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