Liberal Democrats

Labour's leadership contest is proving it: the only way forward for progressive politics lies with the Liberal Democrats

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/01/2020 - 4:53am in

For those of us who walked away from the Labour Party, unable to stomach the party’s failure to oppose Brexit and to deal with the institutional antisemitism that shows no sign of abating, that party’s period of reflection and long-running leadership election has provided little comfort. I have looked in vain for any sign that there is an understanding of why Labour lost so catastrophically; I do see a lot of trimming, a lot of excuses, and a determination for the sake of unity not to take a good hard look at what went wrong. I’ve already blogged about why I believe that there is no outcome to that leadership election that can save Labour; and Jess Phillips’ comments on bowing out of the leadership campaign seem to reinforce that view. She appeared to be saying that most of all Labour needs to be saved from itself; and until it wants to be saved – which it clearly doesn’t – it’s beyond help.

And it means that as Brexit – the biggest threat to our living standards, our freedoms, our environment, our health and NHS in recent history – is implemented, the principal party of opposition will be embarking on at best a period of navel-gazing or – more likely – a period of intense internal warfare. And this is Labour’s Brexit as much as Johnson’s; the reason why it is happening is because Corbyn’s Labour refused to work with Liberal Democrats and others in Parliament before the election. Labour is complicit not just in the fact of Brexit but in its undermining of democracy.

So, where do people like me – progressive people who have spent an exhausting three years opposing Brexit and trying to establish a rational political discourse in the face of populisms of the right and left – go?

Quietly, at the start of the General Election campaign, I joined the Liberal Democrats. This may seem like a quixotic thing to do for someone whose politics are on the progressive left; the scars of the coalition have not gone away. But, after the huge disappointment of the election campaign, I feel increasingly that this was the right thing to do.

The catalyst was my involvement in the campaign to stop Brexit. Eventually it was a campaign that was lost; although, as I have argued elsewhere, it has not gone away.

My starting point was that Brexit was never simply about whether or not Britain left the EU; it was about the conflict between liberal empirical progressive politics on the one hand and authoritarian populist politics on the other. It was based on that most disreputable of anti-democratic tropes, the claim that a corrupt, non-binding and marginally-won referendum was “the will of the people”. In the eyes of many people, it was about rolling back the social progress that is often caricatured as “political correctness gone mad”, which is really about respecting the rights of people who don’t conform to the speaker’s prejudices; and of course it was about immigration and racism. Not so much politics as full-on culture war; but a culture war in which Labour could not decide on which side it stood.

But, on the positive side, the movement that came together to oppose Brexit expressed a very different set of values; it was open, internationalist, rational. Its arguments were fact-based and reasoned, not splenetic expressions of prejudice or derived from the error that the 2016 referendum was an expression of democracy.

And, deep down, it was based on an understanding that the problems that caused the 2016 referendum defeat would not be solved, but exacerbated by Brexit; that people voted against the EU because the political system had failed them, but that those failures were wholly home-grown. It was a rational response.

And it was huge. A million people on the streets of London twice: six million signatures on a petition to revoke Article 50. But it was above all a grassroots movement (one that was in my view badly let down by the coalition of London-based organisations that claimed to speak for it); the biggest sustained grassroots movement that Britain has seen in modern times. It may have been caricatured by commentators like the egregious Owen Jones as “the longest Waitrose queue in history” but at its heart were values of civility, community and openness. Its language and methods were open, inclusive, positive, forward-looking. It aimed to secure a decent future, not indulge in nostalgic fantasies for a past that really never existed. This was what progressive politics looked like, and it was exhilarating.

The core values of the EU are set out in Article 2 of the Lisbon Treaty. In particular:

It shall combat social exclusion and discrimination, and shall promote social justice and protection, equality between women and men, solidarity between generations and protection of the rights of the child.

(…)

It shall contribute to peace, security, the sustainable development of the Earth, solidarity and mutual respect among peoples, free and fair trade, eradication of poverty and the protection of human rights, in particular the rights of the child, as well as to the strict observance and the development of international law, including respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter.

And it seems to me that those values are Liberal values: they are indistinguishable from the statement of values set out in the preamble to the Liberal Democrats’ constitution:

“The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.”

And, after those months of fighting to stop Brexit, I realised, not only that they were my values too, but that in the Corbyn years the Labour Party had walked away from those values; the crude statism of the Labour manifesto, the appalling antisemitism, the failure to oppose Brexit, its bogus claim to be the party of “the many” when so many of its key economic policies were basically bungs to the affluent middle class which made no difference to the lives of those in the greatest need, were no longer compatible with that. And above all the political methods of Corbyn’s Labour – what in my book I called its privileged hobbyism – stood in stark contradiction to that. You do not need to wade very deep into the sewer of Corbynist social media (Twitter especially) to understand that, or – as I have done – to see and hear the behaviour of Corbyn’s self-appointed outriders at meetings. Sometimes a political party is best defined by the nature of the discourse it regards as acceptable.

But the crucial point is a simple one that Labour missed, and which is responsible in part for its thrashing at the ballot box last December: that the political divide in Britain has changed – it is now between internationalist liberal progressives on the one hand, and populist English nationalist authoritarians on the other. And until Labour realises that it cannot straddle that divide – that it must choose one side or another – it will remain irrelevant. And the people who run the Labour Party now, the Corbynists, who operate according to a Leninist view of the world, are on the authoritarian side of that divide. Whatever the outcome of the current leadership election, I do not believe there is the slightest prospect of that changing.

So why the Liberal Democrats? After all, their election result was terrible too. And what about the coalition?

My own view is that the Liberal Democrats offer the last remaining party space in British politics where it is possible to argue for liberal progressive values; Labour used to but in the post-Corbyn era no longer does so. On the other hand, the Liberal Democrats’ basic value system is one where that debate can flourish; it is the natural home for the values that animated the anti-Brexit campaign, the biggest grassroots campaign that Britain has seen for decades. One condition of doing that is that it must repudiate the Coalition; a devastating mistake, and one which was brought about by its abandonment of its core values; the Liberal Democrats’ Corbynist moment. It has to acknowledge that, intellectually and philosophically, the Orange Bookers were entryists who based their position on what was a demonstrable lie: the claim that Labour overspent in office and trashed the economy. Liberal Democrats must remember that they are the party, not of Clegg and Laws, but of Beveridge and Keynes.

So it’s essential that the Liberal Democrats repudiate the Coalition: and that the next leader is someone who is untainted by it. Liberal Democrats must move into the progressive space vacated by Labour; and that means, among other things, being the unequivocal opponent of austerity that Labour has ruled itself out of being.

But what the Liberal Democrats do, most crucially offer, is a place where the grassroots opponents of Brexit can muster; a party that shares their – our – values and aspirations; a safe space where we can develop our internationalism, our progressivism, our opposition to populism, our determination to effect change without being denounced as Blairites, centrists, or whatever Owen Jones’ insult of the week might be. It is a place where we can get away from the constipated economic thinking that produced the last Labour manifesto and start addressing those issues that can only be dealt with internationally – like climate change. Brexit is happening, but we can start do develop and promote and alternative set of values that can move us back towards Europe when the sheer idiocy and destructiveness of Brexit become clear. It is a space where politics is untainted by the self-righteousness of people who claim in the same breath to be anti-racists and internationalists and at the same time promote a vile and institutional antisemitism.

Ultimately the political battle over the next few years is a continuation of the battle against Brexit; and that was a battle for liberal progressive values, for a type of politics that is democratic, inclusive, open; a politics that values people for the sake of their common humanity, not for the tribe to which they belong. In the age of Trump, Putin and Johnson we need to make a stand for truth-based democratic politics. Looking across the British party spectrum only the Liberal Democrats offer the space where that can happen.

What doesn’t bore us to death can make us wiser | David Mitchell

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 08/12/2019 - 9:00pm in

The Institute for Fiscal Studies’ report on the manifestos may be dull but that doesn’t mean it’s not important

What sort of response do the words “Institute for Fiscal Studies” evoke in you? Do you think: “Ooh, interesting! I wonder what those guys have got to say!”? If so, I reckon you’re unusual. My reaction is closer to Homer Simpson’s when The Boring World of Niels Bohr comes on TV. I become almost frightened at the prospect of the forthcoming guilt-infused stultification.

The name is remarkably unremarkable. Never have two nouns and an adjective run each other so close in a competition to be least interesting. It’s hard to think of any replacement for “Institute”, “Fiscal” or “Studies” that wouldn’t slightly jazz up the organisation’s image. I’d give honourable mention to strong contenders such as “Management”, “Chartered”, “Committee” and “Actuarial”, but I really don’t think they could make it sound any more dull. The most interesting word in its name is “for”.

Do you know what's sometimes cool? Dying young! Doesn't make it good, though

Related: IFS manifesto verdict: neither Tories nor Labour have credible spending plan

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Election Posters of the 1970s

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/12/2019 - 7:06am in

Of all the 304 general elections that were held in the UK during the 1970s, these three election posters for the Conservative party are among the few campaign materials that are still extant. This is largely due to the fact that campaign slogans were more often compulsorily tattooed onto ailing citizens who collected welfare benefits.*

All promotional literature was designed and printed by the Scarfolk Advertising Agency, who, it was later revealed to the surprise of all clients concerned, had been working not only for the Conservative, but also the Labour and Liberal Parties.

Furthermore, the agency cleverly maximised its profits by selling exactly the same poster designs to all clients. Only the party name was changed. This made it difficult for voters to decide who to vote for, but it also confused politicians who became unsure which party they belonged to.



*See also: ‘Trampvertising’.

Further reading: 'Watch Out! There's a Politician About' (1975), 'Voting isn't Working' election poster, 'Democracy Rationing', 'Put Old People Down at Birth' election pamphlet.

Fib Dems Now Condemned by Editors’ Organisation for Disguising Campaign Literature as Newspapers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 27/11/2019 - 11:07pm in

The Lib Dems’ capacity for lies, falsehood and deception truly seems to know no bounds. If they carry on at this rate, they’ll soon equal the Tories in the amount of deliberate misinformation they spread. I think this was dealt with by Mike over at Vox Political yesterday, but it’s now turned up in today’s I. According to an article written by Jane Clinton, ‘Party accused of disguising pamphlets as newspapers’, the trade organisation for newspaper editors has come out against the Lib Dems for trying to disguise their campaign literature as newspapers. The article reads

The Liberal Democrats have been condemned for allegedly disguising their election pamphlets as imitation newspapers.

The Society of Editors said it appeared to be “a concerted effort” to “mislead readers and voters.”

Ian Murray, executive director of the Society for Editors said, “it is ironic how it is often politicians who complain about fake news but then set out to at least blur the lines for readers – and in this case voters – by packaging their partial messages to ape independent newspapers.”

His comments come after it was revealed that the Liberal Democrats produced election newsletters for their candidates in Basingstoke and Leeds, which used titles mimicking local newspapers.

However, Liberal Democrat leader, Jo Swinson, defended the party’s tactics saying the use of such campaign newspapers was “as old as the hills.”

“Doing campaign newspapers is not exactly a new tactic, nor one that is only done by the Liberal Democrats,” she said.

Meanwhile, Ms Swinson has succeeded in stopping the distribution of an SNP leaflet accusing her of accepting a £14,0000 donation from “a fracking company”.

Okay, I think Swinson’s right about parties publishing their own little newspapers during election campaigns. But her party appears to have gone further than that. They seem to have deliberately imitated the style of local newspapers in order to deceive people into believing that these papers endorse them.

Just as they were caught a week or so publishing misleading quotes from various papers that made it appear they praised the party and its leader. In fact, the quotes came from Swinson herself, who was quoted by the newspaper. They weren’t, as the Fib Dems’ literature seemed to be claiming, praise from the newspaper itself.

I know Tories, who hate the Lib Dems more than Labour because of their deceitful antics. Now it appears that under Jo Swinson their deceitfulness and mendacity is becoming notorious to the whole nation, not just Conservatives.

And if they’re prepared to manufacture fake news and fake newspapers, like the press organisations of totalitarian states like the former Soviet Union, then they are a danger to democracy and responsible government.

There was an old joke in the Soviet Union about the two leading newspapers. It was a pun on their names. The Communist party newspaper was Pravda, which means ‘Truth’. The leading non-party newspaper, which still obviously had to follow the Communist line, was Izvestia, which means ‘News’. The joke was that there was no news in the Truth, and no truth in the ‘News’.

Which now describes all Jo Swinson and her party’s election promises and literature.

We don’t need a perfect world; we need a fairer and more equitable one. Understanding how money works is the first step.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 24/11/2019 - 12:02am in

Person at the bottom of stairs climbing from darkness into the lightPhoto by Free To Use Sounds on Unsplash

As the election campaign rolls on and party leaders battle it out on our television screens, the Liberal Democrats commit themselves to more austerity and Paul Mason, left-wing journalist and former music teacher, indulges in some fantasy explanations of how money works. More on that later….

In yet another indication of how the austerity has not only done grave damage to those who least deserve it, but also to the economy, two more reports have been published to add to the already long list exposing the consequences of cuts to public spending.

The Scottish based Poverty Alliance organisation which published its report Righting the Wrongs: A manifesto to tackle poverty is urging the next Government to ‘put solving poverty at the heart of all that it does, including by creating a more compassionate social security system, [and] building a labour market that works for everyone….’

When confronted with the realities of people’s lives through their stories we can see the real tragedy behind the policy decisions and cuts to public spending of the current Conservative government.

Jamie from Glasgow struggling to raise a family on a low income described it as ‘like being stuck in the middle of a spider’s web with no escape route’ and Jackie, a community activist commenting for the Poverty Alliance report, said that ‘more and more people are being locked into poverty by jobs that are low paid and insecure. When people can barely afford to put food on the table and when parents working full-time are struggling to cope, there is something very wrong that we have to put right.

An analysis published by the TUC, also this week, has revealed that the number of children growing up in poverty in working households has risen by 38% over the last decade, bringing it to 800,000 since 2010.

The study also showed that government policies account for the majority of rises in child poverty, with more than 485,000 children (in working households) having been pushed below the breadline, not only as a direct result of the government’s in-work benefit cuts but also as a consequence of other major factors which include weak wage growth and insecure work. The report also noted that over the past decade workers have suffered the most severe wage squeeze in two centuries and although wages have just started to grow, weekly wages are still £14 below pre-crisis levels.

Frances O’Grady, the TUC General Secretary, commented about the report that no child in Britain should be growing up in poverty and cuts to in-work benefits have come at a terrible human cost.

Overall the poverty figures are shocking. As GIMMS reported earlier this year following a report by the Social Metrics Commission, there are now around 14.3 million people living in poverty, of which 8.3 million are working-age adults, 4.6 million children (of which around 2.9 million are in working households as identified in the later TUC report) and 1.3 million pension age adults.

Aside from these shocking statistics which represent avoidable and unnecessary human degradation, the combined effects of government policies and cuts to spending on public services have had a damaging effect not only on the lives of those caught in the austerity crossfire but also on the economy as a whole. A decaying public and social infrastructure and toxic welfare reforms have had a significant impact on poverty and inequality and show clearly in whose interests the government has been acting. The promotion of individualism and self-reliance, along with decreasing state intervention to replace our public infrastructure with private, profit-motivated services has been a long-standing agenda of successive neoliberally inspired governments.

Access to high-quality health and social care, education and training, well-paid secure work and good quality, affordable housing all play a vital role in the health of the nation and its economy. When people are denied those basic support systems it can only, in the end, lead to more deprivation, ill health, hunger, homelessness and increased crime, the consequences of which ripple into every part of society burdening it with both additional financial costs and societal breakdown.

As was reported by the BBC only this week more than 2 million adults are unable to see a dentist either because they can’t afford treatment, find an NHS dentist or get care where they live as a result of underfunding and recruitment problems. It is claimed that many people are being reduced to practising self-dentistry to alleviate the pain of rotten teeth which can cause all sorts of other problems like periodontal disease which can, in turn, lead to an increased risk of heart disease.

After nine years of cutting NHS spending in real terms, creating a pressured working environment for staff, capping their pay, stopping nursing bursaries and driving people away because of stress, senior NHS leaders are warning this week that hospitals are so understaffed lacking sufficient doctors, nurses and other health professionals to provide services that the ‘safety and quality of care are under threat.’ The latest figures show that the performance against key waiting times for A&E, cancer treatment and planned operations have fallen to their worst-ever level and that this could deteriorate even further as winter approaches.

NHS mental health services which have borne the brunt of cuts have become little more than a firefighting service to deal with the ever-growing numbers of people needing support.

Earlier this month the organisation State of Hunger published its report, drawn up in conjunction with Heriot-Watt University and the Trussell Trust. It revealed that more than half of households referred to foodbanks were affected by poor mental health, predominantly anxiety or depression, while 23% of people referred to foodbanks were homeless. The report gives a voice to those people who have paid the price for austerity and welfare reform – the worry about paying bills, keeping a roof over one’s head or having a job which pays enough.

“If I don’t pay my bills, then I’ll get the house taken off me. After paying arrears, I’ve got £8 a fortnight and that’s to pay for gas, electric, water. It’s just impossible, it really is. I go to bed at night wishing I won’t wake up in the morning.”

 

“I’ve used the food bank because I was on such a low income before I got my disability benefit… I had a mental breakdown because basically the amount they give me doesn’t cover the costs of my rent.”

 

Education joins health in forming the backbone of a functioning economy and societal well-being and yet, it too has suffered from crippling cuts to spending. Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the NEU said this week that ‘The future of education hangs in the balance’.  Despite government promises of more money, the School Cuts Coalition made it clear only last week that four in five state schools will be financially worse off next year than they were in 2015 and this will affect schools in areas where there are already high levels of deprivation.

Even with the additional funding promised by government, there will still be a shortfall of £2.5bn in the year ahead after years of already damaging cuts. The consequences for schools are grim. More pupils per class, fewer teachers and support staff and reduced curriculums with subjects like music, language, art and design being cut as a result of the pressure, not to mention the reduction in capital expenditure on schools’ estate which has left it in a bad state of repair and not fit for purpose.

Our children represent the future and yet they are the ones that will bear the brunt of lack of adequate government spending and planning for an education and training system to meet the challenges they will face in the future.

A healthy economy demands a healthy and educated nation as a prerequisite. It demands quality housing, good secure jobs and pay. The last nine years of austerity and forty years of the pursuit of neoliberal dogma have pulled that rug from under people’s feet, leaving them in a world of increasing uncertainty.

It is regrettable in this respect that the notion that the state has a responsibility to ensure the health and well-being of all its citizens through the provision of universal services and other state-provided interventions is being mistaken for a ‘nanny state’ rather than acknowledging the value of such investment in society and its economy.

Whilst government has pursued its handbag economic strategy and ignored monetary realities for the lie of balanced budgets, it has failed in its duty as an elected body to serve the interests of citizens and the economy as a whole.

Whilst pursuing austerity, it has ignored the fundamentals of macroeconomics which it won’t hurt to repeat. Spending, wherever it comes from, creates income for someone else, whether that’s government which starts the ball rolling by creating the money into existence to pay for its needs which flows in turn right down to businesses, working people or even those having the misfortune to be involuntarily unemployed or coping with a disability or illness which prevents them from working. Through its obsession with austerity and lowering deficits at a time when it should have been spending more, it has weakened the economy and wilfully left people without the means to provide themselves with sufficient income to meet their daily needs.

As data from last year shows, it has left British households collectively supporting their spending through reducing savings (if indeed they had any) and taking on more debt. Quite simply government austerity has transferred the burden onto households which as private debt levels rise will prove unsustainable.

The fragile house of cards which represents the economy after nine years of government folly will either stagger on or fall into another recession unless the next government deficit spends sufficiently to promote full employment and serve the public purpose.

In the light of this, it is all the more incredible to note that after Ed Davey, deputy leader of the Lib Dems said earlier this month that Labour and the Tories were ‘writing promises on cheques that will bounce’ they have decided to make austerity their USP (unique selling point) for their election campaign. Yes, you read that right!

In his recent speech he positioned the Liberal Democrats as the ‘party of fiscal rectitude’ and the Conservatives and Labour as the ‘parties of fiscal incontinence’. Davey is proposing to adopt a fiscal rule for day to day spending aiming for current account surpluses in every year of their five-year costings.

With yet more household budget accounting and to meet its objective will require tax rises and yet more spending cuts. Furthermore, on the basis that achieving a surplus is not a saving and removes money from the economy and if our trading partners don’t spend all they earn thus taking even more out of our economy the net result will be a severe recession (as if we weren’t already heading in that direction). A bit of an own goal and a very foolish one at that!

And yet depressingly it has to be said another own goal was scored this week by the journalist and self-styled economist Paul Mason who presented a short promotional video for Novara Media explaining the deficit and debt in the language narrative of overdrafts, loans and mortgages along with that old ‘canard’ about paying for public services by taxing the very rich.

This is indeed ‘fantasy economics’ of the most damaging kind.

In response, the economist Professor Bill Mitchell explains it very succinctly and it is worth printing it here in its entirety:

‘This is the classic ‘soft’ mainstream macroeconomics that assumes the government is financially constrained and is thus not dissimilar to a household.

It is ‘soft’ because, unlike the hard-mainstream positions, it allows for deficits (‘funded’ by debt) to occur in a non-government downturn but proposes them to be offset by surpluses in an upturn, irrespective of the overall saving position of the non-government sector.

None of this framing or language is what I would call ‘progressive’.

It has the hallmarks of the way neoliberals construct the concepts and the narrative.

The inferences are also plainly false when applied to the British government.

  1. It is not financially constrained in its spending.

The constraints relate to real resource availability.

In terms of restaffing the NHS, for example, are there qualified labour resources available? What training would be required? Would this mean that British Labour is also going to be advocating open borders to ensure the staffing is available? [….]

  1. There is no meaningful knowledge that be gained by comparing a household with a home mortgage and a currency-issuing government spending its own currency.

The household is the currency user and the government is the currency issuer.

Totally different constraints apply.

  1. It is false to claim that it is virtuous to ‘tax the rich’ in order to fund essential health and welfare services.

This is one of the worst frames that the progressives now deploy.

The British government might want to tax the rich to reduce their power and influence (exercised via their spending habits) but it never has to do that in order to fund essential services.

The only constraint that exercise involves is the availability of real resources.’

  1. The British government does not have to issue debt to ‘fund’ its deficits. The capacity of the non-government sector to purchase the debt derives from past deficits that have not been taxed away yet.

Even if the government issues debt to match its investment in essential infrastructure to deliver better housing, transport health care, and engage in climate action etc, this investment is not linked at all to the current interest rates in place.

 

There is no meaning to the term “cheap” finance, when the spending does not need to be financed (in the currency the government issues).

The issuing of risk-free debt from a currency-issuing government really amounts to the provision of corporate welfare and no progressive should advocate its continuance.

  1. There is no meaning in saying the recurrent deficit is like an overdraft or the capital deficit is like a mortgage. Those terms gain meaning when applied to units that are financially constrained.

While left-wing progressive parties continue to frame their election campaigns in neoliberal terms and thus erect unnecessary financial barriers to spending that will prevent them from achieving their goals, the public will also remain in the dark about a subject which is of vital importance; how to answer the question about how government really spends, how its policies can be paid for and what  the real constraints are.

That said and despite the deliberate misleading of the public by Paul Mason, the UK needs a progressive government prepared to act in the public interest through investment in our public and social infrastructure and ready to take action to tackle social injustice, ensure a more equitable distribution of wealth and address the biggest challenge we face – climate change.

 

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The post We don’t need a perfect world; we need a fairer and more equitable one. Understanding how money works is the first step. appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

Tactical voting is not enough. To stop Brexit – and save democracy – we need a Coupon Election.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 03/11/2019 - 1:13am in

The General Election that will take place on 12th December is the most important in modern British history. It is an election that will decide not just whether the UK leaves the European Union – and hence whether the Brexit project, a project of the far Right that aims to embed austerity, succeds: it is also about whether the United Kingdom survives as an entity and, most importantly, is one that will decide whether Britain takes the road to Trump-style populism (whether of Right or Left) or whether it reasserts its faith in empirical, progressive liberal democracy.

At the heart of decision is the fact that Brexit has become far more than a matter of whether the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. Brexit has become the central issue in a culture war, one in which democracy has been subverted by the insistence that a Brexit that reflects the assumptions and aspirations of the far economic Right – one that destroys jobs and services, that sells the NHS to US health-care providers and big pharma, that destroys environmental and food standards, and removes rights of both UK and other EU citizens to freedom of movement – is “the will of the people”. And that claim institutionalises a referendum – advisory in law and corrupted by malpractice – as a legitimate expression of democracy that stands above the right of Parliament to decide. It is a Brexit that has elevated the outcome of a narrow, corrupted, three-year-old plebiscite into a democratic act in which the choices that have been made by politicians – often out of fear of the extremists in their own parties – into an expression of the popular will. It has led to a situation in which unlawful data manipulation, contempt for Parliamentary and democratic norms, open gerrymandering through controlling electoral registration, and threats of violence against politicians who dare to speak truth to power have become commonplace.

And it is a Brexit in which the leadership of the Labour Party is just as culpable. The evolution of Labour’s Brexit policy makes Finnegan’s Wake look like a model of narrative simplicity, but its confusion and tortuous contradictions are the result of one central fact; its determination to “respect the referendum”. But in order to do that, you have to accept that a marginal result in a corrupt election is something that sets in stone the most important decision of our time; and accepts that Parliament does not have control any more. There are many courageous Labour MPs who have understood that democracy means putting the interests of your constituents first, and that democracy is about far more than obedience to a corrupt plebiscite in order to deliver a Brexit framed by politicians of the Right; but they are the minority.

So, we have a divide that has cut right across the two main political parties in the UK. Other parties have been clearer: the Liberal Democrats, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party are all Remain parties. However, the Conservative Party has, since the election of Boris Johnson as Leader – and the installation of Dominic Cummings as his ideological minder at No 10 – purged its liberal wing with a ruthlessness and efficiency that the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn – who have presided over a similar attempt to ensure ideological purity in the Labour Party – must envy. Liberal Tory MPs have been expelled or are standing down in their droves; especially women. Meanwhile, the Labour leadership – to the despair of many of its MPs, and of those of its members who have not left already – is largely controlled by people from outside the democratic Labour tradition. As I have argued in my book, they draw their politics from a Leninist model of political organisation in which political direction is given by a vanguard elite, with the only role of the ordinary members ( the “rank and file”) being to give that vanguard democratic legitimacy by voting its decisions through.

The one beacon of hope in all of this has been the willingness of Parliament to seize control. Assisted by the efforts of a courageous Speaker who has been willing to stand up for the rights of Parliament against an executive that has openly agitated against its independence, MPs have taken control of the process. They are the people who have ensured that we are still in the EU, and have stood firm against both the intellectual dishonesty of Brexit and the bullying of a Conservative Party leadership that has no respect for democratic norms.

So, what is to be done?

I think the answer from a Remainer and democratic perspective must be – we need to get past party labels and ensure the election of a Parliament of remainers – which, because of the resonances of Brexit, means a Parliament that is willing to assert the values of empirical liberal democracy. A Popper Parliament, one might say. My own view – for what it is worth – is that Brexit in its broadest sense represents a political convulsion which will see a realignment of party politics; and that at the heart of that realignment will be a reassertion of liberal values against populism. But whether that happens or not, my belief as a democrat is that populism, whether of right and left, must be defeated.

And that means moving the focus away from parties to candidates. As well as considering who is most likely to win in an individual constituency, it’s important to consider what each candidate’s position on Brexit is – and, if they are an MP seeking re-election, looking at their record. There is no point in voting tactically in favour of a former MP who has simply toed Corbyn’s line – which is that Labour should be delivering a better Brexit. Or one who follows the line being sent out from Corbyn’s ideological minders that Labour should be neutral on Brexit; because if you want to preserve the NHS, protect jobs and services, maintain workers’ rights, keep environmental and food standards, and preserve freedom of movement, you simply cannot be “neutral” on Brexit. You are voting for a Labour MP who, in truth, has morally and intellectually capitulated to the Brexiters’ neoliberal agenda.

And, by the same token, that means rewarding Labour MPs who have stood up againt Brexit. To take an example: Cardiff Central is one of the Liberal Democrats’ top targets in Wales, but Labour’s Jo Stevens resigned her front bench post over Brexit, and has been a staunch supporter of the People’s Vote campaign and has been with us front and centre in the campaign against Brexit in Cardiff and Wales more generally. She has earned the vote of every Remainer in that predominantly remain constituency. Likewise, we should back liberal Tories: people like Dominic Grieve, standing as an independent, or Antoinette Sandbach, seeking re-election under Liberal Democrat colours in Eddisbury, deserve the unstinting support of remainers.

And we should not accept simply being content with tactical voting. We Remainers seem unduly reticent about our strength. It was us, not the Brexiters, who twice got more than a million people – protesting loudly but peacefully – on to the streets of London. It was us, not the Brexiters, who managed to get six million signatures on a petition to revoke the UK’s Article 50 notification. Only today, the Brexiters promised a mass rally in Doncaster – nobody, literally nobody turned up: not even the Weimaresque local Labour MP Caroline Flint who has chosen to back the Johnson deal in the hope that it will save her seat. It’s time we in the Remain movement realised that we are powerful, and organised. I can understand that the national remain movement has sought to keep out of party politics; but we in the grassroots need to use our strength and back candidates of whatever party who stand firm against Brexit, stand firm against the leaderships of both Labour and Tories, who want to deliver Brexit.

Above all, we need to convince Labour people to vote for good candidates from other parties – especially Liberal Democrats. Yes, I know what the Liberal Democrats did in 2010; it was appalling and they paid for it politically. But things have moved on; the Orange Bookers have been routed and this election is about the future, not the past. The fact is that any Brexit means you will not be able to deliver your aspirations for a society that is more equal, more just – a society for the many, not the few: even the soft cuddly Brexit that Corbyn (wrongly) thinks the EU will allow him to negotiate. Jeremy Corbyn claims to lead a member-led party, but the Leninists around him have treated you with contempt. They haven’t listened to you, they have dismissed you, they have done everything they can to ensure your beliefs are not reflected in Conference policy, they have reminded you that you need to remember your place in the so-called “rank and file”. It is surely time for you to rediscover your self-respect and vote for what you know is right, not what will get you a pat on the head from your local Momentum enforcer. Your grandchildren are more important; give them an internationalist and democratic future.

And ultimately we need a list. The tactical voting websites appear to have been largely discredited before they have begun. We need to move on from party. We need to be able to say to candidates; it’s your choice. You can have the remainers’ coupon, or you can stand up for your Brexiter party leadership in Westminster. But there are millions of us, and probably our numbers in your constituency are probably enough to seal your fate.

But above all it’s time we stopped being defensive. We need to organise, and at a national level, Remainers should be issuing our coupons. We are counted in our millions and we should use our power. And if we do, we can stop Brexit and defeat populism at the most important election of our time.

Conference Call

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 21/09/2019 - 2:32am in

This year’s Labour Conference will determine the result of the upcoming general election and, ultimately, the fate of Jeremy Corbyn as party leader. As a rule, I don’t go in for political predictions, a fool’s game if ever there was one. As William Goldman wrote repeatedly about Hollywood in his seminal book of 1983, Adventures …

Liberal Democrats and Article 50: a revealing window on the state of British democracy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/09/2019 - 7:47pm in

The Liberal Democrats’ conference decision to campaign for the revocation of the UK’s notification under Article 50 of its intention to leave the EU has caused something of a storm. Obviously there is a debate to be had among Remainers as to what is the best strategy to achieve that goal, but this goes much deeper than that. There is a view – repeated by both politicians in other parties and the commentariat – that this decision is somehow undemocratic. I believe that line of argument tells us something very significant about what British democracy has become.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson (picture: Liberal Democrats)

It’s significant because what the Liberal Democrats have done looks very much like a return to the norms of constitutional democracy. A party in opposition adopts a clear political position and states that it will campaign on it at the next General Election, and if elected will implement it. That’s how democracy in the UK has in theory always worked; parties set out their stall to the electorate who then vote accordingly.

And, in that context, it’s worth noting that no Government has won a majority of the votes cast at a General Election since 1931, an election fought in wholly extraordinary circumstances; the only time this has happened in the democratic era. Labour in 1945 and 1997, the Tories in 1983; none of these landslides was based on a majority of votes cast, and in an age of multi-party democracy it is difficult to see that happening again (the largest share of the vote, by the Conservatives in 1955, occurred at the high-water mark of two-party politics).

The difficulty, of course, is the 2016 referendum on EU membership. The claim that the Liberal Democrat position is undemocratic is based on the view that it seeks to overturn the result of that referendum. But, of course, it’s one of the basic constitutional norms that Parliament cannot bind its successors; and the Liberal Democrat position is only undemocratic if it is assumed that the 2016 referendum somehow overrides that constutional norm.

Such a view is obviously problematic. In strictly legal terms, of course, the Referendum was advisory; there is no mandate. And we now know that the referendum was demonstrably corrupt, marked by systemic illegality on the Leave side as well as being founded on undeliverable promises printed on the sides of buses. Indeed, the irony is that the High Court ruled that the only reason why the referendum result stands is precisely because it wasn’t binding.

Which leaves us with a simple conclusion – that the referendum result is being used as the rationale for the abandonment of the norms of the British Parliamentary system; that, in an ironic perversion of the sloganising of the Leave campaign, power is being taken away from Parliament. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his unelected advisers have already shown their contempt for those norms in the prorogation of Parliament.

And the row over the Liberal Democrat position shows how clearly the referendum – and its acceptance as “the will of the people” which must be respected by politicians across the spectrum – has fundamentally shifted the parameters of British democracy. It’s not just that accepting the referedum result implies accepting the corruption that led to the result; it implies that Parliament is not sovereign, and that General Elections can be overridden by an advisory referendum.

In other words, attacks on the Liberal Democrats for being “undemocratc” expose the deep injury that Cameron did to our democracy by calling the referendum, and that May, Johnson and Corbyn have exacerbated by their determination that it must be “respected”. They demonstrate with clarity why referendums are not part of democracy, but a device routinely used by those who want to undermine its processes.

Of course, you can’t put the genie released by the referendum back in the bottle; we cannot simply go back to where we were before Cameron called it. And democrats owe a certain debt of gratitude to Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings for demonstrating, through their prorogation, how a constitutional norms based on precedent and historical consensus can be abused.

But it does suggest that we need, for the first time since the Reform Acts, a serious national conversation about what Parliamentary democracy means, and should be asking the fundamental questions about whether our unwritten constitution is fit for purpose as the parameters of precedent and practise change.

All Three Parties Are So Racist That Their Conferences Ought To Be Cancelled

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 01/09/2019 - 12:19am in

David Lindsay You do not have to like Jack Letts to be extremely concerned when politicians start revoking people’s citizenship. If you would merely qualify for another nationality, whether or not you held it or wanted it, then your British citizenship could now be revoked at a stroke of the Home Secretary’s pen. 50 per …