Friday, 29 September 2017

Mask slips as Tory schemers open Brexit think tank - repost from behind the times paywall

Mask slips as Tory schemers open Brexit think tank

james mcgrory

For more than a year, the government has promised that Brexit will not be used as a wedge to undermine the rights and conditions guaranteed by EU membership that protect people in this country. Theresa May even said in her Lancaster House speech that “a fairer Britain is a country that protects and enhances the rights people have at work”.

Yesterday, however, in the gilded chambers of the Foreign Office, the mask slipped and we found that the prime minister’s warm words were being undermined by her complete lack of control over her cabinet ministers. Boris Johnson and Liam Fox last night used a government building, paid for by the taxpayer, to host the launch of a new think tank arguing for a hardline, right-wing, extreme Brexit. The new Institute for Free Trade is to be led by Conservative MEP and prominent Leave campaigner, Daniel Hannan.
Open Britain, the cross-party, pro-European group, has had a look at the policies and the priorities of the Institute for Free Trade and its president and it does not make for pleasant reading. It is difficult to over-emphasise how extreme some of their positions are.

They support so-called “unilateral free trade”, a policy that would dump all UK tariffs on imported products, without achieving reciprocal reductions from other countries. The practical consequence of this would be to flood the British market with cheap, low-quality goods that would quickly overwhelm our domestic producers. The author of this plan, Professor Patrick Minford, has cheerfully admitted that doing so would “mostly eliminate” British manufacturing.

They are relaxed about letting hormone-injected beef and chlorine-washed chicken into our country as the price of a trade deal with the US, despite even Michael Gove promising that food safety standards would not be compromised by Brexit.

They have no time at all for the vital firewall of employment protections that have been built up over decades of EU membership, describing these rights as “heavy-handed regulations that impede the creative process”. Just so no one is under any doubt, these regulations include the right to paid maternity and paternity leave; to paid holidays; to join a union; and to work free from discrimination on grounds of gender, race, nationality, sexuality or disability. Mr Hannan has gone even further and stated his opposition to the minimum wage.

Hannan’s views on the National Health Service are perhaps most worrying of all. This is someone who delights in scuttling round American TV studios attacking our NHS, one of this country’s proudest achievements. He has called it a “mistake” that the UK has had to live with “for 60 years now” and called for the introduction of “price mechanisms”. Mr Hannan’s unpatriotic and dangerous ideas, if implemented, would restrict ordinary peoples’ access to health care. Mr Johnson and Mr Fox have made similar comments in the past, with the international trade secretary calling for health spending to be cut and the foreign secretary saying that people should have to pay to use NHS services.

None of this is current government policy but the frequency and speed with which this government floats and then ditches policies means they might be one day soon. Mr Johnson’s leadership ambitions are the worst-kept secret in Westminster and this think tank should serve as a window into the gruesome agenda he and his fellow Brextremists want to impose on the country if they get their way.
It is perfectly possible that these policies could be introduced even if Boris does not come to power. Theresa May’s weakness is such that she may end up being forced into throwing some red meat to her rabid right flank. If the Government is as desperate as it seems to get a trade deal with the US after we leave the EU, regardless of the cost, it will undoubtedly be forced into concessions on issues such as food safety.

This manoeuvring by Mr Johnson and Mr Fox is undermining the government’s policy; furthering divisions within government; and advancing an agenda which would leave British working people worse off. Their plans and their scheming should be exposed and opposed by everybody who rejects an extreme Brexit.

James McGrory is executive director of Open Britain reposted from the Times

Monday, 24 April 2017

Brexit was a victory for "stupid" - how can "smart" win this time around?

It is  hard to deal with this election. It's one like no other, both because it really is a second referendum on Brexit (but one where there's no simple question and no simple answer) and because results on 2015 were badly skewed by exceptional factors.

Among the complexities, one thing is absolutely clear, if we are to have any chance of crushing the tory majority in parliament we have to cooperate across the progressive movement to vote tactically. This post is an attempt to explore the mistrust and misunderstandings about tactical voting and to lay down a few pointers to the best approaches to making it work.

What went wrong in 2015?

The tories should not have won in 2015. They were deeply unpopular but they still managed to win a majority. It's worth looking at how this happened, because it shows how badly things can go wrong, and how, at worst, misguided tactical voting could give the Tories an even bigger majority.

"Coalition resentment" scuppered Liberal Democrats with LD/Tory swing voters feeling they may as well have a fully fledged conservative government and LD/Labour swing voters turning to Labour in disgust.  "Small c" working class defections from Labour to UKIP and loss of support from from the more radical left because of the party's steady rightwards drift trapped Labour in similar kind of "perfect storm". The Tories shouldn't have won but they did - and they won because of a toxic mix of tribalism, a resurgent hard right and extreme political naivety on the part of many progressive voters.

"Lib/Lab/Green no matter what" - how to avoid "2015 -  the sequel"

The most important thing we need to hold in our minds is that we need to elect progressive MP's. "Anyone But Conservative" "ABC" is the watchword. Use your vote for the candidate best placed to win - whatever the party.

The danger is that many of us will vote on the basis of what is being said by Party Leaders at national level or, in the case of Labour, to punish them for voting for Article 50 in the Commons. In this election more than any other - voting in this way is suicidal. The Tories depend on us to do this, and know that if we do, they will be back with an even bigger majority.

The only thing that will beat the Tories is getting a lot more MP's than they do. Why a lot more? Because if the Tories are the largest party they get first call on a coalition and could form a government with a single smaller political party. The Tories think we are too naive and too tied up in petty differences to work together.

We progressives like to think we are the smart ones but we struggle to recognise that unless we elect more progressive MP's than there are tories we've lost,  seems to have escaped many of us. Social media threads are alive with comments like:

"Only a vote for Liberal Democrats will keep us in Europe".
"Corbyn has said he will lead the UK to a soft Brexit",
"Farron has ruled out forming any coalition",
"I could never trust the Liberal Democrats after the coalition"  

Sorry - but these remarks are absolute rubbish. If there is one certainty in "GE2017" it's that neither Labour nor Liberal Democrats can win outright. If remainers vote on the electioneering pitches of party leaders in a period of extreme political volatility Theresa May will win power with a bigger majority, and the certainty of the UK crashing out of Europe in flames.

Simply equating our concerns about Brexit with either of the two main progressive parties stated position on Brexit, coalition or their past behavior is suicidal. It doesn't matter if you think the Lib Dems are less likely to take us out of Europe than Labour - if you vote Lib Dem in a Labour seat where the Tories are running second - you will let the Tories in. Same applies if you are a Labour supporter in a seat that the Lib Dems lost in 2015 - voting "Labour no matter what" will let the Tories keep that seat.

Finally - if you are a green voter - please think long and hard about this particular election. I know you are always being asked to sacrifice your hopes in general elections but in this particular election we are trying to defeat a government intent on abandoning carbon targets, cutting environmental controls and are actively hostile to renewables - this is part of their reason for taking us out of Europe

So please - forget about anger towards Corbyn's position on Brexit, Forget about the Lib Dem coalition with the tories - take a deep breath and vote for whoever will defeat the Tories.

I've got principles - I can't be this cynical

I understand - I have principles too - but without power - principles are worthless junk.

I know so many remaniers are devastated by Corbyns's stance on Europe, I am myself, anyone wanting to know just how furious I was can read this blog - but we do have to understand Corbyn's position. His party strategists believe Labour could lose many of it's northern heartland seats if it goes directly against the referendum results. It's that old bogeyman again, winning seats. 

Corbyn has ruled out a second referendum - but he's actively supported a "meaningful final vote on a Brexit Settlement" in Parliament. That's Corbyn's wriggle room. MP's can reject a Brexit deal outright unless they are convinced it will be in the UK's interests. If he's in a coalition he can also say Brexit was a deal breaker and agree to shift his position.

Faron's position on "No Coalition" is his attempt to deal with the perfect storm that decimated lib dem MPs. Remember, Lib Dems lost most of their seats from a combination of left wing supporters defecting to Labour to punish them for the coalition and right leaning Lib Dems deciding they may as well go the whole hog with a Tory government. 

A lot of us Labour supporters argue that "Lib Dems can't be trusted because they should have refused to form a coalition with the Tories" - but Labour form coalitions with Lib Dems all the time in local government despite the party's mantra of "Never trusting a bloody Liberal"! Farron obviously believes his best bet is to isolate himself from any commitment post election to allay the "coalition ghost", but if there is the opportunity to power share he will take it - and Brexit can be his deal breaker.

So how do we assess the best tactical options?

Take a look at the demographics of Norwich's much respected anti-Brexit MP Clive Lewis. In several of Norwich's anti-brexit forums remainers are calling for a Lib Dem vote in his seat. This is suicidal,

Lib Dems would have to triple their vote to beat him. That's not going to happen - but we can see the makings of another perfect storm brewing in these figures. If UKIP to pull out and urge their supporters to vote tory it would only take a couple of thousand of voters to switch allegiance from Labour to Lib Dem for Clive to lose his seat - to the Tories.

General Election 2015: Norwich South[4]
LabourClive Lewis19,03339.3+10.6
ConservativeLisa Townsend11,37923.5+0.6
GreenLesley Grahame6,74913.9-1.0
Liberal DemocratSimon Wright6,60713.6-15.7
UKIPSteve Emmens4,5399.4+7.0

Now look at the position in the Liberal Democrats in North Norfolk

Norman Lamb is in an even more vulnerable position than Clive Lewis - the combined Tory/UKIP vote is about 23,500 - but add the Labour and Green votes to Lamb's total and he has over 26,000 votes

Of course, we can't say for sure that all UKIP votes will go to the Tories, but many will. We can't say for sure all progressives will vote tactically - but we can do our best to try and make it a reality - at least that way we are in with a chance.
General Election 2015: North Norfolk[5]
Liberal DemocratNorman Lamb19,29939.1-16.4
ConservativeAnn Steward15,25630.9-1.2
UKIPMichael Baker8,32816.9+11.5
LabourDenise Burke5,04310.2+4.4
GreenMike Macartney-Filgate1,4883.0+2.0

These are the kind of stories that will be repeated across the country. Remainers need to get smart - whatever their political allegiance, and look at the hard realities of returning a non-conservative MP.

Kick out the Tories

  • remember - neither Labour nor Liberal Democrats can win this election outright
  • forget about what leaders are ruling in or out right now - if progressives win a majority - we will do a deal 
  • vote to beat the tories in your constituency not on the national campaign 
  • it's not about principles - it's about winning more seats than the tories

Campaigning for tactical voting is as important as campaigning for our parties in this election.This is a link to a seat by seat guide to tactical voting options - I have no idea if this is entirely accurate - we are the smart ones so dig around. Find your constituency on wikipedia and look at results over the years. Think how falling support for UKIP will affect the Tory vote - they will almost certainly benefit more than anyone else.

If you want to be a keyboard warrior this is a link to a facebook page I've set up to encourage tactical voting ABC _ Anything But Conservative. I try and post relevant stories and news every day. Like the group invite friends, share posts. If there's one thing about his election that's positive is that it seems to have ignited genuine political debate. We can do this. We can turn the pollsters predictions on their heads. There's so little between all us progressives - so lets co-operate to keep the Tories out

Finally, remember Brexit is not the only reason for kicking out the Tories. They have presided over the slowest economic recovery since records began, the real value of wages has fallen by at least 10% since they came into office. They have bought schools and the NHS to their knees, and their treatment of disabled and dying people is little short of barbaric. 

Let's do everything in our power to not hand this country to the most vicious nasty right wing politicians it has seen since the Second World War - let's win it smart!

Thanks to Marc Roberts for the illustration - first published in New Internationalist - Marc  features regularly in the New Internationalist and Ethical Consumer. He has a horribly low profile on the web but you can see some of his work here -

Monday, 6 February 2017

Fight them on the Beaches - no chance - let’s just let the fascists win

in the days when we believed in Corbyn
Depressing title? Yes, could be something to do with waking at 3-30 am in a mood blacker than the night. Last night I heard Clive Lewis MP trying to explain the Labour Party’s Parliamentary strategy for Brexit. I was hoping for at least some spark of a fight, perhaps a recognition that while parliamentary tactics was forcing our hand in Parliament we would acknowledge the catastrophic nature of Brexit to the wider world.

Parliamentary tactics are affairs of the head, I understand that, but Brexit was won with appeals to the heart using a seductress's finery and false promises. It's manifest injustice, stupidity and political danger could open dozens of avenues for the Labour Party to relearn the art of reaching out to the electorates emotional core. My black despair flows from the certainty that the Party has closed them all, an act of shortsightedness and cowardice that will be a disaster for the country and a disaster for a party I've supported all my life.

Clive looked like a man torn in two. The conflict between the unfolding disaster of Brexit and his desire to hold the party line was etched into his being.  This was a man confronting unreason with reason,  and repeated use of the phrase "we are where we are", a pragmatic sounding cliche that generally means "we've lost", suggests he can see that defeating unreason demands more than soft words. If, on the eve of disaster, Churchill had made a speech to the nation that ran:

"we will think about fighting them on the beaches - but we have to bear in mind that quite a lot of people have been manipulated by sleight of hand and distraction and we have to think about their feelings before we even think about any kind of fight and maybe right now what we should do is more or less give up and then try and negotiate with them after they have won"

It would sum up Labour's position perfectly. We are re-running Neville Chamberlain in Munich, Trump and Brexit are the storm troopers riding in. 

A major part of Clive's case was that Labour couldn't oppose Brexit because of the "fragile state of our democracy". 

I'd say the exact opposite. "Brexit is happening because of the fragile state of our democracy".  I understand the sensibilities and can accept  can accept 25 % of the population winning a general election. But election results are reassessed every 4 or 5 years . Brexit will be permanent, a change that is disaster for millions, most of whom didn't even have a vote.

It's a fact that more people were disenfranchised in the referendum than voted leave.  Four and a half  million people who's long term future depends on freedom of movement and over fourteen million under 18's didn't get a vote. That's eighteen and a half million people. They outnumber leave voters, and they are the groups who's future will be most affected by this descision. Seventeen million out of a population of sixty-five million is not a majority. Seventeen million imposing a course of action that will blight the lives of 18.5 million people who had no vote is not democratic. MP's could do far more for democracy by remembering their duty to look at the wider interests of the country than by flawed calculations aimed at saving their own skins.

Another justification for Labour's position was that opposing the referendum would "give UKIP a platform". This was the point where patience and sympathy for his dilemma was finally replaced by outrage. The Tory Government under May already is "UKIP in power". 

UKIP is no more a separate political party than the Tea Party in the USA. Both were established and funded by ideologically driven billionaires to deliver the messages their more moderate counterparts wouldn't say out loud. Their job is done, both here and in the USA.

I understand that "giving UKIP a platform" is a sanitised way of saying "we are going to lose seats". I'm just not convinced trying to placate the "traditional" Labour voters who switched to UKIP in droves in 2015 is a good tactic. The Blairite years destroyed their faith in us, and the 2010 message on the doorsteps of Milecross was, at times, shockingly hostile. I don't think these guys will come back to us anytime soon just because we lay down and surrender to a right wing coup. Meanwhile, all the enthusiasm and energy surrounding Corbyn is seeping away unused. People who joined the party because they believed things could be different are leaving in droves. WE may lose seats in remain constituencies for opposing Brexit - we will definitely lose not just seats, but wholesale support to the greens and lib-dems everywhere - don't underestimate the level of anger remainers feel.

The message I took From Friday's meeting was that Labour are sacrificing a blood and guts fight for the future of Britain and probably the future of Europe for narrow self interest and that maybe - at some point in the future, a brave new left wing Labour under Corbyn will win power and create a socialist paradise. With an independent Scotland, Gerrymandered boundaries and unforgiving remainers that is never going to happen - I suspect it's more likely the Labour Party's current stance will see it's demise.

If Brexit happens it will be permanent, and it will be the starting gun for removing almost every concession the left has fought to win from "the owners "over the last 120 years. Listen to Jacob Rees Mogg talking about stripping out environmental regulation in the UK - the Tories behind May have already targeted Human Rights, Worker Protection, Heath and Safety Standards and Carbon Emissions and "Honest Theresa" has "promised the NHS is not for sale" - which pretty much means "it's going to be sold".

The democracy Labour wants to defend has been undermined for decades by a very powerful, well funded, extreme rightwing movement. It's genesis is in the States. I often mention  Atlantic Bridge and its links with the US and British right. George Monbiot blogged  about them couple of days ago, and its well worth reading the story if you are not familiar with it.  Trump and Brexit are both symptoms of the political forces that Atlantic Bridge promotes. Trump isn't just a maverick voice - his deliberate trashing of government and defiance of the rule of law are a clear part of the extreme right agenda he represents. It's no coincidence that Farage, a man who threatened violence if leavers lost, had unprecedented access to Trump only days after he was elected and you can be sure that the current dominant forces in the Conservative Party speak with the same voice. The names associated with Atlantic Bridge are the Tory men of the moment.

Now image if Jeremy Corbyn did find some Churchillian spirit - a strong "Fight Them on the Beaches speech". Some of that powerful emotive oratory he's good at using Brexit as a platform to fight back. 

The North East think it's immigrants screwing them - it's not - it's 40 odd years of deliberate and systematic neglect.  Some of it was Labour 's neglect, say so, tell them we are different now.

Immigrants are denying British people health services? No - deliberate vandalism is doing that. Real term spending cuts in health have the service on it's knees and it's only getting by because of all the European Nurses, Midwives and Doctors. And on that one, a few case studies of the terrible things being said and done to good people who are delivering essential services would hit the British sense of fair play right between the eyes

Same applies to Education, Social Services and the failure to put resources into helping communities and immigrant groups manage the impacts of new and different cultures on existing populations and  of coming to terms with life in a foreign country.

Lets scream about the taxbreaks and loopholes, the lobbyists that bend brains, the lies and the misinformation could be exposed in a "fight them to our last breaths" position. If we are going down let's go down in flames - not with "a whipped abstention" on the third reading.

Our current position is beyond disappointing - it's heart breaking. Now more than ever, with Trump riding into absolutism in the USA Trump and Brexit can be used as a lever to help rewrite the narrative. They are two sides of the same coin - not the people who voted for it - but the people who are trying to make it happen - and even for Brexit voters Trump is too much.

Even now it's not too late for the Labour Party to change tack. MP's can vote against the 3rd reading - with a whip - and  launch an all out attack on the reasons why "we are where we are", expose the systematic and deliberate destruction of democracy and most of all - you can learn a lesson from the likes of Farage and Trump - these guys don't sell sausages- they sell sizzle - right now Labour need the sizzle.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Reshare of Carbon Briefing's weekly update - grim reading with some excellent links

19th August 2016
This week

As competition heats up in the final few days of the Rio Olympics, a record of a different type fell this week as NASA scientists confirmed July 2016 had been the hottest month in recorded history.
The latest data show July topped the chart with temperatures 0.84C warmer than the 1950-1980 global average. With the last vestiges of a strong El NiƱo now long gone, July 2016 beat the previous record set jointly in 2011 and 2015 by a full 0.18C.
Back in Rio's Olympic parks, pools, courts, arenas and stadiums, temperatures several degrees above normal for this time of year made for some uncomfortable conditions on the ground. The searing heat came as research warned rising temperatures could mean that by 2085, only eight northern hemisphere cities outside of Western Europe will be fit for hosting the Summer Games.
Pushing limits
As the Olympic medal table swells, there's one record that many are keen for the world not to break: global temperature rising 1.5C above preindustrial levels.
With the world already past the 1C mark, avoiding the 1.5C limit altogether looks increasingly unlikely, some scientists are warning. Staying close to 1.5C in the long run now depends on the extent to which various “negative emissions” technologies can be used to suck carbon dioxide out of the air.
The question of how this could be done got a fair bit of attention this week, as scientists gathered in Geneva to flesh out the details of a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on limiting warming to 1.5C, a goal set out in the Paris Agreement last December.
In a perhaps uncharacteristically strongly worded opening gambit from the IPCC chair, Dr Hoesung Leetold the scientist authors that they bore a "great responsibility" in making sure the report clearly spelled out the practical steps needed to meet the 1.5C goal. Carbon Brief looked at how "feasibility" looks set to feature as a priority for the coming report, with Lee telling the conference:
“One notion that runs through all this, is feasibility. How feasible is it to limit warming to 1.5C? How feasible is it to develop the technologies that will get us there?…We must analyse policy measures in terms of feasibility."
The consequences of rising temperatures came into sharp focus this week, as scientists warned that climate change is likely to bring more of the sort of extreme rainfall which has put large parts of Louisiana underwater. The disaster, now the worst to hit the US since Superstorm Sandy in 2012, has displaced thousands of people and, so far, notched up an estimated $30m in damages.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Challenges to and for democracy - Should Parliament reject Article 50?

On the surface , the argument "Remain should shut up and let democracy take it's course" appears plausible, but in truth, this is like looking at the surface of
the sea and deciding water is made of sparkles.

Is it "democratic" to allow 37% of the electorate to dictate life changing constitutional changes to the country as a whole? Factor in the interests of under 18 year olds, who have no vote, but everything to lose, and around 25% of the country voted to leave. It's hardly a majority.

Those who argue that it would be morally wrong to reject the outcome of the referendum; that the voice of the "majority" must be respected and that "general elections are won on these kinds of numbers". miss an important point.

In an election for government we elect representatives to rule on our behalf. They form a parliament to debate and discuss changes to the laws of our land. These discussions are informed, modified and pass through the scrutiny of two houses. Through this process for the most part, evidence is considered, a degree of consensus emerges and flaws in the initial proposals addressed. The referendum was the polar opposite.

It was not called because Cameron genuinely believed EU membership was a real issue. This was a move of breathtaking irresponsibility from a sitting Prime Minister putting the interests of his party before the interests of the country. It was a crude political gambit to counter the electoral threat of UKIP. The result is a monumental clusterfuck: a vote on a hideous act of political misjudgement based on a campaign of monumental untruth.

Is it undemocratic to suggest that a deeply flawed process where the vote was informed by a leave campaign that stands accused of "Lies on an industrial scale"? 

The leave campaign have already backed away from two key claims within a day of winning the referendum, £350 million a week going to the NHS and "leaving will control immigration". Immigration in particular was a decisive issue for millions voting for Brexit. Any contract sold on such misinformation would have legal grounds for challenge.

Is it moral to challenge the vote?

Is it "moral"to allow a little over a quarter of the country to impose changes on the rest of the country that are already having serious impacts on the lives of millions? 

I don't believe it is. A change of this nature needs to garner the support of at least half the population - and any sensible referendum on an issue on this magnitude would have built in that kind of threshold.

There's a further important element to the moral legitimacy of the "leave victory", the "generational divide".

The leave vote was won by the elderly. It could be argued the young didn't turn out to vote and missed their chances, but if we are looking at the morality of revisiting the referendum, is it moral that the vote of the demographic with the least long term interest in the outcome of the vote to dictate the fate of those with the most? It's easy to say - "they had their chance", but the recent changes voter registration left millions of younger voters disenfranchised. 

Are leavers "bad losers"

The leave campaign may screaming "bad losers", Farage is quoted as saying "it's not best out of three", but the leave campaign made it quite clear that had the result been reversed it would have been challenged.

Boris Johnson's support for leave was based on a "no vote" creating leverage for further negotiation and Farage called "a small defeat for the leave camp unfinished business" predicting a second referendum. It even seems the petition for a second referendum was started by a Brexit supporter, who's none too happy about the 3 million plus remain campaigners asking for a re-run on their behalf. It's not being a "bad loser" to challenge a flawed process that is inflicting very direct personal harm - it's asking leave to appeal - and legally it's quite legitimate to do so.

The referendum has no legal power

Cameron didn't say he would honour the will of the majority - or even the winners of the vote on the day - which is nothing like a majority.

He was clever in his choice of words. He said: "in the event of a leave vote "the public could reasonably expect article 50 to be set in motion immediately". 

"They may expect " is subtly different to saying "we will". You may argue "legal nitpicking", but it's not. 

This referendum was effectively a super scale opinion poll. It was never binding on Parliament and parliament needs to sit in judgement on the misselling of the Brexit campaign - just as a court would rule on a missold contract. 

We can't undo a car crash - but we can re-run a simulation. We are already seeing Brexit will be the predicted disaster, but we haven't left the EU yet. It's Parliament that takes the decision to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, the act setting the leave process in motion. MP David Lemmy urges Parliament to reject the referendum result and the to vote down a motion to implement the leave negotiations

Leavers will cry foul, compromising remainers will say " there may be violence on the streets. 

True enough, there may, but brexit will blight the lives of millions, destabilise Europe, and trash our economy, possibly for decades. The disaffected leave campaigners have every reason to be disaffected - but the problems of unemployment, housing, shortfalls in health and education aren't the fault of the EU. Their issues are the end product of a largely unheeded 35 year Thatcherite political revolution which has seen the concessions won through working class struggle marginalised or eliminated. 

My hope is that parliament will reject Article 50 and that we can have a genuine democratic debate about the real reasons for the marginalisation of vast tracts of the country - and that the real culprits can be held accountable. Yes, immigration should be part of that debate, but lets be sure the debate is about the mismanagement of it's impacts, not about xenophobic racist prejudice. If at the end of that process Europe is still seen as the culprit I'll accept the outcome of a second referendum.
For now, Parliament needs to account for the serious democratic deficiencies inherent in the first referendum. It is not democratic to allow the opinion of little more than a quarter of the UK to dictate the fate of the rest of us and it is not democratic to plunge headlong into disaster on the strength of the slenderest of electoral victories. It has to stop this lemming's leap into the unknown and allow a period of reflection. It's the only way out of this disaster.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

On behalf of the 6 million...

Like 30 million other people in the UK, I woke up on Friday horrified by the outcome of the Referendum.

But for me, and 6 million Europeans living in the UK and Britons living in Europe, this this goes far beyond the generalised horror. We are already feeling it's impacts. This result could turn our lives on their heads.

This isn't a theoretical problem. Hundreds of thousands of pensioners will find their next euro payment in Spain or France will be worth 15 or 20% less than the one they received last month.

It has already impacted on the emotional security and well being of Europeans working in the UK who feel unwanted and unvalued. The ones I know about here, the midwives, nurses and doctors who were in tears on Friday morning, people who will still save the lives or deliver the babies of "leave" voters - but may well not stick around for much longer.  (Ironic that one of the charges against immigrants is the pressure they put on health services, I wonder how much more pressure and exodus of EU health professionals will create?)

The same applies to the Brits I know living in Europe. There's no guarantee that reciprocal arrangements for health care will continue, or even an automatic right to remain. As for people like me, someone who's never been able to afford a house in the UK but has manged to find a ruin in France and rebuild it with my sons over many years, but hasn't yet legally switched to France, I could well find myself homeless. And there are probably many thousands in a similar situation.

To say I'm sick with worry is an understatement and I'm sure I'm far from alone. The gnawing anxiety is just as strong today as it was yesterday - and I doubt it will go away. The prospect of seeing everything planned for the future disappear before your eyes tends to be stressful. Knowing that it's happening because of an almost unimaginably crass referendum won by the tiniest of margins adds several layers of rage and wild fury to the equation.

Poor sports...?

"Ah!," outers will say,  "you are just a sore loser."

Well I'm certainly sore, but consider this: had the result been the other way round, you would have just lost a referendum - nothing more.

There's a lot to loose

At worse we face losing our homes, our jobs, being forced to move out of the country and the life we've built over many years, and serious direct economic harm. At the very least we face years of stress and anxiety while our fate is negotiated by the likes of Farage and Johnson with a furious Europe. Lets be clear, what I'm sore about is the damage it's doing to all of us and especially the damage to me personally. Knowing most of you had no real understanding of what you were doing just adds extra spice to my rage.

My last sentence could be seen as "typical remainer arrogance" towards leavers, but it's not. Watching a large group of people who've been crapped on for decades being duped into voting for something that almost entirely in the interests of the people doing the crapping is not easy. Knowing the crappers have already backed away from the 3 central promises that drew much of their support, £350 million a week extra for the NHS, stopping immigration and an immediate application to leave the EU, just shows what bare faced lies the remain campaign have told.

The main political players in the leave campaign are "extreme right". I am quite sure their prime motivation for leaving is to pave the way for policies in UK heavily influenced by US style libertarian capitalism - the kind of thing Donald Trump says out loud in the States - he's not quite the isolated nut job freak show we think he is.

Look for the Money...

The US right has long complained that Europe is "too liberal", code for: "we want all cash flows in public services as investment vehicles for the vast amount of capital we've stolen from the world at large". Strip the UK of EU rules that uphold the European liberal democratic consensus and see how much worse things will get for working class outers, and all the rest of us too.

Almost all the ills the working classes are experiencing spring from Thatcher, and Cameron's extreme right wing ideology. It's the agenda of the super rich. I'm not for a second denying the fury and resentment is unjustified but it's been misdirected. It's not the EU's fault there are millions of immigrants from the Indian sub- continent, and lets be honest, it's brown muslim immigrants who inspire working class ire more than anyone else. It's not the EU's fault that we have failed to build sufficient housing for 30 years and deliberately trashed existing social housing stock. It's not the EU's fault that their jobs have been exported to pillage slave labour and third world eco-systems  - that's global capitalism. Deflecting the blame for the consequences of these policies on to the EU is well executed distraction...

...and it is sheer genius to to use the same trick to shoe horn in a far right wing Tory administration led by Johnson. Working class people have been duped - again.

The narrow leave "victory" in the referendum is being portrayed as a "working class revolt against the establishment" but it's no any such thing. This is a right wing coup - the window the working classes had on the issues has been owned by the right for 30 years and the right wing media have successfully used real issues to power brexit, enable an unltra right wing government and possibly precipitate the break up of the EU.

This is a moment when the left need to understand that the referendum was a battle in a war - the war isn't over - Farage himself said that if they lost 48/52 he would fight on.  We have to be prepared to fight Brexit with every fibre of our being until the bitter end. So no talk of healing wounds, rebuilding friendship or "accepting democracy" - democracy is about more than votes cast - there's still plenty to play for

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

A vote for Brexit is a vote for Predatory Capitalism

This is a blog asking left wing Brexiters to reconsider voting to leave the EU. I understand why some of us we believe we should, but I fear leaving the EU will prove to be the worst error the UK has made in modern history.

How wrong can we be?

The Independent reported a poll on June 10th which suggested the British  public had "almost everything wrong about the EU".

Here's a little example of just how wrong we get it:

"In a survey of 1,000 people, weighted to represent the nation’s demographic profile in terms of age, gender, ethnicity and other factors, respondents claimed that, on average, 15 per cent of the UK population are EU immigrants. That would be 10.5m people. The correct figure is 3.5m. Those who intend to vote Leave in the referendum put the figure at 20 per cent. ‘Remainers’ put the figure at 10 per cent."

It's worth reading the whole article just to get an idea of the way in which we are going to make one of the most important decisions of out lives on the basis of utter misunderstanding.

In the public eye the Brexit case seems to revolve around two issues, economics and immigration.

The economic case is a non-starter - it's clear that we will be worse off outside Europe than in. Even the Brexit campaign have virtually conceded this, admitting "there will be short term effects". Exactly how short term they might be is unclear, but any path that delivers a deep economic shock to a country that's not fully recovered from the worst recession in history is more than risky - it's profoundly stupid.

The truly dark and fearful aspect of Brexit's campaign, immigration, is another non-starter.

Leaving aside Farage's shocking xenophobic rantings, nauseating even to high profile supporters of the leave campaign, leaving the EU will not stop immigration.

There are more non-EU immigrants arriving each year in Britain than EU citizens, and most arrive to fill genuine skills shortages. One small example, 28 percent of NHS doctors are foreign. In an ageing  country we need the youth and the skills immigrants bring with them.

There's no doubt that in some places rapid growth of immigrant communities create issues, but they are not issued created by the EU membership.

Austerity, long term failure to invest in housing, education and health care, a fear of political incorrectness creating taboo areas of public debate: all have a role to play in both the genuine and perceived problems immigration bring. Quitting the EU to solve these issues is a bit like closing down the entire rail network because of a broken down train. The train will still be stuck on the tracks, passengers trapped in the middle of nowhere, and with no trains the roads will become unusable.

It's not all good

It's always easier to spot what's wrong with big complex organisations than to recognise the good they bring. The NHS doesn't make the headlines for "hundreds of thousands of people safely and efficiently treated every day for free", but one failing hospital will run and run.

Lets be clear, like any big institution, the EU has lots wrong with it - but is it so wrong we should leave? George Monbiot blogs:

"The European Union is a festering cesspool of undue influence and opaque lobbying."

but, he goes on to say:

"By comparison to the British system, however, this noxious sewer is a crystal spring. Every stream of corporate effluent with which the EU poisons political life has a more malodorous counterpart in the United Kingdom...

...Britain has become a powerbase for a legalised financial mafia, which strips the assets of healthy companies, turns the nation’s housing into a roulette table, launders money for drug cartels and terrorists, then stashes its gains beyond the reach of police and tax inspectors."

but there are worse things in....

There's a clue about the true nature of the leave campaign in George's blog. Britain really has become "a powerbase for a legalised financial mafia".

It's the end product of a 35 year old neo-liberal capitalist political revolution which has seen many of the concessions won by 20th century working class struggle marginalised or eliminated. The people behind the leave campaign, Johnson, Gove IDS and their shadowy financial backers want to see this revolution reach it's endgame. "Charged for" health services, education an elite privilege, scrapping employment protection and the "tiresome regulation" that protect our health at work and our environment. 

Make no mistake, these guys don't give a shit about the fate of the people they are seducing into a leave vote. Their motivation is to escape the "post-WW2 European settlement", a social-democratic world view that's been central to the "British way of life" since the 1940's.

In his article "Brexit is a fake revolt – working-class culture is being hijacked to help the elite", Paul Mason writes brilliantly about the way the UK left is being duped.

His opening two paragraphs sum up the essential point - the elite don't lead revolts - they head for the hills in terror.

"I love fake revolts of the underclass: I’m a veteran of them. At secondary school, we had a revolt in favour of the right to smoke. The football violence I witnessed in the 1970s and 80s felt like the social order turned on its head. As for the mass outpouring of solidarity with the late Princess Diana, and by implication against the entire cruel monarchic elite, in the end I chucked my bunch of flowers on the pile with the rest.

The problem is, I also know what a real revolt looks like. The miners strike; the Arab spring; the barricade fighting around Gezi Park in Istanbul in 2013. So, to people getting ready for the mother of all revolts on Thursday, I want to point out the crucial difference between a real revolt and a fake one. The elite does not usually lead the real ones. In a real revolt, the rich and powerful usually head for the hills, terrified. Nor are the Sun and the Daily Mail usually to be found egging on a real insurrection."

He goes on to say:

In the Brexit referendum, we’ve seen what happens when working-class culture gets hijacked – and when the party that is supposed to be defending working people just cannot find the language or the offer to separate a fake revolt from a real one. In many working-class communities, people are getting ready to vote leave not just as a way of telling the neoliberal elite to get stuffed. They also want to discomfort the metropolitan, liberal, university-educated salariat for good measure. For many people involved, it feels like their first ever effective political choice.

I want to have one last go at convincing you that leaving now, under these conditions, would be a disaster...

... a Brexit led by Ukip and the Tory right will not make any of these things better(immigration, low wages etc): it will make them worse. Take a look at the people leading the Brexit movement. Nigel Farage, Neil Hamilton, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove. They have fought all their lives for one objective: to give more power to employers and less to workers. Many leading Brexiters are on record as wanting to privatise the NHS. They revelled in the destruction of the working-class communities and cultures capable of staging real revolt. Sir James Dyson moved his factory to Malaysia, so much did he love the British workforce. They talk about defying the “elite”. But they are the elite.

I'd really urge you to open the link and read the whole piece.

Other Lies

This blog began by saying "the British Public have almost everything wrong about the EU". The Brexit campaign have used immigration and schoolboy claims about "the money we will save by leaving" to inflame anti EU feeling.  Here's a few more big lies/misunderstandings.

Sovereignty - and getting it back. Heres the big news - we haven't  lost it. We are not run from Brussels and they don't make most of our laws. I've seen statements like "we need to leave to get our common law back" - Common law is largely used in criminal matters and the EU has absolutely no say so at all in criminal law - its so wrong its laughable. The EU exists to coordinate a free trade area with common rules for all members. It designs regulations and rules, often for complicated details of products and production methods, and yes, sometimes it can be stupidly officious, but most of the regulation is about dull technical stuff. It certainly has no impact whatsoever on criminal law or most law that affects our lives on a day to day basis.

The EU "isn't democratic". Well, yes and no. Our sovereign parliament agreed to join the EEC, as it was in those days. We held a referendum, and we voted "yes".

What did we vote for?

A treaty with the other members to abide by certain rules to give us Europe wide standards in certain areas and a number of institutions to manage that agreement.

Those institutions include

  • The Council of Ministers, with one minister from each member state having a vote and a right of veto in key areas. So if our minister, who's very definitely part of the democratically elected government, really didn't agree he could stop a proposal just by saying "no" - not very democratic I agree but it does give our national wishes huge protection.
  • The EU Commission - one Commissioner appointed by each member state - usually a high ranking senior politician. They have the power to suggest new measures and run the EU's administration - they have to agree proposals with the council of ministers and the EU Parliament before they become law and the UK has a right of veto on key issues - so not very democratic - but in a way that gives us a lot of control over what the EU does.
  • The European  Parliament - which is actually elected by PR - much more democratic than our parliamentary system where first past the post rules mean that we are being subject to a very right wing government on the vote of 38% of the electorate - It's true that we don't control the European Parliament -but it wouldn't really be democratic if we did!

From misunderstanding and lies to outright weird

One of the most bizarre left wing fears recently seen on social media is the post: "We need to leave because there is a risk that in 50 years time the EU will become a fascist superstate". Have to admit this had me scratching my head.

I traced it's source to a New Statesman article written by John King, the guy who wrote the "Football Factory". King is a fine writer... ...of fiction. The article was a "justification" of working class reasons to leave the EU. At its heart was the notion that it could become a fascist superstate at some point in the future.

Now, this is another argument more full of holes than an an EU regulation Gruyare cheese. Leaving aside the obvious, that no one can accurately predict the state of the world 5 years ahead, let alone 50 years in the future, what difference would it make if it happened?

If we leave, giving up any chance to influence the shape of the EU in the future, we'll have a Fascist superstate on the  other side of the English channel. If we remain, and can't use our diplomatic skill, influence  and power to guide the EU away from this nightmare scenario we'll leave and have a fascist superstate on on our doorsteps.

Its another irrational and flawed bit of thinking that's  got hold of the left  - and I'm seeing more and more "left-wing reasons to leave". It really frightens me. There seem to be a plethora of half arsed arguments for a left "no" vote, much of based on a clever campaign to attribute far more power to the EU than it really has.

These include laying unique responsibility on the EU for the impact of globalisation , the impacts on the developing world of global trade agreements like GATT,  responsibility for all western action in the middle east, failure to deal with Bosnia and responsibility for civil, war in Ukraine. I'm not suggesting for a second that the EU has no responsibility for any of this stuff, but it's  role has never been central, and frequently non-existent - and it's always been driven by the council of ministers and the wishes of it's member states.

and on the plus side?

Leaving aside the fact that the leave campaign is elitist and dishonest in it's intent, seeking to dupe the very people people who will suffer most in the kind of country they want post-brexit, what are the positives of Europe?

The thinking behind the EU's creation was to put an end to war in Europe. The Schuman Declaration  aimed to create more than a treaty - it wanted solid institutions that would provide practical ways of resolving issues - and we've had the longest period of peace in Europe for a thousand years. If we are counting its economic benefits against its costs, the benefits of not turning entire countries into heaps of rubble probably counts for a lot.

The EU has been about far more than trade agreements and regulations about working hours and the wattage of vacuum cleaners. Millions of people have lived and worked in other countries, learned other languages and come to appreciate other cultures. Those friendship networks are perhaps one the best indirect benefits of freedom of movement. We've imported cuisines, music, and culture along with Polish plumbers and Portuguese farm-workers. Two and a half million Brits live in other European countries. These little things mean a lot - they mean that understanding other cultures is no longer a privilege of a tiny elite, there's a broad based understanding of the advantages and the difficulties other countries face, far harder to engineer hatred and propaganda for war when we know the place we are proposing to bomb is the place we worked for a few years.

and the real issues?

Most of all, the EU is an organisation for international cooperation - it isn't just an agreement of principle but a functional administration to allow genuine cooperation across languages and borders.

This really matters. The problem with capitalism is that it's doomed. It's a dinosaur in it's death throes, gasping desperately for air with no concern for the havoc its flailing limbs wreak on "all us ordinary people". While we are distracted by the lies and myths of "in or out", the truely giant issue facing humanity, how we create a world that isn't being led headlong to environmental chaos by out of control capitalism, lies in abeyance.

The recessions, the banking crisis, the refugees, the middle east wars, are all "limbs of the dinosaur". Capitalism is being forced to consume itself, asset stripping it's own people an endless quest to make its money deliver returns. It's search for oil is even more desperate. Capitalism depends on feeding energy in and crapping out ever less durable consumer junk to sustain itself - an economic model that's destroying our climate. Even the outers haven't tried to blame our increasingly bizarre weather on the EU.

The huge unspoken challenge we face is climate change. To deal with it we have to decarbonise our economies, something that will take more international co-operation - not less. Don't underestimate the climate crisis. We've been like the villagers ignoring the rumblings of a volcano for years because evacuation is to big a prospect to contemplate. The lava is flowing down the mountainside now, and it's heading for us. It's already almost too late - do we seriously throw away an organisation for international cooperation because we've been pointed to problems it doesn't even create by a ruthless group of predatory capitalists?

If we vote leave tomorrow, we might think we are poking the establishment in the eye, but we will be shooting ourselves in the foot. It won't just be our own prospects that are damaged.

I've been in France for the last 10 weeks. People there regard the Brexit campaign with mingled bemusement, genuine fear for the future and real anger. Bemusement because they can't see why we would do this to ourselves. Fear for the future because we underestimate how highly regarded the UK is within the EU, and that our leaving could create a cascade of instability. Anger because we appear prepared to put so much at risk with no good reason - and with Cameron, for promising an unnecessary referendum to save his own electoral skin.

So if you are thinking of voting leave for lefty reasons please think again. If this referendum has highlighted issues with the EU let's fight the issues, but don't throw away cooperation, freedom of movement, collective security and friendship it brings - it's not the EU that lies at the heart of all our troubles, its a self centred heartless elite, and they are they guys pressing for Brexit.