I am a journalist, author and broadcaster, working mainly in political journalism and sport.
I am a contributor to political website Spiked, Private Eye magazine and I appear as a political analyst on a number of outlets, including Radio Sputnik.
TO CELEBRATE the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, Marcus Stead and Greg Lance-Watkins bring you a ‘triple dose’ of Twenty Minute Topic.
Marcus and Greg reflect on the moment last Friday night at 11pm when the UK left the EU and became an independent country again after 47 years.
They assess what this means for the UK, what happens next, and what being free from the shackles of the EU will mean for the country.
Later in the podcast, they discuss the latest developments with the coronavirus outbreak, as a follow-up to the special podcast recorded in the middle of last week.
Finally, they discuss the absurd sacking of veteran newscaster Alastair Stewart for quoting Shakespeare, and why this, along with Katie Hopkins’s censorship by Twitter, are extremely disturbing developments for lovers of free speech.
THE PEOPLE of Wales have finally said ‘enough is enough’. For years, the Labour Party, in both London and Cardiff Bay, has treated its heartland voters with contempt, dismissing them as stupid, racist and xenophobic.
The election saw the Conservatives win their highest vote share in Wales since 1900, their best ever total in the era of universal suffrage. Blinded by smug arrogance, Labour’s reaction to the political earthquake in Wales was give their once-loyal voters a good telling off, rather than to take time to listen and reflect on what went wrong.
Wales’s First Minister, the ultra-Corbynista Mark Drakeford, even said that the next national Labour leader should ‘keep the same basic message’. He just doesn’t get it.
The disconnect between the Labour Party membership and its heartland voters is now blatantly obvious. The membership base, changed beyond all recognition by the entryism of the last four years, now consists of middle class students, their lecturers, and white collar public sector workers, preoccupied with the dogma of the woke agenda, a mythical ‘Climate Emergency’ and stopping Brexit at all costs. This puts them at odds with the party’s traditional heartlands, who have routinely backed the party for a century.
In 2017, the Welsh electorate gave Jeremy Corbyn the benefit of the doubt. They took him at his word when he said that he respected the result of the previous year’s referendum and was committed to implementing Brexit. This, combined with Theresa May’s lacklustre campaign, saw Labour gain three seats, taking their total to 28 out of 40 in the Principality. What followed in the next two-and-a-half years was a complete betrayal of the trust the Welsh electorate gave to the Corbyn project.
In December 2018, Drakeford became Wales’s First Minister. Drakeford, a dry, academic man approaching retirement age, who spent his entire career before entering politics working in the public and charity sectors, hardly seemed in touch with the post-industrial Labour heartlands of the south Wales valleys or the weathered seaside towns of the north Wales coast.
Drakeford didn’t grow into the job, nor does he behave like a leader. He still seldom does up the top button on his shirt, nor is his tie straight. Many people in Wales have no idea who he is – his personal Twitter account has just 14,000 followers, while the official ‘First Minister’ account has fewer than 49,000. By contrast, his Scottish counterpart Nicola Sturgeon has more than one million.
A year of Drakeford’s insipid leadership in policy areas that are devolved gave the people of Wales a taster of what a Jeremy Corbyn government would be like. Under Drakeford’s socialist Government, Wales has the worst school attainment levels and A&E waiting times in Britain. Betsi Cadwaladr health board has been in special measures for more than four years, with little sign of that status being removed any time soon.
But perhaps Drakeford’s flagship cockup of the last 12 months was his decision in June to break a key Welsh Labour manifesto pledge by scrapping plans to build a much-needed M4 relief road in the Newport area, after more than a decade of planning, during which time £114 million had been wasted.
Drakeford, keen to boost his woke credentials, said it was Wales’s way of doing its bit to tackle the ‘Climate Emergency’. The decision came just six months after the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Wales, Alun Cairns, removed tolls on both Severn bridges, designed to improve economic links between South Wales and the West of England.
As a result of Drakeford’s decision, a Cardiffian employed in Bristol, or vice versa, now faces no end to the tedious daily dawdles in traffic around the Brynglas Tunnels, which are enough to deter many people taking jobs on the opposite side of the bridge, thereby massively diluting the economic benefits of removing the tolls.
The irritation and anger that followed this decision was huge. £114 million had been squandered. The ‘Climate Emergency’ is only a theory, and a very wobbly theory at that, but even if it was indisputably true, any benefits of not building the relief road will rapidly be offset by China, whose coal use since 2011 has been greater than the rest of the world combined. Drakeford’s decision was a pointless act of virtue signalling that will have serious implications for the Welsh economy.
Drakeford’s pandering to the woke agenda goes much further. At last summer’s ‘Pride Cymru’ carnival in the centre of Cardiff, Drakeford marched in the front row, wearing a rainbow tie and waving a rainbow flag, before delivering a speech to the crowd.
Drakeford’s wokeness played well to the Cardiff hipster community, no more than a few thousand in number, but it did nothing to endear him to the Labour heartlands ten miles up the A470. It’s not that the people of the valleys are rabidly anti-gay or anti-trans, but the country’s First Minister seldom showed as much enthusiasm for their concerns, such as delivering the Brexit they voted for, or for meaningful measures to bring good, well-paid, stable jobs to areas that decades ago lost their main source of employment.
It was Labour’s policy on Brexit that was regarded as the biggest betrayal in the Welsh heartlands. They voted Leave in 2016, and they meant Leave. They believed Jeremy Corbyn in 2017 when he said he was committed to implementing the referendum result.
But in the two years since, Corbyn and Drakeford changed the party’s policy in both London and Cardiff Bay from one of implementing Brexit, to the farcical position of renegotiating a deal that would look like Brexit in name only, after which they would hold a second referendum in which both Corbyn and Drakeford would be neutral, with only Labour’s deal or remaining in the EU on the ballot paper.
Welsh Labour voters saw this policy for the fob-off it was. So what of the natural alternatives of the left and centre left? Few in Wales were taken in by Jo Swinson’s metropolitan elitism and policy of ‘let’s cancel Brexit because I know what’s best for plebs like you.’ The party held four seats in Wales until 2010, but since 2017 they’ve had none. Their sole Assembly Member, Kirsty Williams, is the country’s education minister, who has overseen the worst attainment levels in Britain.
And what of Plaid Cymru, who ditched Leanne Wood as leader and replaced her with Adam Price following disappointing election results in 2017?
Plaid Cymru has long been perceived as a party for rural Welsh speakers living in west and north west Wales. Outside these areas, there is little appetite for siphoning Wales off from the rest of the UK. What’s more, the party is firmly pro-EU, even entering into an electoral pact in selected seats with the Lib Dems and Greens.
The pundits heaped much praise on Price’s performances in the TV debates, but the party’s vote share dropped for the third general election in a row, and they failed to build on the four seats they’ve held since 2017. Plaid failed to finish second in any of the other seats it contested.
With Labour in disarray and the Lib Dems an unviable alternative, Plaid Cymru actually went backwards. 28,439 people who voted for the party in 2015 did not do so this time. A small minority will have died or emigrated, but what about the rest?
And what about the young ‘activists’ who have come onto electoral roll in the years since, and make a lot of noise on social media?
The reality is that under the leadership of Wood and Price, Plaid Cymru has become increasingly cult-like and obsessed with woke issues.
It’s now those forces that are firmly in control of the party, which only has around 10,000 members. It’s even threatening their support base in the four seats they hold, where people usually have the sort of socially conservative attitudes that are despised by those now in charge of Plaid.
The party has an electronic army on social media of fascist-hunters, climate change crusaders, EU fanatics and trans lobbyists who hurl vile abuse at anyone who dares to question their agenda. They exist within their own echo chamber, but it looks very ugly from the outside, and it’s easy to see why the party has been unable to expand its appeal.
So where did that leave the voters of Wrexham, Ynys Mon and Bridgend? Labour had betrayed them, and neither the Lib Dems nor Plaid Cymru had any intention of honouring their decision to vote for Brexit in 2016.
In many respects, the Conservatives were the ‘least worst’ option. Many Welsh voters put a cross next to the Conservative candidate knowing their grandfathers would be turning in their graves. Many don’t exactly ‘trust’ Boris Johnson, but they were willing to give him a chance. He was promising to honour the result of the referendum by delivering Brexit within a matter of weeks of the election, and offered them an optimistic vision of how he wants to reshape Britain. For that, the voters broke the habit of a century and backed him.
The electorate in these areas support Brexit for a plethora of reasons, from uncontrolled mass immigration leading to a suppression of wages, to concerns about the lack of democratic accountability in the EU. But the overriding factor was that for them, life just isn’t very good, and they firmly believe that radical change, namely a departure from the clutches of Brussels is needed.
The voters in these parts of Wales know that Boris Johnson is not ‘one of them’ – he doesn’t look or sound like them, but he does appear to respect them.
The election in Wales could have been far worse for the Labour Party. They still hold 22 of the 40 seats. In truth, the presence of the Brexit Party almost certainly cost the Conservatives at least an extra four seats in Wales, possibly more.
Wales has given Boris Johnson a chance. With Labour and Plaid Cymru in disarray and unlikely to get their act together any time soon, the onus is on him to honour his pledges. Get this right, and the Conservatives could end up the largest party in the Assembly elections of May 2021 (by which time it will have been renamed the Welsh Parliament).
By the time of the next general election, highly likely to be at least four years away, the Brexit issue and the Brexit Party will be a distant memory, and as a result the Conservatives will have the opportunity to win yet more seats in Wales if the people can see tangible improvements to their lives.
If the Conservatives seize this opportunity, the general election of 2019 could go down in history as merely the opening chapter of a political revolution in Wales.
AS THE MEDIA circus focussed on events at the Supreme Court, the Labour Party Conference in Brighton demonstrated the extent to which there is now an enormous disconnect between the Labour membership and the voters in its heartland constituencies.
By sitting through an hour of BBC Parliament’s uninterrupted coverage of the conference on Monday afternoon, it became clear that the demographic in the hall was far removed from a typical Labour constituency in the valleys of South Wales, the former mining towns of Yorkshire and the ex-mill towns of Lancashire.
This was an occasion for the middle class university student, the college lecturer and the white collar public sector worker, rather than the ex-miner, the self-employed plumber or the school leaver who can’t find a steady job.
The entryism in the period shortly before and after Jeremy Corbyn became leader that saw the Labour Party membership jump from below 200,000 to around half a million has changed the character of the grass roots party completely, and in ways that has resulted in an alarming detachment from its working class voters.
The atmosphere in the hall was frenzied and slightly unhinged. There was intense howling where there would once have been polite applause. The tradition of standing ovations and enthusiastic cheering was replaced by the chanting of aggressive slogans. These people had bought into the dangerous personality cult of Corbyn, and their behaviour was akin to that of a cranky fringe religious sect.
Few present at the conference would have been there a decade ago, when the dividing lines were between shades of social democracy. Back then, you were either ‘Old Labour’, in the mould of Neil Kinnock and John Smith, or you were a disciple of the ‘New Labour’ project, as either a Blairite or a Brownite.
This year, you were either on board with ‘Project Corbyn’, or you were someone to be scorned and despised. A very large number of backbench Labour MPs, legacies from the Labour party of the 1980s, 90s, and 2000s, stayed away completely.
But most concerning of all was the way in which one speaker after another took to the stage to denounce the Brexit referendum result. Everyone, from prominent members of Corbyn’s front bench, to purple-haired students with rings through their noses took a similar tone: They believed that people in Labour constituencies had been conned and misled into voting Leave in 2016, though some went further and came very close indeed to saying on the stage what they’re probably saying in private, namely that working class voters were too stupid to understand Brexit, but that they, the enlightened ones, knew what was best for them.
The delegates in the hall had little idea how condescending they will have appeared in their party’s own heartlands, and it contrasted sharply with the Labour party of old, which was based around the principle of working class people using their collective power to improve their standard of living.
Indeed, the Labour Party of old-school patriotic socialists was, to a very large extent, ahead of the Conservatives in understanding the dangers of the EU project from its very earliest days.
The greatest ever eurosceptic speech made in Britain was delivered by Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell in 1962. Tony Benn, long-time mentor to Jeremy Corbyn, was against the EU project from the outset, primarily because he understood the dangers of a lack of democracy and accountability at the heart of its institutions.
The underrated Peter Shore opposed EEC membership in the 1970s, and in the early 1990s accurately predicted that the Maastricht Treaty would lead to unelected bankers and officials imposing austerity and privatisation on EU member states.
Jeremy Corbyn himself had a forty year track record as a euroscpetic, and opposed every single EU treaty from the time he entered Parliament in 1983 until he became Labour leader in 2015. He almost certainly still is deep down, because whenever he tries to defend the EU or offers lukewarm support for Remain, he sounds like a hostage reading our his captor’s demands. On Brexit, Corbyn is very much at odds with those who elected him as leader, but by standing in the middle of the road he is repeatedly being knocked down by both sides and is pleasing nobody, something he doesn’t seem to have grasped despite doing this for four years.
Five million Labour voters backed Leave in 2016. According to Professor Chris Hanretty’s research, of the seats Labour held at the time of the referendum, 148 voted Leave and 84 Remain. Even allowing for a margin of error, the pattern is clear – a clear majority of Labour voters backed Brexit.
There isn’t a stand-out reason why those five million Labour voters supported Brexit. Yes, a small minority will fit the cliché painted by snobby Remainers that working class people voted Leave because they don’t like foreigners.
But for many, concerns over decades of uncontrolled mass immigration has nothing to do with a dislike of the immigrants themselves. The sheer volume of immigration has resulted in the suppression of wages and put huge strain on public services. Others feel they’ve been ignored by the political elite for decades. A significant number have seen their standard of living stagnate or go backwards over many years, with no tangible improvement in supposedly good economic times.
The one overriding factor as to why five million Labour voters backed Brexit is this: For these voters, life just isn’t very good. A vote for Brexit was their way of making their frustrations known.
Far from regretting their decision in 2016, many of the five million Labour Leave voters broke the habit of a lifetime and helped Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party to a resounding victory in May’s European Parliamentary elections.
The Brexit Party did best in the north east of England, followed by the valleys of south Wales, yet the Labour leadership still doesn’t get the message – they voted Leave in 2016, they meant Leave, and they haven’t changed their minds.
Unlike previous European Parliamentary elections, where working class communities leant their voted to UKIP, only to return to Labour at the following general election, there is strong evidence something more profound and permanent is happening this time.
In July, a YouGov poll in Wales showed that support for Labour had halved since the start of the year, and for the first time in more than a century, the Conservatives were in the lead. There had been a ‘Boris Bounce’ that had seen the Tories gain seven percentage points, but even then, they were only on 24%, with Labour on 22%, with the Brexit Party in third place on 18%.
In large parts of south Wales, as with much of northern England and the former industrial Midlands, the scars from the Thatcher era run too deep for many to vote Conservative, but there is every reason to believe these communities are willing to abandon a Labour Party that has this week made it abundantly clear that it has abandoned them.
What is less clear is which party these former Labour voters will lend their support to. Unlike European Parliamentary elections, general elections are contested using the ‘first past the post’ system, and this presents a danger of its own.
If the eurosceptic vote is split several ways in what were once ‘safe’ Labour seats, there is every possibility pro-Remain candidates will ‘come through the middle’ and win, which would lead to an even greater level of disconnect between working people and the political establishment.
TO THE untrained eye, months of chaos and confusion at Westminster appear to have resulted in raised levels of interest in Welsh independence.
Crowds in the low thousands have attended ‘independence’ marches in Cardiff and Caernarfon. Labour’s Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford and his predecessor Carwyn Jones have made noises that a badly-handled Brexit could lead to the breakup of the union.
But a closer look beyond the sympathetic reporting from an almost entirely anti-Brexit Welsh media, and it quickly becomes clear that these are the dying screams of a finished cause. Plaid Cymru and the wider Welsh nationalist movement fear a successful Brexit, because they know it will kill their movement stone dead.
Welsh nationalism has always been something of a niche cause. Opinion polls have for many years shown levels of support fluctuating between 9-15%. Plaid Cymru has around 8,000 members, compared to 125,000 for its Scottish equivalent, the SNP. The ‘Yes Cymru’ movement, while very noisy and aggressive on social media, only has around 1,200 members.
If Brexit goes ahead on October 31, or at any time in the months ahead, their vision of an ‘independent’ Wales within the European Union will quickly be exposed as absurd and completely unfeasible. There are four main reasons why this is the case.
First of all, an independent Wales would have to go through the process of joining the EU. This, in itself, would take many years, quite possibly a decade or more. How would an independent Wales manage in the meantime?
Wales would almost certainly fail the EU’s membership criteria, particularly with regards to the existence of a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the EU.
Wales has a lack of entrepreneurial zeal. It is heavily reliant on the public sector for employment and there is little in the way of a skilled private sector. Just one of the FTSE top 100 companies is based in Wales (vehicle insurance firm Admiral), and even that was founded by an American.
Figures released last month by the Office for National Statistics showed public spending in Wales was £13.7 billion more than the total amount collected in taxes, which works out at a deficit of £4,376 per person.
At present, around 80% of the Welsh Government’s funding comes directly from Westminster (ie the English taxpayer) in the form of a block grant. Making up that shortfall in a post-independence Wales seems beyond comprehension in itself, but the problem is far worse than that.
In an independent Wales, the Welsh Government would have to assume responsibility for, and therefore fund, areas of policy that are not currently devolved, including foreign policy, defence, law and order, work and pensions, and broadcasting.
According to the Welsh Government, Wales currently receives £680 million per year in EU funds. In an independent Wales, with the Westminster block grant withdrawn, an EU already struggling to balance its books would have to plug the huge hole, a burden it’s hard to imagine Brussels bureaucrats being been on shouldering.
If an independent Wales could somehow overcome these hurdles (and it’s hard to see how), point two would present another tough obstacle – the country would be forced to adopt the euro, as all new EU members are. This would be a very hard sell to the people of Wales.
Nearly two decades after the euro launched, it is becoming increasingly clear that one currency, with one interest rate, and 19 finance ministers is not working out well.
The inability of the 19 member states to adjust interest rates to suit their circumstances, along with the fiscal spending rules, has led to mass unemployment, especially among young people, in vast swathes of southern Europe (currently an eye-watering 32% in Greece). It’s easy to imagine how an independent Wales inside the euro could well end up in a similar position.
Point three is the issue of the border with England. If you think the Northern Ireland border and the issue of the backstop is an enormous headache, you ain’t seen nothing yet! The border between England and Wales runs for a whopping 160 miles from the Dee estuary in the north to the Severn estuary in the south.
There are two well-known Severn bridges linking Wales with the South West, where vehicle tolls were removed in late 2018, more than 52 years after they were imposed when the first bridge opened. In addition, thousands of vehicles cross daily and seamlessly each day along the A48 between South Wales and the Midlands.
Then there is the situation in north east Wales. The reality is that a very large number of people in Denbighshire and Flintshire don’t think in terms of being in England or Wales. They are aligned economically and culturally to Cheshire, Merseyside and Lancashire. They use the many roads crossing between the two countries for work, leisure and recreation.
Then there are the numerous smaller road crossings between England and Wales along Offa’s Dyke, plus railway lines and footpaths. Managing a hard border between the two countries would prove logistically impossible, and would undoubtedly cause a farcical amount of inconvenience for commuters.
The fourth and final point relates to the huge amount of cross-border integration that exists between England and Wales, and the necessity for new bodies to be created after separation.
This takes many forms. For example, Welsh patients with serious liver problems are frequently treated at the Liver and HPB unit in Birmingham.
The DVLA’s base for the whole of the UK is in Swansea, and is one of the city’s largest employers, with more than 5,000 staff. After separation, this would have to be relocated elsewhere, and a separate body for vehicle registration created for Wales, at the Welsh taxpayer’s expense.
A similar situation would apply to Companies House, whose headquarters in Cardiff and Nantgarw employs more than 1,000 staff.
Welsh nationalism has always been a minority cause, but Brexit will render it beyond absurd and expose it as totally impractical.
FOR MANY years, I have held the view that a large number of political journalists, especially those working in the broadcast media, are more interested in gossip than issues.
A good political journalist, especially one working in the broadcast sphere where there is a regulatory requirement for impartiality, should include nothing other than facts and balanced analysis in their reports, with pictures to fit the story.
Since political reporters spend so much time in the Westminster bubble, they all too often lose sight of the fact that Mrs Jones, watching the evening news from her council house in Treherbert, isn’t especially interested in whether David Davis and Michel Barnier are getting along this week, but she does care about whether a ‘no deal’ Brexit will result in an increase in her weekly shopping bill.
With this in mind, virtually all political reporters working in TV and radio band about the terms ‘Single Market’ and ‘Customs Union’, but I cannot think of a single one who has made any serious attempt to explain what these terms actually mean, let alone what withdrawing from one or either would mean for the UK economy.
This latest policy shift is just another sop to try and buy their loyalty, but it is unlikely to work. They know they have to put up with Mr Corbyn for now because he fared far better than predicted at this year’s General Election, but given time, the Stephen Doughtys and Hilary Benns of this world will try to remove him as leader and replace him with a New Labour apparatchik.
But I digress. We know Mr Corbyn has changed Labour’s policy to favour continued membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union. We know it is Conservative Party policy to withdraw from both. But how many people, quite possibly including the political reporters who grace our screens every evening, can accurately define either?
The Single Market has no specific legal definition. It essentially means ‘single regulatory regime’. It aims to break down all barriers to trading across the EU and even to non-EU member states by ensuring the ‘four freedoms’ – goods, services, capital and labour.
Free movement of goods, services and capital means the elimination of tariffs and reduces costs and administrative burdens by applying the same set of rules (ie ‘single regulatory regime’) among all those states which are a member of it.
But there is a catch – free movement of labour is not an absolute condition of Single Market membership. More on that later.
The Customs Union ensures all member countries charge the same import duties to non-members. For Brexit to be a success, it is essential that the UK is not part of the Customs Union. It will prevent our country from being able to agree free trade deals with the wider world, or even set tariffs on our own terms to countries where no free trade deal exists. The importance of not being part of the Customs Union cannot be understated. Labour’s support for continued membership of the Customs Union is baffling, especially since they claim to support Brexit on principle.
I favour continued membership of the Single Market. Let me be clear, my priority is or the United Kingdom to get out and stay out of the European Union. My side won the referendum, and by a clear, though not overwhelming margin, but I take on board Sir Winston Churchill’s wise maxim, ‘In victory: Magnanimity’.
With that in mind, I wish to persuade as many Remain voters as possible of my arguments, and am the first to acknowledge that, if handled incorrectly, Brexit could go badly wrong.
By the same token, I am painfully aware that there are those among the political establishment, and indeed the media, who actively want Brexit to fail so that they can say ‘I told you so’. I’ll name two such individuals – ‘Sir’ Vince Cable (leader of the sarcastically-titled Liberal Democrats), and James O’Brien (a condescending creep who hosts a three-hour daily anti-Brexit radio programme on LBC, where he frequently lies, smears and twists the words of Brexit campaigners).
A ‘worst case scenario’ would see, on the day after Brexit, huge queues of lorries at Dover because of the endless bureaucratic procedures the EU must by international law impose on ‘third countries’, which the UK will have then become.
With jobs vanishing by the day, and the value of the pound plummeting, the government would fall. The arrogant Remainers are already waiting in the wings to take their revenge, from the aforementioned ‘Sir’ Vince Cable, to the Blairites and Brownites on the Labour back benches, to the likes of Anna Soubry and Kenneth Clarke among the Conservatives, to the SNP and Plaid Cymru, who seek to see Scotland and Wales ruled directly from Brussels, doing away with the Westminster ‘middle man’.
A new government (of ANY party) could then seek election pledging re-entry to the European Union on whatever terms they could get, meaning we would almost certainly be compelled to adopt the euro as part of our national humiliation. We could also forget controlling our borders, whether from a cheap influx of EU labour, or from the social unrest being brought about by the massive growth of Islamic populations across Mainland Europe.
I prefer a more cautious approach, based on precedents that have already been set. What is colloquially known as the ‘Norway Option’ would be far, far easier to achieve, because we would be following a path that has already been laid out, meaning years of monotonous negotiations would not be necessary.
Here’s how it works. Norway is not, nor never has been, a member of the European Union. It is, however, a member of the European Economic Area (EEA).
If the UK chose to stay in the EEA, we would be able to leave the EU, agree our own trade deals with non-EU countries (since we would NOT be in the Customs Union), and will stay in the Single Market.
Crucially, we would also be able to suspend ‘freedom of movement’ since EEA members are allowed to activate Article 112 of the EEA agreement, known as the ‘emergency brake’. This method has been used by Lichtenstein to suspend ‘freedom of movement’ indefinitely, and implement its own quota system. As a far larger country with much more clout, the UK could do the same with ease.
There are, inevitably, downsides to EEA membership. We would still have to pay some money every year, though nowhere near as much as at present. We’d also have to accept their regulations when we traded with them, but then again, we also have to accept the rules of the USA, China, India or any other country we choose to trade with, which is reasonable.
But on the crucial matters – Parliamentary sovereignty, the supremacy of British courts, immigration controls, the ability to form trade deals with the wider world, and the ability to form a genuinely independent foreign policy, we would be winners on all counts.
We would no longer be in a situation where EU law overrides British law. The highest courts in the land would sit in this country, our elected representatives in Parliament would have the power to set criteria to limit immigration levels, our armed forces personnel would never, ever have to swear an oath of allegiance to the EU flag (it’s coming, Mr Juncker has said as much), and we would be free from the protectionist EU regulations that currently prevent us from forming trade deals with the wider world, such as Brazil, India and Singapore – places with growing economies and populations, where people actually live.
This solution is remarkably straightforward and uncomplicated. The road map is already in place. Why is our political establishment so reluctant to embrace it?
THE ONGOING sulk-a-thon by a small but vocal minority of Remain supporters who refuse to accept the result of a referendum that took place 15 months ago shows no sign of abating.
Last Saturday, ‘The People’s March for Europe’ consisting of between 10,000-15,000 Remoaners took a route through central London before a rally in Parliament Square.
Organisers claimed that as the march progressed, numbers swelled to 50,000, though police have not verified these figures, and it does strike me as rather odd that passers-by would abandon their shopping or sightseeing to follow a march that ended with speeches by such nonentities as Lib Dem leader ‘Sir’ Vince Cable (who could easily be mistaken for the late comedy actor Ken Campbell) and his almost-entirely forgotten colleague ‘Sir’ Ed Davey.
Going by the pictures, the marchers appeared to consist of the usual suspects – ageing university lecturer types in corduroy jackets and white beards, and the middle class, brainwashed, precious students who attend their lectures. Both these demographics are all too often guilty of a ‘we know what’s best for you’ attitude.
More significantly, later that day, the Last Night of the Proms took place at the Royal Albert Hall. An organisation named ‘EU Flags Proms Team’ spent £4,000 to hand out twice as many EU flags as it did at the same event last year.
A spokesman for the group told The Telegraph: “During the Age of Enlightenment Mozart, Handel and Bach all lived and worked for part of their lives in London.
“Presumably under the Brexit dark ages, they would not be welcome. What an appalling backward step for our country.”
This is a grossly stupid statement and stinks of the sort of cheap opportunism we have become all too accustomed to from the Remoaners. Of course talented musicians from EU countries will be welcome in London post-Brexit. Equally, we will continue to welcome musicians from non-EU countries to the Proms such as Switzerland and Norway.
These anti-Brexit campaigners know full well that the EU and Europe are not the same thing, but it suits their agenda nicely to parody those who wish to leave the EU to be anti-foreigner. One of their main demagogues, James O’Brien, uses his daily three-hour radio show on LBC to routinely and relentlessly smear Leave supporters as racists and xenophobes rather than rational people with legitimate concerns about the lack of democratic accountability in the EU, immigration controls and a wish to form trade deals with growing markets around the world.
The ‘EU Flags Proms Team’ was at least partly successful in turning the Royal Albert Hall into a sea of blue and yellow, on the night of the year when two months of niche Prom concerts barely noticed by the vast majority of the population concludes with half an hour of patriotic singing on prime time BBC One.
There’s no scientific way of telling what the demographic make-up of the Royal Albert Hall was on Saturday evening, but there were a few clues. Firstly, and most obviously, the only non-white faces I spotted all night were those of the performers. The audience, both seated and standing, was overwhelmingly white. Remember, the Royal Albert Hall is located in the heart of what is probably the most racially-diverse city in the world.
Secondly, that hideous high-pitched laugh of the theatre-going intellectual could clearly be heard when the conductor made twee jokes. I can’t prove that there weren’t many bricklayers, bin men, cleaners or market traders in the audience, but it’s a fairly safe bet that most of those present were from the metropolitan professional classes, with a heavy bias towards the public sector, especially the universities sector.
A short walk away at Hyde Park, where the concert was simulcast on big screens, there were few, if any EU flags to be seen among the assembled thousands who had gathered on a chilly September evening to participate in a patriotic sing-song free of charge.
Shortly before the traditional fare of ‘Rule Brittania’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ came a rendition of ‘Surbaya Johnny’ from Kurt Weill’s unsuccessful, short-lived play ‘Happy End’.
The lyrics to ‘Surabaya Johnny’ were written by the Marxist poet, playwright and theatre director Bertolt Brecht. One of his works was the poem, ‘Die Lösung‘ (The Uprising) about the uprising of 1953 in East Germany. It was written in mid-1953, but it criticised of the government and wasn’t published until 1959 in the West German newspaper, ‘Die Welt‘. It goes:
After the uprising of the 17th of June
The Secretary of the Writers’ Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?
I’ve heard it said that Marxist training never goes to waste, and the sentiments of Brecht’s poem certainly appeared to mirror the attitude of quite a few Labour MPs.
In the months after the referendum, David Lammy would frequently go off on Twitter rants saying that ‘we’ (by which he meant ‘Parliament’) can block this ‘madness’ (by which he meant the democratically-expressed will of 17.4 million people, a larger number than had voted for any government in any of our lifetimes).
A similar attitude appeared to exist among the EU flag wavers in the Royal Albert Hall with their, ‘never mind democracy, we know what’s best for you’ attitude. While watching the concert, my mind was cast back exactly 363 days to one of the strangest experiences I have had in two decades of political campaigning.
Stephen Doughty, the Labour MP for Cardiff South and Penarth
My local MP, Stephen Doughty (Labour), invited me to a discussion titled, ‘Brexit Implications for Cardiff South and Penarth’. For those of you who do not know the constituency, it is the seat of former Prime Minister Jim Callaghan, and consists former dockland areas housing some of the oldest black and Muslim communities in the UK, pockets of both working and middle class districts, and the town of Penarth, which is broadly considered to be rather well-off and affluent.
I had no idea what format the meeting would take. It was held in a Greek Cypriot community facility in the old docklands, right in the heart of the poorest part of the constituency. Yet of the 12 people present, I was the only one not from Penarth, there were no non-white people present, and I’m fairly certain I was the only one not to be a card-carrying Labour member.
What became abundantly clear early on was that this meeting was going to be 11 against one. Despite there being only two per cent in the referendum vote, and despite the meeting taking place in possibly the most ethnically-diverse community in the UK, I was the only Brexit supporter present. I suspect Doughty was careful with whom he invited to the meeting.
Doughty opened proceedings by saying that the purpose of this meeting was to gauge local opinion so that he could be guided as to how to act in the vote on triggering Article 50, which was still some months away.
The meeting began with about half an hour of general points, after which we were split into two groups for smaller-scale discussions. The ‘other’ group was chaired by Doughty himself, while the group I was a part of was chaired by his researcher, Tom Hoyles.
The overall tone of the entire meeting was, frankly, dreadful. I am not saying that everyone who hails from Penarth is a snob with an unjustified sense of superiority, but there’s certainly a strong element who are. Most of those present fitted into that category. They were generally older, and had strong connections to the universities sector, either as lecturers, researchers or fellow travellers in some way.
I can recall a few specific remarks. One woman talked about how it was ‘vital’ that the UK stayed in the Single Market. I calmly asked her to tell us what the Single Market actually was. She could not do so.
I helped her out by stating that the ‘Single Market’ actually has no specific legal meaning. It really means “single regulatory regime”. Membership of the Single Market doesn’t mean the right to buy and sell in the EU (pretty much the entire world can do that); it means accepting EU jurisdiction over your domestic technical standards.
She responded by looking down her nose at me and asking, “And how do you know?” (For what it’s worth, I have a 2:1 degree in Politics and Communication Studies from the University of Liverpool, I am a professional journalist and, aged 33, I have two decades of political campaigning behind me).
This was followed by people expressing concerns that their son Tarquin won’t get his research grant into the impact of climate change on soil in West Rutland (or something like that). I responded by pointing out that the UK is a net contributor to the EU, no matter which set of figures you choose to believe, so the UK government could continue to fund all these projects and still have money left over.
Whether funding all these grants is a worthwhile use of public money is another question, and I think fear of a democratically-elected UK government concluding that the money could be used for more worthwhile purposes was what really motivated their concerns.
They then moved on to how Tarquin might struggle to go travelling in his ‘gap yah’ due to visa restrictions.
I reminded them that in reality, visa requirements to many European countries were lifted decades before the UK joined the EEC in 1973. Visa restrictions for travel to France, Sweden Belgium and the Netherlands were lifted in 1947, for Italy, 1948, and Austria followed suit in 1955.
Today, UK passport holders can travel to a vast array of countries both inside and outside the EU without a visa, from Argentina to Singapore to South Africa. It is utterly absurd to say that British people will require a visa to visit European countries beyond 2019, though I completely respect the rights of European nations to put restrictions on middle class British youngsters on ‘gap yahs’ from treating their countries like playgrounds and helping themselves to jobs that should really be the preserve of the country’s own young people.
They then tried playing the ‘it was only an advisory referendum’ card. I responded by reminding them that a few weeks before the referendum, the government sent a lengthy booklet to every household in the country that included the statement, “This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.”
I also made it clear that the 17.4 million people who voted ‘Leave’ were not giving their MPs some friendly advice, they were giving them a firm instruction. Failure to follow this instruction would undermine democracy itself and would risk serious civil unrest. These 17.4 million people were not going to crawl away quietly, nor were the millions of Remain supporters who graciously accepted the result.
Then they tried playing the ‘people didn’t know what they were voting for’ card, but quoting that ‘£300 million per week for the NHS’ figure that the official Leave campaign quoted. The obvious response to that was that the Leave campaign was not a government, or even a political party, they were merely making the point that the money was theoretically available (the true figure is closer to £220 million, but the basic point still stands).
Furthermore, I do not really believe that the ‘£300 million’ quote really changed many minds. I also pointed out the Remain campaign’s absurd ‘Project Fear’, spearheaded by George Osborne, Mark Carney, and their big hero, the all-singing, all-dancing, all-smirking ‘cool dude’, President Barack Obama, who made that menacing ‘back of the queue’ threat to what is supposedly the USA’s biggest ally.
Which brought us on to their next argument that post-Brexit, ‘no-one will trade with us and no-one will be our friend’. Obama’s threat was brought up again. I calmly pointed out that whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump won the upcoming election, Barack Obama would not be in the White House either when Article 50 was triggered, or when Brexit negotiations took place.
I am not a fan of Donald Trump and would not have voted for him, but, unlike his predecessor, President Trump respects the democratic will of the British people and is ready and willing to enter into trade talks.
On top of that, I reminded our friends from Penarth that the EU sells more to us than we sell to them, and it would be absurd to pretend that it wouldn’t be in their interests to trade with us on favourable terms.
One woman remarked that Parliament had ‘far more important things to do’ than to ‘waste time’ on Brexit. To me, that just showed the contempt she had for the clearly-expressed concerns of her fellow voters, especially those who feel that the EU, and globalism, isn’t working for them. Not that I expect she invites any such people to her dinner parties, so this meeting was a chance for her to hear, from me, views she is seldom exposed to in real life.
Throughout the meeting, I was patronised in various ways. They spouted the clichés about how I was ‘destroying my own future’ and I was repeatedly addressed as ‘young man’.
What did not get discussed much were the real reasons people voted for Brexit – a desire for a return to proper Parliamentary democracy, the ability to elect and remove those who make decisions that affect our lives, the supremacy of UK courts over foreign ones, a desire for sensible controls on immigration, the ability to form trade deals with the wider world, with countries with growing economies and expanding populations, and the ability to have a genuinely independent foreign policy, free from the clutches of Mr Juncker’s proposed EU army and unnecessary hostility towards Russia and Iran.
In summary, I believe that those present were mainly members of the higher education sector who wanted to protect their own interests, even at the expense of democracy, along with a few easily-manipulated types who had bought in to ‘Project Fear’.
I would give myself an eight out of ten for the way I handled that meeting. It concluded with me making a few remarks about the importance of avoiding extreme language and personal insults, as there had been an utterly poisonous atmosphere in the country for some months, and I was also aware that Doughty was close to the murdered MP, Jo Cox. But I do not believe for one second that Doughty was remotely interested in our opinions.
Doughty is one of those types who followed the ‘classic’ route into politics for a modern-day career politician. He did the politicians’ degree of ‘Philosophy, Politics and Economics’ at Oxford, after which he became an advisor to Labour MP Douglas Alexander.
He tried to get the Labour nomination for the safe seat of Pontypridd in 2010, but lost out to Owen Smith, and had to wait until 2012 for his chance to become an MP, when Alun Michael stood down as member for Cardiff South and Penarth. Mr Michael had known Doughty ‘since he was a baby’, and worked behind the scenes to help his nomination. At 32, Doughty was an MP.
Doughty has all the personal characteristics of a young, career politician. I’ve mixed in these circles on occasion, and, regardless of party, young men like this have certain traits in common. With very little life or ‘real world’ experience, they nearly always have older, male mentors, and have a false sincerity about them that leads to little old ladies saying, “Isn’t he a nice young man?”
By scratching the surface, we soon see that Doughty is not as ‘nice’ as he first seems. His voting record on unwise use of military force is particularly shoddy, in that he supported action to aid the militant Islamist Al-Nusra Front against President Assad’s regime in Syria, and has voted against investigations into the Iraq War of 2003.
Doughty was at his most dirty and underhand, when, in January 2016, he made his intentions to resign from Jeremy Corbyn’s front bench team known to the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, who in turn arranged for him to resign live on air on the Daily Politics programme, rather than by the usual means of sending a letter to the party leader.
Prior to the House of Commons vote on triggering Article 50 in March this year, I tweeted Doughty to say that I would consider standing against him at the next election if he betrayed the expressed will of the people by voting against it. Doughty replied by accusing me of ‘threatening’ him, clearly not understanding how ‘democracy’ works. The election came far sooner than anyone anticipated at the time, and I ended up supporting the Conservative candidate, Bill Rees, who I thought had the best chance of defeating Doughty in a fairly safe Labour seat.
In the run-up to the election, I asked Doughty on THREE separate occasions on Twitter whether he would take the Corbyn whip and be loyal to his leader if Labour won enough seats to form the next government. After the third occasion, Doughty blocked me.
We have only had one further interaction in the months since. On 9 July, a debate was taking place on the Facebook page of the Cardiff Coal Exchange, a spectacular, beautiful building that had been allowed fall into a dangerous, derelict state over the last ten years, before being spectacularly revived into a hotel and conference centre by the Liverpool entrepreneur Lawrence Kenwright, beginning in late 2016. The building has now been restored to its former glory and is being run in a commercially sustainable way.
Doughty was opposed to the redevelopment for unfathomable reasons. He seemed to want to put bureaucratic obstacles in Mr Kenwright’s way. I have included screenshots from the interaction that followed. It looks to me as though Doughty was throwing one of his characteristic hissy fits.
Of course, Doughty is far from the only Labour MP who thinks he has the right to override the expressed will of the people because ‘he knows best’. Earlier this week, Doughty, his friend Chris Bryant and David Lammy were among many Labour MPs who feigned concern for workers’ rights as a pretext for trying to block the European Union Withdrawal Bill, while knowing full well that the so-called ‘Henry VIII Powers’ will only be used for very specific purposes, which I outlined on this website last week. Doughty and co’s real agenda was to at best frustrate and at worst block the Brexit process, something they know full well.
How long will it be before voters in Labour heartlands wake up and smell the coffee? With a handful of notable exceptions, the vast majority of Labour MPs think the decision taken to leave the EU by millions of working class people is something to be patronised, ignored, watered down and preferably reversed in the long term.
The sentiments expressed in Brecht’s poem were probably intended as an early attempt at satire, but they seem to reflect the mentality of most Labour MPs, who think their own opinions are superior to those of their constituents. When will voters in the Labour heartlands realise that the party to which they give their unwavering loyalty treats them with utter contempt?
WAS LABOUR ever really the party of ordinary working people? I am not sure. But if those days ever existed at all, future historians will pinpoint the absolute latest date at which they ended as 5 September 2017.
For that was the date when the Labour leadership announced that it will order all its MPs to vote against the European Union Withdrawal Bill when it comes before the House of Commons next Monday (11 September 2017).
The bill will repeal the 1972 European Communities Act, which took the United Kingdom into the EEC (the precursor to the European Union), and meant that European law took precedence over laws passed in the UK Parliament. It will also end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
Crucially, all existing EU legislation will be copied across into domestic UK law to ensure a smooth transition on the day after Brexit. This matters because there are believed to be 12,000 EU regulations in force, while Parliament has passed 7,900 statutory instruments implementing EU legislation and 186 acts which incorporate a degree of EU influence.
The total body of European law, dating back to 1958, is known as the Acquis Communautaire. It binds all member states and in 2010 was estimated to consist of about 80,000 items, covering everything from workers’ rights to environment and trade. As well as regulations, this includes EU treaties, directions and European Court of Justice rulings.
The EU creates new diktats all the time, and the UK will continue to abide by them until it formally leaves.
So what’s the problem? On the surface, it appears that the Labour Party dislikes what are colloquially known as ‘Henry VIII’ powers, after the Statute of Proclamations in 1539. What this means in the current context is that Ministers will be able to make changes to the statute book without going through the usual Parliamentary scrutiny process.
This sounds very nasty and undemocratic, but these powers are an absolute necessity and are nothing to be concerned about, provided they are limited and defined. For example, in many instances, there will be the need to amend a bill to take out a reference to an EU body serving as a regulator and replace it with a reference to a UK regulator. It would be a hideous waste of Parliamentary time to have to put each and every reference before the House, and would clog up Parliamentary business completely, something Labour knows full well.
Ministers have already taken steps to reassure critics that such measures will be time limited and will not be used to make policy changes. The government estimates that between 800 and 1,000 measures known as ‘statutory instruments’ will be required to make sure the process functions properly.
What does Labour dislike about this? To quote the statement released on Tuesday: “Labour fully respects the democratic decision to leave the European Union, voted to trigger Article 50 and backs a jobs-first Brexit with full tariff-free access to the European single market.
“But as democrats we cannot vote for a bill that unamended would let government ministers grab powers from Parliament to slash people’s rights at work and reduce protection for consumers and the environment.”
“Parliament has already voted to leave the European Union. But the Government’s EU (Withdrawal) Bill would allow Conservative ministers to set vital terms on a whim, including of Britain’s exit payment, without democratic scrutiny.
“Nobody voted in last year’s referendum to give this Conservative Government sweeping powers to change laws by the back door. The slogan of the Leave campaign was about people taking back control and restoring powers to Parliament.
“This power-grab bill would do the opposite. It would allow the Government to seize control from the Parliament that the British people have just elected.”
It’s hard to take a statement seriously that includes meaningless jargon like ‘jobs-first Brexit’ in its opening sentence. The second sentence fares little better. Labour knows full well that the government would be committing political suicide if it dared to ‘slash’ people’s rights at work without going through the normal Parliamentary process. Labour also knows that the main purpose of the Henry VIII powers is to replace references to EU bodies in legislation with UK ones.
What is astonishing is that the Labour Party, and indeed pro-EU Conservative MPs like Kenneth Clarke and Anna Soubry had very little to say when governments implemented thousands of EU directives without Parliamentary scrutiny. The timing of their sudden conversion to absolute belief in Parliamentary democracy is convenient to say the very least. It’s also worth remembering that the Shadow Brexit Secretary, ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer was quite keen on extra-parliamentary law-making when he was Director of Public Prosecutions.
Sir Keir has already said that ‘no deal’ is the worst possible deal. That means we can reach one of two conclusions about him:
Either he is too stupid to understand that his comments incentivise the EU to offer the UK a very bad deal on the grounds that the UK is desperate to accept any deal. As an experienced barrister and a former Director of Public Prosecutions, we can probably rule that out.
The alternative conclusion is that Sir Keir is on the side of the EU bullies of Barnier, Juncker and Verhofstadt, and that real agenda is to frustrate and water down Brexit to the greatest extent possible, with a view to keeping the UK in the EU in all but name, with a view to re-joining on the pretext of a future economic downturn.
Labour’s stance proves once and for all, beyond doubt, that it does not truly respect the expressed wishes of the electorate. 161 of the 262 Labour MPs currently in Parliament represent constituencies that voted Leave at last year’s referendum. The referendum was not advisory, as some of the more slippery Remain supporters claim. It was an instruction. Every household in the country was sent a booklet prior to the referendum that included the statement, “This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.”
I have no idea what more evidence voters in the Labour heartlands need that the people they routinely elect treat them with utter contempt. Jeremy Corbyn looks and behaves like an ageing, slightly eccentric university professor, and that is now the class of person the Labour Party represents – the university lecturers, middle class idealistic students and the Islington dinner party circuit. It does not listen to, or address the concerns of, the working class communities in the grimmer parts of the country, and has not been a ‘grass roots’ workers movement for a very long time indeed.
For example, Owen Smith’s constituency of Pontypridd backed Leave 53.7% in the referendum, yet Smith had the nerve to vote against the triggering of Article 50 in February. In the general election four months later, Smith was returned to Parliament with 55.4% of the vote, and an increased majority of 6,549.
The people of Pontypridd often have an attitude of, “I’m Labour, always have been, always will be, and my father before me.” A dangerous local groupthink sets in. They do not stop and think about what the Labour Party has actually done to deserve their unquestioning loyalty. In this instance, they had two good reasons not to vote for Smith: Firstly, he made a careerist attempt to replace Corbyn as Labour leader in the autumn of 2016 and sought to take the party in a Blairite direction. Secondly, he disobeyed the instruction his constituents gave him when he voted against the triggering of Article 50 in February 2017.
What more proof do the people of Pontypridd need that their MP, and their party, treats them and their concerns with utter contempt? Pontypridd is a powerful example because of the brazen nature of Smith’s antipathy, but a similar pattern emerges across the Labour heartlands in the South Wales Valleys and Northern England.
The European Union Withdrawal Bill will, in all likelihood, get through Parliament with the help of the Democratic Unionist Party, and Labour’s comments will amount to nothing more than hot air. There will, of course, be some decent Labour MPs, such as the excellent Kate Hoey, who will defy the whip and vote with the government. They deserve our admiration and respect for putting their constituents before their party.
Surely the time has now come for voters in Labour heartlands to finally acknowledge their loyalty towards the party is not reciprocated, and that they have been taken for granted once too often.
IF YOU have a roof that needs repairing, should you hire qualified professionals or let the cowboys do the work? All sensible beings know it is far better to pay a bit more and get suitably-trained people in rather than risk shoddy workmanship or even danger from the cheaper option.
We face a similar dilemma with our approach to the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union. The result was a clear, but not overwhelming victory for ‘Leave’ (52% to 48%), and a degree of magnanimity towards our opponents who voted ‘Remain’ is desirable. But the make-up of the House of Commons, and the leadership of the main political parties are dominated by ‘Remain’ supporters.
In other words, we have put the task of guiding the country out of the EU into the hands of politicians who, at best, don’t really believe Brexit is in the UK’s best interests, and at worst, will try to sabotage the process to suit their ‘I told you so’ agenda. In turn, this may lead to a ‘half in, half out’ Brexit, or, quite possibly, a poor deal that does so much damage to the economy that within a few years the UK will be begging to re-join the EU on whatever terms it can get (which will almost certainly mean adopting the euro).
I have never, for a single second, doubted that my ‘Leave’ vote last year was the correct one. I am absolute in my belief that the UK will be freer and more prosperous outside the EU than in it, but the UK’s departure from the EU needs to be handled correctly, by people who actually believe in Brexit. Let us put the current crop of political leaders under the microscope:
Theresa May became Prime Minister because nobody else wanted the job. She had a long and utterly unremarkable track record as Home Secretary, where she failed to meet the key 2010 manifesto pledges of bringing annual net immigration figures down to the tens of thousands (which is itself impossible for as long as the UK is in the EU) and the repeal of the Human Rights Act (a piece of legislation nowhere near as nice as its title suggests). Her handling of the fallout from the Jimmy Savile scandal was also nothing short of appalling.
There is little sign she disagreed with much of the New Labour project, and even less sign that she has ‘conservative’ instincts. There is personal warmth between her and the New Labour ultra-feminist Harriet Harman, and May once said at the dispatch box of the Commons that she ‘loved’ the foul-mouthed rock musician, ‘Sir’ Bob Geldof.
Mrs May kept her cards close to her chest during the referendum campaign. She was a ‘Remain’ supporter, but wasn’t very vocal about it, which was clearly a calculation on her part that by being relatively quiet, she would be in pole position for the leadership.
Most of the people in key Cabinet positions were ‘Remain’ supporters – Chancellor Philip Hammond, Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, Education Secretary Justine Greening, and Conservative Party Chairman Sir Patrick McLoughlin, to name but a few.
Even Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s support for ‘Leave’ should be treated with suspicion. He waited until the last possible moment to declare his hand before the referendum, and indeed had a newspaper opinion piece drafted, though never published, in which he outlined his support for ‘Remain’. A few years ago, I wrote an article about Johnson’s long CV as an unprincipled opportunist. He had no track record whatsoever as a eurosceptic campaigner prior to the weeks before the referendum.
Liam Fox, with his trade portfolio, has for years been described as a ‘eurosceptic’ in the press, but it was only in the run-up to the referendum that he stated he wanted to see the UK leave the EU. Before then, he appeared to be one of those ghastly hybrid characters who says they dislike the EU but would like the UK to remain in a reformed EU (anyone with any understanding of how the EU operates knows that this is a far-fetched pipe dream).
The only major Cabinet figure with a solid background in euroscepticism and who appears to be on top of his brief is Brexit Secretary David Davis, though even he was once pro-EU and served as Europe Minister for a period in the John Major government of the 1990s. Yes, I do believe his long-ago conversion to euroscepticism is genuine, and yes, I do believe he is a political heavyweight. He also comes across as sincere and affable, and is on good terms with MPs from other parties. But he cannot undertake this arduous task alone, and I have concerns about the mandarins and support network that surrounds him.
A few weeks ago, James Chapman, the former political journalist who became a civil servant, had a very public breakdown on Twitter in which he declared his hatred of Brexit. It subsequently became clear that Chapman is mentally unwell and we should wish him a return to health. But what is of wider concern is that Chapman spent a year working alongside David Davis in the Brexit Department. How many other people with similar views still hold significant positions of influence within the civil service?
On the Labour side, Jeremy Corbyn had a long, proud track record of euroscepticism stretching back decades. Corbyn’s support base is with the Labour membership, but inside Parliament, his own back benches are dominated by younger, careerist Blairites and Brownites who despise him.
In the run-up to the referendum, Corbyn feared his position as leader was insecure, and as an appeasement to his back benchers, he came out as a ‘Remain’ supporter, but he never looked very convincing. The telling point came when the alleged ‘comedian’ Adam Hills asked Corbyn on TV what his level of enthusiasm for staying in the EU was out of ten and he replied, “Seven and seven-and-a-half.” It was hardly a ringing endorsement.
Throughout the campaign, Corbyn’s support for ‘Remain’ seemed half-hearted at best. Most of the time, he sounded like a hostage reading out his captor’s demands. The leadership challenge came regardless last autumn in the shape of Owen Smith, a chancer with a bit of causal misogyny and thuggery thrown in. Corbyn won, thanks almost entirely to his support with the modern-day Labour grassroots of middle class students and Islington intellectuals, but he would have been better off sticking to his eurosceptic principles during the campaign. The leadership challenge was always going to come. If he’d stuck to his guns, he would have developed a strong bond with the traditional Labour heartlands in the north of England and in the South Wales Valleys, which in turn would have strengthened his hand in the inevitable leadership contest.
Corbyn’s political mentor was that fine anti-EU campaigner Tony Benn. If Benn was still around, I find it inconceivable that Corbyn would have done his damaging u-turn to appease the New Labour disciples who continued to despise him in any case. The vast majority of Labour MPs are both pro-EU and anti-Corbyn. Even now, after a general election campaign in which he exceeded expectations, Corbyn struggles to get enough support from his own backbenches to form a Shadow Cabinet.
The likes of David Lammy, the slippery and calculating Stephen Doughty (in whose constituency I live), and around 200 others, will have to put up with Corbyn’s leadership for as long as he is seen to be doing well. But they have numerous ways of tripping him up, and are biding their time for the opportunity to remove him and replace him by a clean-shaven, sharp suited type in the mould of Blair who will block or reverse Brexit.
Even with Corbyn at the helm, the party’s policy appears to have changed towards committing the UK to membership of the Single Market, and more importantly the Customs Union, which effectively means being a member of the EU in all but name. I will address the difference between the Single Market (which I am open-minded about) and the Customs Union (which I am strongly against) in an upcoming article on this website.
The sarcastically-named Liberal Democrats and their leader, ‘Sir’ Vince Cable (himself a leader as a result of a coronation rather than a contest), barely even try to disguise the contempt they hold for Brexit. With 12 seats, they are a rump of the party they were just two years ago, but it is clear they will use what little power they have to try and stop Brexit from happening.
Actually, I have some sympathy with old-school patriotic liberals in the tradition of David Lloyd George and Jo Grimond. In the years that followed the merger between the Liberals and the SDP, it gradually became clear that the so-called ‘Liberal Democrats’ were saturated by the political children of the dreadful Roy Jenkins.
Our entire political establishment is dominated by those who support the EU project and hate the result of last year’s referendum. True eurosceptics are few and far between in Parliament, and even they are mostly pushed to the margins of their respective parties. The civil service appears to mirror Parliament with its lack of Brexit enthusiasts and its lacklustre preparation for negotiations so far.
A significant minority of backbench Conservative MPs make the right noises on Brexit, but not many of them are in Mrs May’s inner circle. The Labour Party has reliable Brexit supporters in the form of Kate Hoey, Frank Field and a small number of others, but they do not hold much influence with Corbyn, and in any case are massively outnumbered by admirers of Blair, Brown and either of the Miliband brothers, a group of apparent rivals who all strongly support continued membership of the EU. Actually, their much gossiped-about rivalries were always more to do with personality clashes and political ambitions rather than significant disagreements on policy.
All this does not bode well for a period in British political history that requires strong leadership and absolute commitment to the task in hand.
We need to face up to reality about the National Health Service. For too long, it has been politically taboo to question whether the current model is either the best way of providing healthcare, or its sustainability in the long term.
The Labour Party likes to portray Aneurin Bevan as the founder of the NHS. This is not the case. In fact, it was a key recommendation of the Beveridge Report of 1942, in which William Beveridge, a Liberal economist, outlined social reforms that were to be brought in at the end of World War II.
Both the Conservative and Labour parties agreed in principle to implement the report’s recommendations, regardless of which party won the first general election after the war (it came in 1945, and was won by Labour).
Beveridge’s vision was of a National Health Service run through local health centres and regional hospital administrations. In other words, they were to be non-political and free from government interference. But in the years immediately after 1945, Labour’s Minister of Health, Aneurin Bevan, had other ideas.
Bevan, a temperamental, undiplomatic, extreme left winger, loathed by many inside the Labour Party, fought hard in Cabinet to abandon Beveridge’s vision in favour of a centralised structure of 14 regional boards appointed by the Minister of Health and local management committees.
From that moment onwards, the NHS became a political football, and it has remained so ever since. Bevan, knowing full well the implications of the seed he was sowing, didn’t allow facts and evidence to get in the way of his ideological dogma. Sir Harold Webbe, the Conservative leader on London County Council, was unhappy about local government’s role in the NHS being removed, and said of Bevan, “He is so full of his own importance that he is prepared to pit his knowledge against the accumulated experience of this council, which is to be butchered to make a Welshman’s holiday.”
Yet even Beveridge’s vision for an NHS contained three major assumptions that sounded quite reasonable at the time, but subsequently turned out to be utterly incorrect:
As people became healthier, demand on the NHS would decrease.
The demographics of society would remain roughly the same.
The NHS could be paid for from ‘the stamp’, now known as National Insurance.
The reality has been utterly different. Huge medical advances in the last 60 years have resulted in significantly increased life expectancy, albeit with the assistance of ongoing care and drugs, which come at a price.
With the exception of the Callaghan government of 1976-79, all administrations have overseen vast increases in real-terms spending on the NHS, as demographics shifted, demand increased, and medical advances continued. By the late 1980s, National Insurance could just about cover pensions and contributory benefits, with the occasional bit of help from general taxation, but it was certainly no longer in a position to fund the NHS.
There is some evidence that Margaret Thatcher understood the magnitude of the problem as long ago as the early 1980s, but she was advised not to handle the ‘hot potato’.
The time has come to end the mawkish obsession with the NHS model, which was epitomised at the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony by the sight of nurses jumping up and down on beds. Britain’s cancer and stroke survival rates are significantly down on where they should be for an apparently rich country, and there is a lack of choice on the part of the patient.
It is easy to see why the Labour Party is so ideologically attached to the NHS. It frequently misleads people into believing it is a Labour creation, and is one of very few things in this country that can in any way, shape or form be described as a Labour success story.
The quasi-religious reverence with which the Labour Party treats the NHS, and the way in which it tries to make bogeymen of anyone who questions it in any way, is holding back a full, honest and frank debate about how we provide sustainable healthcare for the next 50 years.
When they hear any form of criticism of the NHS, their default position is always to make crude comparisons with the system in the USA, one they rarely know very much about, and are quick to point to horror stories within, while conveniently ignoring the numerous deaths in the NHS due to poor hygiene, lengthy waiting times and medical negligence. Doctors and nurses themselves are treated as saints to be revered, rather than tax-funded employees who deserve praise and respect when they do well, but should not be above criticism when they fall short of certain standards.
It is as though no other countries or healthcare systems exist elsewhere in the world. Why can’t we try to learn lessons from Singapore, which from a very low starting point in the 1960s, has managed to create and sustain one of the very best health systems anywhere on earth? Or what about continental Europe, where many countries operate with a mix of public and private healthcare, with compulsory insurance schemes using various models?
This debate should have begun at least 20 years ago, but there are signs that we are approaching the point where the current NHS system is unsustainable. Sooner or later, we will have to face up to this impending reality. Is it not better to do so while the hospitals and GP surgeries are just about working?
THIS has been a dull, lacklustre, uninspiring election campaign. In recent weeks, for entirely understandable reasons, the emphasis has been firmly on national security and the party leaders. As a result, details of the party manifestos have been under-reported and under-scrutinised.
One substantial Labour policy that has ‘slipped through the net’ is the pledge to reduce the voting age to 16. It’s worth providing a brief history of the voting franchise and how we ended up with ‘equal votes for everybody’.
In 1918, all men aged 21 and over, and all women aged 30 and over, were given the vote. The role of the suffragettes was far more controversial than is generally taught in schools today (not that it is taught in much depth in most schools).
Closer examination reveals that their violence, arson and vandalism alienated more people than they inspired, and it was the conscription of women into the workforce as a result of World War I in 1914 that led to votes for all women over 30, along with other social changes.
There were some interesting quirks to the arguments, many of which are no longer widely recognised. Many women were opposed to the suffragettes, and many in the Liberal Party feared that women voters would tend to be Conservatives, and did their best to delay the reforms.
It wasn’t until 1928 that the voting age for women was reduced to 21, bringing it into line with men. You will have to look elsewhere for a more detailed account of how the franchise was extended in the 19th and early 20th centuries, for I have more pressing matters to attend to here.
The next major changes occurred in 1948, when University seats were abolished. University seats resulted in a number of distinguished and exceptional individuals from entering Parliament who could not realistically have done so by any other means.
In the mid-1960s, Screaming Lord Sutch called for the voting age to be lowered to 18. He was probably joking, but, like several of the causes he championed, they were eventually to be taken seriously by the political establishment (the others being the launch of local and commercial radio, all-day pub opening, passports for pets, and knighthoods for the Beatles).
Just four years later, Harold Wilson’s Labour government reduced the voting age to 18 in a cynical but unsuccessful attempt to rig the 1970 general election in their favour. This piece of legislation had the frightening side-effect of putting 18-year-olds on juries.
Jeremy Corbyn’s attempt to lower the age further to 16 is being proposed for similarly cynical reasons, not dissimilar to those which motivated Alex Salmond to do the same thing in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.
Ask yourself this simple question: Do you want your future decided by 16-year-olds? Think very carefully.
16-year-olds are not wise. You were not wise at 16, and neither was I. Most people of that age will either still be in, or have just left comprehensive schools, where most of their teachers will have been Labour voters, and theories such as man-made climate change will have been taught as absolute fact, and the EU as an absolutely good thing.
Most 16-year-olds are idealistic, especially on matters such as environmental issues and foreign policy. Most will believe that the world is a far nicer place than it is.
Many will be easy to manipulate as a consequence of dire, egalitarian comprehensive education, and due to the tremendous peer pressure they feel at that age to conform. Quite a number idolise celebrities of the day and will follow whatever they are told to do by them.
For example, around the time of the 2015 election, Russell Brand was the ‘in’ celebrity with a lot of young people (a phase that has thankfully now passed). It’s hard to know exactly why he was so popular for quite a long time, but I put it down to a mix of his use of obscure words, which the easily-manipulated are flattered by and confuse with intelligence, and his fashionable opinions on drug use.
Around that time, a considerable number of 16-year-olds would have voted whichever way Brand told them to. 15 years earlier, the American rapper, Eminem, had a similar hold on many young people’s minds. In the 1960s and 70s, John Lennon and Yoko Ono assumed such power. You get the idea.
With age comes wisdom and responsibilities. It is a gradual process. I was fortunate in that I realised that the EU was a very bad thing and that Anthony Blair’s New Labour project was doing immense damage to this country several years before I turned 16. But even so, I had no experience of paying taxes, a superficial understanding of foreign policy, and no comprehension of my now-absolute belief that the man-made climate change theory is disastrous, very expensive and fundamentally flawed.
I began my journey to political maturity while still at school, and I was very much the exception to the rule, but I wouldn’t for one second conclude that it was anywhere near complete at 16.
At university, I witnessed how most 18-21-year-old politics students held similar views. They nearly always voted Labour or Lib Dem, believed the EU to be a good thing, and assumed man-made climate change to be absolute fact. I usually fought back in seminars to provide alternative arguments, though there were occasions where I concluded that it was more trouble than it was worth (especially on occasions when I was in a seminar with a Blairite tutor and a group of students I didn’t really know).
During last year’s referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, politically-engaged university students voted Remain in large numbers, in stark contrast to continental countries, where grass roots movements against the EU are fuelled by the energy and enthusiasm of the young. It is therefore quite reasonable to ask questions as to what is going on with the teaching in British universities.
The journey of political maturity continues throughout one’s 20s. The idealism fades as people settle into jobs, careers and start families. They realise that the world can be a very nasty place, that solutions to problems are often far from simple, finding the complete truth is not always straightforward, and that, if they’re honest, priority number one is the wellbeing of themselves and their family.
Other realities also gradually dawn, such as the fact you are not indestructible, some people don’t live to old age, binge drinking is dangerous and has consequences, night clubs are overrated and that fitting in with your friends isn’t so important after all.
The ages from 21 until about 30 usually see the gradual drift away from idealism into a reality of paying taxes and adult responsibilities. The idealism of youth comes at somebody else’s expense. When you become the taxpayer, you become more concerned about how that money is spent, and you may conclude that you are often a better judge of how to spend your money than the government.
A deeper understanding of financial reality also develops through one’s 20s. You are either paying rent, or a mortgage, and prioritise how your pay packet is spent. You grasp that money that is borrowed eventually has to be paid back, and that it is a bad idea to get into too much debt.
The individual in his or her late 20s is therefore far more likely to see through Jeremy Corbyn’s teen-like idealism and the ‘back of a fag packet’ economic calculations.
Yes, there are problems with the current voting system, but not for the reasons Corbyn is advocating. The notion of ‘equal votes for everybody’ is broadly assumed to be a good thing, but few people bother to question it.
Fortunately, attempts by the EU to bully the UK into giving votes to prisoners have been thwarted. Those who are in prison have forfeited their right to participate in wider society, and that should remain the case.
Before 1914, there was a rule that nobody who received a public salary or welfare payment could vote, thereby preventing parties from bribing voters by giving them jobs or handouts, something that works strongly to Labour’s advantage.
Let us not forget that during the New Labour era, one million more public sector jobs were created. Let us also not forget the absurdity of the jobs pages in the Guardian every Wednesday during that era, with its ‘diversity officers’ and ‘five-a-day co-ordinators’. Such frivolity is, of course, a useful way for governments to buy votes and to keep the unemployment figures down.
Public sector workers often think (rightly) that their jobs will be better-protected by a Labour government than a Conservative one, and therefore jump to the conclusion that it is in the country’s interests to elect a Labour government. They very often neither know nor care much about the difference between ‘debt’ and ‘deficit’, or the balance of trade, or productivity rates. All these matters, and generating the money to pay their salaries is somebody else’s problem, and they’re quite prepared to let the Labour Party get on with it without bothering to look at the sums.
Realistically, we cannot withdraw the vote from those who already have it. Some ideas of how it can be reformed for the better can be found in Nevil Shute’s novel, ‘In the Wet’, where he devises a scheme for additional votes. Every person has one vote, with some having as many as seven, based on the criteria such as academic achievement, successful raising of children, having a trade, living abroad and other experiences that make you a wiser person.
This is obviously a pipe dream, and one that cannot be realised in the Britain of 2017. For now, it remains a ‘joke’ in the way Screaming Lord Sutch’s policy ideas of the mid-1960s were a joke, but in time, they became a reality (he didn’t live to see some of them come to fruition, so we cannot be sure of what he would make of the Britain of 2017). But if the wisdom of ‘equal votes for everybody’ is publicly discussed and challenged, it may not be so far-fetched in the long term.
Yes, it is desirable to reform the electoral system, but in favour of wisdom, experience and achievement, rather than by exploiting the naivety of youth for political gain.
The prospect of votes for 16-year-olds is just one more reason not to vote for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party on Thursday.