Friday, 10 August 2018

George Cunningham showed the way

The  former labour MP. George Cunningham, who died last month,  is the one who who moved an amendment to the first Scottish Devolution Bill in 1979 to say that a referendum in favour would only be valid if at least 40% of those entitled to vote (my emphasis) were in favour.

In the event the referendum on Scottish devolution was "won"  by 51.6% to 48.4% (very familiar figures) but that 51.6% was only 32.9% of the registered Scottish electorate.  So the referendum result was "inoperative."

Had Cunningham's logic been applied to the EU Referendum  it would have suffered the same fate. In round figures, 52% voted in favour of leaving the EU and 48% voted against. Since the turnout was 73% that 52% for "Leave" represents only 37% of the registered electorate.  So the option to leave  would have failed the Scottish test.

And not only that, but the registered electorate excluded three groups most affected by the result:  citizens of other EU  countries working in the UK;  British citizens working in other parts of the EU; and the UK's 16 and 17 year-olds.

So the desperate trumpeting of the leading Leavers that "The British people have decided."" We must implement the will of the people," "We cannot ignore this democratic decision," etc. is simply ill-considered hot air.

The truth is that just over a third of the restricted franchise voted to leave, another slightly less more than a third voted to remain, and well over a quarter didn't express their opinion.

According to the Guardian's obituary: "[Cunningam's] lifelong  belief was hat MPs should act according to their consistence and use their judgment in the interest of constituents."


We should follow Cunningham, take off the Whips,  give MPs a free vote in parliament, then we can get on with tackling the real problems facing the country - and the world.

Monday, 6 August 2018

People's vote on Brexit is second best solution

Opinion polls tell us that the voting public have now moved very marginally in favour of remaining in the EU, and, according to this recent report in the Guardian, significant sections of the Labour party are now calling on their leaders to support a second referendum. I find this encouraging but also worrying.

Encouraging becasue, as the article makes clear, for trade union members (and working people in general?) "Brexit was a bad idea in 2016 and things have only got worse. The final agreement must go back to the people."  This from former union leader Billy Hayes.

A current leader, Manuuel Cortes, spells out: "Tory Brexit is an idealogical project  that will attack the rights of workers, deregulate the economy  and blame immigrants for the failure of the elite. . . there is nothing in this for working people.  That's why the trade union movement  is increasingly moving towards  supporting a popular vote on the deal."

It is just possible that such blunt speaking from this source, coupled with the increasingly shambolic  failures of the government in the negotiations, might just convince those "left behind" who chose voting Leave as a protest against a complacent ruling elite who  have neglected their needs for far too long, might just be persuaded to change their minds.

But:there is no guarantee, or even likelihood, that a second referendum would be any more fairly fought than the first.  Even if the rules are tightened:

  • Leave lied in the first and will lie again in the second, largely though unrealistic claims unsupported by evidence.
  • By overspending Leave broke the law in the first and will probably do so again.  Petty fines are no deterrent.
  • Their message will be simple - "We have already decided - how dare 'they' try to overturn democracy?
  • The pro-leave press, largely owned by foreign-resident tax evaders, will howl "Foul.."
  • From staffing our "Leeds for Europe" street stall a couple of Saturdays ago I get the distinct impression that the the public is now indifferent and that the "Just get on with it" view will either vote to leave even if they were originally remainers, or, more likely simply not bother to vote.
  • All  the worthy arguments by the trade unionists, quoted above, were made in the first referendum, and were ineffective.
  • How will the question (s) put on a second referendum be agreed?  Will it be "Accept the deal or crash out?" " Accept the deal or remain in?" "Accept the deal or re-negotiate?"  Or will there be more than two options - "Accept the deal, crash out or stay in?"  And if more than two options, will second preferences be permitted in the voting system?. For a more detailed analysis of the possibilities

Frankly, it is evident that a second referendum poses more problems than it solves. It is not the best  "way out."

We should remain true to our constitution, hammered out over the years.  It is not perfect, but it's the best we have at the moment.

We are a representative  parliamentary  democracy.

The easy promises of the leave campaign are now exposed as unsubstantiated hot air, all informed opinion points to the fact that the deal with the EU we already have is far better than anything else that could be agreed with us outside the EU,  and the vast majority of MPs recognise this.

 They should do their duty, grasp the nettle and put a stop to the whole nonsense.  If parliament were in session this could be done tomorrow, without wasting further time.  It can be done in the autumn once parliament resumes.  If some MPs with strong Leave voting constituencies lose their  seats surely that is a small price to pay for saving the nation.from folly.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Views from the Baltic

There have been no posts for the past few weeks as I've been on a boat trip up the Baltic, visiting, among other places, St Petersburg.  The ship's daily synopsis of world news provided an outline of events, which could be supplemented by the BBC's World TV Service (not, to my mind a patch on the Radio service, and with a far too high percentage of identifiers and advertisements for itself.)  The following comments are what occurred to me at the time.  Since anything worth saying has probably already been said, I admit that this post  is more for my own record than to add anything new to the debate.

The Chequers (Brexit) Agreement

This seemed to me to be the least worst option for those who (so very mistakenly in my view) believe that the flawed, unnecessary and minority referendum result must be obeyed - namely, technically leave the EU, so lose any say in its rules, but continue to observe most of its rules anyway. In other words, Brexit in Name Only, or BINO.  Mrs May is to be congratulated on having got the Cabinet to agree to this.  If we must go ahead with Brexit, this is the option which will do the least damage. Of course the best option is for the Government and MPs to acknowledge what they know to be true - that the whole Brexit process is a terrible mistake - and have the courage to take the action which is in the best interests of the country. So: apologise to the EU for wasting so much of their time, drop Brexit, and promise to be good and constructive members the future.

The Resignation of Davis and Johnson

It is hard to believe how these two can, as presumably they did,  support the Cabinet's collective decision and, within 36 hours, change their minds and oppose it  (in Johnston's case, in quite lurid terms.) What has happened to integrity, loyalty, "My Word is my Bond:" those British Values the preservation of which  their fellow xenophobes make such a fuss about?  Clearly we are not led by persons of integrity.  I'm not sure what the motives of Davis are, but Johnson's are clearly opportunistic. Had he not jumped ship Davis would have become the leading Brexiteer "outside the tent" so Johnson had to follow to preserve his leadership ambitions.  It should not be forgotten that before the Referendum Johnson allegedly agonised until the last moment as to which side to support, so if we take him at his word,  he must believe that,  for the country, it makes little difference either way.  His real motive must therefore be his personal advancement.

 €1 = £1

This was the exchange rate offered, without variation, on the ship.  I remember when  the Euro was introduced at €1 = £0.7075, predicting that we should probable mess about until parity was reached, and then beg to join.  I suspect few of my pupils believed me.The second part of the prediction has not yet been reached (though I hope it will) but I hadn't expected the first to happen so quickly. From the £'s perspective, that's a depreciation of some 30% .  The media claim that  UK economy is thriving whilst the Eurozone is fatally flawed.  Where are the cries of outrage, such as were hurled against Labour and Harold Wilson when the £ was devalued by a mere (by comparison)14%?  Given the silence from all sides on this issue, it appears that you can fool all the people all the time.

The Trump Visit(s)

Trump's dismissal of Mrs May's Brexit policy was totally outside diplomatic convention, and yet May referred to him as "Donald."  How low can we crawl?  For successful political  business there is a need for protocol to be observed.  That is why MPs must call each-other "Honourable" when debating in the Commons (and peers "Noble" in the Lords).  Fictions, but useful.  In my view the world is suffering from an excess of informality - even mateyness.

Such "pretend affability" enables Trump to say one thing in Putin's presence, and then the opposite when he gets back home. "Only joking Mate.  Surely you didn't take me seriously!"

Selective History

All the war memorials I saw in St Petersburg dated the  Second World War from 1941 to 1945. The preliminary skirmishes from 1939 to 1941 (including "Our Finest Hour" ) never received so much as a mention.  Of course, from the Russian perspective, there is some justification for this. Estimates vary, but between one and three million peopled died in the Siege of Leningrad (as St Petersburg was then known) alone.  UK losses for the entire war were, according to this source, 450 900.

Similarity our guide in Helsinki informed us that Finland was in no significant way allied to Germany in the Second World War.  It was  just that a few German soldiers came to help defend Finland from attacks by its former colonising power, Russia.   No mention of Finland's contrition to the Siege of Leningrad.

All countries do it.  The important thing is to be aware of it.

World Cup

I have no personal interest in football, but it would have been nice to have won the World Cup.  I did wonder, while victory was still a possibility, if  a win would restore or national self-confidence, and, that, even within the EU we were capable of success.  On the other had in the latter part of the last century, perhaps even longer, if was customary for British yobs to go rampaging around Europe shouting "Two World Wars and One World Cup."  Perhaps that would have been revived with Two World Cups.  I understand the team is young (and contains lots of Yorkshireman) so there is hope for the future.  I hoe we,re still in the EU when these footballers achieve the glory we think they deserve

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Two bad decisions and a phoney argument.

Two bad decisions by our government were reported in yesterday's papers.

The one that hit the front pages was that parliament has approved, with a huge majority, the government's plan to build a third runway at London Airport. The Conservatives were whipped to vote in favour but Labour MPs were given a free vote.  Happily the Liberal Democrats voted against.

I believe this is a bad decision for three reasons:

  1. Because of its polluting and global warming effects we should be aiming to cut down on air travel rather than encouraging more of it.  The argument that an expanded ariport is necessary for business doesn't hold up.  Only 10% of the passengers who travel through LAP (as we called it when I lived and worked under the flight path) are on business, 70% are simply tourists.                                          So we comfortably-off cling to our right to trash the planet for our enjoyment whilst taking the view that it's advisable  to leave potential migrants looking for a better life to drown in the Mediterranean, because rescuing them might encourage more to try..
  2. It's yet another huge infrastructure project for London.  Regional diversification is flavour of the moment.  If we must have more ariport capacity then let it be in the Midlands, the North, Scotland or Wales. (Actually I've read somewhere that the best southern site would be the Pas de Calais, which would enable  high-speed rail links to Paris and Brussels as well as London)
  3. The current projected cost is £14.3bn.  According to Nils Pratley  this is almost bound to be over-run  and in the end the taxpayer will be asked to fork out to subsidise the foreign owners of LAP (Ferrovial and Qatar Investment Authority)
Reports of the second bad decision were tucked away on the inside pages: the government has abandoned plans for a tidal (electricity-generating ) power lagoon in Swansea.

 By comparison to the LAP expansion this was to cost a mere £1.3bn, would have generated much needed employment and growth in Wales, and is just the sort of renewable power-generation technology in which the UK ought to be investing.

In fact it baffles me that, given the amount of shore  we have relative to our size, we aren't world leaders in tidal power.  The argument against power generated by the wind and sun is that the wind doesn't always blow and the sun doesn't always shine.  But the tides go in and out, not once but twice, a day- indeed four times in the Solent. And that's every day.

The phoney argument was advanced over the weekend, when  there was much in the media about the Defence Secretary's demands for a vast increase in military spending. The reason given, quite shamelessly  in the reports I heard and read, was not that we should be better defended (against whom?) by all this extra outlay, but that this would increase British influence.

So we're are called upon the spend another £20bn or so a year just so our politicians and generals can strut around the world feeling important.

The easiest way to retrieve and then perhaps even  increase Britain's influence is to remain in the EU and play a co-operative and constructive role with our partners rather than, as in the past , standing on the sidelines complaining and demanding opt-outs.

Post Script (added 30th June)

This article by Simon Jenkins in yesterday's Guardian:

gives further and better particulars about the pointlessness of Britain's ttemp[ts to remain a so-called "tier one" military  power.

Monday, 25 June 2018

Brexit +2

It's just two years to the day since a good half of the nation woke up to the horrifying fact that we had voted to leave the European Union.  I say "a good half" because although 37% of those entitled to vote opted for "Leave" and only 34% voted to "Remain," that left  some 28% who didn't bother to vote so were presumably satisfied with the way things were, the 16 and 17 year-olds, thought to be overwhelmingly in favour of remaining,(and most affected by the decision) were not allowed to vote, and neither were the even more immediately affected 3 million citizens of other EU countries resident in this country

Yet, two years later our government is still blethering on, daily more shrilly, that they must implement this minority position as "the will of the people"

And, in spite of the fact that every piece of evidence so far has demonstrated that the promises made by the "Leave" campaign are hollow, that the process is not going to be simple, will make us poorer and the best bargain we can get is the one we already have, public opinion has as yet only marginally shifted..

The mysteries are why, in one of the world's most sophisticated democracies, are the major political parties persisting with a course which  they know to be folly, and why has there not been a major shift in public opinion as a result of the overwhelming evidence that this is folly.

To deal with the major parties first, it is clear that they are both putting party beofre country.

The Conservative Party is now dominated by a small gang of extremists led by Michael Gove and Jacob Rees Mogg.  They seem determined to turn the country into a low wage, low regulation economy in which their rich hedge-fund friends and backers will  be able to flourish at the expense of the rest of us., along with a hankering for the social and political milieu of the 1950s.  I do not include Boris Johnson in this group.  Remember he allegedly agonised as to which side to back  and came down on the "Leave" side only at the very last moment.  Clearly, given that the small and elderly grass-roots membership of the Conservative Party are thought to have have this "future to the back"  bias,  and they elect the Tory leader, his motivation is his own personal advancement.

Sadly Mrs May, who fully appreciates that what is best for the country is to remain in the EU (that is how she campaigned and voted) is too weak and frightened to stand up to these mavericks and has feebly decided that appeasing them is the best way of saving her premiership and the Conservative Party.

The problem of the Labour Party is less easy to understand.  It could be argued that, by not taking a firm position,  the leadership is playing a "long game" - stand back, watch the government  a mess of things (of which there is plenty of evidence so far) and move in for the kill at the opportune moment.  Unfortunately, time is running out, and it will take time and firm and unambiguous campaigning to shift public opinion sufficiently to make abandoning Brexit politically acceptable.

Sadly we Liberal Democrats, who have waved and continue to wave the banner for not just remaining in but full and enthusiastic co-operation with the EU, are so tarnished by our inept  handling of membership of the 2010 - 2015 Coalition that we have, I believe only temporarily, lost our credibility., and the well-deserving Greens are slow to gain any.

Now to the  mystifying problem of why public opinion isn't changing  significantly. I should have thought by now that, in the face of all the evidence, there would have been a shift of the size say, two thirds in favour of remaining against one third still for leave which would make a change of mind by our MPs in favour of abandoning Brexit politically acceptable.

I think the reasons are:

  • the majority of people are not adsorbing the evidence.  I hope this is not a patronising view.  Most people have lives to live, jobs to master, mortgages to pay, debts to manage, families to being up, holidays to plan, sports teams to support, and are not as absorbed as we anoraks by the Today Programme, Guardian and Financial Times reports IFS, Treasury and Bank of England pronouncements;
  • the media, especially the foreign-owned Sun and Telegraph, with the Express, have an enthusiastic bias against the EU, and as "us" versus  "them"  approach probably helps to sell papers;
  • obeying "the will of the people" is a simple and straightforward, though I believe misguided, message;
  • anti-EU sentiment has been honed by forty years of both major parties blaming Europe for any policy that they felt was unpopular or inconvenient;
  • there has been failure by the Remainers to recognise and promise to rectify the issues which polling evidence shows motivated many of the Leave voters.  These are spelled in a perceptive letter in Saturday's Guardian: from a Susan Hunter ,namely "pensions, taxation, monetary policy, social care, health and welfare,  education and training.. .These are the areas that are failing the working class, which by design benefit the already wealthy."
  • the lack of a unified Remain movement. with an identifiable and attractive leader.
On that last point, if there is one of the  889 posts now on this blog that I'd like to go viral, it is this one calling on David Lammy as the ideal person to take on the role.

 It hasn't and he hasn't yet,. but there's still time

Monday, 18 June 2018

Global (in)Justice

Last Saturday I attended in York the AGM of Global Justice Now (GJN), fancy new title of the World Development Movement (WDM) of which I've been a member and supporter since its inception in the 1960s.

One of the speakers in  the "workshop" sessions which followed the meeting was Jason Hickel, author of "The Divide".  Thankfully he kept his "Powerpoint" presentation down to one slide, which made the information it gave all the more telling.

Here's a summary:

 Annually the "Rich North" transfers  around $130bn  to the "Poor South" in Aid.(of which the UK's contribution is around $30bn).

Annually the "Rich North" sucks out of the"Poor South" as follows:

  • $60bn in patent licenses as a result of TRIPs;
  • $200bn in interest payments;
  • $480bn in repatriated profits (a greater amount that FDI);
  • $875 in trade mis-invoicing (GFI);
  • $875 in transfer pricing;
  • $700 in lost export revenues (through WTO rules):
  • 571bn through climate change (CVM);
  • $2.5trn  in "unequal exchanges."
I do not actually understand all of the negatives, and suspect they may be exaggerated.  I hope soon to generate the energy to read the book.  But the message that the way capitalism and trade are organised enables the rich world to take far more from the poor word than we give back with our paltry amount of aid is clear..

Or to out it another way, international trade works very well for international conglomerates, their directors and shareholders, and less well for people of poorer countries.  There needs to be a change, and GJN is one of the campaigning organisations working towards one.

All power to our elbow.

You can obtain more information and join the campaign via:  

We may even bribe you with a free copy of the book


TRIPs: Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights
FDI:  Foreign Direct Investment
GFI:  Global Financial Inequality
WTO: World Trade organisation
CVM:  Climate Vulnerability Monitor

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Could David Lammy lead "Stop Brexit"?

Three welcome initiatives to put a stop to Brexit have emerged this week.

That billionaire George Soros,and other wealthy individuals are about to launch and finance  campaign. There's to be  a "Left against Brexit" tour to promote the left wing case for a pro-EU position.  The "tour" wil involve trade union leaders and the Green Party MP Caroline Lucas.  On this morning's news we hear of  16 London MPs who have written  to Jeremy Corbyn emphasising the damage Brexit will do to London and calling  for Labour to support a second referendum.
As far as I know there is, as yet, no co-ordination between these groups, and any others that might be hiding in the political undergrowth
In addition to co-ordination, what will add strength and momentum (oops, do Corbynistas have a monopoly on this term?) is a suitable identifiable leader.
The Soros campaign in particular  is bound to be tainted as yet another patronising attempt by successful elites to tell the disgruntled "left behind" what's good for them. We need someone not just backed by informed opinion and money,  but also with popular appeal.  
Sadly front runners so far, such as Tony Blair, Ken Clark, even David Miliband and Nick Clegg, are seen as "yesterdays' men."

So my nomination, based on his passionate attack on the Tory front bench re the the treatment of  Windrush migrants, and his masterful put-down of Jacob Rees-Mogg on Radio 4's Any Questions (19th May) goes to David Lammy, MP
Mr Lammy's humble origins and minority background added  to the credibility of his enthusiasm for remaining in the EU will greatly enhance his appeal to many of those who voted for Brexit as a protest against a system which they feel  is not working well for them.
I've no idea how to attempt to create a groundswell of support on social media to persuade Mr Lammy to take on this roll.

Please would someone who does know take up the challenge and "save"  Britain from self-inflicted harm?.