Monday, 7 November 2016

I want to stay in the EU

This post first appeared in Liberal Democrat Voice.
There has been a bit of a sea change in British politics in the last couple of weeks.
Since June 23rd Remainers have had to put up with their lot, accept the referendum result as if it were a binding expression of democratic will and start preparing for a post Brexit world, or face howls of outrage. I guess that is still the likely outcome, despite today’s court ruling.
But it has become more possible than it has at any time since the referendum to say publicly that I want to stay in the EU, and I hope very much that we find a way to get out of the fix that the vote for Brexit has put us in. Partly it is a matter of courage. Any expression of dismay with the result has been met with a explosive mixture of nastiness, aggression, scorn and abuse ever since. The level has not abated but I have begun to summon up the courage to take it on. Partly that comes from having worked out more firmly the reasons why I stand where I stand:
  • The referendum was not an instruction to Parliament. It was a snapshot of opinion. Opinion was different before, and it has again become different since. (Current polls are around 52-48 for staying in – the margin Farage said he would not accept.)
  • The majority was wafer thin, and it is quite right that our sovereign body – Parliament – should decide “whether” to pursue monumental, damaging and long lasting changes to Britain’s political and economic structures on the basis of such a tiny majority.
  • The vote was won on the basis of a mountain of lies from the Leave campaign and therefore has no moral standing. I do not buy the subsequent lie that both sides lied. The Remain campaign indulged in what I regard as the normal level of exaggeration and selectivity of a political campaign. It never approached the industrial scale of the Leave campaign’s lies.
What has happened since has also stiffened my resolve. Every Leave voter I have spoken to knows exactly what the vote meant for them and everybody else. The trouble is they can’t agree. I have read a number of accounts applying the alleged stages of change to the result. I read one today. It said there are four stages: denial, anger, chaos, renewal. Brexit has not been going through these stages. Brexit has been chaos ever since June 23rd. Nobody, least of all the government, has a clue what is going to happen. It is not wise to plan our long term future on the basis of chaos.
So I want to stay in the EU. I want to be part of reforming it so that it works for its citizens, not its elites. And I want to be part of reforming Britain as well so that it works for its citizens, not for its elites. I want the people who voted to leave because they feel ignored to have a government that is interested in ensuring that they have jobs, houses, a health system and a future that works for them. That means massive change in our political priorities. It does not mean leaving the EU.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Don't believe it till you see it

The DWP's decision to cease re-testing chronically ill claimants is, a rare thing for the DWP in its current guise, welcome. It could be interpreted as part of Theresa May's ambition to govern for “everyone”, but it would be unwise to be too optimistic about further possible decisions and strategies. Firstly, we do not know yet who this will apply to. The criteria are yet to be drawn up, and they could easily turn out to be quite restrictive. Secondly, it is effectively a cost free exercise. The repeated assessments, with attendant reconsiderations and appeals, cost the department money, and save very little apart from those who are thrown off the benefit system because of the stress of repeated testing and because of wrong conclusions being drawn about people's fitness. Damien Green does not share Iain Duncan Smith's vindictive attitude towards claimants. Indeed hardly any Tories do, apart from Chris Grayling. Without that vindictive attitude it would be plain to any reasonable manager that the system should be stopped. Saving the government money by axing a pointless system cannot be interpreted as being one nation government. It means nothing politically. We also have to consider that other planned cuts will be going ahead, and these are a much more potent test of whether the Tories will be governing on behalf of everybody.

We need to focus on things which tangibly improve lives

Originally published in Liberal Democrat Voice on October 1st. Go there for a vibrant comment thread.

Are we barking up the wrong tree?

I have wondered for a while if we are focussing on the wrong things, particularly where the EU is concerned. For the record, I want to remain in the EU. I see it as a flawed institution, run by the same cadre of neoliberal capitalists as those who run this country and most of the other countries in Europe. It has, however, two things going for it. The first is the possibility of deeper co-operation across national boundaries. The second is that it has woven into it a thick texture of human rights which the neoliberals despite their best efforts have been unable to unwind – it was after all woven in before they came along.

But when I look at this country's biggest problems, the EU is neither the problem nor the solution. The media cacophony remains completely confusing as to why people voted to leave. The people who voted leave are equally confusing, and there are massive attempts to shut down debate by taking offence if suggestions are made that, for instance, cutting immigration will not solve any problems other than the fragility of some people's sense of national identity. Taking back control does not take back control, but merely hands it to different members of the neoliberal elite. We still need to identify and solve the problems which have caused such disaffection with the political process.

Advocating staying in the EU is the same as advocating different voting systems. There is no point in either if nothing changes. For a very large majority of those who voted to leave, the key problem is disillusionment. Their experience is that, whatever changes at the top, their circumstances do not change. That experience has, if anything, been reinforced in recent years as the elite gets richer and working lives become more precarious. They do not perceive the benefits of staying in the EU; if anything they have been seduced into blaming some of the features of the EU – free movement of people, for instance – as being the cause of their ills.

So, while the flag at the top of our pole still needs to fly – to remain engaged with the EU (and also to think in terms of fairer voting systems), this means nothing to many people if we do not have detailed and credible policies for improving the material conditions of their lives, and make it clear that we prioritise these over what voters see as more flighty, less relevant issues.

So we should focus on housing (100% on the Farronometer there) – making housing available and affordable. This goes whether it is for renters or owners, and we should encourage more use of different forms of tenure – co-ownership and so on.

We should focus on public services, particular in terms of adjusting financing when population movement causes pressure. This goes with localism, a great LibDem virtue, but again, localism goes nowhere in the public mind without tangible outcomes.

We should focus on regional policy, particularly those regions that voted heavily in favour of brexit. Not directly because of that, but because that vote was nurtured in a sense of loss for destroyed prospects that have never been recovered. The focus of any policy decision should be the benefit to the region: if, say, someone proposes a new rail link between London and South Wales, the key question should be what is the benefit to South Wales.

We should focus on employment and benefit policies which are fit for the reality of the precarious working lives of too many people nowadays. Universal Credit is a good idea, being implemented in a hopeless fashion. The idea can be salvaged while removing the vindictiveness at the heart of current DWP culture.

Political ideas work best with tangible benefits. We've been great at the ideas; we need to found them solidly in tangible outcomes.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

So what now?

The referendum is over. The people have spoken. Democracy is flawed. Many elections go “wrong”, and it does not hold up to demand a rerun because we did not like the result.. And now we have a number of Leave voters similarly saying “Oops”. That happens. It has happened before. Back in 2015, Lewes lost its best ever MP, Norman Baker. I am not often stunned, but I was stunned in the days after by the number of Green and Labour acquaintances of mine who had lent Norman their votes before but withheld them on this occasion, and afterwards said, “Oops, didn't mean that to happen”.

It might be possible to avoid leaving the EU. Various scenarios have been proposed. I find none of them convincing.

The Boris option – renegotiate from a position of strength – a non starter. Boris Johnson appears lost in a storm of his own making. It might be possible for him as the poster boy of the Leave movement to do some very subtle manoeuvring to get us into a position of an acceptable way to stay in the EU – but this demands a level of capacity which he does not reach. He has demonstrated himself to be a very clever, and extremely ambitious man, but sadly mediocre when it comes to political delivery.

It has been suggested that Labour might challenge Corbyn and elect an effective pro European leader, and that a new Tory PM might take the country to an election, and that Labour might win convincingly and take that as a verdict on the referendum. Apart from all the “mights”, that would require Labour to get its act together and there is no sign of that.

It is possible that reaction may come from the people. The Leave campaign was based entirely on lies. They lied on an industrial scale as they have already admitted. There is a moral case for rerunning the referendum. But there is no political case, at least not yet. The petition for another referendum is growing fast – of itself that is meaningless. But the number of Leave voters who are beginning to realise that they were conned is growing. There will be more, particularly as they absorb the fact that that the entire Leave case was based on lies. If enough Leave voters made their disillusionment clear, it might trigger a change of feeling. But again that is an extraordinarily long shot.

To be frank, Remain did not deserve to win on the basis of its campaign. In future years dictionaries under “lacklustre” will say “See 2016 Remain campaign”. There was some passionate and effective local campaigning by different groups, but the overall campaign somehow managed to saddle itself as its figurehead with David Cameron, a man incapable of passion on any topic. And as Juncker is reported to have said, if you rubbish the EU from Monday to Saturday, people are not going to believe you when you turn up on Sunday and say it's great. I don't blame Cameron for that actually, he is what he is, a man with no political anchor except a belief in privilege. But people who did, and do, believe in the European project should never have allowed him to be at the front of the campaign.

And further, I have to say I was not impressed with the LibDem campaign. Again, good in parts, but I feel badly let down by the hierarchy both nationally and locally. With apologies to any individuals involved. We are supposed to be good at campaigning – it's what we do. But we did not manage it on this occasion.

I take account of the fact that the media ignored us. That is not our fault. They were not interested in anything – anything – we had to say. They focussed only on blue on blue infighting. They amplified Cameron's misreading in using the referendum to try to heal internal Tory divisions. They helped him fail. That's not our fault, but we could still have done better than we did.

So what now. Well, I accept the result. But not the argument. And for me, the issue is that the EU was never the problem. Whether we are in or out, that will not change. The problem is a lump of English people, voters, who feel disenfranchised. They feel they have no voice, and they feel their identity is threatened. Our failure as LibDems to address this feeling is a problem. We have allowed the elites of the political, financial and media classes to deflect soundly based working class anger on to the EU and on to immigrants.

We have to engage with the causes of working class resentment. And to do that, we can leave behind both the EU and immigration. The key problem for all of us is that misnamed thing, neoliberalism, together with the establishment and the new global elite. (Glenn Greenwald says all this a lot better and in more detail than I can here.)

The LibDems are by definition anti establishment. I will leave for another day the question of what counts as the establishment, but suffice for these purposes to say that the establishment includes both Boris Johnson and, very definitely, Nigel Farage. (Michael Gove, I'm not so sure about; I'm not sure that the establishment knows what to do with him.)

Our entire economic and political system in this globalised world is designed to keep the working classes adrift on a sea of uncertainty. I am afraid to say that the unreconstructed economic liberal wing of this party aid and abet that system. (I am all for free trade that benefits citizens. I am not for things like TTIP that pass for free trade but actually continue to benefit corporations and the elite.)*

They feel their identity is under threat. It is. I think they divide into two types – those who are defending privilege, who believe that somehow their interests should take precedence over other people's. I have no truck with them, and they will most likely remain our political opponents. Another block are genuinely ill at ease, puzzled by a world of increasing uncertainty, which their education and their lives have not prepared them for. We should be speaking to these people, we should be working for them and against the elite, and we have failed to do so with sufficient consistency and clarity. I have a few ideas and no doubt others will supply many more.

- everybody capable of work deserves a decent job and a decent pay rate. That they do not get them is because of the inequality in the system, whereby our national elite cream off all the surplus, and our politicians enable them to do so. In short, bankers and billionaires – regardless of whether we are in or out of the EU. I think there is fertile ground for promoting responsible redistribution of the profits earned by the work put in by everybody with a job. As well as everybody out of a job, because that becomes part of our security. We should be much more upfront about the fact that the profits earned by people's hard work are automatically redistributed from working people into executive salaries and corporate profits, and they can be redistributed back. It is not a “burden” on rich people, it is fairness in action. In particular we should create much more effective regional strategies that enable job creation in the places that most need them. We can most effectively start with the areas that voted most strongly for Brexit.

- we should be saying loud and clear we have had enough of austerity, both the Tories' austerity and Labour's austerity. All austerity has ever done is take money out of the pockets of ordinary decent people and stuff it into the pockets of bankers and billionaires. I am not scapegoating bankers and billionaires (though they deserve it). I am just responding to the way the system we have works – it siphons money up. Our job is to siphon it back down.

- everybody deserves a decent and affordable house. We have done quite well with this message but we need to do more, much more. In particular all LibDem controlled councils should stretch every sinew to create affordable housing by every means possible.

- we are proud of being a British party. We are proud of our identity as English (in my case) and British. Nothing will ever take that away from us. I know this is problematic for some of us, but it is possible to have a liberal approach to promoting a more secure national identity (as opposed to nationalism). This is something I think we need to say much, much more clearly. There is nothing wrong with us using the Union Flag (as long as it exists) and the flag of St George. We can be liberal and patriotic; we can be liberal and proud of it. We can be proud of being who we are without pretending that we are better than everybody else – and we should be.

- and we are clear, as Tim Farron has now said, that it is best for Britain to remain in the EU. We are democrats and we respect the result of the referendum. But people are already changing their minds, in large numbers. We will give them the opportunity to vote for that change of mind at the next election.




*all comments will be accepted. I expect rampant commentary from TTIP ultras, which I will probably ignore because there is no point arguing with them (a bit like some Brexiters), but please comment on the other stuff as well.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

We have our country: we don't need it “back”.

Thereis a time for mourning, there is a time for resolution, and there is a time for truth. Sometimes those times coincide, and this is one of those moments. Being a time for truth also means a time for confrontation. We have to tell the truth about the Leave campaign's great lie about immigration, about the brutal enthusiasm for stoking up imaginary fears with their anti immigration rhetoric, and the atmosphere they have helped to create, an atmosphere of fear and hate, in which it becomes possible to think that taking someone's life is a legitimate act. “He was nothing to do with us” they say, as they weep crocodile tears about the abrupt ending of a life.

Sometimes I feel really sorry for Nigel Farage. He complains about having to sit on a train with people speaking foreign languages around him. He must have such a fragile sense of identity, sitting in an English train, with English language ads and instructions on the wall, reading an English newspaper. He makes me want to pick him up and cuddle him, take him home and tuck him into bed with a nice soothing cup of ovaltine. Poor little Nigel. Only, of course, he isn't. He knew exactly what he was doing when he unveiled his Nazi redux poster this week, playing on the worst fears of the fiction he and his like have created. And when somebody finally takes him at his word, he will wash and wash and wash his hands, but the stain will not come out.


A worse lie still is the one that has taken hold in the mind of so much of middle England that their country has somehow disappeared. It has not. It is still here. As our football team once again misfires magnificently through a major competition, as April rain in June washes out the cricket, our country has not gone anywhere. It is in nobody else's hands. It is still here. It belongs to us and we belong to it. People have been bamboozled into thinking that they have lost their country. What they have lost is security, identity, pride – and all because of the way the world works, not because of Europe or immigration. Zero hour contracts, low wages, precarious employment, food banks will not disappear if we leave the EU. They will not disappear if all the immigrants go away. Britain will continue a gradual slide down global economic rankings, because other countries are developing. There is no way to stop that, and the slide will be faster if we leave the EU. People say “We're still number 1”. We're not. That does not mean we can't be proud of ourselves. I'm very proud of being English, of being British. I don't have to pretend I'm better than anyone else to do that. Yet people are being made to be unhappy, and in fact to be murderous, because somebody across the road is wearing different clothes or speaking a different language. That is foul.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Hillsborough. Justice? Or truth?

The papers today are saying, almost uniformly, that we at last have justice for the 96. Some of the families are saying so as well. I disagree. We do not yet have justice. What the decision gave us yesterday was the truth. Truth is a very important part of justice, but only a part of it. This is an important issue in terms of the national debate, because this is not only about 96 people who lost their lives, and not only about the survivors and family who have had to live with the consequences. We have reached the truth because of the determination of the families, the decency of some (but certainly not all) politicians, and the professionalism and integrity of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, and the coroner and jury who gave their verdicts yesterday.

But this is not yet justice. Justice requires that people face up to their wrong doing and, if necessary, pay a price. There has been much persistent wrong doing over Hillsborough. It is not just about wrong doing by people who were there on the day. It is also about policy and culture that led to a climate in which that kind of thing could happen. And it is also about persistent, deliberate and long term perversion of the course of justice because so many people lied for so long about what actually happened. Even during this inquest, over the course of the last two years, South Yorkshire police barristers were still peddling the lie that the fans were ticketless and out of control drunk. I don't blame the barristers - they were doing their job. I do blame South Yorkshire police - the current commanders of South Yorkshire police - for continuing to peddle such a lie.

The Mirror asks today if justice will be served by people being prosecuted after so long a time. It is a legitimate question. But the answer in this case is a resounding yes. Many people who got it wrong on the day have continued in their lives and careers apparently undisturbed by what they did, and undisturbed by the relentless cover up of their failings and crimes. Yes, they should pay a price.

And the wrong doing has continued to this day. The South Yorkshire police who hid the truth, the West Midlands police who aided and abetted their cover up were guilty even yesterday of maintaining the lie. And it is not a little white lie. It is perverting the course of justice. They should be brought to book.

For some people, the law will not bring justice. The Sun newspaper continues on its merry way. Its "heartfelt" apology was published on pages 8 and 9. Why not on the front page? The Metro has done a brilliant job of trolling the Sun, by the way, reproducing the Sun's infamous front page, and then reporting the results of the inquest with exactly the same format. You need to scroll down a little way to get it.

And there is the person known as Bernard Ingham, the poison pen letter writer. He is a really nasty man. He still refuses to apologise for his disgusting reaction. He will carry on untouched.

The survivors, the families and friends will make their own decision as to whether to continue to campaign for justice. They have earned the right to that decision.

Whatever they decide, the guilty should be pursued. And I hope that the state, which has so long used its apparatus against the 96, will now work on their behalf. But the law does not cover everything. The law cannot not always bring justice, because justice is more than the law. The law does not have the capacity to secure justice between the 96 and their families on the one hand, and the Sun and Bernard Ingham on the other. Justice is about the right kind of relationship existing between people, and it is up to all of us as human beings and as citizens to secure the balance. That means contesting privilege, calling out the powerful when they abuse their power, as the Sun and Ingham have done. And because they are so persistent in abusing their power, the confrontation must also be persistent. In that regard we all have a lot to learn from the families and friends of the 96.

27th April edited to add.
Perhaps they are beginning to do it: David Crompton, South Yorkshire Police Chief Constable, Suspended After Hillsborough Inquest Verdict. While he has only been in command of S Yorks police since 2012, he has been directly involved in the maintenance of the cover up, as shown in the article.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Hillsborough verdict

So the verdict is in, and we have the truth.

QUESTION 6: Determination on unlawful killing issue

Are you satisfied, so that you are sure, that those who died in the disaster were unlawfully killed? Yes or no.

Yes

QUESTION 7: Behaviour of the supporters

Was there any behaviour on the part of the football supporters which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles? Yes or no.

No.

Was there any behaviour on the part of the football supporters which may have caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles? Yes or no.

No.
______________________________________________

No thanks to Bernard Ingham, who wrote the most poisonous letter I have ever seen from a government official.

No thanks to the Sun. I'm not even going to link to their disgusting front page.

No thanks to Kelvin Mackenzie, who has issued a crocodile apology and continued on his vicious way.

No thanks to South Yorkshire police.

No thanks to West Mercia police, who "investigated" South Yorkshire police.

No thanks to a succession of governments and ministers who failed in their duty to see that justice was done for their citizens, and were complicit in causing it to take 25 years to discover the truth.

Thanks only to the dogged determination of ordinary people - survivors, family, relatives, friends, supporters who would not rest, and some of whom fought until their own deaths, we finally have the truth about these 96 victims of an incapable and corrupt system.

John Alfred Anderson
Colin Mark Ashcroft
James Gary Aspinall
Kester Roger Marcus Ball
Gerard Bernard Patrick Baron
Simon Bell
Barry Sidney Bennett
David John Benson
David William Birtle
Tony Bland
Paul David Brady
Andrew Mark Brookes
Carl Brown
David Steven Brown
Henry Thomas Burke
Peter Andrew Burkett
Paul William Carlile
Raymond Thomas Chapman
Gary Christopher Church
Joseph Clark
Paul Clark
Gary Collins
Stephen Paul Copoc
Tracey Elizabeth Cox
James Philip Delaney
Christopher Barry Devonside
Chris Edwards
Vincent Michael Fitzsimmons
Thomas Steven Fox
Jon-Paul Gilhooley
Barry Glover
Ian Thomas Glover
Derrick George Godwin
Roy Harry Hamilton
Philip Hammond
Eric Hankin
Gary Harrison
Stephen Francis Harrison
Peter Andrew Harrison
David Hawley
James Robert Hennessy
Paul Anthony Hewitson
Carl Darren Hewitt
Nicholas Michael Hewitt
Sarah Louise Hicks
Victoria Jane Hicks
Gordon Rodney Horn
Arthur Horrocks
Thomas Howard
Thomas Anthony Howard
Eric George Hughes
Alan Johnston
Christine Anne Jones
Gary Philip Jones
Richard Jones
Nicholas Peter Joynes
Anthony Peter Kelly
Michael David Kelly
Carl David Lewis
David William Mather
Brian Christopher Matthews
Francis Joseph McAllister
John McBrien
Marian Hazel McCabe
Joseph Daniel McCarthy
Peter McDonnell
Alan McGlone
Keith McGrath
Paul Brian Murray
Lee Nicol
Stephen Francis O'Neill
Jonathon Owens
William Roy Pemberton
Carl William Rimmer
Dave George Rimmer
Graham John Roberts
Steven Joseph Robinson
Henry Charles Rogers
Colin Andrew Hugh William Sefton
Inger Shah
Paula Ann Smith
Adam Edward Spearritt
Philip John Steele
David Leonard Thomas
Patrick John Thompson
Peter Reuben Thompson
Stuart Paul William Thompson
Peter Francis Tootle
Christopher James Traynor
Martin Kevin Traynor
Kevin Tyrrell
Colin Wafer
Ian David Whelan
Martin Kenneth Wild
Kevin Daniel Williams
Graham John Wright