Monday 30 December 2019

Brexitwatch: a low, dishonest decade

Four years of Brexit madness has distracted me, and the end of the 2010s has rather caught me on the hop, but we are indeed just a day or so away from the end of the second decade of the 21st Century.

As I try to look back on the last 10 years, a poem by W.H. Auden keeps coming to mind:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade

Auden wrote it in 1939. 

Sunday 22 December 2019

Election reflections: remember Charter 88?

Who now remembers Charter 88, founded in 1988, when the Tories had been in power, like today, for 9 years, having won three general elections? More than 85,000 people signed its demands for a written constitution, an elected second chamber, and a freedom of information act among other things.

But the most important demand in my view was proportional representation for the House of Commons. The existing system, first-past-the-post (FPTP), means British governments are formed by parties that most people have voted against. If you want to know why so many people are disillusioned with politics and feel their vote doesn’t matter, here surely is the main reason.

I became quite active in Charter 88 locally. Tories were almost universally hostile, but Labour nodded in our direction. I was even at a Charter 88 party at which Tony Blair and Gordon Brown put in an appearance. Blink twice, though, and you would have missed them.

We had meetings with local Labour people, and, though I suppose I shouldn’t have been, I was taken aback at how tribal and hostile they were towards proportional representation. ‘How will we ever win an election under that system?’ seemed to be the main preoccupation.

In 1997, after 19 years in the wilderness, Labour finally won power, but although Blair had spoken fair words to the LibDems, in 13 years, the party did nothing to reform the electoral system. For 18 of the 31 years since Charter 88 was founded, Labour have been out of power, and it doesn’t look as though they’ll be coming back any time soon, particularly as in the past they have been so dependent on winning seats in Scotland.

Labour’s view still seems to be: FPTP means for most of the time the UK gets Tory governments that make our voters suffer, but that’s a price worth paying so that every so often we can get a go at being the government without winning a majority of votes. What a shame! If the party had thought a bit more about the interests of the nation, there would have been no Brexit and no Boris Johnson as prime minister.

Saturday 21 December 2019

Election reflection: Labour delusions persist

Wouldn’t it be nice if Labour showed a little humility after their catastrophic election performance? Especially as they were warned that their refusal to oppose Brexit would be a disaster.
Instead Lord Adonis (pictured), failed Labour candidate for the European Parliament, writing as Andrew Adonis in the New European, launches an attack on the LibDems, asking whether they should continue to exist!
Columnist Simon Jenkins writes in similar vein in the Guardian -
Inconvenient fact: while Labour's vote collapsed, the LibDems' increased by three times more than the Tories'. But because Labour has always teamed up with the Conservatives to prevent reform of our undemocratic electoral system, the LibDems actually ended up with fewer MPs.
Adonis and Jenkins also seem unaware that the LibDems have more than 2,500 local councillors in England and Wales. Do they want them to be forced to join the Labour or Conservative parties too? And to hell with the people who voted for them? 
Oh and by the way, do they want the Greens disbanded as well, and what about other Remain parties like Plaid and the SNP? If they all packed up, the Brexiters could get on with the job of wrecking our country without anyone asking them awkward questions.
It is infantile and demeaning to blame others for your own failures. If this is the best Labour can do, they're going to be in the wilderness for a very long time.

Wednesday 11 December 2019

Electionwatch: Labour promises Remain will not need a supermajority to win a Brexit referendum

I was disturbed by stories that if we get a Labour government in a position to hold a referendum on the terms on which the UK leaves the EU, it might require Remain to gain a supermajority to win - say 60% of all votes cast or the votes of 50% of the electorate. While, of course, Leave had 'won' the 2016 referendum with less than 52% of votes cast.

So I wrote to my MP, who happens to be Labour's Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer. It took a while to get a reply  (though I recognise he has been very busy), but now he has confirmed no supermajority would be needed. Email exchange here:

Dear John,

Thanks for your email. These stories are simply untrue. There would be no threshold or super-majority requirements in the referendum. It would be on the basis of a simple majority of the votes cast.

All the best,

Keir Starmer

Dear Sir Keir,
As you know I have many reservations about Labour's policy on Brexit, but I am now considering whether I should vote for you in the GE.
I am concerned, though, about stories that Labour will require a supermajority (of say 60-40) or perhaps a threshold of at least 50% of the electorate supporting Remain, in order for Brexit to be cancelled in any referendum on its terms. As no such requirements were imposed on the Brexit side when they 'won' the 2016 vote, it would plainly be intolerable if Remain were required to surmount a higher hurdle.
Can you please confirm that in any referendum on the Brexit terms, Remain will be required to reach only 50% + 1 of the vote for Brexit to be cancelled.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Monday 9 December 2019

Electionwatch: Borismandias - a warning from poetry

I’ve always like Shelley’s famous poem, Ozymandias –

The huge ancient statue of the ‘king of kings’ who had thought such a lot of himself but who no one now remembers – reduced to a few bits of rubble on the desert ground.

Boris Johnson is such a persistent liar that it is hard to be sure of anything about him, but, of one thing we can be certain. The man whose ambition as a child was to be ‘world king’, will one day be gone. And then the Conservatives will have to share the fate of Ozymandias or start the painful project of rebuilding themselves as a decent political party.

Just as he did with the 2016 Brexit referendum, Johnson has built the Tories’ 2019 General Election campaign around a cynical, amoral lie: ‘get Brexit done.’ (See my blog of 20 November.)

The Tories’ tragedy is that they have allowed Johnson’s poison to infect the whole party. Every single parliamentary candidate is signed up to his lie. Any with any real loyalty to their party would be defying Johnson and telling the truth: yes, you can have Brexit if you really want it, but it will make you poorer, it will destroy jobs, businesses, savings, opportunities and rights, and severely damage the NHS and other public services, while possibly destroying the UK.

That is the choice. So will Tory candidates find the courage to explain it, or will they consign a once-great political party to the fate of Ozymandias?

‘Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

Thursday 5 December 2019

Electionwatch: pity Conservatives - they have no one to vote for

Conservatism, according to the Oxford English Dictionary means ‘commitment to traditional values and ideas.’ So neither Boris Johnson nor any of the maniacally nodding acolytes lining up as Tory candidates are Conservatives.

Johnson is not a detail man and has only a very tenuous grasp of facts, as numerous interviews have shown, which means he needs people to work out policies for him. So the person running 10 Downing Street’s policy unit is very important. And who is she? Step forward Munira Mirza, a ‘former’ member of the Trotskyite Revolutionary Communist Party, who has been helping to write the Tory manifesto.

Perhaps that explains its attacks on democracy on the now-notorious page 48, with its threats to undermine the independence of parliament and the judiciary and to elevate the prime minister above the law.

Even more important than Mirza is ‘Johnson’s brain’, Dominic Cummings, who has never denied that he is not a Conservative. Indeed, Cummings seems to be consumed with contempt for anyone who is not Dominic Cummings.

He was formally ruled to be in contempt of parliament because he refused to be questioned by a committee investigating fake news. Cummings has a particular disdain for our politically independent civil service and wants to abolish it. Civil servants have an infuriating habit of telling the truth.

And then there were those three mysterious years in Russia. Of course, the degree to which Boris Johnson and his party are under Putin’s thumb remains shrouded in mystery because Johnson is suppressing the official report that might shed some light on it. But what was Cummings doing while he was there? What links did he form with politicians and the security and intelligence services?

The modern Conservative Party is decidedly not conservative. A better label would be 'anarchist' or 'nihilist'. More than anyone they remind me of the 19th century left-wing Russian extremist, Mikhail Bakunin, who said he would be happy only ‘when the whole world is engulfed in fire.’ He advocated smashing everything up in the hope that something better would arise to replace it.

Just so for today’s Tories: smash up the UK, the NHS, our links with the EU, Parliament, the judiciary, the civil service, your jobs, rights, opportunities, etc. And maybe a phoenix will rise from the ashes: perhaps a hyper-Thatcherite capitalist paradise, red in tooth and claw, with no nonsense about a welfare state or workers’ rights or the rich paying tax?

If you really have nothing to lose, you might consider voting Conservative. If you have ANYTHING to lose, think very, very carefully before you put the nihilists into power.