A personal note

In his final blog, David Skitt explains how a random bit of browsing in a Gatwick Airport bookshop f

What drew me to Krishnamurti? I picked up The Krishnamurti Reader in Gatwick Airport bookshop thirty years ago. I remember thinking: this is strange stuff. I was puzzled but attracted. The words seemed simple enough, certainly after Sartre, but the meaning remained elusive. So back in Paris, when not going out in the evening, I would go to my local restaurant, and after what was then a usual half bottle of Beaujolais and an Armagnac, I read my Krishnamurti book. Perhaps not surprisingly, I remained puzzled. Then the rocket programme of the European Launcher Development Organisation [ELDO] where I was working failed [it was later successfully superseded by ESA’S Ariane] and I like everyone else there was out of a job. I also found myself out of a relationship, my partner having decamped. Before doing so she had convinced me of my total ignorance of Eastern culture, and persuaded me to send a modest donation to Tibetan refugees in India. So when asked one evening at an ELDO cocktail party by the French General in charge of the place what my future plans were, I said I was thinking of visiting Tibetan refugees in India to explore the wisdom of the East. He urged, almost ordered, me to do so, adding rather wanly that in his view the West mass-produced unhappiness.

Before India I took a break on the Costa del Sol and on the drive down from Paris stopped at the Alhambra and spent some time in its great gardens reading Krishnamurti’s Freedom from the Known. Something may have seeped in at this time. Then for a few months in India and for some years after returning to Paris I explored Tibetan Buddhism and will always be deeply grateful for the teaching and explanations given.

I suppose like most of us there was an ideological background to all this: routine, low-key, conformist indoctrination in Christianity at school, and in Paris a flirtation with Marxist existentialism— ‘does it hurt all the time or only occasionally?’ a waggish friend once asked—plus ten years or so of dedicated pursuit of pleasure, which, well, got very wearing, and for some of my friends ended tragically.

What drew me to K in the end was the sense of being totally free to take or leave what he was saying. There was no dogma, no belief, no set of principles requiring assent. Instead there were only testable statements about the way human consciousness works. These could be checked out in everyday life for their validity. Like most of us I felt there was a problem with undue self-centredness in myself—and others—and was drawn for a time to the belief that supporting political and social reform would somehow transcend that [tragically this belief was what drew many of us to communism and fascism]. But Sartre hit a nail firmly on the head: ‘People believe what they believe not because it is true but because they have an emotional need to believe it.’ This seemed to me to apply equally to political ideology and faith-based religion. Krishnamurti was offering something else.

We certainly live in a time when humanity is under more threats than ever before—climate change, increased rivalry over natural resources, the risk of pandemics, new kinds of terrorism and war. And politicians talk of the need for unprecedented international cooperation to solve these problems. But the old faiths, the old political ideologies, the old national loyalties seem starkly out of sync with anything one might call a planetary mentality. On the other hand, neuroscience has discovered in the last two decades that the human brain is far more capable of change, of adapting, even of redesigning itself, than previously thought possible. So is Krishnamurti’s case for a radical shift in human consciousness not utopian but what life now demands? Good question. One to plant like a seed.

David Skitt was educated at Cambridge. From 1955 to 1985 he worked as a translation revisereditor for the OECD and the European Space Agency in Paris. He is a trustee of the Krishnamurti Foundation at Brockwood Park, Hampshire.
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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.