Sunday, May 31, 2015

David Cameron's Defining Moment

David Cameron has promised a referendum on UK membership of the EU before the end of 2017. I think this will be his defining moment, his encounter with destiny, if you like, as PM, and that soon afterwards he will go.

[This next section is an intentional rant; skip if you’re not in the mood]

Because I speak in those terms does not mean I am a Tory voter. A lot of people find this hard to understand: that if I do not speak in terms that are condemnatory of a political party or its leader, therefore I must favour that party. This is because so many people seem to think tribally when it comes to politics. The people I know or who are friends with me on Facebook often tend to be left/liberal, sometimes tribally so. Political statements are sometimes made by them in a way that assumes you agree with them, because no right thinking person could possibly agree with the Tories on any issue – if the issue is hard to argue with, well then it is the stinky motives behind it, the ‘real’ agenda.

Normally we like to think of ourselves as intelligent and civilised, because after all we probably went to university and are progressive and probably green in our thinking, but when it comes to the Tories an exception can be made, and we can call them dirty narrow-minded upper class bastards without an ounce of compassion, and vent all the hatred we build up by pretending to be liberal the rest of the time. (Politics is full of inverted snobbery – the working class is the new upper class, the upper classes are now the ‘lower’ class.) I’m not looking forward to the next 5 years of Tory hating on Facebook. And no, I didn’t vote for them. And no, I don't like the harsh, even inhuman way some of the cuts have been implemented, nor do I like the growing gap between rich and poor or tax loopholes for the rich or the way CEOs are paid vast amounts!

Having covered that point (!!), it’s time for some astrology. David Cameron has Sun conjunct Venus in Libra, with Asc on the cusp of Virgo-Libra; and Pluto and Uranus conjoin his Asc from the 12th, giving him a strong connection with, and influence on, the collective.

So he has an ideal chart for a mediator, a negotiator, someone who can work with both sides. When he became PM, he found himself at the head of a coalition government, the first for about 80 years (when the UK had its last Uranus opposition Uranus, you could say an identity crisis.)

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Cameron became leader of his party as Pluto squared his Asc, he became PM as Pluto squared his Venus, and now he has been given a majority in Parliament (just about – about ½ the size of John Major’s) as Pluto squares his Sun. When this transit is over, in a couple of years’ time, that will probably be it.

There are 2 major issues: Scotland and the EU. Scotland, momentous as it is, will probably take care of itself: the fact that the SNP didn’t mention the ‘I’ word during their campaign proves the point that independence is their top priority. It is no longer a happy marriage, one partner wants to leave, and the sooner it can happen, the better. The present situation is artificial and surreal.

So Cameron the negotiator is having his negotiating Sun challenged and empowered by Pluto in the run up to this crucial referendum in 2017. That is why I called it his meeting with destiny, because the planets suggest it.

Churchill’s meeting with destiny (he’d always had a notion that he’d be called upon one day to save the nation) took place under Neptune, redemption – both of himself and the UK. Neptune began squaring his Sagittarian Sun in the mid 30s (and as Pluto conjoined the UK Moon) as he started warning the nation about German rearmament, and his time in power finished as Neptune finished conjoining his Asc and the nation had been saved.

We are now at another critical point, though our survival is not at stake. But we no longer know who we are, as Scotland starts to break away from us and we start to break away from Europe, and as we emerge from a crushing economic downturn. And I think that is why the Tories were returned with a majority: at times of crisis, nations swing to the right, to the past, to what seems to represent safety and security in an unusually uncertain world.

(In her book Watching the English, Kate Fox makes the point that the English like to moan, and that Labour voters tend to moan about the past, about how terrible conditions used to be under the Victorian capitalists etc, and the Tories like to moan about the future, about how the country is going to the dogs.)

What about transits to mundane charts? We joined the EU, oddly enough, at 11pm on 31 Dec 1972 (that is when the flag went up in Brussels – it was midnight for them.) And the Sun was at 10 Cap in a stellium with the Node and Jupiter at 17/18 Capricorn. The Sun was square to Pluto, the Node and Jupiter were square to Uranus. There is plenty to unpack here.

And eeyorish, insular, Capricornian Britain was expanded through engagement with foreign nations (Jupiter in Cap) and this was important for its evolution (Node). The UK is Uranian (in the 1801 chart, conj natal Asc, square natal Sun) and that awkward, ill-at-ease Uranian-ness has been carried into the EU through Jupiter-Node sq Uranus. We even had a referendum about staying in or breaking away (Uranus) 2 years after we joined, in 1975.

The 1975 referendum took place on 8th June with Uranus at 28.44 Libra – Uranus will be almost exactly opposite this point in 2017. Which is almost what you’d expect. And last time it was half the cabinet (which were Labour) and the Trade Unions (again Labour) who wanted to leave the EU, whereas the Tory party wanted to stay in. This time, if anything, it seems to be the other way round. But that is Uranus for you.

But the biggest transit of all in 2017 will be Pluto opposing the UK Moon. The Moon is the people, it is in the 10th House, so it is about us deciding our place in the world. And it will be the culminating transit of a series that will have been taking place since about 2010, as Pluto and Uranus have successively hard-aspected our Angles, Sun and then Moon. It will be the end of a prolonged national crisis and renewal. Once that decision is taken and has been acted upon (along with the seemingly inevitable Scottish breakaway), we will be able to move forward again, with a clearer sense of who we are.

Cameron’s Sun at 15 Libra is square the UK Moon and Sun. So he is both deeply engaged yet at odds, challenging even, and challenged by, the British sense of who we are. The easy option would be to campaign for us to leave. But that is not what Cameron wants. He wants a different relationship to the EU, and many in Britain also want that. The Tory Party has been torn apart for a long time over Europe, and many want out of the EU. They will probably not be satisfied by a renegotiated relationship, but Cameron probably hopes that a referendum against them will silence them – just as it silenced some of the Labour critics, like Tony Benn, in 1975.

So Cameron has an entrenched section of his party to try to negotiate with, and entrenched members of the EU who do not want any treaty re-negotiations just for one member. And UKIP won more votes than the SNP, so there are big sections of the British public that need winning over. This will be his main challenge over the next 2 years, and it is a big one. If he manages to win the referendum, with a renegotiated relationship with Europe, and a Tory party that is less bitterly divided, then he will have achieved his aim.

David Cameron became PM as the Great Recession bit, and he will have continued as PM as the UK passed through its series of Uranus-Pluto transits, the biggest that any of us will see in our lifetimes. So he will be seen as the PM who led us through that time of transition and crisis and into a new sense of who we are, with the referendum on the EU, which I think will go his way, being his biggest achievement. But that doesn't mean I voted for him!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Death, Social Unease and the English

The English are not at ease with one another socially: we do not talk to strangers, we do not know what to do with our hands when we meet people, we don’t know how to say goodbye, we don’t talk about money, we don’t ask personal questions, on trains we pretend other people don’t exist and that even we don’t exist, we even pretend we don’t know our neighbours enough to say hello to…. But we do talk about the weather to strangers as a very tentative way of making contact -  something Dr Johnson noted 250 years ago.

Relations with others are ruled by Venus, and in the UK chart we find Venus under siege from Mars, Saturn and Neptune. Saturn gives us our inhibition, Neptune our sense of being at a loss socially, and Mars-Neptune a corresponding aggression that easily surfaces under the influence of alcohol.

Venus rules our Ascendant in Libra, suggesting that underneath it all we are a social lot (I’ve often fancied that in truth people would love to be able to talk to each other on trains!) But again there is an affliction in the form of Uranus on the Ascendant: Uranus separates and disrupts, he does not understand the social rules, and also he disposits our Venus, creating a mutual reception. As a nation we are, therefore, socially Uranian: awkward, misfits, and of course eccentric!

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Because we are Uranian it does therefore mean we can also break the rules. Despite a thoroughly English middle class upbringing, I am also half Irish, so there are ways in which I am not as inhibited as many English people. I will sometimes complain in restaurants in a straightforward manner, for example, while those around me cringe: if you are English, you either mutter and do nothing, or you get aggressive with the poor waitress. And I will also talk naturally and openly with strangers. And what I find is that some English people respond, like they can’t take the 1st step, but are only too happy for the other person to do so. They will, in other words, break the rules. And others just can’t take it, they back off.  And then next time pretend they’ve never met you, which continues to piss me off. But it’s probably less personal than I take it to be. I  used to force my middle-class neighbour to acknowledge me in the street by saying hello in such a way that he couldn’t ignore me!

We cover up a lot of  our dis-ease with jokes and moaning (such as the weather being bad, or the train late), but we can’t do this at funerals. This inhibited, at-a-loss Venus rules the 8th House of Death. The natural ruler of the 8th, Pluto, makes no major aspects: we don’t know what to do with him.

In her book Watching the English (from which many of the above observations come), Kate Fox has this to say about the English at funerals:

Dispatching Rites

There are few rites of passage on Earth as stilted, uncomfortable and excruciatingly awkward as a typical English funeral.

The Humour-vivisection Rule

At funerals we are deprived of our primary social coping mechanism – our usual levels of humour and laughter being deemed inappropriate on such an officially sad occasion. At other times, we joke constantly about death, as we do about anything that frightens or disturbs us, but funerals are the one time when humour – or at least any humour beyond that which raises a wry, sad smile – would be disrespectful and out of place. Without it, we are left naked, unprotected, our social inadequacies exposed for all to see.

This is fascinating but painful to watch, like some cruel vivisectionist’s animal-behaviour experiment: observing the English at funerals feels like watching turtles deprived of their shells. Denied the use of our humour reflex, we seem horribly vulnerable, as though some vital social organ has been removed – which in effect it has. Humour is such an essential, hard-wired element of the English character that forbidding (or severely restricting) its use is the psychological equivalent of amputating our toes – we simply cannot function socially without humour. The English humour rules are ‘rules’ principally in the fourth sense of the term allowed by the Oxford English Dictionary: ‘the normal or usual state of things’. Like having toes. Or breathing. At funerals we are left bereft and helpless. No irony! No mockery! No teasing! No banter! No humorous understatement! No jokey wordplay or double entendres! How the hell are we supposed to communicate?

Earnestness-taboo Suspension and Tear-quotas

Not only are we not allowed to relieve tensions, break ice and generally self-medicate our chronic social dis-ease by making a joke out of everything, but we are expected to be solemn. Not only is humour drastically restricted, but earnestness, normally tabooed, is actively prescribed. We are supposed to say solemn, earnest, heartfelt things to the bereaved relatives, or respond to these things in a solemn, earnest, heartfelt way if we are the bereaved.

But not too heartfelt. This is only a limited, qualified suspension of the normal taboo on earnestness and sentimentality. Even those family and friends who are genuinely sad are not allowed to indulge in any cathartic weeping and wailing. Tears are permitted; a bit of quiet, unobtrusive sobbing and sniffing is acceptable, but the sort of anguished howling that is considered normal, and indeed expected, at funerals in many other cultures, would here be regarded as undignified and inappropriate. Even the socially approved quiet tears and sniffles become embarrassing and make people uncomfortable if excessively prolonged, and England is possibly the only culture in the world in which no tears at all is entirely normal and acceptable.

Most adult English males do not cry publicly at funerals; if their eyes do start to fill, they will usually brush the wetness away with a quick, angry gesture and ‘pull themselves together’. Although female relatives and friends are more likely to shed a few tears, failure to do so is not taken as a sign of callousness or absence of grief, providing a suitably sombre expression is maintained, broken only by an occasional ‘brave smile’. In fact, many will regard such restraint as admirable.

There may have been criticism of some members of the royal family for their ‘uncaring’ response to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, but no-one was surprised that her young sons shed only the most minimal, discreet tears at her funeral, having maintained their composure throughout the long walk behind her coffin, and indeed throughout almost all of the funeral service. They were commended for their bravery and dignity; their smiles and murmured thanks as they accepted the condolences of the crowds during a ‘walkabout’ were widely praised, and somehow far more poignant than any amount of uninhibited noisy sobbing.

The English do not measure grief in tears. Too many tears are regarded as somewhat self-indulgent, even a bit selfish and unfair. Grief-stricken relatives who do not cry, or cry only briefly, at a funeral are likely to be seen as showing great courtesy and consideration for others, putting on a brave face to reassure their guests, rather than demanding attention and comfort for themselves. To be more precise, and at the risk of getting into pea-counting mode again, my calculations indicate that the optimum tear-quota at an average English funeral is as follows:

Adult males (close relatives or very close friends of the deceased): One or two brief ‘eye-fillings’ during the service, brusquely brushed away. Brave smiles.

Adult males (other): None. But maintain sombre/sympathetic expression. Sad/concerned smiles.

Adult females (close relatives or very close friends): One or two short weeps during the service, with optional sniffles; occasional eye-filling, apologetically dabbed with hanky, in response to condolences. Brave smiles.

Adult females (other): None, or one eye-filling during service. Maintain sad/sympathetic expression. Sad/concerned smiles.

Male children (close relatives/friends): Unlimited if very young (under ten, say); older boys one weep during service. Brave smiles.

Male children (other): Same as for adult males (other).

Female children (close relatives/friends): Unlimited if very young; older girls roughly double adult female tear-quota. Brave smiles.

Female children (other): None required, but brief eye-filling/sniffing during service allowed.

Quite apart from any genuine grief we may be experiencing, the prohibition on humour, the suspension of the earnestness taboo and the tear-quotas make English funerals a highly unpleasant business. We are required to switch off our humour reflex, express emotions we do not feel, and suppress most of those we do feel. On top of all this, the English regard death itself as rather embarrassing and unseemly, something we prefer not to think or talk about. Our instinctive response to death is a form of denial – we try to ignore it and pretend it is not happening, but this is rather hard to do at a funeral.

Not surprisingly, we tend to become tongue-tied, stiff and uncomfortable. There are no universally agreed- upon stock phrases or gestures (particularly among the higher social classes, who regard comforting clich├ęs and platitudes as ‘common’) so we don’t know what to say to each other or what to do with our hands, resulting in a lot of mumbled so sorries, very sads and what can I says – and awkward embraces or wooden little arm-pats.

Although most funerals are vaguely ‘Christian’, this does not indicate any religious beliefs at all, so references to God or the afterlife are inappropriate unless one is absolutely sure of someone’s faith. If the deceased was over eighty (seventy-five at a pinch) we can mutter something about him or her having had a ‘good innings’ – and some gentle humour is permitted at the post-ceremony gathering – but otherwise we are reduced to mutely rueful head-shaking and meaningful heavy sighs.

Clergymen and others delivering formal eulogies at funerals are lucky: they do have stock phrases they can use. Those used to describe the deceased person are a sort of code. It is forbidden to speak ill of the dead, but everyone knows, for example, that ‘always the life and soul of the party’ is a euphemism for drunkenness; ‘didn’t suffer fools gladly’ is a polite way of calling the deceased a mean-spirited, grumpy old sod; ‘generous with her affections’ means she was a promiscuous tart; and ‘a confirmed bachelor’ has always meant he was gay.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

The Royal Family and the State of the Nation

1st, the Monarchy. ‘Woman has baby’ the headlines are screaming. The unnamed Princess, the 4th in line to the throne, was born at 8.34 yesterday. She will be the 1st female whose position as heir cannot be usurped by the arrival of younger brothers (Jupiter in the 3rd trine Uranus, Moon opposite Uranus). She will be attractive (Sun and Moon in Venus-ruled signs, Mars sextile Venus.) She will have star quality (Neptune conjunct Midheaven in Pisces). And she has Cancer Rising, the Sun sign of her grandmother Diana.

If you believe in such things (which I’m not sure I do), she may be Diana returned from the dead, attracted by the close connection to her eldest son William who, like Diana, is a Cancer with Sag Rising.

Diana changed the monarchy, brought in some modern values, a closeness to ordinary people, in the teeth of opposition from the Royal Family, who did their best to ignore her, even in death. Astrologically, as a Cancer, she began a theme of Cardinality in the predominantly Fixed emphasis of the Royal Family-as-it-was. Cardinal signs begin things, they are vigorous and ambitious.

The line of succession is now predominantly Cardinal: William has Sun and Moon in Cancer, Kate has Sun in Capricorn and Moon in Cancer, Prince George has Sun in Cancer and Moon in Capricorn. And the new Princess has Cancer Rising and Moon in Libra.

This is a Royal Family that is becoming fit for purpose, inasmuch as the UK itself is predominantly Cardinal: Sun in Capricorn, Moon in Cancer and Libra Rising.

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I think there is a certain honesty in having a royal family: we humans are hierarchical pack animals, we always have been and always will be, the arrival of ‘democracy’ notwithstanding.

The US is illustrative: having done away with kings, ‘dictators’, and established rule by the people, you now find the government effectively in the hands of the wealthy, the large corporations, along with a worship of celebrity that is more extreme than what we are used to in the UK. The US is profoundly hierarchical, while kidding itself that it is the protector of democracy. Secretly, they want and need royalty (hence the adulation of ours when they visit).

The Royal Family doesn’t exactly thrill me, and perhaps that is why it works: they are essentially ordinary people like you and I, we can identify with them. They are not celebrity in the usual sense of people who are meant to be gifted. And yet they are touched by something Other: kings and queens used to rule by divine right, and there is still something of that going on, even in their neutered state.

So the Royal Family is changing. Fixed signs, you could argue, were what was needed for the period of Empire, which is still how we think (‘punching above our weight’ on the international stage). Though that is finally changing.

And Britain is becoming something different as the EU and Scotland drift away, and our position on the world stage becomes more proportionate. Astrologically, we are probably going through the biggest change since our 1801 reincarnation as the Union of Great Britain and Ireland, which is the chart astrologers usually use.

We have had Uranus and Pluto hard-aspecting, pretty much at the same time, our Angles, Sun and Moon. It doesn’t get much bigger than that. Uranus and Pluto have ‘done’ the Sun and Angles, and the transition will be complete after Pluto opposes the Moon at 19 Cancer in 2-3 years time.

So no wonder, with under a week to go, that the possible outcomes of the General Election seem such a muddle. We have been battered by Uranus and Pluto for years now, there is more battering to come, and we don’t know who we are any more. And we won’t really know who we are for a few years yet.

Neither Labour nor the Tories look like they will form a majority, and a coalition will be needed. But will the Tories and LibDems between them have enough to form a government? Possibly not. And no-one wants to get into bed with either UKIP or the SNP.

So I suspect we will muddle along with a minority coalition for a few years until the great issues of the day, Scotland and the EU, are resolved. And because we are a conservative nation (Sun and Moon both on the axis of conservatism, Cancer-Capricorn), we will probably continue to have, in this time of muddle, a Tory-LibDem coalition, albeit attenuated.

The UK at present is very like a person who has been under major transits for some years, but still has more to go. (Like yours truly with Neptune on his Angles!) The old self and things you used to do have in many ways lost their power, or have just gone, and you’ve probably got a few ideas about what you’d like to come next, but it’s not yet time, they seem too germinal; and other things you just feel in a complete muddle about, and really there’s not much to be done about it apart from trying to stay conscious. And you hope that this isn’t the end, that it’s not always going to be like this.

And the UK is like that. We’re just getting off our knees from the Great Recession, Scotland looks like it’s going to leave the UK, we are being taken less seriously on international decisions, and we are ambivalent about even being in the EU, which is itself in a period of instability as the unthinkable, a member leaving the Euro currency, looks like it’s going to happen.

So we don’t know what we want, we can’t know what we want, and our politics reflect that. But at least we can distract ourselves for a few days with the new cast member in the Royal Soap Opera.