The Minds of the Brexiteers.

March 20, 2017

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The general sense I’m getting from Brexiters is one of extreme defensiveness. It’s a sort of nervousness, an uncomfortable insecurity in their own belief. As if they didn’t expect to ever see their dream become a reality, and now they’ve no idea what to do with it. They seem unable to accept that their single-minded belief in ‘Leave’ has consequences that require a bit more elaboration that extends beyond simply walking-out-of-your-door style leaving.

A Brexiter friend of mine wrote an article for ‘The Naked Politics‘. It gives us an insight into the minds of Eurosceptics, the bizarre reality they’ve crafted for themselves, and what seems to me to be a mixture of self-deceit and over the top – Alex Jones Infowars style – suspicion, topped with a sense of personal Patriotic gallantry, fighting an elite shadowy structure (which bizarrely seems to include British legal sovereignty when that sovereignty meant Parliament had to vote on triggering Article 50), on behalf of the rest of us oppressed folk (or ‘enemies of the people’, if you’re The Daily Mail).

John writes:

“Locked in a Brussels basement for over forty years, the UK is suffering from the cognitive dissonance of an emotionally scarred hostage staring at an unlocked door, as her captor sleeps in a drunken heap: On one hand, the opportunity to live her own life on her own terms. No more (financial) punishments to keep her confidence in check. The freedom to write her own rules within sight. On the other hand, an agoraphobic trepidation. Frozen with fear, like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Will paralysis prevent the much needed “step into the dark”?”

– You’re going to have to forgive me for a bit of ‘virtue signalling’ – though to take issue with virtue signalling, is itself virtue signalling, as is me calling it virtue signalling and taking issue with virt… you get the idea – when I say that I’m not entirely sure comparing domestic abuse with asking for clarity on what comes next in the Brexit saga, is anything less than trivialising domestic abuse. It’s not a great start.

The argument itself – once we get past the shear offensiveness of the comparison – doesn’t stand up to basic scrutiny. It implies the UK is a victim, without any power whatsoever, controlled and abused by the entirely separate body – the EU. If we take a look at the power the UK had within the EU, we will see that this simply isn’t true.

This excellent break-down of data by ‘The UK In A Changing Europe’ shows a pretty powerful Britain at the heart of the EU. Britain has chaired the powerful Internal Market Committee of the EU since 2004, continuously. That’s 13 years we have been at the chair of a committee of a market our industries rely on, and on which Brexiters are pulling us out without any plan for what comes next, or any clarity for those industries and those jobs. We also chair the Civil Liberties Committee. In the past – since 2004 – we’ve chaired the Transport Committee, the Economic & Monetary Affairs Committee, Agriculture Committee, Development Committee, and Industry Committee. Key policy development committees within the European Union have been chaired by the UK. Other than Germany, and at times France, the UK holds more top offices than other member states. The UK was guiding the European Union for much of the past 15 years in shaping policy. On EU legislation on which the EU Parliament had power – equal to that of its member constituents in the council – to block or amend EU Laws, the UK authored more reports than every other EU member state, with the single exception of Germany.  We were more often than not, over represented in positions of power in the EU. We weren’t the victim sat without any power as John – and his incredibly disingenuous Brexit comrades – would have you believe in order to support or give an ounce of credit to the fact that they’ve voted to pull us out of that, and into… well, they haven’t got a clue.

Moving on, John presents a familiar deluded Brexit-David, against the big bad establishment Goliath. The issue I take with this ‘establishment/elite’ argument from the Brexiteers, is that those representing their side, are not the struggling….

“Hence the principle criticism of the motley crew of ‘Leave’ campaigners being that they cannot guarantee what the future holds outside of the EU. At the same time, the establishment-backed ‘In-Crowd’ insult our intelligence by suggesting that they can somehow assure us of the only period of unchanging stability in history.”

–  Imagine for a second that you inhabit a World in which the ‘motley crew’ of the Leave campaign are not ‘establishment’. That would include The Mail, The Express, The Sun, The Telegraph, millionaires Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, anti-NHS UKIP, millionaire ex-commodities trader Nigel Farage, the millionaire Arron Banks, half the governing Tory Party, the President of the United States & multi-billionaire Donald Trump. All these you consider a ‘motley crew’, the oppressed fighting for the people against the oppressor. And the big establishment oppressor is…. Nick Clegg.

Of course we remainers don’t think in such a binary choice between ‘stability’ and ‘chaos’. We argue – in actually, a traditionally conservative, Burkean tone – that evolution at a point when we know there are problems with the EU but we have no knowledge of what would happen without it, is much less uncertain and much less damaging than complete revolution without knowledge. We have power in the EU and must use it to evolve. But if revolution is to win over, then we are entitled to ask scrutinising questions and demand answers from those who fought for it. This is not unreasonable. Democracy includes scrutiny of the winning side. Brexiters cannot escape that. My side lost. We are under no obligation to provide on equal terms any explanation about what we think would come after voting to remain. That reality doesn’t exist. The reality that exists now seems to be the winning side, the gallant saviours, the heroic warriors fighting for our freedom…. complaining when scrutinised.

John moves on:

“Desperate scaremongering now floods the media, as our sobering corporatist tyrant wakes to find us contemplating Brexit: “If you leave, there’s no way back” they warn, quashing the prospect of a second referendum. “You’ll suffer the consequences”, the French Finance Minister threatens, with the proposition that the insensitively named ‘jungle’ migrant camp will move from Calais to Kent, ignoring the fact that the relevant bilateral treaty isn’t subject to our continued EU membership and that such an act would be self-defeating. “You can’t survive alone” they claim, as BMW attempts to bully their British Rolls-Royce employees with the vague threat that a vote to leave could “affect the company’s employment base”. The patronising tone would be insulting, if the deceit weren’t lapped up so readily by a wide-eyed electorate.”

– A spectacularly ironic end to a sentence. It speaks of a patronising tone, in a piece in which people like me are compared to abuse victims locked in a basement, in which – presumably – Brexiters, with no plan or forethought whatsoever, who stripped me of my EU Citizenship, and now simply sit with their fingers crossed that trade deals can be replaced easily, that industries and businesses dependent on open, tariff-free access to the single market will have nothing to worry about, are our knights in shining armour rather than a clueless bunch in tinfoil hats yelling aimlessly about how great we can be, presumably with a hand of their heart, a Union Jack waving in the background, but without providing any substance. Much like a town centre religious speaker with a megaphone telling us that all will be amazing once Jesus has saved us. Forgive me for being a bit sceptical of that, when they have no answer to the question “Okay, but how?”.

John’s article then speaks of deceit lapped up by a wide-eyed electorate. Another ironic statement given that it’s in article that poses UK as a powerless, abused partner, about a year after driving a bus around with £350mn a week offered to an NHS on its dying legs. A bus that followed the now Foreign Secretary around, who doesn’t seem to have continued his campaign to fund the NHS. Deceit indeed. And then there’s the phrase ‘Desperate scaremongering now floods the media…’. That’s from the side of the argument that produced these gems of wisdom from The Daily Mail…
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And the Express:

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– EVERYONE BE SCARED!!!! HIDE YOUR KETTLE AND EGGS!!!!

After bemoaning the fear mongering of the remain media, John tells us to be shit scared of the EU for its regional development funding:

“Small acts of kindness prompt powerful feelings of gratitude, with ‘acceptable’ behaviour rewarded, as our own funds are returned to subsidise the farmers and development projects that faithfully follow EU directives. Only mass denial prevents the realisation that resolute adherence to an overbearing political ideology is binding us to the constraints of stifling homogeneity.”

– Nothing strikes fear into my heart, quite like regional development funding and its constraints of stifling homogeneity. Bloody Soviets.

Of course, Chesterfield pays into a UK-wide budget that builds roads, hospitals, schools, across the rest of the UK. I pay into a Chesterfield-wide budget, etc. This is society. It’s how it works. The UK pays – once we take the rebate and what comes back in terms of development funds – around £6.5bn to a European Union of which we take part and help shape policy in which those funds are directed. This includes full membership – and a say in how it is run – of the single market and my right to travel freely and live and work freely in Europe. If Brexiters can guarantee that £6.5bn will be used to cover all the grants – like 20,000 projects listed by James Wharton that benefit from funding – along with the £350m extra a week for the NHS, and guarantee we get membership-level access to the single market – along with guaranteed use of my EHIC Card whilst on temporary stay within the EU, thus, a better deal, I’m willing to concede. So far, their answer seems to be a strong “dunno, maybe?”

On ‘discrimination’ John says that Brexit:

“will enable us to end the existing discrimination against non-EU citizens.”

– A silly sentiment, unless John is suggesting that all countries will now have travel & immigration to the UK rules applied equally. One of those silly Brexit sentiments that don’t actually mean what they sound like they mean. Of course discrimination is still going to exist, based on trade deals. We may strike a trade deal with Australia that relaxes Visa requirements and that doesn’t apply to citizens of – for example – Colombia. This is the exact same ‘discrimination’. And I suspect trade deals will include a relaxation of border restrictions. So, EU Citizens (who currently offer a net contribution to the UK) will have barriers erected to their free movement, as will I, discrimination will still exist, and John refers to this protectionism as being a policy of “genuine internationalists“.

He goes on:

“As adversaries trade blows in the final stages of the war of least-worst outcomes, the eventual winner is expected to be the side that can most convincingly portray the most dystopian version of an alternative future. Perhaps we should focus instead on the not-so-fanciful dream that a country with the fifth largest economy in the world might just be capable of striking the balance between international congeniality and self-assured autonomy?”

– I agree. Let’s focus on that dream. It requires more than philosophising. Which means instead of dismissing all those asking for clarity as victims of domestic abuse, and instead of starry-eyed dreams of ‘autonomy’ that collapse the moment you ask for even a degree of clarity and voted for by only 51.8% of the country, Brexiters like John must now answer what comes next? Can you assure us that trade deals we lose, will be replaced by trade deals with more favourable terms? Who will it benefit? What’s the plan? Are jobs going to be lost in the near future as a result? What will happen when we pull out of the single market? What will be our relationship with the single market? When will EU Citizens living in the UK be guaranteed their right to stay? Will trade deals with other countries likely require relaxed visa rules? Will our European Health Insurance Card remain valid? So far, they’ve spent 30+ years being publicly Eurosceptic, without any idea on what comes next, no guarantees, yelling the entirely reductive “Brexit means Brexit” mantra when asked, like a creationist holding a copy of Genesis when you ask where God came from. “We don’t know” is not good enough from this new breed of ‘patriots’, because it isn’t a game. And I suspect when it doesn’t go well, they’ll blame everyone else but themselves for the utter shambles they’ve elected to create.

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What have Social Liberals ever done for us?

March 2, 2017

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A position that bases its premise on the idea that individual liberties – like free expression, equality under the law, free association – must be protected prior to the forming of governments and are not restricted by nationality, ethnicity, or any other arbitrary distinction, whilst also arguing that government intervention can be a moral good when combined with the former principle, is surely not one that the British have abandoned. After all, the Enlightenment upon which these concepts – and modern liberal democracy – base themselves, are rooted in the British traditions of Locke, of Hobbes, of Paine, of Mill.

Social Liberalism in the early 20th century was firmly in the hands of the Liberal Party. Later, the Labour Party as it replaced The Liberal Party as one of two great Parties of State. Today, Labour’s leadership with its public support for regimes that willingly abandon natural liberties if they get in the way of achieving economically socialist aims, has long since abandoned Social Liberalism, and now threatens the livelihoods of many with its support for a very hard Brexit, has embraced a far less open, far more inward looking nationalism (it’s going to take a lot of explaining to convince me that i’m now “more Worldly” after my right to travel freely across Europe is revoked).

Which is why I and many like me, have abandoned the Labour Party. The key now for the Liberal Democrats – the successor to the old Liberal Party – is to build on their growth following Brexit, and resurrect great and radical Social Liberal politics of its past. What are those achievements, you may ask? Here’s what Social Liberals from the old Liberal Party have done for us:

  • The Forster Education Act of 1870.
    – Established the foundations of universal, elementary education. The poorest kids had their education paid for by local School Boards.
  • The Trade Union Act of 1871.
    – 
    Decriminalised trade unions.
    – Protected Trade Union funds.
  • Employers’ Liability Act of 1880.
    – 
    Allowed workers to fight for compensation following an injury caused by a fellow employee whilst at work.
  • School Meals Act of 1906.
    – 
    Gave local authorities the ability to provide free school meals for children from poor backgrounds. Made compulsory in 1914.
  • Trade Disputes Act of 1906.
    – Protected Trade Unions from being taken to court for economic damage in the event of strike action.
  • The Workmen’s Compensation Act of 1906.
    – Gave workers the right to seek compensation for an industry sustained during work.
  • Education Act of 1907.
    – 
    Provided local education authorities the right to take on land to build new schools.
    – Schools given a grant for each child they took on between the ages of 12 and 18.
    – Schools could not discriminate based on religious denomination.
    – Working Class kids passing a scholarship test, would have fees paid for by the Local Education Authority.
  • Probation Act of 1908.
    – Gave young offenders a service to work for the community rather than go to prison.
  • Children & Young Persons Act of 1908.
    – Banned the sale of alcohol and tobacco to underage kids.
    – Set up a Foster Home registration service.
    – Set up Juvenile facilities to prevent young offenders going to adult prisons.
  • Old Age Pensions Act of 1908.
    – 
    Set up state pensions for those over the age of 70.
  • The Coal Mines Regulation Act of 1908.
    – Limited the working day of coal miners to 8 hours.
  • Labour Exchanges Act of 1909.
    – Set up state funded exchanges designed to help the unemployed find employment.
  • Trade Boards Act of 1909.
    – Allowed Trade Boards to set minimum wages for certain industries.
  • National Insurance Act of 1911.
    – A health insurance system paid for by the employer, the employee, and the government.
    – Provided maternity benefits.
    – Provided paid sick leave.
    – Provided unemployment benefits for cyclical industries.
  • The Factory Workshop Act of 1911.
    – Allowed the Secretary of State to create regulations for Cotton Cloth Factories in relation to ventilation.

In a forty year period, in which not all of it was a Liberal Government in power, Social Liberals managed to set the framework for the modern state. They improved conditions for working people, they strengthened trade unions, and they aimed at a greater distribution of education among the populace, they created the foundations of the modern welfare state with the National Insurance Act, an Act that preceded anything Labour was to achieve for another 40+ years. These were radical steps for the liberal-left 110 years ago, built on by Attlee, and later by Blair. Finding that radical spirit again at a time of discontent, with a far more polarised population than at any time in decades, will be difficult. But a precedent is there.

The Liberal Democrats in order to rebuild, require the input not just from established Liberal Democrats in Parliament, but from Social Liberals across Parties. Radical but rational; cooler heads rather than tabloid-populism; to challenge growing right winged sentiment where it oversteps the line into bigotry, but to understand what breeds those views and to create a strong, uncompromising counter narrative; to try to understand frustrations among communities, without claiming to speak for or represent an entire class as if a single uncritical bloc. To form new ideas, solutions, & policies that look beyond Brexit & set out a Social Liberal alternative, open and free, to the illiberal socialism of Corbyn, or the inward looking nationalism of the Prime Minister & UKIP.