My referendum day memories from inside the campaign

I am today pondering two very powerful words. They are ‘what’ and ‘if’. What if, on this day one year ago, the British electorate had voted for their country to remain within the European Union? What if we had been on the losing end of a gruelling and hard-fought referendum campaign? What if the tides that had hardened British public opinion against EU membership been whisked away, only to be replaced by many more years of ever closer political union?

For somebody like me, it is a frightening thought. As I type I can recall the restlessness and agitation that characterised June 23rd 2016. I am reminded of the uncomfortable train journey I took to work (at Vote Leave HQ), at 5am a year ago, in which I sat slumped in the carriage, nerve-stricken and tired, trying simultaneously to envisage victory and suppress any useless over-confidence.

It was an overcast morning, I seem to recall, which grew cloudier and very windy as the day progressed, and was marred by incessant rail disruption, which started (luckily) after I got to work. Any London commuters on that day will remember the disaster of trying to get home. A quick Google reminded me that flooding and storms were the cause. One memory I have of June 23rd, that has remained etched into my mind, is of the packed concourse at Waterloo station, which at the time pleased me as I thought it possible that many Remain-supporting Londoners would not be able to get home in time to vote.

As I arrived at work on polling day, the office was typically quiet. Part of my job was to monitor all Vote Leave and referendum press coverage; hence the early starts and long shifts. This was the case every morning until about 7, when Press and Research would arrive. But on June 23rd, things were a little different. The morning beforehand, most of the team had taken the coach down to Dover, where a final campaign push had been planned.

I was asked to stay in the office on the final day and so did not get to go, but that I did not mind. Much of the day, until colleagues returned around 10pm, remained eerily quiet. It provided me with quite a lot of time to think about the campaign; to mull over my personal contribution, fret about the result and keep a beady eye on voter activity through social media channels.

I spent a good part of the morning examining the major newspapers, and was particularly happy with the Sun’s beautiful splash, which I’ll never forget for as long as I live. It read: ‘Independence Day’, with an image of sunrise over the United Kingdom, with the stars on the European Union flag retreating back towards the continent. One of the great reliefs of the campaign was the support we aroused amongst the country’s most-read newspapers. They may not carry the political weight that they used to, but they certainly help to influence public opinion.

As the day wore on, in surprisingly uneventful fashion, my emotions started to get the better of me a little bit. I suppose I was in part frustrated at the long waiting game ahead and in part angered by statuses written by friends on Facebook, with whom I should not have bothered to engage in argument. That day, I amassed three fallings out, which disappointed me as I am not usually the type to let political beliefs jeopardise personal relationships.

I spoke about this on BBC London News about two weeks after the referendum. The scale of the issue, I think, provided exactly the sort of fertile soil for arguments and family splits. In the video package presented by the BBC, my section was contrasted with a focus on three ethnic minority voters who had experienced racism post-result (which of course had everything to do with voting to Leave and nothing whatsoever to do with pre-existing personal bigotry). It was a characteristically Remain-heavy segment, but I was not so bothered.

I spent much of June 23rd clearing out my desk, tidying up my work and making final preparations for my last work duties, which made me a little emotional. I hated 12 hour shifts, but the immense privilege of being a part of it all is something I will always treasure. One of the many valuable things I learned at the job was the importance of teamwork and making everybody aware that we are all in something together, working towards the same goal.

Some colleagues also stayed in Westminster that day and did not follow the team down to Dover. I believe that Matthew Elliott and Gisela Stewart had journeyed to Manchester, though for reasons I was unaware of. The feeling amongst those who were in the office was quiet enthusiasm. We had been monitoring polling trends carefully and had produced rigorous data that gave us a reasonable impression of how different sorts of people and different constituencies would vote.

I chatted with colleagues and took part in some ‘thanks for everything’ campaign photos and videos, which were released a couple of weeks later. I spent much of the day reflecting on what it was I had been involved in, especially given I was just 20 years old and our youngest employee. I thanked our politicians who dropped by, like Douglas Carswell and Michael Gove, who were both very pleasant to me when we spoke and always gave up their time to thank those less senior in the campaign for their efforts.

As the evening drew in, the wind picked up, the clouds darkened and my nerves rattled with renewed vigour. My plan, initially, was to get the train home at 6pm and come back to headquarters at around midnight, either by train or the night bus. Rail disruption made this impossible, so I had dinner at a local pizza restaurant with a colleague and took a two-hour nap on the floor underneath my desk, taking advantage of the periodic silence.

By the time I had woken up, (which must have been around 9pm) other campaign figures had returned from their Dover escapades and were filing back into the office. I chose to make my way home, as something resembling normal train service had resumed, making sure to get a few winks as I knew that the early hours of the morning would be stressful and restless.

The night bus brought me back to Westminster at just gone 11pm, where I grabbed some food and headed straight for the office. I was happy to see it full and lively. Everybody associated with us was there, minus Gisela and Matthew Elliott, who were in Manchester, and Suzanne Evans, who arrived a little later on. I took my usual seat, next to Penny Mordaunt, whose phone charger I asked to borrow as I had killed my battery on the way keeping my eyes fixed on BBC News and the ‘Britain Elects’ Twitter feed (which has proved a life saver on the night of major political events).

Everybody sat facing the three large televisions as results continued to leak through. Then, something extraordinary happened: Sunderland declared. Before arriving at the office, the Newcastle result had come through, and we had lost there, but by a shockingly small margin, which had given me real hope. Sunderland, though, had opted to leave the European Union. Enormous cheers thundered around the seventh floor of Westminster Tower, perhaps slightly prematurely.

This particular result had suggested two things: that our polling was accurate and that the rural Labour vote had turned out for Leave. At around half past 12 in the morning, the champagne glasses were out. We were very confident. I don’t usually drink, or particularly like, champagne, but Tom Harwood (a friend and leader of the Leave student component) was already on it and sitting the other side of me so I thought: ‘fuck it, why not?’

The good news kept coming. BBC, Sky and ITV pundits, one by one, began to call the referendum in our favour. Every time a major seat (such as, for instance, Cardiff) announced its result we’d sit in collective silence and anticipation. It was almost like we were watching a Cup Final penalty shootout. Though of course this was much, much bigger.

Then, at around 2pm, every major media organisation had officially called a Leave victory. I don’t recall ever feeling such impassioned and joyful relief in my entire life. We knew at this point that it was only a waiting game. Our messages had hit the country and our voters had turned out in droves. The office environment became more relaxed and those present began to discuss anecdotes and memories of the campaign. Things could still go wrong, but nothing could wipe the smiles off of our faces. We were within touching distance.

I began to guess what the confirmed result would be. My friend and Vote Leave Research Director Oliver Lewis had told me some weeks before that he suspected 52-48 in our favour, though his then-fiancé later informed me that at home he was not quite so confident. We discussed morale and the result a lot, and I took his thoughts seriously because he’s an extremely smart guy. One thing I knew was that it would not be a demolition job; the scale of the issue was far too big for an annhiliation either way.

As I think back now, I realise how quickly the time went that morning. 2pm, 3pm and 4pm all now seem like a blur. They seemed to congeal together in a haze of shock and glee. A part of me wishes I could go back and re-live those early hours. They were undoubtedly the most jubilant in my lifetime. I had personally devoted three months of twelve-hour shifts, amassing four days off, and many hundreds of miles travelling around the country beforehand in order to participate in localised activism.

But pass those hours did, and at 4pm, the result of the referendum was announced. I managed at this point to do something I had never done before: I cried genuine tears of joy. My head sank into my hands and I sobbed uncontrollably. I had, at one point, three female colleagues hovering around me, offering me hugs and kind words of congratulations. It certainly wasn’t my most masculine moment. But it was my happiest.

I weaved in and around the office, thanking every colleague I could hug, many of them multiple times. I regret the pictures of me from that day hugely; I had not washed or slept for almost two days and my hair was greasier than a large Doner, not that I had an ounce of care. Darren Grimes, who I had come to know reasonably well during the campaign, returned to the office from a television appearance he had made and joined the celebrations. Shockingly, he seemed to be able to hold it together better than I had.

Then Suzanne Evans made an appearance, which pleased me greatly as I had grown to like her as a person and thought of her as a great tower of strength and reliability throughout the referendum (I wish her well in her battle with cancer). We spoke about a number of things for a good twenty minutes and she offered me a little advice ahead of a potential career in politics. ‘Do something else before you hold office’, she told me. ‘You’ll be more respected that way’. I suspect she is correct.

Minutes later, emotions bubbled to the surface once more as a couple of very heartfelt speeches were made, first by Dan Hannan (who unfollowed me on Twitter the next day), and then, more importantly, by Dominic Cummings, who had directed the campaign beautifully. I have a good video of the post-result speech that Dom made, but have sought to keep it private as I believe he would prefer that. Indeed, many of these memories are extremely powerful and private.

But the morning wasn’t crowned off until I left the office, starving and exhausted, at around 6am. I had planned to stick around until McDonalds had begun serving breakfast, as there is no better way to spend a morning than with a double sausage and egg Mcmuffin in your mouth. I left McDonalds with two (‘you deserve it, I told myself’) and walked back to Albert Embankment, taking a seat on one of the benches next to the Thames.

I watched as the sun rose gloriously, and appropriately, over the Palace of Westminster. All was well.

 

 

 

 

 


Why I don’t take part in LGBT Pride

As has been my policy since coming out four years ago, I have sought against attending any of this year’s Pride marches or associated events. This, I do, as a bisexual man and as a person who believes that grandstanding of this kind is not good for those who identify as sexual minorities.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I do not say this out of personal umbrage to those who take part in such events. I understand exactly why Pride retains massive support. I am very happy, too, that my LGBT brothers and sisters can find ways to enjoy themselves and their exuberances each year.

Many of them will be relieved to take a trip to London, Brighton or other metropolitan cities, coming from regimented, old-fashioned homes that do not espouse healthy attitudes towards those of the rainbow persuasion.

And nor is it because I am reluctant to ‘express myself’ or feel in any way embarrassed to take part (though I do have a dislike for crowded places, especially in blazing heat). I am content with who I am as a person, my surroundings and what I want and need from my life. The problem lies not with me, but with the messages sent out by Pride events.

The first issue is, of course the name itself. ‘Pride’ is a rather peculiar way of denoting the way individuals feel about a part of themselves that they have no direct control over.

Should those of us who are LGBT be proud of who we are? Yes and no. I take pride in accomplishments, not in things which are out of my control. I think others should do the same.

There is nothing heroic about belonging to a sexual minority. Much debate rages about the influence of nature and nurture, and whether or not we can help who we are, but that is not an argument that I particularly want to get into.

This is not, of course, to say that I believe sexual minorities should hide who they are or feel ashamed of it. For me, coming out at 17, despite not being homosexual, was both challenging and rewarding. We come out and are honest about who we are not because we need attention or to fight against non-existent subjugation; rather we do it because we want those around us to know who we truly are.

I believe that this is a very important principle. Those who ask why there is no ‘Straight Pride’ are very ignorant to the internal pressures that sexual minorities face. Notice that I describe these pressures as internal, which I believe they predominantly are. Homophobia undoubtedly lingers at an individual level, but that does not constitute external oppression.

If we must discuss the oppressing forces that are restricting Britain’s sexual minorities, we need examples. We need to be able to identify institutional biases, their causes and policies to overcome them. If we cannot do that, which I believe we can’t, then I do not think the LGBT community can designate itself as an oppressed class. Rather, they are merely a selection of people coming to terms (often in understandably difficult circumstances) with who they are.

Then there is the second issue. ‘Pride’ implies a counter-force; something from which anti-LGBT prejudices grew. That force was stigma, which derived from popular misunderstanding and more prevalent religious belief. Back in the 1960s, for instance, homosexuality was still considered a mental illness in large parts of the west. Then in the 1980s, an AIDS epidemic contributed to social stigmatisation and forged misleading stereotypes about gay people.

Thirty to forty years ago, it would seem, a force like Pride was ideal for combating these problems. LGBT folk needed a place to say: ‘this is who we are and we are proud of it’. It was a useful barrier against shame.

But, as religion has crumbled, legislation changed and biological understanding strengthened, the need for grandstanding movements has withered and these events have instead been exploited by corporations, who use the Pride movement to market their goods and boost public relations.

I use the word ‘grandstanding’, by the way, because I believe there can be made an important point about the way in which we treat those who do come out. And indeed about ensuing celebration. One of the problems with Pride is that it overhypes and glorifies the significance of coming out. It creates solitude for LGBTQ people that may not necessarily be conducive to acceptance or assimilation.

The extravagance of Pride, unmistaken throughout the world, gives the impression that those who take part belong to a different strand of society. In other words, notable differences are laid bare. It reinforces the idea that those who are LGBT  must behave this way, dress this way or look this way. It suggests that they must demarcate themselves as being separate and ‘odd-looking’, when in reality, LGBT people look, behave and dress just as heterosexuals do.

Pride culture has attached to the LGBT community, whether they adhere to it or not, a certain strata of expectations and traits. They must wear outrageous clothing, talk a certain way and exercise different, perhaps more feminine, mannerisms and gesticulations.

It is my belief that, instead of this approach, the more casually we treat coming out, the more effectively we will be able to normalise the process for sexual minorities.

Pride, like with all social justice movements, has a goal: to overcome prejudices. But, in taking part, many of its members subscribe to the very narratives and stereotypical behaviours that become magnets for bullying and misunderstanding.

The problem with social justice movements is that invariably they fight what they perceive to be oppression by adopting methods which are counter-productive to their cause. Racism and sexism are tackled by university students with counter racism and counter sexism. Just as any lasting homophobia is addressed through means which serve only to give life to bigotry.

I think, instead, we should find more appropriate ways of reintegrating the LGBT community into society. We should scale back the attention, the outlandishness and the self-aggrandising policies and go back to basics.

Like the self-fulfilling prophecy, if we want something to be normal we ought to treat it as such. If we don’t, then there is something slightly selfish and sinister about what we’re actually trying to achieve.

 

 


The consequences of the Grenfell Tower tragedy could be profound

I have a strong feeling that the atrocity at Grenfell Tower this week (and my sympathies are with those affected) will prove to be both another nail in the neoliberal coffin and the beginning of a sweeping Labour revival.

This I have thought not for a very long time, but the longer I ponder the prospect, the more convinced I am that it is correct. At least, this is what the signs point us to.

There is something going on in Britain. Sections of the population are mobilising in profound ways, workers are demanding action where their voices were once muffled.

Who knows where this renewed energy will lead? I hope not towards the violence we saw at Kensington Town Hall. The poor know better and can get their messages across in more constructive ways.

Corporate failure to provide suitable, non-flammable cladding has sparked intense anger. But the emotion provoked is about more than just that. It is being more widely aimed at four decades of neoliberalism.

Public mistrust of the private sector was certainly aroused in 2008 after the financial meltdown. There came a turning point for the west, which I believe has swayed slightly to a more Left-wing, interventionist economic consensus.

The neoliberal agenda is treated by the working classes with understandable disdain. It promotes individualism over the maintenance of a social conscience and has represented a sustained attack on democracy.

There is also an interesting parallel at play here. When Margaret Thatcher was in power and she introduced ‘right to buy’ (a form of housing privatisation), homelessness right across rural England soared.

This has been recorded quite brilliantly by my friend Anthony Clavane in his new book A Yorkshire Tragedy. Though Grenfell Tower is a wholly separate problem, it does reflect a certain disregard for the housing needs of the country’s poorest.

I noted yesterday, also, the scurried way in which Mrs May climbed into her convoy 4×4, choosing, perhaps understandably, to avoid the baying crowds demanding both answers and leadership.

I can of course imagine that such a situation would be nerve-wrackingly intimidating. Local residents, bereaved families and angry demonstrators do not make for the ideal public meeting after such a painful week.

There was, though, something slightly symbolic about the Prime Minister’s forced departure from Kensington yesterday. Mrs May appears weak and biding her time, and this crisis could be the beginning of her end.

That is not to say that Grenfell Tower’s blaze was her fault. I think there have been very cynical attempts by hard leftists to associate her with the deaths of, at the time of writing, an estimated 58 people.

The idea that Mrs May ought to be blamed for the fire is fanciful and unhelpful nonsense. Leftists who have genuine (and I think reasonable) grievances with corporate ineptitude will undermine their cause by engaging in this useless finger-wagging.

I have defended the importance of protest at this blog as an important avenue of expression in any democracy. But there can be no excuse for ensuing demonstrations to erupt into savage carnivals of violence.

I also believe that the Labour Party will win the next General Election, whenever it is called. If contemporary British politics tells us anything, it could be as soon as this autumn. There are a few reasons why I think this.

The first is that the myth and fakery of Tory strength and stability has been left helplessly exposed, both by the party’s incompetent leader and their throwing away of 21-point polling leads in one of the worst political campaigns in modern history.

The second is its potentially disastrous dealings with the Democratic Unionist Party, which could completely hollow out Tory support in more urbanised, metropolitan areas of the country.

Social and moral conservatism, but for occasional stirrings, has been more or less wiped out in Britain. The Conservatives have instead presented a more liberal agenda for many years.

This has been because they have no alternative. The Tories are electable if they mouth conservative sentiments but advocate liberalising policy. They are able to tap in to a wide range of the electorate this way.

Of course, there are setbacks. The popularity of UKIP over the last three years (though now decaying again) was a result of Conservative Party failure to address problems caused by mass immigration and Brussels-imposed attacks on our sovereignty.

Theresa May tried to pose as the rescuer of the party; the woman to restore the winning ways of the 1980s, but her personality-centric campaign only managed to reveal her fatal weaknesses.

The mess she now finds herself in, combined with negotiations with the DUP, who don’t subscribe to the Tories’ more liberal agenda, will cost her party dearly at the next election.

More progressive Tory members, voters and activists have already begun questioning their support for the party. LGBT Tories, many of whom I know, will be particularly uneasy with this unfortunate (and thoroughly unnecessary) alliance.

There is also the question of Jeremy Corbyn, whose stock has changed significantly since last Thursday. He now looks the part, talks the part and oozes refreshing confidence.

Something resembling stability has returned to Labour over the last week. I am also convinced that Mr Corbyn’s party would have garnered many more votes from the electorate on June 8th had people genuinely thought he was within a chance of winning.

He should, though, refrain from overtly politicising tragedies of the kind we have seen this week. I don’t think he should, for instance, spend two minutes on Sky News berating cuts to local authority budgets and fire services without the causes of the fire being properly established.

If the election were held tomorrow, Labour would undoubtedly outperform themselves. Nobody believes that the Tories are adequately prepared for governing.

And nor are they in a strong enough position to negotiate our withdrawal from the European Union effectively. No wonder there is such anger.

 


Confession: I think the EU referendum was a mistake

I now think that holding a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union was a mistake. I have, I fear, reached this conclusion far too slowly.

I suspect it was the glamour of it all; the honour of working at the heart of a history-making political campaign that clouded my judgement.

I was in the midst of it all a 20-year old that had been given a fantastic first job I was arguably too immature for. That is not to say that it wasn’t anything other than a modest role, but to me it meant the world.

This, combined with occasional television appearances after the result, got to my head a little too much. I should have realised sooner that simply taking part in the referendum would not be enough.

It is a matter of head versus heart. The heart looks back with fondness at the privilege of campaigning and the many friends and contacts made.

But the head is nagging me about our constitutional difficulties, ambiguous Brexit options and unstable, incompetent leadership during such a sensitive period.

I always try my utmost to allow my head to win these battles. And so in this case I must concede that referendums are not the way to exercise ground-breaking political reform.

It has been quietly obvious for a while now that the real winner of the referendum was in fact David Cameron, who was able to use the result to slip out of government in time and avoid the mess we are now in.

He and his advisors probably saw all of this coming. I predicted as the results were coming through on June 23rd that he would step down as Prime Minister, but, rather naively, did not foresee the obstacles that acting on the result has since faced.

The main problem with last year’s plebiscite was that it did not provide clarity for those like Richard North who supported both Brexit and membership of the single market.

I wish I had taken notice of researchers like him (and indeed his blog eureferendum.com) much earlier than I did. He and his son Pete, bizarrely inept at social interaction, have yielded answers to complex questions for longer than our media has been able to keep up.

Referenda are binary, usually offered to appease the electorate and are and deliberately oversimplified. The options given lack nuance, ensuring they provide exactly the fertile soil for disruption and chaos. This is why governments tend to support the status quo option. 

Our EU referendum created the inevitable problem that, in the event of a Leave vote, which became predictable weeks before polling day, ambiguity over what kind of Brexit its voters would prefer caused poisonous hostility. 

Now, a simple way of getting round this would have been to alter ballots in New Zealand-style fashion and ask those voting for Brexit a second question: “Do you think the UK should remain a member of the single market?”

Of course, we know what the answer would be if folk were well-informed. Since immigration was the largest single issue aroused by our camp, most would have opted for a single market exit too.

But that is not the point. My point is that a referendum over such a huge issue created a mandate for a policy without a policy. We were left directionless in an uphill battle.

And what made it worse was the fact that we had a government responsible for addressing the policy that did not agree with its premise in the first place. 

Despite being an exercise in direct democracy, our referendum exposed a sharp disconnect between public opinion and the preferences of those in the Westminster bubble. 

Referenda are, as I now appreciate more fully, renowned moreso for the constitutional upheaval they generate. Crimea in 2014 is perhaps a more extreme example. 

Since signalling for EU departure is the most profound democratic decision made by the British electorate arguably in history, it is no surprise that our politicians can barely organise themselves to adhere to it. 

In hindsight, a much more durable alternative to a national poll would have been a clear manifesto commitment, from either of the two major parties, to leaving.

Both Labour and the Tories have more than their fair share of voters wanting out, and any party claiming to be government material must be able to embrace the possibilities that come with legislative repatriation.

Yes, upon election, there would still have been the grave difficulties of negotiation, but at least direction and mandates would be more clearly established.

The only reason why neither party dared to do this was because they were (and still largely are) afflicted by the lingering Blairism that for so long prevented them from carrying out policies supported by faithless voters.

David Cameron certainly wouldn’t accept such an inclusion in a Tory manifesto. He is as supportive of the European project as they come.

A mutual friend of Dan Hannan and I, and notable Flexcit supporter, once told me that during his years at university, Mr Cameron donned prized cufflinks sporting the EU flag.

And the party’s current stock of leadership contenders aren’t much different, I might add. A referendum may therefore seem like an escape from this problem, but in reality caused many new ones of its own.

Had there been no referendum, significant pressure from Tory party members would have spurned their politicians into action, I am sure of it. 

I sometimes wonder what the European Commission and fellow member states think of all this. They cannot possibly consider Mrs May to be tough negotiating material.

She made far too humiliating a mess of last week’s General Election to be considered so, and only remains in Number 10 thanks to a cynical, gentleman’s agreement from the DUP (who themselves favour what we call ‘soft’ Brexit).

I must also point out here that in no way do I regret my vote or campaigning last year. I am as fervent a supporter of our secession as one can be. I just think that our means of securing that exit were profoundly flawed.

And since elections are now heavily influenced by last year’s result, as was expected given how divided we are, it may as well have been a party decision to take us out after all.

 


Theresa May has been exposed as a political fraud once and for all

At last, Theresa May has been exposed as the ineffective, political fraud that she is. Quite a shame it is, though, that in order for the public to realise it, the country must sit and suffer through a minority government doomed to failure whether it is supported by the DUP or not. I doubt it will make it through the Brexit negotiations, or perhaps even to 2018.

One of the major reasons why I couldn’t bring myself to vote in this election was Mrs May herself. Aside from her woeful track record as Home Secretary, in which she clamped down on valuable freedoms, ravaged police budgets and botched spectacularly her efforts to get immigration under control, this election has exposed clearly her inability to lead.

Her advisers, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, have rightly taken some of the criticism, but the buck will fall with the Prime Minister. And so it should. This Tory campaign was one of the worst in history. So bad, in fact, that it let an IRA-sympathising Marxist come close to Number 10. Let that sink in for just a moment.

There are many reasons why May’s campaign backfired so dramatically. One factor was a Lynton Crosby decision to make it all about their leader. It was Team Theresa, in which every vote for her strengthened her bargaining power in negotiations with the European Union.

Campaign strategy was personalised in this way in order to frame political debate in terms of the ‘strong and stable’ (ha) May and her opponent, the hapless, scruffy Jeremy Corbyn, knee-deep in attacks from his own parliamentary party and likely to require some sort of coalition in order to get into government.

It was a strategy that pitted the strong against the weak, the stable against the chaotic, and it made sense when coupled with early, convincing polling leads of up to 21 points. But there soon developed a problem. Mrs May is a very wooden and uninspiring performer, especially when put under pressure by opponents and journalists.

There were countless times during the campaign in which she blatantly avoided simple questions, and thanks largely to horrid gaffes from senior Labour figures like Diane Abbott, she was allowed to get away with them more or less unscathed. Perhaps this was the real reason she didn’t take part in either leader’s debate, forgettable and nauseatingly stage-managed as they are.

The Prime Minister knew that she would not perform at all credibly. But, regardless of the motive not to show up, there was revealed a fetid hypocrisy. Any strong and stable leader would appear at political contests of this kind to defend his or her party interests. May’s back peddling revealed fatal flaws in the Tory campaign message. It was here that things really started to unravel.

Compounding upon her oratory weaknesses was her profound lack of direction. Mrs May, ironically compared with Margaret Thatcher as her Prime Ministerial tenure began, got herself caught up in sticky, unnecessary U-turns both before and during the election.

We were told that there would be no snap General Election. We were then told that the National Insurance contributions of self-employed workers would not be raised. Then there was the debacle with social care, which was soon climbed down from for fear of alienating that vital pensioner vote.

I am sure the government is in far too weak a position to even consider pursuing it now anyway. By the time the policy is revisited, it is quite possible that Mrs May will be sitting on her couch in Maidenhead, relieved of her duties and wondering why she ever bothered to call an impromptu election in the first place.

Then came the manifesto; one of the most vacuous in modern history. In many ways it was similar to Ed Miliband’s in how lacklustre and minimal it was. It didn’t feel conservative, it felt rushed and lacking in adequate preparation. This may have been because Tory party advisers were expecting a comfortable majority whatever was written.

The Labour Party manifesto, on the other hand, was very impressive. And I am not saying that I agreed with its policy proposals. I have, for instance, spoken out against plans to scrap tuition fees and maintain that zero hours contracts have uses for a range of different people.

Labour’s manifesto was substantially more radical and included policies which retain popular support across much of the country, including amongst Tory voters. A good example of this would be renationalisation of the railways, which a recent YouGov poll (May 17th) revealed majority cross-party support for.

The latter years of the neoliberal period have been defined predominantly by financial collapse. The crash in 2008 sparked a new wave of deep mistrust of markets, but no party prior to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour had managed to tap into that sentiment.

In this regard, I think the decision (accidental or otherwise) to leak a portion of the Labour manifesto in advance of the other parties was a wise one. Much like with Vote Leave’s use of the £350m figure during last year’s referendum, wide condemnation of Mr Corbyn’s Left-wing policies in the media backfired.

Finally, where May’s Tories spent time fire fighting with its core vote over plans to reform social care funding, the Labour Party managed to arouse younger voters and incentivise one of the surprise turnouts in recent electoral history. The great generational voting divide has opened up once more.

This blog post has been abnormally complimentary about Labour, and this is because I think they deserve great credit. I do, though, put their tally of 262 seats down mainly to Theresa May’s useless leadership and the influence of the Remain vote, seen most glaringly in pockets of London that remained blue for decades.

Labour’s radicalism was daring and paid off, but Kensington certainly didn’t become turn red in one dramatic election over plans to renationalise the National Grid. Moves towards a softer Brexit were undoubtedly made in these areas. Battersea, too, was a surprise gain for Corbyn and his team.

Despite picking up 43 percent of the vote share, Theresa May looks weaker than any Prime Minister in recent memory. There is no way she can stay in the long-term. Minority governments are rare precisely because they are a recipe for instability.

Even the Tories’ new partners, the Democratic Unionists, have differences of their own to iron out. Perhaps people will now start to realise what social conservatism really looks like.

And what really displeased me was how unreflective her speech was of the nation’s verdict on Friday morning. She had to save face, of course, but her podium address outside Number 10 Downing Street reeked of ignorance and arrogance. It is no wonder many of her Conservative colleagues now despise her.

 


In the end it was the Brexit election, but not the one I expected

Well, I was wrong about two things at this election. I think a lot of us were. The first was the absence of a Tory majority, the second the absence of a Lib Dem fight back, which I wrongly predicted a couple of months ago at this blog. But yesterday morning told a fascinating tale nonetheless.

On April 19th, upon hearing Theresa May’s decision to hold a snap General Election, I wrote the following:

“This decision was fundamentally, and shrewdly, party political. But it could turn into a whole lot more than that. Since Brexit is now the hallmark of British politics, I expect the upcoming campaign to be a proxy; a second referendum of sorts.”

I think have been proved more or less correct by this statement, though not in the way that I expected. Before Thursday, and like most in the country, I predicted the securing of a comfortable Tory majority. I felt that Mrs May, hopeless as she is, had done just enough to remind Leave voters of what they voted for on June 23rd last year.

I thought that in appealing to the sensibilities of Brexit voters, especially with phrases like ‘respect the will of the British people’, the Conservative Party would enhance its electoral stronghold in Westminster and would win yet another General Election. How wrong and naive I was to the consequences of a poorly-organised political campaign.

It is true that the Tories managed 43 percent of the vote share, but voters ‘returning home’ made gaining a majority more difficult. After the shock of last summer, when support for parties was vastly more dispersed, voters thought it was safe to return to their traditional red and blue corners.

I thought that UKIP voters would rally behind Theresa May as she led the campaign for a so-called ‘hard Brexit’. This proved not to be the case, as I should have anticipated. I remember when I was a member of UKIP how many former Labour voters sat in local and regional party meetings. I knew that for UKIP, a Leave vote in the EU referendum was their self-destruct button, but I underestimated the ensuing flow of voters who returned to Labour. Perhaps many of them now have an understandable and instinctive mistrust of the Tory Party.

But this election did espouse many undertones of the referendum, which I now feel was a mistake (more on this soon). As results emerged, it became clear that many of the Remain-supporting pockets of the country had used the Labour Party as a means of diluting Brexit. In this sense, I would exercise caution over the notion that Corbynism has entirely hollowed Blairism out of Labour or its voter base.

Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise scooping of 262 seats, an increase of 30 on the total that his predecessor managed, reflected a number of different factors, but his desire to prioritise, for instance, membership of the single market over immigration and a Brexit focused on protecting consumer and worker rights will have appealed to many of the country’s supporters of EU membership.

These trends were noticeable mostly in England, where politics seems to be more tribal on the issue of the European Union. In Scotland, I was pleased to see, the Nationalists took the heavy hits I predicted and the colours on the electoral map are mixed once again. Ruth Davison deserves enormous credit for helping to turn nationalistic tides and reinvigorate support for the union. She has also shrewdly positioned herself as a potential future leader of the Conservative Party.

Mrs Sturgeon, on the other hand, whose position as leader of the SNP is becoming increasingly untenable, failed in her efforts to retain seats largely because Scottish voters are tired of her drive for independence, which was always a fake given her support for EU membership and which was rightly rejected in 2014. I also suspect that Scots saw her insistence on keeping Scotland out of Brexit as a constitutional danger and a cause of yet more political instability.

As the election campaign got under way, I had convinced myself (I now realise stupidly) that the Liberal Democrats would prove to be a significant force. But their night was surprisingly underwhelming. Even prominent figures like Nick Clegg lost seats, and in many seats the party failed to garner even 1,000 votes. This is perhaps a good example of a lack of translation between membership surges and votes.

Had the Lib Dems ditched plans to offer a second referendum, which would ransack the population of its faith in and enthusiasm for politics, and instead fought loudly and clearly for an exit centred around keeping Britain in the single market, they would indeed have gained more than 12 seats at this election. All we are missing now is a party that advocates holding a referendum on whether we should have a second referendum. Don’t hold your breath.

Remain voters quite clearly had their say at this election. Most shocking was the Tory-Labour switch in Kensington. I think our departure from the European Union has been compromised and cannot bring myself to trust Theresa May to negotiate our exit. And the price we pay at home? A minority government doomed to failure and backed up by the DUP. There is no other way to see it. This is a national embarrassment.

 


Final thoughts on voting, non-voters and elections before results are finalised

A few weeks ago I decided, against the advice of friends and family, not to vote at this General Election and I managed to stick to that vow. I have written at this blog about my reasons for abstaining, but to summarise, I mistrust both major parties and their leaders, the election was called to allow the Tories to extend their lead over weakened opposition and I live in a safe, Leave-voting seat extremely unlikely to be toppled by Labour.

Obviously, a part of me wanted to take part. My polling station is but a five-minute walk from my home. The polling card I was sent on Tuesday is still leaning against my television as I type, almost guilt-tripping me into feelings of wrongdoing. But in good conscience, I did not wish to. There is something very slavish about the voting process that is especially magnified when one lacks enthusiasm for all of the available, balloted candidates.

As a non-voter at this election, I wanted to rebut three of the more ludicrous claims that have been made, particularly today, about the vote. They are certain clichés that are recycled every polling day, but that nonetheless linger despite being so profoundly false. I then want to slip in a few final thoughts about improving elections, turnout and predictions ahead of tonight’s result. I should note that this blog has been written partly before and partly after the emergence of tonight’s exit poll.

Non-voters surrender their right to complain

Of all the nonsensical remarks made by the sad individuals who spend polling day pressuring others to vote, none is more irritating and wrong than the argument that non-voters cannot complain about their future political environment or public policy.

The first reason for this is that voting is not by any means the only way to express your views or mobilise politically. In fact, for large portions of the country living in safe seats, it is scarcely a way. Other, very good avenues through which a person can become active and influence the political landscape might be through think tanks, research, trade unions or protest.

Can we really say that a highly active political person, who falls outside the traditional spectrum and thus does not support establishment parties, does not have a right to complain despite engagement in other relentless forms of campaigning and activism? Furthermore, this cliché ignores the reverse: that the reason many do not vote is precisely because they have no party to vote for. Are these people not entitled to a moan? There are plenty of them.

We don’t elect all kinds of bodies and individuals who represent our national institutions. We don’t elect judges, public servants or Lords. Does this mean that, upon their occasional incompetence, we are not allowed to deride and moan about them? I fail to see how the absence of a personal vote equates to limits on that individual’s speech.

It is perfectly plausible that complaints from non-voters, especially those with influence such as academics, may actually help in their complaining to form constructive solutions to difficult problems. I would also add that common reasons for not voting have nothing to do with disinterest. Often, health or scheduling issues may conflict with access to a polling station.

I don’t want to set a complaints threshold. I am not going to say: ‘Only taxpayers can moan about flaws in public policy’, because I think children have the right to moan about injustices and failures at school and in their local communities. The truth is that targeting non-voters (who may live in seats rendering their votes unworthy of effort) as individuals who need to be silenced instead of contributing to debate is a very flawed idea indeed.

Britain fought wars to defend the right to vote

Can anybody name a war in which British troops were explicitly fighting to defend the right to vote? I certainly can’t think of one. A quick examination of any of our country’s more notable conflicts over the last century or more will induce the sensible to conclude that votes were no factor in our military pursuits. Brave men and women have always fought, and continue to fight, for liberty and to resist unjust oppression. These are the necessary motives for war, not protecting or winning any kind of vote. I am not sure why people constantly spread lies like this.

If by ‘war’ we mean suffrage, then that is at least more accurate, if a little misleading. Men in the early 1900s (whose suffrage is always mysteriously forgotten) and women in the late 1920s did indeed fight for the vote, but through domestic mobilisation and pressurising of political institutions. Certainly not on any battlefield.

Abstaining is unjust as other countries do not have the vote

Many countries, it is true, do not have public elections, but it is important that we clarify what we mean by countries that ‘do not have the vote’. The United States, for instance, holds quadrennial elections that the public are able to vote in, but does not constitutionally enshrine any explicit right to vote.

There are also countries in which voting is mandatory, such as Egypt, Lebanon and North Korea. Regardless of the appeal (or lack thereof) of candidates, or of the views of individuals, citizens are legally obliged to cast a ballot every few years. Furthermore, there exist countries that hold elections at municipal and not national levels, or in tier-based systems. Saudi Arabia and China are good examples of countries that operate these respective systems.

But I do not see why the existence of less democratically organised countries provides any moral reflection of abstentionism in countries that do allow their citizens to vote. It is not our business to decide upon the running of other countries as much as we would appreciate not allowing the influences of others dominate the way we govern our own. If citizens in oppressive regimes demand more voting rights, then those opportunities must be fought for at the bequest and approval of the affected population.

If we look for a moment in countries that restrict voting participation or refuse to hold elections altogether, we notice that these practices go on in un-free countries. I would ask the voting zealots to remember that as well as craving votes, many citizens in these countries would also appreciate the freedom not to vote (and hence legitimise the leaders that they despise).

Spoiled ballots ‘None of the above’ option

Why do people spoil their ballot papers? It is the most ridiculous waste of time and I have never understood why folk bother doing it. I was actually informed by a colleague this week that standing candidates are actually shown and read all spoiled ballots, which I found quite amusing (though I didn’t independently verify that it was true).

One interesting idea that I do think people should pay more attention to, though, is that of a ‘none of the above’ option on electoral ballot papers. I believe that if enough of the electorate opted for such an option, say 25% of voters, then an election ought to be declared void and is re-started with new leaders and new manifestos. I do not know if such an idea would cause massive political instability, but it would certainly provide shelter for the disillusioned.

The youth and voter turnout

Last night, I put a bet on with Ladbrokes that voter turnout would fall between 60-65%. I still imagine that this is the case, as I think that post-referendum fatigue may have caused many people to stay at home and not both today. ‘Brenda’, infamously interviewed by the BBC outside her house a few weeks back, captured this mood excellently by asking: “Why are they asking us again, can’t they just get on with it?”

Public figures, usually trendy liberal lefties and rich celebrities, once again tried their best to rally the young at this election. Their mannerisms are often so patronising. I wouldn’t mind so much if these people were honest, and openly asked youngsters to cast a vote for the Labour Party. That would at least be a little more sincere. The young may have turned up in surprising numbers today but it will be a while before we have any evidence. I suspect youth turnout was, as is customary, proportionally low.

The freedom not to vote and marginalisation

It is worth remembering that the freedom not to vote is very important. It was not protected by any of the nation’s wars, but it remains a useful method of political protest. The freedom not to vote is imperative purely because it allows members of the public to refrain from voting in instances where all balloted candidates propose policies and espouse views that they personally disapprove of.

I am actually developing a rapid dislike for the term ‘marginalised’. It is overused in political discourse. But, for social and moral conservatives such as myself, as well as other narrowing sects of the population, marginalisation is something we are experiencing. And I see no end to it.

Many who do not vote choose not to because they feel that in doing so, they would be fuelling a consensus or knot of parties with whom they have fundamental disagreements; thus bringing upon themselves further disenfranchisement. In this regard, not voting can be just as powerful and as telling as voting.

 


Terror is not a reason to suspend political campaigning

It is especially disheartening that Paul Nuttall’s most worthwhile contribution to this General Election campaign has been to refuse to cease political campaigning in the wake of Saturday’s London Bridge attack. Though occasions in which I find him even mildly impressive are rare.

But he is right that the country should not have to routinely disrupt its democratic procedure all thanks to the unfortunate and unsurprising persistence of jihadism in our society. Especially when polling day is just days away (perhaps it is me, but the whole thing seems to have gone very quickly indeed).

It is of course important that, for the sake of rebuilding broken spirits and reminding ourselves of the good in humanity, efforts to commemorate and remember those who have lost their lives are made. Sometimes, a period of reflection and deep thought is useful.

But these things can be achieved independently of the campaigning of political parties. Most of us do not leave our charity at the door even in times of intense political contestation. Politicisation of tragedies, I have noticed especially amongst my generation, tends to be met with the scorn that it deserves.

What interests me far more, however, is the modern obsession with suspending our daily activities in response to mindless terrorism. This is particularly apparent in the midst of political campaigning, arguably an innately more vulnerable time for the country as it is a more politically-sensitive and reactive period.

This, the country that dealt with the menacing embrace of the Luftwaffe, now appears to want to scurry about in useless panic, desperately cleaving to whichever platitude it can offer in order to make us feel better about ourselves. Well, without meaning to sound crass, I don’t think platitudes are helping anybody. Especially not those most affected.

So, why do we suspend political campaigning? Is it a mark of respect? I don’t see how. All we do is afford jihadists and those waiting to follow in their footsteps more airtime than they perhaps warrant. Candles, prayers, bouquets and momentary unity are more than enough. The democratic process need not suffer too.

Terrorism is, if we remember, politically motivated. It feeds off the cameras, the alarm and the inevitable changes to public policy that serve only to further slice away at British liberty. I am trying carefully not to pen the very slogans that we have all become so tired of hearing over the last couple of years.

Indeed, there is something to be said for preserving most what the terrorists crave to bring down. Even more so when it is as precious and as (often) irrecoverable as freedom itself. This is why I am suspicious of renewed support for internment of our enemies in Britain.

It was tried in Northern Ireland not too long ago and proved a powerful recruiting agent for the Irish Republican Army. It is also a fundamental violation of Habeas Corpus, perhaps the most profound symbol of freedom ever marked by the country. I think there are better responses at our disposal (I will be exploring internment at this blog soon).

And shutting down the British election certainly oughtn’t to be one either. If anything, the magnitude of the terror threat we face demands an intensifying of political campaigning, not an easing of it. The country deserves to know what our potential leaders plan to do to help the situation, especially before such a time that they have been elected.

As I sit here and think about Thursday’s election, of Manchester Arena and of London’s blood-stained streets, I find it unfathomable that combating terror has not played a more significant role along the campaign trail.

Issues like police cuts have rightly been raised, and Jeremy Corbyn has been quizzed on his opposition to renewing Trident, but that has been the extent of security discussion. I am appalled by this. It is as if our leaders have no answers or are frightened to voice them. How has such an issue escaped political discourse? I fear the country will regret the relative silence of its leaders at this General Election.

And the more we suspend party politics, presumably to appease victims who are in no way enamoured by our doing so, the louder the silence grows.

 


Dear Mr Corbyn, hands off my tuition fees

I wish Leftist politicians would stop lumping me in with all the other, equally Leftist students in this depressing General Election. Specifically, I don’t like to hear Jeremy Corbyn talk about tuition fees as if all students are utterly appalled by them.

He did it last night during his relatively underwhelming Question Time performance. He reiterated his desire for national funding in education before making the false claim that “the number of people from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university has gone down”.

Naturally, he attributed this trend to the introduction of and rises in the cost of tuition fees. Though immediately after he said this, ‘Full Fact’ rebutted his nonsensical claim, saying:

“There are a number of ways to measure what a ‘disadvantaged pupil’ is, but on all UCAS measures young students from disadvantaged groups in England are more likely to go to university now than any other year on record.”

The reference to England is particularly interesting when you compare it to its historically hostile northern neighbour, Scotland. In May 2016, the Sutton Trust, a distinguished education agency, published a report entitled Access in Scotland, in which they found:

“The gap in university participation between young people from the most and least advantaged areas is higher in Scotland than in the other home nations. Scottish 18 year olds from the most advantaged areas are still more than four times more likely to go straight to university than those from the least advantaged areas.  In England, those from the most advantaged areas are 2.4 times as likely to go to university as those from the least, and three times as likely in Wales and Northern Ireland.”

Scotland, unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, does not charge its home students tuition fees. It seems that where tuition fees are implemented, the proportion of ‘disadvantaged pupils’ (of which I am one) attending universities actually increases.

By scrapping tuition fees, as the Labour Party plans at the cost of £8bn per year (according to the IFS), they propose not only a subsidy for the rich, but a strangulation on university funding, which relies largely on fees across both undergraduate and postgraduate study. It is unclear that, with existing cuts to teaching budgets already made, scrapping fees will not be adequately compensated for.

Research by ‘The Russell Group’ showed that between 1989 and 2005, ‘government funding did not keep pace with increasing student numbers, leading to a 40% fall in funding per student’. Even in light of compelling evidence, I do admit that funding caps have not been kept even with the rate of inflation, which has started to see decline in real term funding gains.

There is therefore a stronger argument for increases to fees than there is to scrapping them altogether. Fears over under-admitting students from poorer backgrounds simply haven’t been realised. The reality has been that tuition fees have increased ‘per student’ funding and improved the quality of education for the disadvantaged, with repayments organised on the basis of post-study income.

The system is fair as we look at things. Education cannot be free, as the Left often claim it ought to be. There is a bill to be paid, and it is a question of who pays and for whom. It is not acceptable for working taxpayers to pay for the education of students from wealthy families. And why should others pay for my degree? They do not benefit. I benefit. And thus, I should foot the bill for my studies.

My current student debt sits at £36,000 when additional, supplementary loans are factored in. I am classified by government as a ‘disadvantaged pupil’ by income measure. My journalism degree has just concluded, but when I was studying, I constantly reminded myself of the costs of study.

Tuition fees didn’t put me off or make me want to drop out in order to avoid large, growing debts. They actually had the opposite effect on me psychologically. Fees galvanised me, reminding me of the price I would pay and that I should strive to get as much out of university as I possibly could. I do not pretend to represent all students (especially as a Right-wing conservative), but I suspect I am not the only student who experienced this.

The Labour leader has repeatedly referred to his party’s manifesto as a careful and well-considered document that is both fully costed and a positive alternative for the country. Though as far as university funding is concerned, I don’t think students should see it this way.

Students may be dismayed by the prospect of sizeable debts, but they ought to consider the factors that I have outlined above. The national conversation about the costs of tuition tends to imply that scrapping fees is a policy that students universally agree with and one that will encourage poorer students to embark upon Higher Education. Neither claim is the case.

Mr Corbyn, hands off my tuition fees.


Take sex education out of the classroom and restore it where it belongs

Being just 21 years old, I well remember my secondary school education. I often walk past the school I went to, bilateral (operating grammar and comprehensive systems simultaneously) and located in the north of Kent.

Thinking about school brings back many great memories. I was one of those children who loved going to school. I enjoyed quite a number of subjects, though was only good at a select few, and forged a group of close friends, with whom I am still in frequent contact today.

This week I was again reminded of secondary school by an interesting study linking state initiatives with teenage pregnancy published in the Journal of Health Economics and reported on by ‘The Times’. It highlighted the findings of David Paton and Liam Wright, of the universities of Nottingham and Sheffield respectively, who concluded (the emphasis is mine):

“There are arguments to suggest that the impact [of the cuts] on teenage pregnancy may be not as bad as feared and, indeed, that spending on projects relating to teenage pregnancy may even be counterproductive. Put simply, birth control will reduce the risk of pregnancy for sex acts which would have occurred anyway. But [it] may increase the risk among teenagers who are induced by easier access to birth control either to start having sex or to have sex more frequently.’

Can anybody seriously claim that they are surprised by these findings? If they are, they have not been following events too closely. A similar study, published thirteen years ago by the Family Education Trust, found that areas of the country experiencing high teenage pregnancy rates also played host to the most teenage pregnancy projects.

So, it seems, the more we talk to teenagers about sex, normalise the process and illustrate how it can be had more safely, the more they will do it. And this conclusion took the work of distinguished professors to reach? It is not rocket science.

The main problem with, for instance, sex education has always been that it further chips away at the sanctity of sex; something I have always argued against removing. Sex is, by its very nature, a powerful and private thing, and can come with quite horrid, unforeseen consequences if not engaged in appropriately or at the right time.

Sex education implies that excessive experimentation is inevitable, which it shouldn’t necessarily have to be, and that by introducing it at school, teenagers will effectively be taught how to channel their sexual desires.

These desires may be natural, but extortionate levels of transmitted diseases, abortions and teenage pregnancies are not. They are the result of a 1960s cultural and sexual revolution that promoted the ideals of individualism over those of a social conscience and restraint.

Cultural change isn’t easily changed or reversed, but schools have proven to be an incompetent and inappropriate source of direction for students susceptible to the problems of sex. It should always have been the duty of parents to talk to their children about sexual health and etiquette. Those who avoid this are bad parents.

I remember distinctly, too, how uncomfortable it made students who were more restrained and quiet, a little shier and less eager to talk about such things. Many of my old classmates did not find the experience to be anything other than embarrassing and uncomfortable.

I now appreciate the concerns that they had and wish I had been of clear enough mind to raise the issue whilst at school. Sex education is grotesque, gimmicky nonsense that has, like most government initiatives, proven to counter-productive. It ought to be removed from the school curriculum in the next parliament.