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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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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Tory Armageddon or Tory Anti-Climax?

Will today’s House of Commons debate votes on the House of Lords’ wrecking-amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill prove to be Tory Armageddon or anti-climax?

This article was first published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 12 June 2018. 

Theresa May’s default instinct is procrastination. Her entire conduct of the Brexit negotiations has been characterised by deferral and delay, rather than decision. Today, however, comes the confrontation she can duck no longer. The House of Lords wrecking amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill come back to the House of Commons.

We can, however, totally dismiss the arguments of Unreconciled Remainers like Chukka Umunna and Gina Miller that for the Government to require all 15 Lords’ amendments to be debated and voted on in just 12 hours or so over the next 2 days is somehow an affront to democracy.

It takes either a breathtaking degree of chutzpah, or a staggering lack of self-awareness, for Umunna and Miller to (presumably) believe that their own blatant attempt to overturn the democratic decision of 17.4 million voters and stop Brexit somehow isn’t a far greater affront to democracy, but leave that to one side.

In 1999, the Blair Government, of which Umunna was, and Miller I suspect would have been, an enthusiastic supporter, made the Commons consider no fewer than 820 Lords’ amendments to the Greater London Authority Bill in just 5 hours.  The Remainers’ faux-outrage over 15 amendments in 12 hours or so over 2 days is risible, as well as being nauseatingly hypocritical.

Before her misguided decision to call last year’s election, May probably had the numbers, including the DUP and Labour Leavers committed to respecting the democratic outcome of the EU Referendum rather than Corbynite game-playing, to defeat the amendments and send the Bill back unamended.

Now, however, with May’s majority vanished, the picture looks very different, even with the votes of the DUP and those principled Labour Leavers. The rebellion by unrepentantly pro-EU, anti-Brexit Tory backbenchers – notwithstanding that, under a year ago, every single one of them stood for Parliament on a Party manifesto pledging to implement Brexit and leave both the Customs Union and Single Market – is now well into double figures.

It was boosted by Justine Greening’s refusal to accept a (justified) demotion in May’s Cabinet reshuffle, and by the (also justified) resignation of Amber Rudd as Home Secretary, because both have promptly joined the Soubry and Morgan claque in what is known as Remoaner Corner. Just in the past few days, former Environment Minister Caroline Spelman has thrown in her lot with them.

So attention has now reportedly turned to differentiating the 15 Lords’ amendments into Green, Amber and Red categories, in order of acceptabilty. Fine in theory, but most of the Red Amendments on which the Government might actually be inclined to dig in its heels, like continuing Customs Union and/or Single Market membership, or continued ECJ judicial supremacy, are precisely those on which the pro-EU Left in Parliament and the Tory anti-Brexit rebels intend to inflict a defeat on the Government, because they amount to their aim of a soft-as-mush Brexit-In-Name-Only.

As if that wasn’t enough, as a prelude the past few days have been dominated by David Davis’ (latest) implied threat to resign over the Northern Ireland backstop. At the time of writing, opinion is divided, depending on whom one chooses to believe, on whether Davis has once again backed down on a fudge, or May has capitulated by agreeing to time-limit the backstop, however nebulously.

It’s only a few days ago that comment and analysis was predicated on the forthcoming EU Summit on 28-29 June making the Parliamentary and Cabinet arithmetic difficult afterwards. Intriguingly, and as a reflection of how fast-changing this whole situation is, it’s now at least arguable that this judgment needs to be reversed.

Firstly, if May really has conceded a time-limited Northern Ireland backstop, (and even if she doesn’t resile from her concession in the face of unrelenting pressure from the viscerally pro-Remain mandarins of the FCO and Cabinet Office), it’s almost certain that Barnier and his Brussels colleagues will reject it out of hand at that EU Summit. Their aim is to exploit the UK/EU border in Ireland to stop Brexit.

Secondly, if she goes to that Summit on the back of several Parliamentary defeats brought about essentially by her own disloyal backbenchers, her position will be severely weakened. It’s the Parliamentary arithmetic that will make the EU Summit difficult, not the other way round.

Paradoxically, May’s, and Brexit’s, lifeline could be to refer back to that unnecessary 2017 General Election. It did at least have one advantage, of making the vast majority of her Remain-voting MPs face their constituents and promise to implement the Referendum result. She should have no qualms about reminding the rebels of that, and then make every Amendment vote a Vote of Confidence, in effect threatening them with another election.

But if she won’t, then she must go. For some time the political blogosphere hasn’t been reticent in calling for May to be ousted, not even necessarily to save Brexit, but because of her manifest inadequacies both as a Prime Minister and Party Leader – I myself called for her to go at TCW on 29 January this year –  but now the heavyweight commentators are even joining in, economist and Conservative Andrew Lilico’s devastating indictment of her at Reaction last week being but one example.

But her potential Brexiteer ousters, it appears, lack the courage to back their words with deeds. Like so many of their predecessors, it will be their fate to be remembered, not as Tory statesmen who upheld democracy, but Party hacks who, when it came to the crunch, put party before country. Anti-Climax seems far more likely than Armageddon to be today’s outcome.

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The De-Legitimisation of Democracy and the Demos

The reaction of the pro-EU Remain campaign to Leave’s victory in the 2016 EU Referendum has been an attempt to de-legitimise the Demos and even Democracy itself

Note: this is the long (and updated) version of an article first published at The Conservative Woman on Monday 08 January 2018

The EU Referendum was a seminal event in our political history for many reasons. One of them, however, was unique in modern times. In reaction to their defeat, the losing side’s leaders unleashed their inner contempt, not just for the result, but for the mass electorate, and arguably even for democracy itself.

The several distinct strands discernible in the Ultra-Remainers’ interpretation of the Referendum result were, and are, all intended to justify either ignoring, diluting, or overturning, it. That the flaws in them are so self-evident and so easily debunked, however, highlights their desperation.

‘The Leave vote was driven by racism and xenophobia, to stop all immigration’.

This first, knee-jerk, reaction has endured, an enthusiastic adherent being the habitually self-unaware Owen Jones, who in effect repeated it approvingly in a blog criticising the Remain-Elite’s demonisation of Leave voters (yes, really!). But, apart from the logical fallacy that wanting to stop all immigration (a minority view even among Hard-Leavers) is not prima facie evidence of either racism or xenophobia, how the accusation explains the large number of BME and Eastern European origin Leave voters is unclear.

The definitive rebuttal, though, emerged from Lord Ashcroft’s polling which found the majority of Leave voters voted on ‘Sovereignty and Democracy – the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK’. Even the second choice – ‘for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders’ – is about control, not prohibition: the usual Remainer accusation of “to stop all immigration” is therefore exposed as just anti-Leaver prejudice.

‘Leave voters were predominantly un-educated, ‘low-information’ people, who didn’t know what they were voting for’

Even discounting its inherent repugnance – when did a vote’s democratic validity under universal adult franchise suddenly become conditional on educational or knowledge qualifications defined post-facto by the losing side? – this meme’s central tenet, that mere possession of any old university degree makes your opinions and vote valid, but those of your not similarly-endowed fellow-voters invalid, is risibly false. Just to give one example, 55% of graduates, apparently, believe that both poverty and income inequality are increasing, when in fact the exact opposite is true.

‘The Leave vote caused a spike in hate crime’

This imprecation was made possible at all only by the balefully-imprecise definition of ‘hate-crime’, an ‘offence’ requiring neither complaint, victim, evidence nor corroboration to be accepted and recorded. Rightly described by Brendan O’Neill as ‘the most cynical, politically motivated crime panic in memory’, and ‘the invention of a crime epidemic to the cynical, political end of defaming Brexit as hateful and dangerous’, it has now largely subsided, leaving its levellers looking especially malevolent, or foolish, or both.

‘The Leave vote was secured by Russian influence and bots on Twitter’

With this allegation, Remainer desperation descended into fantasy. It was rapidly demolished, not least by academic Matthew Goodwin’s comprehensive dismissal of the so-called ‘evidence’ for it. In summary, approximately 86 per cent of the allegedly Brexit-“influential” tweets, which themselves represented only 15 per cent the total analysed, were actually sent after the polls had closed, and fewer than 1 per cent of voters polled cited Twitter as their preferred information source.

‘They didn’t vote to be poorer, or to leave the Single market and Customs Union’

Actually, they did. The repeated insistence by Cameron and Osborne alone that a Leave vote involved quitting both the EU’s principal economic institutions meant that no-one could be unaware of those consequences of their Leave vote. The prominence given it, plus the findings of the Ashcroft poll, suggests Leave voters recognised there were economic risks in leaving, yet were still prepared to risk a temporary financial downside for themselves to ensure their children’s future in an independent,`self-governing democracy.

Varied as all the above reactions are, they do have one common factor which appears both unprecedented in recent history, and very disturbing. Albeit in different ways, they all seek, not merely to condemn or oppose the Leave vote, but specifically to de-legitimise it, as justification for ignoring, negating or overturning it. As historian Robert Tombs puts it: ‘Never in modern times has there been such an overt and even contemptuous attempt to deny the legitimacy of a popular vote.’

Previous unexpected election outcomes produced shock, as in 1992, or noisy street demonstrations by the losers, as in 2015: but I cannot recall a previous vote in modern UK political history after which the losers have embarked on a blatant campaign to invalidate the votes of the winners, and to such an extent as to challenge even the legitimacy of democracy itself.

Why? Well, those of what we can accurately label the Ultra-Remainer mindset, even carried over into regular general elections, have not been on the losing side in any election for approximately 25 years. After 1992, they got, in succession, Blair, Brown and Cameron: in effect a continuum of Blairite government reflecting their politics, right up until its abrupt repudiation by 17.4 million voters on 23rd June 2016.

For them, losing is a new experience, one which they don’t like, and can’t handle. And the underlying reason is that, as they’ve now shown and continue to show, they actually hold a low opinion of the masses, and, by extension, of mass democracy, especially when it delivers an outcome unwelcome to them.

It’s clear that, for so many, the overriding attraction of EU membership is because 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.

In a way, we should thank them. Their Referendum-denying, insult-hurling, anti-Brexit demonisation and attempted de-legitimisation of 17.4 million people’s votes has revealed starkly the sheer extent to which this country’s elites tolerate mass democracy only for as long as it produces the results they want. When it doesn’t, they’re viscerally eager either to disparage it or suspend it.

And they are still disproportionately both influential and vocal, in politics, government, the media, academia, and big-business. As we go into 2018, Brexit is still not certain, despite being the largest vote for any single policy in British political history. It’s starting to feel as if democracy itself is dangling by a very tenuous thread.

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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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The Academics and Socialism

Indoctrination of the university student and graduate population with the predominantly left-wing political attitudes prevailing in higher education has a growing effect on British elections

Note: this is the longer version of an article first published at The Conservative Woman on 2nd October 2017.

Why”, asked Laura Perrins, Co-Editor of The Conservative Woman on 22 August, “should you risk sending your children to university for a full three years of left-wing propaganda?

For the parents of any young adult raised in a household even moderately inclined towards social conservatism, EU-withdrawal, a smaller state, lower taxes and free-market economics, this is an increasingly pertinent, even worrying, question.

Because, as Laura pointed out, after three years at an educational establishment which institutionally not merely disagrees with your views, but positively hates them and thinks they (and consequently you) are evil, your children will more than likely emerge from it thoroughly marinaded in left-wing thinking (and hating you in their turn).

The young’s voting patterns in recent election results certainly seem to bear this out. The YouGov analysis of voting by age group in the 2017 General Election shows that, in all three age-groups spanning the ages from 18 to 29, the Labour vote was over 60%.

Higher Education and Academe as a bastion of left-wing indoctrination is an impression that’s widely held. But to what extent is it true?

Fortunately, we have some empirical data from within the last two years. The chart below shows the results of a poll taken shortly before the 2015 General Election, asking for the voting intentions of UK University academics.

The responses leave little room for doubt. In no discipline did the intention to vote Labour drop below 40%, while you have to go as low as 20% in every academic discipline before encountering a voting intention other than Labour or Green.

Overall, the academics’ voting intention went 83% to the four main parties of the Left (Labour, LibDems, SNP and Green), while in the General Election proper, their vote share was only 47%. In other words, university-tenured academics inclined towards parties of the Left at a frequency nearly double that of the electorate as a whole.

A similar poll of UK academics’ voting intentions was conducted in the run-up to the 2016 EU Referendum, by The Times Higher Education Supplement. Here, the results were even starker.

In no discipline was the intention to vote Remain below 80%, while in only one discipline, Engineering and Technology, did the intention to vote Leave break through the 15% threshold. As everyone now knows, the result was 52%-48% for Leave. Once again the academics leaned Remain-wards at a rate more than 1½ times that of the voting population.

So, on the face of it at least, the perception of the University experience as being an academic indoctrination process in Europhilia and Leftism has some evidential support. If you have the impression that your child has emerged from University brainwashed into an ardently-Europhile Leftist who hates you and everything you stand for, you’re probably right.

But what seems explored much more rarely is: why this should be so? Why should the supposedly academic and intellectual elite overwhelmingly incline towards leftist and statist parties and policies that concentrate decision-making power in bureaucracy rather than democracy, and reject those which favour liberal-individualism and free-market competition? And do so, moreover, at a incidence nearly double that found in the adult population as a whole?

Well, the first thing to remember is that this phenomenon isn’t new. Hayek analysed and excoriated it decades ago in his “The Intellectuals and Socialism”, famously referring to “the professional second-hand dealers in ideas”.

Politically, the Academic and Intellectual Elite has an aversion to capitalism and free-market competition because, being a system based on voluntary exchange reflecting consumer preferences, it doesn’t confer on them either the superior societal status or the monetary rewards to which they consider themselves entitled because of their (assumed) far superior intellect.

Arguably, Robert Nozick put it even better in his 1998 essay Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?

“Intellectuals feel they are the most valuable people, the ones with the highest merit, and that society should reward people in accordance with their value and merit.”

This is especially marked when they compare themselves with people successful in what, to them, is the rather grubby business of designing, producing and marketing products that people will voluntarily part with their hard-earned, post-tax cash to own. Think, for example, how much more popular in the public mind James Dyson is than A C Grayling. The old disdain for “trade” has crossed over from the Aristocratic Landed Elite to the Intellectual Academic Elite.

Consequently, the academics and intellectuals incline, politically, away from free-markets democracy towards the more collectivist politics of markets-averse, leftist-statist bureaucracy. Not only does it value them more than competitive free-market capitalism does: but it can also use the coercive power of the State, manifested via the taxation system, to enforce on wider society at least a financial recognition of their assumed superior intellect and desired superior status.

This also explains their near-homogeneous support for remaining in the European Union. Yes, academics and intellectuals do favour the EU as an additional source of funding. But because the EU is an essentially socialistic, authoritarian, top-down bureaucracy, they also view it as a means to impose on the UK the kind of Leftist policies which they themselves are attracted to, and without the necessity and inconvenience of obtaining popular democratic consent. Remember, as we saw in the aftermath of the EU Referendum, their opinion of the demos borders on contempt.

This leads to the next question. For how long do the academics’ and intellectuals’ pro-Left, pro-EU biases continue to influence their recipients’ voting behaviours after inculcation?

Conventional psephology held that most had grown out of their youthful flirtation with socialism by about 30, by which time advancing careers, along with marriage, family and mortgage responsibilities, had altered their perspective. Indeed, as late as April this year, a YouGov poll suggested that the Left-Right crossover point comes roughly at age 34.

However, the results of the 2017 General Election have forced a re-evaluation of that hypothesis. It seems that the Labour/Left voting tendency now persists for at least a decade beyond that. As the Ipsos MORI chart below shows, the phenomenon now extends well into the 40s, and that it’s only after 45 that a Conservative-leaning tendency starts to prevail.  

This seems to bear out what Iain Martin has recently written on “the widespread assumption among those aged below 45 that Tories or pro-market people are an inherently bad bunch with motives that are inherently evil”.

Perhaps, though, it could have been better predicted. Because the age distribution of voting patterns in the 2016 EU Referendum shows a similar pattern. Once again, it’s only at the 45-54 age group does Leave start to prevail over Remain.

Neither does this look to be a temporary aberration, attributable to the more fractious political atmosphere before, during and since the EU Referendum. The pattern seems to be persisting, and hardening. The Remain=Labour and Leave=Conservative assumptions are by definition somewhat crude proxies, but it does appear that an overall shift in age-related voting patterns may be taking root for the short-to-medium term at least.

As far as countering it is concerned, the first thing to remember is that this may not, after all, be so historically unprecedented, and so in the end be so permanent, as excitable media comment suggests.

Albeit not of the same magnitude, there have been similar trends observed before, as the chart below of under-30s percentage voting patterns in General Elections since 1964 shows. The under-30s Labour vote almost halved between 1964 and 1983, and again between 1997 and 2010.       

Under 30s support Lab & Con since 1964

However, that might be where the optimism ends, at least for the time being.

In 1983, the Conservative Party, though faced with a Labour opposition similar to Corbyn’s in its socialist programme, was itself ideologically committed to a smaller state, free markets and capitalism, and unafraid to take on its opponents publicly in the battle of ideas. In 2010, it benefited from a widespread disillusionment with the dysfunctional Brown government after 13 years of increasingly tawdry New Labour.

Today’s circumstances, however, are nowhere near so propitious. First, no-one under 50 has much, if any, memory of what life in Britain was like under the last real even semi-socialist government: and given the prevalence of left-wing attitudes in higher education, they may well not have been taught an accurate history of it. To under 50s who lean Left-wards, therefore, Corbynism, however flawed, can seem fresh and exciting. 

Far worse, though, is that, as has been so starkly shown this past week, the Conservative Party is mired in intellectual atrophy, apparently completely incapable of unashamedly making the case against state-socialism and for a lower-taxed, less-regulated and more entrepreneurial economy, capitalism and free markets. So ideologically-sapped, and so devoid of confidence, does it appear, that it is reduced to offering, almost apologetically, diluted versions of previous flagship Labour policies.

Unless the Conservative Party is jolted from its torpor by the prospect of impending ejection from office and replacement by the most disastrously socialist government since the Labour Party’s formation, then the left-wing ideological indoctrination of the young via higher education – and Laura was surely right in her original 22nd August article to suggest that one of Blair’s motives in greatly expanding university access was to expose more to it – will yield results, with dire consequences, not least for those welcoming it.

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The People-In-Parliament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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