If Labour wins the next election, Theresa May should stay Prime Minister

Socialists – it’s your turn to be run by somebody who doesn’t believe in your project

Who knows when the next election will be? In theory it is pencilled in for 2022; in theory this is more or less guaranteed by the Fixed Term Parliament Act. But the evidence of last year shows us that the Act isn’t worth the vellum it’s written on. An election could be called at any time, and when it is, it will be a choice between Jeremy Corbyn’s vision of a Socialist Britain versus whichever person emerges from the ensuing scrum following the Maybot’s political scrappage.

At this point, my money is on a Labour win, though that could obviously change. Let’s, for the sake of argument, assume that Corbyn is victorious and commands a small majority in the House. To illustrate to those voters just how painful the last two years have been for some of us, I propose that Theresa May continues as Prime Minister.

Why on earth would we do that, Mark? That would be patently absurd. She doesn’t believe in anything that was proposed in our campaign, she doesn’t believe in Socialism, she argued against it! What could possibly be gained by having someone lead a government on a platform that she fundamentally doesn’t understand or want?

Well…quite.

One assumes that renationalising the railways will be a Labour policy (good – I support that). Theresa May could own that, why not? Of course, she thinks the market should be involved, but she is obeying the vote and getting on with it. Sure, she’ll cock it up, the current companies will hold her over a barrel and demand billions in compensation despite the fact they won’t even be running the railways any more, fares will go up, service will be poorer and the whole thing will be an exercise in damage limitation…but that’s just what you get when a non-believer takes on the project. Suck it up, guys.

Sure, she can set up a national investment bank, why not? Of course, she doesn’t believe in borrowing to spend on public services, so she won’t put enough into it and the whole thing will collapse, meaning price rises for everyone, failed projects, tons of wasted money and half built infrastructure. But hey, what do you expect when she thinks it was a bad idea in the first place? She’s just enacting the will of the people.

Why couldn’t she take on the task of getting rid of Trident? She can do that, after all she is driven primarily by a sense of duty. Of course, rather than dismantling it safely and gradually spending less and less on it until it’s completely decommissioned, she’ll probably negotiate with the unions and the suppliers until we’re basically spending the same amount of money on it, but the thing doesn’t work and sits idly in a dock somewhere being completely useless (even more so than it already is).

I’m sure many of you would be rather annoyed if this were to happen, and rightly so. I think Corbyn’s vision for Britain is idealistic, unworkable and rather silly in many ways (though certainly not all). But if he wins, he obviously should run the country and implement his ideas. That’s what democracy is about. Good ideas implemented by people who believe in them is the ideal situation. Bad ideas being implemented by people who believe in them is obviously worse. But to have a good or bad idea being implemented by people who fundamentally don’t believe in them is the worst. I’d much rather have a government with policies I loathe than a government who doesn’t believe in what I believe in, trying to implement what I believe in.

Gosh…socialism being enacted by a capitalist Conservative – what a ridiculous notion. Brexit being enacted by a team of Remainers…

The cautionary tale of the boy who cried ‘countless jobs lost to Brexit’

A modern take on a classic fable

There once was a European Union funded government thinktank / The Treasury (EUFGT/TT) who was incensed as it sat in its glass fronted London office watching the silly electorate. To ensure its continued funding, it took a great breath and sang out, “Hundreds of thousands of job losses! Hundreds of thousands of job losses! A fall of 3.6% in GDP just if you vote leave!”

The Guardian and the BBC came running up to the office to help the EUFGT/TT drive the message. But when the people arrived at the campaign, they found no job losses.

“Don’t cry ‘hundreds of thousands of job losses’, EUFGT/TT,” said the electorate, “when there’s no job losses!” They went grumbling back down to their racist, homophobic lives.

Later, the EUFGT/TT sang out again, “Hundreds of thousands of job losses! Hundreds of thousands of job losses! 500-800,000 job losses immediately after you simply vote to leave!” It watched the commentators and establishment voices rush to the TV studios and the radio stations to help it drive the message home.

When the electorate saw no job losses, they sternly said, “Save your frightened song for when there is really something wrong! Don’t cry ‘hundreds of thousands of job losses’ when there is actually hundreds of thousands more people IN work!”

But the EUFGT/TT just grinned and watched them go grumbling down the road once more to their hateful, definitely bigoted homes.

Later, it saw a REAL prospect of serious fiscal damage prowling about its economic forecasts. Alarmed, it scrambled its media advisers and marketing executives to its well established connections in the media and shouted out as loudly as it could, “Hundreds of thousands of job losses! Hundreds of thousands of job losses if we leave without a deal!”

But the electorate thought this was just another attempt to cajole them and make them fearful, and so they didn’t listen.

“There really was an economic downturn here! The jobs have been lost! I cried out, “Hundreds of thousands of job losses!” Why didn’t you listen?”

An old man tried to comfort the EUGFT/TT as they dissolved the department.

He put his arm around the EUGFT/TT, “Nobody believes a scaremonger…even when he isn’t using irrelevant projections and spurious assumptions!”

The End.

 

NOTE – This cautionary tale can also be applied to ‘Millions of Eastern Europeans and Turks are coming!’,  ‘We send £350million a week to the EU!‘ or ‘there’s a wolf over there about to eat my sheep!

Chaos is taking over – we cannot carry on like this

All semblance of discipline and party solidarity has broken down – that isn’t good for anybody

The House of Commons is a marvellous chamber. Its chapel shape, based on St. Stephen’s chapel in the original Palace of Westminster, gives the place a grand and imposing air. The benches that face one another in perfect opposition, based on the choir stalls that once brought beautiful harmony, now facilitate the (alleged) adversarial nature of the politics of the country. The distance between the two front benches is said to be the length of two swords…take from that what you will.

And yet, watching proceedings this week at home, astonished at the malaise into which we are sinking deeper and deeper as vote after vote passed by low single digits, the chamber seemed unable to accommodate the true combat.

It should be simple – I sit on this side, I aim at that side. Stand up, face the way you were facing anyway, and fire. No longer.

Shots were being fired around the House – not across, but along. Civil war on all sides, right in the middle of an all out war. Remain Tories spat at Leave Tories. Leave Tories sniped at Remain Tories. Backbenchers lobbed missiles at the front benches. The SNP railed at Labour, Labour members rebelled to side with the government, Lib Dems were nowhere to be found, Tories rebelled against rebellions, members turning and seeking out their targets – it was utter and total chaos. The dividing lines of the country are no longer represented properly.

This can’t go on. The Prime Minister is kept in place, strangely, by her own weakness. The great irony is that the best thing that could happen to her now is a motion called of no confidence in her leadership. That is no way for a Parliament to function.

As Stephen Daisley says in The Spectator, “[Anna Soubry], standing mere metres from the Treasury benches, enquired: ‘Who is in charge? Who is running Britain? Is it the Prime Minister or is it the Honourable Member for North East Somerset [Jacob Rees-Mogg]? I know where my money’s sitting at the moment.’

“Before the crazy set in, an MP taunting the Prime Minister as a feckless weakling would bring the full nuclear hellfire of Number 10 raining down upon their head. That Anna Soubry won’t proves her thesis. The PM is too feeble to insist that her MPs at least pretend to respect her in public. Theresa May is not in power without authority — she’s without power too.”

She is not leading, and neither is Jeremy Corbyn. She leads her cabinet, not her party. Jacob Rees-Mogg leads an internal faction opposed to the executive. Anna Soubry leads another. Corbyn leads his members, but not his PLP. Polls are shifting dramatically and getting to summer recess no longer feels like the dash to safety it once did. The Prime Minister has gone from surviving day to day to surviving hour to hour.

Something will have to give. But it is a fool’s game to predict what that will be.

Tony Blair’s Brexit intervention is sensible – an analysis

This is the way to engage in the debate – thoughtfully and respectfully

The former Prime Minister, Tony Blair (much criticised on these pages) has made yet another intervention in the national debate. Only this time, he seems to be making reasonable points. His statement is lengthy, but lean, and makes significant attempts at conciliation. This seemed to merit more analysis, so I have done a full reply to the points he raised. As I sit watching the debate on the Taxation (Cross-border trade) Bill on BBC Parliament, despairing at the state of that place, I fear where we are headed. So this has been a relaxing and therapeutic piece to write.

This is probably about a 15 minute read. You may read Blair’s original piece here.

Blair’s text is in italics, mine in bold.

 

I fully accept the Prime Minister is putting forward the Government White Paper as a well-intentioned attempt to do Brexit whilst minimising the economic disruption to Britain. But this solution – half in/half out – won’t work, won’t end the argument and will simply mean a confused outcome in which we continue to abide by Europe’s rules whilst losing our say over them.

Parliament should reject this solution decisively.

So far, so agreed.

There is an essential Dilemma at the heart of the Brexit debate, which has been laid bare by what we have learnt over the course of the last two years since the referendum of June 2016.

The Brexiteers have a long term vision for Britain which may be heavily contested but is nonetheless a genuine new direction for the country. It involves Britain leaving Europe altogether, striking a new economic and political path and is a vision which only makes sense if we market ourselves as ‘not Europe’.

My tick has not gone away since the referendum – it’s the ‘European Union’, not ‘Europe’. See this old post for my full analysis of why this is important for the tone of the debate.

Otherwise, Blair is, unusually for a Remainer, being gracious and generous. I’ll expand on this later, but the rest of the Remain tribe should take note of this.

At the core of the Brexit campaign, however, is the exploitation of a myth which is that we are not in charge of our country unless we leave the EU.

The truth is we already have control over the major parts of British political life. Think of the top issues facing the country – the NHS, Education, Housing, Poverty, Crime. We can pass whatever laws we want. We can put our taxes up or down, cut spending or increase it, make peace or war, elect a leftist Labour Government under Corbyn or a right wing Tory Government under Rees-Mogg. Even in respect of immigration, we can do what we wish in respect of non-European immigration; and in respect of European immigration it has already been shown that we need most of those who come here to work and to study.

This is a little disingenuous. Whilst there is a good point here, it isn’t a complete one. Sure, the NHS is in our remit, but if the EU were to pass divergent health regulations or introduce the potential for more market interference in it, it could do so above our heads. Similarly on crime, the European Arrest Warrant is an EU tool implemented and enforced in the UK. And sure, we can elect any shade of government we like, but they are not in full control, defer as they must in certain areas to the EU.

And the immigration point, Blair highlights the key issue – non-EU immigration. Having seen several non-EU born friends attempt to navigate the UK visa system, it seems grossly unfair to discriminate so heavily against them in favour of EU citizens. Whenever a government feels under pressure on immigration, they’re the first to suffer, as the executive knows it cannot touch EU immigration and so becomes more stringent on non-EU applicants.

Therefore, the Brexiteers are driven to focus on the Single Market and Customs Union because that is the one area, for perfectly sensible economic reasons, where we have chosen to pool our sovereignty and so you can plausibly say we are tied to Europe’s laws.

The Single Market and Customs Union have thus been demonised as illustrating Britain’s loss of national sovereignty and they successfully pushed the May Government into announcing they would leave both before the ramifications of this decision were properly thought through.

They may deny this, but there is absolutely no point in Britain leaving Europe unless it is to be more competitive outside the European Single Market. It is the only Brexit which could conceivably work. But, to be attractive in those circumstances, business needs to believe it is offered advantages so overwhelming as to compensate for no longer having the right to enter European markets without friction.

This is a central point, and one which is not made enough. It is indeed true that a different model would be required.

Michael Gove may pretend that we should leave Europe to have tougher Environmental Protection but who seriously believes the problem with Europe is that it’s too weak on regulation of the environment.

This is less persuasive to anyone who understands these issues. Whilst the EU is often held up as a bastion of high standards (which I don’t argue against), this is often at the expense of the perception Britain’s own standards, standards which often match and exceed those of the EU’s. Britain has oft been painted in this debate as being somehow backwards on these issues, but on the environment, animal welfare, health and safety, British standards are world renowned and internationally recognised. It seems a shame to do down our country on these grounds.

Boris Johnson’s one specific grievance in his resignation letter – which in any event turned out to be mistaken – was the effect of European truck regulation on female cyclists, a frankly fatuous basis for altering the entire geo-political and economic future of the nation.

I must have missed this. But it does indeed sound fatuous. Go figure.

All of this is patently a ruse to conceal their real beef with Europe: its political culture which stresses the social as well as the economic and where regulation interferes with the freedom of the market.

Their ‘Clean Break’ Brexit means not only a new relationship between Britain and Europe but a new relationship between Britain and itself.

It is not anti globalisation or anti immigration. On the contrary, it sees Britain as a global player, but free to make its own decisions without the constraints of the Single Market and Customs Union.

Unlike others, I don’t regard this vision as dystopian, cruel or necessarily unworkable. If Britain were prepared to follow the logic of it through to its ultimate realisation, it is at least a version of our future worth debating, though one I would profoundly disagree with as, I suspect, would the majority of British people.

Bravo, Mr. Blair. Finally, somebody willing to have an actual conversation with the opposing side. He disagrees, but understands it. Take note, Remainers – this is how to talk to Leavers. This is one of two, maybe three pieces by Remainers over the last few years (and I’ve read countless) that has encouraged me to engage and given me cause to doubt. Not being called a racist within the first 5 paragraphs of a Remain piece is remarkably refreshing.

The problem is this vision was sold, in the context of Brexit, as short term painless and with substantial immediate gains like extra money for the NHS, and the most appealing element for many of the Brexit voters especially in the north of England was that Brexit would slash immigration and put a brake on globalisation.

Agreed, it was a silly basis on which to run the campaign. This was one of the reasons I paid almost no attention to the official campaigns. Frankly, anyone who believed that £350mil to the NHS pledge gets what they get. The focus on immigration was handled badly and distastefully (admitted to by Mr. Gove just today) and there just isn’t any stopping globalisation (depending on your definition). 

What has now become apparent is that, for sure, short term and this may mean a period of several years, this was a false prospectus. In the near future a ‘Clean Break Brexit’ involves economic disruption, the immediate result is a £40bn bill not a £350m a week NHS boost, we need most of the European migrants, and a Hard Border in Ireland poses risks both to the UK and the peace process.

As this reality has dawned, so the Government has tried to navigate its way through the Dilemma.

I’m not sure it’s that the reality has dawned, these issues were discussed at length before the result and were obviously accepted as a risk worth taking by the 52%. More, I think it’s that people who weren’t in that camp now run the show and weren’t as prepared for them as much as those who believed in the whole enterprise would have been.

The Dilemma is simply expressed: either we stay close to Europe after Brexit to minimise the economic cost, in which case we will be obliged to continue to abide by Europe’s rules; or we do a Clean Break Brexit in which case we will suffer substantial economic pain.

The first is a Brexit which leads to the question: what’s the point, since we will abide by rules over which we have lost our say, a somewhat weird way of ‘taking back control’.

The second is a Brexit which leads to the question: what’s the price?

This is the dilemma, well summarised.

For two years the Government has tried to pretend that we could have our cake and eat it: that Europe would somehow change the rules of the Single Market, which we helped shape, and allow us frictionless trade with freedom to diverge where we want to.

This is and always was a non-starter.

Very true. One of the reasons triggering Article 50, not preparing for a no deal situation and letting a Remainer run the show were all fatal decisions.

The Chequers Cabinet summit and the White Paper were the first serious attempt to choose and resolve the Dilemma.

Both documents are drafted with exquisite disingenuousness. But stripped of their verbal camouflage, they come down effectively on the side of staying close to Europe whilst trying to pretend the opposite.

We are to have a common rule book with Europe for goods and agri-food, including the rules already agreed in the Single Market. This means we abide by Europe’s rules.

Parliament can choose to refuse further rules but this will have ‘consequences’. This is supposed to stress our Parliamentary sovereignty. But the reality is the consequence of refusal would be exit from the common rule book area so it’s never going to happen. And of course, Parliament is sovereign. It always is. We choose to be in the Single Market now. We can choose to exit it now.

But in practice, under this proposal, we are staying in the Single Market for goods, whilst losing our voice in it.

Couldn’t have put it better myself. I guess that’s why I’m a blogger to a couple of dozen people and he used to run the country…

Likewise, with the so-called ‘Customs Partnership’. This is effectively the Customs Union just renamed, with the possibility at some later time of getting agreement to some as yet undiscovered technological facilitation of trade which would allow us to have different tariffs on goods. This is pie in the sky.

In any event until the time the pie miraculously appears on earth, it will be impossible to do trade deals elsewhere, as President Trump has just confirmed. In the meantime, of course, Europe can carry on doing such deals, but we will have no say over them, though we will be bound by them.

Again, true. How does Theresa May not see this when everyone else does? Does she think she’s pulling the wool over our eyes?

As for freedom of movement, this is to be replaced by a new ‘Labour Mobility Framework.’ This will give a special preference for European workers. It is the Government’s recognition that without such workers being able to come easily to Britain, key sectors of the economy will suffer.

The practical reality is that the difference between current freedom of movement and this new framework will be miniscule because for economic reasons it must be. Also, there is no way Europe would ever agree to this partial acceptance of the Single Market, unless freedom of movement was, in essence, retained.

Another way in which Mrs. May attempts to convince us she is ‘delivering’ when she is in fact doing nothing of the kind. I’m put in mind of a sailor who unhooks the moorings of his ship, only to hold on desperately to the dock with his hands.

Meanwhile, we will try to negotiate our way back into a slew of European Agencies where we are now as of right.

Going through each section of the White Paper, at every turn the absurdity becomes more manifest. Every page details why it is so important we stay in cooperation with Europe whilst trying to invent new forms of partnership which can be presented as consistent with leaving Europe.

Indeed, the Paper proposes even closer cooperation with Europe in defence and data protection, as if Brexit were necessary for such enhanced partnership.

The one area excluded is that of workers’ rights, with no commitment to retaining the benefits of the European Social Charter.

Finally, we come to what, with delicious irony, is titled ‘Fishing Opportunities’, under which we agree to negotiate a new fishing framework with the EU, which looks a lot like the old one.

The intent behind this, at least on the part of the Prime Minister, may come from a good place, but the result is an ‘Inbetweener’ half in/half out mess.

As with everything else. This is because she fundamentally doesn’t believe in it.

A genuine ‘soft’ Brexit would obviously be less damaging than a Hard Brexit, though it would highlight the ‘what’s the point’ nature of this choice. But this Brexit is just mush.

It is not making the best of a bad job. It is the worst of both worlds. This is where True Remainers and True Leavers make common cause.

We do indeed make common cause. Everybody sees it. It is plain and out there for all to gaze upon. It will never work.

I understand completely its attraction for some in business and for many people who just want the agony of Brexit to end. ‘Ok’ so the argument runs, ‘it may be a messy compromise but it’s the only way we can limit the damage, so let’s get on with it.’

How depressing.

But I am afraid this argument is fatally flawed.

  1. The practical upshot of this proposal is to tie us to Europe over large parts of economic life, without a say in its rules. This is intrinsically a dismal outcome which reduces British influence for no or negligible gain.
  2. It is not an ‘honouring’ of the Brexit vote. It will disillusion large numbers of Leavers, whilst being dismissed by Remainers, except those in the Conservative Party who see this as a way through their internal schism. A point often forgotten – never mind an economic crisis, a democratic crisis will be much worse and much harder to contain.
  3. The Europeans will not accept it unless clarified in a way which will expose the Dilemma once again. The likelihood is that they will consider cherry-picking between different parts of the Single Market wrong in principle and hard to do in practice, given the overlap between services and goods. But suppose they do accept distinguishing between the Single Market for goods and services. This will only be on the basis that Britain clearly applies those rules for goods trade, adjudicated by the ECJ, and probably with what are called flanking arrangements for those parts of the services sector intimately bound up with the manufacturing supply chain. This will never be palatable to the Brexiteers who sit in the Cabinet. So the argument will continue.
  4. Even if the Brexiteers or some of them swallow such an agreement with Europe, they will only do so, in order to drag the country the other side of March 2019, and then they will re-ignite the debate when it is then too late to stop Brexit and when our bargaining position will be very weak. Nobody wants to reopen this wound once it is closed. Even Jacob Rees-Mogg has said as much.
  5. By excluding services, the Government is prepared to do significant and possibly irreparable damage to the UK service sector which is the bulk of our economy, and where unlike the goods sector, we presently have a large surplus in European trade. Particularly for the financial service and tech sectors, where Britain is dominant in Europe, we now know from those active in those sectors that exclusion from the Single Market is going to result in job losses and economic cost which will impact output and revenue considerably.

In other words, this is a bad deal. More important, it will not be accepted as fulfilling the mandate of June 2016 and we know that because many of the leading Brexit proponents are saying it.

I’m certainly saying that. And there’s no getting around this fact. May might try to sell this on the technical point, but nobody wins anything in politics on a technical point. 

And there will be no majority in Parliament for it, or for ‘Clean Break Brexit’ or possibly for any version of Brexit or indeed for staying.

We are stuck.

And herein lies the lesson – referendums are constitutionally idiotic. If this teaches us nothing else, it ought to teach us that referendums do not work in a Parliamentary system without a fundamental restructuring. Yes, we’re stuck. That feels to me like a good way to learn a hard lesson. 

In any rational world, and I understand that is a big caveat in today’s politics, this would go back to the people for resolution.

I have to disagree – that may be the pragmatic way of resolving this immediate problem, but for me it just gives further credence to the idea that referendums are a good idea. They aren’t – they don’t have enough political power in our current system. The same questions will be asked – is this one binding? Does it overrule the last one? But the government promised to implement the last one… 

It would not be a re-run of the 2016 referendum. Two major things have changed since then. Our quantum of knowledge about the issue and particularly about the consequences of leaving the Single Market and Customs Union is vastly enlarged. And there is fundamental disagreement about what Brexit means between supporters of Brexit.

The question may be complicated because it really involves three choices: Clean Break, ‘soft’ or stay. But the complexity is not insuperable.

If it’s three way, does 34% win it? So 66% of people could vote against the option we end up taking…but we had a bigger mandate last time round…and on and on it will go.

For the Conservative Party it avoids owning a botched Brexit.

Well they made it, they can own it.

For the Labour Party it escapes constructive ambiguity becoming destructive indecision.

That’s no way for a major party to behave.

For Parliament it may be the only way through.

Maybe it is. But it seems like a major cop out to resort to this when they created the problem for themselves. I elect representatives to sort this sort of stuff out for me – stop asking me to do your job, you get paid enough (well…maybe…) to do it on my behalf.

End of analysis.

I fear any talk of another referendum. I have no desire to have another damaging fallout with friends. It would also have that chilling effect of ‘the EU makes you vote until you give the right answer’ which is rightly pointed out over and over again. And would this one be definitive? Or do we go again? What if a new government gets elected and decides against it? It’s too messy and anti-democratic.

We have a Parliament for a reason – if you want constant referendums, dissolve the blasted thing. I’m sick of politicians constantly reverting to this blunt tool to avoid making decisions they don’t want to make. The offering of referendums is the modern day independent inquiry – a tool to kick a subject into the long grass.

Consecutive PMs have now, to their eternal shame, failed to prepare this country for a no deal, leaving negotiators powerless and rudderless. Cameron refused to allow it and May leads a shambles. The dereliction of duty in these two cases is appalling and shameful to the office they have held.

I voted Leave and would do the same today. I have not changed my mind. But what people forget when they parrot the old ‘biggest vote in history’ line is that the second biggest vote ever was the vote to Remain. If it were up to me, we’d just leave the whole thing and get on with it. But it isn’t, and there is currently no majority for any position. I’m up for a discussion with anyone who wants to persuade me.

Mr. Blair, for all his obvious faults, made a good start.

The ongoing hilarity of Corbyn’s Brexit position

No matter what he does (or doesn’t do) on Brexit, he can do no wrong in the eyes of his supporters

As a non-partisan but politically engaged person, I cannot help but continue to actually laugh as this doublethink persists among the rank and file of the Corbynite wing of the Labour Party, and indeed, the country.

It is amazing how much he is allowed to get away with. It is astonishing how little accountability he faces from his supporters. Even if anyone in his own party dares to question him on Brexit, the people who are actually trying to hold him to account on the biggest issues of the day, they are denounced as ‘out to get him’, even by those who are die-hard Remainers.

I have tried to point this out before, but it apparently cuts no ice among the faithful apostles – Mr Corbyn is no ally of Remain. I really don’t mind people ignoring this point (as it makes the opposition to Britain leaving the EU all but toothless in the Commons), but never let it be said that you weren’t warned.

His performance in the original campaign was heavily questioned, but this didn’t stick to him because the acolytes defended him. This was hilarious at the time, and continues to be so. Defending a man against a charge that you yourself would have levelled at literally anyone else…yeh, definitely not a personality cult.

Imagine it had been Blair who had been all lukewarm on this issue. Or Brown. Or indeed, Cameron. They’d have been all over them like a rash – “Why didn’t you try harder? Why didn’t you give it everything? Where were you?!”

Anyway, that was then and this is now. But of course, not much has really changed has it?

Deep down (and probably in the privacy of the voting booth), he’s a fellow Leaver.

As thousands and thousands of people gathered on the second anniversary of the vote to protest against it, chants of “Where’s Jeremy Corbyn?” intermingled with the sourdough dust and diesel particulates of the warm London air. For whilst this was a large gathering of woke, right-on, middle class Leftists on a lovely sunny day in the nation’s capital, it wasn’t a Corbynite rally. This was the fierce, white hot rage of the correct (just less than) half of the nation.

Inevitably, the defence came. The great man had more important engagements. A quick scan of Twitter (shudder) told me exactly what I needed to know. He was in Palestinian refugee camps working with the displaced people there. Aha, gotcha. Argue with that one, you heartless Zionist.

Again – as laudable as that is, does it not worry you that that couldn’t have waited for perhaps one more day? He isn’t exactly known for shying away from demonstrating in London. This march was for one day on a well known anniversary – as the Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition and apparent ‘Remainer’, could this have been the priority for just one day? Forgive me if this sounds glib, but isn’t the point of a refugee camp that it isn’t a pop up tent that’s here today and gone tomorrow? Who could begrudge him going there…but on that day? The same people are crying foul over Boris Johnson’s failure to show for the Heathrow vote on Monday due to some apparent important foreign engagement – is it not the same thing?

Who knows. I’m not attacking the guy. He can do whatever he wants. If the visit to the camp was his priority, then more power to him. I quite like him (have defended him several times here and here) and admire his ability to not show any cards yet be defended for it. My point is the reaction of his followers. Nobody is ever disappointed in him. They spend so much time defending him from attacks that they seem to fail to see that he is not their ally on this crucial issue.

It’s all fine by me. Keep putting him up on a high pedestal and defend him from attacks. Deep down (and probably in the privacy of the voting booth), he’s a fellow Leaver.

Ooooooh Trojan Horse Cooooorbyn…

The Left has cultivated an image of viciousness and intolerance. This needs to change

When the Left operates with bad faith, it damages its own cause

It is something that has been niggling away at me for some time, indeed a reason I started this site. Why do so many conversations these days end in an argument, smears, lies and bitterness? Why does this happen particularly online? Why are tribes forming where once there were simple disagreements? I think I may be stumbling toward an answer.

Now please, forgive me if this has been blindingly obvious to everyone else and I’m late to the party. But it seems to me that we have no desire to believe that our opponents are arguing in good faith. We assume ill of them, we figure malign intention on their part and, above all, we believe they must be bad people.

I don’t see how any debate, discussion or argument can bear any fruit if this good faith is absent. The reason I offer the pages of this blog out to anyone who wishes to write for it is because I want people to give an unpopular opinion in an environment that encourages them to think freely and have the best assumed of them. If you give an ‘off the party line’ opinion, you have, by definition, thought it through, because the backlash wouldn’t be worth it unless you believed it to be so. Again I offer – if you have an unpopular opinion, get in touch.

The viciousness of much public discourse these days can be attributed to a lack of good faith. Left wingers assume Conservatives are evil and sadistic, Tories assume Corbynistas want state control over which trousers you’re allowed to wear that day, and so on and so forth.

But that is to provide a balance that I’m sure isn’t a fair one. I hate to come across all Lefty-bashing here, but it seems to be well documented that the Left is increasingly savage and hostile to its opponents. Dissent is deemed intolerable and impure to so many on that side of the spectrum. Providing me with examples of it happening the other way round are fine, if you want to waste your time. I don’t claim it is only one way, it definitely happens both ways – I merely offer a note of caution to those who claim themselves to be ‘kinder, gentler‘ people. Is your bar really going to be the cowardly and deflecting phrase, ‘yeh well they do the same thing to us’? I sincerely hope not. If it is, you offer no virtue that separates you from your opponents.

Let me just make that completely clear – I do not claim this is solely a Left wing problem. But it is one that should feel more urgent to those on the Left.

The Left is the wing that I should naturally be on. I try to have opinions on every issue individually, but inevitably there will be overarching principles that will inform my outlook. Most of those tend to be ‘liberal’. But I cannot count myself as among the modern Left. Elements of both wings may share the attributes of hostility, nastiness and downright rudeness, but the Right makes little outright claim to be the opposite. It is the Left that self-declares its occupation of the grounds of ‘kinder, gentler politics‘, ‘reason and science‘, ‘data-led policy’. And yet it simply isn’t so. And therefore there is a hypocrisy that cannot be tolerated by anyone with half a brain or a conscience.

If it were indeed ‘kind and gentle’, it would not assume ill-intention of its opponents or shout and scream at them. If it were a lover of ‘reason and science’, it would not shout down those who question, for instance, new gender orthodoxies, but would engage based on research. If it were ‘data-led’, it would not engage in spurious, politically driven nonsense that clearly defies the data.

The obsession with the word ‘hate’, a word my mother told me not to use unless in extreme circumstances, is now so all-pervasive that mere disagreement is now deemed hate. Disagree with gay marriage? You hate gays. Hate them. All of them. Disagree with abortion? You hate women. Vote Tory? You hate the poor. Concerned about Islamic terrorism? You hate Muslims. Want immigration to be slowed down a little? You hate immigrants. No nuance, no discussion, just straight to the extreme. Straight to the sliming and the smearing.

When even the CiF pages of the Guardian are filled with those on the Left denouncing that newspaper for straying even a tiny bit off the party line, you get a sense that something isn’t quite right. It was savaged in the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader (the paper having backed Yvette Cooper – sounds crazy now, doesn’t it?). Things have rarely been better since.

I am an occasional listener to Sam Harris’s ‘Waking Up‘ podcast, among others. He is an atheist, I am a Christian. He believes free will is not a fundamentally defensible concept. I believe it is central to our being. There are plenty more disagreements I could point out. But I believe he is honest, a man of integrity and fully believes every word he says, and therefore worth listening to. That is all I would ever ask of a person – its a reason I will never listen to the likes of Milo Yiannopolous or Katie Hopkins, because I simply do not accept that they really believe in what they’re saying. They’re professional trolls who feed their children and their lifestyles on the money they make from upsetting the Lefties who will consistently rise to their bait. They are not serious people. I don’t believe they should be stopped from speaking publicly, but I won’t be listening when they do.

Mr Harris has recently been in the middle of some controversy, which you can read for yourself, or better yet listen to his discussion of it. It is far too long and detailed to go through here, but suffice to say, he has been attacked by many on the Left for a particular podcast. His most recent opponent, Ezra Klein, the editor of Vox, took a completely bad-faith interpretation of the podcast and would not back down from his position despite plenty of evidence to show that he ought to. He could still have disagreed, but still have assumed good faith on behalf of his opponent. He steadfastly refused to do so.

I was struck by the end of one the podcasts in this controversy, and it made me realise just what a problem this is for the Left more so than the Right.

A listener contacted Sam to ask: “You come off cosy with those on the Right, and then when a blowout like the one with Ezra Klein comes, it seems you can’t have the same warmth of relations and good spirit with a straight up Liberal”.

Sam explains why this misses the point spectacularly (I have shortened the monologue to sum up the key parts – highlights are all mine):

“I, as you know, disagree with Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro [two men the writer had highlighted as Right wing examples] about many, many things…but the point here is not disagreement, it is slanderous misinterpretation. And that almost always comes at me from the Left…With Ben, I made a joke on our podcast together and Ben came away not realising that it was a joke, and so misrepresented my views elsewhere. I reached out to Ben by email: “Ben, you’ve got me all wrong. That was a joke”. What did he do?…He apologised immediately, he regretted misrepresenting me.

“Same with Jordan Peterson when he got on Dave Rubin’s show. He said the opposite of one of my core beliefs. It is the centre of the bullseye for me intellectually, and he was getting it wrong. So I wrote to Jordan, with whom I had a painful collision on the podcast, and I said “Jordan, you’ve got me completely wrong. You’re misstating my views.” What did Jordan do? An instantaneous apology. He said ‘Sorry, I guess I have to read your books so I know what I’m talking about when we have our public events.”

“That is a difference that cannot be exaggerated. Peterson and Shapiro and I will go on to disagree about many things, it could be very heated…but there is a world of difference between bad faith misrepresentations and honest engagement with a person’s ideas.”

This guy’s whole experience of disagreeing with people on the Left is disheartening in the extreme. His experience of disagreeing with people on the Right is worlds apart from that, and is the way things should be. This is only one example of course, but I highly doubt this is not typical. My question to the Left would be, do you really want to concede the ground of honest, reasonable debate to the Right? When protesters can storm a lecture given by Jacob Rees-Mogg and he comes out as the level-headed, reasonable one, does that not set off an alarm bell? You’re conceding this ground to your opponents and it will be hard to wrest it back.

Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine had this to say:

I’m not a fan of the term ‘SJWs’ (at this point it just comes across as a pejorative), but the point is made all the same. You get an insight into why more and more find themselves moving away from the Left and going elsewhere. There is no longer much tolerance or respect over there. It’s shocking to see otherwise lovely, intelligent people spit bile over those with whom they disagree, rather than simply have the disagreement.

They seek to destroy, to burn, to have fired, to shun, to have removed from social media, to silence, to shut down anyone who will dare defy them. It is savage and bloodthirsty, as stomach churning to watch as it is to see a lion tear up a gazelle.

 

This assumption that ‘they must think that because they are bad people or have malign intentions’ is so unhealthy. If you can’t believe your opponent is arguing in good faith (unless they’ve clearly and repeatedly demonstrated otherwise – again, see Hopkins, Yiannopolous, Klein), then not only are you doing them a disservice, you are doing yourself one as well.

The image that leads this piece is of students protesting Charles Murray’s appearance at Middlebury in the US. He was invited to speak by conservatives in the college and was due to debate a professor who was planning to challenge him hard. He was not just going to speak freely – he was going to have a robust dialogue with somebody who totally opposed him and his ideas. But then the idiots started to shout him down as he spoke. Then what happened?

“When Murray and Stanger finished their dialogue [having moved to a secret place], they found themselves surrounded by protesters. The protesters—some of whom were wearing masks and may not have been Middlebury students—began pushing them. When Stanger tried to shield Murray, according a Middlebury spokesman, a protester grabbed her hair and twisted her neck.

“Murray, Stanger and their escorts made it to a waiting car, but the protesters “pounded on it, rocked it back and forth, and jumped onto the hood,” according to The New York Times. One took a large traffic sign, attached to a concrete base, and placed it in front of the car to prevent it from leaving.

“Finally, Murray and Stanger got away. They had planned to eat dinner at a local restaurant, but, upon learning that the protesters planned to disrupt their meal, left town altogether. Stanger later went to the hospital, where she received a neck brace. “

Kinder and gentler, apparently. Hardly. This was a vicious attack on someone who was going to debate on their side. Complete insanity, and what happens when you refuse to engage in good faith argument.

Much like yesterday’s post, I’m trying to help. I’m trying to show you how this looks to those outside your bubble. My main source of news and comment is the Guardian, but I venture to the Spectator as well, the Telegraph, the Independent, Hitchens in the Mail on Sunday. I listen to people like Ben Shapiro, Christina Hoff Sommers, Jordan Peterson as well as Owen Jones, Polly Toynbee and Gary Younge to name very few in my attempts to have as rounded a viewpoint as possible.

When you go to the places outside the bubble, you see so many people who are natural Lefties but who have either been shunned or can’t bear to be a part of it anymore. If you don’t care, then fine, that’s not a problem. I won’t tell you what you shouldn’t or shouldn’t care about. But if you keep wondering why you’re losing elections or not being listened to or not being taken seriously, you have to start listening to the other side, and not whilst seething at the temerity of these people to dare defy the social norms.

I had a fantastic knockabout debate on Facebook with a small group of friends before the EU referendum. I will keep coming back to this time as a perfect example of peers treating each other with respect and dignity, because whilst we fundamentally disagreed, the basis of the whole discussion was that each of us was arguing in good faith. Without that, it could not have happened. We were all sincere and honest, and nobody insulted or attacked anyone else.

It really can be like that. But one side has to make the first move. Lefties – please let it be you.

Where are all those wretched Tories and Leavers? I’ll tell you where they are…

At work and on social media, I became a refuge for those frightened by the emotional lunacy of their peers

I’ve been recently remembering the fire and fury rage of the sensible middle classes following the EU referendum, a rage that far surpassed the coalition government being formed or Cameron’s majority win (a win that I remain convinced he never wanted). It was a visceral, vicious, blind, white hot, seething explosion of emotion and venom, hurled at everyone and anyone who had dared to defy their wishes – nay, demands – to vote the correct way. If, of course, they could find them.

Lessons had clearly not been learned from the ‘shy Tory’ phenomenon, where nobody could believe that the Conservative and Unionist Party had managed a majority, when nobody they knew had voted Tory. Or so they assumed.

I’ll admit, I didn’t see the referendum result coming either. I predicted a 55-45 Remain win which, obviously, turned out to be significantly wide of the mark. I just thought the immigration card had been played too heavily, the shaming from the middle class Left was too strong and I was utterly convinced that the squalid, shocking murder of Jo Cox MP in the final week of campaigning would render the whole thing ‘game over’.

So there we go, I was wrong. But then came the thunder.

Once again, nobody seemed to know anyone who had voted Leave. The pitchfork was grasped and the torch lit, but there was nobody to swing them at. Before the vote, I’d been happily having the knockabout online, safe in the knowledge that I wasn’t going to be on the winning side. It was a great intellectual sparring session with a small band of people, maybe 3-4 of us on the Leave side, many more on the Remain side, but conducted in a spirit of true debate. Despite my living in a Left, middle class bubble divided roughly into church and school friends, family and comedian friends online, I was a little surprised that there were so few of us, but that just reinforced the notion that the result was going to be overwhelmingly against me. But then the world suddenly turned nasty and vitriolic. Leave had won.

To the point then – where were these people? Where were the 52%? I got an answer very quickly – they were in my inbox and in hushed conversations.

Having voluntarily swam out into the deep, still waters, only to be swept out into a thunderstorm to be mercilessly drowned, I was known publicly as someone who had voted Leave. I took the brunt of it. And in doing so, I had become a safe refuge for those who had done so silently to come to for rest. My inbox swelled with people fearful of their friends, terrified of their families. They voted Leave, but dared not say so.

The day after the vote, I went to work as usual. My boss gave a speech and people hugged. But the mood had not changed. This was middle class Remain territory, and people were angry. It’s easy to hug people you already agree with. I had no such hugs (apart from the boss, but he’s lovely and hugged everyone!). For me, the guy who had voted Leave after many, many years of being against British membership of the EU, and one other colleague who had gone Leave very marginally after having flipped to and fro several times, this was not a comfortable place to be. But we were the only two in a company of 50+. 50+ 30something middle class professionals – squarely in the pro-EU demographic. Or, again, so I thought.

My first trip that day to our tiny, shared kitchen to make a coffee was hastily interrupted by a colleague. She confessed to me that she had voted Leave but not discussed it with anyone, never mind dare to share such a position on social media. She, also, was scared. The conversation ended abruptly when someone else came into the room and she scuttled out nervously.

Then another later that day. And another the next day. 5 in total, who came to me quietly and privately, in confidence, to tell me that they’d exercised their democratic right to vote. None of them were bad people. All of them were, for ease of political measurement, on the Left. All had different reasons for voting the way they did. But none of them would dare say so. They sought solace with someone who they knew they could trust. Who knows how many more there were?

So, here we have it then, middle class, sensible, lefty, Remainers – does this not make you rethink your venom? This will keep happening as long as the ballot box remains private. The voting booth is the place where you can go to stick as many fingers up at the establishment as you like. You might be able to cow people, you might be able to frighten them, you might be able to make them think they’re bad people. But you are not helping yourselves, because when they get that slip of paper, they can do whatever they damn well please. It may be cathartic to publicly signal your virtue by railing against those who have defied you, but the end effect is not the one that you desire.

I’ll have any of you out with an argument. You might have knocked me, but I won’t be backing down. I’ll happily take the intellectual fight if you want one. But there are so many others who don’t want to have the discussion because you are just so horrid. These are the people you’re forcing into hiding and the ones that keep stinging you.

I’ve waited long enough to write this post, hoping the tide would go out at some point and we could do this in a state of calm. It may have receded slightly, but the anger is still there.

So there we have it – I’ve warned you. I’m telling you this is what happens. It makes no difference to me, but you’re the ones who can’t ever seem to understand it when results go against you. I’m trying to help you.

Take it or leave it. It’s your funeral.