Brexit – Where Can I Start and Where Will It End?

This is one of those sorts of posts where it is just cathartic to write. I don’t have any viable solutions, I think I understand the problems and I am certain that I am not alone in the feeling of abandonment of the people by their elected representatives.

I didn’t want to leave the EU, I still think it is a very poor idea with nothing but an overall negative effect on many parts of the UK. Not just financially, but if a vote is re-run then societal as well. The effect on society seems to be entirely overlooked, and because it is not as easily quantifiable in economic terms it falls into the, ‘something that can safely be ignored because there are no good soundbites to be had from it’ sort of issue. It is a sociological sort of issue and those sorts of issues are not the stock in trade of our elected representatives.

I voted leave but would not characterise myself anymore as a Remainer. There are several points that really trouble me and make me feel unable to support a second referendum.

The first is that, regardless of party, the vast majority of our elected representatives appear to have treated the entire process as a means for them to further a mix their own and their party’s political agenda. Whether it was the early leadership challenges in the Tory party, the LibDem stance of standing on the sidelines repeating versions of ‘I told you so, it’ll never work, we always had a better idea’ to Corbyn and Labour ignoring it all in the first instance and lately playing brinkmanship so the old school socialist revolutionaries can realise their misplaced belief that the subsequent turmoil will upset people so much they’ll have a revolution.

The second remark is a development of the previous observation. If there was one time in the history of the post-war United Kingdom that really necessitated a coming together across party and ideological boundaries to make the best of a bad thing, Brexit is it. The vote was to leave the EU and however much I feel that this was the wrong outcome I respect the decision. On that basis I had a rather naive expectation that the political establishment also appreciated the seriousness of the decision and – like the EU did – have a negotiation strategy and a team to implement it. Instead, all we heard was a bunch of blowhards posturing and making further false claims. Much of the Leavers behaviour seemed rooted in the, ‘Britain is so bloody brilliant that all those whingeing Johnny Foreigners will come to their collective senses and form an orderly queue to beg us to make deals with them’ mindset. It seems to be seeping into their collective consciousness that this isn’t the case. With 60 odd days to go. No one is overtly admitting this but there is a great deal of manoeuvring and double-speak in an attempt to back away from all the bombastic remarks. The Remainers have also behaved extraordinarily poorly on the most part. Two examples from Twitter – not my sole data source I assure you – are the Labour MP David Lammy and the Lib Dem MP Tom Brake. They are very vocal and repetitive with their sole contribution seeming to be around trying to stir the pot and cause upset. Never have either of them said what they are doing that is constructive. Agitating for a so-called People’s Vote/second referendum whilst doing nothing else is not a respectful way to treat their constituents who stand to be affected.

Thought of the social divisions that stand to occur if a second referendum were to be held seem to be being avoided. The feelings on both sides of the debate are running pretty high already, so imagine if one side (it was near enough 50/50) felt they were being ignored? There are valid arguments on both sides and there is a lot of value in being mature enough to admit error and change ones mind. That makes perfect sense. However, the structure that was used to conduct the referendum is what it is, it wasn’t illegal. The allegations of misconduct on both sides are there. No one likes losing. Especially if it seemed so obvious to so many that leaving the EU was, overall, detrimental. Martin Lewis recently called the referendum a black and white vote on a rainbow of issues. The big issue is in just how poorly the vote was structured, because no one took the idea of losing seriously. In and Out was the only option on the ballot paper but in reality those that voted did so for a variety of reasons. Some were based on complete falsehoods, others on very legitimate concerns. Few people voted for exactly the same reasons. 

What is overlooked by the bulk of the Remain camp is that where by and large their choice to remain was closer to black and white, the Leave voters articulated many more reasons for their choice. They won the referendum and to re-run the vote until we achieve the ‘correct’ answer is akin to replaying a Test Match until the team that was stronger on paper triumphed and that is definitely not a Britisher’s idea of fair play.

A core factor that does unite remain voters is the sense of identity as British. The idea that this once proud nation of which they are part of is anything less than wholly in control of its own fate is an anathema to many. To see the power of identity in politics, one only need look across the Atlantic and see that the victory of Trump was driven by his ability to strike the right identity note (You are American, You are being ignored by the ‘Elites’ and You are no longer great. I, Donald Trump, will Make America Great Again – MAGA – and by extension I will make You great again). Our referendum was pitched by the Leave side as all about ‘Taking Back Control’, which was the masterstroke of the Leave contingent. It was a simple but powerful message that Leave voters could identify with.  People appreciate simple messages and most do not want to be mired in the complexity of politics. A Yes/No choice is great as far as they are concerned.

The so-called ‘Elites’, the ruling classes who govern the country were painted as having ceded an unacceptable degree of control to the European Project. It isn’t important whether this was accurate. It stuck with people and made the choice a simple one, especially for the older voters. Here, at last, was probably their final chance to grab back control for Great Britain. And no matter how much the liberal elite squeaked a vote to leave was the right thing to do.

If the referendum is re-run in any form there will be a great big chunk of the population that will be very unhappy. The Elites will be ignoring their heartfelt desires to take back control. This time this contingent will have lost control not only to the Europeans but to their own citizens. I’m not sure how well they’ll take that.

 

 

 

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When Britain Lost a Leg

It is gone now and never coming back.

To be crystal clear: the UK is in an appalling state of disarray as a result of Brexit. The entire circumstances surrounding the run up to the vote, the vote itself, the result ,and the turmoil and pain that it has created are bad, and the more I think about it and the more manoeuvring I see from both sides the more I am pained. However, it has and is happening.

The Brexit result is akin to losing one’s leg in a terrible accident. An accident so bad that the limb is destroyed. There is no hope of ever getting the leg back. Ever. There is a time and a place to forensically unpick  the reasons for the accident. However, no amount of protest or analysis nor recognition of the terrible circumstances that led to the loss of the leg will ever get the leg back. The UK is a political amputee.

Our country is puzzlingly stuck at the point of pre-Brexit, where arguing about the circumstances leading up to the result could actually change anything. Those fights were fought, court cases lodged and lost, votes in parliament and the Lords fought over and eventually lost. Article 50 was enacted. We are leaving the EU.

The Remainer camp are obsessed with the minutiae, the unfairness, the damaging effects that will undoubtedly occur and all the other reasons why Brexit should not have happened. In the meantime, the Leavers are grinning, crossing their arms and sticking with permutations of, “You lost. Get over it.” They don’t need to explain why, justify the result or even come up with a plan for the process when faced with the style of opposition presented by the Remainers. The Remain obsession with the past plays right into their hands.

The complete lack of political realism, seemingly driven by a complete refusal to acknowledge political realities in the hope that if something is wished for hard enough it may become true, is exacerbating the damage as we tumble unchecked towards the exit date. Each camp is as guilty as the other with regards to the past. It is like watching two bald men fighting over a comb.

The leg is gone. There are only two options now. The first is  is tantamount to wishing the leg back, which is wishful thinking. The second is to engage fully with our new one-legged reality. In these terms it means attending to the wound and engaging with the physiotherapy.

If there were fewer egos, on both sides, that needed salving I daresay we could manage a better outcome. Finger pointing and engaging in endless permutations of “he said she said” achieves nothing. It is little wonder that the rest of the EU and many other countries are looking at the UK with a mixture of bewilderment and exasperation.

If all the brainpower and effort that was devoted to picking over the legitimacy of  the amputation were to be redirected towards making us the best one-legged country in the world, we could become a top-notch one-legged ass kicker. Instead, we seem to be collectively determined to make us the hobbling cripple of Europe.

 

Thinking The Unthinkable

A brief recap of the political landscape sees us in an unaccustomed situation. May screwed the pooch and lived up to her internal nickname of “Submarine” by saying something, disappearing and resurfacing going another way entirely. It seems this wasn’t as carefully crafted a plan as we all believed. According to Guido Fawkes, she caught Tory HQ on the hop. It seems she believed her own PR a little too much and now she is so power hungry and desperate she wants to risk derailing the Northern Ireland peace process by cosying up to terrorist sympathisers/supporters, despite the brickbats hurled by her lot at Jezza for saying some pretty commonsense things about trying to achieve a resolution to a conflict. Not the way I’d do it but he has been resolutely consistent, something you can’t say for many politicians.

On the other hand, Momentum seems to have spiked Corbyn’s tea with something strong that worked to jolt him into towing the party line. Albeit for a short time.  Labour  is attempting to spin this momentous second place loss – trailing by 56 seats – as the second coming of Christ. Corbyn hailed this as, “an amazing response from the public…I think it is pretty clear who won this election”.  One ought to recall a certain person writing in The Morning Star in 2010 decrying the 48 seat difference as, “disastrous for new Labour”. It is funny how power changes people. Nonetheless, he has a messianic following so one can’t ignore that.

Both parties want a hard Brexit for different reasons. Now Labour think they may have a sniff at actual power they are softening their stance somewhat. May hasn’t got the mandate she sought so she can’t just bundle the country over the nearest cliff as planned. In the meantime the EU are doing good cop bad cop with the chief negotiator making withering remarks whilst the new centrist president of France (Macron) smiles sweetly and alludes that the door to EU membership hasn’t slammed fully shut. That combination of Michel Barnier and Macron will have sowed enough doubt in the minds of sensible people in the Lords and Civil Service that we may be able to wriggle free. The nerves will be getting frayed. Although, there is no doubt that any re-entry will come at a considerable price, both in pride and money.

But back to my party of choice, the Liberal Democrats. The  wailing and gnashing of teeth over the departure of our once glorious leader won’t last long. Many nauseatingly sycophantic comments along the line of, “Tim walked on water and people just need to see what an incredible human being he is”, type thing. There is a recurrent theme here of people having so incredibly strongly held personal viewpoints that they are unable to step back and take a bigger view. Many, in the party rank and file LibDems, seem to function with no distinction between a Parish Council style mentality of ‘dog fouling on the green has to stop’ compared to  National Government issues. There remains a depressingly recurrent theme of trying to blame electoral failure/Farron’s departure or anything else  they don’t like on anything other than themselves. It is the Orange Book believers, the bitchy sniping fringes, Clegg, tuition fees, coalition and so on and so forth.  (Caveat – I am, apparently,  one of the bitchy sniping outsiders. Though, in my defence, I and others are devoting time to try and think how the dire state of the political centre ground  can be fixed.)

Those of us that don’t think the purity of the political soul comes just from the hard graft of pushing leaflets through letter boxes as the answer to every setback are not just corporate bully-boys/girls. We just take a more businesslike view of things. Measuring output and not input is how we look at things.Tim Farron has resigned as leader and that is a very good thing. He singularly failed to get any traction with the press or the electorate regarding Brexit,arguably the most important issue of our time. Say what you like about Corbyn having the air of a divorced geography teacher, at least he has stuck to his guns. I find him deeply distasteful but I respect him nonetheless. People knew who he was and if they had even heard of Farron it was usually because of one thing. Just prior to the election I was at a function and fell in to chat with a retired Brigadier General. Not that old and still very sharp. The talk turned to politics and parties. I told him I was a LibDem and he thoughtfully replied that they were an ok bunch but, and I quote, “I am not keen on that poof-hating god botherer you lot have let into the driver’s seat”. And that, ladies and gents pretty much sums up the public perception of Farron.

Given his voting record, Farron clearly isn’t a homophobe, but try telling that to people who consume mainstream media. He was incapable of deconflicting his personal views and political stance and had had two, count them, two, years to put this to bed and yet he couldn’t. Couple that with external appearance of the cheery carer to Corbyn’s miserable old man persona and he really didn’t cut it. This weekend gone he was obviously handed a loaded pistol, a shovel and told to take a solo walk into the woods, make peace with his god and do the decent thing. And so he did. Kudos. All told, a very liberal regicide.

The Liberal Democrat party is such a big church of conflicting viewpoints that it is too overweight with competing opinions to ever get airborne. By contrast, we make the Tories and Labour appear as ideologically tightly knit units. I think that we try too hard to accommodate too many different positions and it just doesn’t work. Our poor results speak directly to being overweight on too many different opinions and underweight on slick electioneering.

The Social Liberals are perceived as the left wing and the Classical Liberals as the right. I have formed the view that many at the extremes of the Social Liberal position are just Labour supporters in Liberal clothing, scared of the big bad Labour party. The Classical Liberals are definitely just right of the general centre ground and I heard them described as Tories who aren’t bastards. Either way, the tension between the two seems too high. They spend their time arguing amongst themselves rather than winning power.

The wider electorate do not perceive the Liberal Democrats as having a defined leader and nor can they repeat any policy much past the legalisation of cannabis. Corbyn is someone to get behind and to some extent May is the same, though wounded and about to be dispatched soon. It doesn’t matter if you are economically illiterate, do not realise how illiberal both are, you can just be tribal and support a team. Part of that is slavish and unquestioning support for the team when the chips are down. Hell, even the latest Panorama about what happened in this debacle of a General Election never mentioned or showed the LDs at all. Caroline Lucas even got a 10sec slot. Us, nothing. If the LibDems are to ever prosecute a liberal agenda they need recognition and media, however distasteful they may find it.

I think that we may need to do a reverse ferret (apologies to Private Eye for I dip liberally – geddit? – into their terminology) and consider another centre party. At this point many people recoil, gasp and point to the failed SDP-Liberal Alliance that preceded the LibDems. To successfully form a new party one would have to discard convention and do it differently from how it has always been done. Additionally, you need at least three other things for a successful party – good candidates, a good team and money, lots of it.

To take the last one first: Money. Political donors may claim their donation is ideologically driven and altruistically motivated, though that is a little dishonest. We all want something, be it a warm and fuzzy feeling that comes with supporting a shared ideology or  the time-honoured belief that donating to a party buys you influence. A new party needs to be treated like a start-up business with a great idea. Potential investors need to see a return. Their will be a period of burning cash, just like a start-up. When it succeeds you have to pay the piper so investors need to be chosen wisely because they will be microscopically scrutinised and require their return. Again, this needs to be carefully planned.

Whilst on the topic of scrutiny, any new party will need to have candidates.  Not in every seat but 5-10 (max) and targeted, mostly on LibDem seats. This may sound cruel, it ain’t personal, just business. Early successes are needed so that investors need to see the idea working, within the predicted timeframes.  There is a ripe pool of centrist candidates; from Chuka Umunna to Ken Clarke to Ruth Davidson and (gasp) George Osbourne. As an aside, no one seems to be enjoying May’s discomfort more than George. None of the aforementioned are in politics because they love campaigning in the rain, they are in it for themselves as much as anything else. A new party would need an attractive proposition, a plan even! If you ask a successful politician to give it all up and defect they need to see what is in it for them and their constituents. This proof of concept will work if we can back to the hilt a chosen few. The “Full Macron” will have to come later as we run a fundamentally different electoral system here.

Finally, planning. This is not about traditional reactive behaviour, it is treating the enterprise like a start-up business with big investors and lots at stake. A goal, a strategy, tactics and many what-if contingencies. Politics is a brutal pastime, the knives will be out. No planning equals no nothing. A blend of commercial, technical and political talent, people with contacts, people with a clear agenda for themselves. Being in at the launch can make or break them. No namby pamby clockwatchers. If the investment is right and the founding candidates are few then decent salaries can be paid to tempt the best talent away to the start-up. This is how business works. We are not creating a new market but rather trying to introduce a vastly improved product into an established and crowded market. We’ll need to test policy, cost policy, recruit, win backing and be pragmatic while all the time be mindful of our goal to introduce a purer liberal party that is unencumbered by the baggage of the existing one.

PS: This will take time. 18 months minimum to launch. Done under a decent cloak of secrecy. FWIW, I don’t think people have the stones to make this happen. This post is to just put the idea out there and get people thinking and talking. Perhaps it will, who knows.

UPDATE: Perhaps the Liberal Democrats need their own WtF? Rethinking the Democrats from within.

 

Rarely has the political choice been so clear cut

Politics is ordinarily a highly nuanced topic and choosing can be difficult. However, the snap general election in the UK, coming so soon after the vote to leave the European Union has suddenly thrown the voting options into two very stark choices.

Choice one is either of the two largest parties in the UK. Presently: the Conservative party seems hell-bent on driving the UK into either a hard-Brexit or a no-deal scenario. Alternatively, you can could choose the Labour party which also has a pro-Brexit stance. Furthermore, the Labour party is in an organisational shambles. It is poorly led, riven with infighting and is in no shape to lead the country.

The arguments about the rights and wrongs of the decision to leave are behind us. The only thing left to exert any degree of control over is the way the leaving process is managed. As the Brexit vote is a reflection of a very narrow section of the United Kingdom electorate that got out to vote (note to the reader: this is what happens when you vote. Change. Not always for the good)  it signifies huge upset for this country long into the future, both economic and social.  This general election is all about installing a party that can help control the manner of our exit. Damage limitation.

For those of use that thought the UK should remain in the EU then either of the scenarios where the Tories win a huge majority or the Labour party gains power are unacceptable.

The only major party that has been consistently pro-EU has been the Liberal Democrats.

This election is all about Brexit, even the Tory Prime Minister said so. The only way to exert any control over the manner of our departure and our longer term relationship with the EU is to vote for the Liberal Democrats. It is that clear and simple.

I am aware that this is simplistic. Ordinarily you might not vote LibDem. This is about how you feel about our self-inflicted and messy break with the EU. For once it is a simple choice. Once the handbrake is on then we can attend to the regularity of day-to-day politics. If you are indeed a Remainer then the decision is a simple one.

(conflict of interest disclaimer – I joined the LibDems a few days ago for the simple reason outlined above)

Dear Labour, Here Comes UKIP.

In Great Britain the Labour Party (the party of the left, in all its guises) has pulled off the astonishing trick of disappearing so far up its own arse by squabbling amongst itself that everyone can see it for what it has become; Labour is a bunch of power-hungry people, so focused on their own gain, that they will commit collective suicide rather than back down to one another. This public, Faustian style death pact that all the warring elements have bought into is very worrying. These self-obsessed clowns are no longer representative of the voters and nor do they provide an effective opposition, so the Tories just march around doing what they please.

Labour used to be the antidote to the so-called ‘Nasty Party’ (the right-wing Tories) and provided an effective opposition, sometimes got into power and occasionally mitigated some of the more egregious things the hardline Tories do. However, these days there is a new force and it is going to subsume Labour.  I watched the address of the new leader of UKIP on a Channel 4 clip and it was terrifying. Terrifyingly good and terrifyingly dangerous if you are the Labour party. In fact, just scary for any person with even a semi-liberal outlook on life.

In this post-factual political world Paul Nuttal, the new leader of a very unpleasant right-wing party, has marched up to the centre ground and declared that UKIP is the voice of the working classes. His message and delivery are very convincing. An apt metaphor is the new dog in the neighbourhood seen peeing higher on all the lamp posts. These lamp posts are the parliamentary constituencies that the Labour infighting has let go unattended. Anyone who has had a dog knows that they regularly remark their territory, lest the other dogs forget. Labour has failed to do this and the new dog is here.

Nuttal is appealing to traditional Labour voters and I believe that – important caveat now – if he can galvanise UKIP he will decimate the Labour party. If they think he won’t because commonsense dictates that no sane decent person will vote for such a bunch of unpleasant people as UKIP then I have just the one word: Trump. People identify with his message and he is skilled in its delivery. Watch out.