Thursday, 12 October 2017
My MP Tracy Brabin (Labour) states in her election literature (I kept a copy) that she would "fight for . . .full access to the single market." (I quote her exactly).
Consequently, when she failed to vote vote for Chuka Umunna's single market amendment to the Queen's Speech to achieve just that, and failed to sign an open letter from 40+ Labour stalwarts also demanding the policy she said she would fight for, I asked why?
I now have a response, (addressed to "Dear Peter," though I've never met her.)
As our trading relationship with the EU changes it is vital that we retain unrestricted access for our goods and services. However remaining in the single market and the customs union once we have left the European union would not be advantageous for us.
This is "double-think" worthy of Orwell's 1984.
Most traders will have access to the single market, but we shall only retain "unrestricted " access if we remain a member of it.
Yesterday on the BBC's "Today" programme a manufacturer argued that the EU's Common External Tariff (CET) would not be a significant barrier because the 15% depreciation of the £ as a result of the Referendum more than compensated for it. (So much for the scorn that the Tories used to heap on Labour as "the party of devaluation.")
But in international trade today tariffs are relatively minor impediment compared with non-tariff barriers (NTBs): that is that goods and services must comply with certain standards regarding origin, contents, labelling (remember the fuss about weighing things in grammes and kgs rather than lbs and ozs?) safety , environmental impact etc.
If Brexit is not stopped the Briexiteers will doubtless hail a trade deal with the US. This will almost certainly be on US terms and allow access to the UK market for items such as chlorine washed chicken and beef products raised with excessive use of hormones. These are the ones there's been publicity about: there will be many more that Europeans. find unacceptable.
The EU is not going to allow "unrestricted " access to these products.
Labour's current stance is therefore completely illusory, and no different from the the Government's "have your cake and eat it" delusion .
It is shameful that, with a government living in a "land of let's pretend" the official Opposition occupies identical ground. Their duty is to propose a viable alternative.
There are Labour MPs who recognise this. And there's a Labour Campaign for the Single Market. All power to their elbows, and I urge Mrs Brabin to stand by her election promise and join them.
Thursday, 5 October 2017
The Conservatives have achieved an amazing PR success with their lie* that they have been engaged for the past seven years in "clearing up the mess left by Labour." Now they are embarked on clearing up several other messes, but without acknowledging that is it they and their policies which caused the mess in the first place.
Take, for example, housing. Mrs May has just realised that there is a national shortage of affordable housing and so has announced in her conference speech that the government will sanction an additional £2b of expenditure to alleviate it. It is not awfully clear from where the £2b is to come (central government subsidy, local authority borrowing?) but the intention is good, though the funding is probably inadequate.
There's no mention in the speech, however, as to why there is a shortage of such housing. It originates in Margaret Thatcher's policy of "right to buy", introduced in 1980. This forced (not allowed, but forced) local authorities to sell off their council houses to tenants, who were tempted to buy by massive discounts. The local authorities were not permitted to use the receipts to build replacement council houses, so the supply of affordable rented accommodation diminished.
The Tory aim was to create a "property owning democracy" which, Mrs Thatcher hoped, would convert more people into Tory voters. Maybe some have obliged, but many of the discount- bought houses have been sold on and today some 40% of the former council houses are now owed by private buy-to let landlords, who, of course, charge "economic rents," so have acquired a "nice little earner."
Bizarrely the "right to buy" continues and has now been extended to housing association tenants. Maybe the right will not apply to any new social housing built, but, so far, joined up thinking this is not.
The second area now recognised as a "mess" is the energy companies who over-charge for gas and electricity. Again the problem is caused by Conservative doctrine which required the privatisation of the publicly owned and regionally organised suppliers (in my area they were the Yorkshire Electricity Board, YEB, and the North Eastern Gas Board, NEGB. They both ran separate and friendly showrooms where you could pay your bills, buy appliances, and, if you wanted, complain. ).
The gas suppliers were privatised in 1986 (those with funds enough to buy the shares in response to the "Tell Sid" campaign made a comfortable profit) and electricity suppliers in 1990. The idea was that the "discipline of the market" would lead to more efficient supplies, higher investment and lower prices. Ed Miliband's policy in the 2015 that the prices were unreasonably high and should be capped was treated with scorn by the Tories, but now Mrs May has adopted the policy, naturally with no explanation or apology.
Although the "strong and stable " Tory campaign theme of the 2017 election did not have the effect they desired we are still repeatedly told that we need a strong and determined government in " these very difficult times." Well, of course the times are of unprecedented difficulty - because David Cameron recklessly tried to solve an internal party problem by calling a referendum on membership of the EU, failing to legislate for the necessary safeguards and being too complacent to campaign effectively for continued membership.
So there we are: "Another fine mess. . . " as Oliver Hardy used to say to Stan Laurel in the films of my childhood.
Just to illustrate what good government can be like a friend whose sister takes the Daily Mail has passed to me a cutting that tells me:
- The government of Norway set up a Sovereign Wealth Fund in the 1990s to invest the country's oil riches;
- the fund is now worth more than $1tn;
- that's about £140 000 per Norwegian;
- the fund is invested all round the world and owns 1.4% of all global equities;
- it does not invest in companies that produce tobacco, nuclear weapons or land mines.
I'm not arguing that without the Tories life in the UK would be all sweetness and light - even a Liberal government would find that a tough call. But I am sure that history will show that the Tories have been responsible for much (or should that be many?) of the dire straights we find ourselves in today.
* For readers not up to speed on this one, the "mess" was actually caused by the near collapse of the world's banking systems in the financial crisis of 2007/8. Incredibly, Conservative PR managed to place the blame on Labour overspending. The Conservatives were, of course (and still are!) chief proponents of the deregulation which lead to the irresponsible lending by the banks which caused the crisis. Sadly and inexplicably the Labour Party were very timid about defending their record. so history was, and to some extent still is, rewritten.
**Post script (added 7th October). Just to show that this lie is "par for the course" rather than a blip, here is a letter from a Neville Westerman in yesterday's Guardian.
" It is a matter of historical record that the Conservatives voted against universal health in 1948, as they voted against universal dole and universal pensions in 1909, and universal education in 1870. I remember the vicious and dishonest hostility against the NHS by the Troy party in 1948 , which was very similar to the present attitude of the US Republicans.. But Jeremy Hunt declared to conference that the Conservatives have always supported the NHS. The success of the Tory party to gain power has largely been based on its eagerness to tell blatant lies. Tory policy for 150 years has been largely inhumane, devoid of compassion and opposed to the welfare state, but defended by lying, their "not so secret" weapon . . . ."
Sadly, the Tories' other "not so secret " weapon is a biassed press which gives credence, publicity and reinforcement to their distortions (to put it more politely)
Monday, 2 October 2017
Yesterday I attended a Pro-EU demonstration in Manchester to coincide with the first day of the Conservative Party conference. It was great fun. There were some 30 000 of us (according to one of the meagre pieces of press reporting); lots of EU flags along with some Union Jacks; plenty of balloon, horns and whistles; and loads of bonhomie and enthusiasm.
It was an all-and-none-party affair with some fantastic speakers: a former Conservative who used to serve on the same council as Theresa May; Bonnie Greer, whose father celebrated his 21st birthday in Britain as a member of the US racially-segregated D-Day forces; and our own Vince Cable.
The most effective speech by far was by Alistair Campbell. Among other things he pointed out that the Brexiteers implied that, the day after the Referendum (23rd June 2016) soar-away Britain would be out there fixing global trade deals with an eager "rest of the world." However, if you happened to have had sex on that day and conceived a child it would now be cutting its teeth, but trade dealing has yet to begin.
Your can see why Tony Blair chose him as Director of Communications.
After returning home I listened to several radio news bulletins and watched a couple of TV news programmes, but there were no mentions of our march. There was a little bit about a trade union march against austerity, presumably more newsworthy because they had a minor clash with the police (who were out in considerable force.) I doubt very much if many in the Tory conference even noticed us, and there didn't seem to be many Mancunians around. There's just one paragraph about us in today's Guardian, which also gives more coverage to the austerity march and their clash than to us.
The most detailed account I've found is here
So was it worth it? As a pro-EU compaigner I certainly feel emboldened and enthused.
I learnt a chant:
Whatever happened to "Strong and stable?"
Exit Brexit with Vince Cable.
Not really logical, but catchy.
But that seems a lot of effort for very little. Maybe there's lots of stuff on social media that I haven't yet learned to access.
Monday, 25 September 2017
I write as an occasional cyclist who has been bounced off my bike by a careless pedestrian as I was coasting modestly downhill. In this case nothing really serious resulted. I hit the tarmac and suffered some nasty grazes (I was wearing shorts) but didn't break anything, and luckily there was no traffic immediately behind to run me over. The pedestrian admitted she had stepped into the road without looking, apologised profusely, and presumably soon recovered from any bruises she'd received (she was well-upholstered.)
It is perhaps presumptuous to comment on the case of Charlie Alliston without having actually witnessed the accident or heard the evidence at his trial, but I think a few non-judgemental comments are in order.
In 2016 Alliston, riding in London, hit a pedestrian, Mrs Kim Briggs.who died as a result of the accident. I believe Mrs Briggs was talking on her mobile phone at the time of the accident and had stepped into the road. I've no idea whether Alliston was thrown off his bike or injured in any way or not.
There is no doubt about the seriousness of the outcome but it does seem to me that the legal case on which Alliston was prosecuted is somewhat contrived. Apparently the bicycle he was riding had no front brake and that is illegal. I wonder how many people knew that? I well remember the days when the only way to stop some bikes was to pedal backwards. Then apparently there is no offence of "dangerous cycling" so someone unearthed the crime of "wanton and dangerous driving" which, as it is contained in an act of 1861 ,five years before even the Penny Farthing was invented, was presumably meant to apply to horses and carriages.
Alliston has been sentenced to 18 months in prison, (of which he will presumably served 9 months if he behaves himself) This seems to me totally disproportionate. Apart from the cost to the public (about £40 000 per head per year) if he were barred from riding a bike Alliston would be no danger to the public, and if he were ordered to do some form of community service, that could do both him and the community some good.
Predictably the tabloids are crying out for new laws to punish reckless cyclists, and it is quite possible the government will oblige, (as the Major government did with their Dangerous Dogs Act, in 1991) in order to distract us from the Brexit shambles, (or, in Major's case, from "the Bastards" of that ilk).
Cyclist organisations point out that the government has as yet done nothing on a promise made in 2014 to consider "a wider examination of road laws and their application" which would apply to all road users, including pedestrians. They also point out that of the 400 or so pedestrians killed on Britain's roads each year fewer than half a per cent are struck by cyclists.
Just to be even handed, on my few visits to London I have noted the appalling behaviour of many cyclists, and acknowledge that this is beginning to creep in here, out in the sticks. I believe cyclists should obey the rules of the road, not jump traffic lights, show their own lights when it's dark, and have bells to warn of their approach (especially on bridle-ways, canal tow-paths and footpaths where I go walking.)
Friday, 22 September 2017
A few days ago former Troy MP Matthew Parris wrote and article in The Times in which he argued that now there is a good opportunity for a Liberal Democrat revival because, whereas both Conservatives and Labour are weighed down by ideological baggage, we Liberal Democrats, along with the bulk of the electorate, aren't.
This provoked indignation from the faithful, best expressed by my friend Michael Meadowcroft, who wrote directly to Parris:
There was much to take note of and to act on in your Times article last Saturday, “This is the moment for a Lib Dem revival”, but there was one sentence in the penultimate paragraph that astonished me, given your broad political experience and awareness:
And the defining defect of the Lib Dems? That they have no bold and simple ideology, no defining philosophy; that they’re stuck in the middle; neither one thing nor the other.
I am conscious that you then go on to suggest that this may well be an electoral advantage but the alternative is a more powerful case: that to develop a political party, and to recruit committed activists who have a determination to go out and persuade others, one has to have a “defining philosophy”. Moreover, to create and promote policy a party has to have a “defining philosophy” on which to base it. For instance, the Liberal Democrats were the only party to have a 100% attendance of its MPs to vote against the Iraq invasion, not because of any pragmatic opinion on weapons of mass destruction but because the party rightly believed that it was against international law, and that was enough; we have been in favour of an united Europe since 1955 because the party is internationalist and sceptical about the relevance of borders; we are in favour of devolution because we are aware of the dangers of centralism and its predilection towards authoritarian government; we are in favour of land value taxation because we believe that it is immoral to exploit land ownership rather than looking towards the common good; and we favour co-operatives in industry because we believe that to set management against labour is counterproductive and deleterious to productivity and is unnecessarily divisive. One could go on but these will do for examples of issues on which the party has a distinctive position stemming from its philosophy.
As for being “stuck in the middle”, that is an entirely illusory geographical point! Left and Right come down to us from the French Revolution and are predicated on the level of economic determinism or laissez faire, whereas Liberals see the spectrum as being between diffusion and centralisation - on which we are extremists!
I am always delighted to have the philosophy analysed, criticised and even attacked but at note that it exists. In recent decades we have prepared and published:
“Our Aim and Purpose”, 1962
“Liberals look ahead”, 1971
“Liberal Values for a New Decade”, 1980
“2002 Agenda” published as “Freedom, Liberty and Fairness”, 2002 and 2011
“Agenda 2020" currently in preparation.
These are all philosophical statements rather than detailed policy. I enclose a copy of the most recent publication for your delectation!
Monday, 18 September 2017
I don't buy the Telegraph so have not actually read Boris Johnson's 4 000 word article on the joys to come if the UK leaves the EU.
Most commentators seem to regard the article as either encouraging gung-ho optimism to cheer the troops, or gung-ho nonsense, high on enthusiasm and light on facts.
Two phrases which to me stand out, and I assume they are in the original, are that the post-Brexit UK that Johnson envisages will be "low tax" and "low regulation."
I find it frankly amazing, and deeply distressing, that any serious politician can offer these as a future for Britain so recently after the Grenfell fire, which has so tragically illustrated the dangers of both.
Of course, we must wait until the official enquiry issues its findings to gain a reasoned account of all the failings that led to the disaster. But it would be naive indeed to suppose that both penny-pinching to keep taxes low and insufficient, or inadequately enforced, regulation, did not play some part.
Grenfell is, sadly, only one, though most recent and most serious, of the many consequences of the misguided neo-liberal agenda and its emphasis on deregulation and low taxation which has done so much to lower the quality of our environment and reduce our protection as workers and citizens
I have no idea whether the former Grenfell residents voted to Leave or Remain, or whether many of them were even allowed, or even registered, to vote, but it is the poorest and weakest in our community who are most reliant on public expenditure financed by taxes to to provided decent public services, including social housing, and adequate and strictly enforced regulations to protect their welfare and safety as workers and citizens.
Wednesday, 13 September 2017
One of the problems of being on the side of the angels and supporting truth, justice and traditional British values (modesty, understated patriotism, level playing-fields, a penchant for the underdog," my word is my bond, "etc) is that we have a sense of proportion and a sense of shame. Therefore, since the case for disregarding the Brexit referendum vote has been made by umpteen of us, from the great and good Professor A C Grayling down to this humble blog, we're embarrassed about going on about it.
The case has been made, those concerned have presumably noted it, and the argument must move on.
Unfortunately the right in general and Brexiteers in particular, have no such reservations. Remember how the Tories managed, by constant repetition, to convince too many of the electorate that the financial crash of 2007/8 was al the fault of Labour's overspending and it was George Osborne's sad but necessary duty to clear up the mess they'd left behind? Or the constant banging-on about the Tory "long-term economic plan" which was neither long term ( it seemed to change every six months) - nor successful (the internal deficit which it promised to eradicate by the end of that parliaments is still there and not now due to be achieved until the end of this one.)
So in reference to Monday's great debate on the EU Withdrawal Bill (the chutzpah of calling it the Great Repeal Bill seems to have been abandoned) we were told again and again that "the people had spoken," that the purpose of the bill was to implement the "will of the people," and those who voted against it were defying democracy.
Therefore, without apology, once again let me rehearse that:
In the actual referendum
- just over a third voted to leave;
- another third voted to remain;
- and just a bit less than a third didn’t vote.
- This is nowhere near the two-thirds majority which the humblest club or society would require for a change in its constitution.
- Add to that the fact the that 16 and 17-year-olds, thought to be overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the EU, and the citizens most affected, in terms of years, by the result, were not allowed to vote.
It is shameful that so few MPs, elected to use their judgement on our behalf, have the guts to do what they know is "best for Britain," and put a stop to this nonsense. Instead the majority continue to vote for national self harm on the basis of a falsity.