Recording for Ben Chambers 16 Million Rising February 2018 Broadcast

To access the recording, spoken by Michael, click on this:


The full broadcast can be found at:

Our recording appears at 1 hour, 56 minutes



The text is as follows:

Theresa May is a not a very effective prime minister. Some feel she deserves pity because she is bullied by her ministers.

It seems that she is being allowed to stay in the job largely because there are no credible alternatives in her own party.

But the Tories also fear that, if she dropped out, this could provoke another general election that would be won by Labour. So, the propping up of the incompetent May is all about keeping Jeremy Corbyn out of 10 Downing Street.

Since June 2015, when Corbyn stood to be Labour party leader, he has faced a lot of negative press coverage. Now, as part of the process to shore up May, the right-wing papers continue to portray him as an IRA sympathizer, and brand him as anti-Semitic, pro-Muslim, pacifist and anti-capitalist. Some say that his re-nationalisation of the railways and the energy market would bust the British economy.

Members of his own party complain about his seeming ambivalence about Brexit.


I rather like the prospect of having a prime minister who cultivates his allotment and makes his own jam. Communing with nature provides space for vital reflection that tends to be denied by the hectic schedules imposed on most people in high office.

Wouldn’t it be good to have a PM who has no airs and graces, who is a good listener, who thinks before he talks, and who treats those he meets, especially when they are less exalted than him, with respect?

Corbyn’s great strength is that he has been consistent over the years. He is not driven by ambition and opportunism like Johnson and Gove. He has always stood up for his beliefs on social justice and on the futility of war, putting these ahead of any aspiration for high office. Now – as the gaps between rich and poor widen because of austerity policies and deregulation, and as we see how ill-judged the UK was to enter the Iraq war – he is “spot on”.

Above all, I respect Corbyn’s commitment to nurturing peace through dialogue rather than sabre-rattling: lasting peace can only come from engaging conflicting parties on an equal footing and building mutual trust.

The present government aspires to last till 2022, overseeing the country’s exit from the EU. However, it remains vulnerable to defeat. If Corbyn is to be able to pursue his goal of creating a fairer society, he must quickly stop Britain from leaving the Customs Union and Single Market, to guarantee the country’s prosperity and its ability to pay for reforms. A real possibility exists that he could win a vote of no confidence in the government’s Brexit negotiating performance if May continues to insist on Britain’s withdrawal from the present EU trading arrangements. This would trigger a general election which could give him a mandate to negotiate constructively with the EU. He should not exclude continuing EU membership, if he senses that this is what most British voters would then want.



Categorised as General

Deliberately steering us into a self-harming future?

Any firm or government department that is planning to make a big investment or change in its management practices carries out a feasibility study. I spent much of my working life undertaking such studies on behalf of governments in developing countries when they intended to borrow money internationally to finance agricultural and rural development projects. We had to rigorously examine the technical, institutional, social and environmental feasibility of the proposals, but, above all, we had to assess whether they made economic sense for the country and how they would impact on the earnings of people whose livelihoods would be affected for the better or the worse.

In such studies, estimates of economic and financial benefits are necessarily based on assumptions on future long-term price trends for the main inputs and products. Given the inherent volatility of international prices – for instance for oil, steel or wheat – it is normal to test the sensitivity of the estimates of economic and financial returns to possible variations in the value of future output. Tests are also routinely made about the impact of delays in construction or over-runs in initial investment costs.

One of the most extraordinary aspects of the Brexit saga over the last few months has been the series of attempts by the government to hide from MPs and the general public its own estimates of the feasibility of the Brexit project. At one stage, this behaviour was laughable, when David Davis boasted that his department was analysing the impact of various Brexit scenarios on almost 50 sectors of the British economy, only to turn around a week or two later to claim that the studies did not exist! When pressed, he released some bowdlerized versions of a few documents.

Now we find that a serious economic study has been carried out and a leaked version of the draft text has entered the public domain. After pressure from parliament, a very neurotic Number Ten eventually allowed MPs to get a glimpse of it in well-guarded reading rooms in Westminster: they tried to fob the Members of the Scottish Parliament with a single copy (initially available only in even-numbered pages) that they could view in strict privacy over a period of just two days!

In the meantime, senior Brexiteers, including junior ministers in the Department that produced the document, have been doing their best to rubbish the credibility of economic forecasting in general, and to question the loyalty and objectivity of the civil servants who undertook the work.

What the draft report apparently shows is that any form of Brexit will harm the British economy and that the areas of the country that voted most strongly to leave the EU will be the most badly affected. The worst-case scenario is associated with an exit from the EU without a deal.

If the analyses are credible – and they certainly make intuitive sense – this means that Theresa May and her government, in pursuing a hard Brexit strategy including exit from the customs union and the single market, is deliberately damaging the livelihoods of the majority of the British population, especially those living in areas in which incomes are below the national average.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the Prime Minister should wish to keep the figures under wraps. Unfortunately for her, the attempt to smother them and to treat them as secret information that can only be shared – fleetingly – with MPs can only add to the public curiosity about the report’s findings. It suggests that, even if her ministers try to dismiss the findings, she believes them but is unable to face the implication that she has to revisit the “red lines” that she has set in defining Britain’s future relationship with Europe.

If she persists in trying to keep us in the dark and in continuing to act as though her vision of Brexit will be good for our livelihoods, she will eventually go down as the first British Prime Minister to deliberately lead us into a future that she knows (and we suspect) is seriously self-harming.

Can you beat that?

Categorised as General

Letter from Femi Oluwole (Our Future, Our Choice!) to Jeremy Corbyn, as published by The Guardian (5th Feb 2018)

Dear Jeremy Corbyn, young people need your help to halt Brexit

You’re fighting to fix the broken society our generation has inherited. But that’s hopeless if you won’t fight just as hard against Brexit

Jeremy Corbyn campaigning before the Labour leadership election in September 2015.


Dear Jeremy, our generation is set to receive the worst inheritance in peacetime history. The NHS limps from crisis to crisis. The housing market excludes us further each day: in the 1990s, over half of 25-34s owned a home – today barely a quarter do. We might be regarded as the generation to go to university in record numbers, but we do so at the cost of an average £50,000 of debt. And still graduates are luckier than the 790,000 young people not in education, employment or training.

We live in a capitalist economy without capital. It is no wonder that over one in five young people now think that, no matter how hard they try, their life will amount to nothing. In understanding this crisis of optimism, you have given hope to many.

But understanding this is pointless if Brexit goes ahead. It is by far the worst aspect of our inheritance. It will make us much poorer, cut us off from our closest friends and leave us unable to address problems that require international cooperation to solve – such as climate change and rampant inequality. It will deny us opportunities and deprive us of the right to live, work, and love anywhere in Europe. It will rob us of the internationally engaged Britain that we know we want. These are just a few of the reasons why 75% of young people voted to remain.

In the 2017 election, your surge in support mainly came from those who are angry about what is happening to Britain. This extends beyond young people – anyone under the age of 50 tended to support remain in 2016 and then Labour in 2017. The reason for this surge is because we are our angry about our future. Like you, we are appalled by the problems our society faces. But leaving the EU will only exacerbate these issues. The Bank of England tells us that, because of Brexit, we will be £200m a week poorer this year. This is money that should have been channelled into fixing hospitals, schools, and prisons which warrant our urgent attention, and yet receive less by the day. It is hopeless to fight for the radical change society needs while supporting a Brexit that will leave us unable to deliver it.

Jeremy, you should remember that there will be a time when our generation ages. We will soon confront the reality of what we have been left, and if we do not like it we will simply reverse it. If it is a soft Brexit, which represents nothing but a minor loss of sovereignty, then we will return to our seat at the table. If it is a hard Brexit, we will be so furious with the wanton destruction inflicted on us that we will knock down any and all of the barriers imposed between us and Europe.

We need your help to persuade the country to democratically stop Brexit and deliver the radical change society needs. Brexit will define our country’s future, but will affect the young more than most. We need you to fight for our future, not facilitate a drastic blow to it. We need you to fight for a referendum on the withdrawal deal, and then join us in persuading our parents and grandparents to choose a constructive, not destructive, legacy. You have never compromised on what is right before, Jeremy, do not start on the most important issue of our time.

 Femi Oluwole is co-founder of Our Future, Our Choice!

Categorised as General

No Casus Belli

Perhaps the lack of a casus belli explains why Britain has no agreed Brexit goal or negotiating strategy

One of the most striking aspects of the Brexit process is that, a year and a half after the EU referendum of June 2016, the British government has no clear idea of the type of future relationship that it wants with our European neighbours. Without an agreed goal, negotiations are bound to be pointless.

To the extent that there has been a search for a goal, it has focussed mainly on future trading relationships. Bullied by hard-line Brexiteers, Theresa May has decreed that the UK should move out of the Customs Union and Single Market, but she has not said what arrangements she would wish for instead, except that they should be “bespoke”.  Now that Whitehall has told her that any trade agreement other than the present one is bound to damage Britain’s future economic growth prospects, she should have the guts to admit that she is leading us down a self-harming path. I suspect, however, that her first step will be to question the validity of the estimates and blame her civil servants for bias. Perhaps, if that fails, she might try to make the excuse that, had she known how dire the consequences would be, she would never have proposed to turn the UK’s back on the present market arrangements.

This would be a blatantly deceitful argument, given that, during the Referendum campaign, she had argued that “If we do vote to leave the European Union, we risk bringing the development of the single market to a halt, we risk a loss of investors and businesses to remaining EU member states driven by discriminatory EU policies, and we risk going backwards when it comes to international trade.” In the same speech, she also told us that “We export more to Ireland than we do to China, almost twice as much to Belgium as we do to India, and nearly three times as much to Sweden as we do to Brazil. It is not realistic to think we could just replace European trade with these new markets.”

This is hardly the “strong and stable” leadership that she claims of offer!

What she and her more vocal ministers seem to forget – or want us to forget – is that membership of the EU is about much more than trade. There are around 40 decentralised agencies which facilitate inter-country collaboration on a wide range of vital issues that impinge positively on the quality of our daily lives – including maritime and air safety, cooperation in research and pooling knowledge, student exchanges, the environment and climate change, collaboration between national police forces, registration and upholding of intellectual property rights, assuring food safety. If we leave the EU, we will almost certainly lose our right to play a part in the management of these agencies, but, as long as we want to continue to trade with the rest of Europe, engage in multi-country research or travel in the Region, we will have to adopt their standards and regulations as well as set up parallel institutions to fulfil similar functions within an isolated UK. This seems bound to involve higher costs for assuring the provision of similar services, while excluding us from the processes of revising and setting policies, standards and regulations.


Thinking a bit about these matters, it struck me that there are two main reasons for Britain’s failure to identify end goals and to negotiate to achieve them.

First is the absence of any casus belli. Until the idea of Brexit was promoted so energetically during the referendum campaign, most of us had no particularly antagonistic views about the EU. I suspect that, if asked, very few of us, even if we voted “leave”, could point to any specific EU-driven instances that we could claim had impacted negatively on our own lives. The situation was very different, therefore, from Grexit when Greece started playing with the idea of leaving the Eurozone to respond to widespread popular dissatisfaction with the hugely negative impact on employment and living standards of the austerity policies imposed by the IMF and Eurozone managers. Perhaps it is significant that Greece has stayed in the EU as well as the Eurozone!

Secondly, leave campaigners attributed almost every problem faced by British voters to its EU membership, whereas we are now beginning to see that many of them are home-made. Britain’s austerity policies were not imposed by Brussels but invented by its own Chancellor of the Exchequer. Parliament voluntarily approved policies for freedom of movement of European citizens several years ahead of the EU deadline – and the UK, through its own negligence, still has no system in place for registering their presence. London competed with other EU capitals to get the headquarters of the European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Authority located within its boundaries, and is now driving them out. Much of the new investment in urban renewal in the UK has come not from UK sources but from EU institutions including the European Investment Bank.

In a recent article on Michael Gove’s rather plausible vision for Post-Brexit UK food management policies, I made the point that these could mostly be implemented right away while Britain was still in the EU rather than have to wait, as he proposed, some 6 years before starting. The only explanation for this procrastination on the part of a leading Brexiteer was that he was opportunistically trying to build up farmer support for himself and his party in the next general election. What hypocrisy!

The call to “take back control” may have been persuasive but it is largely meaningless because any trade deal requires the setting of mutually agreed standards and conditions, reflected in each partner’s laws.

What must be happening now in the negotiating process is that many of the quixotic arguments advanced by the “leave” campaigners are evaporating simply because they were based on wrong assumptions about where the blame for Britain’s woes lies. It will prove very difficult to show that it will be in Britain’s national interest to leave most of the decentralised agencies and Euratom, yet it seems that our country will be required by the European Commission to renounce its memberships if it opts for any kind of Brexit. This looks like another case of incalculable self-inflicted harm.


One can only hope that Ollie Robbins, protected from Cabinet mud-slinging and the glare of the press, is quietly and discretely beavering away with his opposite numbers in Brussels, sketching out the shape of a possible agreement that would be in the British national interest and also find favour amongst the other European countries. Hopefully he will soon be able to present a plausible proposal to his boss, the Prime Minister, that could garner cross-party support in Parliament, even if opposed by vociferous extremists on both sides. If she does not dare pick it up – if it really exists – Corbyn could well adopt it!
He could even go one step forward, concluding that it is in Britain’s interest to stay in the EU and to continue to shape its policies until we next run into a real casus belli that truly justifies a full-blown divorce.

Categorised as General

Sowing Peas in March

If Corbyn is to have a chance of leading Britain towards greater fairness, he must position himself to take charge before it is firmly committed to dropping out of the existing trading arrangements with Europe.

A few days ago, New Zealanders learnt that Jacinda Ardern, their prime minister, is to have a baby in June. Being a PM is a very tough job, but many women successfully combine bringing up a family with pursuing their careers.  There is no reason why Jacinda cannot do the same!

As a British citizen trying to produce all the vegetables we eat, I like the thought that we might have a prime minister who continues to cultivate his/her allotment and makes his/her own jam. Communing with nature provides a refreshing pause for the kind of fruitful (or, perhaps I should say, down-to-earth) reflection that is so vital but tends to be crowded out by the hectic schedules now imposed on people in high office.

Nowadays, it seems that presidents and prime ministers are expected to tweet an instant reaction to every new development – and so they communicate with their citizens mainly by Twitter. Few will be respected for their oratory. If the present incumbent of 10 Downing Street is remembered for her utterances, it will be for her repetitive use of mantras, such as “Brexit means Brexit” which can mean anything to anyone but which she seems to find self-assuring to the point that she claims, even as she wobbles, to offer us “strong and stable” government.

The “constant gardener”

We don’t have a television at home, so I don’t feel that I really know how Jeremy Corbyn talks or walks and conducts himself with others. I may be wrong, but I get the impression that he an easy person to engage in conversation, who has few airs and graces, and treats those he meets, especially if they are less exalted than him, with respect. I suspect that he is non-confrontational by nature but still firm in sticking to his principles when challenged.

Indeed, Corbyn’s greatest strength is his consistency. While other politicians, vividly exemplified these days by Gove and Johnson, are driven by undisguised personal ambition and opportunism, JC, like his mentor Tony Benn, has consistently stood up for his beliefs about social justice and the futility of war, putting these ahead of any aspiration for high office. What is interesting is that, with the passage of time, he is being proved right. The invasion of Iraq and the assumption by private businesses of many of the functions of the public sector are now being seen as disastrous. The fact that he has always had the courage to speak out against the majority views of his own party when these have conflicted with his principles is a sign of strength that shows that he has what it takes to be a leader.

I always find it strange how the word “pacifist” is so often used derogatively; it somehow implies that there is virtue in war and that those who crave for peace lack the moral fibre that some see as a trait of true British nationalism. My wife and I have huge respect for our parents’ courage in two world wars that created the basis for the peace in Europe which has lasted for most of our lives. We share a deep desire to see our children also live the whole of their time on earth in peace, and so we find it easy to admire Corbyn’s commitment to nurturing peace through dialogue rather than sabre-rattling. He is strongly criticised for his contacts with IRA members and Palestinians – to the point of being accused of anti-semitism – but I know, as he does, that brokering lasting peace can only be successful if reconciliation is based on the engagement of conflicting parties on an equal footing and on building mutual trust through frank and open dialogue. Interestingly, the EU has been successful in promoting peace in this way, not least in Ireland.

Having spent much of my life working in developing countries, several affected by civil wars, I am convinced that the main driver of future conflicts, both within and between countries, will be the widening gap between rich and poor – a gap that may have been easy to disguise or ignore in the past, but which is now so visible because of the vast improvements in communications that we have witnessed in our life-times. It is natural, therefore, that a “pacifist” should also subscribe to the goal of creating a more equitable sharing of a nation’s wealth. Interestingly, even the OECD, the richer nations’ club, now recognises that reducing inequity may lead to accelerated economic growth.

It seems to be becoming fashionable for members of the establishment to criticise Theresa May’s ineptitude but yet to support her staying on as prime minister simply on the grounds that the alternative would probably be a strongly left-wing Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn: they claim that he would launch a wave of re-nationalisation of public utilities and bankrupt the economy in the process. Put bluntly, the propping up of May is about keeping Corbyn out of Downing Street.

The challenge that the establishment now faces is that the liberal economic management system, espoused by successive Conservative and centrist Labour governments, is showing signs of having passed its best-by-date and is rapidly losing credibility.  One rescue from bankruptcy after another places impossible demands on scarce tax-payers’ funds and thousands of workers face pension losses while their bosses enjoy golden handshakes. A prolonged period of austerity has eroded public services and the benefits of economic growth have failed to trickle down to those most in need. The fire in Grenfell tower highlighted the perils of unfettered deregulation and the impotence of poor families in getting their local council to protect them from the hazards they recognised. No wonder that many people want to see change.

Although I suppose that, by the good fortune of birth and of education, I would be seen by Corbyn as a member of the establishmentI can well understand the disdain and contempt in which he – and so many people around the country – holds this informal nexus of people who have held sway over Britain almost continuously since the end of World War II. It is a loose elitist alliance of aristocracy and those who aspire to living in “higher circles”, successful businessmen including bankers, press barons and rightist politicians acting usually in the name of British nationalism and backed by a respectable but aging middle class. The EU referendum campaign highlighted their tendency to look down their noses at what they perceive as lesser mortals, including the young and, especially, foreigners unless they are millionaires or film stars.

Little time to lose

Jeremy the gardener knows the critical importance of timing of planting crops to secure a year-round supply of fresh vegetables – when, for instance, to sow his peas to plug the gap between the winter’s Brussels sprouts and the tomatoes and cucumbers that reach maturity in summer. Timing is also critical in getting his jams to set!

Whether he can defeat the current Tory government and trigger an election that he can be certain of winning is also a matter of getting the timing right. For the moment his priority must be to consolidate a wide-spectrum Labour party that stretches from the far left with whom he feels most comfortable to the more right-wing young who are disillusioned with the self-seeking behaviour of Tory leaders. Like May, Corbyn faces a difficult balancing act in holding his diverse party together, but he has the advantage that most members find it easy to jointly subscribe to the idea of a fairer society. Armed with a single sense of purpose, he must choose the right moment to emerge as the statesman who can offer voters the opportunity to create a Great Britain in which all citizens can benefit from prosperity and greater social justice.

Given the growing delusion with the incumbent government, this should already be a vote-winning formula, with or without Brexit. However, it is abundantly clear that it will be much easier to deliver on this agenda if Britain’s economy is growing robustly. All the indications are that, for this to happen, the UK must, at the very least, stay in the single market and customs union so that it can continue to trade in goods and services without friction with our European neighbours. Corbyn must realise this but is presumably waiting for the right moment to say so.

The present government aspires to stay in place until 2022, overseeing the country’s exit from the EU, with potentially disastrous effects on the economy and possibly also the environment. If Corbyn is to have a chance of leading Britain towards greater fairness, he must position himself to take charge before it is firmly committed to dropping out of the existing trading arrangements. This means allying himself with like-minded parties (duly listening and responding to their concerns) and some Conservative dissidents to defeat the government and trigger an early election. The probable return of the EU Withdrawal Bill from the Lords to the Commons could provide an opportunity for proposing a winning amendment for retaining membership of the single market and customs union. If not, another false step by May could open a new window,

Corbyn is probably now preparing the ground in his allotment to be able to sow peas in March. Coincidentally, this might be the right time for him to offer to lead Britain’s negotiations on its future relations with Europe, based on the existing trading arrangements, while not ruling out continued EU membership if he senses that this is what most British people – especially the young, who will face the consequences for the rest of their lives – really want.

Between now and then, on every suitable occasion, he must press Theresa May to divulge the Treasury’s analyses of the economic impact of the hard Brexit scenario to which she is stubbornly committed. Whether she reveals them or not, the public suspicion will be that she is knowingly driving us into a self-harming destiny so that she can continue to chant “Brexit means Brexit”.

Categorised as General