Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Thursday 30 June 2016

An Adventure in Bread Baking

Getting off the EU Referendum topic for today. I'm sure you're all a little tired of my thought-wonderings on that subject.

If we need anything, we need bread. It’s been around for thousands of years, and all cultures bake some kind of bread. I’ve never met a bread I didn’t like.

I’ve been making bread, on and off, for all of my adult life. Every so often I lapse, and I buy bread, good bread. It’s never quite the same as baking my own though.

Cheap bread is dull, depressing and not nearly nutritious enough.

I like to watch documentaries, so I watched Cooked recently, on Netflix. I can highly recommend it, and it’s what got me serious about my own bread baking again.

I’ve always used commercial yeast to bake my own bread, but this program gave me an epiphany, and I decided that I was going to grow my own yeast in the form of a sourdough starter or barm.

There are a lot of starter recipes out there, and some of them are quite complicated to make, and to keep alive. Spurred on by my epiphany, I decided to go for the very simplest starter recipe. It consists of equal parts, by weight, of flour and water. 

The resulting starter works, and it’s resilient.

Using the same basic principles, I began to make bread from the simplest recipe I could find. There are three basic ingredients: my starter, flour and water. The only other things that go into the bread are a little salt and sugar.

Try reading the ingredients in a bought loaf of bread; there could be as many as three dozen of them.

I didn’t expect much from my first loaf of bread. I was new at this kind of bread baking, and so much can go wrong.

Nothing much went wrong.

The most important thing was that the flavour was great, from loaf one. OK, so my first loaves were a little dense, but the crust was there and I hadn’t tasted a better loaf of bread in a while, including my own homemade loaves.

I was a convert.

Of course, I had to work on the texture.

I tend to the methodical, so, to begin with, I followed the same simple bread recipe and began to alter only proofing times. The texture of my loaves improved a little, depending on proofing times, but the results weren’t consistent. It would appear that atmospherics, including heat and dampness (yes, my bread did less well in wet weather) were having an effect. 

I optimised proofing as much as I could, and then moved on to kneading techniques. I’m a kneader, I have the strength and the patience for kneading. I like it; it’s a soothing activity. Kneading more didn’t have the desired effect. Putting the dough hook on the mixer and kneading mechanically didn’t improve results either.

I had read a little about bread baking by this point, so I changed tack. I started to leave the dough alone, resting and stretching it. It went against the grain to begin with, I’d been kneading, and kneading well, for years, with good results on the breads I’d made with commercial yeasts. I persisted with the resting and stretching method, unconvinced.

The texture of my loaves began to improve.

I thought I’d optimised my proofing times and conditions, but, having made the dough late in the day one day, I was left with no option but to refrigerate the dough overnight to bake it in the morning.

This accident, and I do love a happy accident, was a turning point. Finally, the texture of my loaves was getting closer to what I wanted it to be.
After the accident,
but before I adjusted baking temps and times

But, one final adjustment was still open to me. With the kneading and proofing pretty well sorted out, I could still choose how exactly to bake my bread.

As I may have mentioned, I’d done some reading on the subject of baking bread from starters, and cooking times and temperatures varied wildly, depending on who was writing about bread.

Initially, I followed the consensus, and baked my bread fairly hot and fairly fast. The texture wasn't bad, the crust was nice, and, most importantly the flavour was very good. My loaves were a little darker than I wanted them to be to look as appetising as possible, though. So, I played with oven temperatures and baking times, and began splitting the bake. Hot and fast to begin with and then cooler and longer for the remainder of the bake.

I made my starter three or four months ago, and it’s still going strong… There’s nothing quite like the smell of a good bread starter. I started making bread with my starter when it was about ten days old, and I’ve been making it regularly ever since.

I haven’t made a loaf that didn’t taste good or couldn’t be eaten for any reason.

In the past week, I’ve begun to make bread that I’m happy with on all fronts. Although, I do plan to keep working on it until it's as good as it could possibly be.

It’s a wonderful thing to do. Everyone should be able to proudly proclaim I made that once in a while. We all eat bread, we all have access to flour and water, and, with a little patience, baking bread is a very straightforward process.

100g organic bread flour - I’ve got two starters underway, one made with white flour and one made with rye flour. Both are good.
100g distilled, luke warm water - I pour off excess water from the kettle and allow it to cool. It’s perfectly possible to use ordinary tap water, but I intend to keep my starters indefinitely and don’t want fluoride, chlorine and other added chemicals in my mix.

Mix the ingredients in a jar and leave on the kitchen counter, loosely covered. Then, keep an eye on the starter. In anything from two hours to two days, the yeast will grow in the mixture, releasing bubbles and swelling the mixture.

Add more flour and water every day or every other day for at least five days (or ten days). You might find you have an excess of starter. Divide it and dispose of half of it, or pass it on to another baker, and keep feeding with flour and water. After a week or so, the starter should be ready to bake with. This makes quite a thin mixture, like a batter, and it smells lovely; it’s a kind of beery smell. I refrigerate my starter on days when I’m not baking, and feed it on days when I am.

500g organic bread flour. I use white or a mixture with wholemeal, rye or spelt.
300g my starter
250g water
2 tsps salt
2 stsps sugar

Put all of the ingredients in a glass bowl and mix well until the dough forms a ball. I do this with a large, silicon spatular. Cover with a damp cloth and leave for half an hour. Mix the dough every half hour, using the spatula to stretch and fold the dough.

This doesn’t appear to be critical. Sometimes, by necessity, the dough sits for an hour before I manage to get back to it. Repeat this process up to half a dozen times. Then, divide the dough and form into loaves. I use bread baskets lined with cotton and floured to proof my loaves, but you could simply leave the dough in bowls. The bottom of the loaf should be facing up.

Refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, take out of the fridge and bring back to room temperature for two or three hours (less in hot weather).

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees C and leave your baking sheet or baking stone in the oven to come up to temperature. Turn the loaves onto the baking sheet/stone and slash the tops of the loaves. Place a bain marie in the bottom of the oven. 

Cook for 20 mins. Turn the oven down to 180 degrees C and cook for a further 40 minutes.

I’m going to experiment more with this style of bread baking, but this is what works for me, right now, as a beginner.

Have a go. I can’t believe I’ll ever fall out of love with this process.

Wednesday 29 June 2016

The EU Referendum part iv: Leadership Challenges

Jeremy Corbyn has decided not to resign.

Well… Good for him.

Jeremy Corbyn is a Socialist and the labour party faithful knew it when they elected him leader ten months ago.

At the last general election, a great many New Labour Blairites were standing for the Labour party. Many were elected.

It’s a contradiction, of course, and one that clearly needs to be addressed. 

In the wake of the no-confidence vote, and the debacle with Hillary Benn that ended in his resignation, the shadow cabinet fell apart. I guess that was no surprise, either, and I guess it was no surprise to Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn stood tall and shuffled his cabinet to include the most diverse mix ever seen in a cabinet, shadow or otherwise. The cabinet is more socialist than it was, and, by extension, closer to what the labour party faithful might want and expect… Let’s not forget they voted for a socialist leader only very recently.

A great many pundits are suggesting that Jeremy Corbyn has come out of the EU Referendum looking bad. I’m tempted to think the opposite.

We are all in a state of dudgeon over the lies that were told to us by Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage ahead of the referendum. Does anyone remember what Corbyn said and did?

I remember.

Corbyn has always had doubts about the EU, but they’re based on his Socialist ideals, and they have been consistent.

Corbyn decided not to stand next to David Cameron during the Remain campaign. He has never agreed with the Prime Minister on any of the leading issues. The two have very little in common. Why would we expect Jeremy Corbyn to stand beside the Conservative PM in front of the public and his labour party faithful on this issue? Why would we expect Jeremy Corbyn to stand next to Cameron in order to make a man he fundamentally disagrees with look good. I wouldn’t do it, and I think it only suggests that Corbyn is a man of principle… That he is, for want of a better word, honest.

New Labour was, for all intents and purposes based around capitalist, neoliberal ideals. Thatcher even claimed that Blair and New Labour were her greatest legacies. Corbyn has always bucked that trend and he bucks it still. I admire the man’s consistency over what has been a long career in politics, and which has included grassroots movements that have not always been popular.

To thine own self be true is not a bad adage for anyone to live by. In the UK, in the twenty-first century it seems that very few politicians live up to this ideal; I suspect Jeremy Corbyn might be one of them.

Nevertheless, it looks as if Jeremy Corbyn will face a leadership challenge.

The Conservatives are also in disarray. Appeasing the Eurosceptics might have got Cameron elected leader in the first instance, but it seems to have played out badly for him, and for the party in the long run.

Boris Johnson, Teresa May, Stephen Crabb, Nicky Morgan and possibly one or two others will throw their hats into the leadership election ring. Teresa May is the strongest of the Remain candidates, but Nicky Morgan campaigned most fiercely to stay in Europe. Boris Johnson was the poster boy for Brexit, but Stephen Crabb was also a Leaver.

Talking of Stephen Crabb, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions… It’s worth taking a look at his history, personal and political.

Stephen Crabb was born in Scotland and was raised by his mother, on benefits, living in a council house in Wales. He went to Bristol University as an undergraduate and got his degree before student loans were imposed in 1998. His entire young life was funded by the tax payer. Crabb’s estranged father drew the invalidity benefit for the longterm sick, going back to as early as 1972. For all sensible purposes he was on disability benefits.

I have no problem with that. I want to look after those least able to take care of themselves, whether that’s short term or indefinitely.

I wonder what Crabb’s life would be like had he been born in 2003 and not 1973. He doesn’t seem to question that.

Stephen Crabb’s voting record makes for interesting reading. In March of this year, Crabb voted in favour of cutting disability benefits… Yes, you read that right.

At the Welsh office, Crabb brokered a deal with the treasury to compensate Welsh industries for rising energy costs.

Crabb is a Christian, and he’s married to a French woman. I guess if things get really bad, at least his kids are entitled to dual nationality.

I have no problems with Crabb’s religious beliefs. I do have a problem with his association with Christian Action Research and Education, a Christian, right-wing lobbying group. This group lobbied in support of Section 28, prohibiting sex education, in particular teaching about homosexuality. Some of CARE’s pregnancy centres have also come under scrutiny for misinformation concerning abortion. The organisation has a record of being anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ and anti-prostitution. Crabb’s association with CARE goes back to his internship with the organisation during the 1990s.

Crabb is a mass of contradictions, but he continues to hold considerable power in the Conservative party and in government. He could be our next Prime Minister. Perish the thought.

The most likely candidates in a Labour Party leadership election are Angela Eagle and Tom Watson, and, of course, Corbyn himself.

Angela Eagle is Oxford educated with a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Education, and she’s be in parliament since 1992. She worked with both Brown and, significantly, Blair. Eagle and Corbyn are fairly distant political cousins. Eagle has toed the party line for the most part, but she voted with the Government on the issues of Syrian Airstrikes in 2015, clearly in opposition to Corbyn and her party. Eagle was however, a campaigner in the Remain camp.

Tom Watson was also in favour of remaining in Europe, saying, "I believe the UK should stay in the EU because our continued membership is vital for exports, jobs and the future of the manufacturing industry in our region.” He’s also in favour of an immigration fund to support those communities with the highest numbers of immigrants.

Only three Labour members campaigned to leave the EU, they included Kate Hoey, born and raised in Northern Ireland, and a stalwart of the Blair administration; Graham Stringer, elected to his safe seat in 1997, and the first MP to call for Gordon Brown’s resignation; and Kelvin Hopkins, who has worked his entire career with the trade unions. Hopkins was one of thirty-six MPs to nominate Corbyn to the leadership, but he is widely known as a rebel within the party. Kate Hoey and Graham Stringer have one other thing in common; they were among only ten Labour MPs to vote for the Raab Amendment, the inclusion of a clause in the immigration bill to allow for immigrants to be deported if they are sentenced to a year in prison for any crime.

It is unlikely that any of the three Eurosceptics on the Labour benches will contest the leadership.

The Conservatives in the House of Commons seem pretty well divided down the middle on the subject of the EU Referendum, while the Labour Party has only three outliers in favour of leaving the EU. That suggests to me that the Conservative Party is significantly more divided than is the Labour Party. And let’s not forget that one of the most vociferous supporters of Brexit is Nigel Farage of the United Kingdom Independence party. Of course, he has made his living in Europe as an MEP for the south-east since 1999. When his job no longer exists, (and I wonder why he wanted the job in the first place. Could it be because he didn’t win any of the five UK elections he fought to be an MP?), I imagine that Farage will return to the Conservative Party, which he left in 1992. As a young conservative, Farage was a follower of Enoch Powell. And if you haven’t read the Rivers of Blood speech, you really should; it’s a great eye-opener on this issue.
Thinking the thoughts of just one woman
Photo by James K Barnett

So… I’ve been rambling on for several hundred words, and I see that I’ve failed to make a coherent point… Perhaps that’s understandable, though. The political situation we’ve been forced into is complicated, to some incomprehensible. It’s tough to draw conclusions, but perhaps one way to do that, is to do some research, to learn who we’re dealing with and why.

I look for constancy, consistency and honesty in a leader, and to broadly agree with their philosophies. Take some time to have a look around at the kinds of people we are electing to power, and you might find yourself thinking again.

I am European.

Monday 27 June 2016

Look at Me…

Well no… not me me… him me, if you like, or her me… or even you me.

Perhaps I should clarify.

The husband and I were out and about yesterday, shop-window-gazing and taking a walk in the sunshine. We do that sometimes, to talk and for stimulus. My walk stimulated today’s thought.

We were walking around, and we spotted the most extraordinary woman. Everyone else seemed to spot her too.

When a crowd notices one person, it can be for any number of reasons, but all of them are to do with the visual. None of those visual cues applied to this particular person.

She was able-bodied and not terribly good-looking, and she seemed totally oblivious to the impact she was having on the people around her. She was going about her business, doing what we were doing. She was not wearing make-up or hair products, so far as I could tell, and her clothes were not out of the ordinary.

This woman was not saying Look at me.

So why were we looking?

Many of us are very caught up in the impression we make. We think about what to wear, how to groom ourselves, and we think about what people will think about us. Some of us have driven so far down this road that we tend to the principle of Look at me. We conform to expectation, and if and when we don’t conform it is because we want to be noticed, because we want to shock, or because we want to be identified with a group.

Kids want to be accepted for who they are… I hear it all the time, and yet, so many of them choose to wear some kind of uniform, to conform. The phenomenon is quite pronounced with goths, geeks, chavs and all manner of young people being easily identifiable by their choice of clothes and grooming. They’re not the only ones who are guilty of this, of course. We all are. Red slacks betray a certain middle-class, middle-aged privilege, and there are plenty of Next or Hobbs shoppers conforming to the stereotypes of what middle-aged women should look like. Then, there are the hipsters of course, and the non-conformists who all seem not to conform in the same ways.

We’re all guilty of saying Look at me to some degree or another.

All except for the woman I saw yesterday while I was bibbling about.

To my eyes, at least, she didn’t seem to be saying Look at me. To her credit, this woman appeared to be saying THIS is me.

This rather large, rather plain woman was noticed for herself. Without grooming and wearing a pair of cut off denim shorts and a vest, this woman appeared totally unselfconscious about the image she was projecting into the world or about other people’s expectations.

I watched the faces watching her.

No one was shocked or upset by her appearance. No one showed any signs that they thought she should cover her ample backside. No one seemed remotely put out by her voluptuous belly or ample bosom. People noticed her, but they didn’t judge her. Many of them smiled, to themselves and to each other. This was a woman simply going about her business, unaware of the impact she was having.
This is me! Without the grooming.

We should all have such simple confidence in our bodies.

Some people are always saying Look at me in the choices they make about their images. Some, I suppose, are saying Don’t look at me.

I wish more of us were saying This is me.

Sunday 26 June 2016

The EU Referendum part iii

So, I’ve been bouncing this around, and, of course, I’ve written about this before, on the day of the EU Referendum and a couple of days later.
Another thought... still just one woman
photo by James K Barnett

First of all, after my last post, I was accused of being undemocratic. That’s fine. Think what you like.

However, it would appear that some people are confusing an election with a referendum. An election must be acted upon, but a referendum is about asking the opinion of the people; it isn’t an automatic mandate for change. Our democracy requires that we vote for our representatives in parliament and then trust them to get on with the job. The referendum doesn't change that… A general election just might.

Now, for today’s thoughts.

I’m going to make some assumptions, and extrapolate.

Firstly, let’s assume that David Cameron gained power within his party and manoeuvred himself into the top slot in government with the backing of the Conservatives. In order to achieve this aim, Cameron had to do something to appease the Eurosceptics in his party, and he chose the promise of a referendum on membership of the EU as an enticement, a carrot, if you like. The Eurosceptics took the bait, and Cameron was elected as party leader, and, with the backing of the Eurosceptics, PM.

Of course, Cameron finally had to deliver on his promise, despite being in favour of remaining in the European Union.

Now, in the wake of the Exit vote, the Conservative party has no leader, and David Cameron is keeping the seat warm for the next leader of his party and the next PM.

Suppose that the Conservative party is largely against the Exit from Europe. Suppose that a candidate for leader emerges from the Remain brigade, and suppose that person becomes the new leader of the Conservative party and our new PM.

What then?

If Johnson or Gove don’t become the next PM, then whoever takes up the mantle might also decide not to pull the trigger on Article 50.

I imagine the first piece of business in this situation would be for the new PM to call a General Election. It might be the first and possibly only act of the next Prime Minister.

In effect, this makes the next general election a referendum on our EU membership.

But people vote very differently in a general election from the way they vote in a referendum.

If the Conservatives, Labour and the LibDems all fight from a platform of remaining in the EU, who does that leave to satisfy the referendum electorate?

Well, I guess that leaves UKIP. Can UKIP field enough MPs to gain a majority in the House of Commons? And if they can field enough MPs, can they win those seats?

History suggests that this is an impossible proposition.

If Wales and Cornwall were voting by-election style on an issue and not their political allegiances when they overwhelmingly voted for the Exit, then those voters might vote Labour in the next general election, particularly if the Labour party plays down Europe and offers a realistic way forward for some of the poorest areas in the UK. The Conservatives would face having to come out on top in a third general election in a row. (You notice I don't say ‘win a third general election in a row’, because the Conservatives didn’t win in 2010. It’s always been my contention that we ended up with a government that nobody elected, because there was no ‘coalition’ box to tick. I wonder how democratic my detractors think that situation was. But we endured it for five years.)

I don’t know what is going to happen over the next few months. I do know that, one way or another, it will probably all be over by Christmas.

The husband and I were only saying, the other day, how soon Christmas will be upon us, and how time flies. Now, I think the next six months could feel like an eternity.

I remain hopeful that this whole mess can be brought to a satisfying conclusion for the UK and for Europe. Right now, I’m not sure what that means.

I am European.

Saturday 25 June 2016

The EU Referendum part ii

I lack the time today to be precise or coherent, but I had an idea, and I wanted to share it, so forgive me.
Just one woman's thoughts
(photo by James K Barnett)

It was nothing to how I felt in the early hours of Friday morning with my ear piece in, listening to the results of the election on the BBC.

Weren’t we all horrified?

It turns out that the ‘Leavers’ with their anti-establishment protests votes were horrified too. They didn’t expect or even want this result either.

How can anyone believe that their vote doesn’t count or doesn’t matter? Could it be because they have never been taught that the vote is a right, a privilege and a responsibility?

I have a solution to the problem… You knew I’d come up with something, right?

The downside is that it requires humility… Humility on the part of the politicians, the leaders. So you know it’s never going to happen.

I think, at this point, the leaders of all the major parties, including the SNP, should stand together and announce, in solidarity, that they are going to revoke the referendum. As I understand it, there is no legal reason why a referendum has to be acted upon. I think they should put out a joint statement explaining their reasons for coming to this decision, and then I think they should make citizenship classes compulsory in all schools.

Of course, I could be wrong, but I’ve seen too many vox-pops of ‘Leavers’ who didn’t understand the implications of what they were doing, who didn’t foresee the outcome, and who now deeply regret their decision.

Let them claim ignorance, and let’s fix that. At this point, I doubt there are very many people who would throw their arms up in horror. Those who would are in that vociferous minority of people who genuinely are racist and xenophobic, and it’s time we educated them, too.

The public has spoken… But they mis-spoke, and I suspect that they know it.

I am European!

Thursday 23 June 2016

The EU Referendum

Just one woman's thoughts
(photo by James K Barnett)
I’m writing this today, because stay or leave, I know that I’m going to feel very differently tomorrow.

Today, I feel stress and discomfort. I’m nervous in a way that has nothing to do with excitement.

My body is very reactive. I always physically feel my emotions, and today, I’m finding it hard to breathe and my stomach is a mess. I have never felt like this on polling day before.

I’ve been voting for thirty-three years. I have voted in every election for which I was eligible. I studied History as part of my degree, and universal suffrage was hard won by better men and women than I am. To vote is not just my right, it is my privilege. I have exercised that privilege dozens of times.

In all the years I have been voting, I have been on the losing side, particularly at the local level with Council elections, and my preferred candidate for MP has always been beaten at the polls.

I dread being on the losing side this time, and this feeling is partly responsible for my discomfort, for my stress.

But, I am uncomfortable for another reason. I am uncomfortable because this election campaign has been divisive.

I have been surprised and sometimes shocked by the things that have been said by people that I  respect and am even fond of. How and why people have come to the decisions they have reached is none of my business, and I understand that many of the people who disagree with me do so for very good reasons.

The problem is that the rhetoric of hatred and fear has so permeated this campaign that I find myself wrongly and inappropriately projecting that rhetoric onto the people who disagree with my stance on this issue. I have to remind myself that there are rational reasons for both staying in the EU and for leaving it.

Today, I read my ballot paper twice. I didn’t need to, because the question was worded as simply as could possibly be:



There was no room for error, and yet, I have been so bombarded by the rhetoric, and I was so sure of my response that I read the ballot paper twice, just to be absolutely certain of voting the way that I had always intended.

The polling station where I cast my vote was busy when I arrived. It would appear that there’s going to be a big turn-out for this one. Everyone has an opinion. I looked around me at the other voters, and I began to wonder who would vote stay and who would vote leave. I’ve never before wondered how another person, a total stranger, would vote. It was as if I was wondering which of these people, who are my neighbours, could be trusted.

I shook off the feeling; it was unwelcome and made me feel judgemental and uncomfortable.

I like to think of myself as a live and let live, everyone has good in them, kind of person. I don’t judge a person on race, creed or gender. I make a point of treating everyone with equal respect.

This morning, I found myself looking at people in a way that depressed me. I was looking for signs that a person was educated or politically aware…

There are no signs, and the educated and politically aware have perfectly sound reasons for choosing to vote either way in this election.

Trust me, if I can feel like this, anyone can feel like this. This morning, I had to talk myself out of my own latent prejudices, and I honestly didn't know that I had any.

In the end, it wasn’t about the vote itself, it was about people’s motivations. I wasn’t concerned about which way a person was going to vote, I was concerned that there might be people in the room who were racist. I wanted to see if anything in the way they looked or dressed, or presented themselves, or in their gestures or voices, would give them away.

That’s what this campaign has done. It has made me question what the people around me might be like, when I had always believed people to be essentially good.

The Brexit campaign has used immigration to persuade the voters to leave Europe. Remain have suggested that everyone in the Brexit campaign is racist.

Neither of these things is true, but it leaves all of us wondering.

Of course there have always been racists and xenophobes out there, but out there is the operative phrase. This campaign has suggested that these people are my neighbours and friends, and I object strongly to that.

The EU Referendum campaign has made me feel differently about people, and I don’t like it.

Tomorrow, I shall feel differently again. 

Stay or leave, I hope we can put all the rhetoric behind us, and I hope never to see another political campaign like this one.

We should all be ashamed.

Tuesday 21 June 2016

Murder for Religious or Political Reasons

In the space of a single week, the biggest mass murder in American history was perpetrated, and we witnessed the first murder of a serving British MP since Ian Gow was killed by an IRA bomb in Eastbourne in 1990. 

I was incensed by the attack on the innocent people having a night out at Impulse gay club in Florida. My first reaction was to put some of those thoughts and feelings on paper. The problem is, I’ve done that before, and my feeling of powerlessness only increases with every mass shooting that happens in the USA… And, on average there’s one a day.

As John Oliver so eloquently put it:

A Latin night at a gay club in the theme park capital of the World… the ultimate symbol of what is truly wonderful about America.

I was about ready to blog on Impulse when Jo Cox, Labour MP for Batley and Spen was murdered in her constituency. She was shot and stabbed outside the local library where she had held her constituency surgery. She was murdered in broad daylight, and 77 year old Bernard Carter-Kenny, the man who came to her aid remains critically ill in hospital. He was dropping his wife off at the library when he tried to intervene in the attack.

I held fire on writing a blog, partly because I was shocked and upset by the event, and partly because I heard the news during the evening of the day that it happened, and I generally write my blog in the mornings.

The first thing I do every day is check social media. I look at Twitter and Facebook, and track stories from there. The volume of tweets, status posts and media speculation came down on me like an avalanche, and much of it was conflicting.

The same things were being said about Jo Cox’s killer as are often said about the mass shooters we’re used to seeing in America.

Mental illness was widely talked about. Many claimed that Jo Cox’s murder was not politically motivated, and that the murder of an MP should not be used as political capital.

In the USA at the same time, Omar Mateen’s attack on Impulse was widely being reported as Terrorism (and yes, I did intend to use a capital ’T’).

I’m going to digress for a moment to talk terms.

We are used to words like ‘murder’ and ‘mass shooting’, but these are also technical terms, and I think it’s a good idea to make distinctions. 

‘Mass shooting’ is generally defined as 

the shooting of four or more victims at one location.

When the shooter is white, he is the shooter, when he has a name or a face like Omar Mateen’s he is a terrorist. The distinction is one of fear.

In UK law, ‘murder’ is defined as follows:

The actus reus of murder consists of the unlawful killing of a human being in the Queen's peace. The mens rea of murder is malice aforethought, which has been interpreted by the courts as meaning intention to kill or intention to cause GBH.

So far, so good. I’m going to add another definition:

Assassination is defined as:

Murder (of an important person) for religious or political reasons.

Tommy Mair was arrested for the murder of Jo Cox. Witnesses claim that he shouted racist slogans at the scene, and, in court he refused to give his name, age or address, saying,

My name is death to traitors freedom for Britain.

Tommy Mair has a history of mental health issues. He might also have a history of grotesque political influences. Racist and neo-Nazi material has been found among his possessions. He was an unemployed man who was willing to pay $150 for a book of what is thought to be art by Adolf Hitler. That’s an expensive book for anyone living on benefits. Tommy Mair also owned a gun in the country with the most rigorous gun control laws in the World. It is not clear whether he owned the gun legally; there is speculation that it may be an antique. Either way, Mair has been charged with ‘carrying a blade and having with him a firearm with the intent to commit an indictable offence’, alongside the murder and GBH charges.

We have recently witnessed a huge increase in hate- and fear-mongering in the British Press. It is widely associated with British immigration policies and with the referendum on membership of the EU. If Mair was already fearful, if he was already suffering with mental health issues, if he was already politically inclined to the far right, the Brexit campaign might have created the impetus to push this man over the edge, to turn him into a killer.

Is Tommy Mair an assassin?

In terms of the law, assassination is ill-defined and almost never used in charging killers. Assassination is synonymous with treason, and the British have a long and colourful history when it comes to that particular crime. Killers of religious and political figures are universally charged with murder.

Tommy Mair, regardless of semantics, might be all kinds of victim; he might be a victim of his own mental health problems, of unfortunate influences, of fear and anger and hatred. However, Mair claimed, in court, that his motivation for killing Jo Cox was political. He stated it clearly in response to the court asking his name.

There is political disaffection everywhere. We’ve seen it in the States with the rise of Donald Trump, and in the UK with the rise of UKIP. 

We’ve also seen the polarisation of politics with Bernie Sanders’s impressive run for President, and, in the UK with the rise of Jeremy Corbin to leader of the Labour Party.

Omar Mateen may have been a terrorist; he may have killed fifty people and injured fifty more for religious reasons. Perhaps he was a closeted gay man, perhaps he was mentally ill, or perhaps he was aligning himself with fundamentalist Muslims. 

Tommy Mair has told us why he killed Jo Cox.

I, for one, am infinitely less afraid of immigrants and of muslims than I am fearful of men like Tommy Mair, by which I don’t mean the mentally unstable.

I am afraid of disempowered white men who espouse extreme right wing politics; they are fundamentalists too, and there appear to be a great many of them. I am afraid of their ignorance and their anger and of the impact that could have on all of our lives.

Political unrest is not necessarily entirely negative, grass roots activism can be a great force for progress. Right now, I doubt that anything is coming from the grass roots. With people like Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Nigel Farage, Neil Hamilton and Ian Duncan-Smith in the Brexit camp, it’s easy to see that this political manoeuvre is being orchestrated by the rich and powerful. These are people who want the poor to have less, not more. They want them to have fewer benefits, a privatised NHS and less funding for schools. The disempowered white man is falling for the rhetoric, because he is fearful.

If there is a revolt, and I can’t help thinking there needs to be one, and preferably before the referendum on Thursday, it won’t come from the disempowered working classes, it will come from the Liberal salaried classes, who want more and better for everyone.

Yes, I made this political, and not because I don’t have sympathy for the disillusioned and the disempowered. It is difficult to feel sympathy for Tommy Mair right now, but we must remember that he is among the least of us.

We remain, for what it’s worth, a Judaeo-Christian society, so I’m going to go ahead and quote the bible. I am not among the faithful, this is simply my way of trying to achieve universal understanding. This comes from Matthew 25.

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

Heaven is denied to those who do not feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, quench the thirsty, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned.

For those who don’t believe in heaven, this kind of morality, taught in all the major religions, still holds good.

Those same people who are pro-Brexit have not, so far as I can ascertain, espoused this kind of morality. Ian Duncan-Smith cut benefits to the poor, needy and disabled; Michael Gove crippled our schools, and Boris Johnson is on the record as being in favour of privatising the NHS, saying that if people had to pay for it they’d value it more.

I can't help wondering whether Tommy Mair's life might have been very different if he'd had the help he so clearly needed, the help that society could have given him. Education, healthcare and relief from poverty might have influenced Mair as much or more than right wing politicians of the Brexit stripe appear to have done.

Gove, Johnson, Farage and all the others are not the kinds of people I want influencing my decision making process, and they’re absolutely not the kind of people I want running the country.

Let us decide to do for the least of our brothers and sisters that which we might one day need to have done for us.

It might not be biblical, but Do as you would be done by isn’t such a bad approach to life.
Muslims for Peace in a London rally

For all those of you who still fear Muslims, there was a rally in London at the weekend run by the Husaini Islamic Trust UK. Thousands of Muslims took to the streets to promote peace and unity, and to denounce terrorism, but their efforts made very little impact on the news media.