Monday 27 June 2016

Interesting times; drunken sex with your mate's partner?

People voted Leave or Remain in the #BREXIT referendum for many different reasons some considered ones, some less considered. Most (but surprisingly not all) Leavers are satisfied with the result, a narrow margin for Leave. Most (but once again not all) Remainers are dissatisfied with the result.

It is clear already that nobody (Leavers, Remainers, UK politicians, Europeans, world leaders) was in any way prepared for the result and the last few days have been amusing watching the Leave campaign members tripping over one another to say "we didn't mean X would happen when we suggested X could happen". The first thing the leading Leave politicians did was to beg David Cameron to stay on as PM rather than resigning on the spot. His position is untenable: he tried to settle an internal Conservative party dispute by calling an absurd gamble and he comprehensively lost.

Nobody now knows what happens next. The referendum is not binding on Parliament which is and always has been sovereign. (The Leave campaign's stance on sovereignty was completely dishonest and some of them at least must have been educated enough to know that) If Brexit happens, it will be the will of Parliament not "the British people" that makes it so. What does Brexit mean, exactly? I know it means that we leave the EU but what does that mean, exactly? Do we leave the single market? Do we close our borders to EU citizens? Do we stop making products which conform to single market specifications? Do we abandon regulation of working hours, redundancy pay? Have we suddenly become filthy rich? Will China launch a bid to become our preferred market? Will all the Brits retired in Spain have to come "home" again?

What should have happened with this referendum, if it was to have been called in the first place, was that senior politicians on both sides should have informed and educated the public rather than relying on spreading fear and appealing to dog-whistle politics. The Remain campaign did little to nothing to explain the history of the EU, the wider benefits of the EU, how the EU actually operates. The Leave campaign comprised a simple series of sound bites, none of which provided an actual vision of what leaving the EU would mean in practical terms. The £350 million per week claim may go down in history as one of the more obvious lies of the campaign along with David Cameron's ridiculous "non-mention" of World War III. The £350m was debunked by reliable sources early on but continued to be plastered all over buses, posters, leaflets and speeches. Many will have seen Nigel Farage's weasel words about "a mistake" and "nothing to do with me guv".

It feels like the morning after a drunken night when waking up bleary eyed to discover you've just had sex with your sister or your best mate's wife. I conversed with many Leavers before the vote and tried to understand their reasons for voting out. One woman's entire argument was "350 million per week" unassisted by any thought of whether that's a lot or a little or what might or should happen to it. An ex-serviceman gave as his motivation "I served in Germany, I bloody hate the Germans" . Many thought that "the country is full". "the Euro was a disaster". The Remainers fared little better: "I don't see the point of leaving"; "I hate Nigel Farage"; "Nissan will leave if we vote out". "We're stronger in Europe".

Riding across Europe since the vote I've met Germans, Austrians, Hungarians & Romanians all of whom expressed shock and concern for the wellbeing of Great Britain. (The exception was a Frenchman in Hungary who said "fuck off Great Britain" or something like that, he was driving away and scowling at his girlfriend at the time so he might just have been being French)

I see from the news and social media that outright racism clearly played its part as well.

An ancient Chinese curse is to hope that "you live in interesting times". I think Britain in June 2016 now fits that description. The Conservative party as hopelessly divided over Europe as ever; the Labour party hopeless; other parties marginalised and ineffective. The SNP threatening a second independence referendum. Half the population being pleased that we've voted out, the other half sad that we could have behaved so stupidly. I don't mean that leaving the EU is stupid, I mean that the process which got us here couldn't have been more stupid if it was designed to be a stupid process - Blackadder was actually fiction you know!

We can't wind back the clock, we are where we are. I am personally torn between "let's trigger Article 50 right now and just do it" and "let's give the politicians a good kicking and make them do their job properly". I am not afraid of life outside the EU, perhaps life will even be better that way, but I really do think that we have sleepwalked into this position and we ought to wake up and take control. Take control back from the politicians who've played the game so badly, take control back from the racists and scaredy-cats. Let's hold our politicians to account, not just when they do something that offends us but all the time. Let's insist that they explain issues properly, not just soundbites supporting their own position.

In the 2014 European Parliament elections UK turnout was 35%, twice that of a parish council election. UKIP got 27% of the votes cast resulting in 24 MEPs. Of course we didn't do well in EP voting, UKIP MEPs either abstained or just voted against everything, even when that was against our interests. If that isn't a strong indicator of voter ignorance and/or apathy I don't know what is.

When Tony Blair resigned his mate Gordon got his job. No-one asked us, the electorate, they just anointed him. There were clear calls for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty and Cameron promised one if he got in. Brown sneaked off and signed the treaty anyway making calls/offers of a referendum useless. The most likely outcome now is that we'll get Boris Johnson, no-one will bother asking us, and he'll claim a mandate for all kinds of things as well. Is that what you want? Boris "I'll announce tomorrow which way I'm going to campaign in the referendum" Johnson as Prime Minister with a free hand to do as he pleases (or can persuade enough Conservative MPs to agree).

I was a Remainer and I'm sorry that I and others didn't do a better job of reaching out to the Leavers and undecideds and non-voters. I have many friends in the Leave camp and they are just as guilty as me but they're less bothered because of course they won.

Whether we leave the EU or stay in (yes I do still think that's a live option) we have presented a hugely divided face to the world and to ourselves. Many have been offended by the campaign, the result and the widespread dissatisfaction after the event. We do need to to explain our positions properly, to understand and address opposing positions properly, not dismiss them out of hand. We need to invest time and effort to ensure that we properly understand the various issues and we need to aim for consensus and compromise rather than division.

There is a petition with some 2.5 million signatures calling for a second referendum triggered by the narrow margin. Ironically it was started by a Leaver who thought Remain would scrape through. If that petition, a perfectly sensible requirement if announced at the outset, is granted now, it would simply cause more dissent and turmoil. If Brexit is to be halted now it needs politicians to step up to the plate of bringing both sides together. Is the current Conservative party, regardless of leader, really up to that job? If Brexit is to go forward, I would make the same assertion and ask the same question.

Interesting times. Will the British people, the 34 million who voted, really take back control or were we really only able to tick a box on somebody else's question?

Thursday 16 June 2016

Yet Another EURef Exchange

Hi Damian,

You will no doubt remember that I was unable to vote for you in 2015, despite you being the best candidate, because of the party's petulant approach towards human rights as expressed in Grayling's celebration of ignorance entitled "Protecting human rights in the UK" and amazingly adopted as a manifesto commitment.

I'm sure that you and the prime minister were both surprised to wake up after the election to discover that you'd fluked a majority and consequently had to actually implement some of the more outlandish schemes, especially an in/out referendum. I realize that, as the party enjoys a diverse range of members, it's necessary to placate some of the louder backbenchers but I think that putting the country at risk to sort out some internal strife involving the  semi-detached rightwingers is taking "one nation tories" too far.

Assuming that the party survives the chaos it's brought about, perhaps the government could give itself a stiff talking to and start acting like one. In the event of a vote to leave I may well decide to relocate to Poland while that remains a possibility. If sense prevails and we remain, with a huge majority, I should like to see the senior tories currently spreading lies and disinformation thrown out of the party.Let them join UKIP or form a new party - Patriotic Conservatives - so that the party can get on with the job of running the country rather than quarrelling like naughty siblings.

There will be plenty of time to do the rearrangements after the referendum as there isn't any effective opposition. Grasp the nettle.

Good luck,


Dear Bob,

Thank you for your email.

I am pleased that our party is fulfilling its manifesto commitments from 2015 and I am glad to see that we are holding this very important debate on our place in the European Union.  I cannot comment on what some colleagues have chosen to say as part of the EU referendum campaign, as I'm sure you will understand.  I have always hoped that people would engage with this debate in a constructive and well-informed manner and I, for one, will continue to push for a positive message about why we should remain in the European Union.

Kind regards,

Damian Hinds