A Bit of Tolerance

I apologise in advance to non-UK readers, as this post will have no relevance, and even less interest, for you.

I caught a post the other day. It alluded to Brexit supporters being brainless morons. I know, you thought Brexit was done and dusted, but it still rankles here. This particular one has been a common refrain for the last five years.

If your politics is to the right, some very prominent people supported Brexit. Even somebody like Margaret Thatcher came to want out of the EU. Somebody like Enoch Powell (as right as they came) argued against the EEC way back in 1975. Plus of course, many Conservative MPs of the recent past have supported Brexit. In the same vein, Major, Cameron, Heath… all of them wanted to be inside the EU.

And if your politics is to the left, again, people Like Michael Foot, Tony Benn, remember Eric Heffer? They all wanted out. Far from being “extremists”, out on the edge, Foot actually became Leader of the Labour Party, and Benn came within a cat’s whisker of being elected Deputy Leader. If you think Brexit was about immigration, these people had sounder views on immigration than you or I!

And ex-Labour PM Tony Blair, not to mention current leader, Keir Starmer, have both been vocal supporters of the EU.

I mean, many of these people, far from being brainless morons, actually played a large part in shaping their respective ideologies. So, before anybody condemns people as idiots, they should find out the various reasons which made these people think as they did. So it cuts across the divide.

Whatever their view, some people are idiots, no doubt about it. But on both sides of this argument, there are reasoned principles. We should be tolerant of people who might not agree with us. It’s kind-of an easy refrain, but I think when we uttere it, it shows us to be the idiots.

Homeward Bound

I very gratefully got a lift home from Salisbury yesterday, another volunteer. Of course, the subject got onto our forthcoming election. She quite openly said that she intended voting Liberal. I made the same point I made on here a few weeks ago, that I thought every party was pretty fatally flawed, so I would spoil.

The reason, by the way, that I think the Liberals are fatally flawed, is because we [i.e. the UK] had a plebiscite to decide an issue, and the Liberals have said openly that they will do the opposite of the result. So, I’m left wondering how much they respect the whole electoral process.

The subject, inevitably, turned to Brexit. The Liberals, after all, are overtly anti-Brexit, it is their flagship policy. I’m not sure, these days, if they have any others. This woman advocates another plebiscite. I mean, we don’t have to have a view on Brexit in this case, we can argue it just on the basis of what we want out of a political system. I said: for starters, there is no precedent for voting many times on the same issue. Second, when you decide that some plebiscites count and others don’t, I think you’re on a slippery slope. Who decides, for a start?

There were various arguments about the result of the plebiscite being too close to determine policy. Something I happen to agree with. But you have to say all this before the actual plebiscite. When you don’t think of it until afterwards, it’s just sour grapes. In fact, if the plebiscite had been taken more seriously by its organisers, there was every opportunity that we could know a lot more than we do.

There was that old refrain, what is there to fear? The fear, dare I say it, is obvious, at least to me. That we will have become a society which ignores the result of the ballot-box.

Then the comment that gave the game away. There are more youngsters now, and fewer oldies, so there is a chance that the result will go the other way. So, rely on the electorate changing, until it becomes sufficiently proportioned that we can get our way! Every election is a snapshot of people’s views at a particular time. For better or for worse. If people are not happy, they can change their minds next time around, as I am sure will happen in this case.

Fortunately, by that time, I was home.

About Turn

All the news programmes here are predicting a general election here soon. It’s quite perverse, because Boris Johnson is now saying he wants an election. The reason? Because he won’t get anywhere with the current numbers in parliament. Conversely, the opposition parties, who you’d think would always want an election, are wanting not to trigger an election. At least, not until the no-deal option is taken off the table.

I have to say, I’m with them all the way. I speak as somebody who supported Brexit, as somebody who still supports Brexit. A very soft Brexit which reflects that 48% of us wanted to remain in the EU, that, actually, a lot of things we have taken from the EU, like standards, are good things. Of course, we will diverge over time, but certai ly in the first weeks and months it should not be possible for anybody to see the difference.

Having decided to quit the EU, I wouldn’t have objected to a process in which we gradually split apart, in a managed way. That would have taken as long as it took to keep control of events. But no, the ideologues felt it had to be sorted within a couple of years, so triggered Article 50. So I’m quite sad that that chance to keep control of events was missed.

I’d also go so far as to say that it should have been announced that there would be some form of deal very early on. At that stage, terms would still have been negotiable, but it could be a declaration of intent. The question you tackle first is the future of immigrants in both the EU and the UK, to provide certainty. If you are a government, your people are your main priority. So I’m quite sad that that chance to secure people’s futures was missed.

Businesses. Probably a bigger subject altogether, but again, the goal should have been certainty. So I’m quite sad that that chance to firm up our trading relationship was missed.

I have to say, though, that it is not just the UK side which made me sad. Does anybody remember the £39bn? What was that for? At the time, nobody knew. Nobody explained. Was that for outstanding commitments? If it was, fair enough, but that was never explained to us. And our House of Lords seemed to think we didn’t actually owe anything. You know, you wouldn’t even pay your hotel bill without knowing what you’re being charged for.

So, to agree an amount, with no detail about what was, this was almost as though a number had just been plucked out of the air. For which the EU is equally culpable. Both parties must agreed this number, after all, and agreed to make it public without a word of explanation. So I’m quite sad that that chance to inform people what the money was for, was missed.

Maybe the sum was just monies owed? If so, wouldn’t it be a good idea for the EU to amend its rules so that countries could only leave at the end of a budget cycle? Another chance missed. On the same kind of thing, wouldn’t it have been a good idea for the EU to understand what had caused Brexit in the first place? To hopefully head it off when the Italians, or the Greeks, decide that they want to come out? Chance missed.

And then the events of last night. Dare I say it topped the lot? I couldn’t say I particularly give a monkey’s what the Conservative Party gets up to, but even I think it is madness when you end up suspending two former finance ministers, plus many former cabinet ministers, over this issue. For a guy without a majority in the first place…how did Johnson think it would end?

I despair. I feel let down, although I’m not really surprised. I suppose I’m not really in any different a situation to all those people who saw their futures inside the EU. I’ve got no problem with politicians’ final goal to be outside of the EU, but this whole exercise could all have been done so much better. It’s not unreasonable to start to wonder about Brexit itself, not because it’s a bad idea, just for the inability of the politicians to get the job done.

I realise that this post is something of a rant, but that’s exactly what I feel I need to do right now.

Backstop

I was fixing the links on my posts yesterday. My “politics” page had a link on it which claimed to be a link to a post on Theresa May’s deal. In fact, the post was a critique of May herself, and didn’t really touch on the deal. So I just wanted something in writing which reported my thoughts. They’ve fleshed out a bit since I first became aware of the deal, but only really because the guts of the deal took time to filter out.

I would have gone with the deal. To put it into context, though, I’d have been happy with a very soft Brexit. The key issues for me were around governance, not day-to-day issues. A lot of things done by the EU have been positive. I do think that the agreement left a lot of things unsaid, though. But they could be discussed later.

One of the things that it did say, and something which has proved very contentious since, was about Northern Ireland. Again, bear in mind that my version of Brexit would have seen the UK very much in harmony with the EU, so the Irish border would never have been an issue, but…

I think you have a couple of over-riding concerns there, but only really a couple.

Primarily, there is a border there between the UK and the EU. Rules, regulations, standards even, must be assumed to diverge over time. Also, in respect of the Anglo-Irish agreement, that there would be freedom of movement across that border.

On Day #1, there is no problem, but, as I say, we have to allow for things to diverge (or for politicians to want some divergence to happen, at any rate.

So, we assume divergence. In the future, things could be so different between us that either the EU or the UK might want to put checks in place, to ensure that everything coming in is up-to-scratch. Both might have different rates of duty, so there might need to be some form-filling. Rather like VAT currently.

The solution? Well, the UK have said that “technology will sort it”. The problem is that this is all a bit untested. In any case, nobody has taken steps to introduce this technology yet, so even if it were possible, people might have their work cut out. As I say, on Day #1 is won’t matter, nut on Day #2, it might.

So the EU have raised the question “what if your untested solution doesn’t work?” And they have proposed the solution known as the “Irish Backstop”. The plan is basically that, in the absence of a working solution, the UK keeps Northern Ireland aligned with the Republic, so everything remains homogeneous. I mean, we can handle things like different tax rates, because that happens now. But, there is no duty now, so what if you need to cater for duties? And, what if you want to check goods (or people) as they arrive in your bloc?

Their proposal seems reasonable enough, but at that point, politics takes over. Northern Ireland’s unionists say “well, we can’t have NI being treated any differently to the rest of the UK”. That’s their main mantra. Conservatives are unionists also, although they are mostly English, so their fervour may be diluted. But, in principle, they sympathise. The Democratic Unionist Party is also propping up the Conservative government at the moment, so that adds an extra dynamic.

So, the implication here is that, if the EU want Northern Ireland to remain aligned, then that means that the whole of the UK must remain aligned. To some people, that’s not Brexit (although exactly what Brexit was, was never defined). For me, I have no problem with alignment, in any case neither do I have a problem that Northern Ireland is treated differently, to me the Irish Sea seems an ideal place to perform checks, if they ever need to happen. but to some people, this is a showstopper. Dare I say that not wanting to perform checks might be driven by cost as much as it is by principles? The UK is, after all, in quite a safe position as regards the standards of goods coming in from the EU – you wouldn’t really expect 27 member states to change direction because 1 member state decides to leave. But there are very real fears about the relationship going the other way, because who knows how UK politicians see our future?

The critical thing is that this was not just the EU’s suggestion, but it made it into the deal that Theresa May agreed with the EU and then asked the British parliament to approve. They rejected it, was it three times?

So, that’s it in a nutshell, and the reason why some people are up in arms against the whole agreement (or should I say, disagreement?).

There is also the side-issue raised during the Tory leadership, just really that timescales now are so tight, that there’s very little time to change anything. Anything substantial, at any rate. The EU have said “if you don’t like the backstop, then propose something else instead”, but nothing else has even been forthcoming. Of course, we can argue still more about why timescales are so tight, but they are. The UK public elected a Conservative government in 2017, and they must have known then that Brexit was the key task, so we only have ourselves to blame. We are where we are.

Doesn’t look like ending anytime soon.

Paradox

It’s funny, I happened to be looking at social media last night and saw that somebody had posted about Brexit…again. I for one think that everything to say has already been said, many times over. So much so that I’m in two minds whether to post this. I glossed over the post, but it was vaguely along the lines that Brexit was a bad idea.

Makes me chuckle a bit because surely the time to present such arguments was before the referendum? We subsequently had the referendum, and people made a decision, whether good or bad. So I think that ship has sailed.

I’m always left wondering what the point of these posts are, and whether people have properly thought things though. Are they just to stop Brexit? So, people have specifically voted for X, and in response they get Not X. A bit of a paradox, no? Indeed, we’ve seen this already with several political parties wanting to ignore the result of one vote, but at the same time saying “vote for us” in the next. I include the Liberals and, I’m afraid, the Greens, in this category. So, in their great wisdom, they’ve decided that one vote should be ignored, but the other not. That one vote is valid, but the other not. Especially if you’re a political party, you should really think long and hard when you decide to pick and choose which decisions you’ll observe.

I think that there’s a clear principle here, that if people decide something, then the establishment has to carry it out. That’s really the crux of the matter – that one vote is equally as valid or as invalid as the next, regardless of subject matter. I deliberately use the word “establishment” rather than “government”, although in the case of the EU referendum it happened to be the government. But it applies in General Elections too, where we’re talking about changing governments themselves.

The consequence is simple. If you ignore the last vote, why should anybody trust you to uphold the result of the next?

European Elections

Here in the UK we’re a bit skewed. You can take this weekend’s EU elections as simply a vote on Brexit or not. Either “it should never have happened” or “get on with it”.

But I see that the in the rest of Europe, there is also the fear of “right-wing nationalism”. Those are the BBC’s words, not mine.

I don’t know about right-wing. I’m certainly not right-wing. Nationalism, perhaps. To the extent that countries don’t wish to receive instructions from Brussels, but would rather decide their own course.

I do hope that the EU doesn’t see these numbers just as a protest, dismissed with a “fuck you”. That certainly seems to be how they’ve reacted to Brexit. Brexit happened for all sorts of reasons, including how the EU is run, so to simply dismiss that discontent…well, you’re just asking for trouble. I predict other countries following the UK, and concluding that their only way is outside of their club.

As for the UK, Cameron’s requested reforms would not have satisfied me – he was more concerned with his own popularity than in making the system fairer – but certainly the EU’s stance that “there is no appetite to re-open treaties” didn’t help.

I hope, therefore, that these elections lead to a period of introspection by the EU’s governors. At their next meeting, they might wish to ask why they are in 5* surroundings while some of their citizens are using food banks, why they have set themselves as the elite, at the expense of taxpayers.

It’s funny, because not long ago I finished reading Ken Clarke’s autobiography. It struck me that when he was at large departments like Health and Education, he concentrated a lot of value for money. I think he came along with the attitude of “concentrate just on what you’re good at”. Identifying a narrow purpose and concentrating on delivering it. I don’t necessarily agree with him that value for money is the main goal, in nationalised industries – the society as a whole has more dimensions than just the finances of a nationalised industry – but that is his view. It’s a shame therefore that nobody ever put the EU into the spotlight, and made it focus on perfecting its strengths. I’m not just

My own reservations are more along the lines of how well the EU represents me – I never had a say in Jean-Claude Junker being president, for example, or Donald Tusk or Michel Barnier. I have no way of recalling my MEP if they’re doing a bad job. Fine, I can vote them out next time around but that is five years away! What other employer would commit themselves to hiring an employee who turns out to be no good, and only having a five-year get-out clause? And Brexit has certainly had people highlighting how “democratic” the EU is – if this is the case, ask your local MEP to show to you some legislation they introduced. Ask your local commissioner how they got their job.

If yon want my support, show me a level playing field.

Reasons for Brexit

I’ve mentioned before that I used to take vacations in France, I love it over there and we would often go over there, sometimes just sailing across for 36 hours, to get our weekly shopping from Carrefour.

I have a little French. Not fluent, but enough to get me by. Especially in hotels and restaurants. But I like the language and wish to improve myself. For that reason, I am a member of a few French-language groups on social media. In one such group, a London-centric group of French ex-pats the other day, was a thread on the subject of immigration. Somebody had commented to the effect that although there were no concerns about immigration in London, London did not represent the whole of the UK, just as Paris didn’t represent the whole of France, and that basically, immigration was the big reason for Brexit, if you looked at the UK as a whole.

I responded to this, by saying that I was perhaps not typical, but that immigration, for me, had nothing to do with Brexit. In fact, having worked in London and enjoyed the cosmopolitan environment made up of many nationalities mixed in together, I feel my life has been enriched by immigration.

I see overnight that, rather than replying, somebody just put a “laugh” icon against what I said.

Sure, I can go on about the EU not being perfect, can represent me better, and all that is true but but the real reason that I want to Brexit is because the EU doesn’t even acknowledge this concern. The rulers of the EU are doing nicely, thank you very much, and have no wish for its pesky citizens to rock the boat. My concerns aren’t taken seriously. I might imagine that same “laughing” icon. So, in response, I am quite happy to say “ok, but then we go our separate ways”. Which is what I’ve done. I generally think I’m pretty alone in what I think, but especially in France, where the Gilets Jaunes have been so active, I think I have company.

You want to look for a reason for Brexit? For Trump? Look no further. And politicians should be worried because nothing has changed.

Brexit Party

I must admit I’m quite interested in the Brexit Party. Not really for the obvious, but because they are talking about their desire to reform our system. The trouble is, all the heat and noise is currently surrounding the Brexit process, where the question I’d like to ask is “how do you wish to reform the system?”.

Because I write this blog free of noise, however, I can, at least, say how I would wish to reform the system. Actually I am quite open on how it happens, but my end result is to have politicians who will collaborate with each other, to work to achieve a particular goal, even if they don’t totally see eye to eye. Politicians who are able to take a broad directive from people, and fill in the details responsibly, even if they don’t necessarily think that the directive is a good idea. I mean, it goes further than that – how the head of state fits into the representational system, how the Prime Minister fits into the representational system, the representational system itself – but in the interests of finishing this post today…

I spent my life doing that as a consultant. My primary goal was to help the client achieve their goal, regardless of whether I agreed with their goal or not. Frankly, I expect the same of a politician, I don’t think I’m being unreasonable. So, in the sense that I am able to define them in a few lines, my requirements are simple.

Unfortunately I think that this might require a new generation of politicians. I don’t want somebody who feels that their role is to make decisions on my behalf. I can quite happily make my own decisions, thanks. At least to the point where I issue a broad instruction. I want somebody who is then able to take my instruction and to work out how to implement it, to put flesh onto the bone, so that we end up with a society in which we feel we are taking part. I fear that the “not being in charge” part of this is an anathema to some of today’s politicians.

Incidentally, I heard Nigel Farage this morning about how he sees the goal of the Brexit Party, in the first instance at least, as delivering a WTO Brexit. I would like to see a deal (in fact I think May’s biggest mistake here was not to portray herself as a broker – it was always ludicrous for her to talk about “red lines” when the two sices were the UK Parliament and the EU Brexit Negotiator – but that again is just a politician thinking they are a Field Marshal, which exemplifies my point), but I have to accept that he is probably right. Nobody can agree on a deal which *is* acceptable, so I think that probably the only way forward is to strip the relationship down to its bare bones and to start trying to rebuild it, over time, along some kind of consensual line. I’m in no doubt that’s what’ll happen anyway, on Brexit + 1 day – whatever we agree with the EU now (which might well be nothing), people will immediately try to build a little bit more onto it. That’ll become more urgent on both sides as we realise how were all impactd. With WTO, it’s not so much the trade aspect that bothers me, but more of the surrounding infrastructure – guaranteeing the safety of medicines, protecting the standard of goods, protecting workers etc. – which I think have been beneficial to us. At best, it’ll be costly in terms of time and money to replicate these structures.