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A Response to Theresa May’s Mansion House Speech

2 Mar

Once again, Theresa May has fulfilled expectations.  She has made a key speech that is, as usual, rhetoric over substance; a chimera of false hope over actuality.

Mrs May, your five tests for Brexit are nothing more than a mix of misdirection and mirage, playing to the gallery and hoping we’d be fooled.  Let’s look at what you said.

“First, the agreement we reach with the EU must respect the result of the referendum.

The referendum has divided Great Britain like nothing else since the War of the Three Kingdoms, and like that particular fracture, it is England once again bullying the other British nations, not by military force, but by exploiting a slim majority in what was a non-binding advisory vote.

It was a vote to take control of our borders, laws and money.”

It was nothing of the sort.  We already had control over all three of those areas.

It was a vote for more money for the NHS; a vote for xenophobia; a vote for nostalgia for an imaginary UK that never existed; a vote based on numerous lies, inter alia about sovereignty, immigration and funding for the NHS.

“And a vote for wider change, so that no community in Britain would ever be left behind again. But it was not a vote for a distant relationship with our neighbours.”

Yes, it was a vote for wider change but not in the way you allege.  It was not a vote for further anguish through unnecessary damage to the economy, which is the inevitable outcome of Brexit but a protest vote against your Government’s continuance of its failed austerity policy.

You and your predecessor, through your austerity policies, which attack the weakest and most vulnerable in society,  have ensured that many communities are being “left behind” irrespective of relationships with our neighbours or elsewhere.  Loss of EU funding will only make this worse as places like Cornwall are quickly coming to realise.

“Second, the new agreement we reach with the EU must endure. After Brexit, both the UK and the EU want to forge ahead with building a better future for our people, not find ourselves back at the negotiating table because things have broken down.”

The UK was always going to be at a disadvantage in the negotiations, as the 27 were bound to unite to protect their union.  There was never any chance that the UK could “have its cake and eat it” as the EU was never going to offer the UK better terms than  it had by being within the EU.  Only an arrogant moron would suppose otherwise.

This has been compounded by the UK’s failure to negotiate effectively – in part due to divisions within your own Cabinet and, in part, due to the incompetence of your Brexit Secretary –  meaning that the most likely outcome is that the UK will crash out of the EU with no deal (let alone a transition period!).  After your speech, and the rate at which time is running out, anything else is a mere pipe dream.

“Third, it must protect people’s jobs and security. People in the UK voted for our country to have a new and different relationship with Europe, but while the means may change our shared goals surely have not – to work together to grow our economies and keep our people safe.

Quite how you imagine that Brexit will protect jobs and grow the economy when your own government’s Brexit Analyses – which, unsurprisingly you did not want to make public – showed that in every scenario Britain will be worse off through leaving.  Furthermore, EU agencies are already leaving the UK, as are many EU citizens, and some Financial Services organisations are making contingency plans to leave.  So, lovely rhetoric but, like your first speech as Prime Minister, it is little more than candy floss for the naive.

Fourth, it must be consistent with the kind of country we want to be as we leave: ”

Well, Brexit’s put paid to that!

The country can’t agree on what it wants.  The Remainers don’t want the same things as the Leavers, who, in turn, are equally divided in what they want from Brexit.  Scotland and Northern Ireland want different things from England or Wales.  You squandered a parliamentary majority in a vanity snap-election which left you hamstrung by a minority party you cannot afford to offend.  Not even your Cabinet manages consistency under your wavering leadership.  Not so much a second ‘Iron Lady’ as the ‘Plastercine Housewife’.

“…a modern, open, outward-looking, tolerant, European democracy.”

In your dreams!  Brexit Britain is none of those things.  It is a nostalgic, insular and intolerant country, in which your Government has tried to by-pass Parliamentary democracy at every stage of the process, only failing by being thwarted by the courts.  The UK also has, in the House of Lords, the second largest unelected political decision-making body in the world – hardly a symbol of a modern democracy.  Nor has your Government shown any regard for the democratic mandate of devolved governments, which you ignore and exclude, and/or the democratically derived Devolution Settlements which you are trying to ride over roughshod.

“A nation of pioneers, innovators, explorers and creators. A country that celebrates our history and diversity, confident of our place in the world;”

Meaningless piffle and waffle designed to try and make your pig’s ear look like a silk purse.

Typically backward looking to what was and hoping against hope that it can be repeated if we can just bring back the Blitz spirit.  Revisionist history abounds as Brexiteers try wistfully to make out that the British Empire was a great force for good and optimistically claim that our imperial past can be recreated in a global expansion of trade.  As for diversity, hate crimes have rocketed since Brexit.  Hardly, the basis for anything other than false confidence.

“…that meets its obligations to our near neighbours and far off friends…”

Your Ministers repeatedly calling for Britain’s to not respect its responsibilities on leaving the EU, along with your government’s abject failure to meet its post 2014 obligations to one of its nearest neighbours (Scotland), make it very unlikely that England can be trusted to do so further afield.

“…and is proud to stand up for its values.”

The the most prominant British values, following the Brexit vote, seem to be hypocrisy, mendacity, cheating, xenophobia, intolerance and resentment, of which you can justifiably be proud!  Many, however, are saying that they no longer know what British is.  Others are saying that they either cannot or are ashamed of their British identity.

“And fifth, in doing all of these things, it must strengthen our union of nations and our union of people.”

Brexit is a disaster for “our union of nations”; it has fractured relations between Edinburgh and London, and Cardiff and London; it is imperilling the Good Friday Agreement (your rhetoric over the Irish border is as specious as it is vague).  The uniformity imposed by England on the Union under the pretence of unity, is in tatters due to the empty platitudes and broken promises of your Party.  Indeed, you and your predecessor have arrogantly done more to break the Union than anyone else in its 300 year history.  What you seem to be attempting is to join four corners of a circle apparently without the faintest idea that it has none.

“We must bring our country back together, taking into account the views of everyone who cares about this issue, from both sides of the debate.”

If you have listened to those from the Remain side of the debate, you either did not hear what was said to you or simply chose to ignore it.  There has been no evidence of your taking account of any opinion outwith your Cabinet.  And given that you cannot even unite your own Cabinet, let alone your own Party, I don’t rate your chances of even uniting England, let alone the disparate nations of the United Kingdom.  Best of British!

As you started your speech by quoting what you said in your first speech as Prime Minister, let me quote from the open letter I wrote to you in July, 2016:

“…you’ll forgive me if I don’t believe a word of your rhetoric which is so cognitively dissonant with your track record in government…”

“You talked  about uniting the country; it will  require more than platitudes.”

“Your precious Union, as always  since 1707, has less to do with unity than with domination and exploitation.”

Your speeches and Brexit strategies would seem to confirm that I was right on all three counts.

 

 

 

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Mayhem from the Snap Dragon

21 Apr

In my open letter to Theresa May, last July, I told her that not calling an election prior to signing Article 50 would be “rank hypocrisy” given the hen-pecking she gave Gordon Brown.  She could have done so last autumn, but she wasn’t doing so well in the polls and neither she nor her ministers had any Brexit plan to put in a manifesto; she could have called one in the spring, when she finally had some kind of plan (“No deal is better than a bad deal”) but she didn’t.  Instead she spent the autumn and winter fighting against Parliamentary Democracy.

Now, having already invoked Article 50, she suddenly wants an election – not for the sake of the country but to save her majority.  Just when she and her gang of four Brexiteers should be starting the Brexit negotiations, she wants to put everything on hold while she seeks a mandate, which she claimed to already have from the referendum, for what is essentially a pig-in-a-poke.  This smacks of hypocrisy given her rejection of a second Scottish Independence Referendum on the grounds that the “terms of Brexit are not yet known”.

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(Letter to The Guardian, 20/04/2017)

So why the rush?

It appears that 24 Conservative MPs are going to be prosecuted by the DPP for electoral fraud, which would automatically disbar them from the House, instantly demolishing her majority and forcing her to seek a coalition to continue with her “hard Brexit”.

Combine this with the polls showing her party over 20 points ahead of Labour (which has less to do with Corbyn than with the relentless right wing press campaign against him that suggests that the right perceive him as a real threat, which must be neutralised at all cost; and the fifth column within his own party that constantly attempt to undermine his leadership), and she sees a political opportunity.  So, despite the 5 year fixed term rule that her party introduced in 2011 (and for which she voted) to prevent just this sort of political opportunism, she calls a snap election which Labour limply agree to (despite the very real chance of annihilation at the polls).  Yet more lies and hypocrisy from May!

The election may well hasten the end of the Union, which she, like her predecesor (Cameron), claims to be so “precious” (echoes of Gollum?) but against which her every manoeuvre militates against its continuance.  It is certain that Scotland will return a majority of SNP and pro-Independence MPs to Westminster again and the Scottish Parliament has ratified Sturgeon’s mandate for a second Independence Referendum when the terms of Brexit are clearer (ie 2018-19), which given the indications of ineptitude of the Gang of Four Brexiters charged by May to draw up policy and negotiate the UK’s withdrawal from the EU (in footballing terms, Paris Saint-Germaine vs Southport!), is likely to lead to a vote for independence.

There is another aspect to holding a snap election, which few have commented on.  Should she win with an increased majority, she has increased her period of office by a further 2 years post-Brexit, which will give her time to sell off the NHS to US health care corporations, dismantle human rights and workers’ rights before she has to face the electorate again, but with the advantage of the gerrymandered constituencies (gift of the Liberal Democrats) that favour her party and, thus, her continuing in office irrespective of her competence.

So once again, it is party before country; a manifesto that puts profit before people; a nostalgic Little Englander, dreaming of long faded glories, attitude to Brexit;  and the celebration of hypocrisy, mendacity and avarice as Party virtues.

An Open letter to Theresa May

14 Jul

First, congratulations on your appointment as Prime Minister (albeit by default); I can only hope you make a better fist of it than did your predecessor, who is generally rated the worst in over 100 years.

Your first speech as PM, in front of Nº 10 Downing Street, was impressive.  However, you’ll forgive me if I don’t believe a word of your rhetoric which is so cognitively dissonant with your track record in government and more consistent with what you so aptly dubbed “the Nasty Party”.  Austerity is hurting everybody except for the elite who fund your party.  You talked about uniting the country; it will require more than empty platitudes.

I like that you are rewarding Leave campaigners with senior cabinet posts as it will force them to try and clean up the mess they have created.  I’m sure that Davis and Johnson will both enjoy explaining to the EU and the rest of the world why they should trust them after they deliberately deceived the British electorate with a campaign of misinformation and downright lies.  While I’m sure you also believe that this will bring healing to party divisions, I’m not convinced that it will be anything more than the usual papering over the cracks.

You claim you want to heal the nation of the divisions caused by the referendum, yet you seem hell-bent on invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and starting Brexit despite that

  1. the referendum was advisory not binding;
  2. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted more convincingly to remain than either England and Wales did to leave;
  3. the nationally combined results gave the winning side such a slim margin that a petition calling for a second referendum received more than 4 million signatures in little over two weeks and must now be debated by Parliament.

 

I recognise there is no easy way out of this, though I suggest that allowing Parliament to debate and vote on whether or not to invoke Article 50 would be less detrimental and divisive than for you, as PM, and your Cabinet to do so through the power of Royal Prerogative.

As a “One Nation Conservative”, you have nothing to offer Scotland as we know all too well that “one Nation” means England and that when we are called British it is merely to bestow “honorary Englishness” on us, while treating Scotland at best as a province, and at worst as a colony, of Greater England.  Your precious Union, as  always  since 1707, has less to do with unity than with domination and exploitation.

Furthermore, you have no mandate for Scotland.  You actually have even less of a one than your predecessor claimed!  Though like him, you have but one MP out of 59 in Scotland, unlike him, you do not even have an electoral mandate having been selected by just 60% of MPs from your party, a party which received votes from less than 25% of the UK electorate (just 11% of the Scottish electorate).  Yet, you presume to dictate to Nicola Sturgeon, a First Minister who has a clear mandate from the Scots as her party holds 54* out 59 Scottish seats at Westminster and 63 (more than twice as many as your party) out of 129 in the Scottish Parliament  with 46.5% of the constituency votes cast.  Given that leaving the EU is not in Scotland’s interests and that the Scottish electorate voted convincingly to remain, independence is rapidly becoming the only viable option should you press ahead with Brexit.

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Given your vociferous criticism that Gordon Brown had no mandate to govern, you will, of course, be calling a General Election at the earliest opportunity and certainly before invoking Article 50.  Not to do so would be rank hypocrisy as well as suggesting that (in your own words) you are “running scared of the people’s verdict”.  After all given the current shambolic state of the Labour Party, what have you got to lose?

Finally, when Boris Johnson was elected Mayor of London, seeing the writing on the wall, I got out of the UK at the earliest opportunity and I have not seen anything that would make me regret that decision.  Now  you are asking me (and other emigrants to the EU) to choose between a star filled sky (the EU flag) and a blood-stained butchers’ apron (UK flag) – for me it is a no-brainer; I am a European and I choose the EU (flawed as it is) even if that means renouncing my UKGB citizenship to do so.

*56 SNP MPs were returned in May 2015 but 2 of them have currently resigned the Whip, though they continue to vote with the party.

A Discussion with Nick Clegg

26 Sep

Today, I went to Event 52 of the Hay Festival en Segovia, which was held in the beautiful, old church of the monastery of Santa Cruz Real (which now forms the Aula Magna of IE University), to hear Nick Clegg in discussion with one of Spain’s pre-eminant journalists, Pedro J. Ramírez.

Clegg told the packed hall that he took full responsibility for the current state of the party and that he had learnt a lot. He regretted that what he saw as “compromise” so quickly was taken as “betrayal” by both left and right – but apparently without any inkling of the betrayal his own LibDem voters felt (and still feel) at his propping up a Tory government.

In his view, much of the problem stemmed from there not being any understanding or history of coalition politics in the UK.  This view is obviously fallacious in the case of Scotland, where he apparently had forgotten that his own party had been in coalition, first with Labour (1999 – 2007) and then with the SNP (2007-2011) – the proportional vote system being designed to exclude outright majority government – or, perhaps, he was doing as so many English politicians do, merely using “UK” as a synonym for England.

Furthermore, he claimed that as he goes round the country (has he been in Scotland since the election?) people are saying to him that they now see how the LibDems were protecting them from the full force of Tory government. Maybe, because I no longer live in the UK, I’m missing something as I cannot see any significant difference between the ConDem coalition and the current Tory government.

While he spoke engagingly, it is clear that he does not understand what has happened in Scotland (claiming it is nothing more than identity politics, which are the politics of grievance without responsibility as everything is someone else’s fault) and claimed (as did Ramírez) that the UK electoral system was unfair (which, of course it is) as the LibDems only got 8 seats when the SNP got 56 on a far smaller share of the vote (the exact same argument as used by another fringe party, UKIP!).

I challenged him afterwards (they ran out of time just before my question) for a) referring to the SNP as the “Scottish Nationalist Party” –  his lame excuse was, “Well, they are all nationalists”; and b) being disingenuous as the Lib Dems only had 7% of the vote to the SNP’s 50% in Scotland, given that the the latter only contest seats in Scotland. His response was that his using the UK vote share was justified as the SNP “disingenuously claimed to represent the whole of the UK” in the TV debates (which they did not). He had to concede, however, that the SNP had, thus far formed a strong opposition that has fought for all parts of the UK as promised.

I handed him an envelope, which he accepted, containing a printed copy of my open letter to him from 8th May.  I doubt he’ll like the content or pay the slightest heed to my views, but at least I know he is now aware of them.

I found him urbane, charming, engaging and likeable despite our not finding any common ground and I wish him well (which I could not on 8th May).

An Open Letter to Nick Clegg

8 May

Dear Nick

I suspect you were surprised by the results of the 2015 General Election.  I wasn’t.

Many of us who voted for the Liberal Democrats in 2010 did so to help keep the Tories out.  Consequently, we were delighted when the outcome was a hung parliament and horrified when you blythely went into coalition with David Cameron.  We, many of whom had voted Lib Dem for many years, simply felt betrayed.  But you never even showed any inkling of understanding this in your stampede to become “Deputy Prime Minister” –  an artificial position that is bestowed at the whim of a Prime Minister.

I said then that, had I been a Scottish LibDem MP, I would have immediately renounced the Whip and become an independent Liberal on the grounds that had my constituents wanted a Tory government they would have voted Conservative.  It is striking that not one of your Scottish MPs had the integrity to do so.

While we are on Scotland, you had ample warning of what was to come as, in the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary elections, your MSPs were reduced by 2/3 to just 5.  Of course, you compounded your crime, as far as Scotland was concerned, by joining in with the Tories in the very dirty “Better Together” campaign and did nothing to counter the triumphalist breaking of the vow, which you (along with the Prime Minister and Ed Miliband) supposedly had signed up to, the moment the vote went your way.  This made many in Scotland believe that you (and your party), if not explicitly, tacitly approved the Tory policy of treating Scotland as a colony rather than as the co-equal partner in Union that the Treaty and Acts of Union legislated.

But let us return to England.  As I said at the outset, many of your voters felt betrayed by your coalition and were far from convinced by your claims that the Lib Dems were ameliorating Tory excesses – especially when you glibly cast aside manifesto promises to appease your new boss, David Cameron.  To many of us, you appeared less a restraining force than a pampered lapdog: Cameron’s pet Yorkie – all yaps and no bite.

The electorate showed their disdain in 2014 when you lost all but one of your MEPs in the European Parliament elections.  But you blindly clung on to the vain hope that we would all come round and forgive you, rashly trusting in the predictions of forecasters like Iain Dale and the personal popularity of your Lib Dem MPs to save their seats.  In the end, not even you were able to hold your seat on that basis but had to rely on tactical voting from your Tory pals to save your skin!

But that proved a forlorn hope as the electorate gave vent to their lack of trust in you and your party and left you with the worst election results since Jeremy Thorpe in 1970 and the loss of your coveted, long-held 3rd Party status.  Congratualations!  In the course of a single parliament you have reduced the Liberal Democrats from the third force to a fringe party.

You might have stood a chance of holding some of the seats you lost to Labour had you not made the foolish promise not to be part of any coalition that involved nationalists, thus joining Ed Miliband in rushing headlong into the trap the Tories had set for both of you.  That for me was the final nail in the coffin of any lingering pretence that the Liberal Democrats were a progressive party – you had become nothing more than a right-wing lickspittle.  And that is why you could not save any of the seats you lost to the Tories – why would anyone settle for pseudo-Tory when one can have the real thing?

As noted earlier, you had already decided to sacrifice your Scottish MPs on the altar of a wee bit of power – if you did not realise that at the time, it should have become clear to you in 2011 and 2014 – not having listened carefully enough to the electorate to realise that you might desperately need those 11 seats to retain any credibility.

I hope you enjoy your time on the backbenches watching your party either condemn itself to another 5 years of oblivion as it plays second fiddle to the Tories or languishes in splendid isolatation from any real opposition role through your refusal to work with those parties which are truly progressive (two of which are nationalist and have formed an anti-austerity alliance with the Greens) that, given Labour’s track-record in the last Parliament of being little more than nodding donkeys, will form the true opposition to the new Tory government.

Regards

W R B Cunninghame Graham of Gartmore