You probably won’t have heard of Pete North. Unless you’re a political geek who’s followed the developments since the EU referendum exhaustively, you also won’t know what the Leave Alliance is. To cut a long story short, the Alliance has usually been one of the more sensible groups advocating Brexit, and North is its spiritual leader.
Yesterday North published a post on his personal blog setting out what he now expects to see happen. He takes for granted (as do I) that there will be no deal arising from the current, increasingly frantic, negotiations between the UK government and the EU’s team led by Michel Barnier.
He then sets out what the likely effects of this ‘no deal’ scenario are. They include:
A ten year recession, never before experienced by anyone under 50
Unemployment back to where it was in the 1980s
A spike in crime
Major cuts to the armed forces, including RAF reduced by a third
Enormous price rises as British produce becomes accessible only to the rich
A skeleton NHS, poorly staffed, partly because immigration has slowed to a trickle
What is most striking is that he is happy to live with these effects. He says: “I have always primarily thought Brexit would be a reboot on British politics and culture. In a lot of ways it will bring back much of what is missing,” and that “I think, given the opportunity to vote again I would still vote to leave. Eventually it gets to a point where any change will do.”
I would love to see a polling company set out this scenario for people and then ask them to say which way they would vote in a new referendum. If we had had this kind of candour from the Leave side during the campaign in 2016, it seems most likely we would have had a very similar result to the 1975 referendum, with a vast majority for staying in.
I’d love to hear from people who voted Leave, too, as to whether they would have done so had this been the outcome offered to them.
An excellent piece from Helen de Cruz, an academic at Oxford Brookes University, has been doing the rounds. The article explores the reasons why so many pro-EU voters ended up choosing Labour, despite the party’s evident “hard Brexit” stance. This is based on data from surveys conducted by de Cruz in pro-EU groups on Facebook. It lands on the conclusion that those who lent their support to Jeremy Corbyn’s party
did vote Labour for tactical reasons, but they were also attracted by the Labour manifesto and identified with the party’s anti-austerity message. They voted for Labour in spite of its Brexit stance, not because they were all of a sudden pro Brexit.
Anecdotally, this chimes very closely with the decisions many of my friends and family made in choosing Labour. They were closer to the Liberal Democrats on the issue of Brexit, but saw a tactical vote for Labour as more important given the danger of a large Conservative majority.
Jezza and Maccy D
I could not personally agree with this stance. While I was terrified of a renewed mandate for Theresa May (who I’ve written about extensively as a massive threat to the United Kingdom and to the world), I saw a polarisation of the UK’s domestic politics along with an alignment around ‘hard Brexit’ as the worst possible outcome. In short, this was an election in which Brexit was the be-all, end-all issue; however popular Labour’s flagship policies may have been (and they were undoubtedly popular, rightly or wrongly) they were meaningless against a backdrop of a poor deal – or no deal – with the EU.
Of course, that’s not how the election campaign went down. Both Labour and the Tories were allowed to get away with either limiting their references to Brexit or avoiding any kind of specificity on what precisely they planned to do during negotiations.
In Labour’s case, this vagueness was so complete that the position taken by Corbyn and John McDonnell since the election – a reiteration of the party’s manifesto statements on the single market and freedom of movement – has been met with dismay by a lot of Remainers.
There seems to be a commonly held belief among some voters that party manifestos, far from being complete plans for government, are a kind of pick-and-mix. I thought I would test this through a Twitter poll. Given my followers are predominantly pro-EU, liberal types with a disproportionate interest in politics national and global, I expected the answer to be pretty clear, but instead it was surprisingly split:
(Please RT) If a party includes certain policies in its manifesto, is it entitled to say its voters support those policies? #GE2017
This seems to be the most salient question arising from this election. Is the Labour party’s leadership entitled to claim that its voters supported its stance on Brexit? This obviously has huge implications should the embattled Theresa May eventually decide that it’s time to go and a new election eventuate. Because, after all, Labour massively outperformed expectations despite adopting a stance on Brexit that, in isolation, clearly alienates a large number (perhaps the majority) of its voters.
The broader question, of course, is what manifestos are for. They are important for parliamentary procedure, because the Salisbury Doctrine, which limits the ability of the House of Lords to contradict government policy, is based on them. As such, it is essential that parties feel able to rest on the support of voters for their manifestos as a whole; yet this election has thrown up more than ever the confusion that can ensue as a consequence.
It is probably about time we revisited the idea of deliberative democracy in broad terms as a theory of civics. Democracies surely cannot survive this amount of cognitive dissonance for long.
I can’t remember a worse day in British politics than October 4th, 2016. Today ranked far below even last year’s general election, when 49 of my party’s MPs were defeated, and June 23rd, a date I thought had established itself as comfortably the worst domestic political event of my lifetime.
I have spent the day in a state of bewilderment, anger, disgust and despair at the way the Conservative government is dragging the country into a disgraceful mire. They claim to base this on a single vote, a vote to leave the European Union, that was decided on a knife-edge – a mere 1.3 million votes out of 33 million. On the basis of this vote, they claim to understand what “the public” wants, and even what it thinks. Just look at tomorrow’s Daily Mail front page, if you can:
That is the prime minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, calling other people elites. Making up non-existent elites that you can then blame for the country’s ills is textbook fascism.
Of course, this also illustrates another fundamental problem the UK faces: a media that is not just supine but more than happy to promote this kind of language in the face of the truth.
And the truth is utterly stark. The government that Theresa May is running can now only be described as overtly racist. The policy announcements made today by successive ministers were worthy of 1930s Germany and, as UKIP MEP Patrick O’Flynn rightly crowed, redolent of his party’s 2015 manifesto:
The number of policies Mrs May is lifting out of the UKIP GE15 manifesto is astonishing. Almost like we are in power, but not in office!
The fact that his party’s leader Diane James resigned tonight after 18 days in the job is no more than a depressing footnote to today’s events. The spectre of Nigel Farage’s inevitable return no longer feels threatening given what the Conservatives have become.
Theresa May was the one who popularised the concept of the Tories as ‘the Nasty Party’. Now she presides over some of the nastiest policies ever devised in British politics. It started early this morning with the announcement on doctors. When I read this I didn’t expect it to be the least worrying policy pledge of the day:
That’s the Defence Secretary promising that in future military conflicts, British soldiers will no longer be subject to the European Convention on Human Rights. In theory this would mean they were less susceptible to investigations into battlefield behaviour and abuses. In other words, because they’re beautiful British troops, we should just trust that they’ll do the right thing and remove the external mechanism designed to hold them accountable (you know, the one that British lawyers helped to draft after the second world war). Thankfully, it seems that this policy is actually unworkable in practice, but it certainly kicked October 4th off nicely.
It warmed us up for Jeremy Hunt and Theresa May’s main announcement of the day:
Theresa May tells BBC foreign doctors will be allowed to stay "until further numbers [of home-grown doctors] are trained". Doc-exit in 2025?
Ok, let’s think about this. There are innumerable problems with this policy. To list a few:
Setting a deadline by which foreign doctors must presumably leave (or be deported?) makes working in the NHS far less attractive for current and potential new foreign doctors. Given the NHS has a massive staffing shortage at present, the government wants to expand its services, and there is a rapidly ageing population, this is shortsighted.
Setting a deadline by which foreign doctors must leave makes it far more likely that they will leave sooner. Why would you want to stay in a country that doesn’t want your highly prized skills? There are any number of other countries you could work in.
Further numbers of home-grown doctors being trained is a great idea, but recruiting people is currently proving difficult. That seems to be mainly a response from students to chronic mismanagement and confrontational behaviour by, oh, the government. Things have got so bad that this year medical degrees went into clearing for the first time.
Even if you can manage to train enough new British doctors, they will be just that: new. These foreign doctors have probably been here for a while, and if by some miracle they stay for another nine years, they’ll be very experienced. So the NHS will lose a lot of experience and institutional knowledge regardless, decreasing the quality of care for its patients.
Finally, even if you replace all the foreign doctors with British ones, you’ll have the same number you started with, when the problem is that there’s a shortage. I need not explain this further, but for Jeremy Hunt’s benefit, if you have no more doctors at the end of the process than at the beginning, you have spent a lot of time and money on solving nothing.
You’ll notice I’ve left out the biggest problem with it. That is, naturally, that it is racist. There is no justification given for the policy other than their foreignness. That is simple racism. Explicitly discriminating against foreign doctors purely because they are foreign is unequivocally wrong.
Next up was Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary. She had a smart idea about cutting immigration too. Here it is:
No tweeting in the main hall but here's Amber Rudd announcing only some universities will be able to recruit international students #CPC16pic.twitter.com/WDBoznpYoU
In case you don’t know, providing education to international students is one of Britain’s most successful exports. Our universities make a ton of money from it. That money massively subsidises British students, keeping tuition fees lower and helping universities plan their financial future.
This policy achieves an impressive triple whammy:
Telling international students they aren’t wanted – thereby reducing demand
Telling universities they can’t be sure whether they’ll be able to recruit international students in future – throwing their plans into disarray
Ensuring that tuition fees will almost certainly rise for British students
Another irony of this particular policy is that evidence suggests a vast majority of the public understand the difference between student immigration and employee immigration, and think people coming here to study for a short period is a great thing. But it’s probably simpler for Amber Rudd to pander to racists.
That certainly seems to be the case for her other policy, a requirement for… well, here’s the Times headline:
Firms must list foreign workers. And if they don’t employ enough British people, they will be ‘shamed’.
Can the Tories even hear themselves saying these things? Surely this runs counter to all their instincts. Even if we’re only talking about being pro-business – the most mercenary of all possible considerations – this is going to be a nightmare for everyone; enormous bureaucracy for no discernible purpose. Meanwhile a lot of the people who invest the most in our economy or have the best skills are foreigners – think of London’s tech industry, which is one of the world leaders.
But again, the real question for Amber Rudd and Theresa May is how they sleep at night. How do they live with themselves? This is bordering on fascism.
Speculation has raged since this announcement on how these pledges might be implemented. My money’s on yellow stars for the foreigners so they’re easy to spot. And for those unpatriotic firms with too many of the blighters, maybe the UK Border Force could smash their windows. I’m sure that would get the message across.
Last but not least in this parade of political putrescence comes our old friend, disgraced former minister Dr Liam Fox, who was forced to resign in disgrace until Theresa May graciously gave him a Cabinet role heading up all the non-existent trade deals we will try to strike after leaving the EU.
Liam Fox confirms refusal to give assurances to EU citizens in UK being used as negotiating chip, describes them as "one of our main cards"
It was pretty difficult to identify the most egregious moment of this spectacular shitshow, but I think this statement by Fox takes the prize. We already knew that May’s government had not ruled out using EU citizens in the UK as a negotiating tool, but this particular description betrays how infantile these people are.
Fox really appears to feel hopeful about the tricky – to put it lightly – negotiation the government has to perform with 27 other EU member states. And one of the ‘main’ reasons for this hope is the number of EU foreigners living in the UK. And the reason Liam Fox is hopeful is that the British government will be able to threaten other countries about the future welfare of their citizens.
Consider that there are 3.2 million EU migrants in the UK at present, around 5% of the population. Let’s assume you know 100 people. 5% means you almost certainly know some of these people personally. They almost certainly go to the same school as your children. Depending on where in the country you’re from, there’s a not-insignificant chance you might be friends with them or your relatives might be married to them.
If what Liam Fox said does not disgust you, appal you, and make you sick to your stomach, then I don’t really want to know you.
Some final thoughts. I am angry. I want to do something to stop this awfulness from continuing and succeeding. I intend to use the minimal tools at my disposal to do so. That means campaigning for the Liberal Democrats, even from afar, and supporting all other ways I know of to fight this danger, including trade associations, independent (and sane) media, and online debate.
You might be wondering what Labour were doing all day. A lot of other people were too. Surely, on a day of such infamy and disgrace, they would stand up as the opposition the country needs? Especially after Jeremy Corbyn chose to defend immigration at their recent conference?
If you are anywhere near as angered by this litany of disgrace as I am, then please join the Liberal Democrats, today, and help us campaign. David Cameron’s resignation has caused a by-election in Witney on October 20th. A victory for the Liberal Democrats would send the loudest possible message to Theresa May and her pernicious ministers that this approach to Brexit and to government is completely unacceptable.
A week is a long time in politics. This has, I think, been the longest week I can remember. Rewind just seven days and we were waking up on that fateful polling day, with most Remain voters like me cautiously confident that we would pull through and that disaster would be averted.
Instead, political and economic chaos reigns. The Prime Minister has resigned and a Tory leadership election is well underway. All of the candidates would take the country to the right as well as out of the EU; the only question is whom you think would do it least horribly. Debating with Jeremy Cliffe of the Economist yesterday, he suggested that Theresa May would be better than Boris; Chris Terry, weighing in, advocated May’s ‘ruthless competence’ over Boris as an ‘unprincipled liar’.
@tallgeekychap@JeremyCliffe It's a choice between a useless, unprincipled liar and someone ruthlessly competent with principles I dislike.
I can’t personally look past May’s authoritarian record as Home Secretary (particularly on migration and surveillance), her obvious lack of interest in campaigning strongly for the Remain campaign, and her commitment to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights. Boris may have demonstrated that he is unprincipled, power-hungry and largely incompetent, but he should be made to lie in the bed of lies he helped create.
The benefit of a Boris leadership will be that two of the main Vote Leave figures – Johnson and Gove – are likely to be held responsible for whatever deal comes out of the Article 50 negotiations with the remaining 27 EU member states. As this deal now seems almost certain to be EEA membership with no concessions on freedom of movement, it is going to be disappointing in the extreme for large numbers of the 17 million Leave voters – probably the majority.
As I’ve written previously, the consequence of this will be a betrayal narrative whereby UKIP gains support, perhaps seizing a sizable chunk of those 17 million and adding to the nearly 4 million they won last year. The question will be whether they can turn this into electoral success. In this light, today’s news that Arron Banks – who has been Banksrolling both UKIP and Leave.EU – is considering setting up a new party is highly significant. UKIP’s problem so far has been spinning their growing, seething mass of resentment and protest into the pure green of Commons seats, and that’s largely because they’re incredibly ill-disciplined. It’s also because their one MP, Douglas Carswell, appears to disagree with Nigel Farage on everything other than EU membership itself.
Banks is wealthy enough and committed enough to see this transformation through, and when set against the referendum result, the rise in far-right activism (and racial abuse and violence), and the economic chaos that is going to envelop our country for years, the drumbeat of fascism is set to ring louder and louder in our ears.
So now we turn to look at the other casualty of the week just passed. The Labour Party is going through its death throes. Jeremy Corbyn and his small band of strong-willed acolytes appear to be hellbent on driving the party into the ground. It now seems clear that the leadership actively obstructed the Remain campaign, rather than simply soft-pedalling on its own activities. How complicit Corbyn himself was in this is unclear but he doesn’t seem to be able to control his own aides, particularly Seumas Milne. People talk about Corbyn having ‘delivered’ the Labour vote, but this has been contradicted by many senior Labour MPs including Sadiq Khan, who has said very clearly that in important areas Labour voters had no idea which way the party was facing.
Corbyn himself has since refused to resign even when 80% of his own MPs withdrew their support. When set against Cameron’s gracious and immediate resignation, this is an unprecedented, unjustified and deeply dishonourable decision. Meanwhile, he continues to put the support of Labour members – around 250,000 people – ahead of the voters who desperately need an effective opposition. And worst of all, his cabal appears to be threatening MPs with deselection in order to shore up his position.
But we can’t entirely let the Labour MPs off the hook. They acted quickly in the aftermath of the referendum campaign to try to jettison their leader. But they’ve somehow got into a situation where his position is untenable, but failed to identify a clear candidate to challenge him. It seems to me that this is because they know two things. Firstly, whoever challenges him may have an uphill battle to win over members. Secondly, even if they do win the leadership, they will have to try to reconcile the extreme disparity inherent in their party’s support.
In my view they are most likely to try to do this by moving on the migration issue – becoming even more anti-migration in an effort to keep their northern and Midlands heartlands from falling into UKIP’s lap. This fateful decision will make them unelectable in the more liberal constituencies; they may even find that their grip on London begins to loosen. Their unique selling point will have been lost both to UKIP, which will outflank them on rhetoric, and the Tories, who will continue to outflank them on competence.
It’s a gloomy story. Reading the commentary of pundits over the course of the past week, it’s also one for which very few people can see a happy ending. I will admit that I am more pessimistic about the state of British politics than I was even just last year, when my own party lost all but 8 of its 57 seats.
But there is a way back. And it isn’t through a hasty second referendum or a snap general election. People will need breathing space to think through the simplest way forward: the way that will allow a genuine opposition to develop, one that opposes both a national and international settlement characterised by insularity, fear and protectionism, but also promotes genuine cooperation, targeted redistribution of wealth, and a fair deal for local communities. Most of all, this opposition has to have a clear, coherent message to fight the resurgent racist nationalism that is currently enjoying open season.
This opposition can only be created within one party while the electoral system we have continues. And the only party currently capable of providing such an opposition is the Liberal Democrats. We are the only party that stands across the United Kingdom; the only party that has a clear policy on continuing EU membership; the only party with a leader who is not in the process of resigning.
So it is now incumbent on any MP (or indeed any member or activist) in any party who considers themselves generally humanitarian, internationalist, open to the world, pro-immigration, pro-trade, in favour of progressive taxation, moderate, anti-fascist – in short, liberal – to consider defecting to the Liberal Democrats. Ask yourself this question: what am I realistically going to achieve if I stay where I am?
If you’re in the Tories, your party is about to be captured – irrevocably – by either a crazy-haired clown who hides his racism and thuggery behind jaunty classicisms and changes his views more often than I change my socks, or a ruthless person who has used her years in the Home Office to make life hell for millions of workers and students and to threaten our way of life by insisting that we should all be monitored by a surveillance state so all-encompassing that it could teach the Stasi some new tricks. Neither of them appear to have any interest in Britain’s place in the world whatsoever.
If you’re in Labour it’s even worse. You’re led by the ultimate lame duck, someone whose authority is now so denuded that your party’s status as the official opposition was officially challenged today by the Scot Nats. He doesn’t appear to believe in politics at all and is forcing your MPs to hammer their heads and hearts repeatedly against a brick wall to no discernible purpose.
Now think about what it would say if you did make the switch. I know we are a very small party right now. But the benefits are very clear:
It will give you a renewed, distinctive platform to articulate more clearly your views on the referendum and the negotiations that must now take place;
It will give the Liberal Democrats another powerful and authoritative voice. At the moment we lack a large number of voices to make the case and our leader Tim Farron can only do so much;
It will help to shift the conversation away from the current chaos engulfing your current parties, giving them time to regroup and ensuring that we do not miss the chance to nip racism and fascism in the bud;
It will strike an important note of consensus and collaboration in a political system currently defined by division, suspicion and mistrust;
Most of all, it will be a place of optimism and hope where you are welcomed, rather than a party dominated by suspicion, cruelty and often outright hostility between supposed colleagues.
We don’t need a general election straight away and in any case it now seems clear that one will not be called. Instead, we need a general defection, so that when the time comes – and it will, perhaps sooner than we think – we are prepared and able to stand up for the values that didn’t just define our political parties, but our country, for generations.
The “debate” on the EU referendum has reached the point where ordinary people are now fully aware of it. We have reached that surreal stage in a campaign when a Facebook timeline normally full of vexatious memes, baby pictures and recycled memories now contains discussion of Treasury forecasts, fishing stocks and TTIP.
For people who follow politics more regularly, it’s a strange old time. There are many myths and outright lies being spread, but for once, the perpetrators aren’t necessarily aware of what they are doing. It’s an opportunity to engage, challenge, and persuade, but you also have to pick your battles. Attempting to hold back the tide of misconceptions is a task King Canute would have mocked, just as he mocked the advisers hoping to flatter him – or so the story goes.
However, there are some interventions that cannot be ignored. One such, doing the rounds on my Facebook timeline today, was a lengthy piece posted yesterday by David Robertson, the Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland. Robertson is a prominent commentator and apologist for the evangelical Christian community in the UK, of which I used to be a member, and his views carry significant weight with church leaders and churchgoers alike.
It is regrettable, therefore, that his blog post – entitled “European Referendum: The TIPPing Point”, an apparent reference to TTIP – should be so obviously slanted towards one side of the debate.
I don’t usually enjoy writing “fisks” of such posts, because I think the format is overlong and comes across as confrontational. That is not my intention here. But I cannot leave his post unanswered and so what follows is an attempt to redress the balance. It won’t be exhaustive, as there are bits that are relatively uninteresting, but I will try to honour the context of each statement.
Robertson begins his post with a claim to be “inclined towards a pro-EU position” emotionally, politically and socially. He then lists “David Cameron, Hilary [sic] Clinton, Jeremy Corbyn, all the Scottish political leaders, most of big business, the BBC, and President Obama” as opposed to Britain leaving the EU.
This is immediately questionable. His inclusion of the BBC – an avowedly politically neutral organization, especially on such big questions as this – reveals that he is taking things as read from the beginning. He offers no evidence as to why he believes the BBC has abandoned neutrality. But here’s the point he’s making:
The case for staying in the EU is strong, but in a world of soundbites and political celebrity endorsements it appears as though facts and reasonable arguments are hard to come by.
Yes. Apparently party leaders and world leaders’ specific and carefully articulated positions on the major political issue of the day can be dismissed as “political celebrity endorsements”. Of course, such “endorsements” are merely throwaway. They don’t include any facts or reasonable arguments, do they?
So for a number of weeks I have been trying to find out as much as I could before finally making up my mind. What I have discovered has astounded me – and also disturbed me how little of this information is actually being discussed in the public square.
I’m forced to question how hard you are looking if you think there is “little information” to be found. But then if you feel that the BBC is not a reliable source of information, it may indeed be challenging to find the kind of stuff you want.
Robertson then outlines (and I mean outlines) the case for remaining in the EU. He does this in a remarkably succinct 281 words across six short paragraphs. For example:
Borders – Freedom to travel without passports. The removal of borders. The right to live, work and study in any other EU countries. These are surely great benefits. I love being European. I consider myself European and I loathe what is sometimes called the ‘Little Englander’ mentality.
We don’t have the freedom to travel without passports, as the UK is not part of the Schengen Agreement. Moreover, there has not been a “removal of borders” even within Schengen, as the recent refugee crisis has shown; it is entirely possible for countries to reintroduce border controls when they wish, and they have done very recently.
Human rights. Hasn’t the EU been a bastion of human rights and workers rights? Despite its weaknesses the European Charter on Human Rights has been a positive thing.
The European Convention on Human Rights predates the EU and is separate to it. Staying in doesn’t guarantee that we keep it – and the Tory manifesto said they would scrap it. Irrelevant.
President Obama – ok perhaps he shouldn’t have come here and interfered in our affairs, but perhaps his warning is apposite. If Britain withdraws from the EU we cannot be guaranteed favourable trading arrangements with anyone.
The second sentence here is not what President Obama said at all. But then in order to know what he actually did say, you’d have to read his full remarks rather than dismissing them as just another soundbite from one of the most powerful and articulate men in the global public square.
I’ve undermined half of Robertson’s “case for Remain” there. Why would I do that, as someone who clearly favours staying in the EU? Because I want to show the lack of thought and effort – and the slanted approach – that has gone into his purportedly tentative, “instinctively pro-EU” post. If the Remain case can be so easily misrepresented, what about the Leave case? Let’s find out.
Robertson’s approach is to take each point he has raised for Remain and score them against the opposing view. So here we go.
Peace– The ‘outers’ would argue that whilst there has been peace within Europe (if you leave aside the small matter of the Balkans) this has been guaranteed more by NATO and the need to stand against the communist Eastern Bloc than anything else. Besides which European nations have been involved in more than 100 wars throughout the globe in the past 70 years. As for Islamic terrorism they would point out that this ‘security’ does not appear to be working too well at the moment, and with the arrival of millions of Muslim immigrants it is more, not less, likely that Islamic terrorism will increase within Europe. The almost inevitable defeat of Islamic State, will not kill of Islamist terrorism, it will only make it more resentful and more deadly.
Score: Overall I think this is a win for those who want to stay in. European nations acting together are more likely to maintain peaceful relations and deal with Islamist terrorism.
This is a good start. He comes to a surprisingly balanced conclusion, although there is little serious discussion here of the scaremongering rhetoric of the Leave campaign in advancing their view. Given he will later go on to criticise what he calls “Project Fear”, it would have been interesting to know what he thinks about Iain Duncan Smith’s claim that we will suffer a “Paris-style attack” if we stay in the EU.
Prosperity – As regards prosperity they ridicule the Treasury figure of £4,300. The Treasury’s ‘report’ was as The Spectator observed ‘perhaps the most dishonest document ever produced by HM Treasury’. It dressed up GDP as household income in order to deceive people and avoided the real figure of £1,480. However even that is a meaningless figure. Chancellor George Osbourne keeps bringing forth Treasury projections for which he now has a 100% record. Of failure. As he admitted in 2010 the Treasury is not much good at economic forecasting.
Mr Robertson earlier complained about the lack of “facts and reasonable argument” in the debate. He derides the Treasury forecasts on the costs of leaving the EU. Of course, he is right that Treasury forecasts are often wrong – although George Osborne set up an independent Office for Budget Responsibility precisely to avoid the sense that Chancellors can influence economic forecasts.
However, there is a wider point to be made here. The Treasury’s argument may be flawed, but it is based on rigorous research and complex economic modelling. I’m not sure that appealing to the Spectator (a famously neutral right-wing rag formerly edited by one Boris Johnson) really gets to the heart of why the Treasury is definitely, absolutely wrong.
By contrast, what has the Leave campaign produced? Mr Robertson is about to tell us.
The Outers argue that Britain would be freed from EU bureaucracy and regulations and would be able to trade both with the EU and with the wider world and that we would be better off. Food and fuel would almost certainly be cheaper and the British government might actually be able to do something about saving the steel industry, if they wanted to.
We can already trade both with the EU and the wider world. A good example is David Cameron’s slavish attempts to build a closer trading relationship with China. Part of the reason we are able to do the business we are doing is because we are members of a powerful trading bloc.
“Food and fuel would almost certainly be cheaper.” This may be true. However, it would probably be because of the total removal of regulations on food safety and the use of pesticides. As Paddy Ashdown recently said, too, leaving the EU would probably signal the end of British agriculture.
As for steel, the British government actually argued against recent EU attempts to raise tariffs on Chinese steel dumping. In other words, they stopped the EU doing something that would have protected the British steel industry. Here’s a Daily Telegraph article on the subject (in case the BBC is too biased for your liking).
Furthermore there is the not insignificant fact that we pay £13 billion into the EU treasury each year and get £4.5 billion back (that is with our rebate – without it we would be paying £18 billion). Whilst there are risks in leaving, what seldom seems to be mentioned is that there are as many if not greater risks in staying. The Italian banks have a 360 million Euro black hole, the Greek economy is still devastated and Spain and Portugal are not much better.
For someone who claims to have sympathy with a progressive political agenda – certainly in economic terms – this is a particularly bizarre paragraph. The suggestion is that we should get back more than we pay in to a club where we are one of the wealthiest members. That would be redistribution away from the poorest nations to the richest. Is that really what Mr Robertson wants?
Some more facts. 79% of business activity in the UK is internal. 11% of our GDP is with the rest of the world (and increasing) only 10% with the EU (decreasing). No one believes that this trade would cease.
Actually, quite a big part of the Remain campaign’s case is that much of this trade would be under threat. We buy much more from the EU than we sell. We are not in a good negotiating position. And business is already suffering significantly due merely to the uncertainty of just having a referendum, let alone the result. 10% of our GDP is an enormous amount to create uncertainty over – it cannot be so easily dismissed.
The EU is a declining market – from 36% of the worlds GDP in 1973 (when we joined) to 17% now. The EU determines who we trade with elsewhere in the world and on what terms, because individual countries are not allowed to do so. Note this simple point – for the sake of 10% of our business we have to apply 100% of EU rules to 100% of our business.
The bit in bold is correct, but that doesn’t make the bit in italics (my addition) right. Just because our businesses must abide by EU regulations does not mean we cannot trade with other countries on our own terms, and in fact we do so all the time. Look at China again – our government has brokered recent bilateral deals with the Chinese government on nuclear power plants, an Asian investment bank, long-stay visas for tourists, and much else. It is the purest nonsense to say that the EU “determines who we trade with elsewhere in the world”.
What about the three million jobs that are dependent on being in the EU? Daniel Hannan points out how deceitful that claim is: Over 3 million UK jobs are linked to our trade with the EU.’ The dishonesty of this claim is staggering. It is based on the same false idea that Britain would stop trading with the EU if it were not a member. Why? No one argues that we have to form a political union with, say, Brazil or Russia in order to do business with those countries. The economist from whose work the figure was taken, Dr Martin Weale, has said: ‘In many years of academic research, I cannot recall such a wilful distortion of the facts.’”
I agree that the 3 million figure is deceitful and should not be used, which puts me at odds with some members of my own party. However, the point of the claim is to demonstrate what is being put at risk by the possibility of leaving the EU. The onus is not on the Remain campaign to prove that every job would be lost; it is on the Leave campaign to prove that they have a plan to maintain our beneficial trade relationship with the EU when we leave. So far, they have completely failed to do that – suggesting at different times that we could be like Norway, or Iceland, or Canada, or even Albania, but never actually proposing a concrete plan.
Mr Robertson then praises this video, saying he “loved” it:
The statement that this man makes has no relevance to anything. It sounds very vaguely plausible but lacks any kind of detail. It’s a great example of how “soundbites” can trump “facts and reasonable argument”, wouldn’t you say?
Right, that’s enough about economics. Let’s do immigration!
Borders – This is probably a clear win for the Outers. There is no way that Britain can control its own borders if it is within the EU. The freedom to travel, live, work and study does not just apply to the Western European nations but now to the Central and Eastern European nations which make up a significant number of the 28 member countries. This has already had a significant impact on Britain and will continue to do so. The millions of immigrants/refugees are one factor but by far the biggest factor is the proposed entry of Turkey. This has been hastened by the refugee crisis and the difficulties of Merkel and the German government, who’s commendable but ill thought out policy as resulted in some quick back tracking and some hasty promises to Turkey.
There are so many problems with this. The most obvious is that Britain can and does control its own borders. We chose to remain members of the EEC in 1975, knowing that that included free movement of labour, which has been part of the European settlement since the 1957 Treaty of Rome. Opening up our country to EU workers was therefore an entirely British decision.
Moreover, there is abundant evidence to suggest that EU immigration is a net benefit to the UK’s economy (Economist, Financial Times). It is the UK-born population that is a net cost! Also, forecasts that suggest a post-Brexit UK can succeed tend to rely heavily on high levels of immigration, so those who advocate Leave on the basis of “border control” must choose between prosperity and the “little Englander mentality” Mr Robertson earlier claimed to deprecate.
Moreover, new members of the EU are subject to transitional controls, and in any case, the scaremongering about swarms of Bulgarians and Romanians arriving on Britain’s shores has proved to be precisely that.
Finally, Turkey has been a candidate for EU membership since 1999, and in accession negotiations since 2005. In those 11 years, it has closed precisely one of the 35 chapters required to complete the accession process. The probability of Turkish accession in the next decade was very low even before the current crisis, and it is rapidly diminishing given the increasingly authoritarian actions of President Erdogan.
Influence: This seems a no brainer. You can’t influence something if you are not in it… But in reality our influence is very limited. We have been outvoted 40 times in the past five years and we only have 3.6% of EU Commissioners. In fact we have voted 70 times against proposed EU legislation and we have lost 70 times. Some influence! David Cameron’s EU renegoiations got almost nothing. As regards influence we now have no vote and no voice in the vital World Trade Organisation – where instead we are represented as one 28th of the EU by a Swedish sociology lecturer!
Influence cannot be measured by the number of votes you win or lose; if it were, we should probably just give up on democracy entirely. Moreover, it depends very much on the nature of the vote as to whether the result means anything. Perhaps one of the reasons the UK might lose votes in the EU is because we’ve been trying to make 27 other countries do what we want from a position of arrogant weakness, rather than working with them for the good of the entire community.
Similarly, judging influence in the European Commission by percentages is very silly. It’s very simple and straightforward – each member state gets one commissioner.The UK’s current commissioner, Lord Hill, happens to be in charge of financial services and the capital markets union, one of the biggest and most important innovations in EU policy in decades – and one that will greatly favour the UK as the financial powerhouse of Europe (if we stay in).
If you are looking for proportionality of representation you could look, for instance, at the European Parliament, where the UK, a country with around 12% of the EU’s population, has just under 10% of the seats. It’s not perfect, but it allows small nations to have a slightly higher share of influence – again, something a progressive could, in theory, welcome.
If you seriously want to consider the UK’s influence in the EU, you should look at the success we have in securing the policies we want. And as it turns out – rather unsurprisingly, given we are one of the largest member states by both population and economy – we do pretty well at that. Mr Robertson could consider reading British Influence’s annual report on, erm, British influence, as a corrective.
Finally, the UK is a member of the WTO in its own right – as are all EU member states. The EU is also a member, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make our own representations, and neither does it mean that we are in any sense “represented” solely by an EU delegate. Neither is there anything wrong with being a Swedish sociology lecturer.
The EU is not just a market – it seeks to be a superstate and has increasing regulations that affect everything. Just think of this one (of thousands of examples) – the British parliament wanted to stop charging VAT on sanitary towels (as it was quite reasonably pointed out they are not a luxury item), but were told that they could not do so because it was against EU regulations. This in the very week that David Cameron was negotiating for a new deal!
A single market involves the creation of new regulations. The way business operates continually changes – just think of the way digital technology is constantly shaking up the way we purchase and use goods and services. The test is whether the regulations are useful and worthwhile, and prevent harm to citizens and workers. I note that Mr Robertson makes no attempt whatsoever to interrogate this question.
As to the sanitary towels issue, he clearly hasn’t been paying too much attention. It was announced over a month ago that the UK government had secured a deal in the EU to allow VAT to be removed from tampons. It turns out that if the UK wants to achieve something constructive it can use its EU membership to convince other governments to act.
Human Rights – There are of course quirks in the European Convention on Human Rights but overall I think it is a good thing. But here is the surprising thing for many people. It is not a product of the EU but rather of the Council of Europe, which if Britain left the EU, we would still belong to, and therefore we would still be a signatory to the ECHR. That simple fact destroys the In argument.
We are through the looking glass. I can’t honestly think of a single time I have heard a Remain campaigner claim that this is a relevant point to the referendum. Mr Robertson is either confused or is deliberately spinning what is actually the Leave campaign’s poor understanding of European institutions.
A more interesting question, though, is whether the UK would remain a signatory to the ECHR if it left the EU. Given that the current UK government has already signalled its intention to scrap the ECHR, and Home Secretary Theresa May reiterated her approval for that policy only this week, perhaps encouraging the public to abandon EU membership is unwise if you wish to protect the UK’s proud historic commitment to human rights and justice. Just a thought.
Overall my score is 4:1 in favour of leaving. Before we come on to point six, which for me was the tipping point, let me mention a couple of other reasons that it is very difficult to support staying in the EU.
Yes, that seems fair. After all, the Remain side got a detailed hearing where their careful arguments were considered closely and attentively.
Democracy – Anyone who believes in democracy cannot vote to remain in the EU, at least not without shutting their eyes and crossing their fingers. The EU is fundamentally NOT a democratic institution. Indeed it is anti-democratic. The power in the EU lies not with the parliament but in the unelected EU Commissioners. Twice in the past five years the EU has removed a democratically elected government (in Italy and Greece) and appointed Brussels-approved technocrats. Tony Benn got the situation spot on. Once you have rulers who you cannot get rid of then you no longer live in a democracy. The lack of democracy means that there is a lack of accountability and therefore greater opportunity for corruption.
The EU has no power to remove national governments. In no way is Mr Robertson’s representation of the politics of Italy and Greece aligned with reality. The people of those countries voted in elections and governments were formed as a result. There may have been turbulence and the formation of technocratic administrations – but those were due to internal upheaval both political and economic. If anything, in Greece’s case, the changes of government (particularly the election that gave Syriza a majority) were exactly the opposite of what the EU might have wanted.
Mr Robertson’s representation of the democratic stature of the EU is also a caricature. The EU is more democratic than the UK. I recommend that he read this post, and in particular the section entitled “How democratic is Europe?” for a thorough, if fluffy, upbraiding education.
His post also completely fails to examine the nature of “democracy” in the UK, and to question whether removing ourselves from the EU would actually give citizens any more power. I would have to carefully consider a Leave vote if the alternative on offer was a more democratic UK political settlement. However, that is just not on the table, and instead to vote Leave would, in my view, hand even more power to an even smaller group of power brokers and politicians who already benefit from an absurd, broken and sometimes non-existent constitution.
Corruption – Corruption is rife within the EU.
This is the only section of Mr Robertson’s post that holds water. He is entirely right to condemn some of the EU’s wasteful behaviour. The right thing to do in response is not to simply turn our backs on a flawed institution though; that would be to allow this kind of behaviour to go unchecked and unreformed.
What kind of nation wanting influence and the good of all does that? We should seek to be a positive influence in the EU to weed out corruption and ensure that money is spent well and wisely on good endeavours. That’s real influence, sorely needed and likely to be welcomed by other member states as well as the wider world. But perhaps we are too parochial – too “little Englander” – to see it.
So what’s left? Well, it turns out that there is one thing that really has got Mr Robertson’s back up:
Doesn’t President Obama’s intervention make a difference? Yes it does. I was swaying towards ‘leave’; Obama’s intervention has tipped me over the edge. Here’s why.
Ok. This should be interesting.
His intervention is enormously significant – not because his points have any substance (as we shall see), but because of the fact that he made them at all. Such a direct intervention in another countries internal politics is almost unprecedented. Why did he do it? I was amazed at how many people were naïve enough to say that ‘he’s just expressing his opinion and everyone is entitled to do that’. No. He is the President of the USA and his concern is with the USA. He was not doing David Cameron a favour; he was looking after his own and his countries [sic] interests.
This is not our country’s “internal politics”. This is our country’s decision to make on our membership of an external, supranational institution that carries influence and power far beyond its borders. It is an institution that is at the very heart of the political and economic world. Mr Robertson has some nerve to talk about naivety when in the very same paragraph he’s claiming that the UK’s membership of the EU is merely an “internal” matter.
As for looking after his own and his country’s interests: that is his job. David Cameron has made many statements about other countries in the past. Is Mr Robertson seriously suggesting that it is not the job of Prime Ministers and Presidents to use their office to influence the course of international political affairs? Are we to think that Cameron and Obama should keep their mouths shut when their counterparts gas their own people, imprison journalists and political dissidents, start wars or abolish elections?
And anyway, can’t two countries’ interests align? It’s entirely possible that two mature democracies on either side of the Atlantic have a mutual interest in Britain maintaining its position.
There are two reasons why it is important to America that Britain remains in the EU. Firstly we are America’s voice in the EU. America says ‘jump’, and we ask ‘how high?’. The ‘special’ relationship has become a subservient one. Obama came as the Master to threaten us and tell us what to do.
This is just conjecture based on no “facts and reasonable argument” at all. Where is the proof that we are doing the US’ bidding in the EU? Mr Robertson has just claimed that Obama only cares about his own affairs. Well, if so, why is he supporting our membership of a club that helps to maintain London’s financial supremacy? If London were to lose its competitive advantage, a US city like New York might well be a beneficiary.
Secondly Obama was representing the interests of corporate America. Perhaps because he believes that is best for his country and the world. Perhaps because corporate America funds corporate politics in the US, and Obama owes them. So the question is why would corporate America want Britain to stay in the EU? It all has to do with TTIP. Obama wants it passed, ASAP, so that it can become his legacy. He made this quite clear.
More conjecture. Lots of “perhaps”. This is the opposite of illuminating.
I am astonished that so few of our media picked up on the main issue here. They have presented it as though we already have a trade agreement with the US (at least through the EU) and they regard President Obama’s threat as somehow substantial. Anyone reading the papers or watching the BBC would think, ‘oh no, the Americans will withdraw from trading with us and we will all be worse off’. The only problem is that we currently don’t have a trade agreement with the US, and we NEVER have! And yet trade goes on. We have lasted 60 years without one – and we will continue to trade without one. If we are at the back of the queue for a TTIP style agreement, so what?
This isn’t how it’s been presented at all. The point of President Obama’s comments is precisely to address the Leave campaign’s claim. The Leave campaign claims that should we leave the EU, the UK will be able to do lots of juicy trade deals with the rest of the world in ten minutes flat, no trouble at all, Bob’s your uncle and so on.
This is yet another reason why Obama is qualified to comment, by the way. He is the leader of the world’s largest economy, and the one that the Leave campaign would most like us to do business with. The point Obama is making is that it is not within the UK’s power to leave the EU and then force everyone else to make a deal with them.
For the hard of thinking: it is the Leave campaign that claims trade agreements are vital and that the UK could forge one with major economies like the US quickly after leaving the EU. Obama’s intervention is powerful because it cuts the Leave campaign’s legs from under it.
[TTIP] is clearly very important to [Obama] – and to the American political and economic establishment? Why?
What is TTIP? It is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which cuts tariffs and regulatory barriers between the US and Europe. Sounds good? Think again… This is big business in league with big government (whom they pay for – especially in the US) trying to circumvent democracy and the rule of law…
<long excerpt from Independent article>
TTIP is a difficult issue. That’s why it’s already been in negotiations for more than five years, and why it is far from concluded. But Mr Robertson’s objections to it, on the basis of the Independent article he quotes at length, do not chime with the rest of his argument.
Earlier on, you’ll remember (possibly), he claimed that one of the main problems with the EU was how its regulations restricted the UK economy and foisted all sorts of nasty rules on British businesses.
However, the vast majority of the points made in the Independent article he quotes are warning precisely the opposite: that EU regulations on things like public services, food safety, environmental safety and workers’ rights could be undermined, putting citizens at risk and reducing the quality of goods and services. He can’t have it both ways: either EU regulations are too onerous or they’re so great that we should defend them from the villainous Americans at all costs.
But it’s all a load of rubbish anyway. TTIP is one of the most misunderstood negotiations in history, partly because people tend to retweet and repost hysterical memes about dry economic/political talks rather than bothering to look at the detail. This leaflet from the EU Commission is a good place to start if you actually want to understand what TTIP does and why it is a good idea.
Mr Robertson finishes this section with a final blast:
This is the issue. We don’t get to vote on TTIP. We can’t vote on it. And in the EU our elected politicians can’t vote on it. Obama came here, at the behest of his corporate paymasters, to try and save an agreement which will bypass democratic governments and hand even more power and wealth to the big corporations.
Not a single word of this is correct. As above, if anything, President Obama came here to correct a false claim being made by the Leave campaign.
We in the UK have voted on the principle of TTIP by electing successive governments which were both committed to the EU, to a strong relationship with the US, and to free trade in general. What’s more:
EU member states are consulted at every stage of TTIP negotiations.
Once the final TTIP text is ready, it will be subject to all 28 member states’ governments and a public consultation.
It will then be voted on by both member states’ governments and the EU Parliament before it can be adopted.
When you are negotiating something as big as a trade agreement between two enormous economies, you don’t have votes every five minutes. But nonetheless, the TTIP process is pretty transparent. If Mr Robertson wanted to, he could read all sorts of interesting information, including negotiating texts and factsheets, here.
So why did I write nearly 6,000 words on Mr Robertson’s blog post?
Because when someone claims at the top of such an article that they are committed to trying to find out the “facts and reasonable arguments” on an issue, and then proceeds to advocate leaving the EU on the basis of a mixture of myths and inaccuracies, I cannot and should not stay silent.
There is, in fact, a case to be made for leaving the EU, as I suggested above. Mr Robertson’s warning over the gradual decrease in British democracy and the rise of EU technocrats has some merit. There would have been a real chance for change had the Leave campaign focused on the former of those points, and attempted to attract those of us who are committed to democracy.
But we are very far from that. The Leave campaign is not even committed to the truth.
POSTSCRIPT: I didn’t intend to address fully the political discussion at the end of Mr Robertson’s article. But there is one bit I must object to:
The Lib-Dems – are of course pro-EU. It is an article of faith for them – even when the EU is going in such an anti-liberal, undemocratic direction. But wait. There is a real shock here. One of my political heroes, Lord David Owen, founder member of the SDP, Europhile has announced that he is an Outer! David Owen Wants Out of the EU
That is like Nicola Sturgeon announcing that she wants Scotland to remain in the UK! IF David Owen wants out of the EU, we need to ask why!
I’ve discussed why the “anti-liberal, undemocratic” descriptor is so much nonsense. But here, yet again, Mr Robertson fails to do some basic fact-checking. David Owen was never a Liberal Democrat. He objected to the creation of the party and chose instead to carry on as leader of the SDP, before winding up as a crossbench peer in the House of Lords. He’s since disgraced himself many times over, not least by campaigning against AV in the 2011 referendum.
Yep – it’s another sad failure to seek out and understand the facts.
Whatever hopes Jeremy Corbyn may have had for 2016, they have been summarily crushed within a week of all those pristine new calendars and diaries gaining their first entries.
The chaos surrounding the Labour leader’s so-called “reshuffle” – which has rather less resembled an orderly rearrangement of a pack of cards than a pack of tantruming toddlers running amok in a casino – has ensured that any semblance of calm he might have acquired over the Christmas break has evaporated.
All sorts of advice has been offered to Corbyn since he became leader of a party that, for sheer dysfunction and disunity, may now deserve to be preceded by “hen” – or the prefix of doom, as Bernard Black had it. But such advice is entirely useless. He could hire recently-Sirred Lynton Crosby himself, the doyen of Antipodean win-at-all-costs electioneering, and it would make no difference.
It has taken Corbyn fewer than four months to achieve total ignominy – an achievement that Ed Miliband arguably took a full five years over.
The Conservatives must be absolutely desperate to keep Corbyn where he is. They won the 2015 election having preached the importance of “security”. Now, despite oodles of real-world evidence showing that they couldn’t secure a padlock in a safe, the UK under their guardianship is being made to look like a combination of Fort Knox and Alcatraz guarded by the Avengers themselves when compared to Labour’s utter ineptitude.
I mentioned Lynton Crosby earlier. Knighting the man who ran the government’s election campaign should be an obvious warning sign that the government thinks it has carte blanche. And that’s not even taking into account his lobbying activity.
When the Prime Minister’s chief concern is his own party’s capacity to oppose him, it only goes to show that there is only one party he is seriously worried about.
When the Prime Minister thinks he can defenestrate the formerly-sacred principle of collective responsibility to allow his own Ministers to campaign against his government, it only proves one thing: he doesn’t see a threat coming from elsewhere.
When the Prime Minister says he will carry on in post even if he loses a referendum that defines Britain’s place in the world, it demonstrates arrogance – certainly – but also that his position is nigh impregnable.
UK politics would be hilarious right now, if it didn’t matter. But that joke isn’t funny any more. It’s too close to home, and it’s too near the bone.
It’s now almost eight months since the face of British politics was decisively altered. Yet the full impact of the UK’s 2015 general election has still to be understood by politicians, let alone the voting public.
You might think this is hyperbole. A lot of people said the same thing after the 2010 election, for instance, due to the apparent breakthrough of the Lib Dems as the third party – and the prospect of perpetual coalition government.
But my view is no exaggeration. The reality of the election is this: we have been left with a Conservative Party vulnerable only to its own hubris. The opposition is either disinterested, splintered, or simply invisible.
We are now in a situation where world events threaten to further diminish our ability to discern the dangers of our domestic political environment. The emphasis on responding to recent attacks is understandable, but not at the cost of allowing a majority government to do whatever it wants.
In the immediate aftermath of the election I retained some hope that with such a small majority, a combination of internal squabbling and a united opposition might force the Conservatives to veer away from Austerity Mk II. And for a brief moment in October, this looked like it could yet ensue.
View of Westminster from Embankment Bridge
The tax credits issue threatened to throw some light on the punishing and unnecessary way in which George Osborne is planning to slash and burn the welfare state. Had Labour peers sided with their Lib Dem counterparts in the House of Lords, the government could have suffered a decisive defeat. But instead, Labour trimmed their sails just as the wind turned in their favour, adopting a halfway house position that gave Osborne breathing space to come up with a “solution” by the time of his Autumn Statement.
I confidently predict that that solution will be spun as a major climb down on his part, but will give almost no real relief to the people against whom the cuts were targeted.
Of course, since the Lords sent Osborne back to the drawing board, events have moved on rapidly. UK politics, like those of every other Western democracy, are currently dominated by questions of foreign policy, terrorism and conflict.
The irony of this should not be lost on anyone who witnessed as recently as April the major parties of a still-influential nation conniving to pretend that we are serenely unaffected by world events.
While of course we should take every sensible step to respond to terrorist attacks effectively – if, indeed, there is an effective response – the significance of recent events domestically is already plain. A ComRes poll released last night shows a remarkable 70% of voters agreeing with the statement: “We have to accept infringements of privacy on the internet for the sake of fighting terrorism”.
Theresa May has so far declined to force through her new surveillance measures despite this overwhelming public support and the best efforts of arch-authoritarian Andy Burnham to speed her up. But it is a matter of time.
Meanwhile, the same poll showed that public perceptions of Jeremy Corbyn are rapidly worsening in the wake of his post-Paris prevarication. A mere two months after he became leader, he now looks in serious danger of being toppled before next spring’s elections, with MPs and even Shadow Cabinet ministers lining up to criticise and undermine him.
People won’t necessarily thank me for talking about domestic politics in the context of the current debate around our response to Daesh. But it is unavoidably relevant. This Wednesday, George Osborne will be in the House of Commons to deliver his Autumn Statement and the results of his spending review.
His statement will have far more profound effects on our way of life than terrorist attacks ever could, even ones of the same shocking scale as Paris. As I write that sentence, I blanch at a comparison that seems extremely insensitive, but that is the reality we face.
Will Hutton – hardly a raving Marxist, but rather a mainstream, Keynesian social democratic economist who was strongly associated with New Labour – has an extremely powerful article in today’s Observer which urges us to weep for the country we live in. It details the hard facts of Osborne’s plans, and what they could mean. This is the “security” the Conservatives promised the nation in April and May:
the de facto wind-up of the Department for Business as a pro-active department, further shrinkage of the criminal justice system (mitigated by prison sell-offs), local government reduced to a husk and the knell of further education. Meanwhile, the cuts in welfare will hit the wellbeing of millions, including their children. Expect on top a firesale of government assets – from housing associations to Channel 4.
Terrorism is a serious and awful threat to our lives and our way of life. But my point here is that it is emphatically not the greatest threat. We should not – must not – allow attacks like those in Paris and Mali to distract us from what is being done by our own government in the name of “security” – whether economic or military.
In five years’ time, our government may well have helped to wipe Daesh off the face of the earth. I will be the first to celebrate that outcome. But unless there is a serious change in the way our government is scrutinised and held to account by our opposition parties, our media and, most of all, voters themselves, we can expect our country to have been irrevocably damaged in the meantime.
This process can and should start on Wednesday. George Osborne’s statement will be carefully stage managed. As in the summer Budget and as both he and David Cameron did at their party’s conference, he will take great pains to appear ever so reasonable, moderate, even centrist. He has been given space to do so, of course, by articles like Hutton’s (and like this), with their dire warnings of imminent doom.
The presentation will be serious, but with just the right amount of apparent backtracking, alongside some trademark difficult decisions and some patriotic purchases.
The question is whether we have yet learnt not to take him at his word.
To read the breathless commentary of moderate pundits as David Cameron delivered his speech to Conservative Party Conference today, you would be forgiven for thinking that Cameron had announced a reversal of tax credit cuts, a real living wage, the abandonment of his ridiculous net migration target, and the implementation of a land value tax, all while wrapped in a red flag and doing that thing Tony Blair used to do with his hands.
(You know the one: when he used to make a fist and then stick his thumb out, creating an effect both dominant and approachable at once. Clinton used to do it, too.)
What we actually saw, of course, was nothing more than a good PR man playing to type. Cameron and Osborne have both quickly realised the opportunity offered to the Conservative Party by the election of Jeremy Corbyn: namely, power almost in perpetuity, provided the Tories don’t tip too far to the right in the eyes of typical voters.
Anchoring the party to the perceived “centre ground” has been both men’s transparent aim at this party conference, even if Theresa May seems to think now is the time to veer off into the xenophobic weeds in an attempt to bolster her leadership credentials. It is a simple continuation of the strategy already employed by the Chancellor at the Budget. As I wrote then, a bit angrily:
Aided and abetted by a supine media and an opposition that isn’t there, he is using the Conservatives’ new political capital to carry forward at a far greater speed his vision for Britain.
If anything, since then the nation’s media has become even more supine; in fact, today they were simply prostrate. Damningly, this is particularly true of centre-left commentators who, far from praising Cameron for his rhetoric, should be pointing out at every opportunity the lies he is spinning. Instead, they were busy saying things like:
David Cameron is now the leader of the British left.
The worst example of this was Ian Dunt’s unusually ill-judged article on Politics.co.uk, in which he argued that Cameron’s speech was proof of the positive impact of Jeremy Corbyn on British politics. He went so far as to compare Corbyn’s success in dragging Cameron to the left to Margaret Thatcher’s greatest achievement, New Labour.
Every time this happens, it simply gives the Conservatives more breathing space to implement even more right wing policies. The natural consequence of this fawning media reaction will manifest itself in policies that are not just distant from the greater Britain Cameron claimed to dream of today, but that actively undermine the possibility of a more moderate, compassionate society ever coming into being.
Come November 25th, the Spending Review and the Autumn Statement will reveal just how far from reality Cameron’s fantastical rhetoric took everyone today. It won’t be breathless or exciting; it won’t be surprising or brilliant. Instead, it will be presented as an inevitability: “tough decisions none of us came into politics to make”. But that will be a lie.
Cameron’s Greater Britain won’t be moderate. It won’t be compassionate. It won’t increase equality or reduce poverty. As I wrote after the Budget:
It is a country gripped by greed, selfishness and suspicion. It is a country where the poorest are expected to fend for themselves and where the wealthiest are enabled and encouraged to hoard their riches.
If people as smart and influential as those I’ve mentioned in this article are genuinely being taken in, there is little hope for the rest of us.
I consider Matthew Parris to be the finest columnist in the UK, and today’s article on Labour is one of his best.
He suggests that Jeremy Corbyn’s victory is an opportunity – rather than a defeat – for the centre left: a “gift”. He paints a painfully accurate picture of what is likely to happen to the Labour Party now that Corbyn is in place:
The party may (as I suggest) go out with a bang. Equally likely, some residual instinct for self-preservation will kick in, they’ll defenestrate Corbyn, and replace him with a less astringent nonentity, capable of papering over the cracks.
In which case the party will go out with a whimper, on a long, gentle amble into that good night: drifting on towards the next election – and the next, and the next – never winning, forever compromising, softly losing support in a sort of quarter-century slow puncture…
Arguing that Labour is the same old beast it’s always been, and that three election victories under Tony Blair couldn’t reshape its identity, he pleads with Labour’s moderates to abandon the brand. There is a fairly strong hint at the end of the piece that he is suggesting they should either start a new party in the mould of the SDP or join another party.
Parris is a liberal Tory who, it is fairly clear, harbours some fairly warm feelings towards my own party and to whom the coalition government was probably close to the ideal blend of ideas and policies. So I think it’s quite clear which home he is envisaging for these liberal Labourites. In any case, the same argument is being made on a regular basis by senior Lib Dems too.
Unfortunately, it’s completely unrealistic.
Labour MPs bow to no one in their tribalism. Even now most Labour people – even the moderates – are still pretty pleased about what happened to the Liberal Democrats in the general election: this is despite the fact that if the Conservatives had not won seven seats as a result of Lib Dem voters switching to Labour, they would not have a majority in the Commons.
More importantly, it’s a simple question of mathematics. If to be in politics is to exercise power, then Labour moderates have two ways of doing so. One is to stay where they are, grit their teeth and hope for the best: that somehow, in two or three years, the tide of left-wing support will ebb as quickly as it flooded in, and their party will allow someone “sensible” to take over in time to avoid total destruction in 2020. The other is simply to join the Conservatives, on the basis that they are closer to people like George Osborne than to Jeremy Corbyn.
Neither scenario is at all plausible.
If there were a third party with, say, 50-60 MPs, around 20% of the vote and a relationship with the electorate that hadn’t entirely curdled into a poisonous mess, things might be different. But there isn’t.
For the UK opposition (which doesn’t include the SNP, a party so obsessed with its own nationalism that it may as well be given the opportunity to hang itself at this point), politics is now simply a waiting game. We must wait for the Conservatives to make some kind of mistake; to get so complacent that they try to do something so utterly insane that even voters who believe in their competence wake up to their fallibility.
It might take a very long time, and our country will almost certainly be a very different place – a poorer, harsher, more insular place – at the end of it.
The political media is breathlessly reporting, in its usual shocked and horrified tones, that Jeremy Corbyn has appointed someone to his frontbench who was once sent down for “wilful fire-raising”.
Mike Watson, who has been appointed a shadow education minister in the House of Lords, went to jail for 8 months in 2005/06.
We are still supposedly a country committed to the concept of rehabilitation through the criminal justice system. The strength of that commitment is sadly frequently called into question, given the two major political parties’ mutual predilection for totemic “tough on crime” one-upmanship.
The idea that by banging more people up for longer you make society safer – “prison works” – only has superficial merit until you realise that its logical conclusion is to bang up everyone for ever.
But Justice Secretaries still like to bleat on meaningfully about rehabilitation and restorative justice from time to time, because they know they will reduce “recidivism” – i.e. re-offending.
So Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to appoint a convict should not be denigrated, but praised. Especially as Watson’s crime was committed long ago, he served his time, and he has rejoined civil society and worked in the private sector successfully for almost a decade with no apparent recurrent desire to set fire to the curtains.