Britain’s future will be within the EU

Plus, how the Left once made the case for Brexit – and still should

“Well, at twenty minutes to five, we can now say the decision taken in 1975 by this country to join the Common Market has been reversed by this referendum to Leave the EU. We are absolutely clear now that there is no way the Remain side can win. It looks like the gap is going to be something like 52-48, so a 4 point lead for leaving the EU. And that’s the result of this referendum which has been preceded by weeks and months of argument and dispute and all the rest of it, the British people have spoken and the answer is…

“We’re out.”

The immortal words of David Dimbleby on the 23rd June 2016. The words which confirmed the result, the decision taken by the electorate, the vote which will ultimately be overturned, discounted and quashed, whether by legal challenge, sophistry, governmental mismanagement or plain old politics.

That is what will happen, because that is what always happens.

Having spectacularly misjudged the mood and totally miscalculated the numbers, I watched as my prediction turned into a full 14 point swing away. Having predicted a 10 point win for Remain (55-45), the actual result of 4 points to Leave left me a little numb. The overwhelming sense of resignation to defeat turned into a momentary flash of belief. Wow…maybe you can beat the establishment.

That did not last long. As with all hope (apart from the eternal, obv), one must always take great care. I knew that this would only be a temporary victory, and temporary it will prove to be. The viciousness, venom and, frankly, tedium of the debate ever since has stopped me from writing about it. It simply isn’t worth it. It doesn’t matter how much you fight these things, even winning a democratic vote won’t stop those who hold such things in contempt.

May doesn’t have the numbers

Mrs. May has a deal. Well, so what? It isn’t going anywhere. It can’t get through Parliament, it can’t get past the electorate if ever put back to us, her government can’t sustain such a defeat and will fall, preceding either a new general or a referendum (which will be fixed properly this time so that we physically cannot give the ‘wrong’ response – lesson learned, guys), all of which takes us further and further away from the vote, eventually gaining a new mandate and claiming a victory for ‘democracy’. And who can blame them?

Britain has always been in the EU but straining away from it. Opt outs, rebates and vetoes have been the story of the relationship. But as with every strain at elastic, you start to weaken it. The referendum was our final pull and it will either break, flinging us out, falling at first but getting back up and fighting on, or we will become weak and resist its pull, throwing us back into the EU with no rebate, no opt outs, Schengen, the Euro and our soldiers being barked at in French and German. Well, those that are still left after the defence cuts, anyway.

I don’t say that we won’t actually leave – that is still, while unlikely, possible. But it won’t last long. Our political class is far too weak for such a state to continue for any length of time, and ultimately they will be wooed by the pensions and the fancy dinners at endless summits. Trust me, when the EU eventually collapses (which is surely will), we will be right there amongst the wreckage, clinging to a floating door.

Failure of leadership

Fundamentally, we are being led by people who don’t believe in what they’re doing – that is insanity. Having two competing mandates is ludicrous (and why referendums are constitutionally moronic) and approaching this with damage limitation in mind is completely counterproductive. I don’t believe in Corbyn’s proposed project, but I’d damn well rather he did it than Theresa May. What would be the point? If people vote for Socialism, then do Socialism properly. I think it would destroy the economy, but I may be wrong, and if I don’t win the vote, then I can only voice my opposition. Lots of people think leaving the EU will destroy the economy and I disagree, but if you approach it with that mindset then it will definitely do damage. We’re doing things the Mourinho way of saving a point, rather than the Guardiola/Klopp way of dominating and going for all 3. And that’s no fun for anyone, however we voted.

Which is why this can’t last much longer. Just as Mourinho will be sacked while still claiming he’s done brilliantly and his teams are definitely attacking, no question about it, Mrs. May will be ousted still claiming she smashed the negotiations and got a great deal. Which will leave the next person free to get their own mandate to stay. Just please, for the love of all that is good, don’t hold another referendum. If you’re going to defy it, just have the testicular fortitude to admit that’s what you’re doing, but don’t drag this charade on any longer.

Prophesy

I remember this piece from Matthew Parris that has stuck with me ever since, such was the crushing depth of his prophesy. When I first read it, I knew it was true. Written in September 2017, it crystallised how the powerful get their way and slowly crush the life out of resistance. Mr. Parris has a brilliant way with words – indeed, he was one of those who shook me the hardest in my thinking pre-vote, and I had serious cause to doubt and waver.

Read it – it explains exactly what has happened since he wrote it. This is what they do. It’s slow, it’s grinding, it’s boring, and it makes everyone give up and stop caring. Pure prophesy, and I knew it would come to pass.

So go ahead, stop the thing. I’m done caring. I’m taking my ball in – I won’t be voting in any more ‘democratic elections’, because really what is the point? Next ‘election’ when the crass virtue signalling of ‘I’ve just voted, make sure you do the same!!’ begins and spreads across cyberspace, it will be shown up as hollow and empty. ‘You can’t complain about things if you don’t vote!!’ ‘Make sure you vote – votes change things!!’. I always believed that.

But no. Sadly, the lesson I am forced to take from this whole sorry episode, is that they don’t.

Fond memories – when the Left dipped its toe in Brexit

I reshared this article on my social media while writing this as I love remembering how things once were, and indulge in that slightly sombre thought of what might have been.

It is from Owen Jones, that darling of the Socialist Left and is entitled ‘The Left must put Britain’s EU withdrawal on the agenda’. In it, Mr Jones outlines why he felt (back in July of 2015) that there was a left wing case for leaving the EU (no duh) and that people should start dipping their toes in the water. I have discussed previously what actually happened to this train of thought and why it happened, so I shan’t cover that old ground.

It’s sometimes difficult to remember, given the rage, bile and sliming that has happened since the vote, that public figures other than Nigel Farage flirted with Brexit. It felt tense at the time, but I look back on those times with fondness – it was the last occasion where you could openly discuss your opinions without real threat of abuse.

Read just some excerpts from it – ‘Britain’s left is turning against the European Union, and fast.’

‘The more leftwing opponents of the EU come out, the more momentum will gather pace and gain critical mass.’

‘But even outside the eurozone, our democracy is threatened.’

‘David Cameron is now proposing a renegotiation that will strip away many of the remaining “good bits” of the EU, particularly opting out of employment protection rules. Yet he depends on the left to campaign for and support his new package, which will be to stay in an increasingly pro-corporate EU shorn of pro-worker trappings. Can we honestly endorse that?’

‘If indeed much of the left decides on Lexit – it must run its own separate campaign and try and win ownership of the issue.’

‘Without a prominent Left Out campaign, Ukip could displace Labour right across northern England.’

‘The case for Lexit grows ever stronger, and – at the very least – more of us need to start dipping our toes in the water.’

Of course – well know what happened when he did dip his toe – the water was cold, he got scared and retreated while others of us swam out. But hey, that was his choice to make. But look at all of that – solid, genuine, left wing reasons to campaign on Leave. As Owen himself quotes, George Monbiot said ‘Everything good about the EU is in retreat; everything bad is on the rampage’, Caitlin Moran had her doubts, Nick Cohen described the EU as ‘a cruel, fanatical and stupid institution’.

Suzanne Moore said ‘European Union? Not in my name’. She also wrote a piece entitled ‘My instinct is pro-Brexit (and it’s nothing to do with Boris)’. My sentiments exactly.

Paul Mason made the case for leaving, he just said it shouldn’t be now. Google ‘left wing brexit’ and see the sheer amount of pieces written on the subject.

It’s such a shame all of this never really amounted to anything. It always feels pointless pointing out to those who think I give two hoots about immigration because I’m defo a racist because I voted Leave innit, that I had the likes of Socialist bulldog Dennis Skinner, Green Party peer Baroness Jenny Jones, Guardian columnist and Socialist Giles Fraser and many others on my side. Pointless because most people don’t want to remember these awkward facts. It gets on the way of bashing Tories and sliming Leavers. These nuances are thorns that need to just be ignored. Simple narratives, simple narratives, simple narratives…

That’s a shame. The argument beforehand was fierce but enlightening. Now it is just vicious and nasty.

It is said that the only mercy in war is a swift victory…you can see why.

Finally, sense prevails – the ‘Gay Cake’ debacle

The decision of the Supreme Court is essential in upholding our basic freedoms

Whilst my readers are hopefully now used to a robust and frank style from Off the Party Line, this is obviously a sensitive topic and I have absolutely no intention of hurting or upsetting anyone, so rather than diving straight in, let’s get the context of this clear.

Several years ago now, a couple running a bakery in Northern Ireland refused to bake a cake with an explicitly pro-gay marriage slogan on it for a potential customer. This was deemed contrary to Equality Law and was taken to court, where the couple lost their case on appeal. Having taken it to the Supreme Court, here is what has happened (taken from the Guardian):

“In a unanimous decision, the UK’s highest court found in favour of an appeal by Ashers, which had refused to produce the cake in 2014 for Gareth Lee, who supports the campaign to legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

“The judgment, delivered after the supreme court’s first hearing in Northern Ireland in May, reverses earlier decisions in Belfast county court and a court of appeal ruling that the company discriminated against Lee, who is gay, on the grounds of sexual orientation.

“The five justices on the supreme court – Lady Hale, Lord Mance, Lord Kerr, Lord Hodge and Lady Black – found the bakery did not refuse to fulfil Lee’s order because of his sexual orientation and therefore there was no discrimination on those grounds. The business relationship between Lee and Ashers did not involve people being refused jobs or services because of their religious faith, the judges added.”

So that’s where the story is up to. I’d also like to explain my personal views on some of the matters covered, before explaining why most of them are utterly irrelevant.

Firstly, I am a Christian and I attend an evangelical church. Secondly, I have no issue whatsoever with same sex marriage. I do not speak for the church on that issue, nor the other way around – these are my own views and I assert my right to hold them and have them defended anywhere. Thirdly, if it were me, I probably would have made the cake as requested. Fourthly, I believe that the law should uphold the right for nobody to be discriminated against based on who they are – including race, gender, sexuality, political views, whatever. The last one is a position that I tentatively hold purely on the grounds of pragmatism, it doesn’t necessarily line up exactly with my general outlook.

Now – why most of that doesn’t matter.

There’s a lot of froth in this story when really it is very simple and can dispense with many of these factors. The allegation was that the gentleman was discriminated against because he himself was gay. The defence was that they would have served him any cake he liked, as long as they weren’t forced to say something they did not want to say. Therefore, they weren’t refusing to serve a gay man, they were refusing to say something they did not themselves believe. The couple, indeed, said they wouldn’t print any message that was nasty to gay people either. There are plenty of straight people who are pro-gay marriage, and even some gay people who are against it, so it can’t be that simple.

Hitchens put it this way in his column on the matter: “The planned cake is far more than a cake. It is a publication, because it will bear a political message to be displayed in a public place, perhaps to be photographed and filmed and shared on the internet.

“If this were a poster, a pamphlet, a newspaper or a book, the problem would be obvious. A publisher is being asked to publish a message he disagrees with. In a free society, he can refuse.”

With that in mind, the Christianity element is froth, the gay marriage element is froth, the fact that it was a cake is froth, the fact the guy was gay is froth – the key element here is ‘can the State force somebody to say or publish something with which they do not agree?’ And surely – surely – if we can’t agree on anything else, we can agree on that?

The original rulings were so clearly and obviously wrong that I was seriously frightened about the precedent it had set. I questioned the defence counsel, the judges, the supporters…how could they have got this so wrong? I genuinely feared for our liberty and what on earth they might make us do next. To state the blindingly apparent, they wouldn’t have served this cake to a straight person either.

It is often distasteful in these situations to go straight to the ‘what if it were a Muslim?’ defence. It is of course true, but the sheer scope of what could be allowed here is staggering. Here is a short list, off the top of my head, of things that could have happened had this precedent been set:

  • A bakery run by a gay couple could be made to bake a cake saying ‘gay marriage is an abomination’.
  • A bakery run by a Jewish couple could be made to bake a cake saying ‘The Holocaust may not have happened – who really knows?’.
  • A bakery run by a Palestinian rights campaigners could be made to bake a cake for an Israeli saying ‘Bibi Netanyahu is always right’ with a picture of him in the ‘thumbs up’ pose, winking and smiling.
  • A bakery run by a trans person could be made to bake a cake saying ‘real women don’t have penises’.
  • A bakery run by a Labour councillor could be made to bake a cake saying ‘vote UKIP’.
  • A bakery run by a Northern Irish Catholic could be made to bake a cake by a Northern Irish Protestant saying ‘The Pope is a nasty, nasty man and really ought to be locked up’.

Now of course, you can take your pick of the above statements you agree with, disagree with or find downright horrible. But of course, that’s the point isn’t it? If you were to agree or not care, you could bake the cake. If you were to disagree or strongly condemn the message, you could refuse. That’s the mark of a free society. You may disagree or condemn and still accept the job and do it – that’s fine too.

I find the lack of any imagination on the other side of this debate quite staggering. If you’d won, are you really saying that this precedent is fine and you foresee no issues at all? You don’t see, given the furore around this, seriously disagreeable and nasty people trying this theory out and making a big deal over their resistance? You can’t imagine Tommy Robinson seeking out a bakery run by Muslims and filming himself applying this legal precedent that you’ve just won for yourselves?

The freedom to say or not say whatever we do or do not want is fundamental to this country’s liberty. You have no idea when and in what form this could come back to bite you. Ask yourself seriously – is this the country you want to live in? If it is, I honestly fear you. Who knows what you’d happily make me do by force of law?

The rather wonderful and very brave gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said in 2016, “I profoundly disagree with Ashers’ opposition to same-sex love and marriage, and support protests against them. They claim to be Christians, yet Jesus never once condemned homosexuality, and discrimination is not a Christian value. Ashers’ religious justifications are, to my mind, theologically unsound. Nevertheless, on reflection the court was wrong to penalise Ashers and I was wrong to endorse its decision.”

Take or leave the theology comments – I’ve heard it argued both ways.

Following the ruling of the Supreme Court, he stuck to his guns (emphasis mine).

“This verdict is a victory for freedom of expression. As well as meaning that Ashers cannot be legally forced to aid the promotion of same-sex marriage, it also means that gay bakers cannot be compelled by law to decorate cakes with anti-gay marriage slogans.

“Although I profoundly disagree with Ashers opposition to marriage equality, in a free society neither they nor anyone else should be forced to facilitate a political idea that they oppose. 

“The ruling does not permit anyone to discriminate against LGBT people. Such discrimination rightly remains unlawful.”

Perfectly summarised. The law, as it stands, is good and it protects all of us – all of us. Given the content and the nature of the particular circumstances, it doesn’t feel like much of a victory. I’m certainly not celebrating. But I am relieved. Much as this has been a difficult conversation to have, it needed to be had and we got the right result. With any luck, we can draw a line under this and move on.

Labour MPs are threatening to quit over the antisemitism row – here’s why they won’t

Moral stands come at huge personal cost – is anyone outraged enough to give up their career?

Another day, another Labour antisemitism story. As Katy Balls pointed out in the Coffee House Shots Podcast this week, the Labour antisemitism row is “all too common – I feel like we talk about this story every couple of weeks on this podcast.” It is not going away – if anything it’s getting worse. Something, at some point, will have to give, but the question is, what will that be?

One obvious thing would be Jeremy Corbyn not being leader any more, whether that be via resignation or a coup. Neither of those are going to happen any time soon, so that option is a non starter.

Another is the decisive action that the party could take – caving on the IHRA definition, fast tracking disciplinary cases against those accused of antisemitism, the removal from the party of demonstrable antisemites…yes ok, you can stop laughing now.

The option floating around more recently is a serious one – Labour MPs resigning the party whip. This has apparently been threatened by several members, although none has gone yet apart from John Woodcock. However, Mr Woodcock was always a severe critic of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, was subject to internal party disciplinary proceedings and so probably doesn’t really serve as the starting pistol for a slew of resignations.

According to the Telegraph, “As many as 20 MPs are “closer than they have ever been” to quitting the party as claims of racism “gnaw at their consciences”. Many are reaching “breaking point” because of Mr Corbyn’s failure to get to grips with claims of anti-Semitism at the very highest levels of the organisation, sources said.

“In recent days, MPs have publicly issued ultimatums to Mr Corbyn, including Stephen Kinnock, and a growing number are thought to be considering quitting the party formally to make a stand.”

Now, forgive my cynicism, but I am simply not buying this. I have no expectation whatsoever that we are about to see an exodus of Labour MPs daring to quit the party. Allow me to run through some reasons why this course of action is next to impossible.

For them to have any impact, there would have to be enough of them. A handful won’t suffice. A dozen even, wouldn’t have a big enough impact. They would need to walk out in droves, simultaneously, with something or somewhere to go. The personal cost to each of them would be enormous, and I simply don’t see that they would be willing to give everything up to make a moral stand on this issue.

Moral stands are expensive and personally costly – I suppose that’s why they’re called moral stands. If it doesn’t cost you anything, it isn’t a stand in any sense of the word. Let’s look at what they would be giving up personally – any career ambitions of government for a start, the backing of their local activists, the money that comes with being part of a party and the party whip (they may actually have to think for themselves). For those with a comfortable majority (and therefore a job for as long as they want it), they will almost certainly be giving up their seat at the next election – that’s their livelihood gone. A reminder – the basic salary for an MP is £77,379.

They would be replaced by the party (who wants to replace most of them anyway – this would hand it to them on a plate) with hard left candidates ready to challenge them at the next election for their seat, using all of the party money and machinery. That money and machinery would now be aimed against the incumbent. You would have to be a monumentally popular local MP to merely survive such a fight, given the tribal nature of so many voters.

As a group, assuming they can organise sufficiently well to all move as one, they will be splitting the vote on the Left – they will stand accused of ensuring a weak and dangerous Tory Party will continue to rule the country for at least another decade, but this time with a majority. They may form a new party, but it will be small and vulnerable in FPTP. Who among them has the moral courage to bring all of this upon themselves?

It would, of course, be the right thing to do, but they will never do it. The excuses for not doing so come ready made, and sound moral and courageous. “Why should I leave? This is my party as well, so I’m staying put” they may say. Maybe. But is it really their party any more? I see nothing but an almost total takeover from where I’m sitting.

“It wouldn’t achieve anything – I’m going to stay and fight from within.” Well, ok. That sounds good, but is it really? You’re having little to no effect where you are.

This is sounds like a load of hot air and empty threats. I’d be amazed to see even 5 resignations, never mind the numbers that would be needed to punch the party hard where it hurts. Sure, the odd one or two will go, and probably in a blaze of glory. It will look good for the headlines for a couple of days. But as soon as the dust settles, everyone else will be right back where they were.

From there, it really is anybody’s guess.

Ken Livingstone resigns – and yet I don’t rejoice

Something still doesn’t feel quite right about this whole saga

Ken Livingstone has resigned (finally, one might say) from the Labour Party. So there we have it – the dragged out, inevitable result following a grotesque spectacle that has lasted 2 years. Two years. Has it really been that long? It simultaneously feels like an age and just a few days since the ex-Mayor of London uttered the phrase that may outlive anything else he has ever said: “Hitler was a Zionist“.

Rejoicing has come from most quarters outside of the Labour hard left to which Mr Livingstone nominally belonged. My own MP, Luciana Berger, who I very much like and has championed the cause of ridding the Labour Party of antisemitism, tweeted her approval with a note of disappointment that it has taken so long.

It is being positioned as a victory for the moderates, a victory over Jeremy Corbyn (whose response has, as is typical, been criticised) and a victory against antisemitism.

And yet…and yet…I just can’t bring myself to join the chorus. Something still doesn’t feel quite right about the whole issue. I say still, because back when this was all kicking off, I wrote in defence of Mr Livingstone:

“Here’s my problem – why didn’t anyone just challenge him on the facts? If you think you’re right about something, there is no reason to apologise. Sometimes people get hurt and that’s a shame, but if they’re hurt by something that is true, there’s not much you can do about that. As it happens, he’s wrong, so he should apologise. But the problem is, every time he is on the airwaves, he isn’t met by this challenge, he is just met by an incredulous presenter who simply cannot believe that he won’t apologise for hurting people’s feelings.

“I’ll be completely honest, I think the guy is wrong, but I do have a respect for his doggedness. He hasn’t just backed down like every other person in public life does and apologised just to end it all. Throughout this whole saga, I deliberately didn’t look up his references because I wanted to hear him faced with someone authoritative on the subject to deliver an actual riposte to his claims. The problem with not doing that, is that the people listening just hear his side, then a request for him to apologise. This leaves people going “well if he’s right, why should he?””

If somebody is going down, even an enemy of mine, you’d better have a good, logical and rational reason for it

It honestly feels like this never really happened. I saw the odd piece discussing the so-called ‘facts’ that Mr Livingstone was talking about, and some brilliantly dissected them and showed, to my satisfaction, that he was at the very least misinterpreting unquestioned historical events. David Baddiel’s piece in the Guardian was particularly good.

But the whole thing has been soaked in emotion and fury, something most of us hate when it is directed from the hard left towards the rest of us. It’s so easy to drop verbal nukes on people – ‘racist’, ‘sexist’, homophobe’, transphobe’, ‘Islamophobe’, all terms which, if they can stick, can destroy you in an instant. I hate their overuse and the casual way they are thrown around. Well, the latest powerful one is ‘antisemite’, and I’ll be damned if I start playing the same game as unthinking idiots whose tiny emotional capacities can’t separate “I think, after careful consideration, that the EU is a bloated, bureaucratic organisation which is not capable of real reform and which I think will collapse quite soon, and I’d rather Britain was away from that when it happens” from “I HATE IMMIGRUNTZ”.

I refuse to allow emotion, even when used to advance my own political ideas, to be the tool used in what should be a civilised argument. If somebody is going down, even an enemy of mine, you’d better have a good, logical and rational reason for it. If only this whole saga had taken place at the level of ‘Ken, you are wrong, here is why you are wrong and therefore why we’d like you to recant and apologise’, we may have better grounds to call for his sacking. As it is, it has taken place at the level of ‘what you said was very hurtful and we don’t like you so kindly p*** off or we’ll destroy you’, leaving the guy bewildered and in a more defensible position. He can claim he was hounded out by a mob without due process. Not something you want to leave an enemy with.

You might say that he didn’t help himself, that he seemed to just keep talking about Hitler every time a camera was pointing at him. But frankly, why shouldn’t he? That’s what he kept being asked about. It may look silly, but I’ve had to sit back and admire the guy whilst he engages in political suicide in order to not back down to emotional pressure. More power to him on that front.

He thinks he’s right. I think he’s wrong. He won’t be persuaded of that whilst people just shout in his face and demand apologies. He isn’t sorry, so why you even want him to say it is beyond me – you know it would be empty.

Listen, the Labour Party as an organisation can do whatever it likes. It’s not my problem how they go about their business. If they don’t want him there, they can get rid of him. It just seems like such spurious grounds at the moment, and without solid due process, it’s difficult to know. Antisemitism is definitely a real problem within the Labour Party. Is this a serious victory in that fight?

Somehow, it doesn’t feel like it.

Libertarianism: attractive, but ultimately flawed – Part 1

It is not without merits, but the pragmatist in me can’t see it working in practice

Libertarianism – it’s an ideology that has its merits. It’s one of those things that I love in theory, but know I’d be disappointed with in practice. A good dose of small state with a great dollop of trusting people to live their lives as they see fit, so long as they do not infringe on the rights of others. What could be more conducive to a happy, healthy and free society?

Well then, let’s have a brief look at Libertarianism. It is defined on Wikipedia as seeking to “maximise political freedom and autonomy, emphasise freedom of choice, voluntary association, and individual judgement” Libertarians “believe in individual rights and share a scepticism of authority and state power”.

All of which sounds great. But the key words for me are ‘maximise’ and ‘scepticism’. This implies to me that we cannot have complete political freedom or autonomy, nor can we totally dismiss the role of the state. So, whilst I would generally align myself with these stated aims, it becomes a matter of where along those axes you draw the line. And, if I may borrow and adjust a quote from Joey, to most pure Libertarians, ‘you can’t even see my line – my line is a dot to you.’

The state should not interfere in the freedoms and liberty of people unless there is a very good reason to do so

I tend to believe that the state should not interfere in the freedoms and liberty of people unless there is a very good reason to do so. ‘Very good reason’ is the space in which the conversation needs to happen. One person’s good reason is another person’s tyranny.

Strident Libertarians would have it that laws such as the smoking ban or the recent legislation limiting Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) are outrageous interferences in the liberty of the inhabitants of Great Britain. The principles of small state limited government, freedom of choice and autonomy of the person would dictate that these laws are grotesque and not required in a society that ought to allow its citizens to smoke and gamble as much or as little as they please. And yet most of us can see the good reasons for these laws.

Taking the smoking ban for a start, if we were to strictly adhere to the Libertarian ideal, people ought to be able to smoke whenever and wherever they like. But it is perfectly clear that doing this doesn’t just affect them. I won’t go through the ins and outs of the effects (or lack thereof) of passive smoking, because that’s only part of the point. Suffice to say that restaurants, bus stops and Anfield stadium have become much more tolerable places to breathe since the ban. But then, as a non-smoker, I would say that.

I’m not in the least saying that people shouldn’t smoke. That is absolutely for each individual to decide for themselves. I also think the ban is starting to go too far and is unnecessarily embarrassing and shaming people who do smoke. The images on the packaging are quite intolerable (yes, I know that is the point) and the prices artificially ridiculous due to tax pressure. These things always affect the poor the most, and this should be taken into account when forcing such laws through Parliament.

But this is where the conversation happens. I can’t imagine a situation where pure ideology makes you either for the complete banning of cigarettes, which are in mass use, or for the complete and untrammelled freedom to infringe on everyone else’s space with your choices. So we need to discuss where the line is.

Let’s take the other example mentioned – the reduction in the amount any person can gamble on a FOBT has been reduced from £100 to £2. That may sound draconian, until you realise this amount of money is the stake that you can wager every twenty seconds. These machines, wherever they are, can suck up thousands and thousands of pounds.

The passing of this law prompted the Spectator columnist, editor of Spiked and staunch libertarian, Brendan O’Neill to complain that the ‘snobs had won‘ the battle over FOBTs. Now I don’t mind Brendan – sometimes he speaks complete sense, other times absolute wham. This feels much more like the latter.

What I do like about him is that he defends the working classes, the poor and the Northern against the horrible caricatures that can so often be painted in national media. He hates paternalism and nanny state-ism, as do I to a large extent.

The state can be overly paternalistic and better off people can have a snooty way of discussing anyone who doesn’t live in a comfortable neighbourhood and vote Remain…

But taking some lines from his piece, it feels much more like ideology than practical politics.

“I know people who frequent betting shops, mainly to bet on horses, and they will occasionally spend 10 or 20 quid on an FOBT if they’re bored. I expect that’s how the majority of FOBT-users engage with these machines.”

Great – then they won’t be affected by this then will they? They can still gamble their 10 or 20 quid. And the majority of users, I’m sure, do just use them for this purpose. But what about the minority who don’t? I’m not going to get into ‘addiction’ and what that word actually means in theory or practice, but the simple fact is that people can and do sit at these machines and watch their money disappear at a ferocious speed.

“A few years ago the Guardian sent a reporter to Slough — you know things are bad when the Guardian is willing to enter Slough — to investigate FOBTs. She watched in horror as people’s ‘£20 notes disappeared into them’. Yeah, well, I’ve watched in horror as impeccably middle-class people have queued for hours to get into some hip new restaurant and proceeded to spend £40 on glorified hotdogs and dirty chips. We all do stupid things with our money.”

Apart from the nice little dig at the Guardian, which seems to me to be an accurate summation of Guardian attitudes, the difference here is surely obvious? Endless £20 notes going into a machine (which, remember, can take £100 every twenty seconds) is not the same as a very silly (but probably well off) person overpaying for poncey food.

He writes well and much of this piece is persuasive. Whilst I back the legislation, I often recoil at the tone in which the topic is discussed. I agree that the state can be overly paternalistic and better off people can have a snooty way of discussing anyone who doesn’t live in a comfortable neighbourhood and vote Remain. All the same, I think restricting the amount you can put into these machines isn’t really harming anyone expect the gambling industry – you can still use the machine, you can still see the flashing lights and the spinning wheels, if that’s your thing. You’re just losing less each time.

The other big aspect of Libertarianism – an unshakeable faith in the power of the market no matter what – is something that is attractive, but not without its faults. I’ll come back to this in Part 2.

I’m all for reducing the power and influence of the state. It is too often creeping into our lives where it isn’t needed or welcome and it treats far too many people like they need to be saved and looked after. But it has its place.

The theory of Libertarianism is exactly how I would love the world to be. Alas, the world wouldn’t work like this in practice. It’s a shame, but we have to be pragmatic about these things.

If only hardcore Socialists took the same view…

It’s time for John Bercow to go

The Speaker is becoming a caricature of himself – he needs to step down

John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, first took the chair in 2009. We had a Labour Government, Gordon Brown was the (doomed) Prime Minister and Michael Martin had resigned the position under the cloud of the expenses scandal.

Upon his election, Mr Bercow promised that he would serve 9 years in the position – a term that comes to an end in June of this year. However, he has recently recanted, declaring his intention to serve another 5. This has served to annoy many MPs, some of whom cannot stand him. He has been a consistently divisive figure among members, but at least there was always a deadline for his departure.

Baroness Boothroyd, a popular ex-Speaker, has given her reasons why she thinks he should step down, most of them to do with practicality and courtesy. I fear she may not understand Mr John Bercow very well.

My support for Mr Bercow is on record. I said last year, “He has no shame in making sure the government is held to account, with a record number of urgent questions granted, and he makes sure the minister responsible damn well turns up to the House to answer them. He takes a dim view of junior ministers showing up to defend a question, and will often keep granting questions until the minister shows.”

“…he is keen to ensure that the House is presentable to the public and, knowing that PMQs is pretty much the only time the public are watching with any regularity, tries to discourage bad behaviour.”

I still stand by this. I make no bones of the fact that I think he has, on the whole, been good for the Chair, the House and for the wider public. He is a champion of the backbenches and a firm defender of the Commons against the Executive. This is important in a Parliamentary democracy, the chamber should never just become a yes man to the whims of the government.

All of this may be so. But here comes the ‘however’.

The criticisms I made in that post also still stand and have become more tiresome and frustrating since. He has added other issues, issues that were completely avoidable, but that show him as a caricature of the worst elements of his personality. That he cannot seem to avoid showing everyone that the MPs who hate him have a point, seems to indicate that he has no control over himself. Why does he insist on playing up to this reputation he has of being partisan, over zealous with his interventions and hostile?

Like a referee in football, he should never be the story. And yet he can’t help himself. Too often, he makes the headlines, he talks the most during PMQs, he has to have the last word with some silly little ‘zinger’ to a minister. Why? This is a common and legitimate criticism of him, yet he will not back off. By all means call the House to order, but then sit back down. He far too often interrupts what could be a horrible pressured moment for a minister and takes all of the momentum out of it.

Take this from Lloyd Evans as an example. He describes the moment where Theresa May had attempted to deflect some of the Windrush heat onto Yvette Cooper, who then was invited to speak:

“This sparked a furious counter-attack from Ms Cooper. She got to her feet and awoke the drowsier members of the Commons with a bombshell. She hadn’t planned to mention immigration but Mrs May’s disingenuous use of her remarks had provoked her to respond. Her delivery was thunderous.

‘Do not try to hide,’ she stormed at the prime minister. ‘Do not try to hide behind me! Do not try to hide behind the Labour party!’

“She said it three times, knowing how well the simple parade-ground thump-thump-thump can work.

‘Do not try to hide behind … ’

“She was halted by the Speaker, a noted expert in rhetorical sabotage, who stood up and called for quiet, and then sat down again. Quite needlessly.

“Ms Cooper resumed her attack but its impetus had been destroyed by Mr Bercow. Once again, he did the hecklers’ work by silencing an orator on their behalf.”

This was a classic example of it. He cannot just let the battle happen, he has to intervene and make sure he’s on the news during this little snippet. His over zealous interventions would be one thing, but the time he takes to drone needlessly on make him look like he is craving the attention. All that needs to happen, if anything, is for order to be called, to wait until the House quietens to an acceptable level, and then to bring the member speaking back in. No more, no less. But he won’t do it.

He has also had some lamentable lapses in judgement regarding his impartiality. Another thing that he continues to do and of which he will not learn the lessons. Now, this applies whether he is saying something you agree with, or whether he isn’t. But it is resolutely not for him to be giving his opinions on anything, and especially not while he occupies the Chair. In giving his opinion, he opens himself up to completely legitimate attack, and deserves whatever he gets.

As I said last year, “If he wishes to give his opinion, he should be absolutely free to do so…the second he resigns his office. There can be no other way.”

“His office affords him immense privileges. He is a member of the Privy Council, he can give private counsel to the Prime Minister and he can also give private counsel to the Queen. The key word here is private.”

Nadhim Zahawi, a vocal opponent of the US President, Mr Trump, had this to say about Bercow’s unwise pronouncements on a potential visit: “For the Speaker to talk in the language of bans only opens him up to accusations of partiality and hypocrisy, particularly when he has extended invitations to President Xi of China and the emir of Kuwait – both of whom have values clearly at odds with those we espouse in the UK.”

Bercow’s position was backed by Owen Jones in the Guardian. What a surprise. If you are unwilling to defend the principle here, then don’t come crying to me if a future Speaker gives an opinion on something that you don’t like. Crying ‘impartiality’ then will be the height of hypocrisy, and I eagerly await the opportunity to shout it.

Because surely this is the point? He is supposed to be impartial. You can’t want to hear his opinion on something, even if you agree with it. For instance, he openly discussed the fact that he had voted for Remain in the referendum. Barely a batted eyelid. Now, imagine he’d declared proudly that he had voted Leave. Would Mr Jones be writing a similar article? I hardly think so.

The crowning jewel of all of this was the sticker spotted in his car. The sticker read ‘bollocks to Brexit’. This, frankly, was an absolute disgrace. A disgrace to him, a disgrace to the office of Speaker and a disgrace to the institution of Parliament. The most partisan issue of our time, the most divisive and poisonous campaigns we’ve seen, the issue that continues to cause pain and anguish, the issue that won’t be resolved for many years, and the Speaker has taken sides. And he didn’t even hide it. It was on his car (registration B13 RC0 – are you starting to get the measure of the man?), the car was in his parking space.

Tom Goodenough got it spot on: “This latest transgression is arguably more serious. It also comes at a time where Bercow is under pressure on a number of fronts. The Speaker is facing allegations that he bullied a female staff member (Bercow denies the allegations). Given this, a wiser speaker would recuse themselves from any debate on the topic of bullying. Not Bercow. When MPs gathered to discuss the subject in the chamber yesterday afternoon, Bercow sat in pride of place in his chair.

“The calls for Bercow to go are growing and this latest matter makes it hard to disagree with those who say the Speaker’s time is up. In 2009, Michael Martin resigned ‘in order that unity can be maintained’. Perhaps it is time to Bercow to listen to his immediate predecessor, if not the wise words of Lenthall. After all, if Bercow does feel so strongly about Brexit then he is entitled to his view. But so long as he remains Speaker it isn’t his place to say so.”

That was in March. It’s now May.

And now we have further allegations of bullying and harassment. He apparently has a bit of a temper. He, of course, denies this. I’ve left this as a footnote as I really resent the idea that allegations should be enough to ruin anyone. I shan’t comment on this unless and until proven. There are enough reasons for him to fall on his sword or have it inserted into his back without mere allegations adding to the fire. Whether they are true or not, he is plainly and demonstrably unfit for his office.

“I have neither eyes to see, nor tongue to speak, in this place, but as the house is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here” said speaker William Lenthall. This noble tradition is being trampled upon by the current occupant of the Chair.

Mr Speaker, it’s long past time for you to go.

The Windrush Scandal – how to unite a country in condemnation

When outrage comes from across the entire political spectrum, you know you’ve made a serious mistake

What an almighty mess this is. British people being sacked from jobs, unable to access healthcare and being threatened with deportation to countries they haven’t seen for decades. Welcome to government by ‘we think this is what you mean…?’

If ever a government wanted a clue, some sort of sign that it had made some errors in judgement, it couldn’t get much clearer than the reaction to the Windrush Scandal – a near universal reaction of horror from all corners, all political wings and all media outlets.

Governments these days seem to have no idea what those resistant to mass immigration actually mean. How can it be made any clearer? They don’t want a “hostile environment”. They don’t want people treated poorly. They don’t want cruelty and meanness. They simply want fewer people to come to Britain.

I’m in the familiar position here of trying to explain a position that I don’t particularly take – immigration has never been something I’ve hugely cared about, though I can see why there would be resistance to the scale we’ve seen in recent years. That said, you will rarely find anyone, anywhere in this country who opposes mass immigration and yet supports outrages like this.

Of course, you get the idiots, the racists, the horrid and the violent. These are people for whom we have much more to fear than simply their attitudes to foreigners. But these are in such a minority in this country, a point which is often difficult to get across to lovely liberals. There is a world of difference between hating people because of the colour of their skin (and therefore wanting them to stay away from Britain) and fearing that the sheer pace and scale of immigration is going to be too much. Conflating the two, which is all too common, is insane and counterproductive.

But that’s where you start to get crazy policies like these ones. “Hostile environments” indeed. Because we are constantly conflating the two distinct points of view, governments start to feel like they need to pander to the extreme, which is not how to deal with it. People don’t want others mistreated or put through turmoil, it’s not about cruelty and hostility, it is a mere policy position – slow the pace down, don’t be horrible and nasty about it. Those who do come should treated fairly and with respect.

The most strident voices I’ve heard throughout this ridiculous debacle have been from the ‘Right’ – that is, those who would typically oppose mass immigration. They have been furious at the treatment of these people. Why? Because they’re British citizens, and those on the Right have a keener sense of this fact than anyone else, being the more naturally patriotic side of the spectrum. They have been appalled at how the British state could treat British citizens so terribly.

Doesn’t this give you a clue? Does this not tip you off that racism isn’t a motivating factor? They are as British as I am, and as British as Jacob Rees-Mogg. They are completely naturalised and have been a part of this country for a lot longer than I have.

When the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Independent, the Spectator and the Mail are united in condemnation, this should be an alarm bell that you have miscalculated. The blame lies squarely with the government.

From Peter Oborne in the Daily Mail:

“Like the British people in general, the members of the Tory Party are mainly a decent and tolerant lot and have always welcomed immigrants who want to make this country their home and contribute to society. Paradoxically, reaction to the Windrush scandal proves this.

“As soon as their plight was highlighted by the Press, led by the Guardian and the Mail, there was public outrage. This didn’t just come from the Left, but from all parties across the political spectrum — including Ukip.”

From Brendan O’Neill in the Spectator:

“This is truly scandalous. The Home Office harassment of the Windrush generation is a black mark, perhaps the blackest mark yet, against Theresa May’s government, and she urgently needs to end this wickedness.

“[A] driver of this scandal is Theresa May’s great misreading of public concern about mass immigration as public hostility to migrants. This is one of May’s key failings. From her time as Home Secretary and her creation of a ‘hostile environment’ for illegal migrants, to her unjust expulsion of large numbers of foreign students, to her playing hardball with the rights of EU migrants in the UK in the wake of the Brexit vote, she has done a great deal to make life harder for migrants in the belief that this is what Britons want. But it isn’t. The majority of British people, as evidenced during the Brexit debates, want a greater democratic say over the immigration question, yes, but this doesn’t mean they hate migrants or want them to suffer. May is buying into the rather nasty outlook of that section of the political class which looks upon ordinary Brits as deeply anti-migrant, as a racist pogrom in the making, always just one dodgy Daily Mail editorial away from going on the rampage.”

I’m amazed there haven’t, so far, been any resignations. In normal times, this would have been almost automatic, but because of the strange weakness/strength of the government, the Brexit process, the fact that the Home Secretary at the time is now the PM and the fact that she faces a shambles of an opposition, this isn’t happening.

Whatever the solution is, it needs to happen fast. Deporting your own citizens is not a good look for a Britain attempting to make its own way in the modern world.