Thursday 28 February 2019

Pre-Brexit musings

1.  A letter to the Guardian on 26th February from a Will Taylor of Devon claims that: "this whole sorry [Brexit] episode cranked into place as soon as it seemed that the EU might crack down on money laundering and tax havens." 

 It's not a connection that I've made and I'm not sure that the dates match up.  After all, anti-EU manoeuverers  have been disrupting the Tory party at least since John Major's premiership (1990 to 1997 - he called them "the bastards") and I've no idea if and when the EU decided to get its teeth into money launderers  and tax havens.  However, there can be no doubt, as Guardian columnist Aditya Chakrabortty put it (Guardian 26th February) "Brexit was always a project by the right to enrich the right."

All MPs, and Labour MPs in particular, need to remember this when they use their judgement to vote for what is in the best interests of the people the were elected to represent.

 2. I'm interested that when cabinet ministers and arch-Brexiteers come on the BBC to justify what Mrs May is dong they rarely if ever refer to her by name, but as "The Prime Minister." 

Well, of course, she is, but I'm sure this is a ploy to "big up" her credibility - that this is a serious person in high office doing things in the interests of the country rather than a fallible  individual who doesn't seem to be able to distinguish between determination and obstinacy.  I suspect a Downing Street directive.

3.  Apart from the odd flight of post-imperial fantasy about a world desperate to trade with Global Britain the Brexiteers have stopped making arguments about the benefits of  Brexit and merely resort to pious  assertions that the  2016 "decision" is inviolable, almost sacred, and must be obeyed.

 They refer repeatedly to  to the "17.4 million people who voted for it" without ever mentioning the 16.1 million who voted against or the 13  million who were entitled to vote but didn't, and the several million (EU citizens and 16 and 17 year-olds) most affected who weren't allowed to vote. Or they speak of "the biggest democratic exercise in our history" with out mentioning that it could also be the most flawed democratic exercise, given the lies, illegal activity and possible foreign interference.

Nor of course, do they mention that, given the increased  information now available, along with demographic factors, opinion has now shifted.

The arrogant assertions of "It's decided" is rarely if ever challenged by the media and it should be.

4. Labour MP Stephen Kinnock has "deep reservations" about a "People's Vote" because a) it corrodes the sovereignty of parliament and b) it will be very divisive.

He's right on both counts.

So, on the first count, why did he vote for a referendum in the first place (following his successful election to parliament, in a very safe seat, in 2015)?

 And, given his concern for parliamentary sovereignty, why doesn't he follow the logic of his argument and avoid a divisive further referendum campaign  by voting to revoke Article 50  now, and persuading his colleagues to do the same?

Finally, it's not much to do with Brexit, but an international court has just declared illegal the British  government's action in separating the Chagos Islands from Mauritius in order to retain control of the Islands, deport the inhabitants and enable the US to build a military base there.

There's been no mention in the media that I've seen or heard that Jeremy Corbyn has fought the Chagos Islanders' case for several decades..  He was and is right on that, as on so much else, including the disastrous  invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet the media, and a substantial section of his parliamentary parhave decided he's not fit to be prime-minister.

 He may not be al that successful at managing his party, but his judgement is better than most.

Tuesday 26 February 2019

An open letter to my Labour MP

 To Tracy Brabin,
MP for Batley and Spen.

Dear Tracy Brabin,

Next month will be the most crucial in British politics since 1945 and I urge you to use your influence and vote in the long-term interests of our whole country rather than the perceived short-term advantage of your party, or even your majority in Batley and Spen.

All the economic and political events of the past two and a half years have made it increasingly clear that no deal can be anywhere near as good for the whole country as the very advantageous deal we already have if we choose to stay in the EU. Yet the Government is clearly “running down the clock” in order to corner you MPs into accepting Mrs May’s deal (however tweaked in the final month) or crashing  out with the highly damaging no-deal.

I know that it is Labour Party policy to demand a general election and then negotiate a “better deal” which would involve staying in “a” as opposed to “the” single market and customs union.  Frankly, that sounds rather like the Brexiteers’ false promise that we could have all the benefits of the EU without any of the obligations.  And it depends on the EU being willing to re-open negotiations with a different government, and the supposition that Labour would win a majority in an election, which is by no means certain or, given recent events, even likely.

It seems to me that you MPs have four options:

  1. Cut to the quick and vote to withdraw Article 50. This would require courage and would be helped if the parties took off the Whips and allowed you a free vote.
  2. Vote to put whatever deal emerges to a “People’s Vote” with Remain as the alternative.
  3. Vote for Mrs May’s deal , which is really  shaped  to reflect the views of the Hard Right ERG, and would be a shameful thing for those on the left of politics (or even the centre) to support.
  4. Allow us to drift into leaving without any deal, which is probably the outcome  the ERG have been manoeuvring for all along, and would be the worst possible outcome for the country and the people of Batley and Spen.

I know that you have promised to “respect” the result of the 2016 referendum and I can see that this position is tempting since it is supposed that our constituency voted Leave (though it is worth remembering that this was not a majority of those entitled to vote, but less than half of us, with nearly a third of us voting to Remain ,and a similar number who didn’t vote at all)

However, all the evidence of the past two and a half years shows that the Referendum itself, with its small majority for leaving the EU, was badly constructed, fuelled by lies and false promises, marred by illegalities and even possibly subjected to foreign influence.  There is no shame in repudiating it: in my view it is irresponsible not to do so.

So please use your undoubted influence to vote, and to persuade others to vote, according to Option 1 above or, failing that Option 2.

Yours sincerely.

Thursday 21 February 2019

How not to break the mould

"Break the mould" was the slogan of the SDP/Liberal Alliance after the defection of 28  (yes 28) Labour MPs to form their Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1981.  A sole Conservative joined them as well.  Together with by-election successes  (Roy Jenkins at Glasgow Hillhead, for example) and the existing 11 Liberal MPs the Alliance eventually totalled  around 40 MPs, but , in the first General Election to follow, in 1983, although our Alliance polled 25% of the vote (against Labour's 28%and the Tories' 42%) only 23 Alliance MPs were elected, just six of whom were members of the SDP.

The First Past the Post electoral system is a killer.

The reasons we failed to "break the mould" are many and varied, but I think  the main one is that only one of the bigger parties fractured.  The Tories held together.  Loyalty is their secret weapon.

When the Alliance was formed in the early 80s both major parties were hugely unpopular. Mrs Thatcher's economic policy of a  monetary and fiscal squeeze  caused unemployment to rise above 3 million and reduced the UK's manufacturing base by a fifth. Labour under Michael Foot were reputed to have a series of wildly left wing policies which included nuclear disarmament (good idea) and leaving the European Community (very bad idea, and still is).

However, the Tories recovered their popularity as a result of  of Mrs Thatcher's "successful" Falklands War, whereas the Labour party didn't until Tony Blair and Gordon Brown came make them electable with  their  triangulation and "third way."

Consequently only half the "mould " was broken: there never were any significant Tory defections, either in parliament or a grass roots level.

So "two party politics " was effectively restored, although the growth of the Liberal Democrats (the merged SDP and Liberal parties) to 22% of the vote and  62 seats in 2005 and the Nationals in both Wales and Scotland dented things a bit (at least until 2015 when we Liberal Democrats  were back down to 8 % of the vote and only 11 MPs)

 It is good to see the two party system now crumbling at both its edges but I cannot see the present defectors being any more successful than we were in the 1980s, at least if they continue with with their present lack of either organisation or policies.  They seem to be evolving haphazardly rather than with a plan.

Their biggest mistake, in my view, so far at any rate, is to fail to resign their seats and fight by-elections.  This is perhaps wise on their part becasue they would undoubtedly lose, but their failure to face the music of their convictions  merely enhances public cynicism towards politicians.

In my view a better approach would have been:

1. To concentrate on one issue and one issue only, opposition to Brexit.

2. Not to resign from their parties, but to say that, regardless of party instructions, they would speak and vote to do all in their power to stop Brexit, either by voting to withdraw Article 50, (the best approach),or  to put any deal achieved to a People's Vote, with staying in the EU as the alternative (a messy second best.)

If their parities then chose to withdraw the Whips (ie expel them ) that would leave them on the moral high ground: they could claim that they were not in the wrong, but effectively and honestly fulfilling their duties in using their judgement for the good of the country.

This approach could have produced far more support from both sides.  maybe it still could.

If and when the Brexit issue is (even temporarily) settled, they could then go on to consider the future. Do they really have enough in common to form a new party, or should they switch the single issue and campaign for proportional representation by single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies, (the best idea, I think) or should the revert to their parties to try to obtain reform from within?

Monday 18 February 2019

The Ex-Labour Seven

Every time I think British politics couldn't get any dafter it does.

We have the most incompetent government since that of Lord North, daily making itself more and more foolish, and so what happens?  Not  a split in the Tories. Oh no - though the soi disant European Research Group, the ERG, have been acting as a party within a party for months, forming a tail which is very effectively wagging the dog.

No, the split is in the Labour Party, from which seven of their MPs have decided to resign.

It is not even clear why.  Their chief spokesperson (so far, anyway), Luciana Berger, cites Corbyn's failure to deal effectively with Anti-Semitism,  Chuka Umunna wants to build "a new politics." All are attacked by their colleagues on the left  as being a "Blairite rump" unhappy with the direction in which Corbyn has taken the party.

With only 38 days to go before we may crash out of the EU, with or without a deal, (and if there is a deal it is bound to be far inferior to the one we already have if we stay in), this messy defection, which would normally be "big news," is an irrelevant sideshow  The last thing we need in this month of crisis.

If the seven had concentrated on Brexit, said they would campaign openly and enthusiastically, within and without Parliament, to thwart Brexit, either by demanding a People's Vote, or, better, by simply withdrawing Article 50, regardless of the party Whip, there would be some sense it in.  Their courage would encourage enough MPs from all parties to join them them, and the party bosses  might have been sufficiently rattled to withdraw their Whips and allow Free Votes.

Instead, their move is but a domestic squabble. It may seem important inside the Westminster bubble, but is a foolish distraction at this critical time.

Happily, official Liberal Democrat reaction has so far been suitably low key, and, crucially, more Brexit  focussed..

Vince Cable said the split was "not unexpected, or unwelcome" and his party was open to "working with like-minded groups and individuals in order to give the people the final say on Brexit, with the option to remain in the EU"

Thursday 14 February 2019

Youthful priorities

Around the turn of the century, while I was still teaching part-time, I was dragooned into compulsory  after-school in-service training.  The speaker was a big-wigs from the Local Education Authority (LEA) whose mission was to instruct us in the importance of Citizenship Education.  Young people should know the  importance of voting, the important things the council did over and above the collecting of rubbish, how it was vital in a healthy democracy for citizens to be informed and to participate by exercising their vote

As frequently the only social science teacher on the staff, I have several times been lumbered with somebody's bright idea for a "Civics" programme.  I have never found  then particularly successful. My experience has been that pupils under the ages of 16 or so, just aren't all that bothered, nor in the intricacies of obtaining mortgages, or the perils of hire-purchase, as it used to be called.  Much the same applies to many things that adults years away from the classroom feel that the young "ought" to be taught. Maybe my approach was wrong.

I explained this to the speaker, and argued that, if we really want to interest pupils in democracy the  best approach is to offer them some democratic control over their own lives -  uniform, meals, meal times and break times, lengths of lessons, maybe what  sports, arts, subject options are available, school rules, rewards and punishment  - via some sort of school council  Simply electing a  from captain with the duty of keeping the form room tidy was not enough.

This did not receive a positive response.

A few weeks later hundreds of pupils in local schools (though sadly, not ours) abandoned their classes to go on protest marches on some aspect of government policy.  ( I had thought is was the Iraq War, but that wasn't until 2003 and I had retired by then - so I can't now be sure what.)

Predictably the LEA was outraged and highly condemnatory.

Similar negative reactions have been expressed about  the proposed co-ordinated action  tomorrow (Friday 15th February) when hundreds of thousands of UK school children are invited to abandon their classes to protest against our politicians' timid approach to tackling climate change,and their their rank failure to teat the climate crisis as a crisis.

All power to their elbows.

No one knows what exactly the consequences will be if climate change continues on its present course.   One speculation about the nature of our dystopian  future is depicted in John Lanchester's new novel, The Wall. (Faber and Faber, 2019.) 

It is not pleasant, and it is our children who will experience it, or something like it.  Lanchester's novel clearly expresses the contempt they will feel towards a previous generation which  failed to take action to avert what he ominously calls "The Change.."

Post script: (added Saturday 16th February.) 

Well, apparently between 10 000 and 15 000 turned out in the UK, which isn't a lot when you consider that there are several million schoolchildren.

There were some clever home-made posters.  My favourite was:

"March now - or swim later" (read Lanchester's book to see ho appropriate that is.)

"I've seen smarter  cabinet's in IKEA" is clever, but far from specific to climate change.

There's been plenty of coverage in the media and that I've seen or read (Channel 4 News, BBC and Guardian) has been hugely supportive.)  Maybe the Daily mail took a different take. Al I can find on their 0n-line edition is:

Nothing like accentuating the negative.

Nine year old Daniel Miliband was there with his Dad, former \Labour Leader Ed Miliband  to keep an eye on him. Young Daniel had learned his lines carefully:  "I am hare because it is our future  and we need to protedt it." 

All in all, a good and useful time seems to have been  had by all.

Friday 8 February 2019

Lest we don't remember

The Guardian’s G2 has helpfully featured (7th February) the posters being put up around the country by a group called Led by Donkeys.  Each poster features the actual words of a Brexit-supporting politician.

In case you don’t see them all, or Led by Donkeys doesn’t come to your area, here are some of the actual quotes:

 I believe it is clearly in our national interest to remain in the European Union.
Theresa May, 25th April, 2016

The day after we vote to leave, we hold all the cards and we can choose the path we want.
Michael Gove, 9th April, 2016
Getting out of the EU can be quick and easy – the UK holds most of the cards in any negotiation.
John Redwood 17th July, 2016

They said business would flee if we voted to leave,  but instead we’re seeing  great British innovators like Dyson investing in the UK’s future.
Leave EU, 1st March 2017

I hadn’t quite understood the full extent of this, but . . .we are particularly reliant on the Dover-Calais crossing.
Dominic Raab, 17th November, 2018

There is no plan for no deal, because we’re going to get a great deal.
Boris Johnson1, 1th July 2017

The activists behind this scheme describe themselves as “Four Dads with a Ladder.”   They invite suggestions for future posters and can be contacted via:

Apparently my own suggestion, of this from Jacob Rees-Mogg:

We could have two referendums.  As it happens it might make more sense to have a second referendum after the renegotiation is completed.

has already been made.  They could add, from Nigel Farage (when he thought Leave would lose):

In a 52-48 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way.

All the above illustrate that the Leave campaign is led by politicians with little grasp of reality, (or no regard for the truth) and no consistency.

I find it appalling that in our mature and literate democracy their mendacious posturing still receives the support of around  a third of the electorate.

Why do so many continue to bury their heads in the sands? And why are our MPs, who themselves are fully aware of the truth and the damage any kind of Brexit will do to our country and their constituents, so supine as to fail the grasp the nettle, withdraw Article 50  and so put an immediate end to the whole nonsense.

Sunday 3 February 2019

Going it alone - but where?

Today's headline commercial news is that Nissan has decided  that the new X-Trail ( a  "family-sized" 4X4 road vehicle) originally planned for its Sunderland plant will instead be made in Japan.  This is in spite of Nissan's assurances given to the government in 2016 that, come what may (or May?) production would remain in the UK.  I can't quite see why we need yet another gas-guzzling 4x4, but if one is to be produced the I'd prefer that British workers and Britain's economy to be the beneficiaries.

About a month ago I read that the firm which  produces Britain's Centurion Tank has been sold to a German (sic) private equity fund. Again, I'd prefer beating swords into ploughshares, but if we're going to produce weapons on quite considerable destruction I'd prefer the profits to remain within the British economy

And a couple of weeks ago London's famous Fulle'rs Brewery was sold to the Japanese beer group Asahi, 
When I was a student in London in the 1950s we had some rather rude things to say about "Fuller'' S**t and Turnips" (it isn't a patch on John Smith's), but again, if Londoners are doomed to drink this stuff, I'd prefer the profits to remain in our economy.

Can there be clearer evidence that, rather than being the "soar-away Britain" of the Brexiteers' imagination, our country is going down the pan?  People with keener eyes on or memories of the business pages can probably cite even more examples.

Last week our MPs' Public Accounts Committee reported that  our  Ministry of Defence  lacked the ability to "accurately cost programmes" and that the shortfall could reach £14.8bn by 2028.  Interviewed on Radio 4, retried General  Richard Dannatt, a former head of the British Army and now a member of the House of Lords,argued  that Britain should remain in the "top tier" of the world's military powers, so the Treasury should find the money.

Surely the answer is obvious?  Britain can no longer afford to remain in this "top tier" alone, but we could if we pooled our resources and shared the cost with our friends and partners in the European Union.

I have no ideas on  how the rest of the world can help the benighted people of Venezuela, but I'm pretty sure that, in terms of both political influence and material help, the EU acting toghether will have far more clout that the UK on its own.  After all, Spain, an EU member and the former colonising power, hence with both special responsibility and special knowledge, can give the lead.

The evidence accumulates on a daily basis that Britain will be weaker, both economically and politically, outside the EU.  There is still time, but now less than 50 days, to prevent this self-harm