Sunday, 16 September 2018

Brexitwatch: London demands a People's Vote

If you wrote to your London Assembly member asking them to back a referendum on the terms of the UK leaving the EU (see my posts of Sept 2 and 3), well done! In spite of the opposition of Conservative and UKIP members, the Assembly decided to back democracy, and today mayor Sadiq Khan has added his voice to the demand for a People's Vote. 

Writing endless letters and emails is often frustrating, but it does work. My own belief is that Brexit will only be stopped when most MPs start to believe their careers will be damaged more by dragging us out of the EU than by letting us stay in it. Every anti-Brexit letter or email they receive helps to bring them to that conclusion.

Regular readers of this blog will know I reject the 'People's Will' argument. The referendum was advisory and explicitly non-binding on MPs. It offered bad advice and it was the duty of MPs to reject it in the national interest (see my post of March 29 etc).

But even if you accept the argument, it is clear the 'People's Will' has changed, with some polls suggesting 59% would now support staying in the EU. The New European has an interesting figure. 

MPs decided to prevent 16 and 17 year olds from voting in the referendum even though they were going to have to live with its consequences longer than the people who were allowed to vote. About 1.5 million of them turn 18 between the referendum in June 2016 and March 29 next year when we are due to leave the EU. More than 80% of them want to stay. Don't give up the fight. Stop Brexit.

Monday, 3 September 2018

Brexitwatch: A modern Conservative writes

On Friday 31 August, I posted an email I had sent to Labour and Conservative members of the London Assembly to urge them to support a People's Vote on the final Brexit terms in Thursday's vote (6 Sept).

So far I have received one reply - from Conservative member, Susan Hall. It is notable for not addressing any of the points I raised, and being based on no evidence except her 'full confidence that all will work out well.' Good to know we have such deep thinkers as our elected representatives.

You can see my original letter in my post of 31 August. Below is her response and my reply to it.

Hello Mr. Withington,

Thank you for your letter. I am afraid I disagree with you. The Government is trying to fulfil the request resulting from the referendum. Thus hopefully we will leave the EU and I have full confidence that all will work out well, and in accordance with the majority of those who voted.

Kind regards,


Dear Ms Hall, thank you for your prompt response. Is this really the best the modern Conservative Party can do?
You have not dealt with the points I raised, but I have come to expect that from Brexit supporters.
So let me ask you a few quick questions:-
1. We know the Leave campaign cheated in the referendum, but you are plainly not concerned about this. So how much cheating on the part of the Leave campaign would have to be established for you to say the 'result' could not be regarded as valid? Or would any amount of cheating be all right in your view?
2. We also know from your government's own figures, that any Brexit leaves us worse off. How big would the loss have to be for you to say we must not proceed with Brexit? Or would no loss be great enough to bring you to this conclusion?
3. You have 'full confidence that all will work out well', so if it proves that you are wrong and Brexit does make us poorer, do you promise to resign?
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Brexitwatch: make UKIP honour its promise

On Thursday (6 Sept), the London Assembly votes on whether to throw its weight behind a People's Vote. On Friday (31 Aug) I posted an email I had written to Labour and Conservative members, but if you are a Londoner, you are also represented by two UKIP members, who are elected as 'Londonwide' members. So don't leave them out!

During the referendum campaign, Nigel Farage said that if the margin of victory was as narrow as 52% to 48% there would need to be a further vote.

As we know, it was actually tighter. So let's have that further vote - a People's Vote on the terms of Brexit. This is what I wrote to the two UKIP members, David Kurten and Peter Whittle:

During the Brexit referendum campaign, UKIP promised that in the event of a 52-48% margin there would be another vote, as this would be too narrow to be conclusive.
As you know, the margin was even tighter, and it is also plain that the Brexit that was promised cannot be delivered.
I call on you now, therefore, to throw your weight behind the campaign for a People's Vote and to support it in Thursday's vote.

Friday, 31 August 2018

Brexitwatch: support a People's Vote by writing to your London Assembly members

On Thursday (6 September), the London Assembly will be voting on a motion calling on it to get behind the campaign for a People's Vote on the terms under which we leave the EU, with an option to remain if they are not good enough.

You can find your assembly member here:-

Please note: you will have one member for your constituency, but you should also write to the 11 members who represent the whole of London.

This is what I wrote to Labour and Conservative members:-

On the government’s own calculations, ANY form of Brexit makes the UK poorer, and yet our government is insisting on dragging us out of the EU, a decision that will damage London for years and possibly decades to come.
There is no mandate to do this on the basis of the referendum of 2016, because:
The vote was advisory and explicitly non-binding on MPs, though a large number of MPs have pretended otherwise
The electorate was gerrymandered by systematically excluding groups who would be severely disadvantaged by Brexit and who would be expected to vote against it
The vote was won by law-breaking by the Leave campaign
The Brexit that was promised by the Leave campaign cannot be delivered. Brexit will NOT mean more money for the NHS, getting the exact same benefits we had inside the EU, holding all the cards in negotiations etc
Leave voters voted for many different kinds of Brexit. Some wanted to be in the Single Market; others didn’t. Some wanted to be in the Customs Union; others didn’t. Some wanted more immigration from outside the EU, some wanted less, some wanted none, etc.
In short, Leave voters voted for a fantasy Brexit which would give them all of the often contradictory things they wanted, and some voted for bizarre reasons such as ‘a protest’ and ‘not wanting Remain to win by too many’!
It is vital, therefore, that all of us get a chance to vote for or reject the REAL Brexit – i.e. any agreement the government makes with the EU – with the option of remaining a member if the deal is not good enough.
I urge you, therefore, to vote on Thursday, 6 September for London to get behind the campaign for a People’s Vote.
Tomorrow I will post the email I have sent to UKIP members.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Brexitwatch: Ask Jeremy Corbyn

'Will the UK be better off outside the EU?' Sounds like a fair question, an important one, and simple enough to understand, but Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tried to avoid answering it FIVE times on Channel 4 News last week, while Scotland Correspondent Ciaran Jenkins kept at him with commendable doggedness. Here is the clip:

So I thought I would ask him myself:

Dear Jeremy Corbyn,  Will the UK be better off outside the EU? It is probably the most crucial question about our future, and the future of our children and grandchildren. So why did you keep avoiding it on 'Channel 4 News'?
I would be grateful if you would answer it now. 
Yours sincerely,
John Withington
Jeremy Corbyn's email address is
I also tweeted the question to @jeremycorbyn. Why don't you do the same?

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Thomas Cole: painter of storms

The nineteenth century American artist Thomas Cole of the Hudson Valley School is not much known in this country, but now he has an exhibition devoted to his work at the National Gallery in London. 

Cole was born in Bolton, Lancashire in 1801, emigrating to the US in 1818. From 1825, he lived in the lovely Catskill Mountains of New York State until shortly before his death in 1848. The Catskills has plenty of wild weather, and that led me to feature his work in my book Storm: Nature and Culture (Reaktion).

In 1835, he painted a tornado in the Catskills in a pretty straightforward, naturalistic way (picture 3) but he was also interested in storms as a metaphor, so in the final picture of his series, The Course of Empire (picture 2) a glowering vortex of storm clouds gather over a city as it is destroyed. Cole noted: ‘A savage enemy has entered the city. A fierce tempest is raging.’ In a related (free) exhibition at the National Gallery, the contemporary American artist Ed Ruscha offers his own take on the same theme.

Similarly in Cole's Voyage of Life series from 1842, Childhood and Youth have calm skies, while Manhood is tempestuous (picture 1)

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Summer of 76 and the most successful government minister in UK history

This year's glorious summer got me thinking about the best I remember in the UK - 1976, which brought the highest average temperatures since records began. On the hottest day, 3 July, the thermometer climbed to 96.6 deg F (35.9 C), while for the previous 15 days, temperatures reached 90F (32.2C) somewhere in England. 

It was not the driest summer on record - apparently 1955 has that distinction, but there was a drought, so in August, the government appointed a former football referee, Denis Howell, Minister for Drought. (Mr Howell, the Labour MP for Small Heath in Birmingham, also had a day job as Minister for Sport.)

He quickly became dubbed the most successful minister in British history, because everywhere he went, it seemed to rain. I was working as a television reporter for ATV in the Midlands at the time, and I remember covering one of his visits to a drought-stricken area, where, sure enough, he was greeted by a downpour.

Rivers and reservoirs ran dry, there was water rationing and standpipes in some areas, and more people died than usual, but being in a garden or a park or by the sea was glorious.