Chlorinated chicken debate reveals truth behind Brexit

Listening to the debates around the looming US trade deal which has made Trump all terrifyingly twit-a-hoop (Working on major Trade Deal with the United Kingdom. Could be very big & exciting. JOBS! The E.U. is very protectionist with the U.S. STOP!) and the questions around food, I think we have been shown a truth about Brexit which we would do well to recognise.

There has always been strong anti-EU regulation lobby, which has successfully misrepresented how the regulations operate in a bid to sex-up the campaign against them.  Boris Johnson, of course, alongside Slithery, Slythery Gove, being chief. Johnson’s entire intervention was elegantly summed up in this extract from Jon Henley’s 2016 article ‘Is the EU really dictating the shape of your bananas?’ 

“Brandishing a Cornish pasty (rather ironically, one of more than 60 British food and drink products that have protected geographical status under EU law, meaning they cannot be ripped off by imitations made elsewhere), Johnson said it was “absolutely crazy that the EU is telling us how powerful our vacuum cleaners have got to be, what shape our bananas have got to be, and all that kind of thing”.

He said it was “costing UK businesses about £600m a week in unnecessary regulation” and that he was “delirious” with Vote Leave’s claim, repeated on the side of the battlebus, that Britain “sends the EU £350m a week”.

We know now that the battlebus claim was beyond bogus but there are many who still hold onto the idea that the EU over-regulates. As Henley goes on to explain re the bananas myth:

“Nothing is banned under the regulation, which sets grading rules requested by industry to make sure importers – including UK wholesalers and supermarkets – know exactly what they will be getting when they order a box of bananas.

The claim that EU regulations cost British businesses £600m a week comes from the thinktank Open Europe, which calculated that the 100 most expensive EU rules cost UK companies and the public sector £33.3bn a year.

But as the InFacts website points out, the same study also found that quantifiable benefits from these rules were worth about £58.6bn a year, or £1.1bn a week: a net gain of about £487m a week.”

And there are many articles and sites where researchers have taken the time to investigate regulations and show how they have been misrepresented. That is not to say all regulation is good. In the agriculture and fishing industries it is a hugely complex process with lots to consider from both sides, and by that I mean the common good v. profit, and there are never going to be many examples which serve both sides completely.

But whilst the landscape of EU regulation and trade before the referendum was rich with disagreement about the inherent problems of unifying system of trade, it was also a firmly established model in which EU member states, EEA and EFTA operated with a great deal of success. It is always harder for newcomers to enter an established system of trade and, therefore, harder for those who rely on money markets, rather than manufacturing, say, to make a fast, and sizeable, buck. It is not a system that favours huge swings or huge profits, but one that favours a consistent approach and business models seeking long term and reasonable profit margins.

Figures like Gove and Johnson are the ‘face’, if you will, of the world of the instantly rich ie those who have made and continue to seek to make quick huge profits by all manner of means. The fact that they have close links to Trump and Farage, therefore, can be seen as all part of the same culture. A unified system of trade is anathema to them. And the chlorinated chicken debate perfectly sums up why. Unfortunately, the defence of quality and welfare, as much as I utterly and entirely agree with those principles, is working to disguise the fact that it is irrelevant. Whether it be chlorinated chickens, private health insurance firms, or hoovers that use too much power to contribute to a sustainable future, all that matters is that the act of closing down a unified system of trade allows a scramble for profit in its wake.

By opening up new trade routes by breaking the unified system there is an unbelievable opportunity to make a fast and huge buck. But it is entirely short term – it is about the new. About being the first to get in there and make the huge profits available to the first. And, of course, the money markets will make their money by betting on who they think will be the best and worst at exploiting those opportunities. Once that new time is over, the food market will have been changed unalterably by that sort of competition. Existing businesses, those used to the long term and the reasonable profit, will have been forced to adjust; to change their working practices and lower prices. At that point, no one will be making massive profits anymore and those who coined in will move on to new territory.

And this is what underlines the motivation of the principal players in the Leave campaign and which will have no positive effect on those who voted Leave for the range of reasons they did so. The primary concern of principle players of Brexit is equivalent to a plague of locusts who will consume the crop and move on. It is not about the right and wrong of regulations, sustainability or quality or even welfare, it is about an opportunity to be in on the ground when change happens and exploit it for every single possible penny or cent.

This is what should be at the heart of the debate and moves us beyond the pointless and utterly limiting protectionist/ not protectionist dichotomy.  Reasonable and long term profit as a condition of the common good, as opposed to vast profit-mongering raping an economy for short-term gain, is where the debate should lie.


Thanks Shetland


Thanks to Kathy and Stuart Hubbard of The Shetland Film Festival (Screenplay) and also to Mary Blance and Robert Alan Jamieson, for one of the best experiences of my life. We toured the film Nort Atlantik Drift: A Portrait of Robert Alan Jamieson to the distant corners of Shetland, in village halls in Sandness and Fair Isle, in the cultural hub of Mareel in Lerwick, to the kids of Brae High.  Folk turned out for the screenings in good number, and the feedback was amazing. We talked about landscape and dialect and shared ideas of how poetry and film can tell us so much about ourselves. We met some incredible people, and saw some awe-inspiring sights. The weather was sunny and still, so still on Fair Isle that the power from the wind towers was zero. Candles came out and whisky was drunk. Pretty much gobsmacked by the whole thing. Here’s a few photies.

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Very chuffed by the fact that a former miner from Monktonhall Colliery got in touch to say this:

“I was looking through a few old pictures online of Monktonhall colliery and I came across a poem  that you wrote about the experience that you had going down the pit,   The poem was very well written and describes the experience like it really was. it means a lot to me as I first felt that experience when I was just 15 years old after just leaving school, reading your poem brings back lots of good memories of what we endured on a daily basis. I have since tried to find your poem to show colleagues from Monktonhall so they could also enjoy your heart felt words but with no success as it has been removed. My colleges and I would be very grateful if you could locate this poem and send us a copy as memories are all we have left. :

Here is the poem (please forgive the lack of formatting – I can’t seem to do line breaks between stanzas):

Filming at Monktonhall Colliery 1996

“Down there were coal is dug it is a sort of world apart which
one can quite easily go through life without ever hearing about”
—George Orwell The Road to Wigan Pier

I went down 3000 feet in a rusty cage
the men teasing my increasing fear.
Water dripped everywhere faster than we dropped.
No sign of hell in this underworld:
an unexpected brightness of strip lights and high ceilings
feeling like the back rooms of some dirty shopping mall.
But it was only the start of a long journey into black
down reducing tunnels in steady increments
taking deep breaths to stifle my constant question of ‘what if?’
because there’s no escape if this world caves in.
I joined in the banter, working hard to make believe
I’m as tough as them, shouting over the raucous noise
of the pumping turbine.
The further we went the lights decreased –
one weak tungsten bulb now and then
and the torch on my plastic head
revealing only a vague sense of this long coal road.
Down and down we continued on
sweating in the sunless heat
breathing warm gusts of dusty air.
A full hour on I began to stoop,
5 foot 6 inches too tall and taller every step.
We approached the tunnel’s end in single file,
bent crooked and straining unknown muscles.
A new sound joined the anarchic symphony
of unmuffled engines driving the coal conveyer belt –
a gentle poetic sound, the echo of metal tools
chinging at the coal face.
The white glare of an industrial beam
revealed the end game – a three foot high seam
and the reality of an old idea
of carbon coloured miners on their knees
for hours on end in such extreme.
They hope for a future with money in the bank
so they’ll fight for this life, the one they know,
the perilous security of such hard graft.
But back at the top
the camera packed and the crew gone home
when there were just a few left
in a corner of the pub
and the beer washed down with a single malt
only then, in the safety of a moment of calm
did they dare share the vision of their secret dream –
that whatever the future might hold for them
their own sons would never have to face the same.
Susan Kemp

Nonsense article

Insomnia aggravated by reading the Guardian online and coming across Jonathan Jones’ piece calling on British Museums not to make the same mistake as the Louvre by sending treasures to the provinces. I am stunned by such ignorance in a man who should clearly know better. It has long been common practice for museums and galleries to lend their treasures to other museums and galleries,whether provincial or metropolis, around the world. Does he not know this? He seems shocked and surprised that it should even be considered. He writes that by sending ‘Liberty Leading the People’ to Lens, the Louvre ‘is breaking up a collection that is one of the wonders of the world. For every visitor who makes the trip to Lens, there will be people frantically scouring the Louvre in Paris looking for the vanished Delacroix that is usually one of its highlights.’ What? As far as I understand it the Delacroix is simply being lent for three months but Jones writes as if it has been wrenched from the wall and stuck in a cardboard box on the back of a hay lorry never to be seen again and possibly destroyed in the process. I have never read anything more stupid in my life and there’s a lot of stupid out there so that’s saying a lot.

I quote from a museums association publication on lending in the UK as an example of the practice: ‘Museums lend their collections in order to increase the public benefit derived from them, to promote access, to increase knowledge and understanding, and to support other museums. They balance their role in safeguarding items for future generations with their obligation to optimise access for and engagement with present audiences. Museums borrow items in order to complement and enhance the potential for learning and enjoyment in their own collection. Lending and borrowing is part of a well-managed and sustainable collection.’

How bloody fantastic that the Louvre have created a satellite in an old mining town. And how even more fantastic that they are placing such value on the venture by sending the Delacroix to be part of the opening exhibition.

Much as I love and have been very privileged to be able to visit museums and galleries in many European and North American capitals I have also gained a huge amount from seeing treasures that have been allowed out to travel. In addition to getting to see and experience such treasures face-to-face without having to go to Paris, say, and compete with all the other choices, such pieces are singled out in such as way as to bring fresh attention to work that is often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of illustrious company their homes are shared with.

And as to putting the work at risk – again, what an expression of deep ignorance. I once made a documentary about the loan of Whistler’s Mother to the Hunterian Gallery in Glasgow from the Musee D’Orsay and can personally testify to the expertise and skill, a craft in itself, of moving such treasures – on arrival as much as on departure. Specialists who have trained for years oversee such travel and do it superbly. I recommend watching Nicholas Philibert’s wonderful documentary The Louvre’ if you want to get a real sense of how many experts there are and how often works are moved.

I suspect Jones would not be at all dismayed if the Louvre lent the Delacroix to the Guggenheim, however, his real dismay is clear ie not only has he exposed his ignorance, he has also exposed a latent snobbery.

Jonathan Jones has previously been on judging panels for the Turner Prize I believe. In response to his call for British Museums not to follow the Louvre’s example, I call for all future prizes never to invite this man onto another judging panel again.

rant over. feel better.

Original article here