Monday, 15 October 2018

Chequers deal, Norway deal, Canada +? Why I don't care.



Some commentators claim that we’re on the brink of the biggest constitutional crisis since Lloyd George’s People’s Budget and I find I’m not holding my breath with excitement.

The reason is simple.  I don’t really care what kind of deal the negotiators come up with, because I know that any deal that can be salvaged from the mess (and I rather suspect that after the heightened  brinkmanship of the final  couple of days something will be produced which Mrs May and the Express and Sun will hail as a triumph and the government will pootle on for a few more months) will be no-where  near as good as the deal we already have and could continue to have by staying in the EU.

So the minutiae of details that emerge from the leaks, and the punditry of the politicians and commentators, just washes over me.  I have made up my mind – in fact it has never changed -  and so will get on with my life.

I suspect that much the same can be said of the average man and woman who have voted for Leave.  They “made up their minds” back in 2016, gave the establishment the kick in the solar plexus they felt it deserved, don’t want to know the details and probably don’t really care what option is chosen provided it is called Brexit.  They’ll leave the details to bigwigs who care about these things.

These similar attitudes of mind give me a useful insight into the way “normal” politics operates.  Most people see their party allegiance, or lack of it, as a given.  “We are Labour, always have been and always will be,” says one tribe  in a threatening sort of way.  “We’re Conservative,” says another with a slightly superior expression. “  (One of my friends says it as though it were as given as her blood group.)   A tiny remnant says “We’re Liberal.”  Bless.

The point is not that they don’t care, but they have lives to live, mortgages or rents to pay, relationships to establish or maintain, children to educate, mouths to feed, holidays to fix, parent to look after etc.,  and they leave it to the anoraks to fix the details.

This is an attitude which we anoraks find difficult to comprehend, and for Liberal anoraks, is infuriating.  But the present frantic hoo-ha in the Westminster bubble and attendant media, and to which I am indifferent, has given me an understanding.

I firmly believe, along with the distinguished company of Aristotle, that we are all political animals, and will continue to try to raise awareness of the best solution to the problem, which is a Free Vote in parliament.  David Davis has given unexpected, though unintended, credence to this view by calling upon his former cabinet colleagues to “respect our constitution,” which makes great play of the sovereignty of parliament.  
Failing that, go for a “People’s Vote.”   Good luck to the marchers on Saturday.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Playing or practising politics?


Yesterday I caught a radio clip from Theresa May's TV interview with Andrew Marr.  She claimed that Labour were  "playing politics" with the Brexit issue whereas she was striving to achieve what is best for the country.

As a forensic examination of the situation this leaves a lot to be desired.  "Could do better," on a school report would be generous.

My preferred definition of politics is "government by discussion" and it would be nice to think that our politicians were all calmly engaged in discussing what is best for the country.  Even better if they extended their discourse towards to what is best for Europe and, beyond that, the World.  The creation of the EU and the UN are both important and constructive steps in that mature direction.

I presume that by "playing politics" Mrs May means abusing the political situation for personal or party advantage rather than the good of the country..  If so she has not stinted on cheek.

It is perfectly obvious that it is the Conservative party that has used and is using the European Union issue for party advantage. It was the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron who called a referendum, not because it was in the national interest, but because he feared that his party's  support was leeching to UKIP.

Until the UKIP leaders, described by Cameron as "fruitcakes and closet racists," began stirring the pot, membership of the EU was in the mid-teens in the order of of voters' concerns, way behind the economy, employment, housing, education etc. Mrs May, who clearly prefers  the softest possible Brexit (she voted "Remain") keeps the no-deal option on the table in order to placate the extreme Brexiteers and hold her party together.

It can hardly be argued that the leading  Brexiteer, Boris Johnson, is campaigning from conviction.  Before the Referendum he allegedly agonised until  the last moment as to which side he would support.  Presumably he therefore  feels there is not much difference either way.  So what can the  motive be for his intemperate  anti-EU campaigning other than personal advancement?

Labour's position is not, by contrast, Simon-pure.  Rather than "playing politics" it could be argued  that they have opted not to play at all, but to watch from the side-lines as the Tory factions tear their party apart, or so they hope.  This could be a good strategy, but again, for party-advantage rather than what is best for the country.

To be fair, all parties believe that what is best for the country is to have them in charge and making the decisions.

However, in our current political situation, the most serious since the Second World War, it is surely time to put country before party.  The way to achieve this, as I've argued earlier, is for parliament to take off the party whips and have a free vote among members.  That is the British way.

Our constitution is by no mean perfect, but it has been honed over  several centuries. We are now a representative parliamentary democracy.  MPs are not delegates: they are elected by their constituents to hear all the arguments and use their judgement for the good of the country.

Parliament is the place where all options can be on the table, calm and informed debate can take place and politics can be practised at its best, not played as a tawdry party  game.

Friday, 28 September 2018

Unethical business


My generation was brought up to regard loyalty as a virtue.  The Second Scout Law, which I promised to obey in about 1947, then read:

A Scout is loyal to the King, his country, his country, his scoutmasters, his parents, his employers, and to those under him.

Perhaps wisely the current law stops short at "A Scout is loyal" and doesn't go into detail.

Unfortunately the message doesn't seem to have percolated into the minds of those who run our businesses.  Maybe their current leaders never joined the Scouts.

A report published today  by the charity   Citizens' Advice reveals a "loyalty penalty."  Those of us who stick loyally be our insurers, banks, mobilephone and broadband operators are ripped off by on average by £877 a year. The worst affected are the elderly: we are either too too trusting or too ga-ga to notice.

Happily, though elderly I am alert to the problem,but greatly resent having to spend several mornings  in July each year, when both my home and car insurances become due, searching the internet, checking  comparable conditions about what exactly is covered and what the excesses are, before choosing yet another company.  Even Saga, which I had naively assumed to be a charity devoted to the welfare of we elderly, turns out to be a publicly quoted company not averse to ripping us off if we aren't ever watchful.

I'm pretty confident that my energy supplier Ecotricity, for both gas and electricity, treats me fairly.  I hope I'm not mistaken

 Banks are major culprits.  A few weeks ago I received a letter from Lloyds informing me that my allegedly favourable savings account, which accumulates the princely interest rate of 3%, (0.5% below inflation)  will shortly run out of time and be re-invested in another savings account paying 0.2%.  They even send me an illustration that if I put £1000 in this account at the end of a whole year it will be worth £1002.  Whoopee!

 I suppose they ease their conscience (or comply with the law) by arguing that they have at least warned me, though it;s in pretty small print.

How they have the cheek to offer these derisory rates of interest when, if I borrow from them, they'll charge me 25.9% (yes, that's 25.9 - not 2.59)  beats me.

Clearly the guiding principle of our businesses is not fairness, or the Golden Rule of  "Do as you would be done by" which I believe operates in every major religion,  but "What we can get away with."

We live in a sick society.  I'm surprised there is not more outrage. Where is "Occupy" when you need them?

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Labour and a People's Vote


In spite of their somewhat fudged decision the Labour Party has done us a favour in keeping the idea of a People's Vote on the Brexit deal (if any) in the headlines for several days. Not only that, but it has been clear that the impetus for second thoughts comes, not from a disgruntled establishment elite,but largely from young people, including the Momentum pressure group who are so enthusiastic for a reformed and fairer society.  Many of these enthusiasts would have been too young to vote in 2016.  Clearly they see continued membership of the EU as part of the new world order they crave.

Not surprisingly, Jeremy Corbyn would still prefers a general election to second vote on Brexit.  Well, he would, wouldn't he?  Like his Tory counterparts, he puts party interests above the national interest. But, for we Remainers, , a general election would be no help.  First, general elections called on a specific issue rarely remain glued to the issue.  In 1974 prime minister Edward Health called an election on "Who Governs Britain - him or the miners?"  The electorate decided neither -  it would be Labour under Harold Wilson.

 Presumably Corbyn hopes for something similar, but, even if Labour won, his  policy of "negotiating  a better deal than the Tories" would prove a chimera.  We'd still be outside the EU, and there is no better deal that we already have inside it.

My arguments against  a People's vote have been spelled out in an earlier post
and I stand by the view that the best solution to our problems is a free vote in parliament. The Guardian published a letter from me* to this effect yesterday, but, in my view, edited out part of the reasoning,  which I highlight:

 A second referendum currently has the most traction as a means of trying to avert a Brexit calamity, but it is not “our best shot” as Jonathan Freedland claims. (We now need a people’s vote.   22 September).  That would be to take the party whips off and allow a free vote in parliament.  After all, it is our MPs who got us into this mess: David Cameron by proposing a referendum in order to protect his party from haemorrhage to UKIP;  both Lords and Commons indulging him by approving this device alien to our constitution;  MPs and Peers of all parties being too lax or complacent to insert routine precautions such as a super-majority; the approval of all constituent parts of the UK,  and provisions to avoid excessive distortions of the truth in the campaign.  So it is up to them to get us out of it.



A free vote could put an end to what most of MPs know is national self harm, and it could be done before Bonfire Night.  Genuine support for Brexit would probably be limited to fewer than 100 extremists in the Commons and a handful of peers.  Maybe a few MPs whose constituencies had large Leave majorities might eventually lose their seats if they voted with their consciences.  But surely that is a small price to pay for saving the nation from folly.  The hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War reminds us that many have paid a much higher price for the sake of the nation.

Be that as it may, thanks to the Labour Party Conference for highlighting the view that leaving the European Union is by no means a done deal, and that it is the young who are leading the crusade to stay.

*On the same page on the same day the Guardian published another letter from me, arguing that student  tuition fees do not leave students with an unbearable "burden of debt," as is so glibly claimed by critics of the Coalition..  Two letters on one day from the same writer is probably not unique but is certainly unusual.  I was and am rather chuffed. On the following day a correspondent  from Liverpool commented on the over-representation of the views of Yorkshiremen.


Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Archbishop on the ball.



Here are three quotes  from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, when addressing the Trades Union Congress last week.

On Universal Credit (a "rolled up" payment to struggling families):

It was supposed to make it simpler and more efficient.  It has not done that.  It has left too many people worse off, putting them at risk of hunger, debt, rent arrears and food banks.  When universal credit comes into an area the [number] going to food banks  goes up.   What is clear is, if [the government] cannot get it right they need to stop rolling it out. 

On individual and corporate responsibility:

Not paying taxes speaks of the absence of commitment to our shared humanity,, to solidarity and justice.  If you earn money from a community you should pay your share of tax to that community.

And best of all he singled out the vast international companies, even naming Amazon:

. . . when vast companies like Amazon and other on-line traders . . .can get away with paying almost nothing in tax, there is something wrong with the tax system.  They don't pay a real living wage, so the taxpayer must support their workers with benefits; and having leeched off the taxpayer once, they don't pay for our defence, for security,  for stability,  for justice,  for health, for equality, for education.


So while one of our major parties struggles to take the country down the road to Brexit, which the vast majority of its MPs know to be wrong, another allows itself to be distracted by arcane attempts to define antisemitism, and the third (if still major) pre-occupies itself by tweaking its party rules, the Eton-educated Archbishop hits the nail on the head - indeed three nails on three heads.

Of course the poor man was rather undermined by the revelation that the Church Commissioners invest heavily in Amazon.  Lets hope those financial wizzards will now sit up, take notice, and disinvest.

And I suspect the Commissioners are not the only sinners.  Amazon only stays in business if people buy from it.  How about a boycott?  If you need a spur to action read the first chapters of  James Bloodworth's book "Hired" https://www.waterstones.com/book/hired/james-bloodworth/9781786490148" which reveals the squalid and inhuman conditions of work in an Amazon warehouse.

For more details see here:

http://keynesianliberal.blogspot.com/2018/03/britains-deregulated-labour-market.html

That was written in March but things haven't changed.  Neither will they, until our MPs have the guts to look behind the causes of the Brexit vote, take a leaf out of the Archbishop's book, and tackle the real problems facing our society.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

No cheers for Chequers


Poor Mrs May: trying to do the "right thing," yet 50 of her MPs plotting openly to remove her.  But it wasn't a real plot: the leaders (Johnson, Rees Mogg, Davis) weren't there. Maybe just "flying a kite."

We Liberals are obviously disposed towards compromise becasue our devotion to proportional representation makes political compromises almost inevitable.  Yet the Chequers proposal is a good example of how compromise can lead, not to the best, but the worst of both worlds.

There is a logic to Mrs May's position.   She voted Remain, even campaigned for it, though not very wholeheartedly, and knows full well that Britain's cultural, social, economic and political interests are best served by being inside the EU.  Yet in order to hold her party together she finds it necessary to "honour" the so-called "will of the British people" as expressed in the referendum, and leave it.  "Brexit means Brexit."

So her  rational position is to leave the EU but "align" ourselves as closely as possible with its rules so as to continue to reap as many as possible  of the advantages of membership.  That is what, in essence, the Chequers proposal amounts to.

Sadly, this leaves the UK with the worst, rather than the best, of both worlds.  We continue to observe the EU's rules but no longer have any say in making them.  Nor are we any longer formally able to participate in contributing to the international political influence of this massively powerful body. At the same time we shall become economically weaker as firms with international clout move their headquarters and operations to remain within the EU rather than in what will become a political and economic outpost.

Even with the parliamentary Whips operating there are probably enough MPs  to reject Chequers, or any similar deal.  Ideal this would be followed by a free vote of al MPs as to whether  to leave with no deal, which I suspect fewer than 100 MPs really support, or withdraw Article 50, apologise to the EU for wasting so much time, and Remain.

If MPs haven't the guts to do what they know to be the right thing, at the very least they could pass the buck to the people.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Confessions of an immoderate Liberal


I have a great respect for Sir Vince Cable.  He is a competent leader and one of the very few current British politicians with what used to be called "bottom"  -  serious and successful experience in the wider world as well as in politics. So it pains me to criticise him, but his latest and much heralded  pronouncement is wrong on two counts.

First, at a time when overwhelmingly the most serious issue in our politics is Brexit, this is not the time to distract attention with musings about arcane features of the party's rules (should non-MPs be eligible to become leader; should we create a second tier of non-paying "supporters" along with present members?).

At a time when the Labour Party has allowed itself to be obsessed with fine definitions of what is and what isn't antisemitism, and the Tories are immersed in the malfunctions of Boris Johnson's private life it is daft for the one proudly pro-European party to divert serious  discussion even further with  details of party organisation which, though important, are of little relevance to the biggest crisis in British politics since Lord North's mis-handling of the American Colonies.

Even more seriously Sir Vince has declared his aim to build a "movement of moderates."

We Liberals are not moderates: we are a party with a distinct position of the libertarian left (as opposed to Labour's position on the statist or authoritarian left).  I hate to use the word "passionate" because it  hints of the  faux-enthusiasms which candidates for "The Apprentice" try to impress Alan Sugar. 

But there is nothing "moderate" about Liberals' commitment to:
  •  Liberty, which we define as the maximum amount of individual freedom commensurate with the freedom of others:
  • a much greater measure of equality, with a generous social security system to protect the weakest in our society  and fair and effective progressive systems  to tax wealth and income,  both to finance a society which values every individual and  to prevent some from becoming so powerful that they exert excessive influence over its operation:
  • a reformed democracy with an elected second chamber, and proportional representation by single transferable  vote in multi-member constituencies for the main chamber:
  • genuine democratic "stake holder" participation in the  organisation and of commerce and industry, and the distribution of the profits:
  • substantial devolution of powers, safeguarded by a written constitution, to the constituent nations of the UK and regional and local governments:
  • continued and enthusiastic  membership of the European Union:
  • dedication to the rule of law both nationally and internationally:
  • wholehearted support to international organisations, romr the United nations downwards, no ifs, no buts - that's the way the future should go:
  • a reformed world economic order, enabling the citizens of poorer countries to reach acceptable standards both physical and cultural:
  • serious concern for the health and conservation of the planet:
  •  our defence tailored to current threats and our current status.
That's the best I can do off the cuff, but I'm sure there is more.

What I, and most Liberal activists, want  to build is a party that proclaims this vision loudly and boldly, not one in the uninspiring centre which promises  simply to avoid the worse excesses of the others.

Sir Vince is fully capable of leading the fight for such a society.  He should