The anger is still there

Four mornings on and the anger is still there. Meeting a friend last night, I’m greeted by ‘hello’, followed by ‘I’m angry’. To take one instance.

Cameron gave a statement in the Commons yesterday. Questioned whether the infamous £350 million a week would all go the NHS, this was ‘a matter for his successor’ was the gist of his reply, and he sat down with a slight smile.

It was the slight smile that worried me, angered me. This was politics at its very worst, playing games at a time of crisis. In the absence of any plan from the Leave side we are heading into an abyss. The Tories would like to delay the negotiations until a new PM is in place. The EU on the other hand cannot afford to delay – uncertainty and contagion are their big concerns. Hollande and the Italian PM Mario Renzi have both emphasised that exit must be processed quickly so that the EU can focus on what should be the biggest issues – fighting terrorism and strengthening borders (and, I’m sure, the wider issues associated with the refugee crisis).

If our government delays the likelihood is that the EU will draw up its own terms and present them to the UK on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. In any negotiation, any normal negotiation, you put your case down, coherently and cogently – and early. Get in there first. Stake out the ground. The way this is playing out it is we who will get staked out.

What I would have thought (and hoped) is that Cameron, playing the statesman not the politician (and taking into account the legacy he’d like to leave), would realise that the only option open to him now is to announce to parliament that the UK will continue to be a member of the EU. Given the referendum result we, the UK, would be seeking further reforms (the referendum result  has given him a powerful mandate) but we would remain, not leave. He should remind the House, and the nation, that the result of the referendum is not legally binding, and parliament in all matters is sovereign. There will be an awful lot of flak, more like heavy shelling from some quarters, but the country would be spared a long-drawn-out disaster. All that we’d suffer would be loss of face.

His justification would be watertight: the Leave camp have no plan, economic indicators are dire, our reputation in the world is at serious risk of being terminally damaged, above all the welfare of each and every citizen, of all of us, is threatened if we continue as we are at present.

There have been arguments from the likes of Digby Jones (ex CBI chief) that we could manage very well in the world outside the EU. Up to a point, that could be true. We could function OK, at a lesser level than now, but we would function. But that issue is theoretical.

The real issue is where we are now, and the imperative of taking action now to avoid the chaos ahead.

Another day 

I read the Economist’s latest thoughts and prognostications before I went to bed, and I didn’t sleep for the next two hours. That was a mistake. See Anarchy in the UK for the link.

On the BBC website this morning there’s little suggestion of crisis: the BBC’s perceived need to be even-handed eviscerates their commentary, takes out the drama, compromises truth, as it did during the campaign. George Osborne, still hanging on as Chancellor, is putting on a brave face about the economy this morning, as he has to do – and all power to him. I have yet to see the Telegraph, but I’m expecting more of the triumphalism that characterised Saturday’s paper. (Well, almost – front-page article by Boris, ‘We must be proud and positive.’ Though ‘anxious and scared’ might come closer.)

Where lies the truth? You can guess. The only one of the above not in some way beholden to someone else, by way of caution (Osborne) or position in society (BBC) or ownership (Telegraph) is the Economist. Theirs is probably the most cogent analysis I’ve seen. (Do Leave have a plan? ‘There is no plan.’) Articles by the likes of Nick Cohen take in important aspects of the crisis, but the Economist provides a wider focus.

Also this morning – a Labour leadership crisis to match the Tories’divisions, and all at a time of national crisis.

Attention now has to be on the Commons. My question – how best can the pro-Remain majority make clear its refusal to countenance any Leave legislation, and its opposition to invoking Article 50? Parliament is sovereign – not referenda.

That of course begs a multitude of questions. Not least, how would the public respond?

Short term there’ll be an almighty bust-up. Longer term, government must be more inclusive if it’s to win over the protest voters (as opposed to hardliners).

Taking my local area, Spelthorne, just outside London’s boundaries, but very much in its orbit, as an example. It came out strongly pro-Leave. 65%. How much of that vote might be considered protest? While there are areas of deprivation they’ve not been left behind as other areas have. But that dividing line just 400 yards from where I live, between inner and outer London, marks a real boundary in outlook and expectations and perceptions of the world.

I could put it down to fear of immigration, stirred up by the media: that’s one reason, but too simple. We’ll be getting closer to a full picture if we link it to proximity to the instruments of government, parliament, civil service, especially the City. Closer still if we take into account the greater numbers of young people, of voting age, within London’s border, and its corollary, the greater number of retired people, suspicious of the modern global world, beyond that border. Why do older generations and the retired feel so alienated? Does it have to be that way? I’m still looking for answers.

24th June – the day after

Many responses to this absurd nonsensical vote for Leave. Anger, anxiety, recrimination. Being ashamed for the country, ashamed at the way we’ll be seen by the rest of the word, ashamed maybe that we didn’t see it coming.

A sense we’ve let down young people across the country, who voted by a substantial majority for Remain. We being the old fogeys.

What we must not do now is acquiesce, accept that the people have voted, and imagine we can’t challenge the vote itself and its consequences.

Just how constitutional is a referendum in the first place? It was established by an act of parliament so it is clear by this simple fact that parliament takes precedence over referenda. We don’t have a written constitution but the supremacy of the House of Commons is clearly established. It can make legislation, and it can remove legislation.  We shouldn’t assume, mustn’t assume, that yesterday’s vote is forever.

Referenda

The referendum expressed ‘the will of the people’, it will be argued. But did it? The will of the people at one moment in time. The will of the people as directed by a popular press which has been pursuing an anti-EU agenda for many years, and an anti-immigrant agenda. A popular press that plays on prejudice and seeks to portray isolated instances as widespread patterns of behavior – that looks to disparage, mock and scorn at every opportunity. The damage all this does to public debate is immeasurable. And given the importance of maintaining a free press there’s little we can do about it.

‘The will of the people’ …  in theory it exists, in practice it is easily influenced, ever-changing Next week, next month, it could express itself very differently.

Parliamentary democracy is arguably Britain’s greatest gift to the world. We elect representatives, they divide into different parties and groupings which debate and pass legislation which has at least been fully considered and argued in a (usually) sane and calm environment. Elections are open to populist rhetoric, and they can be divisive, but they elect parliaments which balance opinion and establish consensus in a remarkable way.

Why in earth should we want to subordinate a parliament to a plebiscite-based democracy?

Referenda polarize opinion too readily, as they have done this time, encouraging wild statements and mis-statements, sometimes total untruths. They give some kind of equivalence to both sides, however untenable the position one side might be. (I’m thinking of the BBC.) Opinions in the country are now so divided, tempers so frayed, that rifts engendered could take years to heal.

That said, now our ire has been roused we must act on it. At a more trivial level by keeping up the pressure on Boris. Boris found himself faced with a hostile crowd when he left home this morning. I hope that continues to happen. He needs to be aware of the consequences of his actions.

The next stage

Cameron will resist pressure from the EU to quickly invoke Article 50. So he should. There’s a big Remain majority in the Commons and they must ensure that no precipitate action is taken before we have not only a new Tory leader and prime minister (and I’d hope a new Labour leader) but also an election.

If the Brexit mood is maintained, then Tory MPs who’ve voted Remain may succumb to local party pressure and agree to vote for Brexit legislation in the next parliament. If they don’t, they may find themselves de-selected. But if they hold out, then the new parliament is likely to have a pro-Remain majority. In which case, back to my argument above – which should take precedence – a parliamentary majority, or a referendum vote? That could of course become an election issue in itself. Feathers will fly.

We can’t know how this will play out. But it will be interesting.

The Brexit vote

Some of us feel angry and ashamed. But rightly or wrongly, there were and are strong emotions on the Brexit side. I was very aware of that observing the count at my local council offices on Thursday night. A roughly 65:35 Leave majority.

Why so many? It’s important to know, and we must deal with their anger without indulging our own too much. Resentment at elites, suspicion of authority and expertise – a legacy of the financial crisis, and the expenses shambles. A related sense among many of being left behind, forced into part-time work, low pay. Among the more fortunate a sense of others on the gravy train, doing better, and unfairly so, than they are. Immigrants: if jobs are still there wages are lower than they would otherwise have been. And often a simple fear of immigrants, even when they may never see more than one or two in their locality.

Much of this has been played upon and wildly exaggerated by the UKIP and the media, but there is some truth here. If there is resentment, we have to address it. If government austerity measures have exacerbated feelings of being marginalized, we must deal with that too. It won’t help if we disparage and cry foul. If towns  in the North-East feel that all the focus and investment is down south – they’re right. (Please divert HS2 finance into a network which serves everyone, including the North-East.) We have to get to the root of the matter. It won’t stop the Mail or Sun seeking out incidents they can exploit, but we have to limit their opportunities to do so. And we must be, in two words, more inclusive.

Brexit leadership

Several strands. All need to be addressed head-on, for what they are.

Immigration – UKIP and the closet racist agenda of Nigel Farage, making racist attitudes somehow acceptable, attempting to link the refugee crisis and Eastern European immigration in the popular mind.

Arguments about sovereignty and accountability, EU extravagance, sclerotic administration.  (Mostly specious, but can be made to sound convincing.)

The neo-liberal agenda, which the Tory right has managed to squeeze through under the radar in the guise of reducing regulation.

More broadly, looking inward, looking back, shades of Empire, and a belief we can go it alone. The fairy tale land Boris would like to inhabit.

Our response

We can take up the standard from Jo Cox, be proud of Britain (and in her case Yorkshire as well!), proud of Europe and what it’s achieved and where it’s come from over the last seventy years, and be open and open-hearted toward the world.

That’s a challenge, and one I think with younger generations on our side I’m sure we can rise to.

52% doesn’t have to be a done deal.

Final thoughts …

Final thoughts on the EU. Unless provoked!

A friend sent me the link to the Brexit movie, which I mentioned two posts ago.  I viewed and responded to her as follows:

“I’m proud to be a liberally-minded outward-looking Englishman, European, citizen of the world. Any film or message that begins with ‘we the people’ is automatically suspect. Pretending to refer back to the American constitution, but sounding more like Oswald Mosley in the 1930s.

There’s much wrong with the EU. There’s bound to be with any institution which brings together 26 nations. But the important thing is that it’s brought them together. We live in peace, amazingly. After fighting each other pretty much forever. We trade successfully, and we can only lose by leaving. The Leave story here is a disgraceful misrepresentation. Fully-argued surveys on one side against rose-tinted speculation on the other. Which do we go for? And trade means regulations and standards – we will need them anyway if we want to trade with Europe. And on the environmental side, and that includes animal welfare, I’m delighted to see that our standards have been taken up by the EU, and that means countries with much poorer standards than ours.

Listen on iPlayer to Paddy Ashdown  on Any Questions last Friday [13th May] taking apart Liam Fox when Fox tried to dismiss all the world institutions – the IMF, OECD etc – that argue for the UK staying in the EU as somehow biased or self-serving or in the EU’s pay. Only by traducing the integrity of these institutions (and none have come out favouring Brexit) can the Leave campaign make a case for themselves – and it’s profoundly to their discredit that they try. Likewise Mark Carney and the Bank of England – should he not issue warnings when warnings are what his role as Governor requires of him?

I walked the Camino across northern Spain with fellow Europeans last autumn. Not with the Brexit-minded. But with people mainly younger, mainly much younger than myself. They are the future. There’s a spirit of optimism, of sharing.

Sovereignty – that’s how the film begins. Sovereignty is worthless unless you work with others, and that means sharing some of that sovereignty. The EU is what we make of it – and we have one of the dominant voices there.

Immigration – on the plus side, an incontrovertible net benefit to the economy, on the debit side, pressure on resources and in some cases, jobs. How we control immigration (and still get the benefits) should be the issue, not how we oppose it.

Do we really want to turn the world against us?

Boris’s comments about the EU wanting a European superstate as Hitler did are disgraceful. We are the EU. The EU doesn’t have a separate existence. Linking it to Hitler is atrocious history, and populism of the worst kind.

Someone somewhere said he hoped the film would enlighten and entertain. It does the opposite.”

 

 

The EU referendum – two home truths

Discussing the EU referendum debate yesterday I came away with two home truths – two lessons I’d been slow to take on board.

One, personal attacks and slights. It’s easy to get carried away and turn a rejection of a policy or approach into an attack on an individual proposing that policy. A dismissive phrase ad personem damages your argument, because it diverts attention away from the case you’re making. And if others around you don’t share your feelings about that individual, they won’t be won over.

I’ve been highly critical of some right-wing Tories, and the Tory press. In my eyes justified – but it’s  arguments that matter. Doubting the competence or integrity of those who take a different view (from Boris Johnson and Michael Gove downwards) doesn’t help my case and will not change minds.

Zen Master Dogen (writing in 13th century Japan) has useful words on the subject:

‘Even when you are clearly correct and others are mistaken, it is harmful to argue and defeat them… It is best to step back, neither trying to defeat others nor conceding to mistaken views. If you don’t react competitively, and let go of the conflict, others will also let go of it without harbouring ill will. Above all, this is something you should keep in mind. [My italics.]

In other words, we don’t live in an ideal world. But avoiding competition and conflict if you can will serve your case much better.

The other lesson relates to a specific subject, immigration. Talking to a friend (she herself supports staying in) I was confronted by her experience working two days a week in a local doctor’s surgery. The great majority of nurses and staff support the Leave campaign, and do so with a real passion.

Competition for jobs from immigrants is a key issue, and some have been directly affected themselves. Older workers feel that immigrants who are younger and willing to work for lower wages are taking their jobs. Parents argue that the children of immigrants are putting pressure on the availability of places in the schools of their choice. In other words, the argument for them is not intellectual or academic – broader considerations about the national economy, the European ideal, trade deals – all are secondary.  (Housing is another issue they might have raised.) They are affected at a personal level.

And I, recently retired, am not.

They were not issues that came up talking to teachers and staff as a (retired last year) chair of governors in an local secondary school. But I haven’t since my own children’s primary school days talked at my length to parents, and I think many would have very different views. Not necessarily favouring the Leave campaign, but I’d have heard much more about the pressure on secondary school places.

Why are the polls suggesting a close vote on 23rd June? Yesterday reminded me why that is.