Thursday 20 December 2018

Brexitwatch: get your MP to support the real opposition

Labour want a People's Vote on the Brexit terms only if they cannot get a general election. They could try to get a general election by moving a motion of 'no confidence' in Theresa May's government, but this they refuse to do. So hey presto! Labour can avoid supporting a People's Vote.

Is this because Jeremy Corbyn and his circle are as desperate as Theresa May to push Brexit through in the face of mounting opposition from the majority in the country? I do not know, but I do know that the SNP, the LibDems, the Greens, and Plaid Cymru increasingly look like the real opposition.

They have put down a motion of no confidence in the government. Write to your MP and demand they support it. This is what I have sent to mine who happens to be Labour's Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer:-

Dear Sir Keir,
Having refused to try to help the British people yourselves, I trust you and all Labour MPs will be supporting the motion of no confidence in the government brought forward by the SNP, LibDems, Plaid Cymru and Greens. Or are you just going to go on sitting on your hands so Jeremy Corbyn can help the Tories push through his beloved Brexit?
I trust also that Labour MPs will NOT be taking their Christmas holidays but will be staying at Westminster, with or without government approval, to explore what you can do to save our country.
I look forward to hearing from you,
John Withington

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Brexitwatch: the alternative to a People's Vote

Brexiters like Theresa May claim that holding a referendum on the terms of Brexit will be a 'betrayal'. Regular readers of this blog will know I regard this excuse as hypocritical poppycock, but I would like to try to bring the country together, so I offer an alternative route out of the Brexit quagmire in which the UK is currently stuck.

The government should immediately revoke Article 50 because nothing sensible can be achieved by Theresa May's foolishly self-imposed deadline of March 29. Parliament should then set up a grand committee of all MPs who support Brexit. (This might simply be self-selected or it might be limited to those MPs who have spoken in the Commons in favour of it.)

That committee would then be given the task of deciding what the Brexiters want, and devising a plan to be put to parliament. Once MPs had agreed the plan was credible, and had a good chance of being accepted by the EU, it would then be put to the government. Parliament, hopefully, would also consider it against other criteria such as, for example, how much damage it would do to our country.

The government would then consider the proposals, and report to parliament on its suggestion as to how to proceed.

Sunday 9 December 2018

Brexitwatch: complaint to Channel 4 about Brexit bias

Channel 4 are planning to mount 'The Real Brexit Debate' tonight at 1900. It will be heavily biased in favour of Brexit, with three Brexiters on the panel to just one Remainer. It you think this is unacceptable, complain to Channel 4.

This is what I have sent:

According to Krishnan Guru-Murthy, you are planning to load the panel with pro-Brexiters for 'The Real Brexit Debate' on C4 tomorrow at 7pm. It will comprise supporters of 'Theresa May’s Deal, a softer Corbyn Brexit, a harder Mogg/Johnson Brexit and a PeoplesVote to Remain'. In other words three Brexiters to one anti-Brexiter, when those who oppose Brexit make up at least half of the country. This bias is inexcusable. I look forward to your ensuring the panel is balanced between pro and anti-Brexit spokespeople. You have, for example, no one to speak for the view that the we should withdraw Article 50 immediately, nor anyone to speak for Scotland which voted to Remain.

Saturday 8 December 2018

Brexitwatch: history as it should have been

The morning after the referendum in 2016, prime minister David Cameron stood in front of 10 Downing Street and made the following speech:

'I am surprised and disappointed at the result of the referendum, but I promised that whatever the result, I would stay on as your prime minister, and that promise I will keep.

I do not have a plan for leaving the EU, but I know the people who advocated leaving must have, because if they hadn't, they wouldn't have advocated leaving.

I have formed a special cabinet committee comprising those cabinet members who campaigned for the UK to leave. It will be their task to come up with a plan as to how this should best be achieved.

That plan will be put to the cabinet, and once the cabinet has approved it, it will be put to parliament.

In the meantime, the government has a lot to do on many fronts, and I am going back into number 10 to get on with that work.'

Thursday 6 December 2018

Brexitwatch: write to your MP NOW

It feels as though the Brexit phoney war is finally over. I know there are rumours that Theresa May may try to kick the can even further down the road, but don't count on it. The big debate is finally on. If you want to stop Brexit or at least get a referendum on Theresa May's 'deal' (which, of course, isn't a deal at all but a wish list to try to negotiate with the EU over the next decade or so), you need to write to your MP NOW.

My MP happens to be Sir Keir Starmer, Labour's Brexit spokesperson. This is what I have sent to him:

Dear Sir Keir,
There is no longer any excuse for proceeding with Brexit, and in any proper democracy, it would have been buried long ago.
1. It will make the UK poorer, and damage most the people Labour is supposed to care most about.
2. It will make the UK weaker on the international stage.
3. It will hand a victory to those who stoke the fires of intolerance and xenophobia.
4. The referendum which is being used as the excuse for pursuing it was won by lies, cheating and law-breaking and was in any case advisory and non-binding.
5. The Brexit that people voted for cannot and will not be delivered.
Following your promise of June 29 that Labour would vote against any deal that failed to satisfy your six tests, I assume that you and all your Labour colleagues will be voting against Theresa May's so-called 'deal'. I trust also that firm disciplinary action will be taken against any Labour MPs who continue to try to prop her up.
Labour should now be working to bring this sorry story to a close at once before it does any more damage to our jobs, rights and public services, by demanding the immediate withdrawal of Article 50. If you and your colleagues do not have the stomach for this, then I trust you will at least support the demand for a referendum on the Prime Minister's terms, with Remain as an option on the ballot paper.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Sunday 2 December 2018

Brexitwatch: don't let the BBC mount a pro-Brexit stitch-up

On December 9, the BBC is planning to mount a 'debate' on Brexit between.....two Brexiters! Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.

If you want a fair debate with equal representation for anti-Brexiters, complain to the BBC here -

This is what I have sent:

For years I have had to endure BBC interviewers failing to challenge pro-Brexit spokespeople when they have used your programmes to spread lies and untruths.
Now I understand you are planning to silence anti-Brexit voices altogether by mounting a 'debate' on Brexit between two committed Brexiters - Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. All the opinion polls indicate that more people support Remain than Leave and even if you made the assumption that they exaggerated the Remain lead, at the very least you would have to conclude that opinion was evenly divided.
MPs are about to make one of the most crucial decisions in our history, and it would be a dereliction of the BBC's duty to present a debate that does not give equal prominence to both sides.
The BBC has so far failed the nation over Brexit. It would be inexcusable to mount the kind of propaganda for Brexit that you are proposing.

Monday 26 November 2018

Living to 100 - the Secrets of the Centenarians. A talk for Valentine's Day!

Thank you to the Crouch End and District U3A for inviting me to give a talk on Valentine's Day, 14 February 2019 on my book: Secrets of the Centenarians: what is it like to live for a century and which of us will survive to find out? (Reaktion)

I'll be asking why there 90 times as many centenarians as there were 100 years ago? Why do women outnumber men by about 5 to 1? What determines who will make it to 100 and who will fall by the wayside? And can we go on expanding human lifespan or have we reached our limit?
I'll also be telling the stories of the oldest people who have ever lived and the famous people who made it to 100 – the celebrity centenarians.

Wednesday 21 November 2018

Brexitwatch: a time to write

To everything there is a season. And this is the season to write, write and write again to your MP, the Prime Minister, or any other senior figure you think needs a nudge in the right direction. 

The Brexiters are on the run. Look at how they cannot get the votes to challenge Theresa May, look at how cabinet minister Amber Rudd says the Brexit fanatics' favourite 'no deal' is a dead duck. And what of May herself? After years of pretending we will leave the EU at the end of March come hell or high water, she has now admitted there may be 'no Brexit at all'.

MPs are now starting to look nervously over their shoulders. What if Brexit happens and goes as badly as you would expect? When will 'I voted for Brexit' start becoming a toxic, perhaps career-ending label? Hansard helpfully lists how every MP voted in every division. The fanatics probably will not care, but lots of MPs who have been backing Brexit, or failing to obstruct it, because they wanted a quiet life, must now be getting very worried. Make them realise they will not escape responsibility.

And what if there is an Iraq-style inquiry into who was to blame for the Brexit disaster? They may be putting a brave face on it, but there are some very nervous politicians around. So write, write and write again. Don't let anyone have the excuse: 'I did not realise'.

Monday 19 November 2018

Brexitwatch: make Theresa May come clean on the cost of Brexit

This evening MPs are due to debate an amendment to the Finance Bill requiring the government comes clean on the cost to the UK of Theresa May's proposed 'deal' with the EU. It requires the government publishes 'the full study of the impact of the government's proposed terms of departure compared with the benefits we currently enjoy.'

You might wonder how any MP could possibly oppose the idea that before we take the most important decision this country has faced in decades, we should at least know what we are letting ourselves in for, but the case for Brexit has always relied on lies and deception, so Brexit-supporting MPs, and those who think their careers might be damaged by speaking up, may well vote against.

So it is important you write TODAY to your MP demanding they support this amendment. My MP happens to be Labour's Brexit spokesman, Sir Keir Starmer and this is what I have written to him:

Dear Sir Keir,
I trust you and all your Labour colleagues will be supporting the amendment to the Finance Bill due to be debated this evening requiring the government publish 'the full study of the impact of the government’s proposed terms of departure compared with the benefits we currently enjoy”

Sunday 11 November 2018

Brexitwatch: is this Jeremy Corbyn's Brexit Achilles Heel?

My MP happens to be Labour's Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer. I have written to him many times and most of the time he has an answer, even if I do not always consider it satisfactory, but there is one question I have asked him several times and I have never received an answer. It is this:-

Sir Keir has admitted that Brexit has no benefits, and that Labour was proceeding with it only because of the referendum result. So now it has been demonstrated that the referendum was won illegally, why is Labour not demanding that it be stopped?

If you have a Labour MP who has not declared against Brexit or for a People's Vote on any Brexit terms, I urge you to write to them to ask why they are still demanding implementation of the result of a bent referendum. Below is one of my emails to Sir Keir on this topic:-

Dear Sir Keir, 

I cannot believe that Labour has not called for an immediate halt to Brexit in view of the evidence provided today of yet more law-breaking by the Leave campaign. I have already written to you twice on this issue (see below) but you have ignored me. What is Labour's strategy here? Stick your fingers in your ears, cover your eyes, pretend none of this has happened, and then hopefully it will all go away? 

You yourself have admitted that Brexit has no benefits, and that Labour was supporting it only because it was the 'will of the people'. Now it is clear that the referendum was won by serial law-breaking, this excuse will no longer wash. 

If Labour fails to act, not only will it impoverish our country, and in particular the people Labour are supposed to care most about, destroying jobs, businesses, public services, savings,people's rights to live and work in Europe etc, it will also give a green light to any party that wants to cheat in future elections in our country. 

Take action to stop Brexit now. I appeal to you and Labour not to continue in this gross dereliction of your duty. 

I look forward to hearing from you. 

Follow me on twitter @disasterhistory

Friday 9 November 2018

Brexitwatch: Get your council to fight for a People's Vote

The Scottish Parliament has become the latest democratic body to support the demand for a 'People's Vote' referendum on any Brexit terms that Theresa May may secure. Other supporters include trade unions and local councils, including a dozen London boroughs. More, including Brent, Islington, Kingston, Redbridge and Southwark are due to decide whether to join up soon. My own council, Camden, is due to take a view on Monday.
Below is the email I have sent to my local councillors. Please note: it is crucial that any vote contains a 'Remain' option. Without it, any referendum will be a sham.
Dear Councillors,
I understand that the council is deciding on November 12 whether to join the many democratic bodies now demanding that there be a 'People's Vote' referendum on any exit arrangement negotiated by the government with the EU.
I trust you will support this demand, and that you will also insist that any vote must include a 'Remain' option. Without that, any vote will plainly be an undemocratic sham.
If I were to list all the reasons why you should support a People's Vote, you would not have time to read them, but here are just a few:
1. Any Brexit will seriously damage the UK, and particularly the people Labour is supposed to care about.
2. The people of Camden are aware of this and overwhelmingly reject Brexit.
3. The Brexit promised by the Leave campaign cannot and will not be delivered.
4. The referendum of 2016 was won by lies, criminality, gerrymandering of the electorate etc.
History will judge very harshly those who supported, facilitated or failed to do their best to stop Brexit. Don't be one of them. Do the right thing.
Yours sincerely
John Withington

Saturday 3 November 2018

Our climate really IS getting stormier

Rainstorms really are getting worse. Examining how the UK's weather has changed, the Met Office concluded that heavy downpours were 17% more common in the decade from 2008 to 2017 than they had been between 1961 and 1990.

It also says that our climate is warming up, with hot spells lasting twice as long as they did between 1961 and 1990, and our hottest days nearly a degree warmer than they used to be, while our coldest days are more than a degree and a half milder than between 1961 and 1990. And the number of 'tropical nights' when the temperature never gets below 20 degC (68F) is going up too.

A stormier climate is precisely what scientists have been saying global warming would cause, and the United Nations is now calling for 'unprecedented' action across the world to slash carbon emissions to zero by 2050, and stop the temperature rising more than 1.5 degC above pre-industrial levels.

For more on how climate change affects storms, as well as the history of storms, the role they have played in religion, art, films and literature, plus the methods people have used to try to tame them, see my book Storm: Nature and Culture (Reaktion).

Tuesday 30 October 2018

Brexitwatch competition: which was the greatest Brexit lie?

Should we have a competition to decide which was the greatest of all the Brexit lies? Was it:

1. An extra £350m a week for the NHS - said by pretty well everyone, and not denied by the few who didn't say it
2. A free trade agreement with the EU will be 'one of the easiest in human history' - Liam Fox
3. 'The UK holds most of the cards' - John Redwood
4. There is 'no downside to Brexit, only a considerable upside' - David Davis
5. We can 'have our cake and eat it' - Boris Johnson
6. 'The day after we vote to leave, we hold all the cards' - Michael Gove
7. A 52-48 result would be 'unfinished business' - Nigel Farage
8. 'Absolutely no one is talking about threatening our place in the single market' - Daniel Hannan
9. After Brexit, we will have 'the same benefits in terms of free access' to the EU - Theresa May

I am open to other nominations.

Last question. When it is so clear that the referendum result was procured by bare-faced lying on an industrial scale (not to mention criminality), does the House of Commons have any motive for failing to declare it null and void apart from cowardice?

Wednesday 17 October 2018

Brexitwatch: a reply (sort of) from the Met Police

On Monday, I blogged about the complaint I had sent to the Metropolitan Police regarding its apparent dilatoriness in investigating evidence of criminality by the Leave campaign during the EU referendum.

Below is the reply I have received. As with so many things concerned with Brexit, it raises more questions than it answers. Now considering my next move:

The electoral commission has made referrals to the MPS. The special Enquiry Team are assessing a number of documents in order to make an informed decision as to whether a criminal investigation is required.

Tuesday 16 October 2018

Brexitwatch: petitions to sign, emails to send

Mind-boggling isn't it? MPs have NEVER bothered to debate whether Brexit will benefit the UK. Sign the petition to demand they remedy this gross dereliction of duty before it's too late:-

Yesterday I blogged about contacting the Metropolitan Police to ask why they have not acted on evidence they have received about criminal activity by members of the Leave campaign during the EU referendum of 2016. But it is also worth contacting your MP to ask what they are going to do about the Met's turning a blind eye. This is what I sent to mine:-

I'm sure you are aware that for five months the Metropolitan Police has been sitting on evidence of criminal activity employed by the Leave Campaign to illegally win the EU Referendum. They are apparently refusing to act because of 'political sensitivities.' If you are not aware, you should read this:
If the referendum was won by criminal means, it is hard to overestimate the importance of the crime. It is something that will damage our country for decades, possibly generations.
But the importance of the decision not to act has even wider-reaching implications. If, in future, crimes are not going to be investigated because certain politicians and/or political groups do not want them to be, then the UK has ceased to be a democracy.
I have made my complaint to the Met, but I should like to know what you and the Labour Party are doing about it.
I look forward to hearing from you.

Monday 15 October 2018

Brexitwatch: the police dog that didn't bark in the night (or day)

In the sound and fury signifying nothing of Theresa May's government's incompetent 'negotiation' of Brexit, it is easy to forget that the only reason the UK is leaving the EU is because of a referendum that was won illegally by the Leave Campaign. And, of course, to forget is precisely what the government and most Tory and Labour MPs want you to do.

Evidence of Leave's criminality was provided to the Metropolitan Police five months ago, but since then it seems they have done absolutely nothing. If, like me, you are not happy about this, you should complain to them at

This is what I sent:

For five months the Metropolitan Police has been sitting on evidence of widespread criminal activity by the Leave Campaign in the 2016 EU referendum. Apparently you are refusing to start a proper investigation because of 'political sensitivities'.
If the referendum was won by criminal means, it is hard to overestimate the importance of the crime. It is something that will damage our country for decades, possibly generations.
But the importance of your decision not to act has even wider-reaching implications. If, in future, crimes are not going to be investigated because certain politicians and/or political groups do not want them to be, then the UK has ceased to be a democracy.
I look forward to your comments on the above, and answers to the following questions:
1. When will you be starting a proper investigation?
2. Are you deliberately trying to delay the process until the UK has left the EU in the hope that this will diminish the pressure on you to investigate?
You should be aware that I will also be contacting my MP and other relevant parties about this.
I look forward to hearing from you.

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.

Sunday 12 August 2018

Brexitwatch: lies, damned lies and Theresa May's government

Along with 189,491 other people, (that's more than 5 times the number who voted that Theresa May should be elected an MP) I signed a petition to the UK government and parliament saying: 'If Vote Leave has broken any laws regarding overspending in 2016 EU referendum then Article 50 should be immediately withdrawn and full EU membership continued.'

The most striking thing about the government's response, from Brexit fanatic Dominic Raab's 'Department for Exiting the EU', is that it NEVER MENTIONS the Leave Campaign breaking the law, even though this is now clearly established. So the government simply ignores the key point of the petition.

The rest of the reply is packed with the usual Brexit lies: the referendum result is described time and time again as an 'instruction' to MPs, while actually it was advice which, as was made clear in the legislation setting up the referendum, parliament is perfectly entitled to reject. 

It claims that 80% of voters in the General Election of 2016 backed Brexit. Arrant nonsense. Labour and Tory parties each offered dozens of policies. No one knows how many people voted for the parties because of their Brexit 'plans' and how many in spite of them. They were also voting on whether Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn should be running the country. Their answer? Neither.

Then says Raab: 'we are committed to making a success' of Brexit. Yes, and I really want to play centre forward for Manchester United. Unfortunately, just like the government with Brexit, I have no credible plan for achieving my aim.

Perhaps most striking is this sentence: 'There can be no attempt to stay in the EU'. So there you have it. Official government policy: no matter what damage Brexit will do, no matter how many jobs, businesses, public services are destroyed, no matter how much cheating procured the result, the government will continue to drag us out of the EU. 

The full text of the government response is here:

Tuesday 7 August 2018

Brexitwatch: get your MP to support demand for proper investigation of Leave cheating

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw has written to the Metropolitan Police and the National Crime Agency, demanding they mount a 'full and comprehensive' investigation into cheating by the Leave campaign during the EU referendum.

It is hard to overstate the importance of this. Most people now believe Brexit will damage the UK, but Tory and Labour leaderships are insisting we proceed with it because it is the 'will of the people'. Except it isn't, because the referendum was bent, as the Electoral Commission has already demonstrated.

But, as Mr Bradshaw points out, the Commission has limited powers to investigate and none to prosecute. It is, therefore, vital that the police pursue the matter vigorously. Otherwise we will be giving a green light to cheating in all future UK elections.

I am astonished and disappointed that only 31 MPs (plus 19 MEPs and Lords) have signed the letter. They do not appear to include mine - Labour's Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer. This is what I have written to him:

Dear Sir Keir,
I do not seem to see your name among the list of MPs who have signed your colleague, Ben Bradshaw's demand for the Metropolitan Police and the NCA to investigate law-breaking by the Leave Campaign. I am very disappointed, and I urge you to add your signature  without delay.
You have admitted that Brexit has no benefits and that Labour is continuing to support it only because it is the 'will of the people'. As you know from previous emails, I have always rejected the 'will of the people' argument, but as you continue to accept it, you have an obligation to ensure that we discover to what degree the endorsement of the 'people' for Brexit was secured by a criminal conspiracy.
If Labour fails to do this, it will be giving a green light to cheating in all subsequent UK elections.
I look forward to hearing that you have signed the letter and given your support to Mr Bradshaw's efforts.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Tuesday 31 July 2018

Brexitwatch: BAAC-ing mad

What is Theresa May's policy on Brexit? I think you can sum it up as BAAC - Brexit at any cost. 

Long gone is any pretence that Brexit will improve life for anybody, apart from a few of the very rich who will find it easier to avoid tax and benefit from our impoverishment. 

Jacob Rees-Mogg says that after 50 years of misery, with a bit of luck, things might not be too bad. Digby Jones is less optimistic and reckons it will take at least 100. Most other Brexiters confine themselves to declaring that Brexit won't be as bad as some people are saying.

We've known for quite a while that ANY Brexit makes the ordinary Brit poorer, and if Theresa's Brexit fanatics get their way, we'll have to call in the army to stop too many people starving, or dying because they can't get their medicine. And, of course, you won't hear the prime minister talking about how we'll all lose the right to live and work in 27 of the most congenial countries on earth. 

All we hear about now from Mrs May is delivering the 'will of the people', even if it becomes clearer by the day that fewer and fewer of the 'people' actually want her to. All that matters is somehow crawling over that line on 29 March 2019, and getting us out of the EU before her government and the Tory party tear themselves apart.

Monday 30 July 2018

Brexitwatch: no deal

In my post of July 25, I broke one of my own rules: never underestimate the foolishness, incompetence and cowardice of Theresa May's government.

As Mrs May promised to spell out the consequences of a 'no deal' Brexit so we could all prepare for it, I warned that this might be a softening-up exercise. Presenting critics of Brexit with the apocalyptic results of 'no deal' so they would go along with whatever the prime minister negotiates, even though we know it will be much worse than remaining in the EU.

But now we learn that Mrs May is going to stop us preparing for 'no deal' by hiding the government's plans after reports the army would have to be called in to stop people starving or dying through lack of medicines, and after the businesses charged with implementing her ideas had ridiculed them as completely impracticable. Just like her 'Chequers plan', her 'preparations for no deal' policy had managed to survive for only a couple of days.

The attraction of 'no deal' for Mrs May is that it is the policy that postpones the Tory civil war - the only thing she seems to care about. Any decision she makes about a realistic approach to negotiations with the EU will be the starting gun for her MPs to start tearing lumps out of each other.

So be afraid. Be very afraid. 'No deal' and its consequent chaos could well happen.