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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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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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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Bearding Branson For Bucks

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

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

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

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

euro-by-branson-2

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

Alas not.

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

mossbacher-wiseman-quote-re-branson

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

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

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

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

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

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The LibDems Can’t Half Pick ‘Em

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that will be a very fine contradiction indeed.

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A Matter of Law and Liberty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I Wasn’t Wrong. I Just Underestimated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBC CBI comp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stronger IN …. Specious Misrepresentation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UK Cancer Survival RatesNHS 5-year cancer survival rate OECD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cancer mortality worldwide 2012

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

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

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

2016.04.27 Cancer Lancet

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

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

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

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

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

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

UK medical science policy sources

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

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

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

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

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