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of the European Launcher Development Organisation [ELDO] where I was working failed [it was later successfully superseded by ESA’S Ariane] and I like everyone else there was out of a job.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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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear