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Author: Alex Wilding

A Brexit puzzle

No, not the one about “why did we ever…?” This:

Let’s think of an election, perhaps a general election. A vital part of our democratic process, of course. Usually it’s a two-horse race with a few also-rans, so let’s just concentrate on the two main parties, and call them left and right. One side wins, the other loses, everybody respects the result. It is, after all, binding. The winners form a government, the losers form an opposition. Democracy, in a word.

But here’s the thing. Do the losers – the left, for example – now say this:

“Oh, how sad, the people have spoken, and it’s the will of the people that the rotten righties (or the loony lefties, if it’s the other way round) have won the day. Now we must give up, drop our objections and principles, and join in support of their policies so that they can make the best possible job of what the people have chosen!”

Of course not. The opposition fights to stop what it considers the worst policies from being implemented. If it cannot block them, it fights to change and modify them. It works to change public opinion. It hopes that the electorate will change its mind and vote the other way next time round. That’s democracy.

So why do I still keep hearing that campaigning to stop Brexit is undemocratic? That referendum was, as we now all know, non-binding. It was no more than an augmented opinion poll. Why is it somehow more sacred than the result of the general election, when the plain fact is that it is, and always was, less significant. It was merely advisory.

We all respect the result of a general election, even when our favourite side loses. That does not, and should never, mean that we stop campaigning for the policies we think right, against those we think wrong, and to change decisions we believe harmful. Why then does “respecting the result” of the Brexit poll mean that we have to simply swallow it and shut up?

Brexit was born as an internal Tory squabble. It span out of control (thank you, David Cameron), and now is well on the way to becoming reality. Meanwhile the electorate wakes up more and more what a pup they have been sold, how much money the ordinary person will lose, how many businesses will fold, how much services will suffer, how many rights they will lose.

A ship of fools is exporting our wealth and our actual power in today’s world, to trade for an illusory “sovereignty”. A sovereignty that’s good for nothing except putting a grin on the faces of the right wing of the Tory party, and allowing Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and their friends to say “we won”.

Yes, it’s late in the day. Getting the political will together to cancel article 50 will be difficult. But it is the democratic right and the patriotic duty of remainers to stand up and say “STOP BREXIT”.

Kathmandu trip

For the last few weeks I’ve been writing up “what I did on my holidays” in Kathmandu this April. It’s on this site, but not on this blog. You’ll find it through the menu above, or simply here.

 

Donny, Theresa and the Brexit effect

In her attempt to pretend that there is enough other “free trade” out there in the world to compensate for the financial hit to the UK (lower wages and higher prices, to you and me) that Wrexit will cause, we have seen Theresa May cosying up to a variety of questionable characters, most notably the xenophobic, Islamophobic, misogynistic, serial-bankrupt, short-sighted, bizarrely-yet-in-fact president Trump.

What does she want? A “free trade” agreement. But tariffs are already low, so what does that mean? One obvious part of the answer is that the UK will have to accept food made to shoddy American standards – chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-injected beef reared on gigantic feed-lots, unlabelled GMO ingredients, meat from animals reared with techniques not permitted in Europe. The list goes on. If you want confirmation, or want to know more, you know how to use a search engine. It’s not entirely hidden, in spite of American gagging laws against whistleblowing in intensive farming, the “ag-gag” laws.

It has to stop!

When spin approaches lie

When is that?

In Theresa May’s  speech to Republicans she is expected to say that “… as we end our membership of the European Union – as the British people voted with determination and quiet resolve to do last year – we have …” (The sentence goes on with more waffle-words like ” sovereign and global Britain”.)

“Determination and quiet resolve…” – where ever does she get that from? Last year’s campaign is acknowledged by all sides to have been divisive and bitter. It was led by fools, fuelled by lies and by appeals to base instincts. It has left the spirit of Great Britain weaker, more narrow-minded and meaner than it was. On that sad day, a small majority (37.4% of the electorate, about 27% of the population) voted to leave.

The result appalled many of those who wanted to remain, and who are still fighting against the damage. The whole thing was, as is well known, fired by the internal politics of the Conservative party, the Eurosceptics who never managed to accept that Britain is and was part of Europe. Britain chose to join the European project, voting in favour in the 1975 referendum by 67% to 33%. But would the Eurosceptics accept the will of the people and get on with it? Of course they didn’t.

The recent referendum, recommending that Britain should leave the EU, was won by a relatively tiny margin. Indeed, the result is so marginal that Theresa May herself is campaigning and voting against the wishes of her own constituency, who voted to remain.

I fully accept that the words of a speech may describe things in a light that may not be shared by all, and it is both normal and proper to embed and suggest an opinion in the way we describe something. Try these:

“Her decision to move to Bristol…”
“Her bold decision to move to Bristol…”
“Her rash decision to move to Bristol…”
“Her brave decision to move to Bristol…”
“Her foolish decision to move to Bristol…”
“Her foolhardy decision to move to Bristol…”
“Her stupid decision to move to Bristol…”
… and so forth.

But I suggest that to describe the rancorous salad of lies, personal attacks and misrepresentation that characterised the referendum campaign as a matter of “determination and quiet resolve” is so far out of tune with reality that it does border on a lie.

But then, it seems clear that she wants to cosy up to Donald Trump, so perhaps it’s simply a matter of horses for courses.

Fight for me, Teresa

Theresa May seems to be revealing herself as a Class One “say-whatever-you-think-people-will-like-to-hear-at-the-time,-and-preferably-in-words-that-are-vague-enough-not-to-be-falsifiable-later” merchant. After “Brexit means Brexit” (eh?) and “I want a red, white and blue Brexit” (uh?), she claims in her New Year’s message that she will fight the remainers’ case in Europe too.

Now, I am a remainer, or I would have voted to remain had the British government, in its wisdom, allowed me to have a say in my future. In any event, I think we should remain, and I rather suspect that now that the self-destructive, expensive stupidity of Brexit is becoming clear, many of those who voted to leave, for what seemed at the time to be valid reasons, will have changed their minds. Many must now see that they have been sold a pup, and all in the name of what Gove, Johnson, Farage and their ilk thought was their political advantage. In all probability those who wish to remain are now a majority, though only a second referendum will tell.

Therefore, Mrs May, I’d like to ask you what you mean; what is it that I, as a remainer, want that you will fight for? Oh, you don’t want to give a running commentary? Then it seems to be up to me to tell you what kind of Brexit would suit me.

I would like to be free to travel to any European country without worrying about visas, quotas, proving that I’m a fit person to enter that country and so forth.

If I so choose, and if there is an employer in that country who wants me, I would like to be free to work their without worrying about work permits, quotas, proving that my skills cannot be found amongst the native workforce and so forth.

Whether I work there or not, I would like to be free to invest in a European country of my choosing. Perhaps I might like to buy a house there without worrying about capital controls? Perhaps I might like to buy shares in a German company without the same sort of worry?

If I so choose, I would like to be free to reside in that country as long as I wish – to live there, in short.

I would like to be free to trade throughout Europe. In my case, as a translator, it is services that I would like to trade, without worrying about tax barriers and so forth. But I might like to be free to, for example, sell the second-hand flute that I bought some years ago in Ireland to someone in, for example, Britain or Germany, without worrying about tax, customs declarations and so forth.

Oh, and while we were about it, I wouldn’t mind if the laws that governments (of every stripe, admittedly) are occasionally tempted to bring in on the matters above, in the hope of satisfying some portion of the electorate, were overseen by a body with a longer-term, less partisan view. The European Court of Justice, for example.

If you successfully fight for all these, then we will have a Brexit that I would be happy to live with, and even happy to call red, white and blue or any other colour combination that is fashionable at the time. Johnson, Gove and Farage could then dance, cackling, around their Brexit cauldron, proclaiming that they “won”, while the rest of us could get on with living our lives in the most prosperous way possible. That’s difficult enough as it is, after all.

As you will probably realise, at the moment I already have all the freedoms that I have mentioned above. You, in the name of what it is now surely reasonable to suspect is a minority of voters to whom the name “the people” has somehow become attached, seem to want to remove those rights.

It could also be reasonably argued that my version of Brexit, outlined above, is not Brexit at all. Fair comment. But which of those things are you actually going to fight for? Just a tweed Brexit?

Post-almost-everything

There could well be several reasons why Teresa May is not willing to say what her Wrexit plan is. The obvious one is that the government hasn’t got one. It may have a flag, but it doesn’t have a plan. Another reason, almost as obvious, is that whatever plan the government has will alienate a lot of people. If it’s a soft Brexit, it will alienate the swivel-eyed Rees-Mogg, Fox, Farage, “leave Europe at any price” brigade. If it’s a hard Wrexit it will alienate everybody who is affected by anything from the availability of jobs to the price of a bag of sprouts. (Not to mention all the taxes that will have to be raised to foot the bill.Oops, mentioned it – sorry!) If it’s an in-between Brexit it will alienate practically everybody.

She is faced by the awkward question of whether Wrexit will be hard, soft, or in between.  Any of those three answers would be bad, and it is still politically impossible for a lot of people to say that the best answer would be the unspoken fourth one – no Brexit at all. To muddy the waters, she seems to have come up  with another idea. Instead of “post-truth”, she is now going for “post-meaning”. The recurring problem with most “post-truth” is that it often still has a meaning, even if that meeting is a malicious lie. The beauty of a “red, white and blue Brexit” is that it means absolutely nothing at all, possibly even less than the famous “Brexit means Brexit”, which does at least carry a strong suggestion that something will happen.

Here, by the way, are some of the guiding lights: what could possibly go wrong?

Still reeling

I have not blogged since the US election. Why not? Because I don’t understand.

The media world is at present full of gurus trying to explain it. The best of them realise that they are groping  and, like the rest of us, are waiting for  wisdom to emerge. The ones who “know” the answer are probably not worth reading.

I am not one quoting poetry, but the Second Coming by W B Yeats is highly resonant.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Free Tesco parking if you buy straight bananas

Laura Leeks was reportedly refused free car parking at Tesco because the only thing she had gone into the shop for was baby formula. According to some jobsworth at Tesco’s, to allow her the free car parking would amount to a promotion of that product, which is not allowed.

Before I get to the point, let’s clear off one or two side-issues: Tesco’s employee was almost certainly over-interpreting the law. In the unlikely event that that is what the law actually means, two reactions would have been sensible. The first would have been to turn a blind eye, the second, though on a different plane, would be to work to change the law. The other side-issue being that while baby formula is clearly not in the same league as, say, tobacco for a harmful substance, it is quite clear that babies do better if they are fed by mothers’ milk. Regulations to prevent younger, often vulnerable, mothers from being aggressively targeted by baby formula manufacturers are a good thing, surely?

The truly objectionable thing, however, was the reaction of the Department of Health. According to the link above:

The Department of Health said the relevant rules are enshrined in UK law as a result of an EU regulation on the sale of baby formula. “These rules are currently in place because of EU law,” a spokesman said. “But our great repeal bill means that when we leave the EU, laws such as these will be debated and controlled by the UK parliament.”

So, the message is clear – according to the Department, we should blame Europe for everything. Never mind the fact that Britain, as a major player in the EU, will and should have played a major part in framing those regulations, that they are indeed “our” regulations. And after the great repeal bill, it seems that we will be able to abandon those annoying things that are designed to protect people but get in the way of trade. We will be able to let Nestlé and the other manufacturers have free rein to use any advertising trick they like to get their products into the mouths of babes and sucklings.

With statements like that coming out from them, one might imagine that the DoH also fell for New York-born Boris de Pfeffel Johnson’s joke that EU regulations required straight bananas. (I say “joke” to give him the benefit of the doubt. More likely, in my view, it was a malicious smear which he knew that he could pass off as a joke when challenged, but that many people would be thoughtless enough to believe.)

Here is New York-born Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, by the way:

 

boris_johnson

Second tries and Brexit

Yes, that topic again.

I heard it again last night:

“MPs voted six-to-one to give the decision to the British people.”

NO THEY DIDN’T! MPs voted six-to-one (I’ll assume that figure is correct) to consult the British people. They did that. They had a referendum. An advisory one, as usual, not a binding referendum. We all know that by a small margin on that day the vote went in favour of leaving. An equivocal result, more of an “Errmm…” than a mandate.

The High Court ruled with some clarity that the government must have the approval of parliament before triggering Article 50. And here’s the puzzle:

  • even though most of the Brexit promises fell apart within hours and days of the referendum,
  • even though the depressing price to be paid in terms of increased cost of living, job losses, and opportunity losses have got clearer and clearer as the months have gone by,
  • even though the lies repeated again and again by the “leave” campaign are now staring us in the face

– leavers still want to remainers to “accept the result” as being the “will of the people”.* “No second referendum”, they cry, “just because you didn’t get the result you wanted the first time”. But they want to go back to court and have another try at bypassing Parliament, just because they didn’t get the result they wanted the first time. Consistent, or what?

*Whatever the “will of the people” is actually supposed to be. It’s not a concept I entirely grasp.