Is this really the right time to move house?

Is this really the right time to move house?

In the 1980s, British people moved house every 8 years. Now we stay in the same house for an average of 23 years, implying a change in abode about 3 times in a lifetime. Part of the slow-down is due to rises in house prices and to increasing difficulties in getting mortgages. Recently, the uncertainties created by the endless Brexit process are cited as a main deterrent to moving house.

The decision to change house – whether to rent or to buy – is one of the really significant decisions that we take in life. Apart from having big financial implications, it can be very disruptive, especially for children when they need to change school. If it is a long-distance move, it makes it difficult to keep friendships alive and it will take quite a while to build up new social networks. The longer we have stayed in the same place, the more likely it is to have become not just a house but a home to which we have grown attached in many ways and that we have filled with things that we like. There may be a few defects but we have learnt to live with them.

This is not to imply that some people do not move because they are unhappy with their present surroundings. Perhaps they don’t like their neighbours or the general environment. But more often the decision to set up house elsewhere is driven by job considerations or the need for more space for a growing family. The opposite may also be true in the rising tendency for older couples to ‘downsize’ as their children grow up and ‘leave the nest’.

In any case, if the decision to change house is a voluntary choice rather than one which is forced on us, it is not one to be taken lightly. Among the biggest issues, of course, are to where to move and what kind of affordable dwelling to aim for. This is so important that most aspiring movers identify and take steps towards acquiring their new residence before leaving their present home. They may trust the agent but will still often take a thorough look at various possible homes and assess their pros and cons before opting for one, making an offer and – before signing up – arranging for a survey to confirm that it really is in good condition.

The decision to move out of Europe is quite as significant to our whole nation as the decision to move house is to an individual family. It may not have a big impact on us who are in our seventies as we will not be around for much longer, but it will have huge implications for the future that will face our children and grandchildren for the whole of their lives. Indeed, the young should have the biggest say on this once in a lifetime issue and this should, in all fairness, have been reflected in a lowering of voting age before launching this election

The extraordinary thing about Brexit is that, even if most of us were quite content to stay as we were, unscrupulous ‘house agents’ succeeded in selling millions of people the idea that it was time for us all to move to greener pastures elsewhere. Three years later they still have not defined our destination or agreed on how we can get to this promised land.  We are left in limbo while they pursue their personal ambitions.

In spite of their failure to deliver on their promises and the fact that they have messed up our lives for so long, the leaders of the present government – the same ‘house agents’ –  have the effrontery to ask us to trust them once again to lead us into the unknown. Without telling us any more about the ‘house’ into which we are to move, they are trying to buy our loyalty and distract our attention from this key issue by promising to buy us happiness through throwing trillions here and billions there – without admitting that they don’t even know where to find the money.

We have been conned into believing Boris twice and have already suffered for it. We have learnt that he cannot be trusted to deliver on his ‘promises’.  The last thing we want is prolonged uncertainty. Let us tell him loud and clear that we prefer to stay where we are – in spite of its imperfections – than join him again in a leap into the dark that is bound to turn our lives upside down and perpetuate uncertainties for many years to come.

This is definitely not the moment for Britain – or any of us – to move house.

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Let’s Get Brexit REALLY Done – and return to a normal life

Johnson’s call to Get Brexit Done” is a slogan that is bound to appeal to the millions of voters who are fed up with the Brexit Ordeal and just want the whole disturbing process brought to early closure. We have already endured over 3 years of agony and uncertainty. We have seen our families and communities deeply split between those who want to stay in Europe and those who want to get out of the European Union. The sooner we can put Brexit behind us the better.

But “Get Brexit Done”,  like so many of Johnson’s utterings, is deliberately misleading. It seems to imply that, once a decision has been taken to leave the EU, this will be the end of the story and we can immediately return to our normality. This could not be further from the truth.

The trouble is that any Brexit deal – whether hard or soft; May’s, Iohnson’s or Corbyn’s – will simply start yet another round of negotiations that could drag on for years and years   This is because the ‘deal’ is only an agreement between Britain and the EU to go on their separate ways – a kind of exit ticket from decades of peaceful cohabitation.

Johnson’s proposed deal makes no firm commitments about the kind of arrangements he intends to put in place for future cooperation with our European neighbours. If  it has taken more than 3 years since the referendum to come close to agreeing on the substance of the exit deal – and we are still not there – it seems bound to take quite as long again to decide on the type of future relationship we want and to complete the necessary negotiations.

So the call to “Get Brexit Done” may, at first sight, sound attractive but, when we start to think what it actually means, it is an invitation for us to give Boris a blank cheque to prolong for many more years the uncertainties which have been so unsettling to us as individuals and damaging to the economy.  Negotiating new agreements on how to arrange future cooperation will be fiendishly complicated and fraught with controversy.

It is probably too much to expect Boris and his hard-line Brexiteers to come clean with us about the full implications of pursuing any Brexit deal but we should at least ask them for straight answers to a few basic questions before the forthcoming election.

  1. Is it true that, according to official estimates, any Brexit deal is bound to leave Britain economically worse off than the present arrangements with the EU?
  2. If so, what is your rationale for calling on us to support a seriously self-damaging proposal?
  3. How many years, from the date of an exit deal, is it likely to take to put in place new arrangements for cooperation with the remaining 27 governments?
  4. Why are you, as Prime Minister, not making it clear to voters that approving a Brexit deal will prolong the “Brexit Ordeal” for several more years?”

If you’re a voter whose main wish is to “Get Brexit REALLY Done” quickly, the only option is to stop the Brexit process in its tracks right now.  This could not be easier. At the stroke of a Prime Ministerial pen, the Brexit Ordeal can be brought to an end today – without any further negotiations or assent from the EU member governments – and we can immediately get on with our normal lives again.

The Conservative party started the Brexit process and its current leadership seduced many us into thinking that life outside the EU would be Utopian. Instead, the government has messed up our lives for the past 3 years, deeply wounded the economy and Britain’s international standing, and put the unity of the UK at risk. They have completely failed to find an acceptable Brexit solution, causing huge collateral damage. They cannot be trusted to do any better in yet another period in office so please vote tactically to keep them out of Downing Street.

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A Poisoned Chalice

A Draft Reply from Jeremy Corbyn to Boris Johnson, dated 25th October 2019

Dear Boris,

Thank you for your long and rambling letter.

In it you are implicitly accepting that your “great” Brexit deal will not get parliamentary approval because it is deeply flawed. You also accept that the prolonged Brexit process is hugely damaging to the country and that we need to bring it to closure. You suggest that the solution is to hold an early general election and you ask me to support this idea.

The Conservative party and you, in particular, have got us into this mess.

  • David Cameron should never have called a national referendum to strengthen his position within his own party but which addressed an issue which, at the time, was of little concern to most British citizens.
  • Driven by your personal ambitions more than by your convictions you ran a campaign in which you combined your oratory and the brain-washing power of social media to convince voters that membership of the European Union was deeply damaging to British sovereignty and our position in the world. To win votes you portrayed an Utopian future for Britain, freed of its European ‘shackles’, deliberately stirring up passions that have left our country, its political parties, communities, families and age groups horrendously divided.
  • Theresa May negotiated a Brexit deal which might have been acceptable to the country but which was killed off largely by members of your Conservative party and the DUP whose support had been bought with public money.
  • You have accentuated the divisions by using the threat of Britain leaving the EU without a deal by the end of this month as a cudgel for getting parliamentary approval for a deal that is worse than May’s failed deal. In spite of your call to ‘take back control’ from Brussels, you are in the absurd situation of condemning the actions of our parliament – the main locus of British sovereignty – and are doing your best to undermine the credibility of MPs who oppose you.

The only way out of this unfortunate situation is to bring the whole Brexit debate to an early close. Neither a general election nor another referendum will resolve the problem. They would simply prolong the agony and deepen the divisions which ultimately will threaten the unity of our Kingdom and the peaceful coexistence of its citizens.

The answer is quite simple but will require the kind of courage and statesmanship that your mentor, Winston Churchill, would have displayed when finding himself cornered.

You must admit that you deliberately misled voters during the 2016 Referendum campaign about the benefits of leaving Europe. You must also admit that, ever since then, the Tory government  has tried to hide from the general public all the knowledge that you and cabinet members have on the extent of damage that your Brexit – on any Brexit – would have on the integrity of the UK ,  the economy, our livelihoods, our capacity to address neglected domestic issues, and our ability to deal with matters that require well-orchestrated actions between neighbouring countries – such as security, climate change, travel, migration, research and, above all, the nurturing of peace in and beyond Europe.

We now have a much better understanding of European institutions than we had in 2016. We know that reforms are needed and we also know that we can better influence the direction of reform from the inside rather than the outside.

The time has arrived for you, I and the leaders of all the political parties to admit in all honesty that there is no possibility of finding an early Brexit solution that is truly good for Britain at this stage. We have all done our best to find a way of responding to the referendum result but have to accept that we have hit the buffers and that the longer we keep searching for an answer that does not exist in reality, the more harm we shall cause.

My response to your letter is, therefore, to propose that we – the leaders of all political parties – meet together as early as possible to agree on a joint strategy for ‘coming clean’ with the British public on the true impacts of Brexit and to announce our  intention to call on parliament to bring the Brexit process to a close by revoking Article 50 before 31st October.

We should also agree in principle on joint arrangements for a way forward that would avoid any early election or further referendum but enable an ambitious programme of domestic reform to move forward quickly and give time to introduce badly needed electoral reforms.

I very much hope that, as Prime Minister, you will convene this proposed meeting and offer the kind of leadership our country now needs – a leadership that places Britain’s needs above personal or party ambitions.

Yours sincerely,

Jeremy

Protecting Democracy. What Britain can Learn from Italy

How to change the government without an election

 

We are British citizens who live in Italy. We don’t normally follow Italian politics closely, but over the last couple of weeks I and my wife have taken special interest in the way in which Italy has effectively changed its government without holding  an election.

Briefly, following the March 2018 general election, an awkward governing alliance was formed between the strongly rightist League, led by Matteo Salvini, and the more centrist Five Star Movement, led by Luigi Di Maio. Given the divergence of the two parties’ policies on many issues and the incompatibility of the two leaders, it is surprising that it lasted for almost 18 months, largely thanks to the skill and patience of the independent prime minister, Giuseppe Conte.

This arrangement collapsed in August when Salvini, buoyed up by his apparent increasing popularity in the opinion polls, announced a motion of no confidence in the prime minister, probably as a precedent for calling for an election which he hoped would reinforce his power.  Conte resigned, claiming that Salvini had “triggered the crisis only to serve his personal interest”.  This was immediately followed by the Democratic Party (which came third in the last election) opening exploratory discussions with the Five Star Movement with which it had not been on good terms. These consultations led to an agreement on a joint agenda based on pro-Europeanism, green economy, sustainable development, fight against inequality and a new immigration policy. With the blessing of Sergio Mattarella, the President, a new government, composed of the Democratic Party and the Five Star Movement, has been formed under the leadership of Conte. Salvini has been effectively consigned to the opposition.

There seems to be every reason to follow a similar process of changing government in Britain without holding either an early election or even a vote of confidence. In the last week, the opposition parties and ‘rebel’ Conservatives have demonstrated their capacity to combine forces to soundly defeat Boris Johnson’s government on 4 occasions. If they can stick together and find a common platform, the opportunity exists for them to become a de facto coalition government which could systematically block all legislation proposed by the present government, rendering it powerless and presumably leading eventually to the resignation of the prime minister.

What has driven this cross-party group together is their common determination to preserve genuine democracy in Britain at a time when the prime minister has tried to by-pass or over-ride parliament in his self-determined quest to take Britain out of Europe without an agreed deal by the end of October.  Beyond this is the fear amongst the adherents to the group of the risk that an election, if called soon without effective laws in place to protect proper electoral conduct, could lead to a sharp shift to the right within parliament. Finally, there is the widely voiced view that Johnson is untrustworthy and motivated more by his personal ambitions than any respect for improving the livelihoods of his fellow citizens.

If the broad goal of protecting democracy and especially the sovereignty of parliament is to be achieved, this will require concerted action in the style of last week for a long period, ideally until 5th May 2022, the mandatory date for the next general election.

This period would be used for moving ahead with a raft of overdue legislation on domestic issues on which there is a large measure of cross-party consensus.  These would relate, for instance, to health and care, education, environment and climate change, infrastructure, equality, social security.  Special commissions would be set up to engage the public in guiding the government on migration policies and the UK’s future long-term relationship with Europe.  A similar approach could be adopted on the reform of electoral policies (including proportional representation, lowering voting age, votes for UK citizens living abroad, social media codes of conduct, penalties for infringement of electoral law etc.).

To explore whether such an approach is feasible, I would suggest that MPs who have voted against the government and others who want to come on board, should take full advantage of the prorogation of parliament, decreed by Johnson, to meet with the aim of creating a long-term Pact for Democracy. If there is a consensus that it should be possible to sustain a parliamentary majority in the medium term, then this should be followed by the formation of a cabinet-in-waiting (including an interim chair), charged with immediately outlining legislative goals for inclusion in an early Queen’s speech.

The most divisive issue will clearly be Brexit and even within the “Pact” a parliamentary majority for a withdrawal plan or for staying in Europe is unlikely to be attainable at the moment. Until the government is able to define the kind of relationship that the country should have in the long-term with Europe and build public support for this, there is no basis for negotiating any agreement with the EU.  We should face up to reality and admit this, initiate a consultative process and request the EU to allow us to stay as full and active members for at least 2 more years, during which a referendum could be held.

Let Italy’s democratic success be an inspiration to all British MPs who now know what it takes to protect the sovereignty of parliament that Johnson has tried to hi-jack “to serve his personal interest” like his fellow-populist, Salvini.

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Is Our Prime Minister Trying to Make Us Cut off our Noses to Spite our Faces?

 

The Brexit debate that has literally consumed us for over 3 years is usually portrayed as one between ‘leavers’ and ‘remainers’, and polls suggest that there has been surprisingly little shift between the two camps created by the 2016 EU Referendum.

If there has been a change in attitude, it is the growth of widespread weariness with the debate and all the uncertainty and distress that it has fuelled. Most people from either camp or none would now just like to see the whole shebang brought to a quick end.

There is a big risk that lots of voters could be duped into thinking that the “No-Deal” solution, sought by Johnson and his far-right friends, will bring a welcome end to the Brexit process. Perhaps this misunderstanding is because the very term “No-Deal” has an air of finality.

The reality is that walking off the end of the “No Deal” plank would actually signal the start of a very long period fraught with much greater risk and uncertainty than anything that we have had to endure during these 3 years.  Like an earthquake, “No-Deal” would cause an instantaneous destruction of the institutional fabric which has enabled us to cooperate successfully in so many fields of activity with our neighbours. If you have lived through an earthquake, you will know how extraordinarily difficult and how slow it is to pick up the pieces and resume a normal life.

For a Prime Minister to deliberately trigger such an earthquake while being fully aware of the havoc it would cause is the height of irresponsibility. He seems to want to throw us out of the frying pan into the fire and couldn’t care less about how much hurt it will cause to British citizens.

Any move to suggest to those of us who yearn for normality that “No-Deal” would close the painful Brexit chapter is downright dishonest.

We and our MPs need to face up to the truth – a rare commodity these days – that any form of Brexit, whether “No Deal” or “soft”, would take years to sort out and would leave us in seemingly endless limbo.

The only means through which we can return to a “normal” and reasonably predictable life is to stay in the European Union. This requires no negotiations and comes automatically when requested by our Government as long as it is made while we are still members.

Like all institutions the EU has merits and warts, but on balance it must be quite benign as we have never, during over 40 years of “marriage”, been drawn into a serious dispute about our terms of cohabitation.

Divorces are often triggered by trivia. Should we really allow Boris’ conjured up images of bendy bananas, frozen kippers and overpaid bureaucrats in Brussels to provide a valid motive for slamming the door in the face of our neighbours? Is there any logic for withdrawing from the best free trade deal in the world or for walking away from well-tested agreements on dealing with shared problems – food safety, animal health, medicines, human disease control and prevention, safe travel, mobile phone costs, international crime, security and so on?

We pride ourselves over our nation’s great achievements but need to admit that our success has always come from our ability to forge alliances with other nations. Our engagement with our former enemies in the European project and the trust that this has nurtured, has allowed my wife and me to enjoy over 70 years of peace. Our parents lived through two horrific wars of European origin. We now fear that, if our country ceases to be responsibly engaged in Europe, this would increase the risk that our children and grandchildren could find themselves – probably for trivial motives – drawn into fresh international conflicts.

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