From Shoe-In to Toss-Up

Via the ineptitude of its candidate, and hostility from its residual Farageistes, UKIP has managed to convert the Stoke Central by-election from a virtual one-way shoe-in into an uncertain three-way toss-up.

On the face of it, UKIP’s choice of candidate to contest the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election caused by the resignation of Labour’s Tristram Hunt should have been obvious, and uncomplicated.

Here was a constituency where, on the best available estimate, the Leave vote in the EU Referendum was a massive 69.4%: where the voters hadn’t returned a Conservative MP in decades: where there was widespread disaffection with a Labour Party dominated by London-centric Metropolitan New-Leftism rather than traditional working-class empathy: and where UKIP put up a very creditable showing at the 2015 General Election.

stoke-ge-2015-results-pcsIt’s worth examining that latter result in more detail. UKIP came from 5th in 2010 on a measly 1.1%, to 2nd in 2015 on 22.7% with an 18.3 swing to it. In a General Election where the Conservatives achieved among their highest-ever number of seat gains, they didn’t even manage to come 2nd in Stoke Central, being pipped by UKIP into 3rd place.

This surely should have suggested UKIP re-selecting its 2015 candidate, Mick Harold, to contest the seat. As a Stoke Councillor, Chairman of UKIP’s Stoke branch, and Deputy Chairman of its Staffordshire County Committee, he appeared to have experience plus an established public profile, in both local government and local party, strong enough to stand a real chance of taking the seat from Labour.

And a real chance, moreover, not only on his own merits. Because Labour had selected, to try and retain its Stoke Central seat, the execrably foul-mouthed, mendacious, misogynistic Gareth Snell, most notable, among a string of other gaffes, for describing Brexit as “a pile of shit” to his own Brexit-voting constituency, and arguably the most repellent Labour candidate that even seasoned commentators can remember.

snell-stoke-tweet-gaffes-compEnter, however, UKIP’s recently-elected new Leader, Paul Nuttall. Already an elected UKIP MEP in the European Parliament, it’s an intriguing, albeit ultimately futile, exercise to speculate on what Nuttall’s real motives were.

Perhaps he genuinely felt the party leader belonged in Westminster, not in Brussels/Strasbourg. Perhaps he wanted to show that, within only months of being elected, he could do what Nigel Farage never managed to do in all his years as Leader, namely, win a House of Commons seat. Perhaps he saw a Westminster seat as a convenient replacement for his Brussels/Strasbourg one when the UK exits the EU before the next European Parliament elections in 2019. Who knows?

Whatever the reason, though, Nuttall decided to seek UKIP’s candidature, and was duly selected. Whether Harold was “persuaded” to stand aside, or did so entirely voluntarily, as his statement on it insists, is perhaps another intriguing subject for speculation.

Nuttall, though, is a clown. It didn’t take long for the first evidence to surface, in the shape of the now-infamous Hillsborough imbroglio, when Nuttall claimed to have lost “close personal friends” in the disaster. 

nuttall-hillsborough-website

Had the final paragraph merely read “…when 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives.”, his statement would still have been – and rightly so – a searing condemnation of the Government’s obfuscation of key facts relevant to determining blame. It did not lack power. It did not need the addition of the “including close personal friends of mine” to give it extra force. So whatever persuaded him to add such an unnecessary, self-serving, and easily-verifiable-as-untruthful embellishment? As so often, over-egging the pudding merely leaves the chef with egg on his face.

Following that, we had the “new address” fiasco. Even if, as claimed, Nuttall’s original move to Stoke was delayed because of a vacancy / chain issue, why was the necessity for a Stoke address not resolved the minute Nuttall indicated an interest in the constituency? Is it such a rental hotspot? And how inept is it to allow one’s self to be photographed quite clearly camping out in a hastily newly-acquired “home”? No journalist worth their salt, however un-biased, could fail to run with a “carpetbagging” narrative in those circumstances.

nuttall-bolton-2017Then there’s the missing weekend. Despite it being the last weekend of campaigning before the Thursday 23rd February polling day, Nuttall was apparently AWOL from Stoke for most of it, attending the UKIP Spring Conference in Bolton, where he made a somewhat bizarre “They will not break me”-themed speech.

Was his attendance in person really necessary, Party Leader or not, on the last weekend before a crucial by-election? Could a speech to Spring Conference via video-link not have been arranged? Or was it vital, despite the risk to the by-election campaign, to prevent Farage in effect taking over the Conference? 

To be fair, it hasn’t all been of Nuttall’s own making. Most of the so-called “independent” Press has been its usual homogeneously ‘liberal’-left biased, pro-EU self, determined to report in a bad light any policies, or parties, outside what’s deemed to be the acceptable Overton Window of British politics. But it’s also inescapable that the inept, bumbling Nuttall has given it a cornucopia of material to work with.

There is, however an additional factor. The friendly-fire, the blue-on-blue incoming from the Farageiste Falange.

2017-02-22-banks-hillsborough-compThe “Hillsborough” furore had largely died down by last week, the narrative having run its course and the last drop of press mileage having been squeezed out of it: until, that is, Arron Banks, major UKIP funder but also, I’d suggest, eminence grise of the Farageistes, tweeted a reference to Hillsborough having been an “accident”.

Whatever Hillsborough was or wasn’t, it certainly wasn’t an accident: and though subsequent Banks tweets have correctly referred to it as a disaster, that has been enough to revive the entire controversy to Nuttall’s detriment: as have the allusions to Banks being “sick of hearing about it”. Given Nuttall’s Merseyside origins, it’s difficult to believe the choice of the word “accident” was itself accidental.

Hard on the heels of that, at UKIP’s Bolton Spring Conference, came Farage’s “helpful” intervention that “Nuttall must win Stoke”, and that a win in the by-election there is “fundamental to the party’s future”. You might think this is a bit rich coming from an ex-Leader who serially failed to get elected as an MP, but we’ll let that pass.

What it does, of course, is to make Nuttall’s position as Leader hostage to electoral fortune, and imply that, should he fail, his leadership is inimical to UKIP’s future electoral prospects. Or, put another way: all other candidates having now been eliminated, Farage fancies yet another crack?

So what has been the cumulative effect of all this? As of early evening Wednesday 22 February, and per Ladbrokes, Labour are back as 4/7 favourites, despite having been seemingly been behind for much of the campaign: UKIP have drifted out to 2/1, having previously been favourites: and the Conservatives have come from nowhere to be at 7/1 and talking up their own chances of pulling off a surprise . Yes, in Stoke.

stoke-odds-1838-wed-23feb17Quite how UKIP has managed to achieve this, after starting out from a position of apparently unassailable advantage, almost beggars belief. In the space of a few short weeks, and having been initially blessed with what were, for it, virtually the most favourable circumstances imaginable, it’s converted what should have been a foregone conclusion into a very close-run thing.

That Labour could pull it off, with a victory for by far the foulest candidate, standing for by far the least-deserving party, is an appalling prospect. But if so, UKIP will have no-one to blame but itself.

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The People-In-Parliament

Unreconciled pro-Remain MPs cynically exploiting an interpretation of Parliamentary Sovereignty to try and negate the EU Referendum result have highlighted the urgency of radical post-Brexit Parliamentary reform

uk-supreme-courtThe Supreme Court decision in Miller – that the Government’s powers under Crown Prerogative did not include the power, despite the unequivocal popular mandate given it by the result of the EU Referendum, to issue notification under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, so that a specific Act of Parliament was required – has re-activated the question of what Parliamentary Sovereignty actually means.

I was brought up to believe, and was in fact taught, that what the doctrine of Parliamentary Sovereignty expresses is the supremacy of Parliament over the Crown – that the Crown cannot arbitrarily compel the passing of laws or the raising of taxes without the consent of Parliament, but by extension also, therefore, without the consent of the people whom Parliament merely represents.

In other words, that Parliament is sovereign over the Crown, but not sovereign over the people, comprising as it does merely their temporarily-elected representatives.

Admittedly, the question is disputed by constitutional writers. Burgess suggests that this is indeed the case, and argues that, by asserting or assuming sovereignty over the people, successive Parliaments have exceeded their powers. Loughlin, on the other hand, suggests that Parliament is indeed supreme over the people, and infers that this is legitimised by freely-held, non-coercive elections under our system of representative, rather than direct, democracy.

I’ve always been uneasy with this latter interpretation: to me, it seems far too conducive to an elective dictatorship, able to act with impunity in defiance of the people’s expressed wishes. When we send MPs to Westminster, we are not relinquishing or transferring ownership of our democratic powers to them: we are merely lending them, and delegating temporary custody of them, to MPs until the next election – and nothing more. 

This has even more resonance when Parliament, without our approval, agrees to transfer power or jurisdiction over domestic policy matters to unelected, unaccountable supra-national bodies like the EU. Because our democratic powers as a people are only lent, not relinquished, to MPs, they do not become the property of a transient Government or those MPs to dilute or even cede to another polity, without our specific consent.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Miller, however, making implementation of the clear popular mandate given the Government by the EU Referendum in effect subject to approval by Parliament, appeared to reinforce the interpretation that Parliament is supreme, not only over the Crown, but over the people also.

Crucially, however, that is certainly the way it has been gratefully interpreted over the past three days by very many anti-Brexit MPs in the current Parliament’s inbuilt near two-thirds to one-third pro-EU, pro-Remain majority: a pro-EU majority that stood in stark contrast to the UK electorate’s 52% to 48% vote to leave the EU, and which, translated into Parliamentary seats, has been calculated would produce a pro-Leave landslide.

2017-02-07-hannan-on-parliamentary-sovereigntyWhen Parliament voted, by a factor of no less than 6:1, to hold the EU Referendum, what it did was to hand back to the British people, in relation to the specific issue of remaining in or leaving the EU, the powers that the British people had, once again, temporarily lent to it, via the 2015 General Election. Dan Hannan’s tweet above perhaps clarifies how.

ref-leaflet-contract-with-the-votersFor this particular issue of Britain’s EU membership, Parliament gave back to the people the sovereignty which we temporarily lend it. It said, in effect: “this is for you to decide, not us on your behalf”. It even emphasised as much – “The Government will implement what you decide” – on its information leaflet.

And the decision of the British people, and its implied, consequent instruction to its elected Government, was clear and unmistakeable.

To have, therefore, seen diehard-Remain MPs trying over the past three days to confect and exploit a cynical, self-serving  misinterpretation and distortion of Parliamentary Sovereignty to mean Parliament supreme over the people, to further their own nakedly anti-Brexit aims in defiance of the democratic decision of the UK electorate which they voted by over 6:1 to confer on it, has been utterly nauseating.

We’ve seen unashamedly pro-EU MPs, who for years accepted torrents of EU legislation into the corpus of UK law with near-zero scrutiny, suddenly converted to the apparent necessity of line-by-line scrutiny of Brexit aims and negotiating strategy.

snp-mps-hoc-may-15We’ve seen Labour, LibDem and SNP MPs, supported by unreconciled Tory Remainers, proposing amendments to the Article 50 Bill which were blatant attempts to slow the Brexit process to a standstill: and making it clear that many want either not to leave the EU at all, or else remain in it in all but name.

We’ve seen the vast majority of Labour, LibDem and SNP MPs, again with support from unreconciled Tory-Remainers, making it abundantly plain that their wish to “scrutinise” the Government’s Brexit negotiating strategy is only to expose & weaken the Brexit negotiators’ hand, before negotiations start.

We’ve seen pro-EU MPs, who for years were so eager to give UK voters’ democratic powers away, now fighting hard to stop them coming back. Many of their disingenuous amendments clearly were mere devices to negate implementing the decision which Parliament gave to the electorate to make, and some of those pro-EU MPs could barely be bothered to conceal it.

We seen unreconciled pro-Remain MPs, one after the other, indulging in competitive hand-wringing over the post-Brexit plight of EU nationals currently in the UK. Their cynicism has been quite breathtaking: it’s easily ascertained that approximately 84% of EU nationals residing legally in the UK would not be affected one iota.

soubry-distraught-hoc-wed-07-feb-2017Their speeches were in effect re-fighting the EU Referendum itself, and re-running the combined Remain campaign’s Project Fear. They left no doubt that, for them, being pro-EU means being anti-democracy, and that the prospect of leaving the anti-democratic EU horrifies them.

It’s difficult to deny that, when Leave-ers voted on 23rd June 2016 to recover Parliamentary Sovereignty, what they meant was leaving the EU altogether – so that, in a Britain once more an independent, self-governing country from being outside the European Union, their laws & taxes would in future be decided by, and only by, the MPs they elected to Parliament, and by no-one else.

why-people-voted-leave-2In other words, that Parliament would be sovereign over any foreign legislature in the determining the laws they have to obey and the taxes they have to pay. Remember, both the Government and Remain campaigns to stay in the EU had been totally unequivocal in warning that a Leave vote meant exactly that – leave completely.

I suspect what they did not mean by recovering Parliamentary Sovereignty was Remainer MPs interpreting it instead as Parliament in effect deciding whether the UK is to leave the EU at all. Yet it’s been obvious from the last three days’ Article 50 Bill debates that that’s how the Diehard-Remainers see it, and have tried to interpret it. Their conduct has been nothing short of pro-EU anti-democracy chicanery.

So what implications does this have for the future of Parliament, and our democratic politics, once Brexit has been achieved?

One consequential necessity above all, I’d contend, has long been pre-eminent: that, having succeeded in retrieving and repatriating our democratic sovereignty, we cannot risk merely entrusting it once again to the same body of MPs who for 40 years eagerly and arguably illegitimately gave it away without our consent in the first place: at least not without imposing some very robust limits on their powers in that respect.

They have shown that, quite simply, they cannot be trusted. The reaction of too many to the, for them, unwelcome Referendum result has betrayed their disdainful attitude towards their electorate.

Many remain unreconstructed advocates of the EU Project: it’s been clear that, for so many, the prime attraction of EU membership is that it enables them to fulfil a visceral desire to put as much policy-making as possible beyond the reach of what they see as the capricious domestic democratic process and an electorate whose views they by-and-large do not share or even find repugnant.

We cannot assume that a future Parliament, especially a left-leaning, residually pro-EU one, would not surreptitiously resume the powers-ceding process of the last 40 years all over again. Their hands, in short, need to be tied.

commons-chamber-normalSo we must strengthen the post Brexit Parliament’s democratic accountability to the electorate. To more of a People’s Democracy that makes legislature and executive work, not in the interests of the Establishment cartel, but in the interests of the people.

We need, and urgently, a proper Recall Procedure, in the hands of voters. The Bill presented in the last Parliament to allow a minimum percentage of constituents to recall an errant MP to face re-election was voted down: instead, Members decreed that only a committee of MPs was fit to decide whether one of their fellow-MPs had misbehaved sufficiently to have to account to his electorate – his constituents, impliedly, were not . So much for “trust the people”. Real voter Recall is a cause going by default.

We need Open Primaries for candidate selection. We may no longer be in the days of the Cameroon Cuties’ A-List, and Labour’s infamous all-women shortlists seem to have fallen out of favour: but with the occasional exception, none of the main parties seems at all keen to open up the candidacy process and make it more accessible, less subject to capture or manipulation by party hierarchies, and more transparent. The case for Open Primaries is strong, but not being robustly made.

evelA fairer constitutional settlement for England, shamefully neglected in the rush to confer domestic powers on the devolved assemblies, is long overdue: but the issue of an exclusively English Parliament, or English Votes for English Laws, has retreated towards the back burner.

Yet by re-advancing it, English MPs would rightly be re-asserting domestically the fundamental principle on which the EU Referendum itself was fought and won: that the laws governing the citizens of a discrete polity can legitimately be those, and only those, made by, and only by, the representatives directly elected by the citizens of that polity, and whom they can remove from office via the ballot-box at the next election.

For national-level democratic participation, we have to rely on a once-in-5-years cross-marking exercise, based on manifesto commitments which few expect their parties to honour, once the inconvenience of an election is out of the way. But – in an age when we can book a holiday with a few mouse-clicks, or apply for a university course with a screen-touch, why should this be?

confidence-in-govt-switz-topThe Swiss manage successfully to hold referendums on issues other than major constitutional questions like their voting system or EU membership. It’s no coincidence, to my mind, that the Swiss, who have the most direct say in their government, via localisation & frequent referendums, express the highest confidence in their government and regularly show highest public-engagement in politics. We can achieve the same. We need more referendums, not fewer.

The political-class, of course, hates them. They’re “divisive”, they’re unpredictable, they take control of campaign messaging away from party machines, and, worst of all from their point of view, referendums let voters take control of a single issue outside the 4/5-year election sequence when an entire manifesto is voted on.

There can be few better reasons for having more referendums than a demonstrably unrepresentative, voter-averse, political class being opposed to them. If we were more accustomed to using them as an instrument of democratic consent, they’d be far less “divisive”.      

Whatever method of future democratic engagement we adopt, we need, too, to eliminate the loopholes, if not downright electoral fraud, made possible from now rampant abuse of the postal (or virtually proxy) voting system. There have been too many instances reported of, as just one example, multiple postal votes per household, to continue leaving glaring abuses unchecked. A return to the previous very tight criteria for postal voting eligibility, plus a requirement for photographic ID at polling booths, is necessary if the democratic process is not to be further subverted.         

We need, also, enshrined in law, an absolute bar on the transfer away to any other body, whether domestic or international, of any part of the democratic sovereignty temporarily and conditionally vested in Parliament by the electorate. Remember, it’s not just to overseas or supranational unelected, unaccountable institutions that our democratic powers have been transferred – think how much policy-making has been put beyond the reach of democratic disapproval or change over the years by being delegated to quangos or semi-autonomous government agencies insulated from the democratic process.

The Coalition purported to remedy this with its 2011 European Union Act, essentially requiring a plebiscite on any further significant transfer of powers from Westminster to Brussels. Crucially, though, it largely left to Cabinet discretion what actually constituted a significant transfer of powers which would trigger a referendum. It was basically a sham, designed principally to head off demands from a growing-Eurosceptic Conservative Party and public for an EU Referendum while in coalition with the fanatically pro-EU, referendum-averse LibDems. We need a new law which is far more prescriptive.

The EU Referendum and its aftermath – especially the disconnect it revealed between, on the one hand, an electorate the majority of which is opposed to both EU membership and continuing uncontrolled mass immigration, and on the other, a Parliament largely in favour of both – has dramatically exposed how the traditional model of representative democracy is no longer working, in that, patently, it increasingly fails to represent. And as representative democracy’s disconnect between the views of rulers and ruled grows more and more apparent to more and more people, dissatisfaction with it will only grow.

The current anti-politicians (but NB not anti-politics) sentiment isn’t a mere passing phase. It augurs a permanent change in the relationship between rulers and ruled, to one where the balance between representative and direct democracy shifts more towards the latter.

That’s why, after Brexit, radical Parliamentary reform is needed to make MPs more accountable to their electorates, and ensure they can never again give away democratic powers which, because they are merely custodians of them our our behalf, are not theirs to give.

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Bearding Branson For Bucks

Branson was dead keen to play for Remain. To pay for Remain, though, not quite so much….

Recall how, during the EU Referendum, one of the Remain campaign’s most prominent and vocal celebrity supporters for keeping Britain in the EU was Richard Branson?

Despite laying himself open to charges of rank hypocrisy – Branson, remember, is such an ardent advocate of Britain’s EU membership that he bases himself in the (non-EU) Caribbean, and his business interests in (equally non-EU) Switzerland – Beardie was nevertheless adamant about what a sheer, unmitigated catastrophe for Britain a vote for Brexit would be.

Neither the numerous critics of his arrant hypocrisy, nor the multitude of commentators who pointed out how, er, spectacularly inaccurate a track record he had on the entire issue of the Euro and the Single Market, could deter him.

euro-by-branson-2

Now surely, you might imagine, such a committed pro-European wouldn’t have hesitated to back his unshakeable convictions with a sizeable chunk of his considerable fortune? Via even some kind of significant contribution to such a transparently noble cause?

Alas not.

For, as Michael Mossbacher and Oliver Wiseman recount in their book “Brexit Revolt – How The UK Voted To Leave The EU”, Beardie, although keen to be associated prominently with the case for a Remain vote, was, shall we say, rather less keen to stump up all the moolah to pay for it….

mossbacher-wiseman-quote-re-branson

That’s right – the Remain camp had to tap up billionaire pro-Labour, pro-EU donor and peer Lord David Sainsbury to pay, in addition to this other donations to the Remain cause, part of the cost of Billionaire Branson’s Remain-supporting ads.

And now, being openly unwilling to accept the democratic verdict of 17.4 million people, Beardie’s also agitating for either a second Referendum, or in effect a Parliamentary blocking of Brexit implementation. 

branson-demand-for-2nd-referendum-poster-05jul2016

Presumably he’d want to play an equally prominent pro-Remain role in any second Referendum. And possibly even a third if a second once again delivers the “wrong” result.

Let’s hope for Sainsbury’s sake that he has a lock on his wallet….

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The LibDems Can’t Half Pick ‘Em

The LibDem candidate for tomorrow’s Richmond Park by-election is an unconvincing combination of contradictions. She deserves to be defeated.

We’re used to the LibDems occasionally picking slightly iffy parliamentary candidates to contest either General Election or by-election seats.

The case of one Ibrahim Taguri, the alleged “fund-raiser” forced to resign as candidate in Brent Central after a “donations-in-return-for-access” scandal, comes to mind: as does the case of George Cunningham (Chair of “Brussels & Europe LibDems”, incidentally), suspended as parliamentary candidate in Thanet North after allegations of impropriety which included bringing in donations from abroad.

In the case of Sarah Olney, candidate in the Richmond Park by-election being held tomorrow, though, the LibDems appear to have picked a candidate whose problem isn’t so much one, as it were, of convictions, as of contradictions.

Firstly, on the central issue behind the by-election occurring at all, i.e., former Tory Zac Goldsmith’s resignation as an MP on principle to re-stand as an Independent on his declared opposition to Heathrow runway expansion. Olney, as one would expect, both as a Green-tinged LibDem and, to be fair, on local nuisance grounds, is also opposed to the third runway: but here’s the contradiction – her husband is a town planner who played, it appears, a key role in developing Heathrow’s Terminal 5.

olney-richmond-3 That of itself is perhaps a tad awkward, but probably no more than that if fully disclosed – it’s his profession, after all, and everyone has to live – but the contradiction has been exacerbated by her decision to play down the fact almost to the extent of concealing it.

Her campaign leaflets, we learn, make a point of mentioning his “significant experience in implementing large-scale infrastructure projects”, but, er, omit that one particularly “large-scale infrastructure project” he helped to implement was the last-but-one major project at the facility whose expansion she vehemently opposes.

There’s an interesting potential conflict of interest here. If Olney wins, on an overtly anti Heathrow expansion ticket, she acquires all the pecuniary and status rewards of an MP. On the other hand, the development will probably go ahead anyway, so her husband, with his experience, also stands to gain professionally. Win/win for the Olneys?

If she loses – and bear in mind that the least she’s likely to achieve is a good second, because neither the Conservatives nor UKIP are contesting the seat, and the Labour candidate looks like a no-hoper –  she’s no worse off than she is now, and the Heathrow development probably proceeding anyway still stands to benefit her husband.  No-change/win for the Olneys?

The contradiction between the public position (and it’s without doubt sincerely held) and the limited potential for personal downside is intriguing.

That’s the local factor at issue in the Richmond Park by-election. The national one, of course, is the EU Referendum, Brexit, and the desire of the LibDems either to dilute it to the point of virtual impotence or preferably frustrate and overturn it entirely, whether by parliamentary or judicial manoeuvres. Which is where the second contradiction arises.

As you’d expect, and again as a fairly standard LibDem Europhile, Olney is opposed to Brexit. As their candidate in Richmond Park, where over 70% of votes cast in the EU Referendum were for Remain, she’s also an at least implied backer of the anti-democratic Unreconciled Continuity Remain cabal’s machinations – prominent in which are two of the party’s former leaders and also its current one – to delay, diminish and preferably negate it, whether by Judicial Review, parliamentary vote(s) or even by pressing for a second Referendum.

The contradiction here is this: Olney is on record as previously saying that people must accept the UK’s decision to leave the EU, and that the government should not seek to “re-run” the vote.olney-richmond-2She had even gone as far as calling for Leavers and Remainers to “come together”, and “make a success of Brexit”. But with her party leader Tim Farron already having pledged to make the contest a “Brexit by-election”, the question arose as to how Olney would handle such an embarrassing contradiction.

Very much in the same way, it turns out, as she handled the Heathrow contradiction: by concealing it. On the afternoon of 26 October, apparently, she deleted her personal website and its call for the democratic verdict of the British people to be respected. She now suggests that Theresa May should commit to a second Referendum on our EU-exit terms “to buy herself time and negotiating capacity”. That’s quite a U-turn, even for a LibDem…..

When Olney started her campaign, it was mainly, though in fairness not exclusively, a local one. Airport expansion was the key issue, she claimed, and a vote for the LibDems would “make a stand against Heathrow”.

Whether the third contradiction – the switch of primary focus from the local to the national issue – has come about from anti-Brexit conviction or from embarrassment at family connections with Heathrow expansion is a moot point, but come about it most certainly has.

olney-richmond-4Far from being a “stand against Heathrow”, a LibDem victory would now be nothing less than a “Brexit game-changer”, seemingly. [Notwithstanding the fact that it would bring the number of LibDem MPs up from only 8 to only 9, presumably, and hopefully thereby make not one whit of difference to the Government’s proceeding to implement the democratic Referendum result.]

olney-letter-richmond-parkThat was on 23 November. In the space of a mere week, however, it has mutated into something even more momentous. No longer a mere “Brexit game-changer”, the Richmond Park by-election tomorrow is now, we are told, “the most powerful vote you ever cast”. 

Wrong, Sarah. The most powerful vote any of us alive have ever and will ever cast was the vote of 23 June 2016, when no fewer that 17,410,742 of us voted to defy the imprecations and exhortations of the globalist-utopian political, economic, financial and cultural ‘liberal’-elite, and recover our political and economic sovereignty to our own shores and our own ballot-boxes, to be determined democratically by us and us alone.

For that reason above all, it’s important that the LibDems don’t win this by-election.

I’m frankly ambivalent about Zac Goldsmith. His Mayoral campaign was abysmal: his languid environmentalism is a turn-off: his susceptibility to, and collaboration with, Exaro’s rightly now-disgraced “Westminster Paedo Ring” campaign was misguided or worse: and I believe his opposition to Heathrow expansion is strategically wrong.

But I admire his principled decision to abide by his commitment to his constituents over Heathrow, even at political risk to himself: his advocacy of more direct democracy via a proper MPs’ Recall Mechanism: and above all, his unswerving devotion to the Brexit cause. For those reasons alone, I hope he wins.

But there is another. If Goldsmith does manage to win, it will mean that the Europhile, anti-Brexit LibDems, for this by-election allied with the Greens instead of competing with them for the same voter demographic, and in possibly one of the most LibDem-friendly, Remain-supporting, anti-Brexit constituencies in the country, will have failed.

That would send a powerful message to the egregious Farron, Clegg, Ashdown and all their motley crew of embittered, anti-democratic Remainer plotters, intent on ignoring or overturning the expressed will of the people.

And that will be a very fine contradiction indeed.

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Oikophobia Unleashed

Brexit then Trump has caused hitherto-muted ‘Liberal’ contempt for the masses to erupt unconstrained

A week may be a long time in politics: but the 4½-month period between late-June and mid-November seems to have gone by in a flash.

Because, between the aftermaths of the two political earthquakes represented by the UK electorate’s vote for Brexit on 23rd June and the US electorate’s vote for Trump on 8th November, the chorus of Left-‘Liberal’ anger, objection, complaint and condemnation has been both continuous in frequency and unchanging in content.

A word on semantics. I habitually use “Left-‘Liberal'” for two reasons: the “Left” to distinguish it from the Classical-Liberalism to which it now bears hardly any relation, and the quotes around ‘Liberal’ to convey that its truly ‘liberal’ components are harder to detect. In US, and increasingly now in UK, usage, ‘Liberal’ actually means Left-‘Liberal’: so the remainder of this piece will use it as such.

‘Liberal’ opinion would always have been anti-Brexit. It prefers unaccountable, democracy-bypassing supranational institutions to the democratic sovereign nation-state: it favours unfettered immigration rather than even mildly-controlled borders: it supports elites-benefiting crony-corporatism over genuinely competitive markets: and it would rather single-regulatory-area trading blocs than free trade.

times-frontpage-wed-15jun16-osborne-threats-brexit‘Liberal’-elite received-opinion, anti nation-state and globalist, overwhelmingly informed the anti-Brexit argument. It was all-pervasive, from Government through the plethora of acronymed organisations to the Remain campaign itself, and all echoed faithfully by their largely equally-‘Liberal’ media amen-corner. So its palpably-traumatic shock when 52% of Referendum voters ignored or rejected its pro-EU exhortations, scaremongering and pressure, and voted instead to Leave, was at least predictable.

Less predictable, however – although, as we’ll see, perhaps not entirely – was the volume and tenor of the vilification heaped on the 52% who had shown the temerity to ignore the instructions of their self-assumed intellectual and cultural superiors, and vote instead for economic and political self-determination.

They were not merely wrong, ran the ‘Liberal’ narrative, disseminated via innumerable furious and vitriolic denunciations in the visual, print and online media. They, especially the swathes of working and middle-class voters outside the M25 who voted Leave in droves, had voted the way they had because they were perverse, racist (pick any “-ist” you like, really), ignorant, xenophobic, and – favourite of all – “uneducated”. The Referendum, they argued, should be ignored, and the question re-put

Moving from the particular to the general, democracy itself was soon identified and duly arraigned as the alternative culprit. The Referendum wasn’t even about EU membership at all, it was claimed, but about something else entirely. So Cameron, went this theme, had been wrong to concede something so unpredictable as a referendum at all: the arguments were too complex for the great majority of the voting public to understand, let alone decide on: why, perhaps even mass democracy itself was a flawed concept, seeing that at least half of the voters were plainly cerebrally-challenged, and manifestly too ill-equipped intellectually to participate in it.

b-oneill-rage-of-the-elitist-campMany were surprised by the unabashedly-articulated virulence. But not all – more astute commentators noted that the reaction was more a case of the mask slipping. The reflex was new, not in substance, but only in the extent to which ‘Liberal’ opinion no longer felt any constraint or reluctance about expressing it so clearly and openly.

Among the affluent, mainly-metropolitan, upper-middle-class, educated, intellectual and cultural Left, a faux-solicitude for the masses going hand-in-hand with a visceral revulsion for them has a long and unattractive history. One could perhaps cite as examples the early Fabians, or that epitome of Bloomsbury disdain Virginia Woolf: but suffice it to refer to that George Orwell quote from The Lion And The Unicorn with which so many are so familiar:

“In intention, at any rate, the English intelligentsia are Europeanised. 
They take their cookery from Paris and their opinions from Moscow. In the 
general patriotism of the country they form a sort of island of dissident 
thought. England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals 
are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always 
felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman 
and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse 
racing to suet puddings. It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably 
true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of 
standing to attention during ‘God save the King’ than of stealing from a 
poor box. All through the critical years many left-wingers were chipping 
away at English morale, trying to spread an outlook that was sometimes 
squashily pacifist, sometimes violently pro-Russian, but always 
anti-British.”

scruton-on-oikophobiaThe philosopher Roger Scruton deploys what I still consider by far the most descriptive term for the phenomenon of mainly metropolitan ‘Liberals’ consumed by contempt for the nation & its white working and middle classes. He calls it Oikophobia, from the Greek oikos, meaning home: a repudiation and irrational fear of, even hatred of, one’s own nation, heritage, traditional culture and people.  

He went on to amplify it in his magisterial speech entitled “Immigration, Multiculturalism and the Need to Defend the Nation-State”, delivered – with a prescience that in retrospect one can only marvel at – on 23rd June 2006, exactly 10 years to the day before our own Referendum Day. This is the passage that stands out:

scruton-on-oikophobia-2

That rampant ‘Liberal’ oikophobia, aimed at the Brexit-voting classes, whatever their socio-economic status and irrespective of their reasons, has scarcely diminished since its post-23/6 eruption.

why-people-voted-leave-2In vain do its targets point out that, far from being a vote by the allegedly prejudiced, hatred-filled, “xenophobic”, “uneducated” mob, 53% of those voting Leave gave as their reasons the fundamental issue of sovereignty and democracy: the principle – clearly anathema to sophisticated ‘Liberals’ – that decisions about the UK should be taken by, and in, the UK.

As a usually very non-political friend put it to me: “I voted Leave because I want my kids to grow up and live in a society where the taxes they have to pay, and the laws they have to obey, are decided by, and only by, politicians who they can elect and throw out, and by no-one else“.

It’s hard to better this as a simple summary of the Brexit case, and I’ve unashamedly borrowed it: but apparently it establishes beyond doubt millions’ racism, xenophobia, hatred, lack of sophistication, stupidity, and every other conceivable moral failing sufficient to consign them in ‘Liberal’ opinion to beyond the Pale of respectable society.

Then, just one week ago, a second cruise missile tore into the ‘Liberal’ citadel and detonated. Confounding the instructions, predictions (and, let’s face it, the heartfelt desires) of virtually every TV outlet, pollster, psephologist, media-pundit and cultural-commentariat apparatchik in the USA and beyond, the American voting system spurned the robotic, compromised, shop-soiled doyenne of the politically-corrrect, globalist ‘Liberal’ Establishment in favour of its ultimate ogre, Donald Trump. ‘Liberal’ opinion reeled in shock, denial, anger, and then exploded in incandescent almost hysterical, fury.

mount-st-helens-eruptionTo borrow a metaphor from volcanology: if Brexit 23/6 was the 20 March 1980 earthquake that created the bulge of sub-surface magma, visibly growing daily, on the north side of Washington State’s Mount St Helens, then Trump 8/11 was the 18 May 1980 rapid-succession earthquake, landslide and lateral blast that blew it apart and triggered the volcano’s eruption. The ensuing pyroclastic flow of ‘Liberal’ rage, frustration, hatred, bile, vituperation and contempt for the voters who delivered the dual earthquakes has both intensified and continued ever since, and it shows no sign of abating.

Just as in its post-Brexit phase, disparagement, firstly of the electorate and then secondly of democracy itself, are ‘Liberal’ opinion’s both default reactions and predominant responses.

Voters went for Trump, ‘Liberals’ insist, because they share his alleged misogyny (overlooking that 53% of white women voters and 43% of all women voters voted for him, and that among women without a college degree, he was 20% ahead).

The vote for Trump was an outpouring of latent white racism and xenophobia, they declare (ignoring that Trump garnered only 1% more of the white vote, but 2% more of the Hispanic vote, than Romney in 2012: that he attracted more Afro-American votes than Romney in 2012: and that whites voted for Obama in record numbers in both 2008 and 2012). 

The traditionally Democratic-voting working class in the battleground Rustbelt states broke for Trump, ‘Liberals’ informed us, because they were, above all, “low-information” (currently the en-vogue euphemism de choix for “thick”). Whatever happened to ‘Liberal’ concern for the economically-disadvantaged and the mission to improve their educational opportunities?

Trump won because Obama is black, suggested a Professor of African-American Studies at Princeton. Entertaining this proposition requires you to make the prodigious leap of logic to infer that not liking the fact that Obama is a black man made usually-Democratic voters not vote for a white woman. Right……         

61 million Americans voted for Trump, The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland implied, because they share his complete abrogation of any moral values. That a working-class man in Michigan or Wisconsin, job constantly at risk, no pay raise in 6 years and family home just re-possessed, might not regard transgender bathrooms as a first priority, seems not to have occurred to him. Perhaps it really was about the economy, stupid.      

Predictably, perhaps, in view of his meltdown on BBC Question Time earlier this year, the historian Simon Schama positively dripped with metropolitan-‘Liberal’ condescension & contempt. Those with a different view to his, let us note, are not merely political opponents, but “sweaty agitation”, inclined to “nativist populism”, and, worst of all, are “people who don’t read broadsheets”. The horror.  

So what conclusions can we draw from this near-visceral outpouring of ‘Liberal’ bile directed at those impudent enough to hold a contrary view? Spiked!’s Brendan O’Neill, again, put it well in a Facebook post yesterday, and the next three paragraphs draw from it. 

brendan-oneill-on-liberals-view-post-trump-15nov16We’ve learned that many ‘Liberal’, Democratic-voting “feminists” actively dislike to the point of vilification any women who hold an opinion different to their own, and think moreover that the 43% of them who voted for Trump must by definition be stupid and selfish, without even bothering to consider what their reasons might be.

We’ve learned that the ‘Liberal’ media-commentariat doesn’t after all have a high regard for the working and middle classes, but instead positively reviles them as backward, unsophisticated, “low-information” disrupters of its own preferred model of an anodyne, “civilised” consensus-politics, deracinated of any substantive ideological difference.

We’ve learned that even democracy itself is something that ‘Liberals’ don’t value highly when it delivers verdicts outside their acceptable range of outcomes: so much so that some are openly discussing the presumed necessity of political-IQ tests for voting, or if not, reserving big decisions exclusively for “experts”.

And finally, as Melanie Phillips put it so aptly in The Times yesterday, we’re seeing the grotesque spectacle of ‘Liberals’ weeping over the supposed demise of democracy from its inherent deficiencies, even as they simultaneously dismiss half the population as too stupid and unfit to participate in it, and speculate on ways of excluding them.

For the ‘Liberal’ globalist order, Trump after Brexit presages an existential crisis. After the Brexit vote, its repudiation by 17.4 million UK voters might have been dismissed as a one-off: but not after Trump. The rebellion against ‘Liberalism’s 30-year hegemony is growing. Next year sees elections in France, Germany and The Netherlands, with parties opposed to the ‘Liberal’ globalist order poised to make substantial gains. ‘Liberals’ therefore have to fight back, and the current deluge of Oikophobia is just the start.        

Where we are with this is quite bad enough: but where we could be headed is chilling. Writing in Foreign Policy magazine, Jason Brennan, author of “Against Democracy”, condemns the assumed inseparability of mass democracy and voter ignorance. There is, he says, “no real solution to the problem of political ignorance, unless we are willing to break with democratic politics”, arguing instead for an epistocracy, a kind of “aristocracy of the wise”, where experts can determine political policy for those of us who are too “low-information” to have a say in them ourselves.

This too, like Oikophobia itself, has an unlovely provenance: taking us back, by inference, towards the eugenics whose possibilities fascinated Wells, Shaw, the Webbs, and the early Fabians, concerned to address the adverse societal implications of “feeble-minded” people, but this time transferred from the restricted area of welfare-entitlement to nothing less than the political-participatory process itself.

‘Liberal’ Oikophobia in isolation is unpleasant, and illiberal, but rarely more. Unleashed, and combined with a resentment at the outcomes of mass democracy whose perceived solution is mass democracy’s delegitimisation, however, it constitutes a far greater threat than does any consequence of a Trump presidency or an EU-exiting Britain. It has to be countered.        

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A Matter of Law and Liberty

The EU Referendum debate has not paid enough attention to the risk to our liberty-based legal traditions implicit in a Remain vote

Post-Brexit trade deals of varying merit. Immigration. The effect of a Brexit on the UK economy. These are the matters that have dominated the EU Referendum debate.

But the list contains one glaring omission. Almost nowhere has there been discussed the risk that a Remain vote, and its near-certain consequence of deeper integration into the EU, poses to the individual-liberty based English legal tradition.

EU legal gavelBecause part of the EU’s overall aim is explicitly to create a specifically EU corpus juris  and what it openly calls a “common legal space”: an expanding both geographical jurisdiction and body of law applicable within it, made by, and administered by, the EU at supranational level.

As ever with the democracy-averse EU, though, the project proceeds both by increments and by stealth, with its ultimate objective not disclosed, because it knows that, were it to be openly proposed in one fell swoop, the voters of member-states would reject it out of hand. But its aim is nothing less than a body of pan-EU law will eventually supplant that of nation-states.

This poses an especially enormous problem for the UK, because of our fundamentally hugely-different legal tradition. Our common law grew from the ground up: it developed through individual judges adjudicating on the individual real-life cases brought before them, weighing the facts on the ground, and making decisions which became precedents over time. Indeed, much of our statute law enacted via the legislature, rather than by judicial decision, has traceable common-law roots.

economic-freedom-index-world-2010_mapThe common law, based on individual liberty, enforcement of property rights, freedom of contract, separation of legislature and judiciary, and protection of the individual from the arbitrary caprices of state and government, is arguably our greatest-ever export. That the Anglosphere countries whose legal systems are based on it have consistently formed some of the freest and most prosperous societies on the planet isn’t an accident, but a discernible consequence of it.

Continental countries, in contrast, have to a much greater extent opted for an entirely different legal tradition of codified law, more often originating in the rarified air of abstract political philosophy, rather than grounded in the gritty, often untidy, reality of peoples’ actual lives, interactions and contracts.

The Continental legal tradition reflects a vision of law, liberty, personal rights, and crucially the relationship between state and individual, that is elementally inimical to our common-law and liberty-based tradition: a conflict summed up in the most frequently observed distinction that in the English tradition you may generally do anything which is not specifically prohibited, as opposed to the Continental tradition, where you may generally do nothing that is not specifically permitted.

Yet it’s that Continental tradition that informs the legal systems of the vast majority of EU member-states and which the EU’s corpus juris will overwhelmingly reflect. That shouldn’t be surprising: the EU is, after all, nothing if not a deliberately statist, top-down, technocratic, democracy-circumventing project, and for its legal system not also to conform to that philosophy would be an astonishing inconsistency.

Scales of Justice EnglishBut it’s into that illiberal tradition that a vote to Remain in the EU will consign us. Or, more likely, condemn us. In prospect are the subsumption of some the most cherished institutions and protections of our English common-law liberty – habeas corpus: the right to know the charges arraigned against you: the right to expeditious justice: the right to face your accusers in public court: the right to be tried by a jury of your peers, not by state-appointed judges – into the Continental legal tradition where these are either absent, muted, or susceptible to being set aside on the grounds of State expediency.

The law of the jurisdiction of England and Wales, whether common law or statute, doesn’t belong to MPs, much less to Ministers or Government. It belongs to us, the people. When we send MPs to Westminster, we don’t transfer ownership or possession of our law to them: we merely delegate them temporary custody of it and political responsibilty for its administration – nothing more. The law of England and Wales is not the exclusive property of transient Government or MPs to jettison, abandon or give away to another polity, without our specific consent.

Anglosphere 1We aren’t “European”. Our core values, beliefs & legal traditions give us far more in common with our Anglosphere first cousins. The Continental tradition of codified law & centralised statism is fundamentally inimical to Anglosphere ideas of freedom & liberty. Throughout our history, we’ve chosen different solutions to these fundamental questions than have our European neighbours: solutions developed ground-up, rooted in individual liberty & lived experience, not derived from abstract theory of political philosophy.

It’s that rich heritage that we still have a couple of hours to retrieve and re-energise.

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I Wasn’t Wrong. I Just Underestimated.

In my March 2015 prediction of the tenor and conduct of the EU Referendum, if anything, I underestimated just how dirty it would be.

Back in March 2015, I wrote an article for fellow-Brexiteer Ben Kelly over at The Sceptic Isle, on how the EU Referendum, whenever it came, would play out. (Ben has archived it, so I can’t link to it, but fortunately I kept a Word copy of it).

The first part of the piece was a prediction of how the referendum would be conducted. Here it is:

“Whenever it comes, the EU Referendum campaign will undoubtedly be the dirtiest and most deceitful plebiscite ever seen in Britain. For the EU-enthusiasts disproportionately represented in opinion-influencing circles, there is simply too much at stake for it not to be.

For them, an OUT vote means a popular re-affirmation of the democratic, sovereign nation-statehood they have spent almost their entire adult lives repudiating. It means a national rejection of the centre-leftish, universalist, democracy-bypassing supranationalism of unelected elites, which they believe is the necessary civilising antidote to the unpredictable caprices of robust, accountable one-country pluralism.

The overwhelmingly EU-phile politico-media establishment, including the three main legacy parties, will exaggerate the supposed benefits and advantages of EU membership, and simultaneously downplay or suppress its drawbacks. There will be massive scaremongering to overstate, in wildly dramatic fashion, the alleged risks of exit, whether to UK jobs, economic growth, ease of travel, or even our much-vaunted but much less evident “influence”.

Even in the 2014 EU Parliament elections, we saw the readiness of the EU-phile movement to retail the risible “3m jobs at risk” meme, and the media’s willingness to boost it, despite its evident falsehood. The personal smearing of advocates for withdrawal will be constant, and vicious. It will be a media negative-propaganda campaign such as we have never before seen.

Hand-in-glove with the media will be what will be trailed as “the voice of business” – more accurately, the voice of big business and its representative organisations like the CBI, which benefits most from the crony-corporatism that the EU exemplifies. Big business values the EU for the competitive advantage it brings: large firms have sufficient size and economies of scale to absorb the mountains of EU regulation and attendant compliance costs that both deter new entrants and cripple their smaller, nimbler competitors. They will do everything to maintain that advantage.

Meanwhile, pro-EU campaign groups and third-sector “charities” and quangos will be vocal in support of EU membership and its alleged benefits as never before. Our emotions will be assaulted by heart-rending warnings of hardship and unfairness to recipients of charity if EU regulations cease to apply on exit.

The anti-exit movement will be backed by massive financial support, not least from the EU itself. For the EU, the stakes in a UK exit referendum being held at all are huge – remember, the entire European super-state project is predicated philosophically on the historical inevitability of ever-closer union – but the risks to the EU from that referendum delivering a UK exit are incalculable.

Britain would be the first major country, and economy, to resile from the project. Not only would it take its contributions with it, but it would almost certainly tempt others to follow. The possibility of it being the thin edge of the wedge, and the first step in the breakup of the entire edifice, could not be discounted.

The extent of EU funding which has been funnelled to the BBC and the CBI is well-known.

BBC CBI comp

But the EU has also been quietly suborning civic society, and even local government, with EU funding, for many years. The recipients cannot be expected to do other than campaign vociferously for its continuation. The EU will pour money into the pro-EU, anti-exit campaign – because its own very survival could be at stake.

History shows, too, that the status quo exerts a strong voter pull in referenda, and that voting intention in favour of the status quo actually hardens as polling date approaches. Dangling before the electorate the idea that the intended change represents a risky leap into the unknown unfortunately works.”

The purpose behind this quick post isn’t to gloat, or to say “See, I told you so!” I’d much rather I’d been completely wrong, and that after a robust but more-or-less civilised campaign on the substantive issues, Britain was now irreversibly on course for a Brexit vote.

It’s just to record ruefully, not that I was right, but that I underestimated the depths to which the Government, the mainstream political parties (albeit with some honourable exceptions within them) and the Remain Campaign would sink – or perhaps that should be dive.

But the cynical, shameless exploitation, by all, of the MP Jo Cox’s murder, culminating in what Conservative Woman‘s Laura Perrins rightly calls something that should go down in the political handbook of infamy, plumbs depths of ethical depravity and turpitude even I could not have imagined.

That Britain now seems about to commit what will arguably the greatest act of national self-destruction of the Modern Era is bad enough. That it should do so as a result of being susceptible to baseness of this magnitude is profoundly depressing.

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Stronger IN …. Specious Misrepresentation

Analysis of just one tweet from the Stronger IN campaign shows both its cavalier disregard for factual accuracy and the dishonesty of its overall message

Even with two months of an acrimonious EU Referendum contest still to go, the scaremongering of Stronger IN, the Remain Campaign’s principal vehicle, has already acquired semi-legendary status. Except not, possibly, in the way it anticipated and intended.

Because, with its campaign blatantly mirroring closely the EU-phile Cameroon Government’s Project Fear, every instance of Stronger IN disingenuousness, selective interpretation and outright misrepresentation is rightly attracting immediate and widespread challenge and derision, followed almost every time by a swift and effective rebuttal.

Today has been no exception: but it’s perhaps worth deconstructing one such instance in detail, to show the extent of the deception which is, increasingly, the Remain campaign’s principal (if not its only) tactic.

At 0920 this morning, Lucy Thomas (@lucycthomas ) Stronger IN’s Deputy Director, tweeted thus:

2016.04.27 Cancer ThomasThe implication that Thomas’ tweet clearly intends to convey – that the UK’s specifically leaving the EU would adversely affect, “potentially catastrophically”, not only individual cancer patients’ survival chances but even the future of cancer research itself, instantly looks suspicious. Because, as most people with more than a passing interest in UK current affairs know, the UK’s cancer survival rates, compared to those of other advanced countries, aren’t actually particularly good, even while we’re in the EU.

As the chart below shows, in a grouping of 24 countries, we rate pretty badly – 20th overall, in fact. On relative 5-year mortality rates for cancer patients, over the five-year period 2007-2012, not only are we much, much worse than our Anglosphere cousins the USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand: significantly, we’re also worse than European, but non-EU, Norway and Iceland.

UK Cancer Survival RatesNHS 5-year cancer survival rate OECD

At a more detailed, and solely European level, the same outcomes continue. For, as the chart on the right shows, just compared with Germany and The Netherlands, our 5-year survival rates, over the period 2007-2012 for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer were the worst of all three.

A quick Google search then establishes (in The Guardian, no less) that UK cancer survival rates trail 10 years behind other European countries. It’s worth quoting a two or three sentences in full:

“Five other European countries (Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Norway) also recorded better survival rates for lung cancer in the 1990s than Britain in the 2000s.”

“For colon cancer six European countries (Finland, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden) had better survival rates in the 1990s than Britain achieved 10 years later.”

“In the 2000s 19% of British patients diagnosed with stomach cancer survived. Better survival rates were recorded a decade earlier in Austria, Germany, Italy, Norway and Sweden.”

Norway again. Better cancer survival rates than the UK, and 10 years before. Evidently, not being in the EU isn’t a factor holding back Norway’s progress in tackling the scourge of cancer.

A further quick search yields Cancer Research’s data on worldwide cancer mortality rates, and the chart below:             

Cancer mortality worldwide 2012

It’s immediately obvious that non-EU Switzerland, non-EU Iceland, and non-EU Norway all have lower cancer mortality rates than the UK. In fact, non-EU Switzerland and non-EU Iceland have lower mortality rates than all the rest of the EU, bar Sweden and Finland. Clearly, cancer survival prospects seem, if anything, to be inversely-correlated with EU membership, rather than the opposite.

The empirical data therefore directly contradicts the impression Thomas’ tweet  seems to want to convey.

Next, the content of that link in the actual The Lancet tweet, of which Thomas’ is a Retweet-With-Comment, bears closer examination.

2016.04.27 Cancer Lancet

Perhaps by now unsurprisingly, the article turns out to be inherently speculative, tentative, non-specific, certainly non-medical, and primarily an expression of political viewpoint. Again, it’s worth quoting one or two sentences:

“Part of the inherent difficulty with this debate is that the repercussions of leaving can only be speculated on”

“These unknowns mean that points of argument are often semantic, and emotionally led.”

The article attempts to make two main points. First, it implies that the specific act of withdrawing from membership of the EU political union would be the determinant of worse prognoses and outcomes for UK cancer patients. But, as we’ve seen above, from the better survival rates achieved in non-EU countries, even in Europe, that’s a viewpoint which seems wholly unsupportable.

Second, it argues that ceasing to be in the EU’s political structures presages a diminished level of medical-science co-operation. But, apart from offering no convincing argument why this should be so – why do we need to be in political union with, eg Canada, to co-operate mutually on medical science? – the assumption on which The Lancet’s assertion is based itself appears to be at variance with reality.

The chart below, taken from the UK Medical Research Council’s 2014/15 report, shows the policy influence on UK medical science by originating location:    

UK medical science policy sources

In fact, a mere 7% of policy influence on UK medical science originates from within the EU. The equivalent UK figure is 56%: and it’s evident, moreover, that the residual 37% far outstrips the EU’s contribution of 7% to UK medical science policy origination.

Quite how Brexit would therefore so “potentially catastrophically” affect both UK cancer patient outcomes and UK cancer research is, to say the least, unclear.

This micro-checking exercise on just one tweet from the Stronger In campaign probably took no more than 10-15 minutes, including the time spent tweeting the findings as they became apparent. But what it reveals is a reality totally at variance with the impression its Deputy Director is disingenuously trying to impart.

Lucy Thomas’ narrative is factually inaccurate, specious and dishonest – a perfect metaphor, perhaps, for an entire Remain campaign that’s Stronger In misrepresentation than it is in anything else.   

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Your Advice Is Not Required, Mr President

An open letter to President Obama on British sovereignty, democracy, and the EU Referendum

Dear Mr President

Welcome to the United Kingdom: we hope you enjoy your last official visit to our shores as Head of State. But we also strongly recommend that, while renewing your acquaintance with our own Head of State, you reflect on the immeasurable historical importance, to both our countries, of independent nation-state sovereign democracy: and then conclude that for you to intervene politically in our forthcoming EU Referendum would traduce both our countries’ past histories, not to mention our own current hospitality, and in a way we find entirely unacceptable.

Questions for Obama on Europe

You’re going to try and browbeat us, Mr President, into voting to remain in the EU: in a democratically deficient, supranational political union that you would never even dare recommend to your own fellow-Americans as a political institution into which they should subjugate themselves.

We’ll return to the specifics of that particular piece of hypocrisy later: but you also evidently propose to compound the hypocrisy by pretending that your intervention has our own best interests at heart.

We’re not fooled. We’re well aware that, in governmental, political and diplomatic circles, the so-called Special Relationship is often a platitude thrown by the unscrupulous to the masses to conceal that the United States resolutely and sometimes ruthlessly acts in what it perceives as its own interests, even to the detriment of its own allies’.

We accept that, however, as being no less than how a major power should defend what it sees as its interests – but what we do not and will not accept is your pretence that a grossly-disadvantageous political arrangement for us is somehow in our interest, because it primarily serves your own.

We have a long institutional memory, Mr President. We know how, in the aftermath of World War II, America took advantage of our precarious financial state to insist on the return to convertibility of sterling, thus allowing the dollar to supplant it as the primary currency in large parts of the world.

We know how, to help promote your predecessors’ then already-incipient preference for a pan-European political union, US Marshall Plan funds were lavished on the fascist and collaborationist states whom we had sacrificed so much blood and treasure to help defeat, while we in Britain struggled to rebuild our own infrastructure and society via loans extended by America on unfavourable terms.

We know how the US threatened to destroy sterling by selling all its sterling reserves during the Suez Crisis of 1956, in order to supplant British influence in the Middle East with its own via a strategy of supporting Arab nationalism.

We know how the 1960s débacle over the aborted Skybolt nuclear weapons delivery system revealed your State Department’s making it an arm of US foreign policy that Britain must be in the (then) EEC, whatever the cost to it economically or democratically, because that was key to US interests.

More recently, Mr President, we’re well aware you have been, not merely the most Britain-unfriendly POTUS in modern history, but also arguably one of those most antipathetic to wider Western interests.

Obama Fawning SaudisWe know you have near-humiliated yourself and your country in making obsequious obeisance to the autocratic Wahhabist-Salafist rulers of a Saudi Arabia that funds Jihadism, executes apostates and jails dissenters. Indeed, you arrive in Britain fresh from abasing yourself to a Saudi Arabia that now threatens to inflict enormous damage on your economy if currently classified material exposing its complicity in 9/11 is revealed.  

We know you have sanctioned a path to the development of nuclear weapons by an Iran that makes no attempt to conceal what it sees as its theocratically-mandated destiny to eliminate a democratic nation-state from the face of the earth and extirpate its people, while in the interim hanging young men from cranes in public for being gay.        

Obama dances the tando while Europe Brussels burnsWe’re also aware that, as recently as last month, even as people fought for their lives and Brussels reeled in shock from violent terrorism  – perpetrated by the supremacist religio-totalitarian Islamist ideology that you apparently cannot even bring yourself to name – you were tango-ing the night away in Buenos Aires, canoodling up to an Argentinian regime that still maintains its egregiously-tenuous claim to a British sovereign territory, over 90% of whose British inhabitants declare, via self-determination referendum, their overwhelming wish to remain British. The satirical cartoons captured it so perfectly, didn’t they?

Reasons Brits believe why Obama opposes BrexitSo please don’t insult our intelligence, Mr President, by pretending your impending “advice”, that it’s essential for Britain’s interests for it to remain in the EU, is merely the counsel of a friend who has only our own best interests at heart. We know full well that that is not the case: only 4% of us think it even might be, as opposed to 51% who are under no illusions that US wishes, not British interests, are uppermost in your motivations. You are, in short, no friend of Britain.       

Now consider the European Union you are assuring us that it would disastrous for us to leave, were it to be translated into the American sphere.

Are you prepared to tell Americans they’d have a safer and more secure future, if only they’d agree to give up their independence, sovereignty and representative democracy to submerge themselves in a new supranational political union including Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Guatemala and Paraguay, which was determined to arrogate ever-increasing powers to itself from the democratically-elected national governments of its component nation-states, as an inexorable process of creating one single pan-American superstate?

Are you prepared to tell Americans they’d be far better off in such a pan-American political union whose highest judicial authority was a court in Bolivia, consisting mainly of academic lawyers unfamiliar with American common-law traditions, but which would nevertheless be superior to, and override, your own Supreme Court?

Are you prepared to tell Americans it would be much more to their advantage to immerse themselves in a political union of which one of the cornerstones was the totally free movement of people between the 30+ states from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, with entitlements to generous welfare in their destination country, despite massive economic disparities between them?

Are you prepared to tell Americans it would be so much better for them, in such a political union, for 70% of their laws to be made by an unelected, bureaucratic, corrupt, unaccountable, viscerally anti-democratic Pan-American Commission in Bogota, whose commissioners they weren’t allowed to elect and certainly not vote out, but to which they nonetheless had to send $80 million a day for the privilege?

Obama asks us to stay in what Americans wld never tolerateActually, Mr President, we already know the answer to these questions: you would never suggest to Americans any such thing, because they have already indicated that no more than a third, at most, would support anything remotely like the political settlement to which you  insist disingenuously it is in our own best interests to remain shackled. So until you are prepared to recommend Americans to give up their sovereign democracy to the kind of polity you wish to see continued to be imposed on us, we respectfully suggest that you butt out of our Referendum. Interestingly, over 100 of our own elected lawmakers seem to agree.

At the core of our EU Referendum, standing way above all issues of economics, trade or migration, is one very simple principle, but one whose incontestable, absolute necessity for government by democratic consent it is impossible to over-state: that the laws governing the citizens of a discrete-demos polity can legitimately be those, and only those, made by, and only by, the representatives directly elected by the citizens of that polity, and whom they can remove from office via the ballot-box at the next election.  

The founding fathers of the great nation whose elected leader you, Mr President, will thankfully soon no longer be, considered these principles to be of such paramount importance that they and thousands of their fellow-patriots in the Thirteen Colonies were prepared to sacrifice their own lives to secure them for themselves and their future descendants. So much so that, in a few weeks’ time, on the Fourth Of July, you will celebrate the 240th anniversary of their final success in gaining their independence from a distant imperial power determined to keep its subjects in subjugation.

That you now come to us, to seek for your own interests to persuade us not to take this opportunity to recover self-government on these immutable principles for ourselves, from the 21st century equivalent of that distant imperial power determined to keep its subjects in subjugation, we find nothing short of grotesque.        

Obama GolfWe respectfully suggest, Mr President, that you abandon your plans to intervene in our democratic referendum. Perhaps you could profitably use the time to make a second and final visit to your new apparently ideological near-soulmate Fidel Castro, before the old tyrant is summoned to account by the Grim Reaper.  Or possibly to work on your golf technique, which looks as though it could use some improvement.

Your advice on our vote to decide our future EU destiny is not needed.

 

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Tax-Havens: Also A Force For Good

Far from being solely amoral, piratical facilitators of crime, kleptocracy and evasion, so-called tax-havens in fact also play a valuable role in promoting economic efficiency and curbing State-predation  

Tax havens Panama CitySo-called tax-havens have a bad reputation. In public and political minds, influenced almost wholly by the clamour of either wilfully-ignorant or Leftist-populist media and political hacks, they’re all, without exception, places solely where unsavoury associates of autocrats and plutocrats soak up the sun in between furtively stashing suitcase-loads of ill-gotten gains in anonymous numbered accounts.

As we’ve recently seen all too starkly. Because one of the main features to become glaringly obvious in the Panama Papers leaks, and in the domestic political furore in the UK which has followed it, is a self-evidently widespread inability (or possibly unwillingness) of the politico-media class and commentariat to differentiate the few truly-nefarious tax-havens from the more numerous well-run and properly-regulated offshore financial centres (OFCs) – they are decidedly not the same thing: or to distinguish illegal loot-hiding, money-laundering and tax-evasion, by corrupt despots, criminals and others, from the entirely legal use of OFCs in perfectly legitimate investment and tax-avoidance.

As so often, reality is both more complex, and more nuanced, than media-driven populist perception.

For a start, on the basic issue of definitions. The OECD lists four criteria which a territory or jurisdiction must fulfil in order to qualify as a tax-haven, as opposed to an OFC:

  1. Imposing no, or only nominal, taxes, even domestically
  2. Lack of transparency
  3. Laws and practices that discourage or even prevent automatic exchange of [tax-purposes] information with other governments on the beneficiaries of its tax regime
  4. No stipulation that the activity domiciled in its jurisdiction be substantive

On these criteria, there are relatively few true tax-havens: even the OECD lists only four, and, on its Automatic Exchange Of Information criteria, a mere two.

Tax havens Waterfront Grand CaymanMoreover, and more importantly, the vast majority of the Crown Dependency and British Overseas Territory OFCs, which Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn incorrectly labelled as tax-havens and proposed arbitrarily supplanting their democratically-elected governments to place them under direct rule from Westminster, don’t even fall into the “tax-havens” category at all.

So when no-one seriously opposes measures to prevent, detect and punish both those who undertake criminal tax-evasion, money-laundering and loot-concealment and the few residual disreputable genuine tax-havens which do facilitate them, the real objections by governments, commentators and so-called social-justice campaigners to the legitimate use of OFCs or any low-tax jurisdictions must originate from elsewhere.

Those objections arise from two principal, and unsurprising, sources. Firstly, the misunderstanding, derived from popular fallacies, of the economic good that low-tax jurisdictions promote: and secondly, the competitive threat they represent to the otherwise-unconstrained power of high-taxing, high-spending states to extract taxes from their economies and populations almost ad infinitum.

To address one of the most popular fallacies – that money deposited in OFCs or low-tax jurisdictions is somehow irretrievably “lost” to the global economy. This is just arrant nonsense.

First, it wrongly assumes there is a fixed amount of global capital whose geographical distribution creates a zero-sum game, where any partial deployment of it to Location A must automatically reduce that available in Locations B-Z. In fact global capital is both dynamic, and fungible, and continues being created in those parts of the so-called “losing” mainstream onshore economies that aren’t sensitive to geographically-differing tax rates.

Tax Havens BermudaSecond, it assumes that all capital deployed to low-tax jurisdictions stays there, static. This isn’t necessarily the case – small islands generally don’t have much potential for domestic infrastructure investment or large-scale economic activity – and it’s especially not the case in a period of low or even negative real interest rates. Although the total of assets located in an OFC may change only slowly, that ignores the stock-vs-flow issue, where many of its components parts may be being directed into other forms of investment in other locations, and subsequently repatriated, on a regular basis.

Inasmuch, too, as the location of capital and/or assets in the low-tax jurisdiction encourages their investment to generate a return not achievable if based in a higher-tax jurisdiction, the OFC is actually promoting more FDI in the investment location. In this way, the availability of low-tax OFCs makes them conducive to an increase in overall international investment and in global capital, not its depletion. They are not “poaching more than their fair share” of international capital, but acting as a conduit for its more productive and optimal investment back into mainstream onshore economies.

Third, international systems of taxation don’t always cope well with avoiding the dangers of double-taxation. If you’re an investor (and remember, you may well be, even via an ISA or your employer’s pension scheme) in a fund set up in a country that levies a withholding tax on redemption payouts, but those redemption payouts aren’t taxable domestically in your own country, then recovering the tax that’s been wrongly withheld from you is going to be difficult. By providing a tax-neutral environment, low-tax OFCs perform a valuable role in making sure that your investment, even an indirect one, isn’t taxed twice. That benefits you.

Tax havens Mossack Fonseca PanamaFourth, the fallacy assumes the “losing” country is automatically forced to raise its own domestic tax-rates to replace the tax-revenue “lost” when assets are relocated to a low-tax OFC. Countries, however, don’t operate in isolation from their international environment: lower tax-rates in other jurisdictions act as a restraint on mainstream onshore governments’ own tax-rate policies. Both firms and workers in those economies therefore benefit in purely micro-economic terms from overseas low-tax OFCs, in the form of lower taxes domestically than might be levied otherwise.

Next, low-tax OFCs also fulfil a vital function in providing a safe harbour for wealth legitimately created and held, against the tendency of inherently corrupt, dictatorial  & kleptocratic regimes to predate on it.

Depending on the definitions chosen, there are approximately 170-190 countries in the world: but only a minority are full democracies where the government is subject to the rule of law and scrutiny by a free Press. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2014 in fact lists a mere 24 as full democracies and a further 52 as flawed, out of a total of the 167 rated, leaving over 90 regimes described as either hybrid or (the majority) authoritarian. Perhaps not surprisingly, there’s a correlation between the latter categories and the Transparency International Corruptions Index 2015’s assessment of the most corrupt countries.

Most & Least Corrupt Countries 2014

These are countries where even if, against all the odds, an honest entrepreneur, investor or businessman manages legitimately to amass capital and assets, they are liable to be arbitrarily seized at any time by the regime, either unashamedly or via a quasi-criminal or complicit judiciary, and confiscated. By existing at all, low-tax OFCs furnish a safe refuge for such assets. In this role, rather than encouraging or facilitating corruption, they are in fact operating so as to thwart it.

Benefits of Tax CompetitionLastly, low-tax OFCs form a valuable macro-economic brake on the overall ability of excess-spending, excess-taxing governments to otherwise levy punitively-high taxes without restraint. In the absence of the tax-rate competition provided by lower-taxing jurisdictions, it’s unlikely that governments, viscerally-disinclined on both ideological and electoral grounds to curtail State intervention and largesse, would not take the opportunity to impose economically-damaging higher taxes generally. 

It’s primarily for this reason that the member-states of supranational political unions like the EU are so enthused by the prospect of cross-border harmonisation of taxes, or centralised democracy-proof pan-European fiscal control, as the corollary to curbing the legitimate activities of low-tax offshore financial centres. 

The vocal but unthinking critics of low-tax OFCs, in their haste to condemn what they see as the obvious, miss a point – that they are also a force for good. The existence, and legitimate activities, of low-tax OFCs both promote greater economic, capital-allocation and investment efficiency, and indirectly benefit employers, employees and consumers in the mainstream onshore economies by protecting them from excess State predation.     

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