Monday 1 October 2018

Playing or practising politics?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. The way to achieve this, as I've argued earlier, is for parliament to take off the party whips and have a free vote among members

    As long as immediately afterwards we have a general election, so that MPs minds are focussed by the knowledge that they must face the consequences of their actions (Burke, the MP usually cited for his speech about not being a delegate, commendibly had the courage to follow his conviction even though it meant he was promptly voted out at the next election; today's MPs should have that same courage, surely?)

    1. I don't see that as necessary: now that we have a fixed parliament act we should stick by it. However, I wouldn't push my objection too far if that were regarded as a prerequisite for a free vote. As I argued in my letter to the Guardian:

      Maybe a few MPs whose constituencies had large Leave majorities might eventually lose their seats if they voted with their consciences. But surely that is a small price to pay for saving the nation from folly. The hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War reminds us that many have paid a much higher price for the sake of the nation.

    2. And if there is a free vote, and it doesn't come out the way you want (because enough MPs think that despite their personal views, they ought to respect the result of a referendum which, after all, most of them voted for)? You'll accept that, will you?

    3. Yes, of course - for a while. Then, when the damage began to become evident, we'd start the campaign to rejoin. Sadly, we'd be very lucky to be able to rejoin on terms as favourable as we have now.

    4. Okay, well, let's skip the vote, leave, and then when Britain outside the EU is a success, you can do a Paddy Ashdown with your hat.

    5. Another vote, preferably by MPs but if not by a People's Vote,is necessary. If both are to leave, then hard lines on our descendants. I do not see any possibility of an economic success after Brexit, but maybe - a very long shot. The political, social and cultural outcomes will all be of abysmal failure.

    6. Another vote isn't 'necessary' at all. What makes it 'necessary'? There's nothign constitutional makes it necessary, as far as I am aware.

      Note 'the stupid people voted the wrong way last time so they have to do it again until they get it right' is not an acceptable answer.

    7. Keynes argued that when the facts changed he changed his mind. In the cas4e of Brexit the facts haven't changed, but they have been revealed.T hat is why another vote of some sort, People's or, preferably, Commons', is necessary.

    8. What 'facts' have been revealled, that the Remain campaign weren't publicising vigorously before the referendum? There are stories about car plants shutting down; Remain was pushing those before the referendum. About border controls; Remain was pushing those before the referendum too. Scare stories abotu the Irish border? I remember Remain shouting abotu the Irish border during the referendum. Claims the EU will punish us and we will be left without a trade deal or access to the single market? Again, a plank of the Remain campaign.

      There are no new facts that have been revealled. People knew all the facts before the referendum.

      They just decided differently to how you would have done on the same facts. As they are fully entitled to do. Or aren't they?

    9. Well, I haven;'t got an encyclopaedia memory but: these are not the easiest trade deals imaginable; he shall not have exactly the same advantages outside as staying in; and there is no £350m a week for the NHS. With research I could probably dig up a few more.

  2. Every single one of those was said by the Remain campaign during the referendum. Do you not remember when they got Obama to say the UK would be 'back of the queue'?

    And as for the bus…

    All from before the referendum, all reporting claims that the £350 million figure was wrong. And they are hardly the only such stories, just the first ones I found.

    And due to the controversy the UK statistics authority made a statement:

    So you can hardly claim the public didn't have that information. They clearly did. It was fully available to everyone.

    So as I wrote: there have been no new facts revealled that weren't pushed by the Remain campaign during the referendum. The public have already heard all these arguments, and decided to respectfully disagree.

    1. Maybe given another chance we'll listen more carefully. Do feel free to have the last word if you wish,, but I'll drop out of this one now.

    2. Right-oh. So, indeed, the point is that there is no new information: you just think people got it wrong last time and should be made to do it again until they do it right (or, if they can't be trusted to get it right, have the decision taken out of their hands entirely).

      Just so long as that is clear.

      I'm pretty sure there's no constitutional requirement for a new vote in those circumstances, so it definitely isn't 'necessary'.

  3. I was quite happy with my 1975 vote. I dread to think that I'm going to be dragged out to vote on EU membership every 40 years.