Category Archives: European Union

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.

 

 

 

 

 


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.

 


Jump on the May bandwagon? Count me out

The more I think about it, the more I respect the Tory campaigning strategy ahead of this General Election. The Prime Minister and her advisors have succeeded in making this campaign all about her. It’s all about her, ‘Team Theresa’, where every vote for her strengthens her hand in negotiations with the European Union.

It is, of course, a false trail. Our negotiations with the other EU states will depend largely on their mobilisation, not ours. I say I respect the personality tactic because it is effective in highlighting Jeremy Corbyn’s glaring leadership weaknesses. It pits ‘Strong and Stable’ May (she is anything but) against the hapless Labour leader. This point was made rather well by my friend Charlie Peters on Sky News this morning.

Well, I for one will not be jumping on the May bandwagon anytime soon. She is not the visionary architect of the new, third era in post-war British politics. I am particularly disturbed by the artificial and vacuous term ‘Mayism’, which as the Prime Minister rightly pointed out, is not actually a thing. Mayism is in fact the name that has been donated to the political changes forced by massive swings in public opinion over the last few years.

These changes are characterised primarily by distinct mistrust in markets and disillusionment with neoliberal capitalism (fuelled predominantly by the 2008 financial crash) and Left wing social projects like mass immigration and multiculturalism. Latching on to these sentiments, Mrs May is, if anything, an opportunist.

She is not the driver of anything. In many ways, she is in an unfortunate, subordinated position. She is seeking election on a premise that she fundamentally disagrees with, will no doubt find herself at the mercy of other European leaders and unprecedented Tory polling leads mean that she can only hope to decrease the population’s margin of support for the Conservative Party. Her legacy will not sound or look anything like the one she envisaged when she entered the political arena back in the 1990s.

And if we look, the process is already under way. Her proposed changes to the funding of social care are already frightening many pensioners into abandoning the blue corner in favour of the red one. You can hardly blame them. May has for some time appeared strikingly untrustworthy, showcased by several U-turns (which are neither strong nor stable) and her abysmal track record on issues like immigration and personal liberties.

Immigration stands as the largest blemish on her political record. She echoed conservative sentiments against mass migration at Conservative Party conference a couple of years ago, which prompted quite a backlash, but didn’t even try to do anything reasonable about it in government, refusing even to campaign for a Leave vote during the referendum campaign. May is not interested in sovereignty. But, now that she has the chance, she does want to be the Prime Minister that manages to drastically cut net migration figures (though this will more difficult to achieve than most expect).

She is a renowned opponent of free speech and has a dark authoritarian streak within her. Spiked have produced some useful compendiums of some of her political interferences with freedom of expression both here: http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/theresa-may-the-new-prime-minister-grave-threat-to-freedom/18547#.WSL_Xuvyvcs and here: http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/dont-look-to-theresa-may-to-defend-freedom/19602#.WSL_8uvyvcs, detailing her barring of citizens she deemed ‘not conducive to the public good’ and providing Ofcom with powers to block any TV content it considered ‘extreme’.

This is without mentioning her overseeing of the Investigatory Powers Bill, which received Royal Assent last November and threatens our online privacy, and Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 which stands to regulate the British press through an independent body known as Impress and would no doubt have been passed by both Houses had a snap General Election not been called.

Her record as Home Secretary was also marred by her disgraceful treatment of police forces, which have been shredded beyond belief by needless austerity measures during a period that has seen massive population growth. (I wrote on this some months ago; the statistics on frontline police numbers in England and Wales alone are nothing short of remarkable: https://norgroveblog.com/2016/10/04/heres-what-really-ought-to-be-in-hammonds-autumn-statement/)

At the time, she tried to defend a policy of deep cuts by suggesting that more could be done with less, and that since crime statistics (which are hard to analyse due to changes in police action and thresholds for prosecution) were falling, more police officers were not needed. But since crime is an iceberg issue, this argument is fatuous. Lower recorded crime does not necessarily mean less crime. If there is a lower police presence on the streets, correspondingly less crime will be seen and dealt with.

Her political blunders over the years only further dispel the myth that she represents strength and stability in government. In her 10 months as Prime Minister, she has U-turned on a number of significant issues, like a rise in National Insurance contributions for self-employed workers and the holding of a snap General Election. If Mrs May has shown anything in her premiership so far, it is that we ought not to take her word for very much.

I have decided not to participate in this election, other than through this blog as an independent. I shan’t be campaigning for any party and will not cast a ballot either. Politics for me will resume once the country has parted ways with the European Union.

 

 


This election is oh so depressing

I am profoundly jealous of anybody who found an excuse not to watch yesterday’s pitiful TV debate between five of the country’s most uninspiring party leaders. I didn’t watch it expecting to be anything other than dismayed at the growing pile of political deadwood we now have in Britain.

It is made infinitely worse by how similar they all look. Tim Farron, Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood and Caroline Lucas are as irritating as they are indistinguishable from one another. They all, as far as I can see, have exactly the same beliefs.

They all sneer at the prospect of Britain being a self-governing, sovereign country once more. They all despise grammar schools whilst refusing to acknowledge the kinds of selection brought about by the massive and failed comprehensive experiment in education. They all support mass, uncontrolled immigration and the egalitarian wonders of multiculturalism.

But there is something else that unites them all so glaringly: none of them are even remotely electable. I am still surprised that broadcast time was allocated to them, given that the total number of MPs in England represented was 10 and neither of the two major parties took part.

Paul Nuttall, mediocre and paling in comparison to the charisma of Nigel Farage, stuck out, but that was to be expected from a UKIP candidate. It is time for their members to accept the now painfully obvious fact that they are no longer a purposeful or serious electoral force.

As always with these totally overhyped and underwhelming affairs, we were treated to two hours of spin from the Public Relations industry, whose agencies write the scripts and formulate the annoying slogans and soundbites that the live and televised audiences are showered with.

That, added to the fact that we already know which party will be victorious on June 8th, only helps to make this whole thing so utterly depressing. I now see the logic behind holding a snap General Election more clearly. The mobilisation of the non-blue parties was forced and feels so rushed and obligatory.

I wrote a few weeks ago that this election was a second referendum in disguise. I still hold that view, but I can’t describe myself as unsure about the result. Like readers, I know what will happen. The Conservative Party will expand on its majority, by perhaps 50 seats, the country will forget about the fraud it was proven to have committed during the 2015 General Election campaign and Theresa May will lead the country into its third post-war political era, whatever it hopes to look like.

(More on Theresa May very soon.)

The Tories, of course, don’t need to participate in meaningless debates, which I actually disagree with on the grounds that they reflect presidential systems and the UK’s localised, parliamentary format. I may not even feel it necessary to vote for them, since my constituency (Bexleyheath and Crayford) is both Leave-supporting and a relatively safe Conservative seat. After toying with this election for a few weeks, I now realise that there is simply no real need for me to vote.

For Labour, the principle target now ought to be to convince as many of its traditional voters as possible not to jump ship or abstain. Their defeat in June is inevitable, but a turnaround in the coming years (as we saw back in the 1990s) is more than possible. Much will depend upon who succeeds Mr Corbyn as leader later this year, provided of course, that he agrees to step down.

This election is a realisation of three things. Firstly, the neo-liberal consensus has been irrevocably altered. Secondly, the Conservative Party are embarking upon their second era of parliamentary dominance in the last forty years. And thirdly, that Brexit is now a Tory plaything; a policy they have total control over in Westminster and almost no yearning for in Brussels.

I left the party for a reason I am now sharply reminded of. I just can’t bring myself to trust them.


Reflections on railway renationalisation and a Tory Brexit

My apologies, firstly, to readers for the general inactivity at the blog since the middle of April. This has been down to juggling work at a new job and the completion of my journalism dissertation, which I submitted on Thursday evening.

My hope is to achieve the 2.1 that will allow me to continue my studies into Masters level, with my eyes currently set upon an MSc at Royal Holloway in ‘Campaigns, Elections and Democracy’. I should now hope to return here frequently for the foreseeable future.

In my absence, this year’s General Election has gotten under way. A portion of the Labour Party’s manifesto has been leaked, and thanks to pledges to renationalise the railways, Royal Mail and energy sector, has been described as taking the UK ‘back to the 1970s’.

It may be worth remembering for a moment that Germany, a modern and well-run country, operates nationalised rail and worker-run energy co-operatives. Northern Ireland, too, (incidentally a part of the UK) retains public control of its rail system.

For the record, I don’t support renationalising Britain’s energy sector, but local, energy co-operatives, similar to those that exist on the continent do not sound like such a bad idea. I do admit to succumbing to the appeal of democratic ownership of utilities and co-operative privatisation (worker control of industry) of Royal Mail may be popular amongst postmen and women.

As far as our railways go, the ongoing debate around public and private ownership would seem to me to be a secondary issue. The primary issue is upgrading infrastructure and investment, and cancelling the vast amounts of money we seem keen to spend on vanity projects like HS2, which stands only to increase London’s workforce and damage the rural environment of the midlands. Any strong government ought to, by now, have scrapped such madness.

Britain’s rail infrastructure is predominantly Victorian and not entirely electrified, much to our national embarrassment. The billions put aside for HS2 should be re-directed towards modernising track and signalling, and towards investing in more medium-speed, medium-distance inter-city railway lines. London is too often used as a connecting city for long-distance travellers making their way across the country (and often finding themselves paying extortionate amounts).

The question of who owns rail services is made less important still by the fact that there need not be one single system of ownership, as demonstrated by the state operating of the East Coast mainline until March 2015. Britain’s rail system is not only franchised, it is regionalised, which means that, with very few exceptions, services are all co-ordinated independently of one another. The state can retain ownership of some lines whilst allowing for others to be run privately, depending on factors like performance and quality of service.

Immediate renationalisation would not make the running of rail services particularly cheap. As I have said, it is the cost of maintaining infrastructure, due to its age, that sets the cost of British rail travel above that of the rest of the continent. Upgrades to infrastructure ought to be at the centre of any debate about Britain’s railways and present a far more pressing concern than discussions over ownership.

I will not vote for the Labour Party on June 8th, but the aforementioned leaked manifesto content doesn’t look to me as if it will take us back forty years. This is merely dishonest Tory propaganda, no doubt aided by the incompetence of figures like Diane Abbott, who do nothing but discredit the Left and its labour movement.

Meanwhile, the Tories sit firmly in the driver’s seat of this election. They are rightly standing on a platform of seeing out the Brexit process, but of course, they are doing it for the wrong reasons. Many of them do not support out withdrawal from the European Union and thoroughly resent last summer’s referendum result. My vote for them in June (if I bother or indeed remember) will be more out of obligation than anything else.

I am at least glad that the Liberal Democrat leader this time around is Tim Farron, and not a young and fresh Nick Clegg, who managed to sweet talk the country into voting for him seven years ago. Thanks to Farron’s confusing position as leader of a party with which he has profound moral disagreements, the Lib Dems are not quite the force they could be.

Knowing that I was an adamant leaver, some readers might think that I am relieved the Tories are in poll position to win this General Election. This is not quite so. Something about the party’s (and indeed the Prime Minister’s) track record over the European question is cause for concern in my mind.

A couple of days ago, David Cameron made a comment that sparked some degree of doubt in my mind. He said that Mrs May needs a big majority so that she can “stand up to the people who want an extreme Brexit, either here or in Brussels.” It is a shame that UKIP can no longer muster the strength that it did back in 2014.

UKIP formed the ideal barricade against sentiments of this kind within the Conservative Party. There are many who call themselves conservatives, despite their continued existence that Britain should not govern itself and control its own affairs, who are fanatically supportive of the European project and of ceding parliamentary sovereignty.

When these people (Michael Heseltine, Ken Clarke, Nicky Morgan and George Osborne to name a few others) use the expression ‘extreme Brexit’, they demonise the reasonable belief held by large sects of the country, including especially much of the Tory grassroots, that the United Kingdom should control its own trade, borders, lawmaking and judicial process, no matter the difficulties which undoubtedly lie ahead.

Mr Cameron’s comments reminded me that placing complete trust in the Tories and giving them a free hand over such an important issue might not be advisable after all. We’ve heard ‘Theresa May’s hard Brexit’ quite a lot in recent months, but increasingly my fear is that when it is all said and done, Britain will no longer be halfway in the EU. Instead, she may find herself perching halfway out in what will look like an especially embarrassing position.


Immediate reflections on 2017’s General Election

I suppose it made sense in the end, in spite of Mrs May’s repeated claims that there would be no early General Election. Polls were warning us for weeks that it might happen, and those warnings were only growing sterner.

And let us not pretend that the Prime Minister needed yet another mandate in order to carry out Britain’s departure from the European Union; we had a clear enough one already to those who bother to pay attention.

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.

But, more than that, yesterday’s announcement from Michael Crick may have been just as important. The Crown Prosecution Service, he wrote, will investigate up to 30 Conservative MPs for electoral fraud at the 2015 General Election.

I think this will have played a role in forming Theresa May’s decision to hold a quickfire election. Her advisors are acutely aware of proceedings, and presumably, if the CPS’ investigation had led to the sacking of up to 30 Tory MPs, an election would have been thrown together anyway.

And so, regardless of the motive, we have another General Election on June 8th. I have mixed feelings towards elections. I find election night immensely thrilling to watch unfold, but there is no denying that these events are merely public relations extravaganzas.

In particular, I am dreading the prospect of listening to the Liberal Democrats droning on about remaining in the European Union for the next eight weeks, though of course, it would be wise from en electoral perspective for them to do so.

If they mobilise effectively, and their rapid membership growth since yesterday morning’s announcement suggests they may, the Lib Dems could use this year’s election to become the government’s co-opposition, or in the case of an almighty shock, the opposition.

Yesterday a colleague and I tried to find betting odds on the Lib Dems winning more seats than Labour in June, but we could find no such market. I wonder if one will open in the coming weeks, and whether or not it would be worth a punt.

For the record, I think the Liberal Democrats will do extremely well. By leading a policy of Brexit reversal, they garner the attention (and many of the votes) of many millions upset with the direction the country is headed in.

This snap General Election is the last obstacle in between Brexit voters and what they desire most. It is therefore imperative for them to support the party most willing to secure the very things the country wanted to reclaim control of last June.

Since the Tory Party (and the Tory Party alone) fills this bracket, I shall be voting for the Conservatives on June 8th. I am politically unaligned and have been for much of the year, but this election is the last port of call for those desperate to rally behind Brexit.

As far as the Labour Party is concerned, I think we should first give Jeremy Corbyn credit for sticking by his word and accepting the challenge of a snap election. Of course, he won’t win, but who in his position would lead Labour to victory?

I have for some time thought that Yvette Cooper, known for her tremendous parliamentary performances, might have been a far better candidate to lead Her Majesty’s opposition. Corbyn is a good politician, but a hopeless leader.

Labour members ought to be worried. Most polling and local election results suggest that they will take significant hits come June, but their worry should not necessarily be triggered by the Tories.

For the first time since the early 1980s under Michael Foot, the Labour Party is in very real danger of losing its status not only as opposition, but as the party of working people.

The Lib Dems, who appear much more organised and viable an opposing party, have a chance to leapfrog Labour at this election. And their members know it. Through talking to Lib Dems, as I have been, I have found the sense of optimism striking.

My one fear is that they win enough seats to make up for Labour losses in rural England that they are able to thwart a Tory majority. I don’t think this will happen, as a weakened SNP in Scotland may allow Ruth Davidson to take more marginal seats, but it is indeed a possibility.

I would also draw the attention of readers to two other interesting political developments that may have a significant impact on this summer’s election.

First, 2018’s boundary changes (which I had forgotten about entirely until I was reminded of them on Facebook last night) are a potential problem for the Conservatives. ‘Holding off until 2020 would allow the Tories to take advantage of boundary changes that come into force in 2018’, writes Will Heaven yesterday in The Spectator.

Secondly, the prominence of Sinn Fein ought not to be ignored. The Tories have always benefitted from a useful Democratic Unionist Party contingent in parliament, and they will regret the number of DUP MPs falling.

These are my most pertinent thoughts on this election. My vote, as a matter of supporting Britain’s exit from the EU, will go to the Tories, and I should expect them to win a majority. But I will keep a beady eye on the Liberal Democrats.

 


Labour’s proposed £10 minimum wage shows just how unelectable they really are

Criticising Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party and attacking him personally is now futile. It has been done and done again. It is demonstrable that, from an electoral standpoint, he is ineffective. Don’t take my word for it; listen to the increasingly agitated voices of his critics on the Left.

Equally true in my opinion is that one of the worst aspects to contemporary politics – thanks especially to the public relations industry and mass media – is the celebritising (Microsoft Word tells me this isn’t a word, but I have not been corrected in person and refuse to let a red line discourage me from using it) of politicians and the focus placed upon personality rather than policy.

This trend will continue to have a profoundly negative impact upon the legitimacy of public servants. In an age of status and reputation obsession, it is important to draw attention back towards the things that matter.

One thing that matters immensely to a country is having a strong opposition that applies adequate pressure to an incumbent government. They say that it’s best to have conservative government with a strong labour movement in opposition, and the UK is in renewed, desperate need for a strong labour movement.

One of the things that most frustrates me about the Left is its insistence that its programs help the disadvantaged, the poor and the worker, when, in actual fact, evidence shows that they do precisely the opposite. Mr Corbyn’s fresh pledge to raise the UK’s minimum wage to £10 per hour provides an excellent example of this problem.

First off, government should be out of the business of setting wages (with the exception of those working in the civil service, of course). We have seen throughout history the damage caused by government control of pricing.

And wages are a price. They represent the cost of labour to an employer, and ought to remain a private concern that both parties to that transaction agree to. The beauty of capitalism has always been that it is based most fundamentally around the concept of voluntarism.

When government steps in and artificially raises the price of labour, several important things happen. Firstly, a surge in unemployment is almost inevitable. A 2006 review of more than 100 minimum wage studies by David Neumark and William Wascher found that about two-thirds found ‘negative employment effects’.

When employers are forced to pay their staff more money, they need to make alterations in order to break even. This could mean cutting back on staff directly, cutting the benefits of existing staff or scrapping hiring plans or schemes in the future. Young people, too, will suffer disproportionately as they lack the skills and habits of work and will be more expendable in the workforce.

Secondly, arbitrary rises in the price of labour may lead to significant price hikes on the high street. As basic market laws and common sense tell us, if the price of a good increases, the likelihood that a customer will buy it decreases. For the worker on minimum wage, there may be a crucial trade-off: a pay rise for all, for his job.

In his influential Economics in one lesson, Henry Hazlitt notes: “it may be thought that if the law forces the payment of a higher wage in a given industry, that industry can then charge higher prices for its product, so that the burden of paying the higher wage is merely shifted to consumers.” A pay rise is, after all, only relative to inflation and changes to the cost of living.

It therefore stands that the best way to raise the earnings of a worker is to ensure that market forces are culpable for the raise. Labour productivity must be increased either by means of management or production innovation, or by improving technology and training. Creating an environment that is conducive to the making of profit will be far more beneficial to workers in the long run.

We have just entered a period of two distinct changes to the National Minimum Wage (now called the National ‘Living’ Wage because, you know, PR): its introduction and its subsequent raise. Employers are currently coming to terms with these rises as well as the prospect of leaving the European Union.

Any further government control of labour costs is bound to have a substantial disemployment effect. But there is more. The difference between welfare and wages must also be taken into account.

If as a country we say that it is illegal to pay a man less than £160 per week, and we also say that an unemployed man can earn up to £120 (I am using arbitrary figures) per week through the welfare state, then we prevent another man from enjoying the dignity of work and self support for anywhere between £120 and £160 per week.

This may sound like pedantry, but it is an important consideration for those who advocate governmental wage control. Artificial increases in the cost of labour will result in a gap between the minimum a person will earn in work and the maximum he or she will receive in benefits. Any such gap is a barrier to employment. 

And why does the Labour Party not see this? I am struck by just how coy the Left can be with economic programmes. Anybody remember Natalie Bennett’s housing policy disaster at the last General Election? Of course, I do not think this will matter in the long run.

Labour will not be elected into government in 2020. Even with a change of leader in the next twelve months, its troubles (from a damaging referendum divide to the lingering stench of anti-Semitism) are far from being dealt with.

Perhaps Jeremy Corbyn’s quiet resignation that he will not make it to Number 10 is making him lazy. If he thought he had a real chance, he would surely be trying a lot harder. Most polls now show ‘don’t know’ to be a better candidate than the Labour leader for Prime Minister.

And with policy proposals like a new inflation-inducing minimum wage, it’s not hard to see why.