...with a dash of Trump bashing for good measure.

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Rumsfeld Brexit

Tomorrow, unless the polls have gotten things even more horribly wrong than usual, Boris Johnson will become Prime Minister of the United Kingdon. He's campaigned on a platform dedicated to delivering Brexit by October 31st. Do or die, he says. Yet before he's even walked through the doors of No 10, MPs have pre-blocked his route to proroguing parliament, senior ministers have pledged to resign before he takes office in order to block a No Deal Brexit, and - far worse - there are plausible rumours of half a dozen or so Conservatives defecting to the Liberal Democrats.

Conventional wisdom suggests therefore that chaos will ensue. It's difficult at present to see how Boris Johnson survives through to October, let alone deliver Brexit. There is a chance he may not make it through the first week. Canning may indeed lose his crown. Arguably, Boris' insistence that he will deliver Brexit by the end of October makes this more likely, in that it makes a further extension to Article 50 less likely.

So what will happen next? Parliamentary arithmetic, for all of us that live in the real world, is a known known and does not currently favour the next PM. There are some within the Tory party who still believe the EU will renegotiate a deal. That is the unknown (to them) known (to the rest of us).  Does Boris Johnson actually have a plan that involves delivering Brexit based on a plausible route through parliament? Based on all the evidence provided by Brexiters since 2016, the answer would have to be that no, there is no plan. So we have our known unknown. And yet, he must - surely - come up with something. Mustn't he? This is the great unknown unknown.

I have given this some thought. And I have a prediction. It's a prediction based partly on Johnson's character, and that he'll do anything to claim a victory and stay in power, no matter how farcial the u-turn. And it's partly based on what I believe could be gotten through parliament. My prediction is this: Johnson will keep the UK in the Single Market. He'll pass the revised Withdrawal Agreement on that basis with support from moderates and realists from both sides of the house. It'll enrage the hardcore Brexiters, but they'll do nothing drastic (as per usual) when faced with the options of either this, a destructive General Election and/or a second referendum. And it'll enrage Corbyn too, which will be considered a plus point.

Keeping the UK in the Single Market doesn't solve every Brexit related problem. But it goes a long way to doing so. I'd guess that it would make the remaining issues a good deal easier to deal with. But will Boris actually attempt such a grand u-turn? Well, I make my prediction with the same level of confidence - and horror - as I would were I predicting the fortunes of the drunk guy who just put his life savings on number 26 on a roulette table. It could happen. But...

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Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Canning Manoeuvre

What can one make of the EU elections this week? Brexiters will rejoice that the Brexit Party won most seats. Remainers are quick to point out that Remain parties combined received more votes than the Brexit Party and UKIP combined. Nigel Farage insists that the Tory votes should be added to his column, because they are a Leave party, and this gives Brexit a win. But as someone who believes that the only democratic means of overturning the 2016 referendum is through a further referendum, I'd argue that these results should be viewed  through a Brexit v Referendum prism, and that Labour votes should be added to the latter group, giving Peoples Vote supporters the win.

Politically, the UK is a mess. Whoever takes the job on from Theresa May will inherit a can of Brexit, well beyond its best before date, and bruised from repeated kicking down the road. There are, as I see it, six potential options open to the new PM. It's essentially a Brexit edition revolver and the game - appropriately enough, given the various suggestions of foreign interference - is Russian Roulette. What should worry the incoming PM most, is that there is the distinct possibility that every chamber contains a live round.

The Withdrawal Agreement

Tory leadership candidates are shouting rather loudly that they'd renegotiate the WA. Alas, the current extension that the government signed up to expressly excludes any possibility of doing so and it is difficult to see the EU even entertaining the idea. A new PM could, however, simply try what May tried and failed to do three times and try his or her luck. Obtain a non-binding letter of intent from the EU, rebrand the WA as 'bold', 'dashing', 'brave' or 'adventurous' and bring it before parliament a fourth time. I suspect that the ERG and DUP will brand it as 'bananas'. It ultimately cost May her job. But hey - you don't know till you try...

General Election

Current polling suggests that a Tory PM calling a General Election anytime soon would effectively be handing in their notice of resignation. But what boost will a leadership change provide the Tories as far as the polls are concerned? If there is a significant lift in the numbers, might the new leader chance his or her arm and seek a fresh mandate to force through the Brexit of his or her choice? Risky? Yes, very...

Second Referendum

It's poisonous to both parties. But of all the available options, it's the one most likely to break the deadlock. It's the most democratic option. Long term, it's probably the least damaging option for the Tories. But the resistance to it from within the Conservative party would be huge, and the risk of being deposed by a flurry of letters sent to the 1922 Committee is high.

No Deal

If the three options above are too upalatable, or fail, then the new leader would be expected by the hardcore Brexiter group within the party to go for a No Deal exit. He or she might try. But the most likely outcome would be a vote of no confidence in the government being put forward and passed by parliament, prompting a General Election. An election that, for the Tories, would come off the back of a humiliating defeat rather than a positive bump in the polls.


It's unthinkable, isn't it? The new Conservative Party leader taking to the podium outside No10 to announce that the government is to revoke Article 50? It remains an option, but one I could only envisage occurring in the event of a very serious international incident. Serious enough to put Brexit on a back burner for another day.

Further Extension

You know what options 1, 2 and 3 all need? Time. A further extension is the most logical course of action. The reality of the situation demands it. Alas, reality and the ERG are not happy bedfellows. The opposition would make the most of it. And for any candidate elected to the role of PM on the basis of a pledge of  'Deal or No Deal, we leave in October', his or her position becomes a little untenable. Does it not?

Theresa May pushed for a couple of those options, flirted with a couple more, but settled for two Article 50 extensions. I expect the next PM to do the same. But without the benefit of the originally specified two year period of negotiation at the point of triggering Article 50, without even the possibility of renegotiation and in a political environment that is becoming more hostile by the day. It takes a very special kind of fool to even contemplate taking the job on, to be frank. Each of those possible courses of action could well lead to an early exit from No 10 for the new PM.

One of the above must come to pass. On which should a betting man put his money? Extension, of course. But there's a more interesting bet to be had that brings the title of the post into the conversation. George Canning became the British Prime Minister in 1827, at a time when the Tory Party was split between moderates and ultras, with members frequently switching allegiances to other parties. Canning himself was a leading opponent of the Concert of Europe, proving that continental scepticism is not a new fangled idea.

But the most interesting detail about Canning's time in No 10 was the length of his term in office. He took the job in April but was out in August, just 119 days later. No PM has 'enjoyed' a shorter tenure in the top job. His departure was not prompted by a vote of no confidence by parliamentarians who questioned his ability to do the job. It was necessitated by Death, who decided he had no further confidence in Canning's ability to continue breathing, and took the appropriate action.

Canning's 119 day record could well be under threat. With a timeframe of just a few months between a June/July accession and the expiry of the Article 50 extension on October 31st, the new PM might find his days are numbered when they're still in double digits. What are the odds? I do not know. But I imagine they are rapidly decreasing.

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Thursday, May 23, 2019

EU Elections 2019

I'll vote in a few hours, probably Lib Dem, but possibly Green. And not simply because I believe that the UK should remain in the EU. Even if I were convinced that the UK would be better off outside the EU, I wouldn't vote for the Brexit Party. Or UKIP. Or the Tory party, while it's infected with a hardcore cadre of right wing infants.
I wouldn’t vote for them because I’m not a bigot. I wouldn’t vote for them because I fundamentally oppose fascism. I wouldn’t vote for them because I refuse to put my name to or in anyway support a group of people or an ideology that promotes hatred, violence and casual discrimination.
Politics might well be broken. But the likes of Farage, Rees-Mogg and company have more to do with the cause than with the solution. Their campaign of populist nationalism, entwined as it is with the creep of fascism throughout Europe, should be abhorred and opposed. Not given a thumbs up at the ballot box. No matter what anyone should think of the EU.
At every turn, the Leave side have lied. Money for the NHS? Sunlit uplands? Easiest deal in history? German car industry to the rescue! Global Britain. The Norway option. And then there were the ridiculous untruths spread about what the EU is and how it works. How gullible does one have to be to continue to swallow their guff? 
Fascism is a strong word. If one is minded to believe it neither exists nor matters until tanks have rolled into Poland, then one is not paying attention. It can arrive in sharply pressed uniforms with supporting troops of brown jackets. It can equally come dressed in tweed and bigged up by thugs in yellow vests.
Farage is a pound shop populist. The language and imagery he uses are unmistakable. The company he keeps tells its own story. The origin of his ideology has a documented history. If you remove the pretence of his oratory, what are you left with? I present as evidence, UKIP. A party that embraces the likes of Tommy Robinson into its ranks, albeit informally.
A vote for either Farage or UKIP is tacit approval of bigotry, discrimination, the deliberate dereliction of the vulnerable, the suppression of minorities and a future UK that no one should be proud of. Vote. Everyone should vote. But do think about exactly what it is you want to vote for.
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Friday, August 10, 2018

Emotive Subjects

Whenever someone utters the word ’emotive subject’, you can safely wager that what they really mean to say is ‘everyone just calm down, please’. Or ‘this topic is probably best avoided’. The subject will often be about money, religion or politics. Or a rage inducing mix of all three. Brexit is an emotive subject. Exceedlingly so. Partly because of the money angle – we’re going to be poorer. And almost everyone, on both sides of the debate, now agrees on that point. But Brexit is emotive beyond the financial implications it will have upon our lives.

Like most people my age, I was brought up on an ideological diet of British exceptionalism, maintained in part through xenophobic denigration of our European neighbours. For an all too brief decade or two, within the EU, we became an open, inclusive and outward looking nation. A place where casual prejudice was called out, not embraced. And yet here we are in 2018, turning inward and looking backward yet again. A place where bigotry is once more being normalised and accepted as part of British life.

I stood at the stern of the ferry, gazing back at Cherbourg as we sailed away from the French coast. I watched the Tricolour flap in the wind. And I thought to myself, “I rather wish I were French”. And I further thought, “I’m probably not the only one”. How did it come to this? Well, Brexit is an emotive subject. Shall we talk about something else for a while?
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Friday, July 27, 2018

EU Ref 2

If there is to be a second referendum on membership of the EU, as I hope there will be, then prepare for controversy galore. The original question on the ballot paper – This or Not This – may have been vague, but it was simple and the campaigning straightforward. I can think of a number of significant and unavoidable differences next time round that will rustle a few feathers.  The most obvious complication being caused by a potential third choice on the menu – May’s eventual deal with the EU, when and if that ever comes. Remain, Leave Hard or Leave Deal.

The Campaigns Teams

In 2016, all four of the main UK political parties campaigned for Remain. Both the government and the shadow government supported Remain. The campaign for Leave was left to UKIP and stray renegades like Boris Johnson and Kate Hoey. But how would they line up in 2019? One would imagine the government will campaign for the Leave Deal. But almost everybody outside No 10, Remainers and Leavers alike, are contemptuous of this ‘Deal’.

I suspect that May will permit MPs outside her cabinet to join whichever team they like. If she demands that cabinet members campaign for Leave Deal, I suspect there will be a significant number of resignations. She may indeed be unable to form a cabinet fit for purpose. Which would lead to interesting times. As for Labour, there will be similar divisions. Which may leave the Lib Dems leader, Vince Cable, to take charge of the official Remain campaign.

We are not finished yet. How about all the persons who committed various dubious, illegal and unethical acts in the original referendum? Some of them may have convictions or pending court cases in the event of EU Ref2. Can they participate?

The Ballot Paper

Life will be so much easier if there are, once again, just the two options on the ballot paper – Remain or Hard Brexit. We all now know what Hard Brexit is, what it entails and how stupid that would be. It’ll still have decent support, but I would be genuinely surprised if they managed to get 45% of the electorate to vote stupid. A more likely total would sit nearer 40% in my humble opinion.

As I’ve said though, there’s the distinct possibility that there will be those three options. Remain, Leave Hard or Leave Deal. The prospect has been raised that voters should choose a first and second preference. So imagine if you will, that Remain wins with a total of 60% of the vote based on those two preferences. Yay! And if the first preference shows that Remain tallied 40% and the two Leave options gained 30% each….well, the bitching would go on forever, wouldn’t it?

There are a multitude of methodologies for applying weight to different preferences, but ultimately, unless Remain wins off its own back, the arguments will rage on. Divide and conquer is a great way of getting a quick result, but an awful way to find a long term solution.

The Manifestos

A breeze for Remain. Just get a chap up on stage to wave his arm at the horrendous Brexity mess before us and state, “Let’s not go there again, old beans”.  But exactly what have the Brexiters got to offer as an inducement to voters given the admissions made by the likes of Ree-Mogg? They simply can’t trot out the same nonsense that they did last time. It’s not true, and we know it’s not true.

The Brexiters acknowledge that Brexit will make us poorer in both the short and medium term. So how do you sell benefits that are 50 years away? You can see the problem, right? But I can tell you the answer. They will continue with the ideologocal slogans that have become the bread and butter of a Brexit movement devoid of policy and substance. “Believe in Britain!” And the crazy thing? There are people who will vote for that.
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Thursday, July 26, 2018

The People's Vote

In 2016, the UK held a referendum on our membership of the EU. Problem number one: the question was vague. It was a this or not this binary option. At no point was a choice offered on the wide spectrum of possibilities encompassed by the not this option. But that's not to say that the various Leave campaigns failed to provide opinions on what they believed would happen. They were often contradictory, regularly disreputable and sometimes just downright untruthful. But a picture was painted, even if the result did rather resemble a Rorschach test. A test that elicited visions of joy and prosperity from 17 million participants, and doom and gloom from the other 16 million people who took part.

Pre-referendum quotes by prominent Leave campaigners can be found in abundance across the web. They haven't aged well. Only a madman would leave the single market; even in the worst case scenario, we will be better off after Brexit; we'll get exactly the same benefits from the EU after Brexit; the Norwegian (EFTA) option is looking increasingly the best for the UK; this will be the easiest trade deal in history; we'll be able to give £350 million a week to the NHS. I could go on. And on. Brexiters provided enough verbal ammunition for a political genocide. But in this brave new world, the New Trump Order reigns supreme and facts are something to be derided.

But compare those shameless boasts to Brexiter claims today. To stay in the single market would be a betrayal. A no-deal Brexit is not just a possibility, but the preferred option for a significant number of MPs. There is no Brexit Dividend to invest in the NHS. Planes may not fly. Food and medicine will be stockpiled. There are possibly preparations for rationing. We will not see any benefits from Brexit for 30 to 50 years. No one said Brexit was going to make us better off.

The question on the EU Referendum ballot paper became troublesome the moment the result was called for Leave, and the ghost of a second referendum has hung over the political scene ever since. Those on the winning side do not, unsurprisingly, want a second referendum. Why would they? But their claims that the will of the people must not be defied is a slogan that belies the facts - how many Leave voters thought that we would leave the Single Market? We simply don't know. A soft Brexit would be a betrayal, they say. That directly contradicts many of the statements made by Leavers.

These arguments are an affront to democracy. A referendum can be irrevocable or democratic - it cannot be both. A second referendum on the final deal was always going to be a moral necessity based on the This or Not This question. That the Vote Leave campaigns have been found guilty of cheating, with further controversies including conspiring with Cambridge Analytica, bribery, Russian influence and other undemocratic allegations, a final deal referendum is fast becoming a political necessity. But it's the incredible disparity between what Leave promised - Instant Success! - and what they now acknowledge can actually be delivered - Benefits After You're Dead! - that makes a second referendum absolutely vital for this country to lay any sort of claim to being a modern, viable democracy.

If the UK were to tumble out of the EU without a deal, history will not be kind to the perpetrators. They will have duped the nation and forced through a policy of enormous and detrimental consequence. The undercurrent of prejudice that has engulfed the country courtesy of some Leave campaigners leaves not just a bad taste in the mouth, but combined with the subversion of democracy, the stench of fascism in the air.

I have some support for a second referendum, from unlikely sources. It was Nigel Farage who declared, before the referendum result, that a 52%-48% result would be unfinished business. Too right, Nigel. But more interesting is a speech made in parliament by arch-Brexiter David Davis in 2003. I'll leave that below for you to read. Whilst historical tweets are sometimes used against people unfairly, or even out of context, this is a detailed and thought out argument made on a point of principle. It would be interesting to know how Mr Davis reconciles that speech in the last decade with his opposition to a People's Vote in the current one.

“Let us deal with the major problem with the Bill. The Deputy Prime Minister says the Bill will bring about more democracy, but, in a democracy, voters have to know what they are voting for. They need to know what the choice is, to use his own word. For that to happen, the proposition has to come before the vote, but with the Bill, it will be vote first, proposition afterwards. The Bill proposes that referendums should be held without voters knowing the structure or powers of the assemblies for which they are asked to vote. Even the Deputy Prime Minister would have a hard job to convince anyone that that is democratic.

Referendums should be held when the electorate are in the best possible position to make a judgment. They should be held when people can view all the arguments for and against and when those arguments have been rigorously tested. In short, referendums should be held when people know exactly what they are getting....

We should not ask people to vote on a blank sheet of paper and tell them to trust us to fill in the details afterwards. For referendums to be fair and compatible with our parliamentary process, we need the electors to be as well informed as possible and to know exactly what they are voting for. Referendums need to be treated as an addition to the parliamentary process, not as a substitute for it.”
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Monday, July 16, 2018

The Trump Protests

I enjoyed my first protest. It’s one more thing crossed off life’s bucket list. It was a worthy cause. It was a great opportunity for a photo walk. It was a successful protest, to my mind. Different folks might have different opinions on what counts as a success. You could possibly argue that a protest commonly called Stop Trump failed when Trump arrived. However, in the key areas that I would consider critical when judging whether the protest was a successful or a failure, the protest hit the mark.

Did it capture the imagination of the people? Perhaps as many as 250,000 turned up, so yes. Definitely. Did it make Trump feel unwelcome and force him to steer clear of London? Yes. Did it really piss off the right-wing media and personalities? Yes, fabulously so. Did it bring the worst parts of Trump’s policies to the media’s attention? Yes. Ultimately, did it change anything in particular? On its own, no. But that’s not how protests work, even when they do work.

By this stage, one either understands who and what Trump is, and what direction he is leading the US and the world, or one doesn’t. I remain surprised at how many still sit in the ‘doesn’t‘ camp. Nevermind. I’ll share some of my observations of the protest with you. The crowd was very diverse. Latin Americans, LGBTs, hippies, pro-Palestinians, #metooers, Muslims, political figures and anti-fascists were out in force. But there was an almighty number of ordinary folk there too. Lots of people, many of whom have just one thing of note in common – they despise Trump.

The protest was a good natured affair. Profane, but fun. Feelings were genuine but the modd was genial. In short, it was exactly how a peaceful protest should be and was in stark contrast to the much, much, much smaller pro-Tommy Robinson/Trump rally the following day. Which was nasty, hateful and loaded with prejudice. Again, those in the wrong camp need only to look at the nature of both sides of the argument to see which side they perhaps should be on.

Putin, needless to say, featured on many banners, almost always in the role of puppet master. My thoughts on Russia and the Trump campaign have progressed from suspicious through questions must be asked and on to case to answer. Today, I am fairly convinced that there has almost certainly been some level of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia. Who dunnit? How deep does it go? Is there kompromat? These are questions that Mueller must be allowed to answer. Regardless, if there is any level of collusion at all, then Trump is guilty of obstruction. There is a traitor in the White House. Whether this can be proven only time will tell. Whether the Republican party – some members of whom may be complicit – allow the investigation to be completed, the same.

I used to read Scott Adams blog, when he provided commentary on Trump’s campaign. I stopped on three counts. Firstly, he now prefers to produce rambling videos. Secondly, it became apparent to me that his commentary on Trump amounted to little more than political astrology. Thirdly, he was wrong. I make this claim based on one tweet shortly after the election, proclaiming that in six months it would be really awkward to be anti-Trump. Adams premise was that Trump is a Master Persuader. He would get results and win people over. Or at least, the results would make it difficult to argue against his presidency.

The evidence is in, and it remains awkward to be pro-Trump. The man is utterly toxic. He is Novichok in human form. He’s not a deal maker. His speciality, as repeatedly demonstrated, is in reneging on deals. I sincerely hope that Americans see the error of their ways in November. And again, if necessary, in 2020. Because so far, the only unity Trump has produced is in opposition to him. Morally and economically, he is isolating the US and the consequential risks are high.

I mentioned Adams because I want to make my own prediction. It’s a much safer prediction than his.  In sixty years, once the history books are written, it’s going to be really awkward for Trump voters when asked to explain their vote in 2016. I dare say they will use the one tool that Trump has really promoted with success. They’ll lie. Because But Hillary! just won’t cut it…
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