner live on facebook, and am looking forward to listening to a live recording The Hold Steady just put out:
  • Check out Edinburgh Zoo’s live cams.
  • Listen to Sir Patrick Stewart read a Shakespeare sonnet every day (ok, it’s a video, but the listening is the important part).
  • If sport is your thing, this might be a bit of a slow patch, but even you are not without entertainment: Formula 1 are doing an e-racing competition with their pro drivers!

To look after each other

  • Call your parents/grandparents/siblings
  • Rearrange social activities to skype/hangouts/zoom – watch films, share pints or cups or tea from the comfort of your own homes.
    • Reach out to the people you know who are likely to be taking it harder – perhaps because their mental health isn’t great, or they live alone – make a special effort.
    • Make plans for the future – plan to go to the pub or theatre (just hold off booking for now).
    • If you’ve booked something which is cancelled, please consider NOT seeking a refund.
    • lets you watch netflix with a group chat alongside.
    • lets you play games over video chat (I haven’t tried it, but it sounds like a good concept).
  • Keep an eye out for your neighbours. Put a note through the letter box with a phone number. Even if you can’t physically help, you can talk to people.
  • Take the time to write letters!
  • Talk about things which AREN’T Covid – share a favourite book or piece of music, or talk about your hobby – you might get different insights, and it’s a nice change from discussing lockdown anxiety.
  • Find forums with people who share your interest, or set one up using something like Discord.
  • Have a regular e-open-house – share a google hangouts link and a time between which you will be on it, then people can ‘drop in’, as it were.
  • Have an area of expertise of an academic type and care about education or have a child at home in need of distracting? Take a look at Covid-education-needs pledge. (Always remember to talk to parents, don’t spend time with students alone, and don’t enter into any situation which might be inappropriate).
  • Try to resist the urge to stock-pile. And when you do go shopping, pick up some things for your local foodbank.
    • Try to buy from small businesses, who are feeling the pinch more.

Crowd-sourced research

  • If you’ve got some spare computing power, get on to Folding@Home – where your own computer can be used as part of a virtual super-computer working to model proteins.
    • This is being used to model COVID-19 proteins, as well as diseases such as cancer or Alzheimers.
  • Are you a scientist or researcher with time on your hands? Crowdfight COVID-19 is pooling skills and resources to support disease research here. (Some tasks may also benefit from support from non-scientists, so sign up with your skills).
  • There’s lots of other crowd-sourced research going on, via Zooniverse. You could count Penguin populations, search for gravitational waves or transcribe anti-slavery pamphlets to name but a few.

To help beat COVID-19

  • Follow guidance on social distancing and self-isolation.
  • For the love of God wash your hands.
  • If you are fit and well, please please please give blood. Giving blood is classed as essential travel, so don’t cancel your appointment.
  • Help researchers track the spread of the disease using this quick symptom tracker app from King’s College London/Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital/National Institute for Health Research.

The values we need right now

The values we need right now

How worried do you feel? On a scale of one to ten? I’d put myself somewhere around 3.

I’m not personally at much risk from COVID-19, though my partner’s asthma puts her at an elevated risk. Nor do I dread the idea of self-isolation (being something of an introvert, and easily able to work from home). But despite that, the last few days have felt different. Because I think we are all a bit more worried than normal.

And when we are worried, it is easy to become selfish.

I recently read Mike Berners-Lee’s There is No Planet B, which focuses on how we adapt to living in the “Anthropocene”, the new era in which, for the first time, we as a species have the power to significantly change our planet perhaps beyond recognition.

Berners-Lee’s primary focus is practical; how to decarbonise our energy supplies, what a sustainable food system for a global population of ten billion looks like, wow we can still travel without wreaking havoc on the planet. But he saves the most important section until the end of the book. Values, Trust and Truth.

The book identifies three values we will all need to cultivate for this new world:

  1. All people are inherently equal in their humanity…. All should be allowed, encouraged and enabled to live their lives in whatever way they find meaningful, provided this is negotiated alongside the equal rights of others to do likewise.
  2. Respect and care for the world, its beauty, life supporting complexity and all its life forms. [I view this as simply an extension of number 1].
  3. Respect for the truth, for its own sake. The honouring of facts, as far as they can be discerned. Allowing others ton have the clearest view of whatever you or they may deem to be evidence. Transparency over reasons, methods and personal interests.

These values were picked as the ones we need to deal with our power over the planet. But I think they have a wider role to play. Because effectively, they represent a stripped back social contract.

COVID-19 has put our social contract under pressure. We see a lack of consensus around policy, and assume it is because our leadership is callous, not because leading scientific minds are still trying to figure out what will work. There are near-riots over loo roll. You only need to read stories of people fighting over loo paper to know that. It’s easy to read twitter and feel like we are living in the opening of a new series of Years and Years.

That is why I am anxious. Because I worry about how easy it is for our world to fall apart.

I don’t really believe, as Hobbes did, that our natural state of being is “poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. I believe that the choice not to be selfish is something which is inherent to living in community, and that is something which goes back far beyond our evolutionary forebears. But at times of crisis, our in-groups become smaller. We fight over toilet paper, because we want to have enough for our family. We assume the worst in our leaders because we want someone to blame.

That’s why, now more than ever, we need open-ness. We need honesty about uncertainty. And we need empathy.

Because there is no value in being the last lonely king sitting on a throne of Andrex.

Primarily Disappointed

Primarily Disappointed

Thanks largely to the guys at Pod Save America (which is like The West Wing in real life), I’ve been more engaged in this year’s democratic primary than is reasonable for someone with no direct link to it. And I have *opinions*. Aren’t you all lucky!

It all started so well.

OK, the field was absurdly large, with everyone and their dogs throwing their hats into the ring, but this time last year, we had a historically diverse field of candidates running for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

Kamala Harris, a Californian senator, and an African-American woman. Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of a small city in the mid-west, a millennial, an openly gay (married) man and a military veteran. Julian Castro, the former Housing and Urban Development secretary, and a Latino man.

Not only the people, but the platforms were diverse; from Andrew Yang, an Asian-American tech entrepreneur, running on a platform of UBI, to Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, whose whole campaign centered on climate change. People stood for universal healthcare and statehood for DC and Puerto Rico, for abolishing the electoral college and the senate filibuster which so often prevent the American people from getting what they vote for.

Now, on Super Tuesday, the field looks very different.

Joe Biden, 77 years old and the former Vice President, who seems to have lost a step in recent years.

Bernie Sanders, 78 years old Senator, and one of two significant contenders for the Democratic nomination in 2016, who seems perpetually angry.

Mike Bloomberg, 78 years old, and a multi-billionaire who has tried to buy his way into the election (and who thankfully looks set to fail).

To my mind, the only exciting candidate left is Elizabeth Warren, an academic turned Senator who set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau following the financial crisis, and has a plan for everything. If I were a primary voter today, she’d get my vote. Sadly, however, after some poor performances in early states, Senator Warren looks to have almost no realistic path to the nomination

Which leaves us with the unenviable prospect of two old white men with near-universal name recognition battling to take on a third old white man. Biden or Sanders. That’s a choice to put you to sleep.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that either Biden or Sanders would be infinitely preferable to the current occupant of the White House. But I sincerely doubt that either of them has what it takes to win in November. I cannot reiterate enough that the incumbent has a huge advantage in US elections.

The last year has shown what a wealth of talent there is within the democratic party. The question is whether the USA as we know it can survive four more years of President Trump, so that some of that talent can be put to use.

If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.

If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.

Yesterday was a hard day.

At a personal level lots of little things happened (like burnt toast and a sore throat). But far more importantly, at 11 pm, three and a half years after a Conservative Prime Minister called a referendum to protect the nativist flank of his electoral coalition, the UK left the political institutions of the European Union.

I have made no secret of the fact that I did not want this to happen. I have always supported our continued membership of the E.U. I’ve done so because it improves lives. The business case for membership is incredibly strong. And successful business means a wider tax base to support those with less in society. Free movement has enriched countless lives. Scientific and artistic collaboration are easier as part of the union.

But more important than all of that, more so even than a feeling of European identity, is the reality that, working together we can achieve more. The greatest challenges we face in the 21st century do not recognise national borders, and it will be far easier to tackle them if we are already the closest possible partners.

Humans have evolved to live in community. Voluntarily cutting ourselves off from that, and retreating into an exclusive, narrow-minded nationalism will only harm ourselves.

I may have been on the losing side, still not convinced it was the wrong one.

Waking up this morning, it is so easy to feel crushed. To abandon hope. To retreat into our own lives and our own worries. Yet to do so is, in the end, to give victory to those who want that smaller vision. Those who believe that what we owe to one another is limited to those who look and sound like us.

Whether or not we are members of the E.U. – indeed whatever our future relationship is – I will hold on to that belief. I will try to let that belief shape what I say and do. I will continue to work for a world which is more collaborative and more diverse.

And as I wake up this morning, I see that so many of you feel the same, and I am proud to have the friends I have.

Something else came to an end last night. The Good Place was perhaps the perfect sitcom. I think we all need some wisdom right now.

“Sometimes, when you’re feeling helpless, the secret is to help someone else.” 

“We have no plan. No one’s coming to save us. So… I’m going to do it.” 

“Principles aren’t principles when you pick and choose when you’re gonna follow them.”

“I argue that we choose to be good because of our bonds with other people and our innate desire to treat them with dignity. Simply put, we are not in this alone.”

“Now we’re going to do the most human thing of all: attempt something futile with a ton of unearned confidence and fail spectacularly!”

“Picture a wave in the ocean: you can see it, measure it, its height, the way the sunlight refracts… and then it crashes on the shore and then it’s gone. But the water is still there. The wave was just a different way for the water to be for a little while.” 

Election Day

Election Day

As I hope you all know, today is our chance to have our voices heard and decide the direction of our country for the next five years.

It’s a big deal.

You may also know that I am the Liberal Democrat candidate in a local council by-election happening at the same time. For me, this is also a big deal. I’m standing in a community which has often been neglected and which now has a primary school faced with closure. So, whether I am elected or not, I hope to send a clear message to Camden Council that they cannot continue to ignore Haverstock.

But this is too important for me not to speak.

I ask you to vote. That is the most important thing. The next five years are make or break for this country and this planet. Do not sit idly by. Do not remain neutral.

And if you want to know how I will vote, the answer is clear.

  • I will vote for a party whose values reflect my own.
  • I will vote for a party which recognises that the challenges we face, both at home and globally, can only be tackled through cooperation and collaboration.
  • I will vote for a party which won’t let the NHS be further eroded, and who will focus investment on mental health.
  • I will vote for a party which stands up for LGBT+ rights.
  • I will vote for a party with a clear plan to tackle the climate crisis (albeit one which we will need to continue to accelerate).
  • I will vote for a party with the most progressive tax and benefit plans.
  • I will vote for a party which is welcomes and values diversity.
  • I will vote for a party which would fix our utterly tired democratic structures.

I will vote Liberal Democrat.

Of course, I recognise that for some of you, this may not be something you can do. You may feel you need to vote differently, you may, for whatever reason feel unable to support the Liberal Democrats. I entirely respect that. This would be a far poorer country if everybody had the same views.

So I ask you, think about what you value, not just for yourselves, but for your community, wider society and the whole country.

And vote with your conscience.

If you want to know where to vote, you can find out here. You don’t need your poll card. Why not go on your way to or from work?

Note (you don’t have to read this). You may be surprised that (except on twitter), I have been less vocal about this election than in times past. This is for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I am trying to separate out political and non-political aspects of my life. Secondly, my employer has asked that I avoid muddying any water between my role as a candidate and my day job. And thirdly, there are legal restrictions on what you can do as a candidate: although I won’t be paying for this post to be promoted, you’ll still find what we call an ‘imprint’ below.

Published and promoted by Chris Hattam on behalf of Jack Fleming (Liberal Democrat) at 242 Webheath Workshops, Netherwood Street, NW6 2JX.

On the Global Day of Climate Action

On the Global Day of Climate Action

Today, around the world, millions of people will put down their tools and text-books, abandon their cars and computers, and join the global climate strike. But sadly, I will not be with them.

For years, I have argued that climate change is the single greatest challenge we face; an existential crisis which threatens our every way of being. I’ve written about the issue on this blog and elsewhere. I’ve written to my MP and signed petitions, and I rejoiced when, in 2016, we secured something which looked like progress.

Yet today, I am not on the streets. I wish I were, but life is not always that straightforward.

In June of this year, I joined the policy team of the Royal College of General Practitioners. I am privileged to be at the heart of an organisation which works day in, day out, to improve primary care, and thereby support everyone in the UK to live healthy, fulfilling lives. As a Policy and Research Officer, I help shape national policy discussions and influence government, primarily on issues relating to the general practice workforce: the doctors, nurses, pharmacists and receptionists who we all rely on.

And as such, today is an important day for me. Today, the College’s governing council will discuss a paper I helped write, which outlines the actions we must take to ensure a general practice workforce which is sustainable and fit for purpose. The outcomes of today’s meeting could shape government policy and national discourse. In this room, I can learn from discussions, and help improve the healthcare we all rely on.

If I were to join the climate strike, I would be one in a sea of millions. But in this room, I am one of a small group who will rewrite the RCGP workforce policy position.

And there’s another side to this. Many people around the world are not able to go on strike. Their work might be insecure. They may risk poverty by taking time off work. By protesting, they may put themselves or their families at risk of government retribution.

I am not in that situation, and I am lucky in that regard. However I am still in my probationary period at the College, so I’d be reluctant to go on strike.

Sometimes you have to pick your battles.