General Election 2017: Tory Apocalypse / Brexit Salvation Reax

Theresa May - Lord Buckethead

A self-inflicted catastrophe for small-C conservatives with one – potentially enormous – silver lining

Who knew that Theresa May was quite so staggeringly incompetent? I mean, we all knew that she wasn’t a real conservative, at least in the best Thatcherite traditions of the party. That much was made clear from successive party conference speeches and her idiotic manifesto’s all-out assault on the libertarian or free market wing of the party.

But her years plugging away in the Home Office and quietly manoeuvring herself into the most powerful job in the country belied the fact that as prime minister, Theresa May would be revealed as little more than a puppet manipulated by her two closest aides (also both cuckoos in the conservative nest) with almost zero reliable judgment of her own.

Through her sheer campaigning ineptitude and inability to articulate a positive conservative vision (remember how this blog kept banging on about the need for one of those?), Theresa May has allowed Jeremy Corbyn’s brand of 1970’s style socialism to regain a foothold in British politics, and for this unforgivable high crime alone she needs to be sent to political Siberia with no undue delay.

But as I made clear in my election night live-blog, Jeremy Corbyn also deserves enormous credit for improving Labour’s electoral position and enthusing so many people with socialist politics. Sure, in one sense it is easy to sway people with the promise of endless free stuff, always paid for by someone else. But as I noted a couple of weeks ago, it is still necessary to overcome voter scepticism that the promised Utopian land of plenty can actually be achieved.

Jeremy Corbyn successfully made the pitch to lots of people – or at least got them to temporarily suspend their disbelief. And he did so in the context of a still-centrist Parliamentary Labour Party which hates his guts and has been trying to undermine him since before his leadership even began, not to mention a hostile television news media which only fell into something approaching balance when election campaign rules took effect, and a pro-Tory print media which pulled out all the stops to get Theresa May over the finish line. That is no small feat.

The other major factor was the youth vote. While we still don’t actually know how many young people voted or quite to what extent they broke for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, it seems clear that the promise of free university tuition – and let’s face it, just an ounce of empathy for a generation coming of age at a time when the prospect of home ownership is more distant and potential career paths more disjointed and precarious – won the support of millions of young people.

Apparently when it comes to closing time at nightclubs, young people are spontaneously breaking into the sung refrain “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!“. The naive chant of mostly low-information voters who wear their political views more as a trendy fashion statement than a considered position? Sure. But also a demographic which Theresa May and her campaign team, in their infinite wisdom, did absolutely nothing to court.

I blogged about this in the heat of the moment on election night, and then split out my thoughts into a separate piece here. And it seems clear to me that British conservatives (I use a small C deliberately) simply cannot go on writing off the youth vote and ceding it to the parties of the Left. We have been doing so for far too long, at our peril, and now that a charismatic conviction politician (in the unlikely form of Jeremy Corbyn) has come along who can actually speak to this demographic we are totally defenceless.

And then there’s Brexit.

The one silver lining of this confused election result is that Theresa May’s stubborn insistence that “Brexit means Brexit” – by which she means that Brexit means abandoning the EEA, denying the existence of non-tariff barriers to trade, demanding a bespoke comprehensive free trade agreement within two years and threatening to walk away with no deal if the EU failed to acquiesce – may now be moderated by more sensible voices which lean toward the once-maligned “Norway Option”.

The DUP, on whose support the Conservatives must now rely to command a majority in the House of Commons and remain in government, are against a hard Brexit, as are many Tory Remainers and many small-C conservative Brexiteers across the country. While the Tory Brexit Taliban (a wonderful phrase concocted by Pete North) will kick up an almighty fuss if they sense any dilution of their maximalist approach to Brexit, suddenly it has become a lot harder to see the pathway toward that goal. Good.

Aside from these thoughts, I am still digesting the surprising election result and the potential ramifications of a new political reality with many moving parts. But below are some of the hot takes and more considered reactions which have resonated most with me in the hours since the fateful exit poll was released.

Author and blogger Paul Goldsmith rips into the Tories’ awful manifesto, the incompetence of their leadership and their small-minded, fear-based campaign:

Let’s not beat around the bush here. Theresa May’s manifesto was almost like saying ‘come on, I dare you to vote for us’. The idea that people who had worked all their lives and paid taxes and national insurance to build up a nest-egg to pass onto their children and grandchildren should run down that nest-egg to the last £100,000 to pay for care they thought was part of their social contract with the state in return for those taxes and that insurance? A return to a grammar school system that might look superficially advantageous to poorer children but with no clarity on how it wouldn’t once again abandon 75% of the population to the mental slavery of under-education? A free vote on fox hunting? A determination to insist that the ‘will of the people’ had been clearly expressed for the hardest of Brexits including withdrawal from the Single Market and customs union and immigration controls that include the preposterous 100,000 a year immigration cap?

Let’s add that to the person delivering this, it turned out, far more madcap scheme. Theresa May came across as arrogant, complacent, prickly when challenged, and downright mendacious when insisting ‘nothing had changed’ during her unprecedented manifesto u-turn on social care. Then there was the refusal to engage in TV debates. I wonder if any leader will do THAT again. Her refusal to properly involve her Cabinet in creating that manifesto left them hung out to dry when defending it, as they were reduced to constant ‘dead cat’ strategies of shouting ‘IRA’, ‘MARXIST’ and ‘TERRORIST SYMPATHIZER’ at Jeremy Corbyn, because they had so little positive to say.

Then look at what she was up against. Every night I would watch the news with Mrs G. We are not, and never will be ‘Corbynistas’, but by g-d did he look good compared to the Prime Minister. Mrs G often said it herself “every night he seems like the only person in this election who really believes what he is saying.”

This last point is particularly valid. Don’t underestimate the attraction of a political leader who (regardless of the rightness or wrongness of their policies) actually sincerely believes what they are saying, and has the courage to defend those beliefs.

When Theresa May first called this general election, I wrote a piece pondering whether Jeremy Corbyn’s likely defeat would spell the end for conviction politics altogether. How wrong I was. If anything, the Tory implosion and Corbyn’s solid showing (and the enthusiasm he has generated among many young people) have reminded us that having strong principles and the willingness to defend them can actually be attractive to voters. If only the conviction politician in this case had been on the Right rather than the Left.

Daniel Hannan, writing for the Washington Examiner, reaches for some low-hanging fruit about how young people voted for Free Stuff:

It’s true that the Conservative campaign could have been better, but that is true of every campaign in history. The prime minister, Theresa May, was criticized for calling an unnecessary election and then refusing to participate in the televised debates. But that doesn’t come close to explaining how Labour rose from 30 to 40 percent support during the campaign.

No, I’m afraid we’re down to the simplest and most depressing explanation. Quite a few voters will support any party that seems to be offering them free stuff.

Labour’s manifesto was a ridiculous list of public handouts. More money was promised for healthcare, schools, the police, public sector pay rises, pensions and free university tuition. All the extra cash was vaguely supposed to come from “big business” and “the rich.” In the event, an awful lot of people liked the sound of goodies that someone else would pay for.

The Labour vote came disproportionately from people under the age of 25, who turned out in unprecedented numbers, confounding every opinion poll. Few of voters of that generation know about the IRA bombing campaign in the 1970s and 1980s, which far surpassed today’s Islamist terror in its scale. They do not remember the Cold War. They do not even recall, except in the vaguest sense, the last Labour government which, in 2010, left Britain with a deficit higher than Greece’s.

On polling day, a Labour activist tweeted a photograph of students queuing outside a polling station. It was, she said, a sign of the political upheaval that was taking place. But my immediate thought was: “If your guy implements the socialism he wants, we’ll all have to get used to queuing.”

He’s right. The case for free markets and fiscal conservatism has to be made anew in every generation. Many of the young people who helped power Jeremy Corbyn to victory are at best dimly aware of the extent to which post-war consensus, socialist policies doomed Britain to slow and steady decline up to 1979. They didn’t experience the Winter of Discontent themselves, just as I didn’t.

But if nobody makes the case for the kind of policies which rescued Britain from near-terminal decline and which are at the root of the historic prosperity and plenty which we now enjoy, then they will take this stability and prosperity for granted, assuming that it is the baseline, the default setting. They will wrongly assume that things can only be improved by overturning conservative policies and attacking the free market, when in fact conservative economic policies and free markets underpin nearly every good thing in their lives, from the clothes they wear, the variety of food in the grocery stores where they shop to the smartphones in their hand from which they glibly re-tweet “For the many, not the few”.

Here’s Margot James, Conservative MP for Stourbridge, making a similar point in Conservative Home:

Apart from a level of debt which is unsustainable over the long term, the economy is now in good shape.  We have brought sanity to the public finances, as we promised we would. Consequently, the economy has not been to the fore when people have been deciding how to vote.  Labour have been able to latch on to this relative economic security by peddling a message that the state should provide more at every turn.

The election descended into a profligate binge over how much taxpayers’ money Labour proposed to give away: keeping the triple lock for pension increases, maintaining winter fuel payments for older people as a universal benefit, thousands more police officers (regardless whether or not they are needed, given the changing nature of crime), more money for schools, health, and social care…all this was added to the billions needed for the nationalisation of the railways and the Royal Mail. And finally, the game-changer: an end to tuition fees for higher education.

The moment I heard Labour’s policy of free university education I knew young people would turn out to vote in unprecedented numbers.  This was a policy that would deliver votes in the same way that the sale of council houses did for us during the 1980s.

At a radio hustings I took part in, we were asked what we would do for young people.  Labour was all about handouts: free higher education with no regard for how universities were to be funded, the reintroduction of housing benefit for 20 olds and an equal minimum wage.  I was a lone voice calling for improving opportunities for young people to gain skills, start businesses, and access better jobs brought about by encouraging investment.

Paul Goldsmith picked up on this point, too:

Many right-wing commentators have pointed out that all Jeremy Corbyn was doing was bribing people with other peoples’ money. One said that the election could be summed up in six words: ‘young people vote for free stuff’. Yes, there is an argument for both. But this is why it was incumbent upon Theresa May and the few people she takes advice from to present an optimistic picture of the benefits of the free market, or maybe stepped back, considered that if you keep on cutting spending per pupil in education the country will pay the price for generations, and changed course in a way that stays true to the now normal Conservative consensus that instead of spending a load of money to manage demand, money should go towards increasing productivity and supply, and demand will take care of itself.

But no. Instead we got the cowardice of fear. Fear of proper debate, fear of the demands of those on the Eurosceptic right who  will not stand for a single penny going to the EU and who insist with no justification that the world will simply dance to our tune, and fear of antagonising those who fund her party. Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn offered the audacity of hope, a hope that economic theory might be turned on its head, a hope that people who would be milked for money would turn it over quietly, but more importantly a hope that no-one in this rich country will live in desperation anymore.

It is astonishing, the degree to which the Conservative Party fought the election and generally structured its messaging according to the terms of the socialist Left. Restraining the growth of the state has continually been portrayed as a regrettable necessity rather than a good thing in itself. And that’s when certain ex-advisers who shall not be named (cough, Nick Timothy) were not busy advocating an even more activist role for the state altogether.

When you start speaking in the other side’s tone of voice, using their turns of phrase and echoing their agenda (Theresa May’s first act as PM was to stand on the steps of 10 Downing Street and talk about how government could help the “Just About Managing” rather than getting out of the way and lowering their tax burden) then you legitimise their arguments. If you concede that it is the job of an activist, paternalist state to help everybody by shovelling benefits in their direction and artificially limiting their choices, why would anybody vote for the Tories when Labour promise to do the job so much more enthusiastically?

Sam Bowman, of the Adam Smith Institute, is not in a forgiving mood:

The Tories did so badly in part because they did not give people a reason to vote for them; in part because they doubled down on a hard Brexit strategy; in part because they neglected and even attacked their own base. For many years they and almost everybody else have totally failed to make a broad-brush case for free markets, with the honourable exception of a few think tanks and newspaper columnists. With that in mind, why is it surprising that someone who despises markets is so popular? How good the moderate and coherent Osborne brand of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism now looks.

[..] The Tories did not offer anything to voters or to their own supporters. A free market manifesto could have energised Tory campaigners and candidates who would have had a reason to go to bat for May when she stumbled. It could have included policies that would have been popular with voters, like stamp duty and inheritance tax cuts, or ways of unlocking more infrastructure investment, that could have been sold on the doorstep as a reason to vote for them if you didn’t like them on Brexit. Fox hunting doesn’t count.

[..] Virtually no time at all was spent on the economy. What a colossal mistake. Many people’s incomes are the same in real terms as they were ten years ago, which is unprecedented. It was insane to ignore this and not to offer policies that might have boosted investment (chronically low in Britain by international standards) and people’s wages. All we got was a crude parody of continental European industrial policy, which in practice meant hectoring firms about worker representation on their boards and baseless claims about price gouging. What good is a polling lead on the economy for a right-wing party if you’re only interested in talking about business to attack it?

The Conservatives could have had a powerful and, to their base, exciting election platform. More homes, more investment, and better infrastructure could all have been delivered through smart, density-focused planning reforms, by restoring capital allowances in the corporation tax and cutting the part of business rates that falls on property investment, and by allowing local government to finance new infrastructure from private investment.

These ideas are free market to the core but are about fixing the problems that ordinary people have. Standing for free market conservatism does not mean having to be a dogmatic ideologue — something May and her team never understood.

Over on Facebook, Brendan O’Neill – who does himself no favours with his strident insistence that his is the only One True Brexit – does make some good points, first about the nature of the current Labour Party:

As more election number-crunching is carried out, it’s becoming clear that the Tories and Labour now play entirely different roles to the ones they played just 20 or 30 years ago.

The first thing that’s becoming clear is that people have overstated the extent to which Labour won over Leave voters. According to Lord Ashcroft’s exhaustive national survey, 60 per cent of Leavers voted for the Tories and only 25 per cent voted for Labour. John Curtice, the BBC’s key number-cruncher, reports that the biggest swings to the Tories were in Leave areas, while it was in “seats which voted Remain last year [that] Labour pulled off some of its best performances”. This means the Tories had huge swings in very poor areas like Boston and Skegness and working-class areas like Bolsover — which are Leave areas — while Labour made enormous gains in Hampstead, Kensington and Canterbury, which are Remain areas and / or well-off areas. The Tories made inroads with the poor, Labour made gains among the posh. This is fascinating.

More number-crunching is needed, but two things are becoming clear. 1) The idea that the Brexit issue or the Brexit divide has gone away is a fantasy. It merely takes a different form now, with Leave largely orientating around the Tories and Remain around Labour. Ashcroft says 68 per cent of Tory voters are Leavers and 64 per cent of Labour voters are Remainers. That is extraordinary. It’s the divide of our time, and we shouldn’t deny that. And 2) Labour, even led by Corbyn, is not a party of the working class. In fact it is becoming something else. It is morphing, or at least might morph, into being a party of the middle class that wants to *keep in check* working-class anger with institutions like the EU. Let that sink in. And let’s see what happens next.

And:

Okay, the wild Labour celebrations are getting weird now. Labour didn’t win. Even against grey, dull, U-turning May — the worst Tory leader of my lifetime, by far — it didn’t win. It is testament to Labour’s low ambitions that it is getting so excited about this. This is clearly a party that never expects to be in government again and must therefore welcome upward blips and handfuls of gains as the best it can get, proof it still has a pulse.

I also agree with O’Neill on the excessive celebration of the youth vote, as though their participation in the democratic process is somehow more valuable than that of older voters:

The message we’ve been bombarded with since Brexit and the Corbyn surge is that when the old vote, everything goes to shit, and the sooner these selfish, nostalgic bastards die, the better; but when the young vote, it’s all milk and honey and roses and light, and the sooner this fresh, caring generation takes over society, the better. The old are demonised, the young sacralised, giving rise to what must surely be one of the nastiest divides in our society right now. I can’t get behind the enthusiasm for the youth vote, I’m afraid, because much of it seems to me to be driven by a culture-war sense of entitlement against the apparently unfeeling, uneducated elderly. The culture war has come to the ballot box.

Now of course we should celebrate when a normally apathetic demographic group actually turns out to vote, but there is a worrying narrative building of young people, furious at having had their “futures taken away” by the selfish Leave votes of older people, finally striking back by supporting Jeremy Corbyn.

As well as being false, this is highly offensive. As though old people – many of whom sacrificed and laboured to give their EU-supporting kids the best possible chances in life – were not thinking about their children’s futures when they voted for Brexit, and as though young people – literally members of generation Me Me Me, consumerists who struggled to frame the EU referendum debate in terms other than what it meant for them and their own travel opportunities, love lives, mobile roaming charges etc. – were high-mindedly voting for the good of society and the future of our democracy. I have no time for this sanctimonious, false narrative, and it is good to see O’Neill also forcefully pushing back.

Turning to Brexit, here’s Pete North, angrily rebutting those who continue to fatuously declare that “the people” voted only for their specific, idiotic brand of Brexit:

As to the assertion that remaining in the single market is not leaving the EU, this is a zombie argument used by liars. The single market as it stands now is a collaborative venture between the EU and Efta states – and Norway etc only adopt about one in five EU rules by way of a system of co-determination – laws which we will likely have to adopt even if we left the single market – but without any means of disputing council decisions. Not least since many of them are rooted in global conventions.

I won’t go into the gory details because I will revisit these issues in the near future. The point of this post is simply to say that leavers do not get to call the shots on how we depart. They were given that opportunity over a year ago and declined the opportunity. It is therefore up to all of us to debate. Democracy is a continuum and though the decision to leave may well be sacrosanct the mode of departure still hangs in the balance and there is everything to play for.

You probably already know my views on this. There is no economic gain or utility in terms of sovereignty from leaving the single market. The main objective and the the single most important one is that we end political union with the EU and an off the shelf treaty is the fastest and safest path to that outcome. The rest can be sorted out later and revisited by way of EEA review.

There is no scenario where we don’t have to make compromises and fetishising sovereignty for its own sake is pointless since absolute sovereignty no longer exists unless you’re a regulatory superpower like China or the USA. Diverging from the existing regime brings us no efficiencies and comes at the cost of European trade. That was a tough pill to swallow for me being a long standing critic of EU regulation – but that is the reality of it nonetheless.

[..] In that regard do not let anyone tell you the debate is settled or let them interpret the result of the election for you. The question of how we leave has always been open ended and there is every reason to get involved. Plenty of people want to close down the debate by telling lies. The usual suspects. I’m not standing for it and this ain’t over til it’s over. The fight over Britain’s destiny did not end in June last year. The referendum was only the beginning and hardline leavers do not own this debate.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker can’t believe our good fortune in having inadvertently steered a course between two dangerous options (Corbynite socialism and Mayite Brexit illiteracy) with the electorate’s inconclusive verdict:

After a very short night, I was woken before 8am on Friday by a call from my son Nick, 5,000 miles away in India, who had been following the drama 8,000 feet up in the Himalayan foothills. “This is yet another amazing tribute,” he said, “to the unconscious political genius of the British people. They have somehow managed to steer between the Scylla of Corbyn’s suicidal economic illiteracy and the Charybdis of Mrs May’s hard Brexit.”

“She will only be able to govern with the support of 10 Northern Irish MPs who insist that we must keep a ‘frictionless border’ with Ireland and the 13 Scottish Tories who, with Ruth Davidson, are equally insistent that we must somehow remain free to trade in the single market. That is brilliant for the Union, because both Northern Ireland and Scotland are crucial to her survival.

“With all the other parties also somehow committed to staying in the European market, plus many of the less reckless Tories, that means that it will be extremely difficult for her to press on with her hard-Brexit, ‘walk away without a deal’ line. “I am now more optimistic about Britain’s future”, Nick concluded, “than I have been for a long time.” Many of my readers, I know, will be shocked, if not surprised, to hear that I agree with him.

Booker’s son is not wrong – and this is what makes the election result so bittersweet from my own perspective. Anything that moderates the nature of Brexit and injects some light rather than heat into the debate is clearly a good thing. But Theresa May has led the Conservative Party to a very bad place, perilously close to defeat, and there is no guarantee that either she or her replacement will learn the correct lessons.

The danger is that the Tories, rather than rediscovering their ideological backbone and making the case for free markets and a less activist state to the people, instead now join Labour in a full-on race to the political left, which would be devastating for conservatism as a whole as well as being a competition which the Right can simply never win. Must the price for Brexit be the shifting of the Overton window ten degrees back toward the Corbynite Left? It looks increasingly as though this may be the case.

Conservative Home’s Paul Goodman looks at the mechanics of the Conservative Party’s current predicament:

Better by far, say the wise old owls, to hang on.  An arrangement with the DUP would give the new Government a majority, they say.  There is no prospect of a no confidence vote succeeding.  And May can find shelter behind our old friend, the Fixed Terms Parliament Act.  Maybe she should see the Brexit talks through, some muse, and then depart with the thanks of a grateful nation.

Perhaps the old birds are right.  But this site is nagged by the uncomfortable feeling that they may be failing to see the wood for the trees.  May won the biggest Tory share of the vote since Margaret Thatcher, but the landslide she anticipated did not take place.  Voters seem to have mulled her refusal to level with them over social care, her reluctance to debate, her lack of ease with campaigning and engagement – and, having weighed her in the balance, found her wanting.  It is not certain that she has the flexibility and adaptability to share power with her Cabinet and Party and Parliament, as she must now do to survive.

It is all very well to take refuge behind fixed terms plus hope in the DUP.  David Cameron had a majority, and his government was crippled by rebellions.  May was at mercy of the Commons even before the election: remember the Budget and national insurance?  Conservative MPs may not yet have grasped that we face the possibility of five years of a Do Nothing Government – with all that this implies for the proper management of the country’s finances.  On paper, such an administration may be able to stagger on – at the mercy of tide and chance, with a Party leader vulnerable at any moment to a leadership challenge via letters to Graham Brady.  But in practice?

No, Theresa May needs to go now. None of the pieces I have read since that exit poll came out have convinced me otherwise, well argued though some of them are. In a sense, it doesn’t really matter that none of the likely options to replace her are any better (and Pete North forcefully explains why this is the case). The key is that the contenders could hardly be any worse, either in their zeal for a particularly destructive form of Brexit with almost no real thinking behind it, or in their dubious commitment to free markets and restraining the size of the state. And recall, May’s successor will be equally constrained in their Brexit approach by parliamentary arithmetic, so there is no need to keep May around for fear of a more hardline approach to Brexit.

Theresa May needs to go because she single-handedly destroyed her own authority, not just within her party or the country at large, but on the world stage too. These are momentous times, and with the metro-Left political elites of most countries currently scoffing at Britain for supposedly relegating ourselves from the ranks of serious countries by voting for Brexit, we need a strong, charismatic leader who is capable of going toe to toe with Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Donald Trump. Not a weak supplicant caretaker PM whose permission to continue representing us is extended only one day or one week at a time.

Perception matters, and right now Theresa May is correctly perceived as a loser with no authority. Better to make the change now, even if it means enduring five more years of aggrieved leftists who don’t understand how our system of government works (or make any effort to change it) moaning about another unelected Tory prime minister. Better to make the switch now rather than changing horses midstream in the middle of Brexit negotiations. And while whoever replaces Theresa May will probably be just as, uh, problematic from a conservative viewpoint, we should compensate by using the turmoil to finally promote some of the more Thatcherite, liberty-minded backbenchers – the likes of James Cleverly or Kwasi Kwarteng – to cabinet positions so that next time around we have a better talent pool to fish in.

The only problem is that by the time of the next general election, the Tories will have been in government (mostly in coalition / confidence and supply agreement, but also alone) for the past seven-plus years. The window for making radical changes to the way the country operates, tantalisingly opened after the Great Recession but stymied by David Cameron’s failure to win an outright majority against Gordon Brown, will have fully closed again. How many political parties or administrations can you think of which suddenly burst to life with original ideas and bold new policies 7+ years after first coming to power? Surely none. Anything radical must happen at the beginning, before the impetus wears off, steady state sets in and the people ultimately tire of the party of government and demand a change.

Regrettably, the Tories have wasted their years of potential firstly in coalition with the LibDems, then alone after the 2015 victory and now in some still-to-be-decided arrangement with the DUP, and accomplished very little save holding the EU referendum which gave us Brexit and presiding over a reduction (but not eradication) of the budget deficit. It is now quite possible that we must soon suffer through some form of left-wing government – perhaps a progressive alliance of the childlike Left, though who can now put it past Jeremy Corbyn to secure a majority of his own if May’s government falls? – before the Tories can then return once again to fix or limit the damage.

And yet in mitigation of this depressing fact, there is now a fighting chance that the new parliamentary arithmetic will see Brexit taking a more sensible, palatable and less destructive form, which is what this blog wanted all along.

Politics giveth and politics taketh away.

 

These are my current thoughts on the fluid post-election situation, together with some reactions from other people which have resonated with me since election night. I have quite a busy few days coming up so the blog may go a little bit quiet for the next week with only an occasional sporadic update, but normal service should be resumed by next weekend.

Stay tuned to the Twitter feed @SamHooper for more short-form ranting in the interim.

 

Theresa May - Downing Street speech

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Brexit For Grown Ups

Eurosceptic but tempted to vote Remain because of the Boris Johnson / Faragist circus that is the official Leave campaign? There is a better Brexit campaign out there, and they have a comprehensive plan for safely leaving the European Union which does not rely on trumped up statistics or school playground insults

Are you a eurosceptic or undecided voter who is instinctively sceptical of the European Union, but put off by the bombast and rank amateurism of the official Leave campaign?

Perhaps you sense that there must be a better campaign out there somewhere, that the well worn record of Nigel Farage and the ranting of Boris Johnson – a man who had not even decided which side he was on until a couple of months ago – cannot possibly make then the best ambassadors for Brexit.

Perhaps you appreciate that most of us already know and understand the reasons why the EU is bad, and that what matters now is convincing a majority of our fellow citizens that there is a safe and non-disruptive way to leave the political construct of the EU while maintaining, even enhancing, our status as a global trading nation.

If this describes you, then you may get value out of this excellent TED-style talk by Dr. Richard North of the eureferendum.com blog. The video comes from a recent meeting of The Leave Alliance at the Royal Overseas League in London, and is a great visual exposition of the comprehensive plan for leaving the European Union known as Flexcit or the Market Solution.

Read The Market Solution pamphlet here.

Read Flexcit (the full-length plan) here.

It is vital for people to understand that the coming EU referendum is not like a general election, or even a by-election. We are not voting to elect the Vote Leave Party – thank heavens. That means that although Vote Leave often say some fantastical and frustrating things, and continue to spout statistics which don’t withstand the slightest scrutiny and end up helping the other side, fortunately it doesn’t matter because Vote Leave will not be in charge of the secession negotiations with the EU.

The idiots in Vote Leave do not speak for the whole Brexit movement, and their half baked plans for leaving (such as they exist) do not represent the political realities. In reality – when you take into account the inherent caution of the civil service and the composition of the Westminster parliament which would have to deal with a Brexit vote (more than 50% Remainers) – Britain would inevitably take the path of least resistance and exit to an off-the-shelf EFTA/EEA model (or a shadow version of the same) as a stepping stone, maintaining single market access but giving Britain the right of reservation, an emergency brake on immigration (like the one David Cameron failed to win) and a full seat on all world bodies once again.

This is why Remainers are desperate to falsely discount the EFTA/EEA model as something that Brexiteers either do not want or which would mysteriously be denied us – for it annihilates at a stroke every last one of their doom-laden warnings about economic apocalypse in the event of Brexit, while freeing us from the explicitly political union which they seem to love but dare not publicly say so. Adopting Flexcit (the Market Solution) leaves the Remain campaign with literally nothing besides their fear of change and love of having a supranational government increasingly do the hard work of governing.

For in truth, there is no cooperation between European countries which cannot flourish just as well – and often much better – outside the EU’s explicitly political, integrationist structure. Be it defence, international aid or the environment, inter-governmental cooperation can be far more effective than running everything through a set of institutions in Brussels which were designed not to foster effective governance, but to gradually sideline and undermine the various member states, creating immense resistance and resentment along the way.

If one reads the history of the EU, one quickly realises that the founding fathers never troubled to hide their intent, or the fact that two world wars made them see the nation state as the root of all evil, and the EU’s supranational government as the “cure”. This is not a conspiracy theory – you can read it in their own words. To think that Britain can stay in the club and not be swept along to the final destination is denialist fantasy.

As for staying “globally relevant”, this blog and my fellow writers in arms ceaselessly point out that most EU trade rules are actually set by global bodies like UNECE, Codex Alimentarius, the IMO and other organisations. The EU often does not come up with these rules and regulations, but merely passes them along to the member states, sometimes with unwelcome EU gold plating and tweaks which actually act as an impediment to global trade. The EU is certainly no longer the “top table,” as Remainers love to claim.

That is the future of trade and globalisation – global regulation. Being in the EU means that Britain surrenders our seat or vote on these bodies, must fight to be just one of 28 countries contributing to a common EU position, and has no right of reservation to say no to those regulations which could harm key industries or our national interest. Perversely, sometimes the EU, claiming competency and controlling the British vote, wields that vote against us in these global bodies. Brexit means we can rejoin the global regulatory environment as a full and active player, while remaining in the EU is quite literally giving up and conceding that Britain no longer has the ability or the will to govern ourselves.

But worst of all, voting to Remain because of understandable disillusionment with the mainstream Vote Leave campaign will doom us – quite unnecessarily – to a dismal future lived cowering behind the EU’s skirts while the opportunity to build a genuinely global trading and regulatory framework passes us by.

And for what? Nothing more than the pointless pursuit of a dusty, mid 20th century blueprint for a united Europe, dreamed up by old men scarred by the memory of two world wars and already out of date, long before it is fully realised.

Europe has moved on since VE day. And euroscepticism has moved on since the 1990s. Wanting Britain to leave the EU does not mean throwing your lot in with Nigel Farage, UKIP, Boris Johnson or anyone else, if you do not wish to do so. There is another way. There is a better Brexit campaign out there.

Take 30 minutes of your time to be an engaged citizen, and watch the video.

Then come join us.

 

The Leave Alliance - Flexcit

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Flexcit For Newbies – A Comprehensive Plan For Safely Leaving The EU

The Leave Alliance - Flexcit Workshop - EU Referendum - Brexit

There now follows a message from The Leave Alliance…

Richard North announces:

We’re all set up for the big day at the ROSL. The programme is all organised, with an opening address by Christopher Booker, the TED-style talk on Flexcit from me, and then Question Time.

The question-time is one of the key elements of the afternoon. Unlike the typical “talking head” presentation, you the audience are the stars. We’re looking for at least ten volunteers, each to ask a focused question, in a similar format. The questioner makes a short statement from the floor to introduce the subject, and then directs the question at the panel, comprising myself and Booker.

[..] Once we’ve chewed over the answer, the questioner gets a come-back, if they want it, and then we close on that issue and move to the next.  After editing, each becomes a YouTube clip, giving us a steady flow of material to post on the web.

Some of the topics to be addressed by the panel are as follows:

  • What will be the effect of Brexit on farming?
  • How will fishermen benefit from Brexit?
  • In view of the controversy over savings on contributions, how much do you think the UK will save?
  • Why isn’t Flexcit getting more (any) attention from the media?
  • Will expats be forced to return to the UK?
  • What guarantee can you give that the Efta/EEA option would not end up as the final step instead of the first?
  • What would happen if the UK failed to reach a trade agreement before leaving the EU?
  • Would the UK need to re-negotiate all its trade deals after Brexit?
  • Would the UK lose out by not being part of TTIP?
  • Will UK defence and security be damaged by Brexit?

Throughout the afternoon, we’ll have roving cameras, recording for vox pop contributions, with people responding to the simple question: “why do you want to leave the EU?” We’ll edit and collate the responses, which will make for another, and truly historic film clip.

I will be in attendance, representing Semi-Partisan Politics, for what promises to be a great event – and one which will answer many common questions about Flexcit.

The event will be held at the following time and place – do come along if you are able, I understand that tickets will be on sale on the door for £15 which is a small price well worth paying for an afternoon of education on the most important and existential question facing Britain today.

 

Princess Alexandra Hall

Royal Overseas League

Overseas House, Park Place, St James’s Street

London, SW1A 1LR

Saturday 23 April, 2pm – 6pm

 

The Leave Alliance - Flexcit

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The EU’s Model Of Supranational Harmonisation Does Not Keep Us Safe

EU - European Union - Security Defence Policy

On national security as with trade and social affairs, the case for Brexit hinges on the conflict between intergovernmentalism and supranationalism

In his latest Telegraph column, Christopher Booker joins this blog in refuting the baseless, scaremongering claims by the Remain camp that being in the EU in any way protects Britain from the risk of terrorist attack.

Booker writes:

It was unfortunate timing for our not very convincing Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, when he used the Brussels terrorist attacks to claim that they only confirm how disastrous it would be for Britain to leave the EU. “The fact is,” he said, that “across Europe we do have these mechanisms now” for “sharing intelligence about terrorists’ movements” that enable “all intelligence services across Europe to pool their efforts”.

Do those “mechanisms” for sharing intelligence include the Parliament, Court of Justice, Commission, the supranational elements by which the European Union undermines nation states and seeks to usurp their role on the world stage? Of course not – these are all explicitly political institutions. All of the collaboration which actually helps to combat terrorism in Europe occurs on an intergovernmental, not a supranational basis, mostly outside of European Union structures.

When sovereign governments are free to co-operate on mutually important issues, they can often do so well. But when a busybody supranational regime seeks to take on ever more responsibilities from the nation state, vesting them in inappropriate and unproven institutions, that’s when things can easily fall through the cracks, as this blog explained yesterday.

Booker rightly goes on to argue:

In fact, there is here a much wider point, which highlights one of the most common misunderstandings about the EU, whose supporters try to persuade us that without it, international cooperation could not exist. In fact, over a whole range of issues, countries have long evolved extremely effective systems of inter‑governmental cooperation, such as on air-traffic control, Interpol, the international postal union, the European Space Agency and dozens more (not to mention Nato).

All these, negotiated between national governments, regardless of whether or not they are in the EU, work very well. And not the least absurd feature of the EU’s attempt to make itself a “supranational government of Europe” is how often it has tried to absorb these examples of effective cooperation into its own clumsy bureaucratic empire: as when it launched its “Single European Sky” programme, or set up “Europol”, or issued directives on postal arrangements with which it then expected non-EU states to comply, or tried to take over the European space programme for its crazy Galileo satellite project.

If only more people appreciated the crucial difference between “inter‑governmental”, which works, and “supranational”, which doesn’t, how much more enlightening our debate might become.

Inter-governmental versus supranational. It is very much in the interests of the EU’s apologists and closet federalists for the general public not to realise the difference between these two important terms.

The former describes the healthy co-operation between friendly allied countries, sometimes bilaterally and other times facilitated by an organising body (like Interpol). The latter describes weak nation states outsourcing key responsibilities to a higher third party, a reckless and unproven approach only ever attempted by national politicians seeking to escape accountability to their own electorates.

If the Remain camp succeed in their effort to lay a thick fog of war over the EU referendum debate so that important terminologies and ideas are confused and muddled, they automatically win. If they can persuade people that the EU equals warm, fuzzy co-operation with our friends while Brexit equals snarling isolationism and being an international pariah, the Remain camp need to nothing else. And so far, they are succeeding.

In order to turn this around, the Leave campaign absolutely must succeed in educating the public on the difference between laudable and (ideally) transparent and accountable co-operation between European countries on one hand, and the outsourcing of core government competencies to undemocratic, unwanted and untested unified European institutions on the other.

This applies not only to national security, but economic and social affairs too. When the Leave campaign are able to cut through the fog of confusion and make people realise that leaving the EU would actually represent an affirmation and strengthening of the only kind of co-operation which actually delivers positive results (the inter-governmental kind), they are far more likely to embrace Brexit and realise how the EU actively harms healthy intergovernmentalism in its rabid pursuit of ever-closer union.

Can the Leave campaign this message across in less than three months between now and the referendum? Perhaps. But enlightenment will not spring from the mouths of deliberately ignorant “leaders” like Boris Johnson.

Those who can actually distinguish between the real issues and the cosmetic ones – which sadly excludes much of the British press corps – urgently need to find a way to amplify their message.

 

Intergovernmental vs Supranational - European Union - EU Referendum

Bottom Image: Cartoon by Wolfgang Ammer, published in Intergovernmentalism & Liberal Intergovernmentalism

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The Leave Alliance Campaign For Brexit: Citizen Democracy In Action

The Leave Alliance Launch - TLA - 2

This EU referendum is about the people, not the Westminster elite. Fortunately, there now exists a truly independent Brexit group – the only genuinely grassroots campaign fighting the referendum, and the only one with a credible plan for safely leaving the European Union

Last week – on Budget day, in fact – the Leave Alliance of individuals and groups campaigning for Britain to leave the European Union held its launch in Westminster.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one who didn’t realise that anything had happened. The media is still having trouble wrapping their collective mind around the fact that in a referendum, the voices of politicians are no more important than those of ordinary citizens. That’s why every time Boris Johnson opens his mouth to utter his latest half-baked Brexit plan it is considered front page news, but when a group of private citizens and organisations form an independent campaign group to fight a national referendum it is deemed so un-newsworthy that it receives barely a ripple of attention.

Even when that launch takes place in the heart of Westminster, literally down the street from certain venerable news organisations (hello, Spectator), the idea of the Westminster media dispatching a journalist or two to see what was happening in their own back yard is apparently unthinkable. Every last resource simply had to be committed to this year’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of George Osborne’s 2016 Budget, Omnishambles Revisited.

To be fair, The Leave Alliance – of which this blog is an enthusiastic supporterdid register a mention in Christopher Booker’s Telegraph column:

[Boris] Johnson’s empty-headed amateurishness only typifies the fatal failure of any of his allies in the “Leave” campaign to agree on a plausible, properly worked-out exit plan. One after another they come up with their own equally half-baked suggestions, which only demonstrate how none of them have done their homework. This is giving Cameron’s “Project Fear” an open goal, by failing to show how we could practically leave the EU while continuing to enjoy full access to the single market.

The only group that has done so, the Leave Alliance – launched last week with support from the Bruges Group, the Campaign for an Independent Britain and others – is too small to bid for the lead role in the campaign (although I am told on good authority that its expert and exhaustive analysis of all the options has been found very useful by civil servants).

But for a full account of the Leave Alliance launch you have to turn to the blogosphere. Lost Leonardo, writing at the Independent Britain blog, provides this summary:

The Leave Alliance (TLA) is a network of new and established political groups, bloggers and tweeters who are committed to winning the EU referendum for the “leave” side. What makes TLA unique among the declared leave groups is its support for a credible Brexit plan.

Flexcit: The Market Solution is a six-phase plan for recovering Britain’s national independence in stages, as part of a continuous process, rather than as a one-time event. That change of perspective shifts the Brexit debate firmly in the direction of pragmatic and practical politics. The exact form that our post-Brexit deal takes is less important than our vision for what we will do with our national independence. Self-governance means taking responsibility unto ourselves and, if our politicians are any indication, a long process of discovery and rediscovery lies ahead.

So as to short cut the economics- and trade-centred debate that has been allowed (some might say encouraged) to obscure the more important political question—who governs Britain?—the Flexcit plan advocates remaining in the Single Market and then working to create a genuine free trade area in Europe whilst also rebuilding the national policy-making framework and enhancing our democracy by means of The Harrogate Agenda.

This gravity of this referendum on Britain’s EU membership compels us all to think as fully engaged citizens, not merely as frightened consumers or “low information voters” easily manipulated by the cynical propaganda emanating from the major Remain and Leave campaigns. And in this campaign, it is the Remain campaign which benefits from our ignorance and the Leave campaign which is strengthened by knowledge.

When people educate themselves about the European Union, its history and its workings, they almost inevitably become more eurosceptic as the scales fall from their eyes and they realise that the EU is in fact not just a friendly club of like-minded countries who gather together to braid each other’s hair and have a good chat.

As I recently confessed:

Growing up, I was the most ardent European Union supporter and federalist imaginable. I firmly believed that the age of the nation state was over, that patriotism was silly and gauche, and that our only hope of a prosperous future lay in dissolving ourselves into a greater European collective. Adopting the euro, creating an EU army – you name it, I believed in it.

[..] Only when my appreciation for democracy and self-determination (and small-c conservatism) caught up with my authoritarian Utopianism did I realise that the accumulated wisdom of the British people might exceed my own, and that there may be good reasons to be sceptical of the European Union. And only when I came to realise the extent to which the EU is a creation of a small group of European intellectuals and political elites who thought that they knew best – and that the only way to bring about their creation was through stealth and subterfuge, never declaring the ultimate federal destination of travel – did I come to see how profoundly wrong it is.

[..] There is indeed an army of swivel-eyed ideologues in this EU referendum debate. And though they would hate to admit it, it is those on the Remain side who are most likely to be impermeable to facts, and who are least likely to have ever held a different view on the EU and been on an intellectual journey to arrive at their present position.

And as a rule of thumb, it is generally wisest to listen to those who can show evidence of having thought deeply about an issue and been persuaded by the steady accumulation of evidence to revise their thinking, rather than those who were born with their deeply-engrained love of the European Union pre-programmed in their brains.

One of the reasons I am proud of my association with The Leave Alliance is the fact that it is full of other people who, like me, have been on an intellectual journey. Sure, some of us saw through the EU from the beginning, but others – myself included – were won over to the side of Brexit by the steady accumulation of incontrovertible evidence.

We count Britain’s foremost authority on the European Union among our number, as well as several independent writers who possess more patiently acquired knowledge about the global regulatory environment than most of the Westminster media combined.

And if nothing else, the fact that the Westminster media failed to cover something as significant as the Leave Alliance launch – despite the fact that it was happening right in their midst – should be enough to convince anyone of the importance of doing one’s own research on Brexit, and not relying on any one single source or campaign when making this most important of decisions.

 

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