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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Distressed Jeans and the Fabrication of Institutional Contempt

 

I wear blue jeans almost every day. Being a gardener, spending a lot of time weeding my vegetable patch, my jeans get worn out at the knees within a year or so and I replace them with an intact and robust pair that will protect my tender skin.  Instead of demoting the old ones to become cleaning rags, perhaps I should sell them for a fortune on e-bay as rare genuinely work-distressed garments.

There is now a huge market for manufactured distressed clothes, created by carefully calibrated machines and artisans that make new clothes look old or damaged – with precisely-placed rips on the thighs or buttocks of jeans, bullet holes through t-shirts, or jacket collars that look as though they have been nibbled by a rat. While some people distress their own brand-new clothes, many are happy to shell out even hundreds of pounds to buy pre-damaged garments sold by the big brands of the fashion industry.

A few days ago, I asked a 15-year old boy why he distresses his jeans. He thought for a while before saying that he supposed that it was because it was “fashionable” and because his friends did it. One commentator claims that people do it to “foster the illusion of work”, while another writer goes as far as saying that pre-ripped garments provide “a costume for wealthy people who see work as ironic”. I see it as a deliberately visible but fairly harmless way of signalling personal dissatisfaction with the norms that society imposes on our daily lives. Like purposefully dishevelling one’s hair, it is a means of asserting one’s non-conformity and claiming that one deserves special attention.

The problem arises when such non-conformity, rather than being allowed to remain a symbol of individual idiosyncrasy, is nurtured and fanned into a collective disrespect towards the institutions, laws, conventions and norms that have grown up over many years to foster a sense of common decency and mutual respect, to protect the rights and freedoms of individuals and especially minorities, to prevent crime, and to foster truthfulness and trustworthiness.

One of the most curious aspects of the present crisis facing Britain is that we have never had any serious dispute with the European Union since we joined on New Tear’s Day 1973. I suspect that it is also true that very few UK citizens can point to specific cases in which their own lives have been blighted by EU regulations. Yet, in a few months in 2016, a majority of voters was persuaded through a skilfully orchestrated campaign, backed by the massive use of social media, to call for us to leave the Union. “Take back control” and “regain sovereignty” became powerful rallying calls, even though there no evidence was put forward by the advocates of Brexit to show that we had lost any control or forfeited significant elements of sovereignty.

Lots of voters were – and continue to be – rightly disaffected by their lack of self-advancement and were easily persuaded to blame this on “the bureaucrats in Brussels” and the influx of European migrants.

We are now in the contradictory situation of having a prime minister who, having called on us to uphold British sovereignty, seems to be intent undermining – or simply avoiding – scrutiny by parliament (the locus of British sovereignty) of his immensely damaging proposals for leaving the European Union without a deal.

What is evident is that. in this age of distressed jeans, it is much easier to drum up popular antipathy towards the public institutions – whether international or national – that shape our lives rather than to persuade people to acknowledge and defend their generally benign impacts.

The greatest danger now facing our country is that our new prime minister, driven less by his beliefs – if he has any – than by his personal ambitions, will knowingly lead us (and our children and grand-children) into a deeply self-harming future. The most obvious sign that this is his intention is that, having happily approved the use of billions of taxpayers’ pounds to finance ‘no-deal planning’, he has appears not to have given the slightest thought to the nature of the long-term relationship that he would like to see with our European neighbours. Without such a vision, he is bereft of any basis for successfully negotiating any deal with the EU.

For the past 3 years the Conservatives have failed to make a convincing response to the result of the 2016 referendum. If only by prolonging uncertainty, this failure has already done immense economic harm to our country: it has undermined the respect that other nations hold for us; it has fostered deep divisions between people who have happily coexisted in the past, and it has put at risk the integrity of the United Kingdom.

We are now engulfed in a national crisis of unprecedented proportions which has been created by the present government and from which it is patently incapable of extracting us. It lies within the reach of MPs who are opposed to a no-deal Brexit to defeat the government in a no confidence vote that would sooner or later lead to either a general election or a referendum.

The opposition has also wasted the last 3 years through its indecisiveness and its failure to engage in a well-orchestrated campaign to convince voters of the real benefits of staying in Europe. There is an urgent need to talk with them frankly of the dangers associated with any Brexit but especially with a ‘no deal’ outcome and to argue that it makes common sense to continue with the status quo at least until there might be a genuine breakdown in our relations with other EU nations rather than a fabricated dispute.

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March for Change – 6 Simple Thoughts for the Day

 

Please print this and share with others

March for Change

20th July 2019

6 Simple Thoughts for the Day

 

  1. Has Britain ever had a big dispute with the EU since it joined over 40 years ago?

NO – So why stir up discontent?

 

  1. Can you point to any way in which your own life has actually been damaged by our EU membership?

If not, what is to be gained by you and your own family from getting out of the EU?

 

  1. The Single Market provides for the easiest possible trading between 28 neighbouring countries. Can you think of any good reason to pull out of it?

 

  1. We are geographically part of Europe and share many problems and opportunities with our neighbours. So, doesn’t it make sense to work together to solve them? Think about preventing the spread of diseases, safe travel, scientific research, security and crime control, food safety, environmental management, climate change – you name it…..

 

  1. Our parents lived through two horrendous wars of European origin and lost many of their friends and relations. We have enjoyed a long life in peace largely because the EU nurtures trust and confidence between its members. Don’t you think that, by leaving the EU, Britain raises the risk that our children and grandchildren end up fighting?

 

  1. The Brexit process has already mucked things up for 3 divisive years. Any Brexit or a No Deal will prolong the agony and uncertainty for years to come. If we decide to stay in Europe, there will be no need for more negotiations and we can return now to our normal – friendly – ways.

 

 

Boris got us into this mess, driven by his ambition.

 

He’s not the person to get us out of it.

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We Are All In The Same Boat But It’s Time To Pull Together!

This blog was written on 3 July. It is now largely redundant as the EM has since announced its support for the March for Change.

 

 

As anyone rowing at Henley this week knows, it is not enough to simply “be in the same boat”. For victory, you have to “pull together”, eight people rowing at full power in absolute unison, egged on by a vocal cox.

The race to decide on Britain’s future relationship with Europe has dragged on, inconclusively, for three years.  Parliament has remained deadlocked. We are now watching an extraordinary palace coup unfold in the just-ruling Conservative party. The party leader was ousted through a rebellion led by her right-wing opponents, two of whom are now fighting it out to replace her, with the winner almost certainly to become the country’s next Prime Minister.

The selection of our next Prime Minister happens towards the end of this month. The process is being run by a Tory party which has little legitimacy to govern, having failed three times to gain parliamentary approval for its flagship EU withdrawal legislation, after which it suffered an ignominious defeat in the recent election of Members of the European Parliament. To stay in power, it has had to use public money to buy the support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

It is now clear that the most important decision on who will lead our country forward will result in us being led by a Prime Minister from the extreme right of the party, because both candidates are vying with each other to gain the support of a group of about 160,000 party members who are reputed to be dominantly elderly, white, male and supportive of restoring the death penalty. One wonders how moderate members of the party will vote, with no candidate available to represent their views.

The long-term future of our country and the livelihoods of the young looks like being decided by those with one foot in the grave.

Although both Johnson and Hunt claim to be responding to the “will of the people”, they both espouse a “no deal” outcome for the Brexit process. Neither has yet proposed an alternative plan. While a “no-deal” outcome appeals to many of their ancient electors, it would be a move that was not sanctioned by the Referendum verdict and one which even the candidates admit will be hugely damaging to the British economy and to the nature of our future relationship with our neighbours.

The only way to stop Hunt or Johnson from becoming Prime Minister is a massive boiling-over of public indignation against their possible appointment in the coming weeks. This will only succeed if all those organizations and individuals that are aghast at the idea of a “no deal” Brexit – or, indeed, any Brexit – immediately “pull together” in the most effective possible way.  It is not enough to “work alongside” each other, as they claim to be doing: this is too passive.

In a very sensible and pragmatic move, London4Europe is calling on its members to join the March for Change, orchestrated by pro-Remain Groups in London on 20th July. It is an extremely well timed event which has the potential to demonstrate a massive lack of confidence in the government’s handling of the Brexit situation, which could embolden MPs from all parties to come together to win a motion of no confidence in a government led by either Johnson or Hunt.

I have subscribed modestly to both the European Movement and the People’s Vote Campaign and hence receive weekly EM Insider Briefings and usually several self-praising messages every day from People’s Vote campaigners. Till now I have seen no notice whatsoever about the March for Change or any indication of any move on the part of either EM or PV to get their act together with the Remain Groups.

I may be very naïve, but it would seem to make a huge amount of sense – indeed it is absolutely vital – at this critical moment for EM, PV and the Remain Groups to ‘pull together’ in every sense – developing joint campaigning strategies and tactics (for example, systematically ensuring combined action in each of the UKs 650 parliamentary constituencies), sharing communication materials and mailing lists, mutually supporting each other’s events, and so on.

The only chance for arriving at a situation in which Britain decides to stay in the European Union is if all organisations that subscribe to this goal get their act together and redouble their efforts to show that this is now what the majority of British people want. This is a majority that now seems to exist but which must be brought out into the open in a really big way. The immediate task is to prevent the formation of a government led by either Johnson or Hunt, neither of whom can be trusted to steer the country safely out of the mess that they have helped to create and our now exacerbating in their election campaign.

The first move in this direction must be for the European Movement and the People’s Vote campaigns to immediately – and unconditionally – throw their full weight behind the March for Change, calling on all their members, including MPs from many parties, to take part.

We must make it abundantly clear that the British people are totally fed up with a government that seems to be driven more by the personal ambitions of its hard-liners than by any sense of responsibility towards the population at large – a government that has wasted (and hugely upset) – 3 precious years of our lives and still not arrived at a credible plan on our future relationship with Europe.

I suspect that there would be a huge sigh of relief if a new government was to emerge which had the guts to tell us in all honesty that, at least for now, staying in Europe is the best solution. Like “no deal”, it requires no planning and no negotiation but it carries no risks and would allow us to revert quickly to our “normal” lives!

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Pot! Goes the Weasel!

I am no good at singing or – for that matter – dancing, so there is no obvious reason why the song “Pop! Goes the Weasel!” came to my mind when I learnt from the radio that Michael Gove had confessed to using cocaine in his young days as a journalist. I had not heard the song for a good 50 years and had trouble remembering the words.

It then struck me that, if sung with a slight change in wording, it could provide a fine way of highlighting the ludicrous but disturbing situation in which we discover that at least half of the people vying to serve as Tory party leader admit to taking drugs. Maybe, when they are in the company of any of the candidates, whether drug-using or ‘clean’, those of us with half-decent voices could start singing:

 

Pot! goes the Weasel|

Half a gram of tuppeny Coke.

Half a gram of Ganja.

That’s the way the money goes,

Pot! Goes the Weasel!

Whether in its original wording or these new words, the song is nonsensical but it is catchy. If sung widely – and loudly – when any of the candidates appear in public to stake their claim to be the best person to run our country. this would help to remind people that we are witnessing one of the most absurd events in British politics in recent times.

We are faced with the spectacle of a prime minister sitting in 10 Downing Street watching – presumably with amazement – a circus of her former colleagues, several of whom had ganged up to oust her as party leader, now vying with each other to replace her.  None is honest enough to admit that, over the past 3 years, we have learnt that any Brexit deal will be self-harming for the country.

While it is clearly legitimate for a party to choose its own next leader, it seems all wrong that whoever is chosen has a right to assume that he or she automatically becomes Britain’s next Prime Minister. The Conservative party could not have maintained a majority in the present parliament without the support of the Democratic Unionist Party which was shamelessly bought with sleight-of-hand dashing out of public funds – and will presumably repeat the same deal.

One would have thought that a government that has failed – three times – to gain parliamentary approval for the single most important piece of draft legislation that it has put forward in 3 years should gracefully admit defeat and accept that it has forfeited its right to govern us.

The greatest absurdity of all is that, in spite of our pride in our democratic institutions, our next aspiring prime minister will ultimately be chosen by just 160,000 paid-up members of  a single party which has been deliberatly infiltrated in the past two years by members of other parties on the extreme right.  It seems most unlikely under these circumstances that a party leader will emerge who even has the backing of the rank and file of Tory voters.

The candidates’ Coke and Ganja problems may be there, but they are dwarfed by the apparent flaws in the current Tory leader selection process.

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