Why Brexit?

On the 23rd of June this year the Brits rather upset political pundits, betting markets and our international allies by voting to leave the EU. I will save the reasons for this decision for another post (/rant), but I thought I’d start this jolly (and not at all bitter) series by laying out why Britian decided to hold a referendum in the first place.

In the heady and blissful days of 2013, the Conservatives were in a coalition government with the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems are pretty relaxed about the EU, but the Conservatives have always been rather divided on the issue of Europe, to put it mildly.

The Conservatives were facing an electoral challange from a smaller anti-EU party called UKIP. In fact, in 2013 it seemed like the Labour Party’s best chance to win an election would be the Conservatives losing votes to UKIP and pro-EU Labour coming through the middle.

So in darkened smoke-filled room the Conservative elite figured out an ingenious strategy: They would promise to hold a referendum on EU membership if they won the 2015 election. If you wanted to leave the EU, they argued, you shouldn’t vote for the anti-EU party, but for the Conservatives, because then you would get the referendum you so badly craved, and if Labour won there would be no referendum.

The then Prime Minister could tell older provincial people that he had their back while telling financiers, who were reasonably worried about planting a bomb under the UK economy “No worries, we’ll win the referendum, unite the party, cut your taxes and reach for the champagne.” Nudge nudge, wink wink. All good so far.

It also seemed likely in 2013 that the Conservatives would need the support of the Lib Dems to stay in power after the 2015 election. The Lib Dems would never support a referendum on EU membership, because they’re imminently sensible and don’t have a wing of xenophobes harking back to the days of empire. (Comes with the liberal turf, I suppose).

It seemed, then, that this was a great, low risk strategy to win voters. However, it turned out the plan worked a little too well. Partly as a result of their carefully designed message, the Conservatives won the election, had to hold the referendum and managed to lose it!

That is briefly how we came to have a referendum. In coming posts I will explore more deep-seated reasons for why the UK, usually so content with following authority sent a massive two fingers up to Conservatives and their crew of high financiers and political elite.

 

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Where were you when…?

I will start my posts, updates and occasional rants about post-Brexit Britain, by saying where the Philososloth was at the time of the referendum six weeks ago. Being a supposedly savvy latte-sipping, middle class, London-living political pundit I was sitting in the bar of the Marriott Hotel, confidently expressing to anyone who would listen that Remain would win and win comfortably. “Probably 55 to 45” I was telling my friends, suavly sipping at my not-so-suave Dark and Stormy. In the background Big Ben chimed merrily, as I expanded on my theory. “Could be even more of a blow out. 58 to 42, maybe” privately delighted at my mathematical dexterity of numbers adding up to 100.

On the bus home I was listening to the news, becoming more and more sure of myself as I heard talk of the markets going up, confident Remainers and Brexiters already scrabbling around for some good excuses. I went to bed early and set my alarm to 2 15 in the morning. I couldn’t miss a moment of this exciting and decive victory for common sense.

My alarm went off at 2 15 and I groggily got out of bed and put the kettle on. To my consternation the internet wasn’t working and after some swearing and banging the machine I finally got IPlayer up and running and found to my disbelief…. that Remain were 200,000 votes ahead.

Now that might sound like a comfortable lead, but, as the harrowed-looking political commentators were telling me, this lead was nowhere near large enough. The votes already in had been from places predicted to vote Remain in far larger numbers. Only problem was, they hadn’t, Remain was ahead by a whisker in the grand scheme of things and solidly Leave voting parts of the country were still to declare.

My disbelief turned to consternation as the votes came in. I was shocked. How could I have gotten it so wrong? Surely Twitter hadn’t been lying to me. All my Londonite friends had been banging on about how awful Leave was and how everyone they knew would vote Remain.

The results, when they finally came in, showed me why I had been so mistaken. I was living in a Remain bubble! Pretty much only London and Scotland had voted to Remain, along with a few other trendy university cities. I was horrified. Not only because of the win for Leave or the fact that I had been so badly mistaken in my predictions, but because Britain was a different country to the one I thought it was.

My upbringing of occasional visits to the Home Counties with cream teas at stately homes was a far cry from the disillusionment so many people felt with the country’s direction. Areas that had been left behind by the benefits of immigration and increased gloabalisation had voted heavily to Leave the EU. They had attached, it seemed to me, any grievance with modern Britain to the EU.

In the coming posts I will explore this sense of being left behind. I think it maps neatly onto Brexit, the Labour Party’s existential crisis and, across the pond, why Trump is doing so well in the States. So buckle up and prepare for some Moderate-Lefty rants about the state of the world.

The return of the Philososloth (again)

It seems like too much has been happening recently. The Philososloth, used to calm sprinkles of news coming in at a gentle pace, has practically been blown off the branch by the avalanche of news stories. In the last few weeks Britain has voted to leave the EU; the Prime Minister has resigned; UKIP, the Greens and Labour are having a leadership elections and the Tories, who were going to have a leadership election, but decided that their lust for power was more important, have chosen their new leader and Prime Minister.

If I had the savviness of a Tory spin doctor, I would say that my delay in covering this news has allowed me the distance for refelection and chewing the political cud to deliver top drawer analysis. In truth, however, I have suffered from the apathy and incompetence of a Labour leadership challenger and have simply been caught in politics limbo at the sheer rate of news.

Anywho… in the coming weeks (more likely months, at this rate) I shall be covering the recent developments in UK politics with the leisurely tone that only hindsight can provide.  I will cover Brexit, the Labour leadership election, the Conservative leadership election (for what it was) and the other twists and turns of recent political developments.

That’s all for now, but watch this space for updates from the Philososloth. But don’t hold your breath, I wouldn’t want to be held responsible for the unfortunate results.

Some Bizarre Things about the UK

The UK is a great place to live, but there are some truly bizarre things about it. If you delicately suggest to a Brit that maybe these ought to be changed, and, you know, made a little more sensible, coherent and fair, they will look at you in shock and horror. “It’s the Mother of Parliaments, you know?” Yes, that might be true. But the Mother of Parliaments is looking rather tired and haggard. Three particularly bizarre things are hard to explain to a bewildered foreigner:

  1. First Past the Post

If there was a prize for the most cack-handed way of allocating seats at elections, you wouldn’t have to look much further than First Past the Post (FPTP). It’s a hard thing to explain to anyone who is not from the UK (unless you are from the US, Canada, India or many of the Commonwealth countries to which this hapless export has been received).

Whatever you may think of UKIP, and who doesn’t, it is patently absurd that a party can get 12.6% of the vote at an election, and still only get one lonesome MP. If the philososloth’s maths serves him rightly, that amounts to 0.15% of the seats in parliament. For 12.6% of the vote! Equally, another right wing party can receive 4.7% of the national vote and still get 56 seats in Parliament (8.62%). In all seriousness, Britain, it’s time to make the seats match the votes.

  1. House of Lords

Another thing that is patently absurd is that the UK has an overfilled and unwieldy second chamber. It might be an idea to have an unelected second chamber, if it comprised of a small group of policy expert technocrats, who know a particular policy field in and out. But as it stands, it is the depository for MPs who failed to get reelected or gave enough financial support to their party when they were young and spritely. Don’t get me wrong, there are doubtless some extremely competent peers, but we don’t need 790 of them. We don’t need to support the large numbers who don’t even turn up to vote. It has become bloated beyond all usefulness.

  1. Power

Scotland has its Parliament, Wales and Northern Ireland have their Assembly, but England does not have a Parliament or an Assembly apart from the UK Parliament which represents the whole of the UK. Politicians are ringing their hands at what should be done. There is little appetite for an English Parliament as it would incur added expense and another layer of distrusted politicians. Part of the solution is at the moment to devolve power within England, but there is no synchronised process as some places want more power and others less. Here, as in many other areas, the Brits will just have to muddle along with an imperfect system.

It’s clear that FPTP, the House of Lords and the centralised-decentralised patchwork quilt of power in the UK would not be the model of choice for any sensible country. Rather these oddities are the result of being a country that is too stuck in the past to make wideranging reform. Now these issues are not likely to quicken the pulse of a normal person, and I’m sure that the old adage “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” will come to the fore as ever, but at some point a root and branch approach must be taken with the UK constitution.

A New Case for Britain to Stay In the EU

If Cameron intends to make the product of his renegotiation the centre-point of the campaign to remain in the EU, the Brits could very well end up voting to leave. Even if he manages to get the concessions he’s asking for, the reaction of the British people is bound to vacillate between boredom, bemusement and indignation.

  • The sterling will be protected from being integrated with the Euro (yawn).
  • Welfare tourism will be combated (yawn- and it won’t satisfy anyone concerned about free movement within the EU)
  • Make Brussels pledge that the UK will not become part of a European super-state (Wait, what? Is that even a possibility? What are we doing in this crazy organisation?)

The fact is that the concessions Cameron gets will be meagre and they should play a very minor role in the campaign to keep Britain inside the EU. Centre-stage should be a positive account of the part the UK can play in the EU and the significant benefits for the UK of remaining in.

An important part of that strategy should be to combat the myth that the UK is powerless within the EU. This is seemingly a widespread perception. A recent poll showed that 61% of Brits think that the UK should take more leadership in the EU, while at the same time thinking that Britain is powerless within the current system.

The UK is not powerless within the current system. Britain is represented, and takes a leading role in, many of the EU’s programmes and initiatives. The narrative that France and Germany are conspiring to exclude the UK from influence and power in the EU is simply untrue. Germany and France realise that the UK is one of the most important members of the EU and there is genuine concern and frustration that the UK is choosing to take a back-seat.

Last week President Xi of China visited London. The red carpet and the Queen were rolled out, and he was given a slap up banquet. Two years ago, when President Hollande visited the UK all he got was a sarnie in a pub somewhere in the Midlands. We need to change the way we talk about the EU within the UK. We need to change the way we interact with the EU. Britain can take a leading role in Europe and influence its future direction in a way less influential players can only dream of. The choice at the referendum is between a Great Britain and Little England. The choice should not boil down to whether Cameron manages to wrap inadequate negotiations in an appetising package.

The EU Referendum: Are you In or Out?

The UK is holding a referendum on the membership of the EU. It has to happen before the end of 2017. PM Cameron is busy negotiating a better membership deal for the UK. Not content with waiting for the results of Cameron’s negotiation, groups are forming on either side to argue their case for Britain to stay in or leave the EU. Here’s a quick guide to these groupings.

Stay in:

‘Britain Stronger in Europe’

‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ needs to go back to the drawing board, not only on their name, but on pretty much everything else as well. The campaign, for want of a better word, has had a stuttering start. It seems strange to people that their message so far is: “We think regardless of what the PM brings back we should stay in the EU.” Arguing for the status quo (let alone a status quo which Cameron hopes to change) is challenging.

Amid concerns that they would sound patronising by highlighting the dire consequences for British business of leaving the EU, ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ opted for sounding patronising by highlighting the dire consequences for British business of leaving the EU. Rather than talking about the many positives of the EU, such as preserving freedoms of race and religion, workers’ and women’s rights and rebuilding Europe after two devastating world wars, they are dealing in fear.

Leave:

‘Leave.EU’

It’s not just the stay-in campaign that deals in fear. The imaginatively named ‘Leave.EU’ are trying their hardest to highlight all the scary things about the EU; imagine all those continentals coming over to Britain. Imagine all that money which they soak up by visiting the NHS. Oh, think of all those people coming over here and working hard for our economy. The horror of it all!

‘Leave.EU’ is an eclectic bunch of anti-immigration fanatics and xenophobes. Luckily for the UK they are poorly organised and incompetent. Not surprising seeing as most mainstream, “sensible” euro-sceptics joined the other anti-EU group (yes, there are two!)

‘Vote Leave’

What ‘Leave.EU’ lack in credibility and competency, ‘Vote Leave’ makes up for in a stodgy lack of charisma. This pale, male and stale brigade consists mainly in those who hark back to an imperial hay-day, when the voice of Britain meant something on the world stage.

The tired battle cry goes something like this: “Outside of the EU Britain will be a major player!” It seems they learned nothing from the Suez Crisis, which is a shame seeing as most of them probably remember it.

Introduction to British Political Parties

Following on from my introduction to the Norwegian political parties, a presentation of the main British political parties seems in order.

Labour:

Labour were founded on ideals of equal distributions and opportunities for all. The problem is that no one seems quite sure how to interpret those ideals anymore. Following Labour’s disastrous election result in May they have rather self-indulgently torn themselves apart. Some think Labour lost because it was too left-wing, some because it was too right-wing, and some question the relevance of the left-right dichotomy in the first place.

New Labour, Old Labour, New Old Labour, New New Labour. All eager to push their agenda and policies forward in this era of openness. It makes it hard to be sure what the Labour policies are in this blaze of ideas.

Greens:

Similar to Labour it’s hard to pin down the Greens’ policies. But unlike Labour that’s not because there are too many being spouted around. Erm… I suppose they want to be green… Yes, that sounds about right. Though, saying that, the one council they control has one of the worst recycling rates in the UK, so who knows, really?

Liberal Democrats:

The commentariat love to use the phrase that the Lib Dems were “reduced to a rump” at the last election. I’m not quite sure what that term means; I presume it refers to the fact that the Lib Dems can now get their parliamentary work done in a largish taxi on their way to parliament. Alternatively, they could raise their green profile and start commuting in on four tandems.

More seriously, the Lib Dems might have a golden opportunity to build support for themselves in the centre ground, while the Tories cut public services to the bone and Labour go for an existentialist scream in the wilderness.

Scottish National Party:

The self-styled progressives in the SNP performed an impressive rout in Scotland in May, winning 56 out of 59 seats. Even more impressive seeing as it’s hard to think of any actually progressive policies the SNP have implemented while controlling the Scottish Parliament. Though they have given a few sticky-plaster policies to the middle-classes, their record for helping the poorest in society and redistributing wealth is poor.

Conservatives:

Things should be looking pretty for the Conservatives ahead of this week’s conference in Manchester. They have done something no party in the history of modern British politics has achieved; improved their share of the vote to go from a coalition government to a majority government.

However, PM Cameron faces many challenges. Chief among them being to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU, and then persuading the British people that he’s obtained fabulous concessions. In addition, his comment that he would not fight another election means that the party conference resembles an audition for next Conservative leader.

UKIP:

UKIP seems to be trying desperately to implode. A year or so ago, things were looking pretty for UKIP, with two well-publicised defections from the Conservatives and high hopes for the May 2015 election. However, despite picking up nearly 13% of the vote, they are left with only one MP. This one MP can only scratch his head at how the rest of the party promptly descended into chaos. He is an alarmingly articulated and well-spoken person, making interesting points on PR and the need for a fair EU referendum. Whether the move from backbench obscurity to high-profile irrelevance was worth it, only he can decide.