Some modest optimism in Paris

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Decoding Altrincham

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After 5 resignations, Jacob Rees Mogg has just threatened the Prime Minister in a curious way. He asked whether it was time to write “to the member for Altrincham”, who is Graham Brady. Brady is the chairman of the 1922 committee which oversees a leadership bid. In other words, a direct challenge from one of her own on a difficult day. Astonishing!

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Aaron Banks and Andrew Marr

The details about Mr Banks’ apparent deception of Parliament along with the opening of a police investigation mark a new stage in the misery of Brexit, but not really one we could not have anticipated. It is surely right to ask whether, if the Leave campaign was funded with dodgy money, it is time to call for another properly organised referendum. This would not be a second referendum or even a referendum about the preferred exit details, but rather an entirely new process as the previous efforts are rendered null and void by potentially criminal activity.

We could run the same question again, and see what happens this time. There is now good reason to rerun, and more than that, we now have enough evidence to know what both “Leave” and “remain” might mean in practical terms. Somehow, I suspect the result would no longer be in favour of Leaving. But if “Leave” is so confident it is right,(Farage says “Leave would win by a much bigger margin”) it should be prepared to be tested again, when the competition can be properly monitoring and judged to be fair.

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Indeed, before Banks, the Electoral Commission had already castigated the Leave campaign. It found that ‘Vote Leave’ officials were guilty of overspending £449,079.34. A criminal offence. More than that, the Facebook fiasco during the Referendum debate still threatens a £500,000 fine from the Information Commissioner. To cap it all, the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on ‘Fake News’ concluded Russia has engaged in ‘unconventional warfare’. So there are three strikes and all pointing to wrongdoing to secure a Leave vote.

When MPs and Councillors are found guilty of electoral fraud, they are suspended and  in the case of Bob Spink, for instance, given a prison sentence (admittedly suspended). In the case of the Leave campaign, no real action is taken.

This is what happens as a rule: four people were jailed and a fifth person was given a suspended prison sentence for electoral fraud after a local by-election in Maybury and Sheerwater in Surrey in 2012: Shaukat Ali, Parveen Akhtar, Shamraiz Ali, Sobia Ali-Akhtar and Abid Hussain, from New Haw, were charged over claims that postal votes were being fraudulently submitted. They were all convicted of conspiracy to defraud at Reading Crown Court. Shaukat Ali was jailed for 15 months, Parveen Akhtar and Sobia Ali-Akhtar were both jailed for nine months, and Shamraiz Ali was jailed for six months. Abid Hussain was given a six-month prison term suspended for 18 months.

In other words, in normal cases of Electoral fraud, there are consequences for the people who tried to benefit from criminal activity. The electoral result that was skewed by their malpractice is voided, the people involved punished and the election run again.

Not so with Brexit. Not so for those involved in damaging the integrity of the Leave Campaign.

One might argue, of course, that there were only a few “bad boys of Brexit”…

But so far, nothing is emerging about naughty Remainers. Their campaign, which was almost successful was not dogged by suspicions of outside interference, the abuse of facebook, or proven overspending. Now, finally, at the 11th hour, the Banks’ stuff emerges.

Now is the time to act.

Today the Observer ran an article exposing what seem to be dodgy dealings in the Banks’ empire. Allegedly, Eldon Insurance employees were made to work on the Leave campaign, some against their will. Together with the racism that invaded the campaign, some of it apparently printed by Rock services, and much of it informed by the darker forces allied with UKIP, the questions surrounding Mr Banks at least demand a proper debate before it is too late and we are fully committed to Europe in the half-way house peddled by Mrs May’s Chequers’ agreement.

As for Banks’ performance on Andrew Marr, well- the question was asked: “Where did the 8m come from?” and the answers that emerged were a mixture of obfuscation, aggression and arrogance that had Marr floored (“this is what you do, you smear other people” was what Marr was left to observe).

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But Banks says he would have voted remain if he had known what a Leave vote might mean. This from the man who is alleged to have bullied his staff into working for the Leave campaign. If there was another vote today, in other words, the leading Leave campaigner would be voting to remain. That beggars belief!

Banks is a great puzzle. A former vacuum machine salesman, he amassed a fortune quite suddenly and then bankrolled UKIP. His CV needs a good deal of explaining- he may or may not have worked for Norwich Union or Warren Buffett and he may have made £100 million out of his sale of Brightside, though records suggest the figure was closer to £22. His mother-in -law, Olga Paderina, says today that he has done nothing wrong. Nevertheless, a cloud hangs over him.

If Banks is dodgy, and it remains to be seen- any trial will be too late to repair the damage he has done.

The risks of Brexit alone, with or without Banks, as they have emerged, might make it expedient to hold another public vote.

In any other situation we would have called time. Instead, we persist with a charade that we are doing “democracy”. We are not even doing that.

There are a number of ways to analyse the events of 23rd June 2016. the Brexiteers might cite the 263 that voted to leave in contrast to the 119 that voted decisively to remain. That would be a 68.85% majority vote. But this is never the figure put forward. Instead, people concentrate on the overall percentage of voters throughout the kingdom who voted to leave. That is just 17,410,742 votes.

In other words, with 51.89% voting leave out of a 72.21% turnout, that is not even a 50% majority. This is hardly decisive.

My friends in the Leave group, particularly from UKIP, tell me that should the Leave vote be ignored, there will be riots in the streets. I suppose that is a threat and we should not give in to that sort of thing. Maybe they will turn on Aaron Banks now he has said he would vote to Remain.

But much more than all that, the possibility that there was major wrong-doing behind the campaign makes the strongest case for pulling the plug now. We cannot do so after March. Stronger than expedience, stronger even than resisting bullies who threaten disorder is we do not do what they want. No. If we do nothing about electoral mal-practice, we condone it. That means the integrity of our political system is under threat.

 

The Day After

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By all accounts and reactions, the budget seems to be very good, but with this caveat, that if the EU negotiations go wrong, or if the deal is voted down in the House, as has been threatened, all this positive energy will be wasted and all the promises ditched. The budget is, in other words a tantalizing glimpse of what might happen if there is a properly negotiated Brexit in March. In other words, as much of a threat as an offer.

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Indy 2

Nicola Sturgeon enters a fantasy world

nicola sturgeon 2 by TIMBritain’s first referendum was held on June 6th 1975 to approve or reject the EEC agreement reached 2 years’ earlier by Edward Heath. Clement Attlee said that referendums were “a device for despots and dictators.” In the 1970s, Mrs Thatcher thought Lord Attlee was probably right. Louis Napoleon (Emperor Napoleon III) used 2 referendums just over 12 months to overturn the fragile French Republic in 1851 and confirm his December coup d’état as legal and constitutional. Hitler held 4 referendums in 1933 (to leave the League of Nations),  1934, 1936 and 1938 (they were then banned for 60 years), so did Mussolini in 1934 (ostensibly an election, it was seen as “the second referendum of Fascism”) as did Pinochet in 1980 and Ferdinand Marcos (who used 3) and JR Jayawardene in Sri Lanka who used a referendum to prolong parliament by 6 years. Colonel George Papadopoulos and the Greek Generals seized power using a referendum in 1973 to legitimise their rule. Putting too much trust in Referendums, in other words, is to cosy up with some very disturbing bedfellows. We have just had two referendums in two years. Surely that is enough for now.

Today, when we might have expected the news to be dominated by the final stages of the Brexit bill going back through the Commons, the First Minister of Scotland said she planned to trigger Indy 2.

While I think there is a case to be made for a version of Brexit that recognises the 62% vote for remain in Scotland, and while I think a compromise approach may well give the UK overall some access to the EU, however we pursue Brexit, I also think that now is not the time to be discussing these details. More than that, Nicola Sturgeon demonstrates today that she is prepared to pick and choose which referendums she accepts and which she rejects. Either we accept in principle what is returned in a referendum or we do not hold a referendum at all. I am not a fan of the referendum as a concept-I think it is a very clumsy tool, but we cannot keep rerunning referendums until we get the result we want. Isn’t that what is done in Europe? Isn’t that why we have rejected Europe?

In 2016, Greece voted in a referendum by 61% to 39% to reject the Austerity measures. No one paid any attention. In 2008, Ireland voted against the Lisbon treaty by 53% but it was ratified nonetheless after Ireland held a second referendum (as it also did in 2001 when it rejected the Nice treaty and had to try again). The Lisbon treaty was a replacement for the TCE which was roundly rejected by referendums in France and the netherlands in 2005. Significantly, Lisbon was not the subject of a second French referendum.

As for the actual substance of Indy 2, this is very confused. The first Minister might have a case that the Brexit decision represents a “significant and material” change and chimes in with the SNP manifesto, but the practice of holding another referendum and getting the result she wants is by no means certain. More than that, even if she gained a “Yes” for independence, which is far from certain, there is no guarantee that Scotland would even be allowed to stay in or moreover re-enter the European family as a separatist state. The Spanish, for instance, mindful of their own Catalonian issues, might well be reluctant to reward such displays of independence.

The Immanent Gove

Michael Gove today penned a piece in the Times suggesting that he had access to Mrs May’s latest thoughts, indeed the very words she might utter in only a matter of days.Quite apart from the irritation of finding senior politicians jumping on the bandwagon of false news, his piece simply repeats arguments that were surely sorted out at about 8am on 24th June.

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I think much of what he thinks the PM will say will remain wishful thinking, but it is still deeply mistaken and misleading.

I think Mr Gove’s greatest mistake lies in a misunderstanding of what it means to lead the country, something he aspired to do and that Mrs May is now doing. Mr Gove thinks that what matters is “the truth”, but truth is a relative and constantly changing concept. What matters instead is “responsibility”, or “trust”. I think this is a single concept though expressed in two words. For it is not possible to have one without the other. It is something Mr Gove failed to earn and, moreover, a concept that is much bigger than the referendum and certainly bigger than Brexit. It is about doing the right thing at the right time and with confidence. Today, when Brexit is presented, a number of politicians, and certainly Mr Gove, seem to abandon not only reality and rational thought but also a belief in the primacy of Parliament for naive demagogy as if they are still not sure they won, and have to rehash the same arguments over and over again.

Put bluntly, has Mr Corbyn not been a sufficient warning to you?

Mr Gove sets the tune of his piece by referring to Ronald Reagan and Mrs Thatcher. Reagan’s plan for the cold war- “Simple — we win; they lose.” But that is not quite how it panned out, was it! Let’s look back a little further:

While France and America embraced revolution, Britain quietly changed from one leader to another. The “glorious revolution” may not be quite all it was cracked up to be, but it demonstrates a way of behaving that Mr Gove absolutely forgets. Revolutions, if pursued relentlessly, are out for blood and that has not been the British way. We want to forge a quiet rethinking of the status quo, and if possible, seemlessly merge from one form of rule to another, maybe, if absolutely necessary with a mild embellishment to the union flag.

Mrs May is quite right in repeating her mantra that “Brexit means Brexit” just as she is quite right in being tight-lipped about exactly how that will play out. Even if she triggers the process in a month, we still must wait two years for that act to play out, and during that time, much of the Europe we know today will have changed beyond recognition. Catalonia lingers, Le Pen lies in the penumbra of perceptual power and Germany smoulders with discontent to say nothing of Greece, badgered and badgered until it is made to feel like a poodle puddled in the Aegean. The only thing that we can be certain about is the Responsibility Mrs May has been given as our leader and the trust we place in her.

What I find most disturbing is the claim that we know what “the electors wanted” when they voted for Brexit. The fact is, we can never know just as we can never know what they wanted when they voted for Mr Corbyn. All we have is the result which in and of itself says nothing about immigration, control of borders, the single market, hard or soft Brexit. It is simply a mandate for leaving the current arrangement, a recognition that the EU as it stands is failing. A referendum is not a result in itself – it needs interpreting and circumstances will change. That is inevitable.

Also, though I hesitate to point this out, the Brexit vote was far from uniform throughout the country and a clever Brexit will allow for, and placate the 48% who voted to retain our place in Europe.

But I hope we are fast approaching the day when we will stop hearing what Politicians think the electors voted for. No one really knows. Equally the obsession with anticipating the way we leave Europe needs to stop. We need to leave the negotiating team to do its job.

The obsession, drummed up in part by people like Mr Gove and Mr Farage, about how we leave in fact allows Brussels to avoid the full force of the blow of that Referendum decision. Indeed, this obsession gives a platform to Mr Junker, who rather than falling on his sword as one of the architects of modern Brussels, can join Gove and Farage and pontificate about HOW we should be going. What folly for Junker to be mocking Milord, when his own house is burning down.

Mr Gove gave a tv interview a few weeks ago and demonstrated what a thoughtful, centred man he really is. I do not understand, therefore, why he needs to play to the gallery like this when what we really need is his keen intellect and analytic support at the centre of Government. What Mrs May does not yet say is that any form of Brexit means a re-ordering of Europe because she knows the European project is bigger than the EU. Because the future of Europe and the role it will play beside us is as much our concern as the manner in which Britain will be defined two years’ hence.

John Donne writes,

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No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:

Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.