Open, Tolerant & United: Why I joined the #LibDemFightback

Open, Tolerant & United: Why I joined the #LibDemFightback

Last week, after much umm-ing and ahh-ing, I joined the Liberal Democrats. Hopefully this will explain why (and might even spur someone else to do the same).

Throughout the majority of my political life, I have held the view the we would be better served if political parties did not exist. It is too easy for voters to get entrenched in voting patterns, without actually assessing policies or candidates. If we were all swing voters, It would ensure candidates actively engaged with their communities, making politics more of a conversation.

The reality, however, is that parties are here to stay, because, consciously or not, we all put ourselves in groups – whether by philosophy, nationality, religious outlook, or some other identity.

So if you want to play an active role in shaping the future, as I do, you must start by working with people who share a given identity. I look around and I am scared for the future; I am scared by our apathetic response to war and famine, by our baseless distrust of difference, by our disregard for the needs of the most vulnerable in our society, by the reckless abandon with which we abuse our planet. These are choices – choices driven by our political discourse which I must condemn. But simply to condemn the status quo is to abdicate responsibility. To live with integrity, I must act positively. I must seize every opportunity to turn things around. That’s why I decided the time had come to join put my money where my mouth is.

But why the #LibDemFightback?

I wrote about identity earlier in this post (and in previous posts on this blog). Indeed, it’s something I care about deeply, and there are few parties with whom I identify. Our two main parties of government seem committed to re-fighting Marxist battles between the workers and owners. True, you get working class Conservative voters, perhaps drawn to the party’s strong stance on law and order, just as you get middle class Labour voters, but those two parties are fundamentally concerned with ideas of wealth and class. Its in the very name of the Labour party – the party of manual labourers.

This division makes little sense to me. I don’t identify as working class, yet neither am I part of the wealthy elite (despite having grown up in the Cotswolds). What matters to me, far less than what rates of tax the Government sets, is what they do, and why they do it. And while there are Labour policies of which I approve (and conceivably even one or two Tory policies – I won’t rule out that possibility, though it seems doubtful), I cannot share their underlying philosophies. Labour requires ‘solidarity’, thus opposing dissent and plurality, while the Conservatives are inherently opposed to change and, consequently, raising the common good.

One other party has, at times appealed to me. The trouble with the Green Party is that it emphasises ecology above all else. That means my partner would be out of a job (no testing on live, non-human subjects, even if they are nematode worms), and more generally, that they have little time for exploring more radical options like geo-engineering.

So, in some ways I am left with the Lib Dems almost by default. But my membership is a positive choice, driven by positive values. One of the more striking things about the Lib Dems is that they put values first and foremost – even in their constitution. Where the conservative party exists “to sustain and promote within the nation the objects and values of the Conservative party”, the Liberal Democrats exist:

“to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.”

Indeed the preamble to the Constitution goes on to further outline Liberal values, taking about a page of A4, far more than any other major party.

In other words, rather than a specific set of policies, Liberal Democrats start with a set of values are free to build policy on those values, as the needs of the moment dictate. For a policy wonk who wants to change the world, that’s quite a draw. But, when all is said and done, it was those core values which convinced me to join the Party, values nicely summed up by the party slogan. We are Open, Tolerant are United.

 

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The Crown Estates

This is a public service announcement.

Time and again, people criticising Conservative economic policy cite a few choice examples of Government expenditure to prove that austerity is a political choice. They argue that cuts to social care, to housing, to green subsidies, to local government or to the arts (to give a few examples) are not necessary, but are ideologically driven. They point out that the Government could find the money if they wanted to, but instead choose to use simplistic economic arguments to mask the fact that their ideal is a free market economy with minimal state interference. After all, the argument runs, the state bailed out the banks, it is spending vast sums on a new generation of nuclear power stations, on high speed rail, on the Trident successor.

Such arguments are not without value. Certainly austerity is a political choice (contrast current economic policy with that pursued in the post-war period, where, despite huge debts, we built the NHS). However, all too often, these arguments are marred. Alongside Trident, the banks and HS2, the other self-evident waste of money which is routinely cited is the Monarchy. And that is a problem.

In the financial year 2015-16, the Crown received £40m of taxpayer income. in 2016-17, it will receive £42.8m. This is not small change, and could be put to better use than funding one rich family’s decadent lifestyle.

Except that isn’t true. in 2015-16, the Sovereign Grant was £40m, and that did rise to £42.8m in 2016-17, but this is not taxpayer money. It is granted from the Treasury, but funded from the income of the Crown Estates. These are lands which belong to the Crown (rather than to the monarch as an individual) – which have traditionally been used for the administration of the state. Under the current Sovereign Grant scheme, the crown receives 15% of the crown estates’ income, with the other 85% going into Treasury coffers.

This 15% grant is used to fund the royal household. Now remember, the royal household remains a branch of government. This is not (as it is often presented) money going into the Queen’s pockets. It covers staffing, property maintenance and so on. Spending 15% of income on operational costs would give any business very good profit margins. Or, to look at it another way, the crown pays tax at a rate of 85%! It is of course right that those with the broadest shoulders bear the greatest burdens, but even the most redistributive of us would surely agree that 85% is a pretty high rate of tax.

Controversially, it has been agreed that, from 2017 to 2027, the Sovereign Grant will be increased to 25% of Crown Estates income, in order to fund repairs to Buckingham Palace and other Crown properties. In other words, the crown will only be taxed at 75%, so that it can afford to pay for repairs to its most famous properties, which have been put off due to lack of funds. These properties are used for state functions and are huge tourist attractions. Recent repairs have included replacing roofing (so that priceless historical artefacts are not damaged) and removing asbestos (because “Queen Dies of Asbestos Inhalation” is a headline nobody wants). Such repairs are not decadent, and should not be seen as controversial.

I should add that the Sovereign Grant is only one part of the royal income. Royal ceremonies and security are paid for from the public purse, separately to the Sovereign Grant. The Queens’ personal expenses, meanwhile, are funded by the Duchy of Lancaster and from her personal assets. These income streams are primarily inherited, and will be taxed as capital gains. There is an altogether separate discussion to be had about how inherited wealth and capital gains are taxed in this country, but the over-arching point is this:

The Crown voluntarily surrenders the income from the Crown Estates to the state. The state recognises that the Crown is part of it, and so returns a relatively small part of this money to the Crown. This is not unreasonable. Nor is it unreasonable that the amount of money should be increased to ensure that the Estates’ property is maintained in an appropriate fashion. To cite the increased in the Sovereign Grant as an example of frivolous spending of taxpayer money is misleading, as the money came only from a single tax payer – the same tax payer who is being given some more of it back. It is disingenuous to present this money as further lining the pockets of an individual born into great wealth. It fails to recognise that the increase in the Sovereign Grant is, in effect, a long term investment in buildings of national importance. And it fails to recognise that, even after the increase, the state will still do pretty well out of the Crown.

In other words, there are far better arguments against austerity to be articulated.

 

 

Truth.

 


“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” This may or not have been said by Joseph Goebbels. Whether he said it is not, on this occasion, what matters. What matters is that, in some ways, its true.

The ‘Big Lie’ will always be just that, but if you repeat it often enough, loudly enough, eventually people stop correcting you, and at that point, you’ve won the argument. Someone, somewhere will hear it without a counter argument; and then, to all intents and purposes, it is the truth. if I have not corrected the lie, I have lost the right to object when it is believed.

The truth matters. We all need to understand the world we live in, and that understanding must be rooted in some commonly agreed and accepted touch-stones. We can disagree on interpretation, but if we don’t agree on the source, we can’t have a meaningful discussion – we can’t have a shared democratic life. If our shared context is distorted, so too is our discourse. That road leads only to autocracy. If you want to know more, just read 1984. Please.

I am lucky enough to live in a society where we can change direction, even when, as now, many things seem to be falling apart. So I must do my part to ensure that such a change can happen. And so must each and every one of you. Your fate, and that of everyone you love, depends upon it.

So whether we are highlighting the fact that President Trump’s list of ‘unreported’ acts of terror includes events which dominated the news and continue to dominate our collective psyche, reminding Prime Minister May that only 38% of the electorate actually voted FOR Brexit, clarifying that claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 US election are baseless, or pointing out that Jeremy Corbyn’s train carriage really wasn’t that busy, we must keep speaking the truth. We must not let truth be twisted. we must highlight and counter lies and mis-information.

We must hold on to truth, just as tightly as we hold on to hope. If you want some help, have a look at this.

Enemies of the People? Why we need strong institutions

Enemies of the People? Why we need strong institutions

It’s a strange sight to see, and not without a certain irony. A head of state, railing against a ‘so-called judge’ whose opinion has ‘taken law enforcement away from [his] country’. Yet this is the new normal in the USA, where the president can question the legitimacy of any judge who questions his rulings, whether they be a lowly district judge or even the most senior jurist in the country.

Worryingly, this new distrust of judges is not limited to the USA. Following the vote to leave the European Union, British judges who interpreted constitutional law (as is their duty), and determined that parliament must approve the UK’s exit from the EU, as it will entail a substantive change to the rights of citizens, have been declared ‘enemies of the people’, ignoring the fact that it is in the interest of the people that these judges have acted.[i]

Judges, of course, interpret the law. This is their job. They are the highest arbiters of the limits of the law. To suggest that a judge has undermined law enforcement in his country, or has sought to divert the will of the people is, therefore, to wilfully misunderstand the role of a judge.

I wish I could pretend that those were the only cases of note where ‘democracies’ rejected the authority of institutions to fulfil their purposes. Yet it is a trend in recent political discourse to reject ‘experts’ and the establishment – to reject the knowledge and experience of people who have devoted their lives’ work to studying certain issues.

This is deeply alarming. Our democracy, and those of many other western states which have traditionally be seen as the most ‘free’,[ii] depends on the strength of certain key institutions which limit the power of individuals. In the United States, the fear of an overweening monarch has such a significance that ‘checks and balances’ are literally written in to the country’s founding document. The argument goes that no one branch of government – neither the executive, legislative or judicial branch – can accrue enough power to act without the consent of the other two branches. In the UK, which has an ‘unwritten constitution’, such arrangements have evolved naturally. The role of the monarch has gradually been eclipsed by Parliament which, as a bicameral body, acts as a check on itself and the government. More recently, the Bank of England has been made independent of Government, and a Supreme Court established, taking on duties once reserved to the upper house.

Such checks and balances developed to stop monarchs and politicians abusing their power; to prevent anyone taking office and acting with reckless disregard for the common weal. The history of the last century provides an ample record of what happens when dictators are allowed to untrammelled control. They disenfranchise the majority. They strip away hard-won rights to secure their own power and wealth. It is a road which leads, by increments, through the ghettos and the hate crimes, to the killing fields and the gas chambers.

The last century shows us, too, that it is an easy road to take. The majority of Germans were not anti-Semites, nor the majority of Serbs anti-Catholic any more than the majority of Americans are islamaphobic. Yet with alarming ease, Turks, Japanese, Germans, Serbs, Hutu, and others were swept up by nationalist rhetoric to support or to ignore the worst acts of inhumanity.

This is the price the world pays when power is not moderated. You may think I am scare mongering, but the stakes really are that high. It may seem, today, that we are still a long way from such horrors, yet look back a fortnight, and ask yourself how much further away we seemed then. Tally up what has changed since the 20th January. And then tell me that the world has not got substantially closer to unleashing hell.

More alarmingly, the two political shifts which scare me most are ones which have upheld the will of the electorate. We have embraced division, isolation, bigotry and small minded-ness, through democratic processes. In the UK and the US, voters have collectively decided to pursue what appears to me to be self-evidently the worse of two paths.

The fundamental problem here is that, while people as individuals are brilliant, engaged, intelligent and hopeful, the same is not always true of groups. Put people in a group and they will sink to the lowest common denominators. Just think about the last time you and a group of friends tried to pick somewhere for drinks!

Of course this is far from a universal truth. Groups often make sensible decisions, in the best interests of the world. But it is clear that they also make mistakes. They can be misinformed. They can give weight to the wrong evidence. They can be swayed by the media or by anecdote. This is why, rather than direct democracy, most nations elect representatives to weigh up information and take decisions on their behalf. This is why we trust people who have devoted their lives to learning about specific issues. We accept that, for practical purposes, the average man on the street does not know enough to make a decision about, for example, who to invade (I am not claiming to be different – I know that my information is at times limited, and I am prepared to accept that I don’t always know what to do).

This is why we need institutions. Strong judiciaries to determine when a populist leader is acting beyond the limits of his power, a representative parliament to challenge the government, a free press to ensure wider accountability and to inform the popular discourse, a vibrant civil society to uphold the rights of minorities against the tyranny of the majority.

We need institutions, because people are stupid, because we make mistakes, because we can be misled or swayed by emotion. And when that happens, we need to be shown what we have done, and we need to be given scope to correct our mistakes.


[i] In a representative democracy, the citizens delegate responsibility for decision making to their representatives. Last year, those representatives voted to consult the wider citizenry on our membership of the EU. On June 23rd, we held a consultative, explicitly non-binding referendum to address that issue. Given the nature of that referendum, and given that the government had not set out what an exit from the EU would look like, either during the campaign or in their last manifesto, it is entirely appropriate that the government be required to secure parliamentary approval for any substantive constitutional change.

[ii] For freedom and liberal democracy, see e.g., https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2017/united-kingdom
and https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2017/united-states

What Kind of Day Has It Been

What Kind of Day Has It Been

On the 15th November 2015, I joined with hundreds of people in silent vigil outside the ruins of St Michael’s Cathedral in Coventry. We gathered, on that wet evening on the cusp of winter, to remember the destruction of the city and its cathedral in the folly of total war, 75 years earlier. We also gathered with more recent events playing upon our minds; the night before, 129 people had been killed on the streets of Paris.

This time last year, the world was looking like a darker place. 2015 had seen the election of the first conservative majority government since 1997, while the number of refugees fleeing the world’s many conflicts had spiralled.

In spite of all that, as we gathered on the streets of Coventry, I felt hopeful.

Thirteen months later, and yet again I am faced with trying to understand a world where people seek to destroy each other. Last night, fourteen people were killed in Berlin, just outside another church which bears the scars of total war. And I must where that leaves us?

If things looked bleak last November, how much bleaker they look, one year on. The attacks in Paris were but the first of a growing swath of violence which has touched Brussels, Berlin, Nice, Turkey, Egypt… In too many places, the diversity of voices which enrich our societies are being silenced or homogenised. A country founded on the belief that all people are created equal has elected a President based on a campaign of systemic racism. In countries which birthed the enlightenment, populist, nationalist politicians gain ground. The cradle of civilisation continues to tear itself apart, with little regard to the human cost.

I can think of few no major geopolitical events in 2016 which have given me hope. From Brexit and the US election, through to the ongoing horror of the Siege of Aleppo and the murder of Jo Cox, 2016 seems to be filled only with negativity. Talk of a new Cold War seems ever more reasonable. Superpowers seek to expand their control, from the Baltic to the South China Seas. And of course, a great number of amazing people, people who lived lives of intelligent engagement and who offered examples to the rest of us, have died this year.

It would be easy to believe that, like a runaway train, there is little we can do to stem this tide of hatred. Demagoguery, bigotry and selfishness seem to have the upper hand, and it often feels that, for every step forward the world makes, it takes two backwards. In particular, we could consider Brexit and US election, and conclude that there is no longer space in our society for people who are different, that we lost the generosity we once had.

But the truth is not that simple. We have not lost who we are. You see, I am not naive. I know there is good and evil in the world, and in all of us. I know that we hurt each other, even when we don’t want to, and I know that all our progress has given us more ways to do just that.

What has changed is not our nature, but our priorities. Perhaps we have indeed lost sight of our values. But they are not gone for good. They are buried by our own concerns. If Brexit and President-Elect Trump have shown us anything, it is that great swathes of the population feel that the world doesn’t work for them; people who have seen their communities rust, who face unemployment, austerity and insecurity, and who have seen their lives only worsen over years or decades. There is nothing immoral about wanting your community to flourish, about wanting a comfortable life for you and your family. When everyone else seems to have it better than you, resentment is a natural human response.

We, as a world, need to regain sight of perspectives which are bigger than individual self-interest. We need to accept that concern for our own needs should not force out concern for the needs of others. We need to hold on to the fundamental belief that only by constructive discussion can we move forward in the face of disagreement. We need to hold on to the strong institutions and active civil society which are crucial to democratic flourishing, even when we don’t like the specific direction of a given institution.

If you ask me “what kind of year has it been”, I will be honest. It has been painful. It has been heart-rending. It has been one bitter disappointment after another.

2017 need not be the same. If we engage with each other, if we accept that we are social animals, and attempt to live accordingly, we can turn things around. Each and everyone of us faces a choice. We must all chose how we want to live, and we must be constantly making and remaking that choice. There is always scope to turn things around. As a great anthropomorphic personification says, There is always time for another Last Minute.

Opposition AWOL

Opposition AWOL

Politics in the UK has a problem, which desperately needs to be addressed. In June, a small majority of voters opted to leave the Europe Union. This is the most momentous constitutional change for a generation, and it is vital that we get it right. And that takes discussion. Reaching a deal on our continuing relationship with the European will define this Parliament, and the outcome will effect our country for decades to come. Everyone, therefore, can agree that we must work to get a deal which is good for the UK (and in my book, also the EU). This has been one of the Government’s stock responses when asked for their plan – they will work to get the best deal for Britain. Who could argue with that?

The problem is that this is not an answer. It is simply a platitude. I believe that the government should set out its goals in broad strokes –  where they stand on single market access, free movement of labour etc – and that the triggering of article 50 should be subject to parliamentary approval for these goals. This would give legitimacy to the tortuous negotiation process, and go some way to ensuring that the final deal is one which the country can broadly support. There is one group which should be hammering that message into the Government, yet sadly Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition seems absent without leave. And without opposition, the Government is free to offer the public platitudes, and pursue its agenda behind closed doors.

This is a problem, because we live in a representative democracy, yet much of the population – both geographically and politically – are not represented by the Conservative Government. Even if I felt the Government did represent me, I would want them to be challenged, because rigorous discourse is how we develop and refine policy in everyone’s interests. If ideas are not challenged, then problems go unmissed, ideas are underdeveloped, and failures are inevitable. We all get things wrong sometimes.

No, if we really want to get the best deal for the UK, we must have open discussion about what is good for the UK as a whole and its various regions, about what issues are priorities, and what people want from our new relationship with Europe. The impetus for this must come from those people who are elected to govern on our behalves, making use of the wide range of parliamentary debates, committees and other means. Discussions in parliament could fuel a wider public debate, using the media as a go-between, and we could have a truly national debate. That, at least, would be a positive legacy for 23 June.

Instead, we have an echo chamber. The Government alone speaks, and has what they say repeated back to them by the media, which is offered no alternative perspective. The Official Opposition are nowhere to be seen. This problem has its roots in the referendum campaign, when the Labour Party seemed unable to attract the attention of a media which was more interested in the internecine strife of the Conservative Party. More recently, Labour has struggled to formulate a clear stance on the issue which balances the competing interests of its London constituencies which voted to remain, and its provincial seats which backed leave. But silence is the worst of all possible worlds. It benefits none of their constituents.

Of course, smaller parties, such as the Liberal Democrats, are working hard to fill the gap, offering substantially different policies, to be debated. Yet with only nine MPs, and in a system which is so dominated by the two major parties, they cannot have the same clout. There are no two ways about it. The Labour Party needs to start to take more public positions. I try to be relatively well informed, and honestly struggle to identify what is Labour Party policy at present – particularly as it is still unclear how far what the Leader says is policy. When Mr Corbyn or his senior team do speak, there is no telling if his PLP or wider party agree with him, and would back such a policy.

This problem extends beyond the EU. A whole host of policy areas, from grammar schools to social care, and online privacy to transport infrastructure, can and should be up for debate at the moment. The Labour Party should be fearless in opposing moves which will hurt the poorest and those most in need of support, and it should be particularly unforgiving in attacking such policies if they have been brought in under Mrs May’s leadership, without regard to previous manifesto policy. Yet, time and again, Labour has little to say.

The failure of the Labour Party to speak to the issues of the day is also, in part, a failure of the media. While there are issues on which the party is undecided or divided, on many issues MPs on the front and back benches have plenty to say. Few in the Labour Party would support cuts to social care budgets, for example. Yet they seem unable to attract attention, perhaps because Labour is currently polling poorly, perhaps because, after the leadership challenge which just wouldn’t end, ‘politics as usual’ is dull. Whatever the reason, the Labour Party must reach out to the media. And if it wants to be taken seriously, it must do so with real, substantial policy – that means more than just Mr Corbyn’s ten pledges.

Labour must take control of its message, through a real media strategy. Only when it does that, can we have the real debate which is so vital to shaping the UK’s future, in the face of an unelected Government.

A Monster Calls – stories & hope

A Monster Calls – stories & hope

“Stories are wild creaturesWhen you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?”

 This evening, I joined some friends at the cinema. We didn’t know what we would see, as we were attending ‘Screen Unseen’, where a secret, pre-release film is aired. So I came without preconceptions, and

A Monster Calls is a strange beast. Based on an idea which could not be developed prior to the creator’s death, Patrick Ness wrote both the book and subsequent screenplay, and in some ways it is what you would expect from Patrick Ness; YA fantasy which deals with a range of personal and cultural themes. Yet even a genre as broad as YA fantasy struggles to contain A Monster Calls which feels like a cross between The Iron Giant and A Christmas Carol. 

The overarching plot concerns standard YA fare of fractured families, bullying and illness. It is solid and well delivered by a cast which largely captures “messily ever after” as the reality of modern life. Particularly strong in that capacity is Toby Kebbell, who plays the estranged father of the lead, and is entirely plausible as a man who muddles through, distracted by other concerns. The younger actors are less compelling – as is so often the case. A bullying sub-plot is under-developed and slightly wooden. Lewis MacDougall, who plays the protagonist Conor O’Malley, does not demonstrate a particularly wide artistic range, but he is nonetheless convincing as a withdrawn adolescent struggling to deal with family collapse (perhaps because such a character does not need to portray much more than anger and sadness). Overall, the primary plot is somewhat obvious and stilted, but will still prove cathartic to the more emotional audience members.

The pacing is occasionally frustrating. The film relies on the telling of stories within the narrative, and also on dream sequences, giving an unhelpfully episodic feel. In contrast, the cinematography and art feel faultless. Sections of the film use beautifully animated water-colour to tell stories, in a style reminiscent of the tale of the three brothers in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Live action sections perhaps over-emphasise pathetic fallacy, but they do so beautifully. In one scene Conor and his grandmother are waiting at a level crossing, while rain drums on car windows. The effect of view of trees outside the car, seen in half-light through a wet window makes the background itself look like watercolour. Other parts of the plot focus heavily on art and illustration; I had not expected to take such pleasure in a film of someone drawing.

What really brings A Monster Calls to life, though, are the fantasy elements, driven by Liam Neeson’s Monster (itself wonderfully rendered, feeling both life like and as though it has been pulled straight from the book’s illustrations). The Monster, a tree-spirit rooted in the landscape, who has the slow mannerisms of Treebeard or the eponymous Iron Giant, seems to grow from the scenery, even when indoors, being somehow a character and scenery at once. And it is the Monster which brings out the rich themes of the film. At one level, the Monster provides an education in loss for the Conor. More important, however, are the inter-woven ideas of hope, and story.

We are told that “belief is half of all healing”, yet the healing expected does not come. What is offered instead, is a healing unlooked-for, a learning to accept the world as it is; to recognise what to hold on to, and what to let go. The Monster does this through stories – stories which show the world, not in black and white, but in shades of grey. His stories are true, and they help explain the complexity of the world to Conor, who is still learning to accept that not every story has a hero and a villain.

Many people I know put great store in the power of stories to explain the world. Stories offer a means to understand the world beyond the story – whether they concern life and death, sexuality, God or just people. When the Monster notes that “Stories are important. They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth.”, he is speaking for Ness, who has staunchly defended public Libraries and Librarians as vital resources to help young people understand the world.

In 2016, these feel like very important themes. In a year where hope seems to vanish, and where we seem constantly astounded by the world in which we live, stories are vital. It is because of our failure to listen to, and understand other people’s stories that we have seen rifts tearing across societies. The Monster notes that “There is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in between” – we must accept this as a starting point if we are to rebuild our world. And yes, I know that listening to the people who voted for Trump, or who chose to target innocent civilians in acts of terror will not, alone fix the problems against which they reacted, but we must begin by listening, and in turn telling our stories. They may weak havoc, but sometimes that is necessary.

I do have another point of contention with Ness. The Monster claims that “You do not write your life with words…You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.” This seems to ignore the fact that to put an idea into words is to give it life. Words matter more than this might suggest. Ideas matter. Because hope is an idea, and we must hope. Belief is half of all healing. This feels like a time for healing.