Tuesday, October 31, 2017

We won't win Leave voters over by calling them fools for believing the 350million-a-week for the NHS pledge.

Telling people that they are fools and have been lied to is never going to win them over. That’s why complaining about the 350million-a-week for the NHS lie may make us Remainers feel good but it won’t help us stop Brexit. Rather we should use that promise against the Brexit clique to win over Leave voters. Lets make our campaign for a second referendum include the demand that that referendum include an option for staying in the EU along side a binding commitment for 350 million extra for the NHS paid for with a tax on those sectors of the economy that are going to suffer as the result of Brexit.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Conservative Party's circumventing of electoral law is a step in a dark direction

Notwithstanding Theresa May’s hand in had walk with Trump and her hostility towards immigration she is clearly not a Trump. But Trump did come out of the blue. Packing of the supreme court has ensured that the normal election expenses rules that is essential to the functioning of normal democracies have been outlawed. This has ensured that elected representatives are so beholden to their donors that they have little legitimacy. The gutting of the voting rights act, the great achievement of the civil rights movement of the sixties, has opened the way to a myriad of voting suppression tactics. All it needs is to look at maps of many states with grotesque voting districts to see that crude gerrymandering of the kind that in a real democracy would result in prison terms to realize that American democracy was flawed well before Trump.

The election fraud revealed by channel four is not on the scale that is normal in the USA. But the threat to democracies today is not from crude military coups but a gradual process of democratic backsliding in which the path to authoritarian rule is taken in baby steps.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

British government hard line on Brexit talks = failure of the Brexit negotiations.

We have been hearing for years that what’s wrong with the EU is that it is a political project. If only, they have been saying, it stuck to just being a free trade agreement. Of course, European Unity has never been simply about free trade- its main aim is to ensure that there is never again a war in Europe – an essentially political aim. In that it has succeeded – wars have occurred withing the geographical region of Europe (Bosnia, Ukraine) but only beyond the borders of the EU. Now, however, everything has changed. The Brexiters now tell us that the EU needs Britain as a trading partner and for this reason will be forced to accept a deal favorable to Britain so long as Theresa May stands firm.
The truth is the reverse. The remaining EU leaders see no reason to give Britain the economic benefits of membership if she is no longer wants to be part of the political project. They would like to keep good relations with Britain. They are aware that many voters still wish to be part of the EU and even after exit there is the hope that a future government may again seek membership. But the truth is that they aren’t that bothered. If Theresa thinks that being a bloody difficult woman is a good negotiating strategy she will discover that the EU leaders will decide they have better things to do than trying to get an agreement with a British government lacking any wish to compromise. The result will be Britain crashing out to the EU with no deal. But perhaps the extreme Brexiters with their ultra free-market dogma want just such an outcome with the possibility of a zero regulation bargain basement Britain?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Theresa May's post-fact call for an election

It is breathtaking how many untruths May packed into her statement calling a snap election. To take one example:

At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division. The country is coming together, but Westminster is not.

This is only a few weeks after 100,000 marched for Europe in London on the 25th of March along with many others in other parts of Britain. This is the largest show of support for the EU that there has ever been in Britain. The opposition to Brexit, on the other hand in parliament has been spineless.

Yet listening to Theresa May saying such things with such conviction it is very hard to credit that what she says is not the absolute truth. All politicians spin, they bend the truth to be more favorable to themselves and, let's be honest, so do we all. However to say things that are so divorced from reality so shamelessly is a feature of populist authoritarianism. It works because the human mid is simply overwhelmed by the size of the whopper being told. It takes a supreme effort to realize that it isn't true.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Grammar Schools and the unequal future Britain faces in Brexit

Among the many things that shows Theresa May's promise that Brexit will be fairer to be a lie is the government's to re-establish grammar schools across England. The evidence is that selective education largely benefits the better-off. Justine Greening, however, thinks that will change by moving the focus of education policy away from targeting the most disadvantaged households. Seriously? To move the focus away from the most disadvantaged who also have the least chance now is going to transform grammar schools into conveyor belts of social mobility?

But lets for a moment imagine that grammar schools could become engines of social mobility enabling the brightest and best from working class communities to reach university - what would be the result? It would mean that those communities would be deprived of of their most able members so leaving those communities less able to organize for their rights. In short greater social mobility would be at the cost of greater inequality for those who would be left behind.

But of course, grammar schools are not some Tory party to undermine working class communities by siphoning of those with the most enterprise so co-opting potential trouble makers. Instead it is a way of ensure government spending on education preferentially goes to the children of the Tory base - those already privileged.

Nonetheless it is worth keeping in mind that more grammar schools would make Britain more unfair even were they to work in the way the government claims.

Welcome to brave new Brexit-Britain.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The new Supreme Court judge exposes the brutal reality behind the authoritarian populism of Trump

If you didn't follow the nomination of Niel Gorsuch the newly sworn in justice of the US supreme court check out the case of Alphonse Maddin, the truck driver, who was sacked because he detached the trailer from the cab and then drove the cab to somewhere he could warm up. When Maddin made that choice the temperature in the cab had fallen to 14 degrees below zero, and not that was not Centigrade but Fahrenheit. The law in the US protects a worker who refuses to operate a vehicle but Gorsuch chose to define vehicle as the cab alone (the trailer had frozen brakes) hence he came up with the idea that Maddin had been sacked for refusing to not operate the vehicle. Essentially he twisted the law to say that a worker has to be ready to lay down his life to protect the cargo he is delivering in order to avoid being sacked.
That such an extreme pro-corporation stance should be a selling point for Trump puts into sharp relief the extent that Trump will push the interests of those of his class rather than the downtrodden he claims to represent. It also shows the Republic Party as a whole who voted for Gorsuch unanimously to be the party not of conservatism but reaction.
But the fairer Brexit of Theresa May is just as much a lie. That Brexit will mean an assault on the rights of employees can be seen by the determination with which the government is defending the hike in fees for Employment tribunals. It is a pretty clear signal that a government which undermines the enforcement of employment rights will trash them once the Brexit Henry the 8th clause gives them carte blanche to trash those rights.

Friday, April 07, 2017

EU-friendly local authorities - a way of breaking thought the media blackout.

Anyone who was at there on March the 25th, the biggest pro-EU march there has ever been in Britain, knows we can stop Brexit. But with the media taking on a herd mentality of the inevitability of Brexit which means excluding voices resistance and remain voters are chosen to be those who are depressed and acquiescent.
CND faced a similar problem 35 years ago and came with a number of inventive ways to their issue on the agenda. One of these was getting local authorities to declare themselves as nuclear free zones. That idea is easily adaptable to the struggle for Europe. Getting local authorities to declare themselves as EU-friendly districts (or whatever) provides a local focus for local activist groups and success would send a clear message to both the media and the local MPs. As important it would encourage fellow remainers that it is still worth fighting Brexit. Most valuable of all would be for us to win over local authorities in areas that at the time of the referendum voted leave.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Gibraltar and Brexit

Anyone paying attention would have known that Brexit was going to be bad for Gibraltar. Hence the sudden outrage of the Brexiters on behalf of Gibraltar is extremely hypocritical. It is true that for the 27 to raise the issue shows that a friendly breakup is not an overarching priority - why would anyone think it would be (though note -it is the Brexiters not Spain who are raising the issue of sovereignty)? However, the bellicose reaction of the Brexiters (literally bellicose in the case of Howard) shows them to using Gibraltar as a pawn to ensure their aim of a car-crash Brexit - that is to crash out of the EU with no deal. A car-crash deal will leave them free to strip away "red tape". Red tape is of course workers rights, safety rules and the protection of the environment. Thus they hope to achieve their dream of a bargain-basement Britain in which a narrowly defined liberty benefits rogue-corporations at the expense of everyone else including more responsible business leaders.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Learning the things that a EU activist needs to know about employment rights (Institute of Employment Rights meeting)

When looking at how people voted the 64% voting leave of C2 AND DE voters makes them a key group whose concerns we need to take on board if we are to build sufficiently large majority against Brexit to stop it. That’s why I went to the Institute of Employment Rights meeting last night on Brexit and Employment Rights.
It is a pity that they don’t record their meetings as so many good points were made many of which I no longer recall.
Martin Smith began outlining the casualization of many peoples jobs. He drew attention to how the problem is far greater than normally recognized. I of course had heard of zero hours contracts but not of how many have contracts that guarantee so few hours that they might as well be on a zero hours contract. This was a key problem for us during the referendum. Not because Europe itself is to blame - as someone said later in zero-hours contracts are very much a British problem. The trouble is that telling people that Brexit risks Trades Union Rights doesn’t cut much ice with people whose jobs are so precarious that any kind of employment rights is a dead letter.
Sandy Fredman then outlined how unions uniting across borders at the Europe level had been key in gaining many rights. From on I find it difficult to recall who said what. A whole host of examples of employment rights under threat were given. This is the list of the rights (wholly or partially sent to me after the meeting proof of employment terms, protection for fixed term workers, protection for part time workers, protection for agency workers, maternity rights,parental leave, discrimination law, equal pay, health and safety, tupe (that’s basically the transfer of the rights of workers when they are transferred to a new employer), information and consultation, collective redundancy consultation, european works councils, protection of wages in event of employer insolvency. Even if they don’t all lapse immediately on Brexit many will survive only as statutory instruments (which can be removed on the whim of the government) and many rest on rulings of the European Court of Justice which Theresa May has made it her priority to remove us from.
The next speaker did bring up some things that were less comfortable for a Europhile like myself such as the  Viking and Laval cases. No, I hadn’t heard of those two either before yesterday. He did concede that Trades Unions in Britain were not the most seriously harmed by them (if I remember correctly because things were already so bad that the cases didn’t make things much worse). However, my quick reading on the Laval case does make me think that the kind of solutions we need to protect both local workers and the right of free movement of people (eg insisting that wages given to migrants match locally negotiated rates) might be harder.
Then there were questions. I had a question but most of the questions were speeches so I time was quickly running out. I can’t complain - normally my questions are really speeches - this is the part of the meeting when those who are not on the platform get their say. Of course, we had a Socialist Party guy tell us what wonderful thing Brexit was and how it was a great defeat for the establishment - frankly delusional.
More typical was the guy who said he didn’t love the EU but had voted remain because of all the threats to workers rights that had been outlined by the speakers. The two who did put a for-Europe point of view (rather than simply seeing Brexit as a bad thing) were Nicola Countouris and Sandy Fredman. Nicola Countouris emphasized the positive aspects original aim of building a Federal and that this had been pressure from British governments that undermined that and the social rights that went with that. Sandy Fredman was eloquent in denouncing how “the people have decided” was both authoritarian and undemocratic.

But the meeting was then over and I never got chosen to pose my question - so I went up to the platform and asked anyway. “What do the pro-Europe groups need to take on board in relation to workers rights”. The person I asked came back with “Your group is trying to stop Brexit or just a soft Brexit?” “Stop Brexit altogether if we can - soft Brexit is plan B.”
“You should go for soft Brexit.” Having just marched with 100,000 people in largest pro-EU march there has ever been in Britain I wasn’t going to be convinced to give up on staying in Europe just yet. I knew his point of view. During the meeting he had explained that while he had voted remain he saw now prospect of the Labour party winning a general election on the basis of staying in. I don’t see any prospect of Labour winning on a pro Brexit platform which will see them losing shed loads of votes to the Lib-Dems. But what will change his mind is if he sees the pro-Europe groups showing staying power and us winning over more people to remain - not anything I might have said so I moved things back on what I knew better than I workers rights. And I get the list of key workers rights dependent on the EU that I quoted above.

But the most useful think I took away from the meeting was what someone had said earlier. The key to undercutting hostility towards migrants is sector wide negotiation of wages and conditions binding on all firms in that sector. Or to frame in our terms in which Brexit is not a done deal. It’s the key to winning people over to the value of the EUs free movement of people .

Monday, February 06, 2017

Opposing Trump - Opposing Brexit

Why Theresa May is pandering to Trump

Theresa May’s negotiating position means that it will next to impossible for a Brexit deal with the EU that allows Britain to remain part of the single market. Along with tha will be exclusion from the deals that the EU has made with 55 other countries. Even membership of the WTO is not guaranteed. Britain has the benefits of the WTO regime due to its membership of the EU and its immediate admission as a member in its own right is not automatic.
However the US has a GDP only slightly less than that of the EU so a trade deal with the US would be a big consultation prize.

Deals with Trump do not end well

The treatment of the students of the former Trump “university” and his refusal to ensure that he is free from conflicts of interest do not bode well for the honesty of the Trump Presidency. Trump words are hostile to trade deals and with the the killing off of the Trans Pacific Partnership so are his actions. Trump doesn’t grasp the idea of win-win. May may well find that any deal that suits Trump will be a scam.

Endorsing Trump is a Gamble

Trump has little tolerance for dissent and shows no respect for the law courts. The 2016 election was marked with major voter suppression. Trump’s choice for Attorney General Jeff Sessions is signal that he intends to make it even harder for Americans to exercise their right to vote.
On the other hand, Trump is already breaking records for unpopularity. Demonstrations and small scale protests are intensifying.
The future of America is unpredictable – a Putin style suppression of democracy or a lurch in favor of a reform government that will undo everything that Trump has done are both possibilities. Tying Britain’s future to the fate of a regime that may be short lived and equally may move in a direction that violates our values – both British and American is reckless. But Brexit narrows Britain’s options especially if we follow May in excluding ourselves from the single market. To take the side of those Americans opposing Trump we need to take a stand against the anti-EU path Theresa May has chosen.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Unleashing demons - useful for learning from past mistakes for the pro-European movement

You don’t read a political memoir for good overview - you read it for the view behind the scenes.

In that, Oliver delivers with a lot of detail about how the Cameron team handled the referendum and and quite a bit of insight on how Stronger-In functioned. However, the further he gets from what he has direct experience of the more hazy things get. We do get the story of Boris and Grove’s dithering before finally plumping for Leave. From then on Oliver and friends are only reacting to the Boris-Grove media show. We hear a little more of Theresa May who was nominally part of the remain camp. The story here is how she spent most of the time avoiding saying anything at all. The few times she does break silence she is so lukewarm as to seriously harm Remain.
Political memoirs usually serve to justify the actions of the writer. This is no different. He tell us that Cameron had no option but call the referendum and they ran the campaign in the possible way. He puts a lot of good arguments but the very fact that they in the end fall rather flat. Oliver may be an expert on stuff like this but Remain lost. Is there really nothing he thinks now that he could have done better?
Right at the start is the renegotiation. The concessions that Cameron got from Europe were huge – from the point of view the other European leaders. For someone in Britain who is dead against immigration – not so much. It is doubtful the concessions Cameron brought back won over more than a handful of voters. On the other hand the very fact that Cameron claimed he needed those concessions boosted the idea that there was a problem with Europe. Hence he undermined his credibility for when he eventually came out in favor of staying in. Cameron found himself backed into defending free movement as a “price worth paying” for access the single market. Muted were mentions of the positive benefits of free movement – the essential role European citizens have in the health service – how essential it is for science based industries to recruit skilled workers Europe wide etc.
Oliver still has no doubt about the wisdom of avoiding any positive message about Europe. Swing voters, his team concluded, didn’t have a positive view of Europe so any positive message would fall flat. It was too late to reverse the negative coverage European Union had been subject to for many years in a short campaign. The logic sounds fine (even if much of that negative coverage had come from Oliver’s Tories) but what was left was project fear. OK, Oliver is quite right to find it rather rich for Leave to describe Remain as project fear. Leave fear-mongering was more extreme and often bore little relation to reality but Leave wasn’t just a negative campaign. Again and again, Oliver describes how remain seems to hit home with the economic dangers of Brexit but within a few pages that boost has dissipated. On the other hand Leave claims, because they were part of a positive package, had a life of their own. It wasn’t that everyone who voted leave bought into the positive image of a go-it-alone Britain but their arguments had more resonance for being put by people who seemed to have enthusiasm for their alternative. And if there were any remaining doubt that relying on a negative campaign will fail that should be gone now that Trump has been elected US president.
Nowhere does Oliver ask to extent to Cameron’s premiership has fueled the Brexit vote. This was especially stark on pages 299-300 when in coaching Angela Eagle for the ITV debate he veered between telling Eagle to display some “righteous indignation on behalf of working people” to telling her off for blaming public services being swamped on Tory cuts. This won’t do, Oliver told Eagle, this will make the Remain side look divided. But the very reason Labour failed to mobilize working people for remain was that Leave succeeded in misdirecting indignation at the results of Tory-LibDem austerity against the EU and EU migrants. What Oliver was trying to get from Eagle was sanitized indignation and a result during the actual debate it was Sturgeon (who avoided Oliver’s coaching) who hit hardest.

  Oliver’s account is an honest one that allows us to see his thinking. As such it is valuable for pro-Europeans to read so that we can understand the mistakes of the referendum so we can avoid making them in difficult times ahead.