Thursday, 18 May 2017

Theresa the Misleader


I have received a large four-sided leaflet through the post.  It says   "THERESA MAY FOR BRITAIN" on the front page in very big letters, and devotes a second page to what purports to be a personal massage which concludes by urging me to "get things right by backing me, and voting conservative for my  candidate in your local area" (my emphasis.). A third page highlights  six debatable pieces of "progress" since 2010 (one is "WELFARE CAPPED to reward work") with the exhortation to "VOTE THERESA MAY ON 8TH JUNE."  The final page warns that the election may not be a shoe-in for the Tories (on that I hope she's right) so I should make sure I vote Tory to avoid having Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister.

The word conservative is mentioned only twice: once in modest print with a union flag at the side of it, and once in the very tiniest of print in the legally obligatory  "printed and published by " declaration.

This is by far the most blatant attempt in my lifetime  to turn our British parliamentary election into a presidential system: May v Corbyn.

Mrs May is not the Conservative Candidate in my constituency, but presumably by not mentioning the actual Tory candidate's name  the party can charge the leaflet up to national expenses, a trick  they used even more blatantly in the last election and sadly got away with.

The character of Jeremy Corbyn has been tested to destruction by the media, but Mrs May is routinely presented by the sycophantic press as some modern-day Boudicca well equipped to stand up for Britain against the wicked continentals.  This caricature does not bear scrutiny.

  • Not once, but repeatedly, after her ascension to the premiership, she assured us, openly, unequivocally, without prevarication or qualification, that there would be no snap election:  the parliament would run its course.  It would perhaps be pushing beyond the boundaries of politeness to call this well brought up middle-aged lady a liar, but this was beyond doubt misleading.  Why should we ever again believe a word she says?
  • There are increasing signs that coming to the decision after  clearing of her mind whilst walking in Snowdonia is a load of hooey, and that Conservative Central Office has been preparing for a snap election for some time.  All their plans seem to have fallen neatly into place whilst the Labour Party has been caught on the hop.  If this is the case Mrs May has been not just misleading but deliberately misleading.
  • Before the EU Referendum Mrs May was an avowed Remainer.  Here's just one snippet from one of her major speeches: "Remaining inside the European Union does make us more secure, it does make us more prosperous and it does make us more influential beyond our shores." You can read the entire speech here.  So why is she now burbling the fantasies of her arch Brexiteers and insisting on leading us  to the harshest of Brexits?  Does she actually believe anything she says? 
This twisting and turning is not confined to the EU debate.  Whilst Home Secretary she gave the strong impression that she was sympathetic to an inquiry about alleged police malpractice  in the Orgreave confrontation with the striking  miners.  After similar malpractices were confirmed in the Hillsborough inquest she told the Police Federation that they must understand: "the need to face up to the past , and right the wrongs that continue to jeopardise the work of police officers today.. . . We must never  underestimate how the poison  of decades-old misdeeds seeps down through the years and is just as toxic today  as it was then.   That's why difficult truths, however unpalatable they may be , must be confronted head on." 

Now that she is Prime Minister the Home Secretary has been permitted to decide that that there shall be no enquiry into Orgreave becasue:"Ultimately, there were no deaths."

The evidence shows that Mrs May, far from being strong, consistent and a safe pair of hands,  is  a vacillating opportunist, quick to change her statements  to the advantage of her  party and herself, weakly submissive to the Brexit bullies in her party, and skilful in the "dissembling and cloaking" against which she was warned in her Prayer Book upbringing.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Hurrah for the Labour Manifesto


The Labour Party manifesto for the election has not actually been published but, but predictable scorn has already been poured on the leaked versions by predictable sections of the media (ie most of it).  But to the less partial eye there's a lot to like.  If the leaks are correct a Labour government will:
  1. Resume council-house building and make private sector house building an infrastructure priority
  2. Take the railway companies back into public ownership as their franchises expire;
  3. Ensure there is at least one publicly owned energy provider in each region;
  4. Guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK;
  5. Make no false promises about immigration;
  6. Establish a national and regional investment banks;
  7. Scrap the bedroom tax and punitive sanctions regime;
  8. Discourage short-termism and rocketing executive pay;
  9. Scrap university tuition fees;
  10. Adequately fund eduction, health and social care services.
This list is a breath of fresh air, and highly relevant to a country which has suffered too long from mistaken policies.  It is a list Liberals Democrats can work with.

Of course, we should like to see a less supine acceptance of Brexit, and in particular take with a pinch of salt the promise to "make retaining the benefits of the single market and the customs union negotiating priorities." If that's the case why did they whip their peers to vote against such a proposal in the House of Lords on 28th February?

Personally I'd like to see a full throated promise to halt Brexit altogether, and to ditch Trident rather than retain it but be equivocal about using it.  However I doubt if even the Liberal Democrat manifesto will have the guts to propose either of these.

But what we have to be clear about is that this is a perfectly sensible list of aims.   It is a far cry from the much quoted "longest suicide note in history" of the 1983 manifesto.  That one promised to take us out of the EU (oops, the Tories are now doing that anyway), nationalise the banks (oops 2, the Tories have done that as well with two of them), cancel the Trident programme (see above) and abolish the House of Lords (ah well, that's been tried and must go on the back burner for a while)

If the present manifesto is to be criticised I regret that it gives the impression that everything on the list will be done at once.  True that the Attlee  governments of 1945-51 took and largely achieved such an approach, but times, though economically much more strained, were different then.  People were less cynical and much more confident of what the state can achieve.  I'd prefer to see a much more " softly softly " approach and more use of "we shall try to" rather than " we will."  That last point is even more relevant for the Liberal Democrat manifesto.

The alternative from the Conservatives of:

  1. Hard Brexit;
  2. Continued austerity ;
  3. Increasing inequality;
  4. Further privatisations;
  5. Bullying of the poor and disadvantaged;
  6. Reductions in the size of the state;
  7. Grammar schools;
  8. Toadying to the US;
  9. Endangered human,civil and employment rights;
  10. Unachievable immigration targets, along with an inhuman and  even illegal attitude to migrants and asylum seekers;
just doesn't bear thinking about.

And if the issue is competence, remember that it's the Tory policy  of deregulation which brought about the financial crisis, their  policy of "right to buy" which is  is at the heart of the housing crisis,  their  policy of austerity which has delayed the recovery and starved and continues to starve the health, education and social services.

Only skilful PR and a sycophantic press keep them in the frame at all.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Competition taken too far



Yesterday I went to the audiology department of our local NHS hospital for a minor adjustment to one of my hearing aids.  After she had dealt with it  the technician told me  I was due for another hearing test in July, but would not be sent for.  It was up to me to "initiate the procedure" and "request a new pathway."  (Who on earth dreams up this management speak?")

I would then be advised  that I could go to the private sector for this.  It is apparently mandatory that his option be pointed out to me.

Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green  initiatives are often subject to routine ridicule, but we are expected to take this  nonsense in our stride

Clearly this requirement has been imposed on the NHS by some fanatical neoliberal obsessed with the virtues of market choice.

But it is ridiculous.  Like demanding that, before  selling you a book, Foyles must tell you that you could buy the same volume at Waterstones.  Or that before pulling you a pint of Tetley's the barman should remind you that you could get a pint of Sam Smith's at the pub up the road.

And I wonder if the playing field is levelled by requiring the private sector hearing aid specialists  to tell their customers that equivalent support is available from the NHS free at the point of use?

Those why deny that further aspects of the NHS are up for privatisation if the Tories remain in government should take note of this straw in the wind.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The myth of Tory economic competence.



I don’t watch Andrew Marr’s Sunday morning politics programme because I’m at church at the time it is broadcast and never seem to be able to find “catch-up” time. However I understand that  two weeks ago  (30th April) Theresa May persistently evaded Marr’s questions about nurses having to go to food banks because they couldn’t afford to buy food, but three times referred to the need for a “strong economy” and a government which “understands the importance of the strength of the economy.”

Well, who would argue against the desirability of a flourishing economy?  But the impression Mrs May gives, and clearly intends to give, is that Conservative governments provide this strength and Labour governments don’t and won’t.

Sadly I suspect that most of the electorate accept this, but it is the triumph of slick PR and a lick-spittle press rather than an objective appraisal of the truth.

Simon Wren-Lewis, a professor of Economics at Oxford University, has attempted to provide such an appraisal   on his blog Mainly Macro.  I strongly recommend  reading the entire article at

But in case you haven’t time here is an honest summary.  (My own additional comments in Italics in brackets). The survey looks at the major economic decisions by British governments over the past forty years or so:  1979 - 1997 (Conservative Chancellors of the Exchequer), 1997 - 2010 (Labour), post 2010 (Conservative)

1.       Geoffrey Howe’s (Conservative) 1981 budget.  Imposed tax rises in the middle of a recession.  Was famously opposed by 364 economists in a letter to The Times. Generally accepted to have delayed recovery by some 18 months.  (This was the period in which Britain’s manufacturing  capacity was reduced by a fifth, and unemployment rose to over 3 million, with the consequent  loss of skills and export potential – not to mention devastated communities and much human misery)

2.       The Lawson (Conservative) Boom in the late 80’s: a dash for growth (that produced little growth but lots of inflation).


3.       Joining the  Exchange Rate Mechanism of the EU (The ERM) in  1990 (John Major, Conservative chancellor).  (Most of us welcomed this as a good move. The problem was that we joined at too high a rate – almost 3DM to the £.  John Major was not necessarily to blame: Mrs Thatcher is said to have decided on the figure unilaterally, and imposed it on her cabinet.


4.       Ejection from the ERM. Black Wednesday,16 September 1992,   Norman Lamont Conservative chancellor. ( The above rate proved unsustainable  Britain was ignominiously  forced to leave the ERM)
5.       The failure throughout  this period to use the revenues from North Sea Oil to set up a Sovereign Wealth Fund (as did, for example, Norway)  (Instead the bonus was squandered on tax cuts and the funding of the high level of unemployment)

The ERM debacle led to the loss of the Conservative's credibility on economic matters and,  eventually, to Tony Blair’s Labour landslide in 1997.  

 Wren - Lewis highlights three major decisions made during the period of the Blair Brown governments and  argues that all three were correct.  They are:


1.       The independence of the Bank of England (from 2nd May 1997).


2.       The decision, engineered by Gordon Brown, not to join the Euro in 2003. 

3.       The fiscal stimulus (Alistair Darling Chancellor of the Exchequer) after the crash of 2007 which stabilised the economy and restored some growth.

Wren-Lewis excuses the Labour government’s failure to regulate the banks and financial sector more tightly, and thus perhaps avoid the crash of 2007, on the grounds that they were following the consensus view at the time. The Conservatives were arguing for even lighter regulation.

(Wren-Lewis does not mention  the financing of public sector infrastructure projects, especially hospitals and schools, by Private Financial Initiatives, PFIs, which I believe is a major mistake for which we shall be paying over the odds for years if not generations)

On George Osborne’s tenure as Chancellor, Wren-Lewis praises the decision to set up the Office of Budget Responsibility, OBR, but condemns the decision to embark on austerity from 2010 as a “huge mistake.”  He also points out that the decisions to leave the Single Market and Customs Union are not mandated by the Referendum but are “down to the Conservative government alone.”.

All in all, it is hard to argue with Wren-Lewis's  conclusion that "[The track records ] show clearly that Labour tend to get things right  while the Conservatives  have created a number of major policy induced  disasters."

Monday, 8 May 2017

Liberal Democrats back in the frame.


Like most Liberal Democrats I was hoping our we would make significant gains in last week's local elections. After all the augurs were good. We'd polled above 30% and come second in the Witney by-election caused by David Cameron's breaking his promise to stay on and sort out the mess he'd made, and won the Richmond Park by-election caused by Zak Goldsmith's keeping his promise to resign and re-fight the seat if the Tories approved the third runway at Heathrow. These were on top of frequent gains in numerous local government by-election, all dutifully reported on Liberal Democrat Voice.

The only way was up, or so it seemed, and the loss of 42 seats, rather than net gains was a bit of a blow.  However, we've been on the fringe of politics for most of the past half-century so have become quite good at seeking consolation which belies surface  appearances.

And in this case the consolation is, it seems to me, quite credible.  In these elections our over-all share of the vote was 18%.  This is a substantial  increase on the 11% we achieved  when these seats were last contested four years ago.  An increase of a seven  percentage points form 11 ist an increased share of 64%.  Wow!

Another consoling factor is that these elections were essentially for county councils and we have never done very well in those.  In fact in the '60s and '70s we often left them uncontested.  Our activist were often more motivated by more local issues, derided by some as "pavement politics," and this indifference towards county council matters was shared by much of the electorate. 

In fact the only time the Liberals fielded a full slate of candidates  for the West Yorkshire County Council was in 1981.   This also turned out to be the last time as the Conservative government abolished  our  county council, along with all the other Metropolitan Councils and the Greater London Council, becasue Mrs Thatcher was needled by London's Ken Livingstone didn't like the fact that most others also had substantial Labour majorities.  So much for the Tory dedication to democracy.

Hence there was no election last week in the old West Yorkshire area, where we have so far successfully avoided being bullied into having a directly elected mayor. (For some reason the election of London's mayor is out of sinc with the rest and Labour's Sadiq Khan won that last year)

It is therefore not unrealistic to expect an even greater improvement in our fortunes in the coming general election.  This optimism is enhanced by the fact that both Labour and the Conservatives are so far fighting poor campaigns. Both are issuing promises about this that and the other what they will do when returned to government, and routinely rubbishing the promises of the other. 

I'm pretty certain few people believe any of the promises anyway and will be fed up to the back teeth of the whole patronising pantomime after anther five weeks.  A turnout as low as 60% is already predicted.

So far the Liberal Democrats have fought a god campaign.

On Europe we have made it quite clear that we are totally opposed to a hard Brexit, want to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union, and want another referendum on whatever terms are achieved.

On taxation we advocate an extra 1p on all rates of income tax, ring fenced for the NHS.

Our European stance  should appeal to the 48% of Remain voters,and not a few of the 52% who recognise how the promises of the leavers are unravelling.  And the penny for the NHS  should appeal to everybody.

Inevitably during the campaign we shall have to take positions on other issues, but if we avoid being distracted and hammer away at our two USPs we should do well.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

We should "Go for it."



On Tuesday of this week our former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said on Radio 4's Today programme words to the effect that Mrs May and the Tories are more or less bound to win the election.  Then on the same slot on Wednesday our present leader Tim Farron said she was "Slam dunk" (whatever hat means) for victory.

I find this astonishing  in any circumstances.  Whoever went into a competition saying they were bound to lose? In the present circumstances it is outrageously timid.  Throughout the "Western" world politics have never been so uncertain.

In France not one but both major parties, the Socialist Party of the incumbent president and the standard alternative right wing party, the Republicans, have been eliminated from the presidential election, and the final contest is to be between the Far Right and a man representing no party at all.  And although M Macron appears to have a 60/40 lead there are still fears that sufficient socialists and other on the left may abstain rather than put clothes pegs on their noses and vote to stop the Front National, who consequently believe there is still "all to play for."

And only last year world opinion had it that Mrs Clinton was a "shoe in" for the US Presidency, and that Donald Trump was an outrageous and unbalanced maverick whom everyone could see was totally unfit for any sort of public office.  And now he holds the most powerful position in the world.

In 2011 the Liberals, Canada's "natural party of government" were not just beaten but reduced to third place, but returned to majority and government in 2015

And in this country in 2011, at the start of the  referendum on electoral reform those in favour had a two to one majority.  But we lost. And last year a victory for leaving the EU seemed so improbable that no one bothered to  put in a requirement for the usual  super-majority which is standard when even such as golf clubs and music societies want to change their constitutions.  So now we're lumbered with Brexit.

With politics so volatile, why don't we "progressives" go all out for rejecting what must surely be the mast damaging and destructive, government n our post-war history?  ( Yes, probably even more so than Mrs Thatcher's, though she started the rot).

The conditions for this to happen include:

  1. Labour party stalwarts stop sniping  at Jeremy Corbyn, let him be himself* and get behind him;
  2. Liberal Democrats, Greens, nationalists and others also stop sniping and attacking each other and agree that they are prepared to work together with Labour and each other  to recreate our tolerant, generous and open liberal democracy;
  3. Stop the Brexit nonsense altogether;
  4. If the party leaderships won't make electoral pacts, use co-ordinated tactical voting to return progressive pro-EU members to the new parliament.
There isn't much time, but this will  replace a reluctant rearguard action with an exciting vision worth fighting for.

*  Here's an upbeat extract from Simon Jenkins's article in today's Guardian:

Corbyn should  . . .[go] for broke.  Invite a vote for moral outrage,  nuclear disarmament  and an end to neo-imperial wars.  Attack  chief executive salaries , crazy energy subsidies and vanity infrastructure projects.  Promote universal incomes, prison reform and drug legislation.

Well, not all Liberal Democrats, Greens, nationalists et al would agree with all of that (though I do) but surely it's something we can work with, and better than the destructive paths on which Mrs May seems hell-bent.


Monday, 1 May 2017

Government's gagging law restricts discussion.


 Last Saturday I attended  a day conference on "A progressive, sustainable and social future" splendidly organised by the students of Leeds Beckett University.  Clearly the conference was planned long before the calling of the general election, but the fact that it took place at the beginning of an election campaign made it all the more relevant.

But not necessarily more effective.The concurrence of events had the unfortunate effect of stifling the discussion. 

The contributors included representatives of such as Global Justice Now (formerly the World Development Movement, of which I regard myself as a founder member), Jubilee Debt Campaign, War on Want, Friends of the Earth, and many locally based campaigning organisations.

Most are charities, and  as the result of one of the more inept pieces of Conservation legislation, if during an election campaign they say anything that could be interpreted as being for or against a particular party, then their "comments" could be charged to the expenses of the relevant party and, I believe, they could also lose their charitable status.

The initial purpose of the legislation was the perfectly reasonable and highly desirable attempt to control the activities of "lobbyists" representing organisations with their own agendas unduly, and often in secret, influencing the government.  Indeed David Cameron had  presciently predicted that lobbying, after the "cash for questions" and MPs' expenses scandals, was the the next big scandal waiting to happen. 

However, the general consensus is that, far from limiting  the activities of big business (eg the Murdoch press, the fracking industry), their access to ministers and civil servants appears to continue much as before, and the main effect of the legislation is to tie the hands of campaigning organisations.

Many of the speakers in the workshops stressed  that they were limited in what they were able to say, although most succeeded in conveying their meanings via. figurative nods and winks.  However, I suspect it is not beyond the bounds of possibility for "spies" to infiltrate similar conferences and "report infringements" to their masters.

This curb on public discussion is not an isolated case.  A report issued last month, listing the level of press freedom in 180 countries, showed that the UK had slipped by 12 places in the last five years, to 40th out of 180 countries.

Shame on us.

Post Script.

In contrast to the gloomy devaluation of British standards mourned above, on 1st May 1840, Britain was at the cutting edge of progress by introducing  the world's first postage stamp, the famous Penny Black.

And, exactly 20 years ago, on 1st May 1997 Labour won the largest post-war majority of any party, it was sunny, and, even though we Liberal Democrats suffered a net loss of one,  we all thoght things could only get better.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Liberal (Democrat) consistency.



For the start of my recent holiday (see previous post) I dug out my copy of the London A-Z to find out how to get from the hotel* I had booked to the theatre** I wanted to attend.  The cover price of the guide was 3/6d, so I've clearly had it a while, and probably not used it much, because out of it dropped the agenda for them meeting of the Liberal Party Council on 21st February, 1970. Oh happy days.

On the back of the agenda I'd written the notes I'd made on the themes for our campaign in the General Election expected within the next twelve months. (It actually took place on the 18th June that year)  Here, without embellishments (other than in brackets) is what I had written:_


The Liberal party cares

Show then you care; Vote Liberal (was to be our slogan for the election)

The real danger to democracy  is the threat to Liberal Values.(plus ça change)

Four headings:

1.  Care for the future for you and your family
     a)  environment (there well before the Greens, or even the Ecology Party, were founded)
     b)  education
     c)   law and order 
     d)  social services.

2.  Care for our industrial society
     a)  industry
     b)  prices and incomes      tariff restrictions
                                             national wage agreements
                                             national deferred profit sharing
                                             incentive schemes for the civil service
    c)  Trade Unions.

3.   Britain's World Role
     a)  UN
     b)  U Europe  - democratic
     c)  Aid.

4.    Politics, people and power
     a)  Parliament
     b)  Regionalism
     c)  Participation.  

Admittedly it is not all that clear from the notes what we proposed  to do about all these things. (eg the Trade Unions, but I did not then and do not now believe in union bashing.  I believe unions can and should, as in France and Germany, be given a positive role in industrial and commercial organisations, including participation in management and employees having a share in the profits).

One thing I would no longer go along with is "incentive schemes" for civil servants, (or anybody else for that matter.)  I suppose this was meant to be compensation for the lack of profits to share, but, as we now know to our cost, such schemes lead to misleading targets and distortions. In all spheres employees should be paid a fair rate for the job and then expected to give of their best, the overwhelming majority of whom will.

But on the whole I think that agenda gives a fair indication of Liberal policies to which we and the Liberal Democrats  we became have stuck to consistently for the past 47 years.  We were and are well ahead of our time.

PS  It's interesting that other items on the agenda included the Cabora (sic) Bassa Dam  Project, two resolutions on cannabis, and the 1970s Cricket Tour (In those days Peter Hain was an enthusiastic Young Liberal, but, alas, did not follow up on this early promise.)

*Avonmore Hotel, Cartwright Gardens, WC1H  9EL Within walking distance of King's Cross and St Pancras, relatively inexpensive (for London), clean and incudes a cooked breakfast.

**  Arts Theatre "The Wipers Times".  Poignant but funny account of a troops' newspaper in the First World War.  Co-written by Ian Hislop.

   


Thursday, 27 April 2017

UK Election: another broken proimise (1)


I've just returned from a week's holiday in the Netherlands, where I've been more or less cut off from British news, so much of what follows has probably already been said.  However, for the record. . .

I started my holiday by travelling down to London on Tuesday 18th  April, and was startled,  on leaving King's Cross Station,  to see blazoned on the front page of the Evening Standard that Mrs May had called an election.  At first I had assumed it was some sort of spoof as per Private Eye .

It has never been  quite clear why Mrs May  has, since having become Prime Minister, so emphatically ruled out the possibility of a General Election before the schedule end to the parliament in 2020.  But she has, not once but several times.

So why the change of heart?  The tale that her mind was cleared during a walking holiday is clearly pure bunkum.  The decision is obviously guided at least to some extent by the plotting of party advantage  in, nowadays, smoke-free rooms.

Even the  published reason, that the nation is coming together  in wanting to get on with leaving the EU,  but parliament is divided with ne'er-do-wells trying to obstruct her implementation of the "will of the people," is equally disingenuous.  Sadly, parliament is already far too supine in succumbing to her will, and failing dismally to represent the views of the many of us (and nearly all the "experts") who see her policy as folly.

It is also sad to see the one significant constitutional achievement of the Liberal Democrats in the coalition, the fixed term parliament, fall at the first hurdle. It would, of course, have been embarrassing for Labour, given their legitimate and profound disagreements with the government's social policies, to have voted against and thus blocked  the dissolution.  But even so a reasonable case, that all energies must be focused on the Brexit deal, could have been made.

As a result, Mrs May has been allowed to break her oft-repeated promise, and our politics is diminished. No wonder people are disillusioned.  I suspect they will become even more so as the simplifications (the will of the people), distortions (strong and stable leadership) and, yes, downright lies ( watch this space) are bandied around in the coming weeks.

But, as Harold Wilson famously noted:  "A week is a long time in politics."  And with six of them to play with a lot can go wrong for Mrs May.  Her predecessor David Cameron miscalculated badly, and quite unnecessarily. It's perfectly possible she may have done the same.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Inequality exacerbated


On of the functions of the central state is to re-direct funds from the wealthier parts of the country to the poorer parts.  This is done in the UK by central government grants to local government.

The intricacies of how these grants are calculated  are beyond the comprehension of most of us, but it seems odd that, when these grants are reduced, as they have been over the past seven years  as part of the government's misguided "austerity" policies, the biggest reductions are to the poorest areas and not to the richest.

An article written a couple of years ago  but still relevant,states:

The variations in individual councils are striking. Some 23 councils will see spending power reductions of over 5%, with Labour-run London borough of Hackney the biggest loser at 6.46%. But 17 home counties authorities will see an increase of over 2% in their spending power: all are Tory-run, with Reigate and Banstead seeing the biggest increase, at 2.92%.

How do they get away with it?  I suppose it could be argued that the areas with the biggest problems get the largest grants, so consequently are able to bear the greater cuts, but it all sounds a bit fishy.

More recently the overwhelmingly Conservative Surrey County Council felt it hadn't enough income  properly to fund its Social Care Services, so it proposed to have a referendum  to permit an "above the norm" rise in council tax.  For some reason the government found this was embarrassing, so a deal was done, the government found extra funds, and there was no need for the referendum.  The government denied that this was a "sweetheart deal" but rather a "gentleman's agreement."  Seemingly there aren't enough "gentlemen" in such as Labour dominated Newcastle and the North East  to facilitate a similar accommodations there.

Then we look at education.  London's pupils are alleged to have forged ahead in their achievements over the past few years. Government expenditure per pupil per year in the City of London was £8 595 when this article was written, compared with £4 648 in my own area of Kirklees.  The lowest was in Cambridgeshire, at a mere £3 950. Of course, London property prices are higher so  the business rate will be too (for local authority schools, though private schools which are charities get an 80% discount), and the teachers have to be paid more. (Disclosure: I benefited from the London Allowance in the early stages of my career - I think it was just undert £1 a week)

And a final thought.  Figures recently revealed show that, on average, Labour-led councils have taken in 11.6 asylum seekers per 10 000 population: the equivalent figure for Conservative-led councils is 0.7.  There are apparently just four asylum seekers living in Mrs May's Maidstone constituency.

The prevailing philosophy of the government appears to be "unto him that that shall be given," and of Tory councils " what we have we hold."

Monday, 10 April 2017

US Constituion stymies Trump


The thoughts behind  this post were formulated before President Trump's volte face in foreign policy and his illegal bombing of Syria.  Whether this is the start of a changed and consistent  foreign policy, a caprice or a temper-tantrum remains to be seen.   The situation is so complex that I have no firm views on the tactics the international community should be following, but  I deeply regret that we do not have a strategy which enables the "great powers" to work together to stop armaments reaching this desperate country, even if they are incapable of brokering a peace.

However, on the (US) domestic front it does seem that the American Constitution is sufficiently robust to prevent the wildest excesses of Trump's campaign rhetoric  from being put into practice.  I believe this is because the US Constitution has an effective and functional separation of the powers of government: the executive, the legislature and the judicature.

So we have seen Trump's illogical banning of entry to the US of citizens of seven largely Muslim countries blocked, twice now, by the judiciary, and his threat to abolish Obamacare blocked by congress.

I suppose it is nothing to do with the Constitution, but I do also admire the courage of the Deputy Director of the US National Security Agency in dismissing Trump's claim that President Obama had asked the UK's CCHQ to "wire-tap" the Trump campaign as "errant nonsense."  I cannot imagine and British civil servant standing up to the Prime Minister in this manner.

Sadly the concept of the separation of powers is hardly apparent  in the British Constitution.  The executive (government) has by definition control of the legislature -  it is formed by the political grouping which "commands the confidence of the majority in the House of Commons."  The party whips are so powerful and our MPs so supine that we have in effect an "elective dictatorship,"  - the government can do more or less what it likes for five years and is then answerable to the electorate. So we have seen Mrs May's s erroneous policies, not just for Brexit but for "hard" Brexit, believed to be mistaken by the majority of MPs, railroaded through parliament.

Our judiciary remains reasonably independent, and, in defiance of being labelled "enemies of the people" by the  government's chief supporting newspaper,  forced the government, twice, to give Parliament a say in the triggering of Article 50.  Unfortunately MPs didn't have the guts to take advantage of the power they clearly hold.

Given that the resources and energies  of our political class are to be entirely devoted to the minutiae  of Brexit for the next two years (and possibly longer) there is little hope of any serious attention being given to constitutional affairs.  Yet, if nothing else, the Brexit débacle demonstrates that our constitution is no longer fit for purpose and needs root and branch reform.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Self-harm Wednesday, 29th March 2017


Our calendar already has a Black Wednesday (along with a Bloody Sunday and a Black Monday)
so the options for a suitable appellation for last Wednesday, when Mrs May triggered Article 50 for us to leave the European Union, are slightly limited.  "Dismal" Wednesday? "Disastrous" Wednesday (no, not really - we shall survive, but poorer and with less prestige), "Dismaying" Wednesday (a pleasantly unexpected pun), Stupid Wednesday (hardly strong enough). So "Self-harm," because it's the most accurately descriptive.

I've been interested, and actively involved  at a minor level, in  British politics for most of my adolescent and all of my adult lifetime, and I cannot remember a time when I've felt so ashamed of and bewildered by an action of my government. Perhaps the Suez Invasion of 1956 comes nearest, though that did have the silver lining of permitting learner drivers, of which I was one at the time, to drive and therefore practise unaccompanied, because of the petrol shortage. So I could crash the gears without the accompaniment of my Dad's wincing, and also avoid the expense of the instructor.

I would never have believed that a mature and sophisticated political system such as ours could be responsible for such a catalogue of ineptitudes as  led to last Wednesday's destructive action.

  •  We should never have had a referendum in  the first place.  Politicians of both left (Clement Attlee) and right (Winston Churchill) have pointed out that referendums are alien to our representative democracy, and devices used by dictators to give a spurious legitimacy to their autocracies;
  • Just 20 years ago, in the General Election of 1997, the Referendum Party, financed by multi-millionaire Sir James Goldsmith, polled a mere 2.6% of the total vote, and that's where the level of their support should have stayed; 
  • Yet agitators, described by Sir John Major as "bastards" and David Cameron as "fruitcakes," have managed, with the support of a poisonous press, to turn our world upside-down;
  • In spite of this agitation,  EU membership was not even among the top ten issues which concerned the electorate only a short time before the referendum campaign;
  • Yet in his campaign for the 2015 General Election, David Cameron promised an In-Out referendum if the Conservatives won.  It cannot be emphasised enough that this promise was made not in the national interest, but solely in the interests of the Conservative Party, who feared a haemorrhage of support to UKIP;
  • I claim  no special insight into Cameron's mind, but it's a fair bet that he made the promise in the expectation that he wouldn't win an over-all majority, but be forced again into a coalition with the Liberal Democrats who could be relied upon to veto the referendum;
  • Having unexpectedly won a majority Cameron  felt compelled to keep his promise, but was so complacent of victory, or criminally negligent, that he failed to introduce into the Referendum Bill provisions for the normal super-majority necessary for such an important decision, or measures to ensure a reasonably honest campaign;
  • Both the Labour and Liberal Democrat members in both Houses of Parliament share the blame for these omissions. Were they asleep? What do thy think the get their massive salaries and allowances for?  The House of Lords at least is full of gifted lawyers who should have spotted the omissions;
  • The campaign was disingenuous on both sides, but particularly on the Leave side;
  • Hardly had the narrow Leave victory been announced but their promises began to unravel and their leaders walk away;
  • Given that the referendum was legally only advisory, MPs, the overwhelming majority of whom believed we should remain in the EU, had every excuse for rejecting the advice and moving on to tackle the real and urgent problems facing the country;
  • But they were too chicken and fell for the nonsense that "the people had spoken."  (Again it cannot be said too often that, of those entitled to vote, 27% didn't, 37% voted to Leave, 34% voted to Remain, and the 16 and 17 year-olds, thought to be overwhelmingly in favour of Remaining, were not allowed to vote);
  • For some reason completely beyond anyone's comprehension, rather than try to minimise the damage, the government has chosen to opt for a "Hard" Brexit.  Assurances from the leading Leavers during the campaign that voting to leave the EU would not involve leaving the Single Market or the Customs Union have been ignored;
  • The Labour Party's opposition to the government's approach has been pathetic.  There may, just, be an excuse for their MPs being whipped to vote for the triggering of Article 50 (fear of being seen to oppose the so-called "will of the people") but there can be no excuse for whipping their peers to vote against the amendment to require the government to try to remain in the Single Market
So, with no effective opposition, we are to spend the next two years implementing our national self-harm.

As an antidote, last Saturday's Guardian contained an article by Natalie Nougayrède which gives a welcome positive spin on the EU.  Here's and extract:

Europe is one of the best places to live in today..  It is a rich part of the world with high living standards.  Hardly anyone  who resides in Europe wants to flee it. On the contrary , many strive to reach it, to settle in it and build a future in it for their children.  Likewise many who live outside the European Union  dream of seeing their country join it one day, or, at least, hope it might emulate Europe's standards and quality of life. 

That's why we Remainers must continue to campaign, as vigorously and as indifferent to scorn as the "bastards " and "fruitcakes" who precipitated  this stupidity, for a return to sanity, to stop the process if we possibly can, or to rejoin the Euorpean Union if the present lunatics now in charge of the asylum bring their misguided objective to fruition.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Westminster atrocity


My computer has been "down" for the past 48 hours so I have been unable to give immediate responses to the atrocities committed at Westminster.

On reflection I still find my feelings are a combination of sympathy, admiration and embarrassment.

Sympathy, obviously, for the relatives of those who have died, for those who must live with life-diminishing injuries, and those with minor injuries or who are traumatised by the shock of what they have witnessed.

Admiration for those, and especially PC  Keith Palmer, who did their duty and ran towards the danger in order to help, rather than ran away.

But embarrassment  and some disquiet at much of the  political and media reaction.

Most disconcerting was the prime-minister's statement,  in which. she claimed that the attack was on "the world's oldest parliament."

Westminster is not the world's oldest parliament.  For what it's worth, that honour is usually accorded to the Icelandic parliament, the Athling, which dates back to 930.  Britain's  parliament is usually thought to have its origins in Simon de Montfort's Parliament of 1265, or maybe the Model Parliament of 1295 - either way, some three hundred years behind the Icelandics.  This may seem a small niggle, but there is far too much exaggeration of Britain's role in and contrition to the world,  much of which seems to fuel the ardour of the Brexiteers

Then Mrs May went on to speak of how no attack would  divert us from our devotion to democracy and the rule of law.  That's a bit rich coming from a prime minister who  refuses to give parliament a "meaningful vote" on the result of her Brexit negotiations, and did her level best to prevent the courts from ruling on whether or not parliament should have any say of triggering  Article 50. (Her supportive press went so far as to claim that the judges of our Supreme Court were "enemies of the people.")

So there's a clear case of our government talking the talk rather than walking the walk.

I noticed how quickly the attack was attributed to Islam.  This, said a policemen only hours after the incident, was their "working assumption." Given the delicacy of inter-faith and inter-racial relations at the moment, this was at the very least  tactless.  In these circumstances the police and media should wait until there is real evidence  rather than mouthing populist knee-jerk assumptions.

I'm in no position to make an informed  judgement, but do I wonder why the killer was shot dead?  Surely, with trained marksmen, it should have been possible to wound him sufficiently to disable him rather than to kill him outright.    Then not only could he have had a proper trial and received the justice which we hold so dear, but  the authorities would be able to question him to discover his motivation and contacts.  Instead they have to  mount the massive and expensive investigations which appear to be necessary now that he is no longer available to speak for himself.

So far, happily, the calls for further surveillance powers for the government have been subdued, but I'm sure they will soon increase in volume.  The fact that the killer was already known to both the police and the intelligence services, and yet they were not aware of his plans, shows the futility of collecting an indiscriminate mass of information.  Those who wish preserve our liberties, which Mrs May says she is keen to do, and so  limit, or even negate, the scope of the Snoopers' Charter, should contact:

https://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/campaigning/people-vs-snoopers-charter

It's perhaps inevitable that media coverage, like charity, begins at home, but is is disquieting that  my newspaper devoted its first five-and-a-half pages to this atrocity, and the killing of "at least" 33 by a coalition air-strike on a Syrian school received just half of page 23.

Monday, 20 March 2017

MPs who let the side down.


Our former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, is the latest  of our MPs to be accused of bringing parliament into disrepute by taking a second job (four days per week) as editor of the London Evening Standard, on top of earning a whopping salary (is it really £650 000 a year, as the Sun claims?) for advising a global hedge fund, along with £800 000 he's made this year for making a few speeches.

The point is not that he's earning (oops - no, "receiving" ) so much money - as an ex Chancellor I'm sure he's meticulous about his tax returns - but what time has he got left for representing his Tatton constituents in parliament?  There's a case for MPs continuing to involve themselves  in some aspect of the economy and society other than politics: lawyers continuing to do a little bit of legal work; accountants to keep their hand it by being on the odd board; journalists doing a bit of writing; academics a bit of lecturing; trade union officials representing a few cases on industrial tribunals.

This is alleged to help them keep in touch with the "real world."  The question is, how much, and this is where Osborne seems to have overstepped the mark, not just by a little but by a mile.  A maximum of 25% of the time, or ten hours a week if we think in terms of a 40 hour week, seems to me about right.

And as for remuneration, the parliamentary salary should be reduced by a proportion of their earnings, just as social security recipients have their benefits reduced when their earning increase.  In Osborne's case, that would lead to his paying to be Tatton's representative, but he can well afford it.

There is another way in which politicians are bringing parliament in to disrepute.  I haven't seen them, but  and pretty confident that in their campaign leaflets for the 2015 election both Jamie Reed, successful Labour candidate in Copeland, promised something akin to undying love and devotion to the people of Copeland, and Tristram Hunt, successful Labour candidate in Stoke, promised something akin to undying love and devotion to the people of Stoke. 

Yet both, less than two years after their election, jacked in parliament and went to what they presumably thought to be better jobs (maybe with better career prospects?) - Reed to work for the nuclear power plant at Sellafield and Hunt to be director of the V and A Museum.

Less blatantly, perhaps, Tony Blair resigned from his constituency on the same day as he resigned as prime minister, and David Cameron, having promised to continue in both positions whatever the result of the EU referendum, resigned as prime-minster the day after it was lost, and a few weeks later as MP for Witney.

No wonder so many of the public  believe that politicians are "only in it for what they can get ."  This accusation becomes more and more difficult to refute as the years go by and the evidence to support it accumulates.

It seems to me that when  MPs resign from parliament* without a good reason (illness, changed family circumstances) they should do so without any severance pay, and be forced to pay the public costs of the subsequent by election,

*  Yes, I know they don't technically resign, but apply for an "office of profit under the Crown" and so become ineligible

Thursday, 16 March 2017

"U-turn" on national insurance contriutions


I do not see why it should necessarily be a cause for derision that a government reverses a decision, as our government has done in deciding not, after all, to increase the rate of some (my emphasis) National Insurance Contributions (NICs) by a modest 1% next year and another 1% the year after that.  Listening to people, and responding where appropriate, are essential aspects of democracy (aka "government by discussion") and should be applauded.

However, a great deal depends on which people are listened to.  For example, this government is turning a very deaf ear indeed to the 48% of those who cast their votes for remaining in the European Union.

I do not claim to understand  all the intricacies of National Insurance Contributions, or even why  there should be four (or possibly even more?) classes.  What I do know is that the increase was restricted to Class 4 contributions, that these applied to the self-employed, and that those self employed who earned less than £16 250 a year (I suspect most of the involuntary self-employed and those just starting out) would have had a reduction in their payments.  The increase would have applied only to those earning more than £16 250, admittedly substantially below the median wage, but  many would be earning very much more than the median wage.

The reasons for the change were, we were told, twofold.

1.  Historically  the self-employed received far fewer benefits (for example, in terms of pensions) from the  system  than those in normal employment (ie working for someone else), so it seemed right that their contributions should be less.  However in recent years the benefits for the self-employed  have moved upwards towards those in normal employment so it is fair that their contributions should increase too.  Our Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Hammond, was correcting an anomaly.

2. For employers, (eg UBER) declaring their workforce to be self-employed can be seen as a tax dodge, in that it relieves the employer of paying the employers' contribution of the NICs (as well as responsibility for sick pay, holidays etc).  For the employee too it can be a tax dodge in that he or she pays a smaller contributions, as in the scheme  dubbed "the lump" in the building trade years ago. Thus the move was part of the government's campaign to reduce tax avoidance.

These seem perfectly reasonable to me.

But a few well-heeled self-employed and 18 or so Tory backbenchers (and for some incomprehensible reason, the Labour Party) with the vociferous support of the right wing press  have caused a furore and described the move as a tax on enterprise. And the government has caved in in favour of their mates.

Would they had listened to those speaking up on behalf of the disabled, whose Personal Independence Payments are reduced as from today.


Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Scotland - be brave!



In the 2014 Referendum on Scottish independence I argued that that the best result would be for Scotland to vote to remain in the UK, but for the Westminster government to grant the Scots full  home rule, that is full autonomy, including tax-raising powers, on domestic matters.

Now I'm not so sure.  Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon (who talks more sense on the economy than any other British politician except perhaps Caroline Lucas) is right that the Westminster government's determination to take us out of not just the EU, but also, in spite of contrary assurances during the campaign, the Single Market and the Customs Union, is a game changer.

But it's not just the economics.  I find to my surprise that, if I were Scottish, I'd rather be  in the EU than in the UK. 

For years the Tories have dominated English politics, and we have needed the Scottish and Welsh Labour parties to hold, however imperfectly, some sort of balance.  But now that Labour looks unlikely to recover in Scotland in the foreseeable future and is maybe losing its grip in Wales, who wants to be in a Union dominated by a Conservative party which,  to all intents and purposes, is in craven hock to its right-wing, xenophobic fantasisers?

I am ashamed to live in a country that:
  • suggests we shouldn't rescue refugees and asylum seekers from drowning in  the Mediterranean because that might tempt others to try escaping from starvation, civil war or despotism;
  • promises to admit 3000 unaccompanied displaced children and then cuts the number to 350;
  • gives yet more tax cuts to the rich and further squeezes the disabled to below the poverty line, (Personal Independence Payments, PIPs, are reduced as from tomorrow);
  • is determined to spend up to £200bn on an irrelevant  nuclear weapon system the use of which is in not independent but entirely dependent on the good-will of the Americans, and will probably be out of date by the time it becomes operational;
  • presides with indifference over the disintegration of its health and social care services 
  • toadies to the most unfortunate president the Americans have ever elected; 
  • entrenches privilege and exacerbates inequality;
  • supported by a client press, survives on lies and distortions;
  • balances the books by selling off vital national assets, either to private profiteers in this country  or to private profiteers or state-owned (sic) operations in other countries; 
  • in spite of the evidence of the1930sand the last seven yeras, sticks blindly  to the counter-prodiuctive policy of austerity;
  • is determined to turn our back on the bravest and most progressive example of international liberal co-operation of the last century and turn our island into an insular, sulky, low-wage, low-cost arena for short-term predators..
If I had the option I'd opt out. 

The Scottish have. There'll be complications: not least the Scots need concrete assurances hat they can remain in the EU once they are independent. 

But  a divorce from the  backward-looking Tory dominated England  is something I'd want thoroughly to explore if I lived in Scotland.

Friday, 10 March 2017

UK's Economy: a basket case.


As noted in the previous post the Tories are good at choosing effective words and phrases to disguise reality.  For much of the past seven years we've had their "long term economic plan" which most serious analysis demonstrated was getting us nowhere at all.  Now the buzz-word to describe the economy is "resilient," the use of which is justified by claims of a level of growth higher and level of unemployment lower than most of our immediate neighbours.

The key macro-economic variables I was taught, and have taught hundreds of others, to examine are growth, employment, balance of external payments and price stability.  A look at each of these in turn reveals fragility, to put it mildly, rather than resiliency.

Growth is now forecast to be 2% this year, and a little bit less in the following years.  Compared with the 3% with which we taunted Sir Alec Douglas Home in the 1960s because he  failed to achieve it this is hardly world-beating.  And, of course, much of the growth we have is due to  the immigration the government is trying to curb. ( Add extra productive workers to the economy, and most immigrants are,  and the over level of output rises.) On top of that the benefits of growth are not evenly distributed: most of the benefit is going to the top10%, even 1%, as asset prices, including houses, rise as a result of the extra money resulting from Quantitative Easing.  And furthermore, like the railways who complained of the wrong sort of snow, it's the wrong sort of growth.  "Good" growth is export-led growth, or investment led growth, not growth fuelled  by consumer expenditure based on unsustainable credit.

And all the above evades the real and urgent issue we need to be tackling: how to achieve sustainable growth and ultimately, "prosperity without growth"

Full Employment has been defined in most of my career as 97% of those wanting a job having one, hence a level of unemployment of no more than 3%.  The current level is 4.8%, which is certainly better than the 8+% reached in 2011, but it amounts to 1.6 million people, a great many more than the 250 000 or so usual  in my youth.  And, of course the figure is made to look more attractive by not including those involuntarily self-employed, those in part-time jobs who would like full-time ones, those on zero-hours contracts, and the highly qualified graduates and others forced to take routine jobs.

The over-all scene is far from healthy, featuring precarity rather than security, for a substantial number, professionals included, of those who feel lucky to be in work.

Price stability for  most of my life was understood to be a low level of inflation.  This we have experienced since the finial crash, and it may seem churlish to criticise.  But the low level of inflation has been the result of a stagnant and listless economy rather than a vibrant and healthy economy in which productivity is  increasing at a higher rate than costs. And, with the depreciation of the £ sterling by over 12% as a result of the Brexit vote this stability is unlikely to continue.  We are likely in the coming years to be faced with the most dangerous cause inflation of all -  "cost push" inflation, as rising import costs resulting from the weak pound push up prices with no increase in productivity

The Balance of External Payments  is the issue which, above all others, occupied chancellors of the exchequer for most of the second part of the last century, yet now rarely gets a mention.  Yet its importance far exceeds that of the government's internal deficit.  We are currently buying goods and services from abroad at a rate of almost £100 billion a year more than we sell abroad.  As an economy we are living hugely beyond our means, and, unlike the government's deficit, which is mostly money we owe ourselves, this is wealth which will sooner or later, have to be paid back by us, our children and grandchildren.

For the moment, national bankruptcy is delayed  by flogging off valuable assets, from the high-tech company ARM to football clubs, to foreign ownership.  Each sale harms our potential for future net foreign earnings, so makes the long-run situation worse. But the day of reckoning will come.

Mr Hammond budget is essentially  limited to housekeeping matters on the Thatcher model (see here for a more sophisticated explanation) rather than designed to  tackle our fundamental economic problems.         Re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic springs to mind.

Resilient we are not, and nothing in the government's present mindset is designed to make us so.



 

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Two cheers for the House of Lords


I'm not too upset that the House of Lords  failed yesterday to support a Liberal Democrat amendment that, if and when the government has concluded the Brexit negotiations there should be a referendum on whether or not to accept the result.

A second referendum has a certain symmetry and  logic to it but there can be no guarantee that a second one would  be conducted with any more veracity, or reported any more fairly, than the first. There could also be an even greater temptation for those who wish to strike a blow against the complacent establishment to cast a "sod you" vote.  But the strongest reason is that referendums are not a good way of making decisions on complex issues.  We should have learned that lesson by now, and the sooner referendums are phased out of our political lexicon the better.

By contrast I find that fact that Labour sided with the Tories last week to vote against an amendment to ask  that the government to try to stay in the single market.  This was proposed by Peter Hain, former Labour cabinet minister and erstwhile Young Liberal digger-up of cricket pitches in the fight against apartheid, no less.  And even Boris Johnson is allegedly on record as arguing during the campaign that leaving the EU did not imply leaving the single market.

So what on earth is the logic of the Labour leadership whipping its peers to vote against this?  If Labour's purpose in life is to preserve employment and jobs (as they repeatedly argue - indeed one wonders sometimes if they are in favour of anything else) then continued membership of the single market is a sine qua none of their existence.

Presumably the Labour leadership feels there is some short term electoral advantage in this stance which escapes the rest of us, but, if there is not already such a thing as a Black Monday in Labour's history, then 27th February 2017 surely fills the bill, and they should not be allowed  to forget it if the British economy is left out in the cold as a result of this mysterious alliance with Mrs May and Hard Brexit.

Finally I am delighted that yesterday the Lords voted for an amendment that parliament should have a "meaningful" vote on the Brexit settlement when it is reached. 

With a lack of logic that beggars belief the government has promptly said it will try to overturn this in the Commons.  A main plank of the Leavers' argument was that the British parliament, and only parliament, and certainly not  Brussels, should make rules for Britain. (This is nonsense, of course since, with or without the EU we are inextricably sharing sovereignty with umpteen other nations and international institutions in innumerable treaties and obligations.)

Be that as it may we can presume the government will argue that, politically if not legally, the people and not parliament are sovereign and "the people have spoken!"

 How easily that phrase trips of the tongue.  Like the Devil ,who "has the best tunes," it is irksome that the misguided and misguiding Right seem to get the best slogans. It is so much easier to parrot this mantra than to point out that only 72% of the eligible voters actually voted, and so only 37% voted to Leave and 34 % voted to stay and 16 and 17 year-olds, presumed to be overwhelmingly in favour of Remain, weren't allowed to vote and if parliament had had any sense it would have required a two-thirds majority for a leave vote to be valid and even Mr Farage argued that a narrow majority would require a re-run (but that was when he though Leave had lost).

Yes, is easy to dub us as poor losers and "Remoaners." But the case for the future and greater health of our economy and our political standing remains with us and we must strive to the utmost to challenge the loud repetition by the blustering Leavers of the only argument they are able to produce.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Labour's dilemma - and blind spot


There were two articles in last week's Guardian about the dire straits  the Labour Party have created for themselves . The first, by celebrated film maker Ken Loach, argued that Labour's MPs should stop stabbing their leader, Jeremy Corbyn' in the back and ended with the rousing coda:

"If [Corbyn and McDonnell] had a powerful movement to sustain them, Labour under their leadership  would start to cut back the power of capital, remove multinationals from public services, restore workers' rights, and begin the process of creating a secure and sustainable society  in which we could all share."

The second, by Owen Jones, ends with a desperate call to arms:


"Either we become a country  riddled with hatred and fear, a playground for billionaires that slashes support for the working poor and disabled people, that runs down and flogs off the services we depend on - or we become a country run in the interests of the real wealth creators: the workers."

but offers the solution that Mr Corbyn should should voluntarily step aside and be replaced by someone with similar views but better leadership qualities.

Given that Mr Corbyn, victor of not just one but two party elections, has said that he has no intention of standing down, and the identity of the alternative with similar views but better leadership qualities is not obvious, the solution to the dilemma seems to me to be unarguable: Labour MPs and other luminaries should stop sniping, unite  behind Corbyn and start fighting the Tories rather than each other.  This will, of course, require some contrition and mea culpas on the part of some Labour big-hitters.  Lent seems a suitable season for it.

A bigger pill for Labour to swallow is to recognise that, for the foreseeable future at any rate, they cannot win a general election on their own, and they must seek to ally with others on what can loosely be regarded as the "progressive left."


Sadly Labour's difficulty in acknowledging this solution is their blind conviction, at both local and national government levels,  that they and they alone have the one true vision of the ideal future, and the unique recipe for achieving it.  They therefore regard Liberal Democrats*, Greens, Nationalist and some others as interlopers who should get off their territory and leave them to it.  They refuse to recognise that Liberal Democrats with our emphasis on liberty and genuine devolution, Greens with their emphasis on caring for the environment, and nationalists, can all bring something useful to the progressive mix.

The figures show that a “progressive” candidate with the support of the Greens and Liberal democrats as well as Labour might, just might,** have held Copeland.

 As a veteran of the Liberal Party's Alliance with the SDP I acknowledge that arranging such a united front at a national level will be difficult and entail sacrifices by all involved. But  what other way is there of avoiding the dystopian future - Jones's " playground for billionaires which will emerge if we leave things to the present generation of Tories?

Let's hope that back-room apparatchiks in all the parties concerned are working on this right now.  We need a plan and a vision for 2020 which will come sooner than we think, even if it doesn't come sooner than that.

*  I acknowledge there are Liberal Democrats who take a similar  view, and probably Greens and Nationalists as well.

** The combined vote of Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens at Copeland was 14 368, against the Conservatives' 13 748.  Even this was no a progressive majority  since UKIP polled 2 025, and not all the voters for the "progressive " parties would have stuck to an alliance.  Some, even Liberal Democrats, would have switched to UKIP.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

EU Aliens:foreign nationals in the UK - we did better 100 years ago.


Nearly 100 yeas ago (in 1922 to be exact, as a result of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921)  the Irish Free State "exited" the United Kingdom.  Compared with the legalistic shenanigans of the UK's departure from the EU, the Irish exit was achieved only after a bloody and murderous struggle, which in some ways still continues.

Nevertheless  the status of what became Irish citizens still living in the rest of the UK at the time was astonishingly generous and civilised.  They were and are welcome to stay, or go and come back, or bring out their relatives. Anyone still living in the Free State who wanted to come was welcome to do so, and still is. Not only that, but they could and still can vote in both local and parliamentary elections, and as far as I know enjoyed and still enjoy all rights of citizenship.

It is worth remembering that this generous and humane settlement was made at a time when many aspects of UK society were far from liberal.  Murderers could be hanged, prisoners subjected to hard labour, youths could be birched, male homosexual activity was illegal  and "offenders" could be castrated, women had only just received the right to vote, but not until why were thirty (the male age was 21)

Given our now more enlightened age, the government's ploy to use the the security of EU nationals of  countries living in the UK as a bargaining counter is mean and petty.

It was a younger Theresa May who in 2002 spoke of the Tories as the "nasty party."  Her determination to reverse the House of Lords' resolve to secure the rights of EU citizens already here and so maintain the liberal tradition exemplified by the Irish settlement, is nasty , illiberal and distasteful.  Our government puts us to shame.