Monday, 23 September 2019

A Liberal Democrat manifesto?

Some commentators claim that we Liberal Democrats  are so well identifed with trying to stop Brexit that, if and when Brexti is sroted out, we shall have nothing left on which to campaign.

Happily, a contribution by a Paul Hindley, on Liberal Democrat Voice, 20th September 2019, gives a good summary of various motinons passed at this years conference which , in my view , form a convincing basis on which to campaign.

Here's an outline:
 According to Hindley, the Liberal Democrats are now committed to:

  •  investing an extra £5 billion into the welfare system every year;
  • establishing a £50 billion Rebalancing Fund to address the investment disparities between the different nations and regions of the UK.;
  •   abolishing  benefit sanctions;
  •  establishing  a legal right to food;
  • building 100,000 new social homes a year;
  • ending   rough sleeping within five years; 
  • bringing  work capability assessments in-house; 
  • increase the minimum wage by 20% for people on zero hours contracts at times of normal demand;
  • raising the central government grants handed to local government in real terms every year, 
  • ending austerity in local government;
  • initiating  a “secure income guarantee”, the first tentative step on the way to making a universal basic income or a negative income tax.
 Hindley concludes:
At the next general election, we Liberal Democrats must embody three of our core principles; pro-European internationalism, radical political reform and social justice. We must stand to 

 Revoke, Reform and Redistribute

 Let’s revoke Article 50. Let’s reform our broken politics. Let’s redistribute wealth to the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society. Only then will the Brexit crisis be resolved. Only then will the social divisions that led to Brexit and the constitutional crisis which has been caused by Brexit be truly overcome. 

All that seems to me to be a sound basis for our domestic manifesto. and is something that most Labour -leaning voters will be able to support, along with genuine "One Nation" Tories.

I stil believe that the best sequence is to;

  • revoke Article 50 here and now with the present paarliement;
  • if our MPs haven't the courage, then have a People's vote on Brexit;
  • and after that, whatever the result, a General Election.

Whatever eventuates, when the General Election comes I shall be happy to campaign enthusiastically on a manifesto based on  the above.

Friday, 20 September 2019

Canada - UK: a decency gap

Justin Trudeau, current Prime Minster of Canada and up for re-election in a few weeks' time, is being much maligned and on the front pages of even our newspapers for having darkened  his face and worn a turban to attend a fancy dress party with the theme of "Arabian Nights."

That was 18 years ago when he was a teacher and before he entered active politics. I suppose as the son of a previous prime minister he needed even then to be extra careful, but I can't for the life of me see that there was all that much inappropriate about it.

On a scale of one to ten rating  errors of taste, judgement, morality and suitability for high office how would it rank alongside our own prime minister who:
  • as a student was a member of a club that thought it was fun to book meals at posh restaurants and then trash the place;
  • was sacked from an early job as a reporter for sending in stories that were untrue;
  • was sacked from his party's front bench for lying to his leader about an extra-marital affair;
  • is alleged to be required to support several illegitimate children;
  • according to the latest revelations (via David Cameron's book) probably believes that the UK should remain in the EU, but calculated that supporting Leave in the EU Referendum would better endear him to the party faithful and so strengthen his chance of becoming prime minister;
  • peddled all sorts of misinformation in the referendum campaign;
  • still can't stop lying.  The latest concrete example is that, a few days before he engineered the prorogation of parliament, he claimed that such  an action was not even being considered, and then a paper was  released which revealed that he had signed off on the idea two weeks earlier;
  • and, whatever the courts decide about the legality of the affair, who can seriously believe that his purpose in proroguing parliament was to provide time to prepare a new Queen's Speech, rather than to prevent parliament from monitoring  the government's actions at this most critical time?
Dear old Canada: streets ahead of both the UK and the US in the morality stakes.  Just such a pity it's so cold for so much of the year.

Fingers crossed to Mr Trudeau's and the Canadian Liberal party's re-election.

Monday, 16 September 2019

Selling off our sovereignty

Taking back control and re-asserting our sovereignty were impressive and successful themes in the Leave campaign in the referendum on membership of the EU.

 Yet on almost a daily basis we giving up, or rather selling, our sovereignty to foreigners.  And it is a fair bet that the people who are behind this selling, and profiting from it, are the very people, or their backers, who continue to campaign to "take back control"

Today ownership, and therefore control, of the UK's aerospace giant, Cobhams, has been sold to the American private equity company Advent International for £4bn.  Last week a consortium based on Hong Kong tried to buy the London Stock Exchange for an eye-watering £326bn, though for the moment the offer has been turned down.  A few weeks ago the York based part of British Steel, TSP, was sold to the French company Systra, and the future of what is left of the once mighty British steel industry lies with  Turkey's military pension fund.

There is nothing new here.

As Liberal Democrat peer William Wallace pointed out in an article in the Yorkshire Post last month,  the West Coast Main Line and  HS2 are to be run by a consortium  that incudes Italian state railways, a Chinese company is to provide key components for the 5G network, and many of our bus and railway service and utilities,including water, are now foreign owned.

The process of selling off public utilities started with Margaret Thatcher's government from 1979, justified by the unproven theory that the private sector would run them more efficiently.  The additional motive, if not the dominant one, was that the sales provided the government with an income that enabled them to maintain their expenditure while cutting taxes.  Former Tory Prime Minister Harold Macmillan described  it as "selling off the family silver."

If the initial purchasers were largely British the devotion to deregulated neo-liberal economics meant that there was little to prevent foreigners from becoming the dominant owners.

The system of foreign takeovers of private industries, notably the car industry, has continued largely unhindered.

Any elementary economics text book will tell you that this sale of assets to other economies has one great, albeit short term, advantage and at least four long-term disadvantages.

The short term advantage is that each initial sale produces a one-off credit of foreign currency in our balance of payments.  This  enables us to finance our imports on our current account, and we have "lived beyond its means" for decades.  If I can find the time I shall look up the last year in which we had a genuine surplus on our current balance of external payments.

The four  disadvantages are:

1.  Profits form the foreign-owned industries and services go to other economies.  This means a flow of currency which, instead of remaining to stimulate the British economy, goes to stimulate other economies.
2.  Senior management, and high status work such as research and development, tend to be concentrated in the owner economy rather than in the UK.
3, If expansion of the industry is contemplated than the owner economy tends to get preference over the UK.
4.  Conversely, if contraction of the industry is necessary, then the UK tends to be the first hit with the consequent loss of jobs.

The last three points tend towards the idea that those in charge of our industries and services are turning Britain into a low skilled, low wage economy.

This trend will be exacerbated if Brexit is accomplished.

Politically and economically the Brexiteers are set to turn us into a fourth-rate country

Friday, 13 September 2019

Things getting better

The Whig view of history is that we're on a path which inevitably leads to greater civilisation, liberty, constitutional government and enlightenment.

That's the picture painted by most of our text books as we "advance" from Magna Carta (1215) through the Glorious Revolution and Bill of Rights (1688/9) the various (electoral) Reform Acts (1832, 1867, 1884), Votes for Women  (1918, and 1928) right  up to the Fixed Term Parliament  Act of 2011 - whoopee, the prime minister can no longer call an election just when he or she thinks the governing party can win.

Roll on Proportional Representation by Single Transferable Vote in Multi-Member Constituencies.

Of course the Whig view of history acknowledges that there are  occasional setbacks, and the Johnson government is certainly doing its level best to organise one now.

However, there are two signs that the Brexit debate is moving in the right (rational) direction.

First the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson,  appears to have adopted the sequence advocated by Hilary Benn, as outlined in the previous post: namely, that we we  have a People's Vote on Brexit first,  and then a General Election.

Sadly, Labour's Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, doesn't yet entirely agree, but even he is moving from the fence to a People's Vote at some stage.

More encouragingly, Jo Swinson, the new Liberal Democrat leader, now argues  that parliament simply revokes Article 50 without further ado, no ifs no buts.

That is an approach advocated by this blog for quite some time,  with a second referendum regarded as a second best option.

I haven't looked up an accurate record, but I have the impression that for the first two years after the 2016 Referendum the option of cancelling Article 50 was hardly ever mentioned.  About a year ago it began to surface and we learned to call it "revoke" rather than just "cancel."

Now the Liberal Democrats are to debate this at our conference this weekend.  I shall be both surprised and acutely disappointed  if Jo Swinson's policy is not adopted.

In the previous post I have quoted G.M. Trevelyan's views on Charles I's dispensing with Parliament in the 1640s.  Now that the courts are involved in deciding whether or not Mr Johnson's prorogation of parliament for five weeks is legal, it's interesting to note that Trevelyan, on the following page, goes on to say:

"If parliament ever revived and conquered  royal despotism, the sprit of the Common Law would revive with it and conquer the prerogative Courts. . ."

Fingers crossed that Whig-style  progress continues to prevail.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Four cheers for John Bercow

John Bercow, the  Speaker (chairman) of the House of Commons, has made a name for himself during his tenure, and particularly in the last few weeks, for championing the rights of parliament against the government.  For his pains he has been abused by Brexiteers, and even by Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the Commons, for alleged "flagrant abuse" of parliamentary  process."

In fact Mr Bercow has been doing exactly what he's supposed to do: champion the commons against the government.

The presiding officer of the commons has the idiosyncratic title of "Speaker" because in the early history of parliament that is what he did:  "speak" to the monarch and tell him what the commons wanted.  In less settled times this could be a dangerous business and seven Speakers have been beheaded for their pains.  You can find the details here.  That is why, on their appointment, Speakers pretend a mock reluctance to take the chair and have to be manhandled into it.

The classic incident of "crown versus parliament), which "every schoolboy knows"  (or used to, anyway) occurred in 1642 when King Charles I invaded the commons chamber with a troop of soldiers and tried to arrest five of the members.  Mr Speaker Lenthall who had been forewarned, refused to reveal the whereabouts of the five with the words that he could "neither see nor speak but by command of the house."

Charles responded with: "I see the birds have flown" and every schoolboy used to know that too.

Since that day no monarch has been able to enter the commons chamber, and the monarch's representative in the House of Lords, Black Rod, has to knock three times before she's allowed in to summons the commons to the Opening of Parliament or the granting of the Royal Assent.

In his celebrated "History of England" G. M. Trevelyan O.M. says of these seminal events:

"By dispensing with parliaments  and by dismissing all judges who dared to interpret the laws impartially , Charles removed every constitutional check upon his actions." (page 390, 1945 edition)

Mr Johnson has not gone quite so far yet, but there are clear echoes of the seventeenth century struggle in today's events: the prorogation of parliament  at the most critical time in our history since the Second World War, and Johnson's apparent willingness to disobey the law to implement his "come what may" threat.

What  is lamentable is that Johnson and the Brexiteers are in the public mind, getting away with it.  They know full well what the true relationship between government and the commons  should be in our  parliamentary democracy.  Yet when Bercow announced his resignation and the Opposition MPs rose and cheered him, quite rightly, few Tories joined them and, and, as far as I could see the entire government front bench sat on their hands.

The Tory view, though, is reflected in the sycophantic press.

One of our pundits has said that the antics of the past weeks have signalled the end of "the good chap theory of government."  The British constitution is not codified but based on a series of traditions and conventions such as the one described above.  We now have politicians fully prepared to crash though these conventions  in order to get their way.

When  the dust  settles, Brexit of no Brexit, we need to take a serious look at the need for a written constitution.

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Brexit: an accptable sequence?

At church this morning the Epistle began with these  words from St Paul to the Romans:

I consider that the sufferings of this present  time are not worth comparing  with the glory about to be revealed to us.

Could have been written as words of comfort for Mr Johnson and his Brexiteers.

Yesterday Leeds for Europe held a very successful day conference entitled Europe: Remain and Reform.

One of the highlights was a speech from Hilary Benn, who was applauded for masterminding the
successful Bill to stop any no-deal Brexit on 31st October.

If I understood him correctly he outlined the following  sequence for after the 31sr October.

1.  We apply for an extension of Article 50 until 31st January.
2.  In that time, if he has not already achieved one, Mr Johnson continues (assuming he's actually started) to attempt to negotiate a new deal.
3.Then the new deal (or no-deal if no new one is available) is put to a People's Vote against the alternative of Remaining.
4.  Then, whatever the result, we have a General Election.

If MPs continue to lack the courage to Revoke Article 50, that seems to me a reasonable sequence of events.

One of the points raised at the conference is that the Brexiteers are good at devising simple slogans
which appeal to the emotions.  (Take back control! Give us back our sovereignty! It's democracy!). We Remainers tend to respond with facts rather than in emotional kind.

One acceptable slogan suggested is: Tell the truth!

We are anxious for further suggestion.

On the sovereignty issue there's been a Radio 4 series on "How others see us."  In the one on how Poland sees us:

a Polish interviewee pointed out that our Brexiteers  claimed that in the EU we had lost our sovereignty.

That is untrue.  We hadn't lost our sovereignty: we were perfectly able to have a referendum to decide whether to remain in the EU or to leave it.

Poland under the Soviets didn't have such a choice.  That's what "loss of sovereignty " means.

Yes, tell the truth.

Almost  all "expert" opinion takes the view that  "glories" are most likely to be "revealed " in a co-operative future inside the EU rather than as a lonely island of diminishing importance outside

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

MPs, please say "No" to Brexit and "No" to an election

This week, perhaps even today, is likely to be the most crucial for UK politics since the Second World War.   In the  Commons no one is quite sure what will happen. It al depends on what the Speaker permits, how the government wriggles to get round it, how many Tories have the courage to rebel and how many Labour (30 under Stephen Kinnock?) support Johnson (would you believe it?)

The best option, in my view, is for MPs to order the revocation of Article 50 and have done with it.

Since they haven't yet seen the light, the second best is for them to be successful in passing a law to stop  a No Deal Brexit, along with an extension of the potential leaving date to 31st January, 2020.

Even if this is passed, and I hope it will be,  there is no reason to suppose that the EU would grant such an extension unless we can offer some evidence of a constructive purpose for it, such as a People's Vote or new and  realistic proposals for the Irish Border.

Successful or not, I suspect Mr Johnson and his advisor Dominic Cummings will regard the result as an excuse to try to have a general election.  It is quite likely  that this has been their plan all along: an unrealistic demand for a renegotiation of the May deal, which the EU has refused time and again; to make further negotiations impossible anyway buy demanding the removal of the Irish Backstop, which the EU has said it cannot possibly contemplate; then blame the EU or their intransigence, and have a quick general election in which they will triumph with the Boris Bounce.

This ruse will only succeed if Labour fall into their trap.  Since the Coalition's new Parliament Act prime ministers can no longer call an election at their whim.  Parliaments must run their full five-year course unless two thirds of MPs support an election, of if the Leader of the Opposition succeeds in winning a vote of no confidence and no alternative government can be found within 14 days.

So if Labour does the sensible thing and holds its horses, the Johnson-Cummings "plan," if that is what it is , can be thwarted.  This will be difficult for Labour to do, since Mr Corbyn has repeatedly demanded a general election. However, in his latest statement he has left himself a bit of "wriggle room" by saying "not if it is to enable our crashing out with no deal."

In my view labour should hold back for the following reasons:

1.  They probably won't win.  Corbyn is encouraged by Labour's better than expected performance in 2017, but then he was up against probably the most inept Tory election campaign in history.  This time their campaign will not be led by the intellectually constipated Mrs May and her "strong and stable" mantra, but by experts in the dark arts of mood manipulation.

2.  The Tory campaign will be as full of lies as was the Leave campaign.  We have already seen how they have prepared the ground.  The "magic money tree" has been rediscovered, there are extra funds for education, the NHS, roads and railways, Scotland, prisons, the police, you name it, except for asylum seekers, social security  and refugees.

3. If Labour tries to trump (sic) these promises with more funds for social security, Sure Start or children in disadvantaged areas, the existence of the magic money tree will be denied, the effects of  20% or so depreciation of the £ as a result of Brexit ignored, and the easy shroud of Labour profligacy and economic incompetence will be waved vigorously.*

4. General election campaigns  rarely stick to the lines the parties initially intend.  "Let Churchill finish the job" didn't help the Tories in 1945, nor "Who governs Britain" Ted Heath in his clash with the miners in1974.  If MPs haven't the courage to revoke Article 50 then we need a further referendum focused exclusively on whether to remain in the EU or go ahead and leave.

5. Be it  a general election or a focused referendum, the Tory  spin machine will try to blur the decision with the question "Do you really want to put Corbyn into No10?  In fact, they're already doing that: it's about the only argument they have.

In my view the most outcome of a general election would be another parliament in which no party would have a majority, and the largest party would not be Labour.  So much better to avoid the distraction of an election and stick to the parliament we've got, and the one key decision we need to make - Leave or Remain.

*  In a comment to a previouspost a John Tolson (who may be a forme pupil) draws attention to these details when a newspaper magnate tried to bounce Lord Mountbatten into   replacing Harold Wilson as PM and  leading a government of busineszmen becasue of Wilson's alleged economic incompetance.


Well worth a look.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Prorogation: no holds barred

It's almost half a century since I taught what was then rather grandly called "British Constitution," but I remember at leat one of the standard textbooks (possibly Wade and Phillips Constitutional Law) explaining that parliament was solemnly prorogued, normally in the autumn of the year, and then solemnly opened again a day or two after.

From time immemorial these procedures normally took place in early November, which is why we have Bonfire Night on November 5th. (That was the date in 1605 when King, Lords and Commons all met in the same place at the same time for the "Opening of Parliament," so Guy Fawkes, had he succeeded, would have got rid  of the entire political establishment in one go.)

So Mr Johnson's excuses for suspending parliament for several weeks are contrary to convention and flimsy in the extreme.  This is clearly an attempt to prevent our legally and democratically  appointed representatives exercising their functions at a time of great political crisis.

I am not as familiar as I'd like to be with the histories of other countries but understand that it is not unusual for megalomaniacs , often generals and suchlike, who think they have populist  support, to overturn the normal political institutions, with their built in checks and balances,to implement their own  intentions which they dress up as the popular  will.

Johnson has not gone so far as to overturn our democratic institutions of ever (yet), but to suspend them at this critical time shows outrageous arrogance.  Let's hope he and his cohort now in No 10 have overstepped the mark and get their comeuppance.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Global heating - action this day

In the past ten months a combination of Extinction Relbellion and the audacity of Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg have done us a favour: forcing us to interrupt our parochial navel gazing over Brexit and lift our eyes to the real crisis, the climate crisis, which will affect not just our own back yard but the entire planet unless we take action pretty sharpish.

We have just twelve years to reduce our polluting emissions by 45% and thus keep the rise in global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius and thus preserve a sustainable lifestyle for all  of us on the planet.

Some believe that even that won't be enough.

I have just bought and read the Extinction Rebellion handbook which they call " This is not a drill."  It is a frightening read and can be bought for £7.99 here  (even less if you abandon your scruples and go to Amazon).

On page 11 they set out their three key demands:

1.  The government must tell the truth;
2.  The government must act now . . .to reduce greenhouse gas emissions  to net zero by 2025
3   The government must create and be led  by the decisions of a Citizens' Assembly on climate change and ecological justice.

Given that governments and parliaments in all the western democracies have ignored the warnings of scientists, or even denied their validity, for decades,  they advocate a  "civil resistance model":

1.   You don't need millions, just about 50 000 activists (presumably in each country).
2.   You need to go to the capital city.
3.   You have to break the law.
4.   It has to stay non-violent.
5.   It has to go on day by day.
6.   It has to be fun.

For a start, please buy and read the book, and get fired up.

Certain political decisions spring to my mind as immediately obvious:

1.  There is no case for expanding our airport capacity: rather it should be reduced
2.  The right to fly should be rationed: maybe one return flight per adult every three years.  Coupons (remember those?) could be traded so that those who can't afford to fly anyway, or don't want to,  can profit from those who insist on playing their part in destroying the planet.
3.  There is no case for fracking: it must be stopped tomorrow, even if the earthquakes so far have been only minor.
4.  Fossil fuel based energy production should be reduced as quickly as possible.
5.  New railway provision should be medium speed rather than high speed,
6.  Gas guzzling 4x4s and SUV should be permitted only to people such as farmers who can prove they need them.
7.  Fuel duty should be increased by a significant amount each year.
8.  There should be massive investment in renewable energy production, especially, in Briatain, tidal and wave power.
9.  We should stop wasting electricity on frivolous lighting, as at Christmas.
10.  Aid should be given to poorer countries to help them achieve a decent but non-polluting  standard of living.

That will do from me for the moment.  Further suggestions welcomed.

Friday, 23 August 2019

With friends like these. . . ?

Last  Tuesday, 20th August the Guardian (one of only two of our national newspapers opposed to  Brexit -the other, I hope, being the Daily Mirror) headlined Polly Toynbee's article on the front page of its Journal (ie opinion) section "Remainers  must do 'whatever it takes'  to prevent no deal."  In the same section the first leader was headlined "The cost of no deal is brutal.  MPs must work together to stop it."

An inside article by a Poppy Trowidge, formerly a special advisor to Philip Hammond, mentions "no deal" ten times and "leaving without a deal " twice, but nowhere does she mention the option of revoking Article 50 and remaining in the EU.

M/s Trowbridge's article acknowledges that the  "[Johnson] administration has done a brilliant job of branding and broadcasting its approach" - that is of framing the debate as between leaving with or without a deal rather than the better  choice of leaving or remaining (as spelled out in previous posts.)

Sadly the Guardian has not seen fit to print the letter I sent on this topic, the essence of which is that they have:
 "fall[en] into the trap, possibly as a result of the dark arts of Dominic Cummings, of allowing the ardent Brexiteers to define the question before us as between “Deal and No-deal” thus enabling them to declare any deal as a triumph of Mr Johnson’s dogged British determination.   Yet we still leave the EU.

What needs to be spelt out in any article on this topic in the next two months
 is that  leaving the EU with any deal - and the most we can expect is a 
cosmetic re-tweaking of that already agreed with Mrs May - will damage 
our political stature, our economy, our comforts, our culture, the 
opportunities available to  our young people,  and  our capacity  to avert the
 climate catastrophe. 
The real question before us now is not ‘Deal or No deal' but still ‘Remain or  Leave.’  MPs are now  in a position to compare the promises made in 2016 with the facts as they  have now emerged and answer this question by voting to revoke Article 50. If they haven’t the guts to use their judgement and do their duty, they can pass the buck by insisting on a People’s Vote. These are the true options before us."

If our major serious supporter in the media allows itself to seduced by Johnson's fairly obvious ploy, what hope is there for a rational discussion about the realities of our situation?

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

The Dark Arts of Moulding Public Opinion

A report by the electoral commission has called for the regulation of targetted political messages sent digitally.  In general, the report calls for limits  to the amount of  money spent during election periods, the prohibition of foreign money, and the identification of the senders.  You can see the details here.

Sadly it is probably too late to bring in relevant new laws before a snap general election or even another referendum, but it is vitally important for us,  the public, to be fully aware of what is going on.

A recent article by Peter Pomerantsev tells of a world of "dark ads, psy-ops, hacks, bots, soft facts, deep fakes, fake news . . .[and] trolls."  I don't pretend to understand what most of these are but they are sent digitally not to the population as a whole, but to carefully targetted audiences.  Without regulation the target does not necessarily know  from whom the message comes, nor who else is receiving it, or an entirely different message.

The result is that the recipient is deceived into believing that there is a consensus of opinion where none actually exists. This perhaps helps to explain the unexpected result of the 2016 Referendum

Apparently the person in charge of targeted digital messaging for the Vote Leave campaign in the 2016 Referendum was a Thomas Borwick. He claims  

"that the most successful message in getting people out to vote had been about animal rights.  Vote leave argued that the EU was cruel to animals because, for example, it supported farmers in Spain who raise bulls for bullfighting.  And within the "animal rights" segment Borwick could focus  even tighter, sending graphic ads featuring mutilated animals to one type of  voter and more gentle ads with pictures of cuddly sheep, to others."

It's  a world away from "Question Time" the "Today Programme," "Newsnight," election addresses and our Liberal Democrat Focus leaflets. The Tories are said to have earmarked  several millions to digital advertising since Mr Johnson became Prime Minister.

A contributor  to a thread on Liberal Democrat Voice, where a version of this post has already been published, claims that she received lots of these "animal" messages, and that it was clear that thy came from the Leave campaign.  Good, but I am not convinced that this applies to all these mystery messages.

If elections (and referendums) are to be freely and fairly fought we all need to know who is sending what messages  to whom, and, where there is distortion of the truth, have the opportunity to put alternative views.

Without such safeguards I suspect Dominic Cummings, the mastermind behind the pro Brexit campaign and now No 10's Chief of Staff,  will take every opportunity to deceive us again.

 Post script

On a different tack, Ian Dunt, in an article  criticising  the Daily Telegraph on the 13th August for distorting the results of an opinion poll. writes:

 [It's] an example of completely degenerate journalistic standards. But it is also part of a sustained
psychological campaign from across the Brexit-supporting press and government, which is just as
baseless. It's an attempt to convince opponents of no-deal that they are doomed.
In a sense, the whole function of Johnson's government is to entrench a sense of the battle already
being over. Diplomats retreat from Europe. Remorseless countdown clocks are put up all over
Whitehall. Briefings are given to the press of the detailed daily no-deal preparation meetings under
Michael Gove.
And most importantly of all, a sustained information war is being fought to convince critics that it's
too late. MPs already lost their last chance to stop no-deal.
But there is a problem with all this. It is false. MPs have not lost their chance. They can still stop it,
quite easily in fact, and there are several avenues open to them.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Take back the question.

As predicted in the previous post  the real question facing us, whether to continue with Brexit or stop it altogether (either by revoking Article 50, as I'd prefer,  or having another public vote) has now morphed into the quite different question: deal or no-deal?

A letter to the Guardian from  a Stephen King on 6th August puts the matter clearly:

'. . .Boris Johnson has changed the conversation. The debate is no longer "Brexit v referendum /no Brexit", it is "no deal v deal."  This smart strategy positions a deal as the best possible outcome , and removes from the debate any notion  of reconsidering  the whole project.'

Sadly the Guardian's editorial policy seems to have fallen for this sleight of hand.

 An article in yesterday's paper (7th august) was headlined 'Hard Brexit  would harm ability to fight crime', thus giving the impression that some other sort of Brexit would be OK, not so bad, perfectly acceptable. . .
Today (8th August ) the leading article, after surveying the areas in which agreement on a deal may still be possible,  urges Mr Johnson  to 'engage with EU leaders in a spirit of professionalism and respect.'

An article by Martin Kettle, also in today's paper,  is headlined 'Deal of no deal: it's not really up to Dominic Cummings.'

With friend like these (and the Guardian and Daily Mirror are about the only friends we have in a largely Brexit supporting media) who needs enemies?

Whether this shift of emphasis has been engineered by Mr Johnson himself, or his wonder-working media manipulator Dominic Cummings, I have no way of knowing, but there is little doubt that we are being manoeuvred into a situation in which any sort of deal, even  merely a cosmetic tweak on the May deal that already exists, will be hailed as a major triumph of British grit and Johnsonian guts and determination, and no deal  purely the result of European obduracy.

It beggars belief that, in the final three months of this crisis our MPs have chosen to go on holiday.  Heaven knows what future historians will make of it.

At times of crisis in the past parliament has been recalled, notably in :

  • 1949 to discuss the devaluation of sterling (from $4.03 to  £1, would you believe, to $2.8)
  • 1950 to discuss the Korean war
  • 1956: the Suez Crisis
  • 1961: Berlin Crisis which led to the building of the Wall
  • 1982: Falklands War
  • 1995: Bosnia
  • 2001:  Iraq and WMD
  • 2011:  Riots following the shooting of Mark Duggan
  • 2013: Syria.
The present crisis is arguably the most serious since Suez.  Yet the government are given free rein to massage the news, and make ludicrously optimistic  spending promises in apparent preparation for a general election which may undermine the constitution, without any serious opposition.

 I just cannot help reflecting what an outcry there would be from the establishment and just about everyone else if an even slightly left of centre government were implementing similar self harm.

Someone, somewhere, should be constructing  the coalition of remain forces to stop this madness..

Brexit or No-Brexit: that is the question, and the only question that should be preoccupying us now, and could and should be resolved well before 31st October.

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Mr Johnson's win-win course?

Our new prime minister A B  de P Johnson (I shall try to avoid calling him Boris because that plays into his technique of deflecting criticism by pretending to be a joker) has followed Paddy Ashdown's rule and  "hit the ground running."

Mr Johnson  has made outrageous and undeliverable promises, purged the cabinet of all criticism rather than seeking the usual balance (at least in his party) and stands a chance of converting much of the North to his cause by promising a high-speed rail line between Leeds and Manchester.

Some of the commentators claim has has boxed himself into a corner. I strongly suspect that he has created for himself a win-win situation.

If, as seems to me extremely unlikely, his up-beat bravado actually does produce another deal from the Europeans. even if the deal is only a cosmetic tweak of Mrs May's, the sycophantic press will hail him as a hero, Tory MPs will be delighted and they will go into an election go as the likely winners.

If, as is much more likely, Johnson fails in his quest for a deal and we "crash out" on the 31st October, (which is precisely what the Tory extremist  ERG want) he and the sychophantic press will blame the intransigent Europeans, Johnson will be praised for his determination and being a man of his word, his "that will show them" gung-ho attitude will be portrayed  as a revival of Britain's bulldog spirit and again the Tories will enter a general election as a likely winners.

That, I suspect, is Johnson's game plan.

The outcome remains the more likely the longer the Labour Party continues to sit on the fence.

However even without the Labour leadership seeing the light Johnson's plan can be stopped.

There is a danger that, in the remaining three months, the debate will be narrowed down to a choice between an new-deal and no-deal.

 But  neither is anywhere near as good for the country as the deal we already have by remaining in the EU, an option with is still open to us.

A majority of MPs, from all parties, know this very well.

There is still time for our MPs to avoid the damage to the cultural, social and economic future of our country, and rescue our political reputation,  by plucking up the courage to revoke Article 50

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Jo Swinson- an open letter of welcome

Dear Jo Swinson,

Congratulations on winning the leadership of our party by a majority of two to one (or nearly).  The press acknowledge your enthusiasm and communication skills, and I hope they will be effective, especially in attracting young and idealistic campaigners.

There are one or two things in your opening remarks as leader on which I'd like to offer some  notes of caution.

First, you invite existing Labour and Conservative MPs to come and join us.  Fine if they immediately resign tier seats and fight as Liberal Democrats to regain them.  If they don't then their present constituents, and especially those who actively campaigned for and financed them, will justifiably feel cheated.   Swapping parties without confirmation by the electorate leads to even further distrust of and cynicism about our politics when we need the reverse.

Admittedly now that we have accepted Chuka Umunna into our ranks without a by-election it will be difficult to insist on that provision for others.  Therefore, in the interim, I suggest that we invite potential defectors to remain with their existing parties, but to vote with us on all matters concerning Brexit.  Then, if their parties expel them, they can fight as Liberal Democrats in the General Election which will probably ensue.

Secondly  be careful of offering Liberal Democrat membership to any Tom, Dick or Mary just because they are in favour of our continued membership of the EU.  We need also to know that they share most of our Liberal values.  At least one of the ChangeUK MPs (I think it is Anna Soubry) was even keener on the shameful and unnecessary austerity cuts than Danny Alexander and David Laws.  The neocons have already done enough damage to our party, heir to that of Beveridge and Keynes, without adding to their number.

Thirdly, you are reported as saying that you will not form a coalition with either Mr Corbyn or Mr Johnson.  I sympathise in relation to Johnson though I suspect your are accepting the right-wing press's demonisation of Corbyn rather than the real thing.  But it is not up to us to choose the leaders of other parties: stick to policies, not personalities.

Fourthly, you seem keen to co-operate with other parties and that is sensible, even inevitable, for a party that believes in proportional representation by singly transferable vote in multi-member constituencies.  But do be careful to deliniate carefully what we will and won't support in any agreement or coalition.  That was the mistake we made in 2010: "We must support everything -we can't pick and choose."  We need to define  categories: what we will support and campaign for;  what we can't support but will offer "confidence and supply";  on what we choose to offer alternatives,:and  what we will oppose both in public, parliament and in the voting lobbies.  These categories are discussed in more detail in Liberator 365.

Finally, don't be bounced into some sort of agreement or coalition in haste because of some sort of perceived crisis (as happened in 2010).  Continental democracies can take weeks if not months to form partnerships.

You take over the party when the tide is moving, indeed has moved, in our favour. 

The best of luck.

Peter Wrigley
Member since the early 1960s

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Bishop Baines's Five Points

Towards the end of his Harold Wilson Memorial Lecture (referred to in the previous post and which can be reached from here) Bishop Nick Baines argues that, whatever the outcome of Brexit, the controversy has exposed five areas in which we need to to take action.  We need:

  1. A codified constitution.
  2. A more representative electoral system.
  3. Rules for referendums.
  4. Rules for devolution to, and the powers of,  the parliament and assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  5. A redesign of the chambers in the Palace of Westminster to reflect our changed political makeup. 
Baines does not go into detail on these proposals.  My own comments are:

1.  Yes, Britain's famous "unwritten " constitution is now open to abuse.  It depended on a sense of fair play, a common purpose, and that all would observes established conventions.  The current threat to prorogue parliament in order to allow the executive (under Johnson?) to get its way is perhaps the most glaring example of abuse.

At the same time, as was pointed out in a recent article in Prospect, we need to be careful not to "set in stone" rules and procedures which are relevant  only to today's circumstances.   The US, for example, is lumbered with the "right to bear arms" and an electoral college which allowed Trump to become president even though Mrs Clinton had  thee million more votes, just because they are in their (now semi-sacred) Constitution or its Amendments.

2.  Yes indeed, preferably proportional representation by single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies.  This is the system which confers maximum power to the voters, reduces the powers of the parties but avoids fragmentation by ensuring that parties have a significant, even if modest, level of support if they are to achieve representation.

3.  If we are to have more referendums.  Now that they have been introduced they will be difficult to get rid of.  We need to define the circumstances and issues in which they can be used, with provisions for safeguards in the veracity of the campaigning, the right to vote and the size of the majorities necessary for change.

4.  The powers  of the devolved administrations should be defined and safeguarded in law, as should the powers of local government, and regional governments in England when we get them.

5. The adversarial bear-pit of the Commons chamber should be replaced by one which reflects  the diverse opinions of the electorate and promotes "quiet calm deliberation" rather than knockabout  abuse.

When will the electorate be ready to tackle these issues?  Which political party will be brave enough to campaign on them?

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Eton ethos

Our former prime minister Harold Wilson was born and brought up in Hundersfield and to mark the connection the University of Huddersfield holds an annual Harold Wilson Memorial Lecture.  This year the topic was "The Will of the People" and the lecturer was the anomalously styled (Anglican) Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines.  The entire lecture is well worth reading and can be found  here

Early in the lecture Bishop Baines quoted this comment on the transition of the premiership  from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown in 2007

“[It's a] transition about as democratically proper as the transition from Claudius to Nero … It’s the arrogance. It’s the contempt. That’s what gets me. It’s [his] apparent belief that he can just trample on the democratic will of the British people. It’s at moments like this that I think the political world has gone mad, and I am alone in detecting the gigantic fraud. … Everybody seems to have forgotten that the last general election was only two years ago…”

Surprise, surprise: the writer was Boris Johnson, current contender and front runner to take over the premiership from Theresa May.

Bishop Baines continues:

[Johnson] went on to say: “They voted for Tony, and yet they now get Gordon, and a transition about as democratically proper as the transition from Claudius to Nero. It is a scandal.” But, he doesn’t leave it there; he goes on to speak of a “stitch-up”, a “palace coup”, “North Korean servility”, a “fraud and double fraud”, and demands a “mandate from the British people” – a “democratic mandate … by asking the public to vote at once on him, on the new EU treaty, and on the implications of the devolutionary settlement”. He concludes: “Let’s have an election without delay.”

Can we now assume that Johnson, if and when he ascends to No 10, will  promptly  call a general election to validate his accession?

Of course not.

Johnson, who was sacked from The Times for making up stories about the EU when he was their correspondent in Brussels, and from Michael Howard's Shadow Cabinet for lying about  an extra-marital relationship, uses words off the cuff to suit whatever is his present situation, and , like Donald Trump,shows no shame in the future for doing the opposite of what he has said in the past.  The famous "British " value"; "My word is my bond" seems to have no resonance

A more extensive list  of examples and incidents which demonstrate Johnson's unsuitability for any form of public office, never mind the highest in the land, is given in an earlier post.

Johnson's rival, Jeremy Hunt, is only marginally better.  Both of them promise they will be able to negotiate a better leaving deal with the EU than Mrs May did, Johnson because of his "oomph" and Humt because of his experience as an entrepreneur.  Both promise extra spending, Hunt for the Navy (his dad was an Admiral) and Johnson on anything you care to mention. Nine years of austerity and  no  Magic Money Tree are now in the dustbin of history.  Both pander to the lowest instincts of the 160 000 largely male, elderly and white Tory electorate - demonising immigrants, getting tougher on criminals and cutting taxes for the already well-heeled

What values were they taught at school, Johnson at Eton, Hunt at Charterhouse, where he was head boy?

Both would do well to recall the third verse of our Recessional Hymn for tomorrow:

Cure thy children's warring madness,
Bend our pride to they control;
Shame our wanton selfish gladness,
Rich in goods  and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Lest we miss they kingdom's goal.*

I know Eton has a chapel because you see pictures of it.  I'm sure Charterhouse will have one too.  I imagine this hymn will lbe sung frequently in both.

Maybe its sentiments are meant to apply only to we lower orders.

 * from H E Fosdick's "God of grace and God of glory" to be sung to Harry Smart's "Regent Square."