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 Nougayr├Ęde 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.


  1. You're not including the EU in your catalogue of ineptitude, for not giving Cameron anything he could sell in his 'renegotiation'?

    I know I probably wouldn't have voted 'Leave' if there had been any hint in the response to that that the EU was willing to compromise and backtrack on its founding principle of 'ever-closer union' (and I mean real compromise, real rolling-back of the EU, not 'oh we'll put a note in that this doesn't apply to Britain when we next update the treaties in umpteen years').

    But no, even faced with one of its biggest contributors leaving, the EU refused to compromise its principles and stuck to 'once a competence has gone to Brussels, it stays in Brussels'. Thus giving the lie to the idea that the EU is happy being a club of nation-states coming together for mutual benefit, and showing the truth about what it has been all along: a bunch of federalists tryng to build a United States of Europe.

    So blame all those on your list if you want; but the EU must take its share of the responsibility for the result last June too, for keeping on its course even when it was clear that that course would lead to the UK leaving, and if they just reversed course the UK would have stayed.

    1. I suspect that whatever Cameron had achieved would not have satisfied the Brexiteers. Personally I am and was satisfied with "ever closer union" - a noble aim which I see as a small step towards world government, though not remotely likely in my lifetime.

    2. It didn't need to satisfy the hardcore 'Brexiteers', though, it only needed to satify enouh people to flip the margin from 52% Leave to 52% Remain.

      And given as most people were pretty much on the fence about the whole thing, weighing up carefully the advantages and disadvantages of EU membership (there were a few like you who liked the idea of 'ever closer union', and a few who hated the EU with a passion, but they were even combined a pretty small minority of the population), a renegotiation that really changed the rules would, I am sure, have swung it enough to make the difference.

      Certainly I would have voted Remain instead of Leave if there'd been any sign that the EU was really ready to seriously change from a wannabe federal superstate to a loose club of sovereign nations cooperating together on trade for mutual benefit.

    3. The UK already had so many concessions that we were barely in the EU at all, never mind being "ruled from Brussels". Actually, I'm quite enjoying being on the moaning side after listening to 40 years of Eurosceptic nonsense complaints.

    4. We were in the bits of the EU which we wanted to be in, ie, the single market, Europol. We initially weren't in the bits that we didn't want to be in, ie, the bits that tried to make it like a United States of Europe, like the Euro, Schengen, the Social Chapter, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the criminal justice area, etc etc.

      However bit by bit our opt-puts have been eroded and the ECJ has overreached its remit: for example, it banned UK companies from offering better insurance rates to women as they are safer drivers, something that surely is no business of the EU's but is purely a matter of UK domestic policy.

      If the EU had been prepared to offer real change — for example, to say that the UK was entitled to ignore ECJ judgements over areas where it's supposed to have an opt-out, and that previously-made judgements in these areas would no longer apply — then that would have been a real sign that the EU was prepared to move backwards on 'ever-closer union' and give up its ambition of ever being a United States of Europe. In that case I, and probably enough people to flip the result, would have voted Remain.

      But the EU, stuck in its federalist 'ever-closer union' mindset, refused to compromise, and so we left.

      And so, it was at least partly the EU's fault: if they had compromised, offered real 'farther union' to roll-back the 'ever closer union', then we would not be leaving now.

      For that reason the EU deserves a place on your list.

    5. It seems you made a finely-calculated decision before casting your vote. For the scenario you describe to have changed the result it would have required two and a bit out of every hundred Leave voters to evaluate Cameron's "improved" concessions and switch to Remain. I'm not sure that that number of voters would have taken such a refined approach, but it is difficult to know.

      Although I agree that the concessions Cameron did achieve didn't amount to much, I tend the agree with Severn Boar that we had already, over the years, achieved more than our share of concessions, and the EU negotiators were right to stick to their founding principles.

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