Tag: Democracy

Tory Brexiteer MPs: United in Disunity, Adamant for Uncertainty

Unless the various pro proper-Brexit Tory MP factions get their act together, both to defeat May’s BRINO-Deal and force a pivot to a WTO-terms No-Deal, a proper Brexit risks being lost altogether

Note: longer and updated version of article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Monday 3rd December 2018

Barring some currently unanticipated anti-climax, the next week, culminating in the House of Commons vote scheduled for Tuesday 11th December, on Theresa May’s duplicitously conceived and deceitfully mis-represented Brexit-In-Name-Only Withdrawal Agreement, promises to be the most momentous week in our political history for the last 25 years, since the passage of the Maastricht Treaty in 1993.

It will potentially decide whether Britain’s destiny for the next few decades is to be that of a once-again independent, outward-looking, sovereign democracy, or a weakened, impotent, deferentially-grovelling satrapy on the fringes of the neo-colonial Brussels Empire.

The stakes could not be higher. Yet the principal players in the grouping of MPs in whose hands most lies the power, not only to halt but reverse the monstrous betrayal of country, and arguably of democracy itself, which, given the outcome of the 2016 EU referendum, the latter fate would be – the putative “Tory Brexiteers” – are a self-indulgent, fissiparous gaggle of biddable loyalties, concealed ambitions and flexible reliability.

We can first dismiss the so-called “Cabinet Brexiteers”. They deserve little but our eternal contempt. Once Boris Johnson, David Davis and Steve Baker had all resigned in the wake of the Chequers Summit, their “We will stay in the Cabinet and continue to press the Prime Minister to change her approach from inside” position looked increasingly unconvincing and self-serving: but, once Dominic Raab and Esther McVey had also resigned, rather than support May’s Orwellian-labelled “Withdrawal” Agreement, their position became almost comically untenable.

Panny Mordaunt, Andrew Leadsom, Liam Fox, Chris Grayling and Michael Gove appear to have maintained their implausible positions only up to the point when, forced to choose between upholding democracy and their manifesto pledges, or retaining the trappings & rewards of Ministerial/Cabinet office, they seem to chosen the latter, suddenly becoming converts to May’s BRINO-Deal with attempted justifications, not excluding warnings that rejection may mean Brexit not happening at all, which are wholly unpersuasive.

Leadson, Gove, Fox, 3 of the Fatuous Five

It was Mordaunt, remember, who sought the right to both stay in Cabinet, thus keeping her rewards of office, and  oppose May’s BRINO-Deal on the floor of the House of Commons, thus keeping her “Brexiteer” credentials. When May refused, she decided to stay in Cabinet and back May, rather than resign.

Gove lost the last vestiges of his fast-diminishing credibility, but enhanced his fast-growing reputation for cynical, unprincipled opportunism, by demanding the freedom to change Government Brexit policy as a condition of accepting May’s offer of the Brexit Secretary role in place of Raab, only to back down when rebuffed, not resign, and agree to stay in Cabinet as DEFRA Secretary to support May in selling the very deal he demanded the freedom to change because it was so bad.

The supposed submitters of the necessary 48 Letters of No Confidence in May’s leadership to the 1922 Committee have not been much better. There was a seeming naiveté on the part of their de facto leader Jacob Rees-Mogg in taking at face value all who had assured him that their own letters had been submitted, when in fact they had not.

The “revolt” collapsed in a welter of recriminations, doing nothing to suggest this was, or is likely to be, an effective route to stopping Parliamentary approval of May’s Withdrawal Agreement. Some some senior staunch Brexiteers, notably Iain Duncan Smith, Bernard Jenkin and Owen Paterson, appeared not to have joined the letter-writers’ ranks at all.

Rumours circulated of knighthoods and peerages dangled as inducements to support for May. Talking of which, it was interesting to speculate, such is the febrile atmosphere, whether something an ostensibly innocuous at this might be preparing the ground for a climbdown from opposing May’s shamefully-capitulating Withdrawal Deal by using some trifling, cosmetic-only amendment to the Northern Ireland backstop as an excuse.

2018.11.24 Jenkin on May BRINO-Deal

The younger, more recent, more committed to Brexit intake of Tory MPs, however, give more grounds for hope. Just to take three at random, the personal statements of opposition to May’s BRINO-Deal and pledges to vote against it from MPs Julia Lopez, Suella Braverman, and Lucy Allan, are impressive.

Conservative Home has been maintaining a running total of how many Tory MPs now oppose May’s (non)-Brexit deal. At the time of writing, and including all of the ‘definitely’, ‘probably’, and ‘maybe’ categories, stands at approximately 100.

Together with the DUP and Labour Eurosceptics, this ought to be enough to ensure the deal’s defeat – unless Labour and the other Europhile parties for whom it is not Remain-ery enough do an about-turn and support the Government. Quite what May’s position would be in the event of her widely criticised and opposed Brexit withdrawal deal passing via reliance on Labour votes is a moot point.

Moreover, not for nothing is the ‘Conservative’ Party in Parliament known as one of the most capricious and untruthful electorates in the world. The stories of pledges in public to support A, promises in private to back B, only to vote for C in reality, are legendary, which makes all the responses and surmising used in calculating numbers consumable only with a large pinch of salt.

It looks increasingly likely at the time of writing that May will seek to convert some of the waverers by framing the Commons debate in tribal political party terms, a Conservatives vs Labour contest, rather than the Leave vs Remain, or at least Clean-Brexit vs Closet-Remain   tussle which it both is and ought to be presented as. This is already obvious from May’s insistence that what promised to be farcial all-Remain TV ‘debate’ is structured on this basis, demanding to go head to head only with Jeremy Corbyn, but not with either Johnson or Rees-Mogg, both of whom she knows would, figuratively-speaking, eviscerate her.

Furthermore, although there apppears to be a Tory consensus against May’s BRINO-Deal, that consensus fractures as soon as it comes to discussion what should happen next, after its expected defeat. Incredibly, some MPs favour going back to the EU and asking for better terms, despite Brussels’ insistence none will be offered.

Others (some, it should be noted, until quite recently Remainers) are trying to revive the idea of a EEA/Norway-style option, despite its inability to cover the one point may seems able to fixate on, namely Freedom of Movement, and notwithstanding its other flaws.

Yet others, one suspects, would like nothing more than to drop the whole idea of leaving the EU, and forget about Brexit altogether – no doubt hoping that by the time the next scheduled General Election comes round, the electorate will have subsided from anger into a sullen, grudging acceptance. Some hope.

All of these must be avoided, despite the predictable efforts of Theresa May and her No 10 team to divide and rule. The defeat of May’s deceitful and damaging BRINO-Deal must trigger a coalescing of approval around an exit from the EU on No-Deal, WTO terms. Not only is it the most advantageous both financially and economically: it is the only option that delivers the elements of the settlement for which a majority of voters, in a 72 per cent turnout, voted.

Given the anger at May’s perceived betrayal reported from around the country outside the Westminster Bubble, even within the Conservative Party itself as local constituency associations flatly refuse to deliver leaflets backing May’s deal, it is likely also to be the only option that would assist the avoidance of a catastrophic breakdown of public trust in democracy and its institutions, and which might – just – ensure the ‘Conservative’ Party’s unmerited survival as a viable political force.

But unless the ‘Conservative’ Party’s so-called Brexiteers put aside their differences, resist both inducements and threats from their Party Leader, and combine both to defeat May’s BRINO-Deal and force a pivot to a No-Deal EU withdrawal to WTO terms, there is now a real risk that Brexit will be finished, and lost, with hugely damaging consequences. That their Party will be finished also, and deservedly so, is scant consolation.

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Fisking Mickey Fab

Deconstructing Conservative MP Michael Fabricant’s pledge to vote against Theresa May’s BRINO-Deal illustrates the modern ‘Conservative’ Party’s ‘party before country’ reputation 

I must admit to having a bit of a sneaking regard for Michael Fabricant, the Tory MP for Lichfield.

He has the refreshing qualities, all too rare in an MP, firstly of not taking himself too seriously, and secondly of not being afraid to ruffle the right-on feathers of the serially-offended with a deliciously off-message, politically-incorrect put-down.

Like his tweeting a sardonic “Well, about time”, when the sphincter-clenchingly P-C, Cameroon-‘liberal’, SJW-‘feminist’, and unrepentant expenses-fiddler Maria Miller, Tory MP for Basingstoke – she of the smirking, 32-seconds, insouciant, non-apologetic ‘apology’ to the House of Commons – finally deigned to accept the inevitable and reluctantly relinquished her Ministerial chair.

Or his observation (possibly sympathised with, if not exactly shared, by much of country, in truth) that he’d find it difficult to share a discussion panel with the illiberal, irascibly-leftist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown without resorting to violence

2014.06.20 Mickey Fab Alibhai-Brown

So it’s quite instructive to examine in detail his latest piece a couple of days ago for The Daily Telegraph on how and why he plans to vote on Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Agreement, aka BRINO-Deal, aka Instrument of Capitulation, when it comes before Parliament on Tuesday 11th December. Perhaps a little fisking – not much seen these days – might be in order. 

TGraph headline Mickey Fab

Keep that headline in  mind. It’s highly relevant to what’s to come.

Fabricant starts well. He summarises the thrust of Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech of January 2017, especially her declaration of intent to leave the Customs Union, Single Market, and jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and her warning that remaining in the first two would in effect be not leaving the EU at all. Then he goes on to criticise how this has been diluted: 

“Historians will come to write the story of how Lancaster House morphed into present Government policy. It will be a story of the inflexibility of EU leaders, the botched 2017 general election, and the tin ear of British political leadership. By leaving most of the negotiations to civil servants, any semblance of political sensitivity was lost.”

Isn’t he missing something? The deliberate deception by no less than the Prime Minister herself of her Cabinet, her MPs, her party, her voters, and the country, side-lining and ignoring the preparatory work being done by the Department for Exiting the EU while cynically using it as camouflage, in a No. 10 backstairs operation to devise her Chequers Plan in secret and pre-clear it with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, before imposing it on Cabinet at ultra-short notice and declaring it to be un-amendable, threatening to sack any Cabinet Minister who objected to either its process or its content?

“After the Eastleigh by-election when Ukip won 28 per cent of the vote and came a close second to the Liberal Democrats, I told David Cameron that unless the European question was neutralised, we would never be able to form a government. Ukip, or a similar party, would always shave 6-10 per cent off Conservative votes in our marginal seats.”

Fabricant here in effect admits that his prime reason for recommending Cameron in 2013 to concede an In/Out EU Referendum was not the principled democratic one of giving the electorate the chance to have its first vote in 38 years on Britain’s continuing membership of the EU: but the narrow, partisan, party-management one of ensuring “the European question was neutralised” so as to secure Tory Party electoral advantage. Party before country, in other words.

“I realise the huge risks in voting against the Government on this issue. The Government might collapse, we might crash out of Europe in March over a precipice, or it might even jeopardise Brexit itself.”

It’s a shame to see Fabricant, apparently a committed Brexiteer, channelling the standard Continuity-Remainer / BBC description of a reversion, if there is no deal, to trading with the EU bloc on the same WTO terms as do over 100 other non-EU countries as a “crash out of Europe over a precipice”.

But his first worry seems to be that the Government might collapse. Well, I suspect that the nation could possibly suffer much worse imminently than the collapse of a justifiably unpopular Government, which even Fabricant himself rightly criticises. In comparison , the risk of Brexit not happening at all, with its enormous adverse implications for public trust in democracy itself, seems to rank only third.   

“But the risks of accepting this deal are even greater. If we leave the EU with this agreement, the sense of betrayal will be overwhelming and the Conservative Party will be out of office for a decade or more. Arlene Foster has already said the DUP will revisit the confidence and supply arrangement if the Withdrawal Agreement passes.”

Fabricant is undoubtedly right that the sense of betrayal will be overwhelming: but once again, it’s the implications of that sense of betrayal on the future electoral prospects of, and the future likelihood of occupying office for, the ‘Conservative’ Party which seem to be paramount here, not on a disastrous collapse in public trust in the entire democratic process.

“However, there is an alternative. After a Commons defeat, No 10 could regain the initiative. We could still enter into a free trade agreement with the EU – an agreement encouraged by Merkel and Macron. And contingency no-deal planning could still mean an orderly, and more complete, Brexit.”

Given May’s intransigence and stubbornness, and her subservience to her coterie of anti-Brexit advisers and officials, the idea that she could somehow pivot, from a Commons defeat of the deal into which she has invested so much personal and political capital to seeking a Free Trade Agreement alternative, seems to be in the realms of fantasy – even if it had not already been dashed, as Fabricant himself acknowledges a few paragraphs earlier, by Macron’s avowed determination. . .

“to keep us in the backstop as blackmail until the UK agrees to France’s demands on fishing rights in British waters”.

The crucial message comes in the way the concluding paragraph links back to the headline:

“I rarely vote against my Government, but conscience and the long-term future of my nation, and yes, my party too, take precedence”

It’s hard not to wonder whether Fabricant’s perception of the national interest being fortuitously in alignment with Party interest isn’t once again the major reason for his decision. After all, the ‘Conservative’ Party is saddled, by no means unfairly, with the “party before country” label: with the assumption, not just among the Left, that when it comes to the crunch, it will always prioritise its own survival above the interests of the country: that it’s what Tories always, with very few exceptions, do.

Fabricant’s citing that reason so explicitly will do little to dispel the Tories’ “party before country” reputation. He should be voting against Theresa May’s execrable BRINO-Deal to save his country, and for no other reason. In comparison, the fate of his party, and even less, its current leader, is immaterial.

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The Tories’ “Brexit Rebels” Are Merely Paper Tigers

The ‘Conservative’ Party’s Brexiteers have so far flattered only to deceive. Instead of weakening or thwarting May’s betrayal of the Brexit vote, they have instead weakened mainly their own position, and effectiveness.  

Note: this is the longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Monday 19th November 2018

So, at long last, something did actually happen – even if it now looks likely to un-happen.

After months of periodic elegantly-phrased, impeccably-modulated, but ultimately unfulfilled threats to initiate the defenestration of Theresa May, routinely larded with excessively-deferential banalities along the lines of “Mrs May is an honourable Prime Minister, who can be persuaded to change her mind” – when it would have been obvious even from the far side of Mars that neither statement was true – Jacob Rees-Mogg, de facto leader of the ‘Conservative’ Party’s so-called Brexit Rebels in the backbench European Research Group, on Thursday last finally submitted his much-trailed Letter Of No Confidence in Theresa May to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee.

Goodness knows, it was long enough in the gestation. From the beginning of July, when the scale of both the extent and duplicity of May’s Brexit betrayal – of which her infamous Chequers Summit turned out to be merely the start – began to become apparent, the Rebels have repeatedly threatened, only to resile. It seemed that Rees-Mogg et al would forever huff and puff but never quite get round to actually trying to blow the May House down until it was too late, if at all.

Brexiteers give May a two-month stay of execution”, reported The Times on 6th September. “Theresa May must change her Brexit strategy now, or risk her own Black Wednesday”, fulminated Rees-Mogg in The Daily Telegraph on 20th October. And even more recently, the Group’s organiser, Steve Baker, withdrew an amendment to the Northern Ireland Bill in the House of Commons, the effect of which would have been to make any backstop in the EU Withdrawal Agreement illegal.

It hasn’t been, and it won’t be, enough. The old adage “he who hesitates is lost” may well remain true: only in this case, it’s the so-called Tory Brexit Rebels who have hesitated, but it’s we who will have lost.

JRM presser St Stephen HoC Fri 15-Nov-18First, simple tactics. Whether the Rebels actually wanted Rees-Mogg’s letter to be the decisive one which hit the magic number of 48 needed to trigger the Vote Of No Confidence in May is uncertain, but in the event, it seems that it wasn’t, because rumour had it, and it has now been confirmed, that the necessary 48 letters have so far still not been received. If they aren’t, then that crowded Rees-Mogg press conference outside St Stephen’s Entrance to Parliament on Friday is going to look premature at best, and futile at worst.

How much better would it have been, tactically, to have waited a few days, certainly until after May’s predictably unimpressive, even mendacious, performance on Sky NewsRidge On Sunday yesterday, and then try to ensure as far as possible that Rees-Mogg’s was the letter whose submission was the 48th, and thus triggered the vote. That would have had far more impact.

Next, the Parliamentary arithmetic for a vote of no confidence in May remains essentially unchanged from when I described it earlier in the year. It might even have tightened slightly in May’s favour, from a combination of the careerist payroll-vote which a sitting PM can usually rely on for support, and the fear among even some Leave-voting MPs that removing May could precipitate a General Election which could well bring about not only the loss of their own seats but probably the decimation and possibly even the near-destruction of their party.

Remember, prioritising the survival of their party over the interests of the country, and even of sovereignty and democracy itself, is embedded deep within Tory MPs’ DNA.

Finally, it’s arguable, and becoming more so by the day as the 48 letters fail to materialise, that, instead of going for a Vote Of No Confidence, which means that May would be untouchable for another year if she survives it – and God only knows what further damage she will do if that happens – concentrating on defeating her egregious Soft-Remain, BRINO-Deal on the floor of the House of Commons stands a better chance of bringing about her demise as Tory Leader and PM.

It was Iain Martin, of The Times and Reaction, who first raised this rather more intriguing and subtle possibility last Friday. . . 

2018.11.16 Iain Martin re ERG & LoNC in May

. . . but it has been swiftly followed by others. 

The Tories need to bide their time before toppling Mrs May“, wrote Iain Dale, arguing persuasively that the failure of the requisite 48 letters to be submitted has reduced the likelihood of a challenge to May, and therefore to her damaging and rightly unpopular (Non)-Brexit Deal, being successful by that route, and would have been higher had they waited until her deal was defeated in the Commons.

Paradoxically, by disclosing their (weaker than both claimed and thought) hand in advance, they may have swung a few potentially-crucial votes behind her deal from Tory MPs who want to see her deal ditched, but not necessarily her – although how she could survive the rejection by the House of a deal in which she’s invested so much personal and political capital is hard to see. But the Rebels have certainly muddied the waters.

Significantly, some senior staunch Brexiteers, notably Iain Duncan Smith, Bernard Jenkin and Owen Paterson, appear not to have joined the ranks of letter-submitters, perhaps keeping their powder dry for the coming House of Commons battle. That, plus the number of letters falling short, has predictably initiated a flurry of recriminations, so that the backbench move to oust May appears, temporarily at least, to have stalled. 

Now consider the so-called “Cabinet Brexiteers”. Their “We will stay in Cabinet and continue to press the PM to change her approach from inside” position has looked increasingly unconvincing and self-serving since Boris Johnson, David Davis and Steve Baker all resigned from the Government in the wake of the Chequers Summit. But it’s surely now been rendered all but untenable with the publication of May’s draft Withdrawal Agreement and the substantial backlash against it.

Yet at the time of writing, only Dominic Raab and Esther McVey have resigned in protest at it, declaring that they cannot in all conscience support it, along with a slew of more junior ministers and PPS’s.

Andrea Leadsom, Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Penny Mordaunt and Liam Fox, having previously hinted they would back whatever deal May concluded “as it won’t get through the Commons anyway”, will now, we are told, form a “Brexit Caucus” inside Cabinet “to lobby May to renegotiate the draft text”.

To which one might reasonably ask in response: just what the hell have you been doing there until now, then, if not precisely that? These aptly-labelled “Fatuous Five” are now irretrievably complicit in May’ deceptions, and have lost all credibility.

Leadson, Gove, Fox, 3 of the Fatuous Five

Gove, in my view, lost his some time ago. That impression has only been heightened by his demanding the freedom to change Government Brexit policy as a condition of accepting May’s offer of the Brexit Secretary role in place of Raab, only to back down when rebuffed, not resign, and agree to stay in Cabinet as DEFRA Secretary to support May in selling the very deal he demanded the freedom to change. He is beyond the Pale.

Fox, having at one time been the most ardent of ardent Brexiteers, has gone one better. Not only will he not resign. Not only will he stay in Cabinet to support May as International Trade Secretary, despite being prevented by the terms of her (Non)-Brexit deal from actually concluding any international trade deals. He managed to confirm his status as a unprincipled, hypocritical turncoat by penning a sycophantic defence of May, of the generality of her deal, and of course of his own continuing presence in Cabinet to assist her in persuading the EU to ameliorate its more punitive provisions. 

Despite a worrying tendency to pander to the left-‘liberal’ PC-SJW agenda, I had expected more of Mordaunt: at least until she started bargaining with May to be able remain in Cabinet but vote against May’s deal in the Commons, which looked like a classic case of wanting her cake and eating it. She has not resigned either. 

As for Grayling and Leadsom, they now appear to be limited to bleating implausibly that they can still thwart or at least modify May’s (non)-Brexit deal from the inside, principally, presumably so as to hang on to their red boxes & ministerial limousines, without which they are nothing.

It need not have been like this. Right from the Chequers Summit, there were avenues open to the so-called Brexit Rebels to not only register but manifest their opposition. There are several courses of action they could have taken. They could have voted down, not just abstained on, Government Bills. They could have voted down the Budget, which would almost certainly have been politically-fatal for May.

There are several course of action they could still take. They could repudiate the Tory Whip and caucus instead as Independent Brexit Conservatives. They could resign and trigger by-elections. They could threaten to support Labour in a full No-Confidence motion. They could even split off into a new pro-Brexit Real Conservative Party (which, frankly, would be justified anyway, even if Brexit did not exist, because of May’s continuing conduct of her ministry as if it was a third-rate Tony Blair-Ed Miliband tribute-act).

Any or all of those could certainly force her out. Sitting on their hands and hoping for something to turn up won’t. The so-called Brexit Rebels, inside and outside Cabinet, have bungled it, and handed the initiative to May – almost to the extent of making one wonder whether they have in fact functioned as a controlled opposition, all along. After all, acquiring or clinging to office, and ensuring the survival of their party, is what motivates the allegedly ‘Conservative’ Party above all else, so it would be unwise to dismiss the possibility.     

Though I have no doubt that if, by 2032, Britain is still locked into in the EU, only more so than now, and additionally has been forced sign up to Schengen and adopt the euro, Jacob Rees-Mogg will be very cross indeed and may even go so far as to write another strongly-worded letter. He may even send it at the right time, and not prematurely.

But I may be being too harsh. There’s perhaps a tragic naiveté about a politician like Jacob Rees-Mogg – believing that his Parliamentary Party has any principles beyond individual members’ personal ambition and collective survival at whatever cost in political credibility. Theresa May, in contrast, as someone who is entirely cynical, devious and unprincipled, understands that it does not and never will have – and exploits it to the full.

It used to be axiomatic in business to under-promise but over-deliver. Politicians, by definition, do the exact opposite. But the so-called Tory Brexit Rebels have made it into an art form. They are turning out to be men and women of straw. Paper Tigers indeed.

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After Brexit, Reform Our UK Democracy

Neither our current democracy, nor our present Parliament, are institutions fit to be entrusted once again with the powers of self-government we will have succeeded in retrieving from Brussels

Note: this is the longer (and updated) version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 28th August 2018 

Over two years after Britain voted, narrowly but still decisively, to leave the European Union, that it remains necessary to say “if Brexit happens”, is not only a shameful indictment of the ruling class’ contempt for mass democracy, but also a warning of what must follow if it does happen.

52 per cent of those who voted in the EU Referendum, no fewer than 17.4 million people, voted Leave – the largest vote for a single policy in British political history. On the best academic psephologists’ estimates, approximately 63 per cent of Parliamentary constituencies voted Leave. Approximately 85 per cent of votes cast in the 2017 General Election went to the two main parties whose manifestos and candidates both pledged to respect and implement the Referendum result.

Yet about 70 per cent of the 650 MPs who purport to represent us were opposed to Brexit, and still are. Even before the Referendum, a significant number voted against one being held at all.

Many of those 2017 election pledges were self-evidently made dishonestly. Over the past two years, we have seen repeated Parliamentary obstruction – from both the elected Commons and, even worse, the unelected and unaccountable Lords, and often going down to knife-edge votes – to almost every Brexit-progressing measure introduced by a government that is clearly reluctant to implement the electorate’s decision.

This experience has surely, therefore, made one thing abundantly clear: that, if Brexit does happen, we cannot retrieve from Brussels our powers of governing and legislating ourselves, only to vest them once more in the very same Westminster Parliament which not only spent the last 45 years eagerly giving them away in the first place, but which still vehemently opposes their repatriation and our recovery of democratic self-government.

So Brexit must, in my view, be followed very quickly by significant Parliamentary and electoral reform, to strengthen democracy & the power of the electorate over the legislature, and to curb its ability to ignore or negate the expressed majority-view of the voters – to make legislature, government and executive work, not in the interests of the New-Class Establishment-Elite’s cartel, but in the interests of the people.

We must start with abolition of the unelected, unaccountable, House of Lords, which has become largely a refuge for superannuated politicians after their rejection by the electorate, a bauble with which to reward donors, or a safe harbour for otherwise unelectable placemen. It has been teetering on the edge of democratic legitimacy for years, but its conduct during the passage of Brexit-related legislation has surely signed its death warrant.

Many of the intemperate, anti-democratic speeches made by unelected Peers during the Lords’ passage of the EU Withdrawal Bill, outraged that the great unwashed masses of the British electorate had been allowed to determine their own constitutional future, and that their decision dared to diverge from that of their betters, will rightly be forgotten and consigned to the dustbin of history.

Two, however, should be preserved for posterity, to remind us at some future date of what we needed to rid ourselves of. In the first, Lord (Chris) Patten, pillar of the Europhile ‘Liberal’-Elitist Establishment, on the, to him, intolerable folly of removing such decisions from him and his ilk exclusively:


In the second, Lord Hailsham, better known to politics watchers as former Conservative MP Douglas Hogg, who acquired during the 2009 Parliamentary expenses scandal a justly permanent notoriety, for charging to the long-suffering taxpayer such items essential to the performance of his Parliamentary duties as the costs of cleaning his moat, tuning his piano, and fixing the stable lights at his Lincolnshire manor-house

That Britain needs a bi-cameral legislature is undeniable: but that the House of Lords as presently constituted should under no circumstances comprise its upper, revising, Chamber, is surely equally so. Whatever format we eventually settle on is debatable: but that it must be on the basis of selection by universal franchise, not favours and cronyism, is a sine qua non.

Reform of candidate selection should be high on the list. The Tories’ notorious A-List of Metro-Cameroon Cuties to be imposed on unwilling constituencies has thankfully gone, and Labour’s dominance by hard-left Momentum seem to have done for All-Wimmin shortlists: but neither main party, with the occasional exception, appears at all keen to open up their candidacy processes to a wider selection and thus make them, not only more transparent, but more representative of their local members’ views and concerns.

So the case for constituency Open Primaries, by which all the members or even the registered supporters of a party in it can choose their candidate, is strong. There have been too many instances, in all parties, of either centrally-favoured rising stars, or ministers dumped out of a marginal and desperately in need of a safe seat, being foisted on to constituencies against their will, to the detriment of a sound local candidate who knows the constituency and its concerns far better.        

A proper Recall Mechanism, by which a minimum percentage of constituents can “recall” a MP to face re-election, is a priority. Momentum for one, unsurprisingly, accelerated after the 2009 expenses scandal, and intensified when several MPs were caught out having voted in debates on legislation, in the outcome of which they had a direct financial interest.

One of whom, co-incidentally, was one Richard Drax, who made several protesting interventions when a Recall Bill was finally debated, to the effect that MPs were all honourable men whose reputations might suffer were their constituents to read in the Press that they were the subject of a Recall Petition. Which, you might think, was precisely the point.   

But it’s not only to deal with misconduct that a Recall Mechanism is required. Since the 2016 EU Referendum was held, one of the main talking points of its aftermath has been the huge disparity, in so many Parliamentary constituencies, between MPs and their voters on the issue of Britain’s EU membership.

That has exacerbated the need for proper Recall. In both main parties, how many Remainer MPs allegedly “representing” solidly Leave-voting constituencies would persist in obstructing Brexit in defiance of their electorates, if a mere 5 or 10 per cent of their voters could trigger a Recall and force them to re-stand for election and possibly lose their seat?

MPs, of course, are dead against it. Tory Zac Goldsmith’s Bill presented in the 2010-2015 Parliament, to allow constituents to recall an errant MP to face re-election, was watered-down almost to the point of ineffectiveness. MPs decreed instead that only a committee made up of themselves was fit to decide whether one of their fellow-MPs had misbehaved sufficiently to have to account to his electorate. So far, astonishingly, none has been so judged. That must now change.

More Direct Democracy is needed, both to counter the tendency of the elected to ignore the views of their electorates once elected, and to sustain and/or enhance voter engagement in politics.

For national-level democratic participation we must rely on a once-in-5-years cross-marking exercise, based on manifesto commitments and campaign promises which relatively few expect their parties to honour. But in an age when we can book a holiday, arrange life-insurance, or apply for a university course with a few mouse-clicks or screen-touches, why should this be?

The Swiss manage to hold between 7 and 9 referendums each year, and on issues other than major constitutional questions like the voting system or EU membership, and are hardly the divided society that the anti-referendum campaigners claim. In fact, that the Swiss are also regularly the people expressing the highest confidence in their system of government is no coincidence.

confidence-in-govt-switz-top

The potential abuse of postal voting through over-generous qualification, and the related issue of voter ID-fraud, urgently need addressing. The requirement for voter-ID at the polling station in a democratic election ought to be axiomatic and a subject beyond debate, while postal voting needs once again to be restricted to those verified as genuinely too ill or infirm, of overseas on military service.

Objections to some of the above will no doubt be raised on the grounds that they contravene the Burkean principle that the elected MP is his electors’ representative, not their delegate. My contention however, and which I intend to explore further in future articles, is that so many elected MPs themselves, by so manifestly disregarding the majority wishes of their individual electorates and the country as a whole, have now stretched this principle to breaking point.

Without significant Parliamentary reform to make the legislature more responsive to the electorate, extra-Parliamentary action starts to acquire a legitimacy of its own. That prospect should be welcomed by nobody: but a Parliament constituted on its present basis is not a fitting repository of powers hard-won back from Brussels.

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A ‘Just Vote UKIP’ Strategy, to Stop May’s Imminent Brexit-Betrayal, Will Not Work

As a strategy specifically to stop Theresa May’s & her Vichy-Conservatives’ now arguably imminent betrayal of Brexit, implicit in her refusal to budge from her discredited Chequers Plan, ‘Just Vote UKIP’ on its own sadly isn’t going to work 

Note: this is the longer (and updated) version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Friday 17th August 2018

A number of the responses to my The Conservative Woman Saturday Essay of 11th August, titled ‘How to Resist the Remainers’, appeared to find my suggestions for how a peaceful, legal, non-violent mass civic resistance might confront and hopefully thwart the May government’s impending probable dilution, if not outright abandonment, of Brexit somewhat too robust and risky for their taste.

And to think, moreover, that all that was required to stop such a betrayal in its tracks would be to start, resume, or continue, voting UKIP, or even merely threaten to do so.

Poster I'm Voting UKIP

The question of which great democratic advances have ever been achieved, or what anti-democratic obstacles to them have ever been surmounted, without anyone taking any risks whatsoever, is a moot point, but one perhaps to be re-visited later. But, as a strategy specifically for preventing what is arguably a now imminent Brexit adulteration at best and betrayal at worst, I’m afraid that ‘Just Vote UKIP’ doesn’t cut it.

That isn’t an overall condemnation of UKIP or its members and supporters per se, although there certainly are some specific criticisms which can be levelled at it, and are made below. But it is an observation that the both the electoral timetable, and current opinion polling, strongly suggest that, as a strategy whose aim is to stop May’s likely upcoming Brexit-betrayal, then it is, regrettably, probably doomed to failure.              

In the first place, ‘Just Vote UKIP’ in what? And when? Let’s consider the electoral timetable. 

The earliest upcoming UK elections are the next UK local government elections, due to be held on 2nd May 2019: unless the Article 50 period is extended, that is approximately 5 weeks after 29th March, the date on which the UK will have, albeit probably more in appearance than in substance, nominally left the EU.

What would be the argument to persuade non-activists or non-members that there was any point in voting UKIP? And even if there was such an argument, how effective would it be? In the 2018 local elections, the party lost no fewer than 123 of its 126 councillors: 2019’s are in more metropolitan-type areas, where its appeal, rightly or wrongly, is even less. Comparatively-speaking, its local government base, at 125 councillors out of a total of over 20,000, is minimal.

The next European Parliament elections are from 23rd to 26th May 2019: again, unless the Article 50 period is extended, approximately two months after the 29th March exit date. Even with a nominal-only Brexit on that date, the UK will no longer be sending MEPs to the European Parliament, and so will not even participate. The memories of 2014’s victory, where UKIP secured 27 percent of the vote and more than doubled its seats to 24, are no guide to the future.

If (admittedly a big ‘if’) May survives as Prime Minister, even with a small majority thanks to the Democratic Unionist Party, the next General Election is not due until 5th May 2022, which will be four years after the projected Brexit date.

We are already now seeing polling reports suggesting ordinary voters on both sides of the Leave-Remain divide are bored with Brexit, just two years after the Referendum, and before it has even happened. What appeal and chance of success would UKIP have some four years after the actual Brexit, even a nominal one?       

Although dissatisfaction with May’s Soft-Remain, Brexit-In-Name-Only Chequers Plan is thought to be a contributor to the recent boost in membership, the party is currently standing at an average of just 6 per cent in the polls

Britain Elects to July 2018

Under First-Past-The-Post, this is far too low to make an impact: in the 2015 General Election, UKIP captured 3.9 million votes and 13 per cent of the total vote, but still gained only two seats, both of which have since been lost.

In the second place, vote for whom? Consider the recent leadership history.

At TCW, I have previously criticised Nigel Farage for leaving the field of battle too early, but since his 2016 departure, UKIP has in effect wasted the last two years. It has gone through a credible leader and deputy leader in Diane James and Suzanne Evans, both seen off by the residual Continuity-Farageistes, and two utter clowns in firstly, Paul Nuttall, and secondly, Henry Bolton, before stabilising to an extent under the current leadership of Gerard Batten.

But Batten’s term of office comes to an end, intriguingly, around the time of Britain’s projected exit date of 29th March 2019, and Farage is hinting at a return. Interestingly, elements within UKIP are reported to be less than wholly enthusiastic at the prospect.

So for whom would anyone starting or re-considering voting UKIP actually be voting?

Moreover, UKIP’s complement of MEPs has thinned out since its 2014 high-water mark due to a couple of expulsions and several resignations: although it does retain some very good MEPs, activists and members, notably Margot Parker, Roger Helmer, and David Kurten, the appeal of a party which has unfortunately managed to alienate and drive away plausible, articulate and media-friendly people like Suzanne Evans and Steven Woolfe is likely to be limited.

To be fair, there is one scenario in which one could imagine the ‘Just Vote UKIP’ strategy having a chance of success. But it would require all of the following to come to fruition:

  1. Brexit to be deferred or cancelled;
  2. the majority of the ‘Conservative’ Party to accept that without demur;
  3. a mass defection of both former UKIP-to-Tory movers and always-Conservative Brexiteers to UKIP;
  4. an electoral system less stacked against it; and
  5. a media less biased against its core policy.

The prospect of a ‘Just vote UKIP to stop a Brexit betrayal’ strategy having to rely on Brexit being actually stopped or betrayed, in order to stand even a chance of success, does, I suppose, have a certain bleak irony about it.

But given the several discrete steps that it would require, it looks one hell of a risk to take for people apparently deterred from any form of peaceful, legal, non-violent mass civic resistance by the risk, inconvenience, and temporary relinquishment of online consumerism, which that might allegedly entail.

Update / Postscript

Having now had more time to review the below-the-line comments to the original article at The Conservative Woman, three of the generic memes which seem to re-occur throughout a number of them warrant a response:

“typical Tory comment / keep on voting Tory then”

Presumably, out of my fifteen or so TCW articles so far in 2018, the eight at least which have fiercely criticised May’s Vichy-‘Conservatives’ in general and her duplicitous Soft-Remain Brexit-In-Name-Only in particular, the two of them which specifically called for her to be ousted and replaced with a committed Brexiteer, and the one which even explicitly advocated the Party’s demise, have been ignored.

“you’re offering no solutions, you’re just sneering at UKIP

In what way does saying that the party retains some very good people, but observing factually that the combination of an adverse electoral timetable and its current opinion-polls standing at present limit its potential as a preventer of the Brexit-betrayal which is imminent, constitute ‘sneering at UKIP’?

“but it was only the threat of UKIP that made Cameron to hold the EU Referendum”

Very probably, but that was when it was polling at a constant 11-12%, and later, had won the 2014 European Parliament election with 24 MEPs and 27 per cent of the vote. Under First-Part-The-Post, parties polling at around 6 per cent do not represent a threat – just ask the Greens.

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Blueprint for a Peaceful, Legal, and Non-Violent Civic Resistance

How the Continuity-Remain Government’s and political class’ anti-democratic determination not to deliver the Brexit which 17.4 million voted for could be resisted and defeated

Note: this is the longer (and updated) version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Saturday 11th August 2018 

Just after the 2016 EU Referendum, I speculated on Twitter that, despite the clear majority vote to leave, the overwhelmingly anti-Brexit ‘Liberal’-Elite, New-Class Establishment would not willingly respect and implement the electorate’s democratic decision without a fight, so that we might have to take to the streets, preferably non-violently, to achieve it.

In hindsight, even that pessimistic prediction was an under-estimation, but the revelations from Theresa May’s now infamous Chequers Summit, and developments since, serve only to exacerbate fears of an impending massive sell-out and a soft-Remain, Brexit-In-Name-Only, at the very least. In my view, even May conceding a second referendum, as the price of the EU’s agreeing a limited or even indefinite extension of Article 50, can’t be ruled out.

Assuming that supposedly Brexiteer Tory MPs continue to sit on their hands, and that the burgeoning grassroots revolt doesn’t grow sufficiently large or irresistible to force her resignation and replacement with a committed Brexiteer, the question arises: what next?

I don’t believe that May and her sycophantic majority-Remain government should be allowed just to ride roughshod over democracy itself. I hope there’d be huge outrage across the country, particularly among the 17.4 million who voted for Brexit, not least on the Government’s promise to implement their decision. But: to be effective, what tangible form should it take?

The ‘Liberal’-Elite Remainer Establishment would undoubtedly love us to take to the streets, so that we could, with the willing assistance of its similarly-inclined compliant media, be painted as ‘violent far-right’. Something more subtle would be required. To quote Sun Tzu in ‘The Art of War’ – ‘the wise general never fights a battle on ground of the enemy’s choosing’.

My provisional blueprint for a rolling programme of peaceful, non-violent, civic-resistance has as its inspiration the fuel price protests of 2000. A maximum of a mere 3,000 people, by cleverly strategically blockading the main fuel refineries and distribution facilities, and skilfully eliciting public support, not only credibly threatened to, but very nearly did, bring the country to a halt, but also, crucially, and as was admitted only later, very nearly brought Blair’s first government down.

Fuel Protests 2000 v2

We’ve become accustomed to believing that, between elections, we’re comparatively powerless. I’m not so sure. True, we may not have direct political power. But what 17.4 million of us in aggregate do potentially have is economic power, and in spades. There are several ways we can exert substantial unconventional political influence, and by wholly peaceful, legal means.

Mass, rent and council-tax strikes can adversely affect local authority finances very quickly. The key is in numbers. They can’t possibly sue and/or prosecute everyone, because that would overwhelm most local authorities’ meagre legal resources, as well as clogging up the Courts; moreover the cash-flow problems it would cause most councils would be damaging on their own. Imagine if council staff couldn’t be paid because of a mass rent and council tax strike.

The next option is for a mass boycott of the corporates who’ve joined in anti-Brexit scaremongering, whether of their own volition or at the Government’s request. 17.4 million is a lot of customers. . . .

Alternative supermarket chains to, for example, Morrison’s, or Sainsbury’s whose Blair-ennobled Lord (David) Sainsbury donated £4.2 million to the Remain campaign, are available. Watch their share prices start to tank if costs rise from un-sold or perishing stock, as sales slump and profits start to slide.

We don’t need to choose, or continue to use anti-Brexit Branson’s Virgin-branded trains, banking services, or satellite TV. Not only are there alternative online retailers to Amazon available, but can we not do without most of what we buy from Amazon for three months?

Because it could take as short as that. Remember, the modern mass retailing business model is predicated on just-in-time delivery for high-volume sales, thus minimising stock-holding and warehousing costs. A significant interruption to the constant flow of high-volume sales, via a mass customer boycott, has the potential for major logistical problems, a build-up of non-shifting stock, and with all the attendant cost ramifications and effect on profit.

And that has the additional possible effect of reducing the State’s tax take, both from VAT on sales and from corporation tax on company profits further down the line.

You can probably think of many more:  but this final one might, I suspect, be a potential clincher. It exploits the old adage that if you owe the bank £50,000 and can’t repay it, then you have a problem: but if you owe the bank £50,000,000 and can’t repay it, then it’s the bank which has a problem. Because a mass withholding of mortgage payments can affect the entire banking system faster than you might think.

This is where it gets a bit technical, but please bear with me.

It’s all to do with the extra capital which, under international banking standards, a bank must retain, once a mortgage goes into non-performing mode for two or three months. Not only that, but banks then also have to increase the provisions they set aside against default and losses too, so it can be a double-whammy. Provisions are a charge against profits, so it means lower profits, no new lending permitted, & in extremis, restrictions on withdrawals, because liquid deposits can form part of the (greater) capital that suddenly has to be retained.

When a bank lends money, it creates an asset of its own –its right to receive repayment, or the indebtedness of the borrower to the bank. But under those same international banking standards, the bank must assign that asset a risk-weighting, which in turn dictates the amount of capital the bank has to retain against it, and which therefore cannot also be lent.

Lending to sovereign governments, particularly those with good credit ratings, can typically be risk-weighted low. Governments, after all, have the power to tax their citizens, backed by the threat of State coercion, to stump up the money to meet their debts, and so are considered a good risk.

Likewise, lending to good-quality corporates, especially those with a high Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, or Fitch credit-rating, can be risk-weighted only slightly higher than medium-quality sovereign debt.

Basel II Risk Weights

Residential mortgages are typically risk-weighted at 35 per cent to 40 per cent: which means that, for a residential mortgage portfolio totalling, say, £500 billion, the bank must retain, and therefore not lend, a capital base of between £175 billion and £200 billion to support it.

But if a residential mortgage goes into default through non-payment, its risk-weighting has to rise substantially, and can double, to at least 70 per cent to 80 per cent. If a whole £500 billion residential mortgage portfolio went into payment arrears, then the bank would immediately have to set aside between £350 billion and £400 billion against it, not between £175 billion and £200 billion. That’s between £175 billion and £200 million which, suddenly, is no longer available for lending on other, new borrowing, and at a profitable interest-rate margin.

I used to be involved in ‘What If?’ modelling for this kind of contingency: the planning assumed increased mortgage defaults from a major economic crash, but the effects from a mass withholding of mortgage payments aren’t dissimilar.

Clearing banks & building societies, as prime retail lenders, especially, are more vulnerable than often assumed. The shock of a significant part of an entire residential property-mortgage lending book suddenly needing double the previous capital base just to support it is a potential nightmare scenario, particularly for primarily-retail lenders.

And if that newly-doubled capital base is comprised partly of liquid deposits, whose withdrawal has to be restricted, then depositors may start to worry that they may not be able to get their money out. And then you have all the ingredients in place for a bank run. Remember Northern Rock?

It doesn’t stop there. Say the bank decides to foreclose on a mortgage and sell the asset which comprises its security. But banks aren’t in the residential property management business, and don’t want bricks and mortar assets sitting on the books, so they will typically go for a quick sale, even at well below market value, to recover their debt quickly.

Now imagine a small residential close of 20 houses, average market value, say £300,000, but including two whose owners are in default on their £200,000 mortgages, and which the bank as mortgagee is therefore threatening to re-possess and sell.

Residential close

The bank wouldn’t be bothered about market value: it would merely want to recover its debt as fast as possible. So suddenly, two allegedly £300,000 houses are potentially coming up for sale at only £220,000 each. What happens to the market value of the other eighteen? And how do their owners feel about that? Translate that on to a national scale, and suddenly you’re looking at a potential house-price crisis as well.

But, and as Sun Tzu himself might have said, you don’t actually have to create a bank run and/or a house-price crisis – you just have to create the plausible prospect of a bank run and/or a house-price crisis.

To my mind, the ironic beauty of this kind of overall strategy is that, instead of challenging the Remainer Establishment-Elite directly, on the streets, as it would prefer, it instead targets, and in its key aspects – rampant retail consumerism, fractional reserve banking, cheap credit, and a property bubble – the very system which the crony-corporatist globalist oligarchy has created and encouraged at least partially to enrich and empower itself, and then uses it as a weapon against its own creators. Sun Tzu, I suspect, would approve.

These are merely the economic measures. There are others. For example, it needs only six vehicles travelling sedately, but perfectly legally, at 40-50 mph in a horizontal line across all six lanes, to induce motorway gridlock.

In 2000, we saw what just 3,000 people – a mere 0.02 per cent of 17.4 million – so nearly achieved by boxing clever. Just like Sun Tzu favoured, they targeted their opponent where he least expected it, at a point where he was weak, and would have preferred not to fight.Fuel Protests 2000 v1

Imagine what pressure could be brought to bear on a Brexit-denying government and political class by a concerted, concentrated mass participation in a rolling programme of peaceful, non-violent, civic resistance on the same basis.

It feels increasingly unlikely that we’ll succeed in getting our democracy-disdaining political class to implement the democratic result they promised to respect and honour by appealing to their principles, or to their hearts and minds.

But then, as a shrewd, if cynical, man reportedly once said: ‘If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will soon follow’. 

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A Country on the Cusp of Major Change: The UK’s Emerging Political Realignment

Not only is a new British political divide emerging from the developing post-Brexit realignment of UK politics, but even new labels will be required to describe its opposing sides 

Note: this is the updated, long-read version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Friday 3rd August 2018

It was evident, even well before the 2016 EU Referendum voting pattern and its aftermath finally showed it to be redundant, that, as a method of labelling political positioning and allegiance, the traditional one-dimensional Left-Right axis was inadequate and obsolete.

As a description purely of what was long assumed to be mainly economic interest, and moreover solely derived from social class, it was poorly equipped to reflect attitudes to non-economic, cultural and social factors like civil liberties.

In contrast, and although far from perfect, the two-dimensional representation often called The Political Compass, for several years familiar to both academic and amateur students of political philosophy, displays this better.

Political Compass Dual Display

By differentiating the horizontal economic scale – running from the big-government, high-spending, high-taxing, State-interventionist, collectivist Left, to the small-state, low-tax, low-spending, private-enterprise, free-market Right – from the vertical socio-cultural Authoritarian vs Libertarian scale, it allows a more nuanced and accurate description.

Thus it’s possible to distinguish, on the Left, between Left-‘Liberal’ economic-collectivists who want state-ownership of major enterprises, heavily regulated and taxed  private-enterprise, and big-spending public services financed by high taxes on private profits, but also uncontrolled mass immigration plus transgendered paedophilia for all: and semi-authoritarian social-conservatives who don’t object to a mixed economy provided the State has a near-monopoly on the delivery of major public services.     

And thus it’s also possible, on the Right, to distinguish between mild social-liberals who nominally support capitalism and private-enterprise (but which very often is actually over-regulated and lobbying-susceptible crony-corporatism): and buccaneering free-marketeers who are nevertheless quite socially-illiberal on issues like, e.g., gay rights or free speech.

And, of course, libertarian-minarchists like me, in the outer 4 o’clock and 5 o’clock positions in the bottom right-hand purple ‘Libertarian’ quadrants, who, to use the old ‘boardroom vs bedroom’ analogy, think the State should:

  1. confine itself to the basics like defence/security/border-control, law & order and justice, and the adjudication/enforcement of contracts; and otherwise
  2. pretty much keep out of both boardroom and bedroom, provided that everything which happens in either is done between consenting adults, and no-one is harmed either unknowingly or involuntarily.

Degrees of state involvement

Yet even those assumptions have been shattered by the EU Referendum and its subsequent political fallout. We know that, with the exception of UKIP and the LibDems, both of whose electoral propositions were virtually defined by the EU question, the Referendum vote broke both ways across all pre-existing party allegiances and political ideologies.

People voted how they did for varying reasons, but crucially, often voted in the same way as other people with whom a political affiliation would have previously been thought impossible.

As just two examples, over 70 per cent of the mainly working-class and lower middle-class electors of Boston, Lincolnshire, voted in the same way as patrician High-Tory grandees Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, while inventor and entrepreneurial businessman James Dyson voted in the same way as Paul Embery, the left-ish leader of the public-services Fire Brigades Union.

This seems almost unprecedented in modern British political history. Nor, crucially, was it a temporary, Referendum-only blip. Not only has it not gone away, but it even appears to be solidifying. Politics has not, as the pundits expected and many still fervently wish, ‘reverted to normal’.

The UK appears on the cusp of a major political re-alignment, which will render prior labels redundant. The old labels and allegiances have broken down: we need fresh labels reflecting the new allegiances which are forming, coalescing around commonalities of interest hitherto unimagined.

Moreover, and contrary to the “Brexit has divided the country” meme, while the EU Referendum may have epitomised and accelerated this division, the Brexit vote per se did not, in my view, actually cause it.

The Referendum merely exposed, and for the first time allowed to be articulated, deep underlying political divisions which had been simmering away for several years among a significant segment of the population, who were in effect disenfranchised by the structural inability – or more likely unwillingness – of the consensually-centrist cartel’s political settlement to accommodate them and allow their concerns to be voiced, until the Referendum provided the opportunity. 

It’s this that Matthew Goodwin, Professor of Politics at Kent University, means when he argues that the referendum result was ‘baked in’ for years before the actual vote. It’s arguably why, too, the result came as such a profound shock to the ‘Liberal’ New Class Establishment.

How, then, to summarise, in convenient label form, the nature of the new divide and its opposing tribes? Some brief illustrations of that divide’s manifestations may be a guide.

The multi-acronymed international organisations and EU-friendly big-business corporates, whose dire warnings of immediate Armageddon, in the wake even of a Leave vote, were so wrong, remain implacably opposed to the Referendum result being implemented, and are colluding with the Government  in a 2018 reprise of 2016’s Project Fear. 

Well-connected, but sinister lobbying interests continue to fund campaigns for what is claimed to be merely a People’s Vote (as if the one on 23rd June 2016 wasn’t!) on the final exit deal, but whose intention to turn it into a 2nd Referendum in the hope of overturning the June 2016 plebiscite are barely concealed.

Sections of the Remain-dominated media continue obsessively to pursue evidence for conspiracy theories to justify setting the 2016 result aside, seemingly impervious to the debunking  and derision they rightly attract.

On one academic psephologist’s estimate, approximately 63 per cent of Parliamentary constituencies voted to leave the EU. In contrast, about 70 per cent of the 650 MPs purporting to represent them strongly favoured remaining it in, and approximately 50 per cent of them, including the Government itself are still trying to dilute Brexit to meaninglessness, or stop it altogether.

On Monday 30th and Tuesday 31st July, respectively, articles in The Guardian by the Leftist Zoe Williams, and in The Daily Telegraph by the (allegedly)-‘Conservative’ Chair of the DCMS Select Committee, Damian Collins, each demanded that the dissemination of news and opinion via social media be controlled. Both ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ agreeing, in plain sight, on both curbing free speech and restricting access for news and opinion to compliant traditional media channels no doubt deemed by the Remainer-dominated political-class to be more amenable to political persuasion or influence. 

These last two are especially significant, as they seem to encapsulate what many feel to be the essence of the new divide, and are therefore a pointer to the correct new labels for its two mutually incompatible and irreconcilable protagonists – The People vs The Political Class, or in the wider context, The Establishment Elite vs The Rest Of Us.

Not that the Continuity-Remainer dominated New Class Establishment Elite aren’t dreaming up their own sets of labels, both to differentiate themselves from us, and to rationalise their referendum defeat. Three especially are particularly unpleasant, and show the largely-metropolitan ‘Liberal’-Elite’s contempt for mass democracy on full display.

‘Old vs Young’ is their first divide. The elderly so voted disproportionately for Brexit, goes this trope, so they have ‘stolen the future’ of the young, thus defining age as the new political divide. Spiked‘s Brendan O’Neill, writing in  May 2017,  treated this initially with the withering contempt it so richly deserves. 

Brendan O'Neill on ageist bigotry of Remainers

But, unsurprisingly, there’s more to it than that. As this chart from Lord Ashcroft’s immediately post-Referendum polling report shows, you have to get down to the 35-44 age group before the Remain vote outstrips that for Leave.

EUReferendum voting AgeGroups

EU Ref sky data turnout-by-ageAnd that’s exacerbated by the figures for turnout. We know that the young, apparently so in thrall to the EU and so angry and appalled by the prospect of leaving it, actually posted the lowest turnout of all age groups. Oddly enough, to win a vote, it seems you have to, ahem, you know, vote.     

Next is another favourite ‘Liberal’ metropolitan’s comfort-blanket, the ‘Urban vs Rural’ divide. Now invoking a European perspective as well, this seeks to differentiate the metropolitan (allegedly)-elite from ‘pitchfork-wielding populists based in small towns and the countryside’. Quite how this copes with the fact that substantial UK metropolises like Birmingham and Sheffield voted Leave, however, isn’t immediately apparent. On one reading, the theory actually posits that urbanites are so disgusted with the voting preferences of their non-urban and rural compatriots that they are questioning democracy itself as a concept for government, another useful pointer to the correct labels needed to describe the new political boundary.            

Finally, the ‘Educated vs Uneducated’ divide. On this, using purely the possession of any old university degree as the separator, the prime political split now defining the country is that between degree-holders (Remain, sophisticated, ‘educated’) and degree non-holders (Leave, barbaric, ‘uneducated’).     

Apart from its inherent post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy, the conflation of correlation with causation, and the potential impact as a driver for both of an Academy overwhelmingly dominated by Remain. . . .   

Voting intentions UK academics EU Ref 2016. . . .it’s a wholly specious differentiation metric. The idea, for example, that an indoctrinated 22 year-old snowflake with a 2.2 in Intersectional Gender-Studies from a third-rate ex-Polytechnic is somehow ‘educated’ and thus uniquely qualified to participate in deciding Britain’s political future, while someone in their 50’s with two or more professional qualifications and maybe twenty years at a high level in their profession but no degree is somehow ‘uneducated’ and thus isn’t, is so manifestly preposterous that it should be laughed out of Court. That it isn’t, but is actually taken seriously, speaks volumes.

You might think, on this basis, that the shape of at least one side of the new political divide is clear: ‘liberal’, centrist, urban, supportive of EU freedom of movement, pro-Remain. Yet, curiously, this isn’t the case. Comparatively recently, in a YouGov survey of the policy areas and political viewpoints on which voters felt most strongly that almost all of the current main political parties did not represent them, one thing was clear. That was, as academic Matthew Goodwin has also noted, that while there may well be a demand for a new political party in Britain, it certainly doesn’t appear to be for a ‘liberal’, centrist, pro-EU, pro-immigration one. 

New centrist party no

Which brings us back to the question of what labels we need, to attach to the new protagonists of Britain’s new, still-emerging political divide. 

David Goodhart’s Anywheres vs Somewheres is one of the best attempts to date. If I may paraphrase some of his remarks when I heard him talking about it:

These people [working-class and lower middle-class Leavers] are not racist or xenophobic. The British Social Attitudes Survey shows that only about five per cent of the population, at maximum, are genuinely racist. But they do think that the level of immigration has been too high, and that while they don’t want it restricted on an ethnicity basis, they do want it, not stopped, but controlled via a democratic process in which they have a say. They want an entitlement to welfare and State benefits to be conditional and contributory, not universalist. These are not big asks, yet for ten or twenty years all the main political parties have refused to even listen to them, much less answer them.’

This stuck me then, and does now, as being pretty close, but perhaps doesn’t quite catch it. Given the Remainer Elite-Establishment’s predilection for both intolerant, illiberal, political-correctness, and its visceral aversion to mass democracy in favour of ‘enlightened’ bureaucracy (its own, naturally), then maybe ‘Authoritarians vs Libertarians’, or ‘Democrats vs Technocrats’, or something similar, will be the new political paradigm when the dust settles.

At present, the incestuous political-class & its amen-corner of media courtiers are so mired in self-referential Westminster Bubble groupthink, that they are largely insulated from this burgeoning re-alignment, and therefore either uninterested or in denial about it. They also, let’s face it, all have a vested interest in preserving the existing system which sustains them.

But there seems no doubt that somehing momentous is afoot, even if we are in its early days. The transition may be smooth and benign, but given the determination of the Elite-Establishment not to yield one iota of its hegemony, that may not be guaranteed. Major political realignments of this magnitude in an established democracy are a challenge. What Britain makes of it may set a course, for good or ill, for most of our lifetimes.

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LibDem MP’s Claim to Victim Status Goes Pair-Shaped

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, exploiting our maternity leave” –           (with apologies to Sir Walter Scott)

Note: this is the longer (and updated) version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 25th July 2018  

Pairing’ is one of those arcane Parliamentary practices covering voting – or rather, not voting – that somehow survives where modern electronic, internet-enabled technology ought to obviate the need for MPs to vote in person by physically trooping through Aye or No lobbies to be physically counted by tellers, but doesn’t.

It’s a strictly informal arrangement, not recognised by official House of Commons procedures, between two MPs of opposing parties not to vote in a division, thereby cancelling each other’s votes out.  Though clearly equitable in the case of, say, a Minister or MP temporarily overseas on official businesses, in other circumstances it can be open to abuse.

The Commons votes of Monday/Tuesday 16th/17th July respectively, on the Cross-Border Trade Bill, saturated with Brexit significance by a 12-strong bloc of unreconciled ‘Conservative’-Remainer MPs trying to defeat their own government, were extremely close. In the end, the Government prevailed by 6 votes, mainly thanks to the votes of 5  Labour-Brexiteer MPs.

At least three Liberal-Democrat MPs, however, were absent, and so did not vote: it was over one of them, Jo Swinson, that a row subsequently erupted. The allegation was made that, despite being officially ‘paired’ with ‘Conservative’ Party Chairman Brandon Lewis MP, because of her absence on maternity leave, the Government Whips instructed all its available MPs to vote anyway, effectively breaking the Lewis-Swinson ‘pair’.

Accusation, denial, condemnation and counter-accusation duly followed, culminating in the Government first claiming that the ‘pair’-breaking had been an ‘honest’ mistake’, but then apologising profusely for it and vowing not to repeat it.

So far, so predictable. And there the matter might have subsided, but for an apparent attempt – whether instigated by Swinson herself, or by LibDem Chief Whip Alastair Carmichael, or by identity-politics SJWs from one of the other Leftist parties is unclear – to capitalise on it by playing the feminist victim-card, stressing Swinson’s inability to attend the key vote(s) specifically because of her being on maternity leave.

Perhaps, though, someone should have checked the LibDems’ Twitter feed first.

Because it didn’t take long to emerge that, despite Swinson’s maternity leave having allegedly prevented her attendance at those key Commons votes, it fortuitously hadn’t prevented her virtue-signalling attendance at an anti-Trump demonstration 3 or 4 days earlier, on Friday 13th July. Along, evidently, with said offspring.

2018.07.13 LibDems Swinson standing up to Trump

In a truly shocking, but no doubt inadvertent, aberration from feminist solidarity, this was inconveniently pointed out, by, among others, one of those 5 Labour-Brexiteers MPs whose vote enabled a Government victory, Vauxhall’s Kate Hoey. And was it right, asked commentators, to whinge about exclusion from a key vote because of being on maternity leave, but to take an infant along to what was potentially a violent demonstration?

Then it all got worse.

It transpired that, apart from Swinson, neither the immediate past, nor present, leader of the LibDems managed to attend those key votes either – the three of them accounting for no fewer than a quarter of their entire complement of 12 MPs. 

Even more deliciously, in Leader Vince Cable’s case, this was because he had been busy attending a ‘confidential dinner’ about the setting up of a new ‘anti-Brexit movement’.

Just think about that for a moment. The Leader of most pro-EU, anti-Brexit party in British politics, missing a key Parliamentary vote which could have killed off the Government’s Brexit plans, because he was absent elsewhere, conspiring confidentially with others on, ahem, a new pro-EU, anti-Brexit party in British politics.

A party leader, exposed as conspiring with others to form a new party to compete with his own party. You’d need a heart of stone not to laugh.

And not only that. A new, centrist, pro-Remain party? But isn’t this supposed to be the defining USP and key electoral proposition of the party that he now leads? The one which secured a massive, erm,  7 per cent of the vote at the 2017 General Election?

In addition, the LibDems refused to say which Labour figures, if any, had attended Cable’s ‘confidential dinner’. Was that perhaps because there was little interest from anti-Corbyn Labour ‘moderates’, contemplating a splitting-off, at the prospect of Cable as leader? And whoever might be providing the funding remains a matter for speculation.

Probably inevitably, the spat has prompted the operation of ‘pairing’ arrangements to be examined rather more closely than might otherwise have occurred. Of 2,000 ‘pairs’ arranged since the Election, reported Politics Sense66 have been broken: 14 by the Government and 52 by Opposition parties, of which 7 were by the Lib Dems.

Which, assuming those figures are correct, prompted the question: are the LibDems themselves the biggest breakers of ‘pairing’ arrangements?

Proportionately, the answer seems to be Yes.  With 7 out of the 66 ‘pairs’ broken since the 2017 General Election, they have instigated 11 per cent of all ‘pair’-breaks, despite having only 2 per cent of all MPs. Moreover, despite having only 4 per cent of the total number of ‘Conservative’ MPs, they have been responsible for 50 per cent of the number of ‘Conservative’ pair-breaks, and 33 per cent of the combined ‘Conservative’ and LibDem total.

Then, on the morning of Monday 23rd July, The Times reported the rumoured existence of a LibDem plot to oust and replace Cable as party leader. Given the multiplicity of problems, muddle and even failures currently besetting the party – not least the semi-existential question of why on earth anyone should believe in them as a political force when they clearly don’t believe in themselves as one – this was hardly a surprising culmination to what started out in all probability as a mere opportunistic anti-Tory, anti-Brexit gripe.

Cable, flags, rally

Going, and in just 5 days, from carping about alleged breaches of anachronistic Parliamentary procedure to a plot to defenestrate and replace your Party Leader is pretty impressive, even for the LibDems. Remind me again of that old proverb about people in glass houses?

The final irony of this whole imbroglio is that it still leaves unresolved the thorny issue of ‘pairing’. Moving in one fell swoop to a facility for real-time electronic voting, even from non-Parliament locations, sounds tempting, but e-security would be a constant concern, and the system would be wide open to voting-fraud.

On the other hand, many struggle to understand why, when MPs are provided by the taxpayer with handsome salaries, along with generous allowances for in-London housing and staff, they should in effect be excused, on sometimes purely domestic grounds, from attending and voting in debates?

As so often, the incremental approach seems to have an advantage. Tighten up the conventions on what constitutes a valid reason, justifying a pairing, for the non-attending and non-voting. And don’t enthusiastically tweet pictures of your female MP attending raucous lefty demos with a baby if you’re going to play the maternity-leave victim-card on her behalf less than a week later.

Whether, of course, this would be enough to save both Cable’s leadership and Swinson’s credibility is a moot point. One would be unwise to bet on it.                      

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From Major to Minor, or even Minnow

The continuing reminders of former Prime Minister John Major’s hypocrisy and duplicity over Brexit justify an airing of one of the most damning, yet accurate, verdicts on him from a political historian

One of the benefits of social-media in politics is how it enables we amateur commentators, not only not to have to rely on, but also to by-pass, the legacy media when it comes to pointing out the hypocrisy of politicians making utterances completely at variance with what they’ve asserted on previous occasions.

One such instance occurred on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show last Sunday, 22nd July. Marr ‘interviewed’ (if a relatively soft-pedal invitation to spout his views more or less unchallenged can be dignified with that word) former Prime Minister John Major, transparently to give him an opportunity to re-iterate his call for a second EU Referendum.

Fortunately, and because, as the cliché goes, ‘the internet never forgets’, this was soon being contrasted with Major’s 20th December 2015 appearance on the same programme, when he said this (from 04:20 onwards):

‘I think it’s a long-term decision. I mean, the argument we can have a referendum, say no, then go back and re-negotiate. is just a fallacy. If we come out, we are out.  That’s it. It’s not politically-credible to go back and say ‘we’ve re-considered’, or ‘let’s have another referendum’. If we vote to stay out, then we are out, and we will have to get on with it.’ 

The earlier interview was widely shared on social-media, as of course was the entirely justified mockery, derision and disgust. But it occurred to me that it might be useful for others to see how a serious political historian judged the hapless Major in retrospect.

In Andrew Roberts’ ‘A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900‘, published in 2006, he summed up Major thus, a damning verdict which, to my mind, has rarely been bettered:

“John Major’s manifest failure to grow into the role of prime minister was remarkable, indeed almost unprecedented. Other premiers have acquired at least a patina of charisma after seven years in power, but not him.

Major only became prime minister because, after the fall of Mrs Thatcher, he was neither the ultra-liberal Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, nor her political assassin, Michael Heseltine.

Thatcher, who had wildly over-promoted Major to Chancellor of the Exchequer, wrongly believed him to be the heir to her ideological legacy. Very soon after securing him victory, the Thatcherites discovered their mistake.

Major spoke of wanting Britain to be ‘at the heart of Europe’, without explaining what in practice this meant. Later, he was recorded calling the three euro-sceptics in his Cabinet ‘bastards’ and ruined his nice-neighbour image by being caught on tape saying, ‘I’m going to fucking crucify the Right.’ In one sentence he thus managed to swear, blaspheme, split an infinitive and make a promise he could not keep.

With only the limited vision of a Party apparatchik – he was a Party Whip in the House of Commons before becoming a minister – Major was unable to win the support of even two-thirds of his Parliamentary Party when his Cabinet colleague John Redwood stood against him for the Party leadership in the summer of 1995.

Redwood adopted the slogan ‘No Change, No Chance’, which was proved to be prescient by the 1997 election. Over issues such as the citizen’s charter; a hotline to complain about motorway cones; surrenders over qualified majority voting in Europe  and the EU working time directive; and much else, especially over Bosnia, Major was shown to be a figure of pathos.

One area where Major was thought to be entirely personally innocent of the disasters which struck his ministry was over ‘sleaze’. Of course, had anyone known that Major had earlier been conducting an affair with one of his fellow ministers, Edwina Currie, (fortuitously) while his wife was away in his Huntingdonshire constituency, he would have been laughed out of office.

Major weakened himself in November 1994 when he withdrew the Party Whip from eight Conservative MPs over the European issue, something that Neville Chamberlain never did to opponents of appeasement in the Thirties and which also never happened to the Suez rebels of 1956.

By this gross act of intolerance, against patriots whose only concern was the protection of British sovereignty, he showed how at heart he was a Conservative hack politician and essentially unfit for high office, let alone the premiership of the United Kingdom.”

The 10 years since publication haven’t in my view diminished the validity and accuracy of that judgement by one iota.  If anything, they’ve enhanced it. And Theresa May is being compared unfavourably with him. The mind boggles.

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Boris’ Resignation Speech: Did He Flunk It? No, He Didn’t

Boris Johnson’s subtle resignation statement wisely avoided what would have been a counter-productive personal attack on Theresa May’s leadership, in favour of a forensic filleting of her Brexit negotiation policy, a tactic likely to prove more successful in the long run

Note: this is the (updated) version of one of the two contrasting arguments set out in an article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Friday 20th July 2018

Former Foreign Secretary Boris’ Johnson’s ‘resignation speech’ (technically, his post-resignation Personal Statement made with the permission of The Speaker) delivered in the House of Commons on the afternoon of Wednesday 18th July, was actually quite clever.Boris resignation speech 18 July 2018

Had he modelled it on Geoffrey Howe’s fabled 1990 equivalent on Margaret Thatcher, mounting a personal attack on Theresa May culminating in an explicit demand for either her resignation or a challenge to her leadership, it would almost certainly have backfired, and been counter-productive.

First, it would have too easy for May’s defenders and the Tory-Remainer MP majority to dismiss it as mere petty revenge for his own thwarted 2016 leadership bid, and motivated purely by personal pique and ambition.

Second, Boris recognises the political realities of that current Remainer-dominated Tory Parliamentary arithmetic. On a direct challenge, via 48 letters to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee expressing ‘No Confidence’ in May, leading to an internal ballot among MPs, she’d probably win and survive, possibly even strengthened.

Graham Brady Chair 1922 Committee v2

The Tories may justifiably be known as ‘the stupid party’, but not suicidal: its MPs aren’t going to risk a leadership change causing a general election in which many of them would lose their seats.

Moreover, under the Tories’ election rules, if May won, she’d be secure for another year. And that would mean goodbye to any hopes of replacing her Soft-Remain (non)-Brexit with one more aligned, not only with her January 2017 Lancaster House and March 2018 Mansion House speeches respectively, but also with the clean-Brexit which 17.4 million people clearly voted for.

Third, there isn’t a figure waiting impatiently in the wings and sharpening the dagger in gleeful anticipation of wielding it, unlike the odious Europhile Heseltine in 1990. Rees-Mogg, arguably the obvious contender, has been scrupulously polite, both about May and also (albeit unconvincingly) about her openness to persuasion that she needs to change course.

Instead, Boris praised May fulsomely for the post-Brexit vision which she had articulated in her Lancaster House speech and again in her later Mansion House speech, particularly the commitment to leave both the Customs Union and Single Market, and especially her assertion that No-Deal was better than a bad deal.

May Mansion House March 2018

The potentially-lethal rapier to the heart of her leadership came as he then went on to note regretfully, using her own words, the myriad ways in which that vision had, since then  – impliedly because of May’s own inherent lack of personal commitment to Brexit, undue reliance on less-than-impartial advisers, excess caution, political timidity and lack of ambition – been progressively weakened and/or abandoned into the subservient vassal-statehood proposed in the egregious Chequers Deal, which he accurately summarised as a ‘miserable, permanent, Limbo’.

The effect was metaphorically to put the May-Robbins Soft-Remain (non)-Brexit Chequers Plan through the shredder, cut up the strips, and then burn the pieces.

There was, Boris concluded, still time to repudiate this misguided approach, and salvage a proper Brexit. In other words, pleading specifically for a change of the policy, rather than a change of its executant.

Astutely, that still leaves room for Boris, or another, to revert to the personal if and when, as she undoubtedly will, May obstinately refuses to budge and ploughs on regardless with the Chequers Deal (or worse, because the Parliamentary votes of Monday 16th and Tuesday 17th July have effectively rendered it dead on arrival on Brussels).

The speech placed the lid on top of May’s (political) coffin, but didn’t start to to screw it down. The unmistakeable message was: she could still climb out of it. If, that is, she wants to.

Boris, I suspect, also recognises that, given the adverse Tory Parliamentary arithmetic, it’s the burgeoning Tory grassroots anger that’s likely to unseat May and force her to resign, obviating a direct leadership challenge and a vote solely among majority May-supporting Tory MPs. He is immensely popular with the grassroots, too, which May, putting it mildly, is not, so his speech might well motivate them to intensify their efforts.

I’m not a huge fan of Boris’: he’s a dilettante, a gadfly, and prone to indiscretions. But when he decides to be serious, and he means it, when his personal interest aligns with the country’s, he can be  formidable, even statesmanlike. Yesterday was one such instance.

Fortune favours the brave, but not necessarily the reckless. Had Boris just gone straight for the jugular, it wouldn’t have worked. As it is, a warning shot has been fired close across May’s bows, but the guns are still shotted, primed and aimed.

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