Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Yes, the Prime Minister is useless, but that’s not enough to shift him


By a strange set of circumstances, which some of us would call a perfect storm, we now have the most incompetent, corrupt and dangerous Prime Minster in living memory.

He is popular, although his popularity rating seems to be in decline.

Nonetheless, with a weak and uninspiring Opposition, there is a chance that Boris Johnson could be in power for many years, leading the country in a direction that many of us don’t want to go.

Just as exceptional circumstances brought us a decade of Tory misrule, culminating in a Boris Johnson premiership, it will take exceptional circumstances to replace him with safer and saner leadership.

Here are some ideas, but yours are just as important, if not more so.

▪ We need opposition parties to work together. They probably won’t, but they should, and if they could put the country above their parties, they would.

▪ We need an opposition leader whose personality appeals to the people. Yes, I know that will be an anathema to many, especially those who liked Jeremy Corbyn and thought he’d make a good leader.

But it matters not a jot if you or I like someone. The nation as a whole has to warm to a leader. Yes, it’s a personal thing.

▪ We need an opposition to offer policies that both excite and appeal to a broad section of the country. With our voting system, no party can win without the support of those who don’t usually vote for them.

That’s a fact, not an opinion.

▪ We need an alternative government not just to appeal to the country at large. We need them to be brave and bold, and offer new, truly radical policies that will both set it apart from those now in office, and to animate and arouse us.

What could those policies be? Well, here are a few outline proposals. They are not all my ideas, some have already been put forward by opposition parties.

▪ A universal basic income for everyone. Yes, everyone would have enough; an essential income for all. For anyone to live in poverty in the UK – especially children – is shocking and unacceptable in the modern age.

▪ Truly green public transport. People are getting excited about electric cars, but that won’t be enough to tackle climate change. The issue is not so much what fuels the cars, but who owns them.

For most of the last year in lockdown, my car has been on my drive, and I doubt I’ve driven more than 100 miles. It shouldn’t be that way.

We need excellent, reliable, green public transport that’s so inexpensive, most of us won’t want or need to own our own car anymore. Who’ll pay for that? To start with, those who insist on car ownership for private use only.

▪ Free higher education for all, and lifetime learning for everyone, subsidised by the businesses who need clever people to work for them. Education is an investment in the future and wealth of the whole nation and provides huge returns.

If Britain wants a world class workforce – and it does – then the government, not just businesses, needs to be an “Investor in People”.

▪ A massive investment in green farming across the UK. Our government must do much more to help our farmers to enable Britain to be more successful and sustainable in feeding its people.

▪ A new system of voting; proportional representation, that most countries in Europe have now adopted. Our current system of first-past-the-post means that governments get into power that most people have not voted for.

Most people did not vote for the Tories in the 2019 general election, and yet they achieved an 80-seat majority with only 1% more votes than they got in the 2017 general election, in which they lost their majority entirely. That cannot be right.

▪ The United Kingdom to be an equal partnership of its four members – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

That’d mean the UK becomes a true union of four sovereign states (if that’s what they want) acting on a similar model to the EU’s 27 nations. It’s just not acceptable or sustainable for England to be superior to the other three.

▪ Closer relations with the EU, leading over time to negotiating and applying to rejoin. That will likely take some time, because the relationship has been so damaged. The first step could be to rejoin the Single Market.

▪ Subsidised fast internet broadband for everyone, paid for by the businesses who make billions out of us being on the internet, and whose business models simply couldn’t work without it.

So, these are some initial ideas, but of course they are not nearly enough.

The debate about what country we want Britain to be, and the polices to take us there, needs to take place years in advance of a general election, not just weeks before one takes place.

That means now. Yes, it’s urgent.

What ideas do you have that would set the nation on a new and better path to the one we’re now on?
  • WATCH AND WEEP – the uselessness of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister

  • BREXIT LIES – Boris Johnson, you DIDN'T get Brexit done

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Thursday, 3 June 2021

"What if the EU ruled that we must all wear knickers on our heads?"

After the referendum, and before Covid, I sat down at one of my favourite eating places to enjoy a vegetarian curry. Hot stuff!

But more heated was the discussion that took place afterwards.

Brexiters to the left of me; Brexiters to the right of me. I was outnumbered, but I put up a good fight. Here’s how it went.

‘The EU isn’t democratic!’

‘Yes it is; laws are democratically passed.’

‘No. You are deluded. The Parliament is full of puppets. They do as they’re told.’

‘Actually, the EU is run by democratically elected politicians.’

‘You’re talking out of your behind! Look, tell me this, if the EU passed a law saying everyone had to wear women’s knickers on their heads, what could you do about it? Well, what could anyone do?’

 ‘The EU would never pass such a law. What could you do if our Parliament passed such a law?’

‘We could vote at the next general election.’

‘So, we can vote in the next European elections. Did you vote in the European elections?’

‘No. Waste of time. So you see, if the EU told us to wear women’s knickers on our heads, there’s nothing you could do.’

‘So, tell me one law of the EU that you don’t like.’

‘There are thousands, so many.’

‘Well, just tell me one.’

No answer. Conversation moves on...
‘And the EU accounts have never been signed off!’

‘Yes, they have been signed off every year by the independent auditors.’

‘No they haven’t.’

‘Yes they have.’

‘No they haven’t’

Get out mobile phone. 

‘Look, here’s the signature of the President of the European Court of Auditors, signing off the EU accounts.’

‘Oh that’s not independent, it’s got European in the name’.

‘Of course it’s independent.’

‘No, I mean when PwC [PriceWaterhouseCoopers] refused to sign off the EU accounts.’

‘PwC has never audited the EU accounts.’

‘So, it must have been one of the other big accountancy firms.’

‘Why would any of them audit the EU accounts when the EU accounts are already signed off by the European Court of Auditors?’

‘Look another thing, it’s a gravy chain for EU bureaucrats. There’s a guy at the EU who gets paid 90,000 a year just to look into the shape of lettuces.’

‘Who are you talking about?’

‘I met him at a party. He told me. Why would he lie to me?’

‘Well, people sometimes embellish things at parties. What’s his name, I’ll contact him to check this out?’

‘I don’t know his name. I just met him at a party, and that’s what he told me. Of course he wouldn’t lie!’

‘Look, this is getting ridiculous. The referendum has split the country in half. There’s a real danger that it could split up the four countries of the UK.’

‘What’s wrong with that? We don’t need Scotland. Let them go.’

‘I think it would be very sad for the UK to split.’

Look, get over it. We’re leaving That’s democracy. We’re leaving.’

‘Yes, but in a democracy, voters can change their minds.’

The exchange went on for another hour. You can guess the rest.

These are all the same comments left on my Facebook pages every day, but this time, in real time, real space, face to face.

I said in passing,

‘The best debates are ones where you can agree the facts, and then discuss what you think about those facts. But the problem with the debate about Brexit is that nobody can agree on the facts.’

We all parted on good company, shook hands, and agreed it was a lively and interesting discussion.

But it’s taken over 40 years for such misinformation about all things EU (and Europe) to become rigidly entrenched in the minds of millions and millions of Britons. 

Where’s the big campaign to enlighten and change minds? There isn’t one.

If there was another referendum next week, all the same immovable myths and misunderstandings would swirl around the country. Just like last time.
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Saturday, 8 May 2021

Only three Labour leaders have won general elections

 


Britain (aka England) is predominantly a Conservative country. That may be hard to swallow for those of us who are left leaning, but I am not expressing an opinion. 

I am stating a fact.

Since 1900 – when Labour was formed – the party has only won eight out of 32 general elections.  

In the 121 years since the turn of the last century, only three Labour leaders have won general elections. 

During the same period, 10 Conservative leaders have won general elections. 

The Tory party has been the dominant party in power for over a century.

Labour governments have represented rare interludes punctuating what have been solid periods of Tory rule. 
The Tories are Teflon coated. They instinctively know how to cling onto power regardless of scandalous, corrupt and sleazy behaviour that has blighted so many of their administrations. 
Vital lessons must be taken on board by Labour and its supporters if the party is to wrest power from entrenched Conservative rule. 

For one, it needs to be accepted that - in the absence of an alliance of anti-Tory parties - Labour cannot win without the support of Tory voters. 

Mathematically, there simply aren’t enough traditional Labour voters in the country for the party to gain office with their support alone. 

It’s pretty much the same with the Conservatives. Boris Johnson could not have won the 2019 general election without votes from Labour supporters.

What does this tell us? 

It tells us that Labour has to create policies that win support from far beyond their own core. 

It doesn’t mean that radical policies can’t work. They can. 


LABOUR PRIME MINISTERS

Although there have been six Labour Prime Ministers since the party was formed in 1900, only three of them won general elections. 


Labour’s first Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, led minority Labour governments for nine months in 1924 and again between 1929 and 1931, but he never actually won a general election for the party. 

James Callaghan was Labour Prime Minister from 1976 to 1979, and Gordon Brown Labour Prime Minister from 2007 to 2010, but neither won a general election.

They became Prime Minister only after their predecessors – Harold Wilson and Tony Blair respectively – resigned. They then failed to win the subsequent general elections. 

▪ CLEMENT ATTLEE was Labour’s first leader to win a majority in a general election, in the party’s massive landslide victory of 1945. 

Attlee’s radical and ambitious plans to rebuild a broken Britain after the Second World War strongly appealed to the electorate.

His achievements included the creation of the modern welfare state and the National Health Service, nationalisation of coal mining, steel industries, the railways, the Bank of England, civil aviation, electricity and gas, and the building of a million new homes, most of them council houses for low-income families. 

Labour’s radical reforms of the late 1940s are considered to be the party’s most successful, shaping Britain for the decades that followed. 

Without Labour’s victory in 1945, it’s unlikely that Britain would ever have got its NHS.

But in the general election of 1950, Attlee’s Labour party only just won, with its majority dramatically slashed from 145 seats to five.  

This led to the return of the Tories under Winston Churchill in a snap general election a year later, followed by 13-years of Tory rule.

▪ HAROLD WILSON won three general elections for Labour, in 1964, 1966 and 1974. 

His radical plans included abolishing capital punishment, decriminalising homosexuality, relaxing divorce laws, liberalising abortion law and ending theatre censorship. 

He was also responsible for the UK’s first ever referendum, in 1975, on whether the UK should remain a member of the European Community. 

He refused to commit British troops to the war in Vietnam. He also promoted with passion his commitment to “the white heat of technology”, asserting that scientific progress was the key to economic and social advancement.

He was regarded as a member of Labour’s ‘soft left’. 

▪ TONY BLAIR won three consecutive general elections with big majorities, in 1997, 2001 and 2005, making him Labour’s longest serving Prime Minister (for ten years). 

Regarded as being on the right of the party, he won power with what were considered quite radical policies at the time under the banner of ‘New Labour’. 

These included the establishment of a national minimum wage, civil partnerships for gay people, an independent police complaints commission, devolved governments for Scotland and Wales, a big expansion in higher and further education and cutting NHS waiting lists.

He also introduced the Freedom of Information Act and the Human Rights Act, enabling citizens to have alleged abuses of human rights heard in British courts. 

TORY POWER

Tories have had the upper hand in British politics for many generations, with the rock-solid support of a predominantly Tory press, and an electoral system that favours Conservatives.

But Labour has to win despite that, and not lose because of it.

History shows us that radical Labour policies can appeal to the nation and win.

But they need to be compellingly presented and combined with middle-of-the-road polices that will attract a broad spectrum of voters. 

Most importantly, to break the mould of immutable year-to-year Tory rule, Labour leaders must be confident, consistent, and doggedly determined, presenting exceptionally clear and exciting policies with panache and passion. 

Labour hasn’t got that right now. 

Who knows what are Labour’s current policies? Let alone policies that are exceptionally clear and exciting? 

And in what way is the current Labour leader confident, consistent, and doggedly determined, let alone with panache and passion? 

  • I am not saying this is how politics should be. Far from it.

  • I am not saying that I don’t support radical left-of-centre policies that would seem normal in Scandinavian countries. Far from it.

  • I am not saying that personalities that aren’t larger-than-life can’t make good leaders. Far from it. 

What I am saying is that to break predominantly Tory rule, Labour has to appeal to Tory voters. 

That means their policies cannot be so radical as to scare them away, but also, they cannot be so mild and wishy-washy as to demean Labour’s core mission to achieve social reforms.

Successive Labour leaders can ignore that, but it means they stay in Opposition.

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Monday, 1 February 2021

It was never 'just about trade'

It was one year ago that Britain left the European Union, and one month ago that we also left the EU’s Single Market and customs union.

So far, NOT so good.

Sunday, 17 January 2021

How Cameron, May and Johnson let down Britain with Brexit

 

The three Tory Prime Ministers of this millennium – David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson – could have been the solvers of Brexit if only they’d been wiser, magnanimous and acted in the national interest.

▪ WISER – by realising that an advisory referendum, with such a narrow win for Leave, did not mean having to cause damage to the country. The referendum did not dictate what kind of Brexit Britain should have.

All three Prime Ministers know in their hearts – and heads – that all versions of Brexit cause damage to Britain. Wisdom would have dictated different courses of action to the ones they took.

▪ MAGNANIMOUS – The country was literally split in two by the EU referendum. The margin win for Leave was wafer thin, and only 37% of registered voters voted for it.

Most voters either voted for Remain or didn’t vote – but the three Prime Ministers acted as if Leave had won 100%. They forgot the Remain voters, and those who didn’t or couldn’t vote.

The three should have shown more magnanimity towards the majority who didn’t vote for Brexit, and those greatly affected by Brexit but who were denied a vote.

▪ ACTING IN THE NATIONAL INTEREST – none of the three Tory Prime Ministers have acted in the national interest. They put themselves and their party first, above all other considerations.

All three at one time or another – and more times than another – clearly stated that leaving the EU is not in our nation’s interests and will not solve our problems.

On the contrary, all three have said that Brexit will cause harm to Britain.

Prime Ministers are not supposed to be puppets. They are supposed to be leaders.

▪ DEMOCRATIC DECISION

Yes, the referendum was a so-called “democratic decision”, albeit only won by a wafer-thin margin, and with the use of lies and illegalities on a significant scale.

That certainly didn’t mean having to go ahead and do damage to Britain that all three Prime Ministers had previously warned that Brexit would do.

They could have argued the case for a re-think, especially as no particular version of Brexit was decided by the referendum, which was an advisory poll only.

There was no mandate on the way Britain should leave the EU.

YES, as I have written previously, it was bloody stupid of David Cameron to have promised an EU referendum in the first place.

Especially one in which Leave was never defined.

(That’s why we spent over four years arguing about what kind of Brexit we should have – as this simply wasn’t even discussed, let alone agreed, in the referendum).

▪ PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACY

In the UK, we have a system of representative Parliamentary democracy that has served the country quite well for hundreds of years.

In Parliament, decisions usually involve many debates and votes, often over several months, with updated information provided throughout the process, and during which the ‘decision’ can be amended or abandoned at any time.

Compare that to the referendum where we, ‘the people’, only had one vote, on one day, on the choice of just two words, without sufficient information (on the contrary, a lot of misinformation) and without any opportunity to amend or reconsider the ‘decision’ in the light of updated information.

If he had been wiser, Mr Cameron should have understood that the way we do ‘advisory’ referendums in the UK had the potential, especially on the topic of the EU, to undermine the sovereignty of our Parliament and severely damage our established system of democracy.

Pitching ‘the people’ against Parliament with an advisory referendum on such a complicated issue was asking for trouble, and Mr Cameron should have known that.

It was also disingenuous of Mr Cameron to tell the nation that this was a ‘once in a generation’ vote. That’s not how democracy works.

In a democracy, any vote can be undone by a new vote, at any time.

After all, the decisions of any democratically elected government can be reversed by the decisions of a new democratically elected government.

Mr Cameron knew that, but he wasn’t honest about it.

He also didn’t explain to the nation that the referendum was an advisory poll only and that, in the end, it was for Parliament to decide.

In addition, his conceit, and arrogant certainty, that Remain would win led to a lacklustre and ineffective Remain campaign.

Mr Cameron and the official ‘Stronger In’ campaign were entirely unprepared for the scintillating and charismatic campaign launched by Leave – albeit founded on lies and misinformation.

It was also stupid of Mr Cameron – and of Parliament – to agree to a referendum in which a minority of voters, by such a slim margin, could be allowed to impose on the majority a permanent change to the country.

▪ DAVID CAMERON SHOULDN’T HAVE RESIGNED

But even after such grotesque stupidity resulting in an entirely flawed referendum, Mr Cameron could have redeemed himself if only he had acted with more wisdom after 23 June 2016.

He should NOT have resigned.

Instead of retiring to his garden shed, on 24 June 2016 he could have stepped outside 10 Downing Street and said to the nation:

“The country has voted for Leave by a very slim margin, but we have not actually defined what Leave means, or what kind of Brexit may be in the country’s best interests.

“So, I am now going to instigate a Royal Commission to investigate and report on the different versions of Brexit that may be available to the country.

“Our Parliament will then debate and vote on these options.

“I then propose that we will have a new referendum in due course based this time on a choice between a fully defined version of Brexit, or remaining in the EU on our current terms.

“In a democracy, taking several careful steps before reaching a final decision is not unusual. We even do it in our own lives when making big decisions.”

Mr Cameron didn’t do that.

But the next Prime Minister, Theresa May, could have done.

She didn’t. Instead, she tried to define Brexit in her own strict and restricted terms and could not get agreement. She made things worse and widened the divisions in the country.

The next Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, could have done what Mr Cameron should have done. But he didn’t either.

He made things much worse, agreeing to a Brexit deal that was not as good as Theresa May’s deal, and one that will – and is – causing huge problems for Britain that will make us poorer and isolated.

And by allowing Parliament only one day to debate and vote on the details of the deal, he has connivingly imposed on Britain a harsh version of Brexit that nobody in the country actually voted for – and most likely would not have voted for if the details had been known on 23 June 2016.

▪ ANY of the three Tory Prime Ministers of this millennium could have become among our best Prime Ministers if only they had acted with magnanimity, and most of all wisdom, in the national interest.

Unfortunately, the opposition leaders have been no better.

Instead of robustly challenging Brexit and questioning the result of a referendum that was pervaded with serious illegalities, irregularities and probable Russian interference, Labour leaders Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer have let it happen, facilitating its every step.

Now, Keir Starmer says that even though the Brexit we’re getting – that none of the electorate specifically voted for – is ‘thin’ and will especially hurt our services industry upon which the country’s wealth largely depends, he accepts it and won’t change it if he becomes Prime Minister.

▪ THE BOTTOM LINE?

Unfortunately, the issue for Britain is not so much Brexit. It’s that we have the stupidest political leaders any of us can ever remember.
  • 2-minute video: Why Remain lost and how Rejoin could win

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