Is It Time For Conservatives To Get Over Thatcher?

Theresa May - Conservative Party Tories General Election 2017 Manifesto Launch - Halifax

Theresa May is proving to be more Ed Miliband than Margaret Thatcher

Conservative Home’s Paul Goodman thinks that we should all flop around on the ground and praise Theresa May for tearing up tried-and-tested small-government conservative ideology in favour of an interventionist, paternalistic, stubbornly large state. Apparently at this challenging point in our history, when decisive leadership and a clear direction of travel is needed more than ever, we should swallow our reservations and lustily cheer on a pragmatist, paternalistic prime minister who still has not even properly articulated her vision for Britain.

On the day of the Conservative Party’s 2017 general election manifesto launch, Paul Goodman tells us that it is time for us to “get over Thatcher” and “get on with May”, because apparently a New Labour government with a blueish tint is the best that conservatives can now hope for.

Softening the ground in advance of what will surely prove to be a frustratingly unambitious general election manifesto launch – particularly given the paucity of opposition faced by the Tories and the near certainty that they will be returned to government with an increased majority – Goodman simpers:

Theresa May does not support a big state: in her very first major policy speech outside her ministerial responsibilities, she said that it should be “small, strong [and] strategic”.

Oh, well that’s fine then. She said it, so it must be true.

Nor, for that matter, is her so-called Red Toryism as crimson as is sometimes claimed.  Many of the headlines generated during the last few weeks will look less alarming to liberals if they peer at the small print.  May wants more council houses, but it isn’t clear where the land to build them on will be found.  She supports more rights for workers, but it isn’t evident whether taking leave to care for a family member, for example, will be paid – and nor is she planning to scrap the employment tribunal fees that David Cameron introduced.  She has resuscitated a requirement to put employees on boards, but it looks as though companies will choose them.  The red spray is mixed with blue paint.

So now we are to celebrate that Theresa May apparently wants to build more council houses? What about houses for upwardly mobile young people to buy – people who now find it exponentially harder to get on the property ladder than Theresa May’s generation? Where does Theresa May think that the next generation of conservative voters will come from when it is so difficult for so many to take the stake in society that comes from property ownership? And are we to rejoice that an unfunded pledge to allow workers to take family care leave could hurt small businesses and make companies quicker to fire in a downturn and slower to hire in an economic recovery?

She doesn’t want to state to get bigger, but she does want it to intervene more.  The industrial strategy won’t seek to pick winning companies, but it will search for winning sectors.  There will be an energy price cap – not the relative one floated by John Penrose and others, but an absolute one.

I’m sorry, but what is the functional difference between a bigger state and one which simply “intervene[s] more”? Most people judge the size and bearing of the state on the number and nature of interactions they must have with it over the course of their daily lives – everything from speeding tickets to planning permission to small business red tape to the amount of tax taken from their pay cheque every week or month. Even if Theresa May was technically shrinking the percentage of Britain’s GDP accounted for by government spending – and there is no indication that this key indicator is even on her main dashboard of concerns – her record as Home Secretary and subsequently as prime minister suggests that her “intervening” state will only seek to take on an even larger role in our lives.

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But while we agitate about the detail, the Prime Minister sees the big picture – and has assimilated its scale and size more clearly than her Thatcherite critics.  The Conservative Party travels through the landscape of its times.  These are not the same as they were in the era of Thatcher’s first landslide, over a quarter of a century ago, any more than they were a quarter of a century or so before that, when Harold Macmillan won his own overwhelming victory in 1959.  The world has globalised.  Family structure has been transformed.  The western world has low birthrates and high immigration.   Britain is a multi-racial country.  The Soviet Union has collapsed and Islamist terror has risen.  The crash happened and recession followed.

Free market absolutists will claim that the former took place because there is too much crony capitalism, and too little of the real thing.  They have a good point.  But the argument only draws one deeper into probing whether the system works as well for the working man and woman as it did in Thatcher’s day.  There are three big reasons why it does not.  First, relations between capitalism and nationalism are strained now in a way that they weren’t then.  Many of those who do well out of it feel they have more in common with their counterparts abroad than their fellow citizens at home.  If you doubt it, ponder the politics of immigration – and look, to pluck just one example out of the air, at how George Osborne at the Evening Standard now beats a pro-migration drum.

Second, the changes in the way we live now have created winners and losers.  The latter are simply out-wrestled by Iain Duncan Smith’s five giants – failing schools, crime, sub-standard healthcare, problem debt, and drug and alcohol dependency.  For those who can’t read or are mired in debt or trapped in substance abuse, the traditional free market nostrums of lower taxes, a smaller state and less red tape are not so much wrong as irrelevant: if a man isn’t working because he can’t count, cutting taxes won’t help him.  Finally, capitalism in the western world is simply not creating well-paid white and blue collar jobs on the same scale as it was in the immediate post-war period.  Welcome to the gig economy.

Nobody seriously disputes any of this, but Theresa May’s prescriptions are all wrong. Globalisation does present real social challenges in terms of ensuring that people are no longer left behind as they have been by many callous elites who otherwise consider themselves enlightened and compassionate. And of course Britain’s industrial makeup and labour market are very different today than in the 1980s, but this doesn’t mean that a heavily interventionist state is the answer.

This blog has often noted that the challenge falls hardest upon conservatives to come up with answers to the problems of globalisation – to find ways to retool and retrain a population so that they can participate in the industries of tomorrow rather than clinging to the dying industries of the past. This was clearly one test that the Thatcher government failed, and the legacy of broken communities left behind as side effects of the Thatcherite medicine is why there are still many people who would shoot themselves before voting Tory, and why the Labour Party’s electoral floor remains so stubbornly high.

But the answer to this challenge is not to steal wholesale from the left-wing playbook and seek to make the government the energetic auxiliary parent to millions of grown adults, people who should be expected to find their own way in life. The answer is to find the least invasive way possible of incentivising people to retrain and gain skills that make them competitive in the labour market – perhaps the kind of vocational adult education common in America’s community colleges, but either tied to the welfare system (so benefits become contingent on learning), made tax-deductible or a requirement for larger companies seeking to make redundancies. As this blog has previously noted, Jeremy Corbyn’s vision for a National Education Service connecting adults with further education is not actually a bad one – it is just the left-wing execution (funnelling everybody off to university, free of charge) which is wrong.

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We will have seen more of the Conservative Manifesto by the end of the day.  But what we know already is that May, if she can win her own landslide, wants to correct the liberal excesses of the Thatcher era by making peace with the state – of seeing it, as this site puts it, not as Big Brother, but Little Brother.  This ground has the merit of being where most voters stand: very, very few speak the Westminster Village language of making it bigger or smaller.  And the Prime Minister seems set to use her mandate to do much of what this site has been pressing it to do – such as dropping the tax pledge and ending the pensions triple lock, thereby setting the scene for more flexibility in deficit reduction and more fairness between the generations.

It doesn’t matter whether people speak the Westminster Village language or not. When Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, most people had not read the “Stepping Stones” report – that influential document which diagnosed all of Britain’s economic and social ails, and prescribed a comprehensive cure. But the man in the street didn’t need to have read the report, or necessarily have a firm sense of the ideology behind it. What was important was the fact that Margaret Thatcher came to office with a pre-formed ideology already in her mind, while her government’s policies generally flowed from that same consistent approach.

Theresa May is the precise oppose of this – the anti-Thatcher, if you will. Theresa May ascended to 10 Downing Street as the ultimate pragmatist – somebody who kept her head firmly under the parapet while Home Secretary, almost never stirring the waters or causing controversy by ramming through serious reforms in her department and being notable only for her willingness to take advantage of terror attacks in Western countries to vest ever more powers in the security services and clamp down on civil liberties.

There is no Theresa May governing philosophy. While Margaret Thatcher somewhat vaguely quoted St Francis of Assisi as she entered 10 Downing Street for the first time as prime minister, Theresa May spoke quite specifically about helping the JAMs (people who are Just About Managing). But Thatcher’s vagueness concealed a deadly seriousness of intent, while May’s specificity seems only to hint that she will steal shamelessly from the Labour playbook in order to steal their voters.

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Thatcherism was right for its times, and has lessons for today.  But the world has moved on, and the Conservatives must move with it.  This is a Party, not a mausoleum.  None the less, the Prime Minister’s plan contains a stinging irony.  May, the former Remainer – as Thatcher also was – has not only embraced Brexit but grasped, perhaps more fully than any other British politician, what it means, what the British people wanted in backing it, and where it is leading.

It is Brexit that is empowering May within her own Party, because the free marketeers are so often Brexiteers too.  Since she has won their trust over the EU, they will forgive her views on the market – for the moment, anyway.

That’s not how it works! Even if one agreed with Theresa May’s ill-considered Brexit approach, merely agreeing to carry out Brexit in accordance with the referendum result does not and should not automatically build up reserves of goodwill ready for the moment that the prime minister chooses to chuck conservative economic policy overboard.

Brexit is incredibly important, but so is the day-to-day government of the country. And rejecting the lighter touch, non-interventionist policies which have benefited this country so much should not be done lightly, as Allister Heath warns in the Telegraph:

This jobs explosion [from 1975 onwards] is an extraordinary achievement, and one which, tragically, the Tories now take for granted. Their policies are no longer geared towards job creation – yesterday’s issue, they clearly think – but towards “improving” the labour market and making it “work” for more people.

[..] The answers from Mayonomics are much more simplistic. There is a demand for lower energy prices, so she will simply deliver them by fiat. The jobs market will be fine regardless of how much more red tape is thrown at it, the new doctrine asserts – after all, the minimum wage keeps going up and the roof hasn’t fallen in. The existence of invisible side-effects, or the fact that we may well be nearing a tipping point, doesn’t enter the calculation. Mayonomics advocates blaming business for “not doing enough for their workers”, but hitting them with yet more non-wage costs will merely put further downwards pressure on wages, in a dangerous vicious circle.

Heath concludes:

To make the most of Brexit, the UK needs to embrace free markets, not retreat to the quiet economic certainties of the Sixties. The Tories will eventually come to realise this, of course, but not before they squander an immense opportunity to retool this country into a 21st century trading superpower.

As I write, Theresa May is on her feet in Halifax, Yorkshire, launching the Conservative Party manifesto. People are standing and cheering. It is an election manifesto which will almost certainly receive the endorsement of the electorate on June 8. But contrary to the hysterical shrieks of the British Left, it will not be a Thatcherite manifesto. In some cases, it will barely be recognisable as a small-C conservative manifesto.

And small government conservatives should not take this lying down.

 

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Russell Square Knife Attack – Probably Not Terrorism, But No Grounds For Complacency

russell square crime scene

It appears that last night’s London knife attack was motivated by mental illness rather than terrorism. But it could easily have been otherwise, and some in the media and positions of authority once again proved themselves unwilling to accept the Islamist self-justifications of lone wolf terrorists

In the wake of a gruesome knife attack in Russell Square, London, which left one woman dead and many others injured, Conservative Home’s Paul Goodman is busy arguing at straw men:

In short, Bernard Hogan-Howe is right to warn in relation to another terror attack in Britain that it’s a case of “when, not if”, and it is doubtless necessary for the police to step up their presence.

But it is important to bear in mind that not every assault claimed in the name of Islam was planned by a terror group in Raqqa or elsewhere.

And it is worth remembering that the combination of mental illness, drugs and family breakdown can itself drive crime, and that Islamist ideology is not necessarily a fourth factor.

There’s an Islamist theat, to be sure.  But caution is one thing; panic would be quite another.  The personal risk to most Britons of being caught up in a terror attack is low, at least at present.

Terror is terrifying.  That’s its point – why terrorists carry out terror.  But there’s no need to make it more terrifying than it already is, and every need to keep calm and carry on.

My emphasis in bold.

But of course not every attack claimed in the name of Islam or the Islamic State was planned by an overseas terror group. I don’t know a single person who suggests that they were, and yet time and again we see establishment figures earnestly lecturing us about the blazingly obvious. But just because an attack was not planned from within territory held by the Islamic State does not mean that fundamentalist, radical Islam was not the motivator.

When improved intelligence work makes it harder for would-be terrorist attackers to move across borders or communicate specific plans electronically, ISIS increasingly relies on pumping out a constant feed of propaganda and indoctrination material in the hope and expectation that it will be picked up by the susceptible and used by the recipients to self-radicalise.

This is entirely in line with the directive made by senior Islamic State leader Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, who instructs his faithful:

If you can kill a disbelieving American or European – especially the spiteful and filthy French – or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be. Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him.

You can keep calling the people who pick up the Islamist WiFi signal and act upon it “mentally ill” if you want – and some of them may indeed be so. But to look at their actions only through the lens of mental illness while furiously ignoring the religious terrorism aspect out of some craven obeisance to politically correct dogma is to disregard the entire context in which an attack takes place, stripping it of any sense and making it impossible to counter.

Archbishop Cranmer is also on the warpath against those who rushed to disseminate the mental health aspect of the story while withholding other pertinent details:

Perhaps it’s unhelpful to speculate about the ethnicity and religion of the assailant. Perhaps ‘assailant’ is also an unhelpful term if he has significant mental health issues. It was a ‘he’, wasn’t it? Yes, we know the sex of the suspect. And ‘suspect’ is a much better term, even though the police tasered him and currently have him under armed guard. Innocent until proven guilty, and all that. Act of terrorism? No, we can’t go with that: it’s just a ‘classic’ random stabbing – for the moment, anyway. So, we have a male suspect involved in a London stabbing who has “significant” mental health issues which are obviously mitigating. Yes, that’s the story.

Other facts are obviously known. But these truths must be withheld. The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has called for the public to remain “calm and vigilant”. Yes, that’s the message. A 19-year-old man (how do they know his precise age before his name?) with significant mental health problems has murdered a 60-year-old woman and slashed five others, and we must keep calm and carry on. Nothing to see here.

Funny thing, truth. It requires clarity of thought and expression. It derives deep metaphysical speculation and complex judgments, such as those pertaining to religious mania or psychological health, from the most obvious facts and indubitable distinctions. The starting point must always be what is known, with a rational apprehension of how what is known has been made known. Sensibilities change, but the form of facts does not.

The human mind and heart can be moved in various ways, depending on how those facts are presented (or not). The Met and BBC can suggest shadowy lines of thought, and the Mayor of London can issue a command to be calm and vigilant.  But neither can command the mind to move to assent to something, especially if something more is suspected. Is it too much to ask that the establishment bear witness to truth? Or do they presume we have no interest in finding it? Isn’t it rather patronising to withhold it and exhort calmness and vigilance, when that very exhortation releases passions and induces concerns? Vigilant about what? Teenagers with mental health problems? Isn’t that a rather malleable conviction or manipulated truth, not to mention a slander on all who suffer mental health problems? Isn’t the whole truth a far better breastplate against extremism and shield against stereotyping than filtered facts and mediated knowledge?

At the time of publication (12:30PM, Thursday 4 August) it appears that the suspect in custody is a Norwegian citizen of Somali origin. It further appears that there is no evidence thus far of radicalisation, and that the tentative link to terrorism originally spoken of by the Metropolitan Police may not be true. Time, and further investigation, will tell.

But even if this is definitively proved not to be an Islamist attack, a woman is still dead and others are in the hospital. There is nothing to celebrate. And judging by the media and commentariat’s desperately weak understanding of how Islamist terror has adapted to work in an age of hyper vigilance (setting the bar so high that it “doesn’t count” unless personally orchestrated by black-clad jihadists out of Raqqa), there is much to be concerned about in terms of our own readiness and willingness to confront the threat.

Finally, praise must also be given to the armed respondents of the Metropolitan Police, who quickly raced to the scene of a very disturbing crime and managed to subdue the assailant using only a taser. If this attack had happened on the streets of New York or Chicago, the attacker would be in the morgue with about 20 police bullets in him and we would not have the opportunity to learn more about his motives first-hand. And while Britain’s need for armed police is regrettably increasing, we must take care to preserve the spirit (and the rules) which insist that shooting a suspect is the last resort, not the first.

 

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Cameron’s EU Deal – Reaction

BELGIUM EU SUMMIT

Didn’t he do well?

As our victorious prime minister returns to London to chair the fateful cabinet meeting which will now likely set the wheels in motion for a June referendum, it’s worth taking a brief survey of how David Cameron’s deal – essentially an embossed, artfully decorated statement of the status quo – is being received.

The division between those who are angry or depressed and those who are buoyantly cheerful really tells you all that you need to know.

Toby Young bristles at being asked to greet the status quo like a shiny new present, but recognises that such a devoutly europhile prime minister could scarcely be expected to to any better:

The attempt to spin this deal as a great victory, which grants Britain a “special status” within the EU, is unlikely to win the Prime Minister many friends. On the contrary, it may end up alienating people who haven’t yet made up their minds who will feel they’re being taken for fools.

[..] Crucially, the EU leaders made it clear that there won’t be any further reforms, at least none that will mean a transfer of powers away from the centre. So Downing Street won’t be able to spin this agreement as the beginning of a reform process rather than the EU’s best and final offer.

Many of the “wins” Cameron boasted about in his speech were just assurances that the EU isn’t going to take away the protections for Britain already won by Margaret Thatcher and John Major. We won’t be forced to join the euro! Whoopee doo.

Tim Stanley channels his inner Tony Blair and declares Cameron’s pitiful outcome to be “weak, weak, weak”:

David Cameron’s deal with Europe is weak, weak, weak. It could never be anything but. Why? Partly because the Prime Minister is an inveterate Europhile.

He approached these negotiations from the stance of someone who ultimately wanted to stay in – and how could he negotiate from strength when everyone around the table knew that he was bluffing? More importantly, the idea that Britain can build for itself a “special status” within Europe is pure fantasy.

The EU cannot be decentralised; the UK cannot prosper on its fringes. The only real choice is between the status quo and Brexit.

[..] The Europeans made it clear from the outset that there would be no rewriting of the fundemantal principles. Rightly so: one country cannot determine the direction of travel for the entire continent. And if one country gets to pick and choose its own rate of integration into the new super state – why, everyone else will want to do the same.

So Cameron could never have been given substantial reforms because just putting them on the table would have jeopardised the grand European project. We have reached a point in the history of the EU when what Britain needs and what Europe wants are no longer compatible. The only logical thing left to do is to leave.

Paul Goodman compares David Cameron’s loftily declared original list of renegotiation objectives with the limp and shrunken prize he now holds in his hand – and he makes the choice facing Conservative MPs crystal clear:

Many Conservative MPs told their voters and Associations at the last election that Britain’s relationship with the EU cannot go on as it is.  They are fully entitled to say now that they have changed their minds.  That they have been persuaded that Britain’s future is brighter as an EU member state.  That they will swallow any misgivings they have about the deal, and back their Party leader – who, after all, is on some measures the most successful Conservative leader of modern times bar Margaret Thatcher.  That this is no time to campaign for a referendum result that would turn an election-winning Prime Minister out of office, and destroy the reforming work of the first majority Tory Government in over 20 years.

What they cannot say, if they have declared that Britain’s relationship with the EU must see real reform, is that this deal makes a difference.  And if they want to see such change, the lesson of this summit is that it isn’t on offer.  Which leaves only one option open to them, and to Party members of the same mind – to back Brexit.

Meanwhile, the Guardian is priming its core audience of nodding-dog virtue-signallers with key arguments to use against Brexiteers, and confirms what any thinking person knows – that the ultimate decision has nothing to do with David Cameron’s non-existent concessions from Brussels:

First of all, the details of the deal are not the crucial issue. Months ago, when David Cameron revealed his renegotiation agenda, it was already clear that this was not going to be a fundamental redefinition of Britain’s relationship with the EU. Nor would we suddenly find ourselves in “a reformed Europe”. On this, Eurosceptics are right: Cameron’s demands were less than he pumped them up to be, and inevitably, given that 27 other European countries had to be satisfied, what he achieved is even more modest. But it would be madness to let a decision about the economic and political future of Britain for decades ahead hinge on the detail of an“emergency brake” on in-work benefits for migrants.

New Europeans – that pressure group of proto-EU citizens waiting impatiently for the new  European that they crave to finally hatch – are happy too:

The Prime Minister has secured his so-called “emergency brake” on in-work benefits paid to mobile EU citizens coming to Britain. However, it will not be his hand that is on the brake, despite his announcement to the contrary.

The brake is in the hand of the Council.  The Council may be ready to pull the brake for the UK already – but it is still the Council’s hand on the brake. The European Parliament would need to pass the necessary legislation.  So the earliest the legislation could be in place is 2017.

The emergency brake will operate like the transitional arrangements – after 7 years it will drop away. In the meantime, very few people will be affected because mobile EU citizens rarely apply for in-work benefits in the first four years. There is very little evidence to show that EU citizens are claiming in-work benefits on arrival in Britain.

[..] The potential savings from David Cameron’s “clamp down” on other benefits for mobile EU citizens are trivial and petty in the context of the national accounts. They amount to about £30m on some estimates. This is less than what it costs to run the Royal Opera House.

And they are right – the main “headline concession” that David Cameron managed to secure from Brussels remains entirely in the hands of the EU rather than Britain, and would make absolutely zero tangible difference to anything whether it is ultimately pulled or not.

These people have no reason to lie. They are the people who were potentially most affected by any major changes that David Cameron might have negotiated, so their relief (bordering in crowing) is absolutely genuine – and utterly damning of Cameron’s claim to have fundamentally changed our relationship with the EU.

Back to Tim Stanley for another eloquent denunciation of this brazen establishment stitch-up:

There are a million reasons to hate politics: the groupthink of the establishment is one of them. Cowardice is another. It’s like being governed by jellyfish: spineless synchronised swimming in one terminal direction.

For years Tories have used the issue of Europe to win votes, promising us either serious reform or a campaign to leave.

But not only was David Cameron’s renegotiation effort a paper tiger (Francois Hollande: “Just because it lasted a long time doesn’t mean that much happened”) but now the Cabinet has largely decided to follow its leader and back the In campaign.

[..] The entire weight of the state, media and big business will fall behind a campaign saying that Europe is good for us even if, from a distance, it appears to be a giant ball of flame hurtling into an abyss of despair.

Against this confederacy of dunces stands a small number of politicians brave enough to risk friendships and careers to tell us the truth – that this deal is a sham, the EU is dying and Britain is better off out.

I myself have nothing to add at this time. Others have already encapsulated what I feel, and said it better than I could – most notably Dr. Richard North at eureferendum.com, who echoes my reference last night to Neville Chamberlain:

Mr Cameron may have in his mind’s eye the image of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returning from Munich in 1938, triumphantly waving his “piece of paper” at Heston Airport (where the M4 service station now stands), but at least Mr Chamberlain’s “deal” bought us critical time, allowing us to re-arm sufficiently against the Nazi menace.

But this piece of paper is nothing but a fraud – a pretence. This Prime Minister has brought nothing back, nothing of substance, and is now intent on using is as the basis for a referendum where he is intent on selling his snake-oil “special status”.

Yet, all the time, Mr Cameron’s efforts have been a sideshow besides the main event – the real renegotiation under way to transform the 19 members of the Eurozone into a single state. That is the EU real agenda not the stage-managed drama of the Prime Minister emerging blinking into the light and announcing he has secured our future for a generation.

Nor should we assume that the Brussels barons will treat us kindly if we vote to remain in the EU. They will brush aside future British protests, telling us that we have had our chance to do things our way and rejected it. Our prospects sitting uneasily on the margins of the emerging superstate will not be promising. Unloved, ignored and marginalised, we face an uncertain, even risky future, on the outskirts of the new European empire.

But I, and this blog, will have much to say as we now fight onward to the 23 June referendum date. And those politicians who built their jealously-guarded careers and reputations on what turns out to be paper-thin euroscepticism should expect no understanding and no mercy.

The divided Leave camp has been caught napping – Cameron is going to the country with a desultory deal, entirely based on the belief that we are so divided that we will not be able to mount an effective Remain campaign – and by publicly embracing people like George Galloway, it seems that some of us are determined to prove him correct.

If you haven’t been paying attention so far, or have only half tuned in, then now is the time to perk up and fulfil your duty as an engaged citizen. We have just four months to win our freedom from the European Union and, if we succeed, potentially spark a renaissance of real democracy through Europe.

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