Writing about writing and research

keyboardA colleague asked me to respond to five questions about writing and research. The idea is that “experienced researchers” share their views, so that students in Sheffield Law School who choose to write research papers in their final UG year may draw guidance, confidence, and inspiration for their own projects.

Here are the questions, and my answers:

  1. How did you become interested in your research areas?
I have three main research areas: the law of the EU, particularly its social aspects; health law, particularly EU health law; and equality, particularly its implications for legal education.

I was, and remain, inspired by:

  • my background and upbringing (I had Hungarian, Russian and English grandparents; my father was a refugee and always felt ‘European’ rather than ‘British’);
  • those who taught me (particularly Professors Noreen Burrows and Esin Orucu);
  • my sense of justice and the importance of equality (my mother still recounts how from an early age I would respond to her ‘life is not fair’ with ‘but then we should do all we can to make it as fair as possible for as many people as possible as much of the time as possible’); and
  • my political orientations (I would describe myself as socially progressive).

I am also constantly inspired by intellectual curiosity: I just want to understand what the law is, why, and how it could be better.


  1. What project are you working on now and what motivated you to look at that topic?
I’m working on several overlapping projects: transnational, global and comparative health law; EU health law and UK health law post-Brexit; learning and teaching law and diversity ‘beyond the state’; law students’ learning about diversity and unconscious bias; and ‘reasonable adjustments’ duties of HE institutions for students with ‘unseen disabilities’. Some of these projects will have several ‘outputs’ (presentations, publications); others just one or two.

The motivations vary. The Brexit work is motivated by political developments and a desire to inform the public debate with accurate information. The legal education and equality work is motivated by a desire to blend research with learning and teaching, and to work in partnership with students. The transnational, global and comparative health law is because I care about health as an indicator of equality, and the roles of law in supporting that, as well as the very instrumental career aim of securing a non-EU expertise for when the UK leaves the EU.


  1. How and when do you write? Do you have a routine or do you write whenever and wherever you find the time?
I have a routine of having ‘work from home’ or writing days or half days, which are blocked out in my diary well in advance. But I also write in the interstices of the day (and sometimes the middle of the night/early morning), particularly when something is time-critical. I remind myself that the 8 hour sleep pattern we assume is ‘natural’ is actually a product of the industrial revolution.

I use many different writing techniques, depending on the type of writing involved. Mostly I first map out what I want to describe, argue, or find out, often phrasing it as a question. Then I sketch the sections of the piece, and what order these will come in. Getting this right takes several iterations. I try to be able to say (and write down) in a few sentences what the overall ‘arc of the narrative’ is before I write anything much. If this overall narrative hasn’t distilled, I think about it in the back of my mind, when running, showering, cleaning, playing with the cats, until it does. I usually work directly onto a blank screen, but sometimes with pen and paper. If I’m flagging, I have a change of scene, to a different room, library, café. But mostly I’m standing (with a vari-desk) or sitting at a pc with the window beside me. Each time I finish, I write a note to myself on what is coming next. I read over and polish from the beginning every time I add more. I typically redraft at least seven times in this way before showing to someone else. I then get two or more colleagues to read and give feedback, and rewrite in response to that. After that, there is the peer review process.

Because I have several projects on the go at the same time, I leave things and then revisit them and redraft them with a fresh pair of eyes. It takes me around 2 years (from first idea to submission of revisions following peer review) to complete an article in a journal like the Modern Law Review.


  1. What do like and dislike about the research process?
I enjoy many things – particularly collaborative research. I like to organise events where people get together to discuss work in progress; I like to edit other people’s work and offer advice on how it can be improved, and to bring together the parts of a whole in a research project. I like to work with students, who bring fresh perspectives and energy. I like the satisfaction of seeing something finally in print. I like tracking down the answer to a descriptive/analytical legal question (what is the law on X?) to my satisfaction, using the primary texts.

I have learned to cope with and not dislike too much the feeling that I will never be able to read as much as I would like to read, and the feeling of having to begin writing something from a blank sheet of paper, as well as the horror of how awful my early drafts are.


  1. What advice would you give to somebody beginning their first research project?
  • Collaborate.
  • Work hard. Harder than you think you need to. Actually working (ie focused on the task, no social media or phone distractions, etc).
  • Talk to other people about what you are researching and why it matters. (Anyone. Your granny. The cat. Just practise saying it out loud, in sentences, without hesitations, uming and erring, or ‘like’. Listen to your voice in your head. Use the same register as the things that you read, which you admire. Then transcribe your voice onto paper. Use short punchy sentences. Just get it down.)
  • Seven redrafts. Then show someone else for feedback. Three more redrafts. Leave enough time.




Farewell to my 40s

“the only time you should ever look back is to see how far you have come” (unknown)

small-tammy   11223337_10153547515784767_4174367222985662721_o

Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.
A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man; decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.
Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen; may it happen for you.”

To my mind anyway – one of the best things about this poem is that the poet actually does not like it – to the extent that she does not want to be named as the author.

If in any way writing is part of what you do for a living, you will TOTALLY understand this.

What is the impact of Brexit for health and social care?

The Nuffield Trust, breakfast seminar, 26 January 2017


Brexit is bad for health, in the short, medium and long term, unless significant attention is paid to mobilising informed discussions on its effects, and what resource will be needed to mitigate them, to secure pro-health decisions in UK government, devolved regions, and among all health stakeholders.

Hand washing

There is nothing good for health about Brexit. I said this recently and my teenage daughter challenged me. “Why is Brexit so bad for health, Mum? Does it not wash its hands?” That’s not a bad metaphor. It really is as fundamental as hand-washing is to health.

I’ve been researching and teaching EU law for over 25 years. About 20 years ago, I began to be interested in all aspects of how EU law affects health law. From my point of view – the legal, big picture – there is nothing good for health about Brexit.  And things are particularly bad because of the type of Brexit that this government wants us to have.  This is a Brexit that takes us outside of the single market; that hopes for a future relationship with the EU that is less than the one the EU has with Norway, Morocco, or Tunisia.  This is a Brexit that could easily be a ‘cliff edge’ or ‘plane crash’ Brexit, where no mutually acceptable UK-EU agreement is reached within the two years of Article 50 being triggered (by March 2019).  Bear in mind it takes time to negotiate a trade agreement (the EU-Canada one took 7 years).  And, at the same time, our government has to negotiate the exit agreement too.

When thinking about What is the impact of Brexit for health and social care?, I think we need to be mindful of three distinct, but overlapping things:

  1. The big picture
  2. Short term specific instances, where close scrutiny and oversight will be needed to avoid the worst case impacts on health and social care
  3. Medium to longer term strategic decisions, where being outside of the EU could mean opportunities for improving health and social care, if the relevant political conditions are in place and the relevant priorities are accepted
  1. Big picture

The biggest threat to health really comes from the threats to the economy even of an orderly Brexit, and the significant threat to public spending that comes from Theresa May’s ‘Plan B’ if she does not get a deal.  That plan is for the UK become a low tax, low investment in public services, low regulatory standards economy.  Even on Plan A, we will not have as good a trade deal as EU membership offers with our nearest geographical neighbours, and we will not (in the short term at least) have trade deals with the 124 countries that currently have or are negotiating trade deals with the EU.  There’s a correlation between strong economies and population health.  When a new country joins the EU, its population health improves (Greece, Spain, Portugal, Central and Eastern European states): it is not impossible to imagine the effect in reverse when a country leaves.  And, as Nicholas Macpherson, Treasury permanent secretary from 2005-16, says:

“If you want to be a tax haven you would have to have some fairly big discussions with the public about how you are going to fund areas like health and the National Health Service.”

What makes these Brexit negotiations worse for health is that the way that EU law is structured – and so the way we suspect the negotiations will be structured – means that health isn’t around the table when health topics are being negotiated.  Those topics are thought of in EU law as being about trade, or movement of people, or employment rights, or competition policy, and so on.

  1. Short term specific instances, where close scrutiny and oversight will be needed to avoid the worst case impacts on health and social care

There is barely an area of health or social care services provision entirely untouched by EU law.

EU law gives rights and protections to health professionals, and other people who work in the NHS, and in social care, from other EU countries.  Their qualifications must be recognized, they can come here and work with minimum administrative fuss, they can bring their families (children, elderly relatives), they are secure that their pensions will follow them if they go home.  Around 5% of English NHS staff are EU nationals.  Over 30 000 doctors from the EEA are currently registered with the General Medical Council to practise medicine in the UK.  It’s particularly challenging for Northern Ireland, where many health professionals have a qualification from the Republic of Ireland which is currently automatically recognised in UK law.  After Brexit, none of that will be guaranteed.  The government could act now to secure the position of those who are already here, either for a transitional period or indefinitely.  We can continue to press for that unilateral decision not to use people as bargaining chips, in this area above all where the general UK public are not hostile to migrant workers.  For the future, the UK could introduce a points system into its immigration law to encourage the staff we need.  A study of the immigration law changes in 2010 shows that this has had a gradual chilling effect on the flow of labour into the NHS.  Virtually all the evidence to the House of Commons Health Committee’s Inquiry into Brexit and health and social care raises concerns about staffing. We will need close scrutiny of the position of citizens of the rest of the EU who are working in the NHS now. We will need to watch what is proposed for future migrant workers in the NHS and social care, particularly in areas where there are shortages of staff that cannot be plugged from the domestic labour market.

EU law sets minimum standards for working time rules, which mean medical professionals, and social carers, cannot lawfully be forced to work without proper rest periods, paid holidays, and so on.  These have been tricky for the UK, and we used the opt-out and transitional rules of EU law to the maximum when they were being brought in.  After Brexit there will be no EU labour laws to curb our government from setting whatever standards it wishes.  We will need to make sure that labour laws are not changed in a way that puts patients or vulnerable elderly or other people at risk from being treated by health or care professionals who are exhausted.

EU law gives patients rights and protections. For instance, UK citizens have legal rights to emergency health care across the EU: after Brexit, each of us will need private health insurance whenever we go to an EU country.  Retired British people living in EU countries can access medical treatment as if they were citizens: after Brexit, many of those people will choose to come back to the UK.  Evidence to the HC Committee on Leaving the EU suggests ‘hundreds of thousands’ or ‘roughly a million’ people in this situation.  We will need scrutiny to make sure that ‘acquired rights’ of UK citizens are secured in negotiations; if they are not, and maybe even if they are, then we will need contingency planning and injection of resource into the NHS to cater for returners.

The EU regulates the safety of all pharmaceuticals marketed in the EU, by enforcing stringent pre-market authorization rules, as well as post-marketing surveillance.  It does this through the European Medicines Agency, which will relocate from London.  Currently, pharmaceuticals with an authorisation from the EMA can be marketed anywhere in the EU. If the UK’s future relationship with the EU does not include that regulatory system, and it looks as if it will not, access to the UK market will be subject to an additional regulatory process. Faced with a choice of access to a market of patients in the whole of the EU, or the UK, pharma companies will act rationally and choose the EU, or at least the EU first.  We will be later, with New Zealand or Canada.  And it isn’t only EU product marketing standards that give access to the whole EU market. A new EU-wide clinical trials system gives single approval for clinical trials anywhere in the EU.  So we will need to be vigilant to make sure that safe pharmaceuticals are still available in the UK, and that we can attract pharmaceutical companies to market here. Any additional costs associated with that (in the form perhaps of inducements) will have to be secured.

As Mike Thomson, CEO of Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, put it in June 2016

“We need to convince the rest of the world to come to Britain. We have to make sure we put our best foot forward to convince the rest of the world and global pharma that Britain is a great place to bring new medicines to market even when we leave the EU.”

I could go on:

Our clinicians and biomedical researchers have access to EU networks of collaborators, and EU data-sets, tissue banks and the like. Our data is comparable with EU data, and can be compared through Eurostat: this, for instance, revealed discrepancies with our cancer outcomes that changed protocols.  Our life sciences researchers can also access significant amounts of EU research funding.  All of this will need to be replaced post-Brexit.

In the public health domain, EU rules on wide-ranging matters – road infrastructure and transport safety, food and product safety, air and water quality, workplace health and safety and tobacco regulation – have had tangible effects on EU population health.  Post-Brexit, we will have to make sure that these standards remain attentive to health.

  1. Medium to longer term strategic decisions, where being outside of the EU could mean opportunities for improving health and social care, if the relevant political conditions are in place and the relevant priorities are accepted

This is the most difficult part of the brief Nuffield gave me! What – asks the Nuffield Trust – are opportunities for health associated with Brexit? I do not wish to be misunderstood here: my considered view is that there is nothing good for health about Brexit, and any so-called ‘opportunities’ are either based on misunderstandings of what EU law requires or are merely theoretical opportunities, subject to political arrangements and support which are not guaranteed.

Nothing in EU law directly affects the funding given to the NHS, or its structure. Nothing in EU law requires ‘privatisation’ of the NHS or social care provision in the UK.  To the extent that this has happened, that is a political decision for national governments, under the legal division of competences.  We have the NHS structure – and resources – we chose, not those imposed by the EU.

But some EU rules affect the way in which the NHS may be run. We have to comply with procurement rules, and EU competition law designed to ensure a fair playing field for ‘economic actors’.  Outside of the EU, those rules will no longer apply.  However, I think any opportunity here to improve health or social care is at best over-stated.  Those EU rules are interpreted in ways which respect national decisions about how national health systems are organised and the values they express.  There’s nothing per se to guarantee that future trade agreements that the UK secures won’t open up the NHS markets to non-UK providers: the EU had secured such an opt-out for health services for TTIP, outside the EU there needs to be a serious discussion about what strategic decisions need to be made for procurement laws in health, based on where we are self-sufficient, and where we are not.  Clinical services are one thing; medical equipment, devices, supplies are quite another. In the latter case, our health institutions currently source many supplies from EU-based companies, and procurement laws need to support that if we are to get good deals.

Outside of the EU, we can have national determination of professional qualifications standards; working hours for health professionals and social care workers; access for non-national patients in non-emergency situations; marketing authorizations for medicines and medical devices; standards for clinical trials, and so on.  We can have national determination of public health matters, such as environmental standards, transport safety, food and water quality, tobacco and alcohol regulation.  We can take the opportunity of Brexit to have a national debate about what standards, what laws, what regulations will be best for health in the UK.

Sure, this does represent an opportunity.  But wouldn’t we be wanting to have those discussions at least in the light of – if not with – other countries who are facing similar economic, demographic and clinical challenges within their health systems?  Health and social care after all are related closely to medical science, an international discipline.  But wouldn’t we wanting to interact with and inform ourselves about other countries which share our history of a state-backed health care system that provides care for all regardless of means?  There’s no point in looking, for instance, to the USA for this kind of discussion.

Moreover, and finally, even under the government’s ‘Plan A’ for its future relationship with the EU, if we depart from the EU’s standards, we will make it very difficult for trade in products or services with our near neighbours, and we then won’t attract people or companies, and we won’t be the first market for new products or technologies.  But what I fear is the ‘Plan B’ version of this: what will health and social care in the UK look like in the low tax, low investment in public services, low regulatory standards economy?

Hence, my considered opinion remains: Brexit is bad for health.  But just as that bus was critical in the Leave campaign; so can health be critical in the national debate that informs decisions our government takes in the process of leaving.  Now is the time to start salvaging from the wreckage (for the short term), and building a new settlement (for the longer term).

photo: http://www.pixnio.com/miscellaneous/hand-washing

More in ‘conversation’ with my MP

So, in early December 2016, I finally got a reply from Paul Blomfield, my MP. (His full email is below)

While I was not at all surprised by its contents, given that they are official Labour Party policy, there is so much about this reply that doesn’t resonate with my idea of what democracy and the rule of law means. I’m saddened by the notion that our political process cannot be trusted, implied in the passage in the email to the effect that the most important consideration is that if we have a General Election, the Conservatives will be stronger. Leave/Remain wasn’t a Conservative/Labour issue. Some of the email I find downright disingenuous, such as the implication that the referendum is legally binding; and the implication in the statement “continue to hold … to account for … extra funding for the NHS” that such holding to account has already happened. Perhaps it has, but I don’t know anyone who works in the NHS who thinks it has the extra funding it needs.

Anyway, in the light of the Supreme Court hearing which was happening as I wrote (5 December 2016), rather than engaging with all those things (and more), I’ve sent a simple reply:

Dear Paul

Thank you for your email. I won’t engage with all the arguments you put in it, as I imagine that to do so would be fruitless.

But could you answer one question, which will help me to decide how to vote in the next General Election?

If the Supreme Court rules (with or without a ruling from the CJEU) that Article 50 is revocable, will you push for a further referendum on the terms of the deal that the government manages to negotiate, once we see that deal, and/or will you reject a deal that you judge to be worse for your constituents’ interests than remaining in the EU? (As argued here.)  It strikes me that this is consistent with everything you say in your long email, but I may have misunderstood your position.


It’s now 19 December, and I haven’t had a reply. So I’m going to email again, today, asking Paul to respond to the AC Grayling letter which has been sent to every MP.

Oh, I have donated to a Sheffield foodbank. As I do regularly.



On 05/12/2016 14:00, BLOMFIELD, Paul wrote:

Dear Tamara,

Thank you for your email about the UK’s vote to leave the European Union.

I campaigned relentlessly for the UK to stay in the EU, speaking at meetings across my constituency and knocking on doors to make the case every week over several months. In the year leading up to the vote I regularly invited constituents to join me in the campaign and we built a great team of volunteers. Together we spoke to almost 9,000 people across central Sheffield. I know that many others were active in the cross-party ‘Britain Stronger In Europe’ campaign. I was deeply disappointed by the decision made on 23rd June, but I accept it. Had Remain won the referendum and a pro-Leave Parliament voted to take us out of the EU regardless of the result, it would not have been acceptable. I don’t think the argument is any more persuasive the other way round.

I agree with the significant number of constituents who have written to me about the divisive nature of the campaign run by the Leave side, and the fact that their promises started to unravel from the moment the referendum result was known. I have challenged the Government over what it is doing about the spike in hate crime we have seen since the referendum, as well as pushing the Culture Secretary to ensure the press do not fuel hatred in our society. However, provided elections and referenda comply with the law, we must accept their result. To do otherwise sets us on a dangerous course. At the same time, together with my Labour colleagues in Parliament, I will certainly continue to hold Leave campaigners to account for their promises like extra funding for the NHS.

As you know, on 3 November the High Court ruled that the Government cannot trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and launch the formal process for leaving the EU without Parliament agreeing to undo the effect of the Act of Parliament that gave effect to us joining the EU in the first place. The Government is now appealing this decision, and the case will be heard in the Supreme Court this week. The attacks on our judiciary in some sections of the media, and the failure of the Lord Chancellor Liz Truss to defend their independence following the High Court case, have been wholly unacceptable. As well as urging Ministers to speak out against those criticising our judges for doing their job, Labour has been pushing the Government to accept that Parliament must have a say, and concentrate efforts on building a national consensus around getting the best possible terms for the country in our future relationship with the EU.

Therefore my work with Labour’s Shadow Brexit team has been focussed on holding the Government to account so that we get a Brexit that doesn’t crash our economy, tear apart our communities and cut us off from our closest allies. This kind of “hard Brexit” is exactly what we are fighting against in Parliament, as the Tory right, UKIP and sections of the tabloid press are trying to use the binary question of triggering Article 50 as a smokescreen while they press their aim of a hard Brexit.

The British people voted to leave on 23rd June, but were not given a choice on the terms by which Britain would leave. While I recognise that people voted to come out, I don’t believe that they voted to lose out. So far we know nothing about the Government’s plan for Brexit. They are refusing to disclose how they will approach the negotiations with the other 27 EU countries and what the red lines will be. In fact, there still appears to be disagreement between Cabinet Ministers about their approach. This is a serious problem, it creates uncertainty across the board – for the economy, for businesses, for British citizens living abroad and EU nationals residing in the UK, and the wealth of organisations such as the NHS that rely on these employees.

The terms upon which we exit the EU will determine the place of the UK not only in Europe but in the world for many years to come, as well as having a profound impact on our economy. It is vital all political parties, all areas of the country and representatives from across our economy and civil society are part of the most important conversation in a generation about the future of our country. Labour is leading calls for the Government to start that conversation.

On the specific question of a vote on triggering Article 50 – i.e. launching the process of leaving the EU – if Parliament were to block the result of the referendum and refuse to invoke Article 50, it would provoke a democratic crisis and, as importantly, would not result in us staying in the EU.  Faced with such an impasse, the Prime Minister would clearly go back to the country by calling a General Election, on the issue of Parliament trying to frustrate the will of the people. Ask yourself whether this would lead to anything other than a stronger Conservative and pro-Brexit majority in the House of Commons. I see no evidence to suggest a General Election wouldn’t get that result – and the flaws in our electoral system mean that no form of ‘progressive alliance’ could overcome this fact.

I also don’t think we can have a re-run of the referendum. Asking people to vote on the same proposition in the hope of getting a different answer would be to question their judgement.  A second referendum after a deal is reached would depend on the legal question of whether or not the two year negotiating period is fixed and or/our decision to leave is irrevocable. If the period is fixed and/or the decision is irrevocable, a referendum on a ‘take it or leave it’ deal would be pointless. The question of the revocability of a decision to trigger Article 50 may be considered by the Supreme Court as part of the appeal on the High Court decision, and may therefore clarify what options are available in the longer term.

Labour has been clear from the start that in order to get the best deal for Britain, the country must see the basis on which the Government intends to proceed and their plans must be subject to scrutiny by the House of Commons. Our focus, therefore, is on the substance of the Government’s Brexit plans, given so much is at stake. We are pushing for the best deal across the board, from allowing EU nationals already living here the right to stay (see my speech here), to getting guarantees on investment in our universities (see my speech on that here). You can read more about Labour’s stance on the issue in this debate, led by Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the EU Keir Starmer.

Thanks again for contacting me about this important issue on which I feel every bit as strongly as you.

Best wishes,


P.S. I’m fundraising for foodbanks in Sheffield. Please donate here if you can.

Have Some Optimism for Christmas (Guest blog by Alex Brianson)

This was originally posted on Facebook 12 December 2016. So much of it resonates with how I feel that I asked Alex if I could host it here. He has kindly agreed.candle

Some of my fb friends know I have led services in Unitarian places of worship. It’s nothing special – my fb friends include many qualified Ministers, and the odd priestess, as well as others who are amateurs like me. I haven’t been at a service for a while because I haven’t found a local place yet, and I haven’t given a service for some time thanks to illness and two relocations.

This week I’ve been wondering what I’d say if I had to lead one this week or in the run-up to Christmas. It’s a tricky one, because many Unitarians are like me – not Christian, maybe not even theists. And some Unitarians are Christian. In the congregations I know, you can’t just do a standard Christmas service and expect everyone to be happy. But at the same time most people want to mark the occasion for a whole host of personal reasons.

Like many people, I struggled to make Christmas meaningful for a long time. I’m a sentimental softie, so weeping at “Mary’s Boy Child” has never been a problem, but it took me ages to see anything particular in the shlock that I found spiritually meaningful. I’ve done a fair amount of reading on Christianity, some of it by authors who identify as Christian, some by authors who don’t; some of it is personal and/or devotional, some of it is academic. And although in my head I no longer find much of what used to appal me about Christianity offensive because I have learnt to understand it contextually or metaphorically (e.g. the claim to be the unique way to salvation, the hideous contradictions of the bible, and the monstrosities committed by Yahweh throughout the Old Testament), I’m still not Christian.

So why do I even want to find meaning in the festivals of Christmas? And why am I bothering to post about it on fb of all places? Why not just enjoy the pagan parts of the celebration that persist in the UK and elsewhere, such as the mistletoe (form an orderly queue please boys), the eponymous plant celebrating the Holly King’s victory and the turn of the wheel of the year, the solstice and its marking of the return of the light (and Light), and the feasting?

For some years I did that, and actually I will this year too. I find paganism much more nourishing than Christianity. But this year I want to use Christmas as a receptacle into which we can all, if we so choose, sink our fears and our cynicism, and celebrate the possibilities of renewal and social progress.

Yes, Christmas is about the birth of a baby – THE baby, if you’re Christian – born to save our species from sin. And yes, this fits a pattern of virgin births of demi-gods and heroes in ‘Middle Eastern’ and Mediterranean mythologies. But what I have come to see in this story is the thing that many religions point to – the divine (or dharma, or tao, or awen) is inherent in the world that we inhabit, and we can, indeed should, use it to help make our world better. We can do that. We have that power.

2016 has been a dreadful year, for me personally and also of course at the macro level. So many deaths of cherished people, so many awful political choices and events, so many signs of impending eco-tastrophe. It is easy to feel bludgeoned into submission, to feel that there is no possibility that right (or good, if you like) will prevail. For those who suffer depression, this is even more true; there have been times this year when I have wondered whether it’s worth bothering with recovery.

But here’s the thing: even if, as is likely, things get worse in the world, and even if, as is likely, there will always be those who are prepared to do absolutely anything to achieve their goals, there is always also the rest of us. And we have to make sure we use our power.

At one of my school assemblies the Headmaster told a parable about how the devil’s best line was that ‘there’s plenty of time’ – he could stop people bothering to do good by convincing them to come over all ‘maňana’. It’s not a story I liked. But I can see the wisdom of a re-imagined version: the best tool of those who seek to control and oppress is to convince the rest of us that we can’t do anything about things that matter.

We can. I do. We all, I’m sure, do.

So this year, I’m celebrating Christmas as a political act. I celebrate the reminder to be active in pursuit of social justice. I celebrate the time of re-birth, of potential, of hope blossoming lotus-like in the most unlikely places. And I celebrate the gift of optimism. It is this that I hope in some small way to give to all my fb friends.

Merry Christmas.

Back to it: democracy is a process, not a moment

Here’s my latest communication to my MP, Paul Blomfield, following Tim Farron’s announcement today.

Dear Paul

I have tried many times to email you about this and each time I get your standard email response. I appreciate that you have many people trying to contact you and I think that it’s fine to send out standard responses. But please can you make sure that your response actually answers the question I am asking this time?

This morning, Tim Farron has confirmed that his eight MPs will vote against triggering Article 50 unless there is a second referendum on the eventual Brexit deal.

I would like to know whether you will support that vote.

There is no need for me to elaborate in detail the reasons I am asking this question. On 24 June, you spoke about how bad leaving the EU will be for Sheffield – pointing to EU money that would have helped us build the local economy. You know that the 23 June vote was based at least in part (and we will never know quite how much) on misinformation and lies. Our universities (a key plank in Sheffield’s economic well-being as well as bringing much of value in other terms to the city) rely on EU collaboration, funding, staff, and above all on EU and international students. All of this is under threat of being lost when we leave the EU.

Democracy is a process, not a moment. This is not about “disrespecting the vote on 23 June”. This is about asking us, the people who put you into power, what we want, once we see what the deal is on the table. In our constitution, parliament, not the government is sovereign. The Miller case reminds us of this. If you and your fellow MPs are courageous enough, we can have an informed decision about whether to leave the EU, based on information about what the options are, and the consequences of those options.


Tamara Hervey