Tag Archives: EU Referendum

A snap General Election is a Really Bad Idea

Theresa May is threatening to call a general election if she loses a vote in the House of Commons over the Article 50 Notification. But surely she is bluffing? What makes her think a House of Commons which votes against A50 will give her the two-thirds majority necessary to dissolve Parliament under the terms of the Fixed Term Parliament Act?

I suppose there’s no underestimating the potential duplicity of the Labour party.

When both the Conservatives and Labour are deeply divided on the one crucial issue the election will be about, and Labour are saddled with a weak and incompetent leader, all an early election will achieve will be to muddy the waters. At best it’s a combination of a crapshoot and a game of Prisoner’s Dilemma when nobody really has a clue what they’ve voting for. It promises to be even worse than the referendum campaign, and is mostly unlikely to result in a Parliament that reflects the electorate.

What will happen when Theresa May’s plans unravel and her authority crumbles is anyone’s guess. Perhaps we’ll end up with some form of ad-hoc coalition of moderate leavers and moderate remainers from both the Tories and Labour that will attempt to negotiate a deal with the EU that’s satisfactory to a critical mass of the country as whole? Or perhaps something even more unpleasant will crawl into the political vacuum?

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High Court Rulings and Tabloid Rage

The Daily Mail goes full FascistSo the High Court ruled that Parliament must have the final say on invoking Article 50 to begin the process of leaving the European Union.

The outrage from the tabloids implies that the High Court have decided to annul the referendum, when the judgement does nothing of the sort. It’s hard to imagine Parliament going further than delaying A50 notification or putting conditions on it. Though the referendum was advisory in a strictly legal sense, politically the only thing that could reverse the result is a second referendum. The apoplexy of the tabloids is very telling; it’s as if they know that the Brexit they’ve lusted after for years might be slipping from the grasp.

The Daily Mail front page today is chilling. The sovereignty of Parliament, the rule of law, and an independent judiciary are cornerstones of our democracy. The Mail rejects all of those in favour of what can only be described as mob rule, and does so using rhetoric indistinguishable from the far-right terrorist who murdered Jo Cox. They are putting lives at risk here.

When it comes to incitement to violence and incitement to racial hatred, both of which are against the law, the rightwing tabloids have been sailing very close to the line for years, and have been allowed to get away with it. Has the Daily Mail crossed the line? Will anyone in authority have the guts enforce the law?

And as I’m writing this comes the news that Tory MP Steven Phillips, who is pro-leave but believes Parliament needs to be involved in the process, has resigned his seat to force a by-election. A clear sign that Daily Mail does not speak for all Leave supporters, let along the country as a whole.

What the High Court ruling has probably done is made a so-called “Hard Brexit” that never had majority support in the country far less likely. And that is almost certainly the real reason the tabloids are throwing their toys out of the pram.

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Off With Her Head?

As people fight in the aisles of Tescos over the last jar of Marmite with rolled-up copies of The Daily Express, Nick Cohen reminds us what happens to executives who pick a fight with parliament and lose.

All the government’s bombast flows from the relatively quiet economic summer we had after the Brexit vote. Like George W. Bush, when he declared ‘mission accomplished’ after the Americans rolled into Baghdad in 2003, cocksure Tories are full of-unwarranted self-confidence. It will shatter if the pound keeps heading for parity with the euro, and a nation with huge sovereign debts finds that the Treasury’s predictions of the tax take slumping are accurate. If jobs start going, if inflation and the national debt start rising, if the bond markets turn ugly, voters will demand that MPs intervene, and the sensible majority in Parliament will be only too pleased to oblige. May will then learn that, for all our faults, we are a parliamentary democracy, and that politicians who treat parliament like Charles I risk meeting the fate of Charles I.

I would hope he’s talking metaphorically rather than literally here. But the events of the past six months are a reminder of why show trials and public executions were a feature of less elightened times.

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The Express goes Full Brownshirt

Faced with the possibility of the Hard Brexit they’ve been lusting after for years slipping from their grasp, The Daily Express responds by completely losing it.

It’s chilling totalitarian stuff, the sort of thing my grandparents’ generation fought World War II to stop.

The reality, of course, is that Theresa May’s unelected government have found out the hard way what every Labour government in history has always known; that a government’s freedom of action is constrained by what the markets will allow. And the markets appear to be vetoing a Hard Brexit.

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Schrödinger’s Brexit

Ever since June, we have been a nation in limbo. The government doesn’t have a clue. The opposition has abdicated entirely. The one party with a coherent position has just eight seats in the House of Commons.

Every single time either of the three pro-Leave cabinet ministers says anything about Britain’s future relationship with Europe, they’re immediately slapped down by the Prime Minister and we’re told whatever they say doesn’t represent government policy. But if you try to ask about the actual government policy, you soon realise that there isn’t one.

Aside from repeating the meaningless mantra “Brexit means Brexit”, Theresa May’s only policy seems to be avoid making any irreversible decision until some sort of consensus emerges that she can sell both to her own party and to the country at large. At the moment there doesn’t seem to be any position that significant factions won’t consider as a betrayal. I fear that she will put short term party unity ahead of the interests of the country if her hand is forced.

If we had a competent opposition, they’d be making mincemeat of this lot. But unfortunately the Labour Party appears to have been eaten alive from the inside by parasitic wasps. Not to mention that they too as as divided as the Tories on the issue, and that division cuts through the party’s electoral base.

A recent opinion poll showed that 62% of the electorate are not prepared to pay any economic costs in order to reduce migration. It’s hard to interpret that as anything other that a lack of public support for a so-called “Hard Brexit”. When push comes to shove, a strong majority will accept freedom of movement in return for the retaining the benefits of the Single Market. But will the hardliners on the Tory right accept this?

At the moment the country risk sleepwalking into a hard Brexit. It’s up to those of us who don’t want that to happen to push that option out of the Overton Window.

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We are a divided nation

Britain of the past two weeks has started to take on the worst aspects of American politics, divided into opposing tribes each with world views the other finds incomprehensible, who regard each other with mutual loathing.

In England and Wales, there’s a gulf between the prosperous cosmopolitan cities and university towns, and the small towns and declining former industrial regions. One side effect of being a progressive rock fan is you do get to visit places like Bilston, Crewe or Wath-upon-Dearne. It’s a different world from the bustling cities and leafy suburbs, and it’s a world many from the prosperous regions probably never see.

What this divisive referendum has exposed is the way our structure of government and electoral system disenfranchises large parts of the country. People who don’t live in marginal constituencies had got used to their vote not counting for anything much in general elections, and used the one time their vote actually did count to send a message to the elites that had been ignoring or taking them for granted.

Whether we do end up leaving the European Union in the end, and it’s by no means as settled as some politicians would like us to think, we will have to heal those divisions.

It ought to be obvious that the fruits of whatever prosperity we might see in the future must be shared more fairly, and we need to think about the best ways of doing this without either stifling enterprise or creating political client states.

But constitutional reform needs to be high on the agenda. There needs to be a more representative electoral system for starters; never again should mainstream politics be able to ignore entire regions for decades. But there also needs to be more regional autonomy within England. It’s not clear quite what a more decentralised England might look like, but if people voted to “take back control”, they should be given more power over the political decisions that effect their lives.

Quite how this can come to pass rather than see the nation fall deeper into darkness and division is another question.

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This World is Totally Fuguzi

When I checked in to a hotel in Worcester for a gig on Friday night I told the Polish receptionist it was the middle date of a three-day trip and I’d spent the previous night in Bristol.

“I hope you voted”, she replied.

There was a subdued mood at the gig; what happened affected band and audience. There were doubts at the back of the mind over how well this little grassroots scene would survive the coming storm. There were conversations about future gigs and festivals that ended with “Assuming of course it still takes place”.

Almost everyone I know has been completely devastated by the referendum result. Many are in fear of their livelihood, some are in fear of their personal safety and even their lives. Not only is the entire economy heading down the toilet, but the result has emboldened the very worst people in the country; especially the stupid, violent racists who now believe that 52% agree with them and think they have a licence to hurl crude abuse at anyone who looks foreign. If you voted Leave, you have helped enable these knuckle-draggers regardless of your reasons for voting that way.

But I can’t bring myself to hate everyone who voted Leave. Yes, some of those who voted Leave were unpleasant small-town xenophobes. Yes, others were the worst kinds of sociopathic libertarians. And many more were ignorant fools who were too willing to believe obvious lies. But there must have been many more who voted in protest against a political establishment that had ignored or taken them for granted for decades.

This doesn’t mean we should not be angry at those who should have known better, and there are many of them.

But I am far angrier at out political elites for getting us in this mess. David Cameron, whose catastrophic political misjudgement is the direct cause. And George Osborne whose ideologically-driven austerity program has screwed-over the poorest communities.

Then there’s the entire Leave Campaign, every single one of them lying two-faced slime. Boris Johnson is revealed as an utterly cynical charlatan. Farage has revealed his true nature as an out-and-out racist. UKIP are the natural successors of the BNP; the decline of that openly racist party not so much a rejection of their values as UKIP hoovering up their base. And don’t even get me started on the Daily Mail and the Daily Express for printing out-and-out race hate on their front pages.

And last, but not least, Jeremy Corbyn. There is increasing evidence that Corbyn, or at least his inner circle, actively sabotaged Labour’s contribution towards the Remain campaign. In a way that duplicity is even worse than Boris’ lying. It may be that Corbyn himself is innocent and the blame lies with people surrounding him such as the odious Seamas Milne, but the truth is the leadership did not support the party on the ground. That is why the party is now in meltdown.

We are now two nations who inhabit different cultural universes, and we must ask ourselves how the hell we got here. What happened to the confident outward-looking Britain of the 2012 Olympics? What made 52% of the voters believe the only way their voices would matter was to utterly screw over the other 48% in revenge?

It may well be that in the end we won’t actually leave the EU after all. The referendum was technically advisory and not legally binding, a deliberate loophole that neither campaign wanted to draw attention to. David Cameron did not send notification under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on Friday, and that may prove to be very significant. For all the talk of respecting the will of the people, a democracy is not the same as tyranny of the majority, and democratic systems have checks and balances for a reason. The majority was less that 4% and both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain. The only thing stopping Parliament from overruling the referendum is how they’re going to sell it to the voters at the next election. But anything could happen and a lot could change in the next couple of months.

Healing the deep divisions in England and in Wales is going to take a lot longer.

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Political Grief Policing

Ian Dunt says that Brexiters must stop trying to police the reaction to Jo Cox’s death.

For the Remain camp the death forced a pause in campaigning just when they needed to get their message out. But for Brexiters it was far worse. In a contest which is fundamentally about risk and the public appetite for a jump into the unknown, the news of a mother being killed in the street seemed to affirm a sense of chaos and impending darkness. It provided an emotional backdrop which gravitated towards concerns about stability and security.

But that’s only half of it. Brexiters aren’t just scared the death will have an impact on the referendum. They’re scared it will force a change in how we talk about immigration. An expectation might develop that the debate be discussed moderately, with as little emotion as possible, and on the basis of facts.

That would be a disaster for the anti-immigration lobby, which is very good at telling stories designed to trigger an emotional response, particularly in those who are struggling to get by. ‘This family of seven just arrived in Britain and now they’re in the council home you didn’t get’ – that type of thing. Sometimes the stories are true. Mostly they are false. But they are all based on highly emotive and divisive attempts to turn the public mood. They reached a pinnacle – for now, if we’re lucky – in the Nigel Farage ‘Breaking Point’ poster.

For those two reasons – Brexit and the continuation of an aggressive anti-immigration debate – Jo Cox’s death needed to be stripped of its political context. It could not be treated as a political killing of a political person, with political causes and political repercussions. It had to be turned into a simple story of personal tragedy. Nothing more

What he says. Jo Cox was a politician who was murdered by someone who was opposed to everything she stood for politically. I’ve had to mute Leave suporters on social media who engaged in precisely the sort of policing Ian Dunt is calling out here. But there was never a peep from the same people over the Leave campaigns gross and inflammatory racism.

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Where do we go from here?

Jo Cox (Wikipedia)There were some rational arguments in favour of Leave, but their appeal has always been based more on emotion than on reason. Which was why Remain found it so hard to counter Vote Leave’s lies with cold, hard facts. Vote Leave has tapped into a rich seam of pent-up resentment from people mainstream politics had been ignoring for decades.

But everything has changed in the past 48 hours. After the terrible murder of Jo Cox technical arguments about economics or democracy or sovereignty just don’t matter any more. It’s become a question of what sort of country we want to be, and a vote for Leave represents an endorsement of the blatant and ugly racism of Leave’s loudest and nastiest supporters.

And that is something which simply cannot be allowed to happen.

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British Politics Decends Into The Darkness

I am finding it very difficult to find the right words to express my shock, horror and anger at today’s events.

Yesterday the referendum campaign descended into farce with a mock sea-battle on the Thames. Today began with Nigel Farage using imagery lifted straight from 1930s Nazi propaganda, and ended with the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox. While there appear to be conflicting eye-witness reports, much of what we’ve heard suggests the killer was a supporter of the far-right.

David Cameron’s decision to call a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union was a spectacular political miscalculation in the first place. It has unleashed dark forces into British politics which will prove very difficult to banish. The Leave Campaign and their supporters in the press, especially The Daily Mail, have been steadily ratcheting up the racist rhetoric in the past weeks; they’re not even bothering with the dog whistle any more. It’s hardly surprising they have the far-right marching under their banner.

In this increasingly ugly atmosphere, it was only a matter of time before something like this was going to happen.

I knew very little about Jo Cox, but the tributes I’ve seen flowing paint a picture of a woman dedicated to making the world a better place. She was a reminder that the majority of MPs across all parties are essentially good people; that the sociopaths, demagogues, charlatans and cynical careerists that exist in all parties too are a minority.

When something like this happens, it’s easy to give in to hate. To rage against the people whose rhetoric empowered the ugliness that took an innocent life. They need to be called to account, yes. But more hate won’t break the cycle.

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