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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Just Why Are The UK’s ‘Liberal’-Elite So Irredeemably Europhile?

The New-Class ‘Liberal’-Establishment’s EU-philia is primarily driven, not by concerns about the economy, trade and jobs, but by an elitist revulsion for mass popular democracy.    

Note: this is the long (and updated) version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Monday 2nd July 2018.

On 23rd June 2016, 52%, comprising no fewer than 17.4 million people, of Britons who participated in the EU Referendum, voted to leave the European Union. On one expert academic psephologist’s estimate, approximately 63% of Parliamentary constituencies voted to leave it.

In contrast, about 70% of the 650 MPs purporting to represent them in Parliament strongly favoured remaining in it.

On 8th June 2017, approximately 85% of the General Election votes cast went to the two parties whose Manifestos and candidates pledged to respect and implement the Referendum result.

But many of those pledges, in hindsight, were self-evidently made dishonestly.

The passage through Parliament of the EU Withdrawal Bill succeeded only via mostly knife-edge votes, even with a Remainer-dominated Government, patently half-hearted about Brexit, making concession after concession to anti-Brexit Leftists, ‘Liberals’ and ‘Conservative’-Remainers alike, merely to avoid defeat.

Discount the Leave-voting MPs, plus the mostly Tory and a few Labour MPs who voted Remain but accept, however grudgingly, that the Referendum result must be honoured, and it’s obvious that, notwithstanding the Referendum outcome, the great majority of the political-class viscerally would far prefer to find a way of ensuring that Britain either stays in the EU, or ‘exits’ largely in name only.

The same attitude is discernible elsewhere within what we’re accustomed to calling the Metropolitan ‘Liberal’-Elite but what Martin Durkin, maker of “Brexit: The Movie”, perhaps more accurately labels the New-Class Establishment.

For the past two years, much of the media has gleefully reported, even embellished, every claim, however clearly implausible or parti-pris, that actually leaving the EU will bring about economic and societal catastrophe, while justifying the EU’s negotiating intransigence and (though not without good cause, but for the wrong reasons) criticising Britain’s approach.

While the cultural Establishment paints a picture of impending artistic desertification, the imminent demise of cross-border tertiary education has continued to be suggested by an Academy which was, and still is, 80% in favour of Remain.

Voting intentions UK academics EU Ref 2016

One wonders how the 150-odd countries, including most of the G20 economies which aren’t in the EU but manage to trade quite successfully with its member-states, manage to survive at all.

But now remember what happened to the most prominent of those dire pre-Referendum economic predictions. Goldman Sachs forecast a recession by early 2017, Credit Suisse a 1% fall in GDP, and Nomura a 1.3% fall. Instead, economic growth actually accelerated.

The Treasury, architect, co-ordinator and centrepiece of Osborne’s Project fear, predicted the loss of half a million jobs. Instead, over a million new jobs have been created and unemployment is down to a 43-year low.  Overvalued anyway in the run-up to the Referendum, the pound rebounded from its immediate post-Brexit slide to its former level.

Next, recall the condition of the EU itself, and Britain’s trade with it: Brexit is almost the least of its structural flaws. Economically, despite its expansion from 6 to 27 member-states, the EU’s share of both world trade and global GDP have actually been falling. . . . . 

EU share of global GDP PPP Jul15

. . . . while, at the same time, most future global growth is expected to come overwhelmingly from emergent non-EU economies. . . . 

Trade bloc shares of global GDP

. . .  .and as far as UK exports are concerned, the EU represents a market steadily declining in importance. 

Trend EU vs non-EU exports goods & services 1999-2019

Politically, the EU is beset with problems that pose a direct, almost existential, threat to its integrationist philosophy. The amount of central bank-held Euro-debt is deemed unsustainable. Its Mediterranean migrant crisis remains intractable, and unsolved, with Italy now taking matters into its own hands.

In country after country, voters are electing openly anti-EU parties, exasperated at how its supranationalist anti-democracy ignores or dismisses their legitimate concerns about unemployment and economic imbalances attributable to the Euro, the links between uncontrolled mass-immigration, crime, security, and Islamist terrorism, and issues of culture and identity. Yet it responds largely by hectoring and bullying.

Finally – and this ought to be painfully obvious by now, even to the most partisan Remain-voting, Brexit-regretting EU-phile – despite its multi-fronted crises, Brussels has zero interest in negotiating, in good faith, a mutually-beneficial separation settlement, as a precursor to a comprehensive agreement on the future relationship between itself and a former members who, despite withdrawal, nonetheless wishes to continue a close, but non-political arm’s-length, relationship with it.

The EU’s aim, explicity-stated, is to punish Britain, even at the cost of inflicting damage on itself or its member=states, for having the audacity to abandon the Project, so as to deter others from following a similar path.

And yet, faced with all this evidence, a majority of the ‘Liberal’-Elite would rejoice should the democratic will be overthrown and Brexit either not happen at all, or happen only cosmetically, or be so mishandled as to bring about a re-joining in a few years’ time, even on punitive terms.

Why? To expand this article’s title, just why are the ‘Liberal’-Elite so near-universally and instinctively EU-phile?

Once, I thought that EU devotees, though wrong, at least had an honourable viewpoint, in that they felt the economic, trade and employment benefits of membership outweighed its democratic deficit. I gradually came to realise, however, that, for many, their EU-philia was not despite its democratic deficit, but actually because of it.

The past two years have strengthened that conviction. My theory, for what it’s worth, is that their EU-philia, despite their protestations to the contrary, isn’t driven by concerns about the economy, trade and jobs, but by something both deeper and darker: an atavistic aversion to mass democracy itself.

First, it’s a convenient cultural signifier: a means of virtue-signalling, if you like, that they, unlike the unsophisticated, and mostly non-metropolitan, masses, are open, internationalist, cosmopolitan, ‘tolerant’, and ‘liberal’. In view of the experience of the last two years, many may find those latter two claims to be debatable, to say the least. 

Secondly, it seems increasingly hard to deny that, for so many, the overriding attraction of EU membership is that it enables as much politics as possible to be made immune from the need for popular consent – to be put beyond the reach of the capricious domestic democratic process and the electorate whose views they not only by-and-large do not share, but for whom they actively feel contempt.

If my theory is correct, then this has implications for the reform of our post-Brexit Parliament and legislature. To repatriate currently EU-decided politics to the United Kingdom, only to vest it in the same Parliament which over 45 years eagerly gave it away, and place it in the custody of MPs approximately 70% of whom actually hold a low opinion of the masses, and, by extension, of mass democracy, especially when it delivers an outcome unwelcome to them, would be unthinkable, and a hollow victory indeed.

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We Must Re-Create The Brexit Movement

The Brexit Movement, prematurely wound down after the EU Referendum, needs re-creating to continue making the case for it, so as to keep pressure on the Government to deliver it.

Note: this is the long (and updated) version of an article first published at The Conservative Woman on Friday 17th November 2017.

Like many ConWom readers, I suspect, I spent the early dawn hours of Friday 24 June 2016 in a state of ecstatic semi-euphoria that the British people had ignored the pro-EU hectoring of the massed ranks of the New Establishment and their globalist backers, and had voted to leave the EU. It didn’t last very long.

Such was the furious reaction of the Remainer-Elites and their compliant media courtiers to their unexpected defeat that, before the day was out, I’d become convinced that while we had won the Referendum battle, we certainly hadn’t yet won the war, and that the celebrations of some, on the assumption that all that was needed to achieve Brexit had been done, were hubristic and perilously premature.

I even tweeted as much, as this selection from my Twitter timeline between early that Friday morning and late that evening shows (with apologies for the profanities…)

But sadly, this is precisely what happened after the Referendum. The Vote Leave campaign wound down: its principal Conservative politicians dived headlong into the internecine strife within their party from which its Remainers emerged predominant, while its successful CEO, Matthew Elliott, decamped to the Legatum Institute.

On the Leave-EU side of the Brexit movement, an insufferably bombastic and complacent Nigel Farage resigned as leader of UKIP to forge a new career in the media as the man who won the Brexit that hasn’t occurred yet. UKIP meanwhile has collapsed into virtual irrelevance after the two most credible replacements were seen off by the residual Farageistes, is now led by a non-entity, and is near-invisible. 

A couple of pro-Brexit campaign groups persist, but active mainly on social-media only. One of them, connected to the Leave-EU movement, has a website where it’s comparatively rare that the space taken up by the text of a blogpost actually exceeds the space taken up by images accompanying it. 

In effect, the loose coalition that delivered that historic vote by 17.4 million people to retrieve their sovereign nation-state popular democracy from supranational unaccountable-elite technocracy, and the communications infrastructure that made it possible, has all but dissolved.

It’s this article’s contention that this has been a catastrophic error: that developments,  not only since the Referendum generally but specificially more recently, are placing Brexit in ever-greater jeopardy: and that the Brexit movement needs to be re-constituted and go back on to a war footing, to fight for what the British people voted for, and even contest if need be the second referendum which I personally believe to be the Unreconciled Remainers’ end-objective.

Although the Leave coalition subsided, the Remain campaign never ceased. Unlike Vote Leave and Leave-EU, the pro-Remain Open Britain campaign has never wound down, and continues to make the anti-Brexit case.

Readers will recall the ugly post-Referendum orgy of anger and hatred directed by ‘liberal’ Remainers and their cheerleaders at Leave voters, the constant attempts by the academic and judicial elite to delegitimise the Referendum result, and the sometimes near-hysterical anti-democratic polemic of, to name only two egregious but typical examples, the philosopher A C Grayling and Labour MP David Lammy, so I need not reiterate them.

It intensified once again during the Gina Miller litigation designed to facilitate a majority pro-Remain House of Commons vetoing the Government’s Article 50 notification. But it lessened somewhat after Parliament voted by 494 votes to 122 to authorise the triggering of Article 50 by 31st March, and matters reached a sort of uneasy equilibrium.

But then came May’s ill-advised, mismanaged General Election. When she and the Conservatives were returned drastically weakened, the Continuity-Remain movement was re-invigorated and its political, civil service, media, academic and judicial channels have visibly stepped up their campaigning by several levels of magnitude. They’re making the running: they look increasingly confident that Brexit really can be stopped and the Referendum reversed, and a majority-Remain Government seems at best half-hearted in response.

Now the fight is intensifying even more with the tortuous passage through Parliament of the EU Withdrawal Bill. The parties of the pro-EU Left have made clear their intention to conduct a guerilla war against it, voting against even the clause setting out its overall purpose, aided by 15 or more Unreconciled-Remainer rebels on the Tory back benches, some with considerably less honourable motivations than others.

In passing, let’s dismiss the disingenuous platitudes so many of these utter about wishing to do no more than “improve” the Bill. In many cases, it’s self-serving cant. They want to keep us in the Single Market and Customs Union, and under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice,  not out of genuine concern for our post-Brexit trade prospects or the position of UK-resident EU nationals, but to engineer either a Brexit-in-name-only, or one which is so close to EU membership that re-joining would seem like a logical step.

Many remain unreconstructed supporters of the EU Project and Britain’s submersion in it. It’s long been clear that, for them, the prime attraction of EU membership lies in is its very anti-democracy: it enables them to put as much policy-making and as many decisions 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 and for whom they harbour a visceral contempt.

If some of the amendments being proposed already seem very technical and legalistic, be prepared: worse is yet to come. In this very detailed long-read published on 12th November at Brexit Central, Professor David Campbell of Lancaster University sets out how the legislative process of Brexit could become almost impenetrably bogged down in the morass of a quasi-constitutional conflict over the supremacy of the Judiciary, or Parliament.

It doesn’t look impossible that it could establish the supremacy of the Judiciary over that of Parliament. Just think what that would do to the prospects of Brexit happening at all. That partly explains, in my view why such an ardent anti-Brexiteer as Labour’s Keir Starmer is so keen to maintain the jurisdiction in post-Brexit Britain of the European Court of Justice.

Professor Campbell concludes that we may need an Assertion Of Parliamentary Sovereignty Act to make Brexit tamper-proof from judicial-activist usurpation of the powers of Parliament to implement the express instruction of the electorate.

If the EU Withdrawal Bill is set to have a rocky passage through Parliament, imagine how difficult it would be for a minority Government to push legislation, whose effect would be to prevent the pro-Remain Judiciary from blocking Brexit on constitutional grounds, through a marginally pro-Remain Commons and a majority pro-Remain despite unelected Lords.

Another potential complication emerged on 14th November, with a European Court of Justice ruling that EU citizens who become British do not lose the right to bring a non-EU spouse from a non-EU country to live with them in the UK. The continuing post-Brexit application of ECJ human-rights rulings is figuring strongly in debate on the EU Withdrawal Bill, so this is a further area where continued pro-Brexit advocacy is lacking.

May herself arguably opened a new front in the anti-Brexit campaign with her speech to the Lord Mayor’s Banquet on Monday 13th November. Yes, it is possible to interpret her remarks on Russian interference in Western elections as a desperate ploy to divert attention from her domestic travails: but it’s also possible to interpret it as a fresh attempt to de-legitimise by association the entire Brexit vote, especially the evening before the EU Withdrawal Bill was re-introduced into Parliament, with every prospect of the Unreconciled Remainers on her own back benches determined to vote it down on any pretext?

The signs are ominous. The EU is refusing to move on to talks about a post-Brexit trade relationship unless its exorbitant financial demands are agreed. Each UK concession on these is banked, not reciprocated, and met with merely a request for a larger sum. On 20th November, it even had the temerity to demand in effect an EU veto on UK domestic tax, environmental and business-regulatory policy after Britain has left the EU.    

Its intransigence is being encouraged by a UK media overwhelmingly hostile to Brexit and resolved to paint it in the worst possible light. Sir Humphrey, for whom Britain’s EU membership has been axiomatic for 40 years and thinks Brexit a monumental folly of crude populism-appeasement, is dragging his feet.

The Government is being forced by its weakness and wafer-thin, DUP-dependent, majority into unwanted concessions. It’s conceding votes in Parliament on aspects of Brexit which, with the clear instruction delivered by the Referendum result, should no longer be in play at all. In these circumstances, that it might, to win a crucial vote, concede a second Referendum, either on the terms of our exit, or even on the decision itself to leave, can’t in my view be ruled out.

If that comes about, the Remainers will have achieved what has been their prime objective – and also the EU’s, for it has an unsavoury record of ignoring plebiscites with unwelcome outcomes and requiring electorates to vote again and again until they come up with the “right” answer.

And then what? Unlike Vote Leave and Leave-EU, the pro-Remain Open Britain campaign has never wound down, and continues to make the anti-Brexit case. Continuity-Remain could gear-up for a second EU Referendum comparatively quickly. The money would come flooding in.

It’s victory, though, would be far from a foregone conclusion. Since June 2016, the electorate has seen the EU moving faster towards ever-greater integration and centralisation in ways the Remainers denied were even being contemplated. It’s seen how so many of the scaremongering predictions of Project Fear failed to materialise. A second Referendum could be won with another Leave vote.

But not without a campaign organisation. Even without a second Referendum, Brexit feels in enough danger to justify the reconstitution of the Leave coalition, if only to continue to make the case it made so effectively in the first half of 2016, and hold the Government’s feet to the fire. The Brexit movement needs to be re-created.

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Same BBC Bias, Different BBC Source

Changes to the BBC Question Time format mooted by a former BBC honcho would do little to alleviate the programme’s bias, merely expand its sources 

Note: this is a longer version of an article first published at The Conservative Woman on 3rd November 2017.

Complaints about the sometimes blatant left-‘liberal’, pro-EU, pro-Green bias of BBC Question Time, in the selection of questions, panels and audiences, are perennial. However, they have recently been given significant backing, at least as far as allegations of the programme’s institutional anti-Brexit bias is concerned, by some old-fashioned investigative journalism.

In summary, since the  EU Referendum, Remainer panellists have outnumbered Leaver panellists by nearly 2 to 1, and no fewer than 86% of the panels have been Remainer-dominated.

So it was intriguing to come across this article in The New Statesman by former BBC grandee Roger Mosey, on how the programme format might be changed by its new editor.

In fairness, Mosey was one of the very rare voices at senior level in the BBC, not only to detect its innate metropolitan-‘liberal’ bias but also to go public with admission and criticism of it. It won him plaudits from journalists with no reason to sanitise it.

But his New Statesman article alludes to the bias issue only very obliquely, and the changes it suggests would, in effect, not so much alleviate, much less eliminate, the bias as invite it from a different source, under the guise of improving the quality of the programme’s output.

Briefly, he suggests panels with fewer politicians, largely ignoring those from outside the two main parties, and spending more time on “major topics”: but, significantly, he also favours inviting more experts, academics and scientists “who know their subject inside out”, to explain things more clearly.

There are some glaring flaws with this. Presumably, however, the current BBC – apparently so out of touch with the vast majority of the country that doesn’t inhabit the politico-media bubbles of Westminster, North and West London that it was utterly shocked by the EU Referendum result – would think we non-metropolitan proles would be too dim to notice them.

First, as we’ve had demonstrated to us all too vividly over the past two years especially, but also before that, the so-called “experts” are frequently – and sometimes spectacularly – wrong.

In the early 2000s, the CBI experts harangued us that for the UK not to join the Euro would be a disaster. They were wrong: the true disaster has been near 40% youth unemployment in the Southern Europe’s economies. In 2009, economics expert David Blanchflower predicted 5 million unemployed if UK public spending was cut. He was wrong too

In the EU Referendum, the Treasury experts, echoed by their tame and equally pro-Remain media courtiers, warned us a year-long recession would follow a Leave vote. They were wrong.

Central banking expert and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney assured us of an “immediate and profound economic shock” which would follow even a vote to Leave. One didn’t.

The polling experts told us a defeat for Remain was unthinkable. How did that work out?

“Pensions expert” Baroness Ros Altmann (still, incidentally, using her peerage in the unelected House of Lords to try and derail Brexit), predicted a fall in equity markets after a Leave vote. They rose instead.

Next, apart from their prediction errors, the experts, academics and scientists are just as prone to biases in their judgements as politicians. I wrote on this site only a month ago of the massive Left-‘Liberal’-Green bias among UK Academia, and particularly of its pro-EU bias.

Couple that with the BBC’s inherent left-‘liberal’ pro-EU bias, and it isn’t hard to guess the direction that most experts, academics and scientists invited on to a new-format Question Time by the BBC would probably be coming from.

Can you imagine it would risk having Economists For Free Trade’s Professor Patrick Minford on a panel, countering a Remainer politician by explaining how post-Brexit Britain, outside both the EU Single Market and Customs Union, would actually thrive under free trade?

Or the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s Dr Benny Peiser, highlighting the physical-science flaws in the Green climate-change consensus, showing there’s no established causal link between atmospheric CO2 and global temperature, and describing how the temperature records data used to back the CO2→AGW theory is “adjusted”?

There are other objections, too. It would be interesting to analyse all the questions asked on Question Time over, say, the last two years, so as to place them in one or other of these two categories: my guess would be that between half and two-thirds were questions whose answer had to be based on a value or moral judgment, in contrast to factual data or empirical evidence. In other words, purely political.

To illustrate this, take the issue of votes for prisoners, now back in the spotlight as a result of the May Government’s reported preparedness to relax the restrictions for some types of prison inmates.

You could be presented with all kinds of evidence from social scientist or an academic expert in the criminal policy field, in the form of data on, for example, the success or failure of rehabilitation strategies, or re-offending rates, or practice in other countries, and they might influence your opinion to a greater or lesser degree.

But in the end, your view on the issue surely comes down to the value judgment of whether or not you believe that the judicial penalty for an offence serious enough to warrant a prison sentence should also include withdrawal of a prisoner’s civic right to the franchise for the duration of the sentence. As suggested above, this is purely political.

Which leads on to two other factors. Although there’s been a constant trend in recent decades of elected politicians outsourcing their legislative and even administrative decision-making powers to unaccountable outside bodies – whether externally such as to the EU and UN or domestically to tribunals, quangos and NGOs – actual policymaking still largely rests with them, certainly more than it does with academics and “experts”.

So shouldn’t it therefore be primarily the politicians’ views that we need to ascertain, certainly on what, for all its faults, is the most-watched political programme? We have precious few means and opportunites to even semi-hold them to account, isolated from their party scripts and special advisers, as it is: that shouldn’t be diluted further by replacing them with substitutes who are immune from democratic verdict.

Additionally, if the programme is always by its nature destined to be more political than empirical, the suggestion of excluding minor parties looks almost designed to entrench two-party hegemony. Insurgent political movements challenging the established parties are at a disadvantage anyway under our First Past The Post system: restricting their access to prime-time political TV just looks anti-democratic.

If the BBC wants to change the composition of Question Time panels, it could do worse than dropping the vacuous celebrities whose bien-pensant virtue-signalling might send a frisson of excitement through the BBC’s metropolitan culture-warriors, but who contribute little else.

Padding Question Time panels with experts and academics, though, is the wrong answer, and on several levels: not least that it substitutes bias from one source with bias from another, less easily discernable, one.

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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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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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