News item: a German wholesaler which supplies major UK supermarkets is stockpiling 3.5 million rolls of toilet paper in UK warehouses, in preparation for a No Deal exit from the EU. The company is also chartering ships to carry rolls from Naples to Cardiff to avoid possible congestion (no pun intended) on the Dover-Calais route.
Oh Sorry Me-O!
(to the tune of O Sole Mio!)
Oh sorry me-o!
Must wipe my arse
But if No Deal-o
Should come to pass
Tomorrow would be too late
I need it now; I just can’t wait.
And if I try now
Just to pass a motion,
Well then, my 2-ply now
Has to ply an ocean.
To Cardiff Bay-o
Is a long, long way-o
From Napoli. Oh, pity me: too late!
Oh sorry me-o!
My supply chain
Oh can’t you see-o?
Flushed down the drain.
I’m feeling broken, just like the state
I once was happy, now full of hate.
I never thought why,
When I use the toilet,
Voting Leave would spoil it.
Please revoke Cinquanta
Or I’ll mess my pant – agh!
Who’d ever guess I’m in a mess, irate.
Oh sorry me-o!
I should have known
I still can pee-o
All on my own.
But if I need a number two
I just can’t go, oh no, no, no, without EU!
With this clusterfuck shitshow of a government we’re saddled with: yes, I’m afraid, it does eventually all come down to this.
(With acknowledgements to Private Eye for the “part 94” bit.)
Notwithstanding other major news topics – the tragic killings in Christchurch, NZ, the collapse into administration of Interserve, to name just two – it’s hard not to write about the continuing saga of the elephant in the room which has destroyed UK democracy.
But first a joke: we could certainly do with a bit of levity. Warning: this joke depends on knowledge of another joke.
Br*xit walks into a bar. The barman says: “Why the long, drawn-out farce?”
The straightforward answer, and not funny punchline, is a single word: incompetence. Incompetence, above all, by Theresa May and the Conservative party she “leads”. None other than Karl Marx wrote“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” We’re well into the farcical stage by now.
Options Good and Bad
With 13 days to go (as I write) before we reach the risk of crashing out of the EU, it’s time to lay my cards on the table about the options now open to the UK. In this post I consider both the withdrawal agreement (the easy bit which should have been agreed at least a year ago) and the type of relationship we want long-term with the EU in the future (the hard bit, not even started). The two tables below summarize my views: I explain my reasoning in the paragraphs that follow.
Peace in NI
Remain in EU
Peace in NI
-3 to -7
-3 to -5
-1 -> -8
Some words of explanation are needed for the above tables. Numeric scales range from -10 to +10 and are my views alone. Positive is good, negative bad. -10 = worst case imaginable. SMT/MLT = short to medium term / medium to long term. “GB order” = lack of civil unrest. Only some options in the first table are compatible with those in the second, e.g. D necessarily implies 4.
My reasoning is given below. In summary, my preference, in an “ideal” world would be Option A1. The chances of this happening are slim! A2 is the status quo. I would be prepared to compromise to Option B3 in the interests of trying to unite our fractured country; worse options would be wholly unacceptable.
Options A to D
Option A is clearly my first preference, but raises the issue of social order (see below). Option B approximates to Labour’s position, perhaps as modified by cross-party negotiations amongst backbenchers. This is looking less likely following the failure of Parliament, in its first attempt last week, to wrest control of the process from May. So much for the tolerable options.
And so to the intolerable ones, options C and D. Both would be economically damaging, D especially so: so much has been written on the economic effects that I will not add to the word count here. The other distinguishing feature between the first and second pairs is that of freedom of movement. Words are beyond me to understand how this concept has been come to be seen as a bad thing: it defies all logic. Sadly, logic plays very little part in this whole sorry business. In any event, we’ve never been part of the Schengen Agreement: we control our borders already, if we’re competent to.
Options 1 to 4
The optimist in me still looks forward to the day when the UK uses its many skills, talents and historical experience to play a full and constructive role in EU affairs, i.e. Option A1. Childish carping from the wings (for short-term, domestic political gain) has been indulged by Tory and Labour Party (Prime) Ministers for years: the mood music is all wrong. I am coming to the conclusion that I will not live to see this happy outcome.
What kind of trade deal (or none) – options BC3 or D4 – will depend on shenanigans in Westminster over the next two weeks. And of course, any extension to the timescale beyond 29th of this month requires consensus amongst the EU27. Speculation suggests realpolitik will win over Farage’s reported mischief-making in countries most likely to object. As my wife says, “We live in interesting times”.
My assessments about the impact on the economy are based on what I’ve read and understood over the past few years. Getting picked off in a trade deal by Trump’s USA as a vulnerable lone country will suit the few free trade lunatics, their US backers on the political far right and, for different reasons, by Putin’s Russia. Trump and Putin both see the EU as their major obstacle to imposing their authoritarian world view. Their useful idiots (who include Farage and those who have not taken the trouble to understand their true motives) need to be very careful what they wish for. Everyone else knows it’s the poorest and most vulnerable who will suffer most in the dismal small government, free trade dystopian scenario.
The chaos and May’s mismanagement has already spectacularly damaged the UK’s reputation in Europe and worldwide: see, for example, this commentary in the Washington Post. Here’s a sample: “European negotiators in Brussels, accustomed to clever British diplomats, have been amazed by how ill-prepared the Brexiteers have been, how little they understood about Europe, about treaties, about trade. It will be a long time before they assume, as they once did, that Britain is a serious country to reckon with.”
I also hear that many news channels elsewhere in Europe and running “Look how stupid the Brits have been today” slots in their regular programming.
At best, it will take a couple of generations to rebuild the UK’s prior reputation; at worst, it’s gone forever. But our diminished status feeds back into future trade negotiations, making other countries even more wary ever to trust our government again to keep our word.
Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement
And so, to the closest outpost of our former Empire, Northern Ireland.
It seems to have been standard practice, at least since 2010, to appoint an incompetent, ignorant nobody to the post of Northern Ireland Secretary in the UK Government. Karen Bradley completes a long list of such types, excelling herself by first revealing her ignorance of Northern Ireland’s politics last autumn and, more recently, making a crassly stupid remark about Bloody Sunday. Contrast this with the bravery of Mo Mowlam when she was in the post: her actions acted as a catalyst to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. The GFA has kept a fragile peace in place for twenty years.
There are many in the Tory Party who don’t give a damn about Irish affairs and would happily sacrifice the Good Friday Agreement (and possibly even peace in Ireland) for the delusions about the benefits of leaving the EU. May’s actions in signing a “confidence and supply” agreement with the DUP bigots to shore up her minority government will come to be seen as a key strategic mistake. The DUP are about as unrepresentative of the views of the people of Northern Ireland as it is possible to get (58% of the population voted Remain).
The insensitive actions of May and her badly appointed ministers have already threatened the fragile stability in the province. All but Option A, in my analysis, threaten something worse. It’s probable that exit from the EU will bring forward the date when Ireland is reunified (and possible it will hasten Scotland’s independence too – 65% Remain).
Civil Unrest in GB
Turning even closer to home, it’s obvious that the inhabitants of these islands are more divided and more angry than at any time I can remember for at least 40 years. So, what is the risk of civil unrest under each of the Options? I’ve given my best guess in the tables above. My risk score for Option D4 above shows two figures: I will explain. Giving the Leave extremists what they want would probably minimise the risk of short-term disorder. As reality dawns and the most disaffected will be those who suffer when the economy crashes, Option D4 carries the highest long-term risk of disorder and of opportunities for the extreme right.
I’ve made some “elitist” assumptions in deriving my risk scores. There’s ample evidence already of a thuggish minority of Leave extremists, egged on by far right politicians and lobbyists, who have already caused unrest on our streets. They will be (whipped up to be) incandescent with rage if we remain in the EU. I assume disaffected, disappointed Remainers will, by and large, express their views in a more civilised way. (Stereotypically, perhaps by protests outside Waitrose?)
This is a tricky issue. A government’s key priority, agreed by those on the left and right politically, is to maintain order. But democracy must not bend the knee to mob rule. We’ve already seen the murder of one MP too many, Jo Cox. It’s a tragedy that far too many politicians: all, I believe, on the political right, have used language designed only to inflame passions. May herself seems determined not to compromise. And all of this unnecessary: Cameron’s attempt to placate the lunatic fringe in his own party has led to a fracturing of society. How will it end? Nobody knows.
The immediate future does not look bright. It seems that May is still talking to the DUP and ERG, trying to persuade them to support her deal when she brings it back to the Commons next week. Meantime, Labour and Tory backbench MPs are trying to find common ground for a compromise.
Perhaps things will look different in a week or two. But whether in a good way or a bad one, time will tell.
What keeps you awake at night? I could say Theresa May’s mishandling of the EU negotiations and her attitude to the UK parliament. I could say the uselessness of our MPs, particularly the cowardice of the Tory members who vote for the government’s crap proposals out of a sense of fear and for party unity. What dreadful times we live in. Who knows how this week’s votes in Parliament will turn out – even if they all take place, according to some rumours.
Never have we been so badly served by our government and politicians, at least in my lifetime. Which is why I found the poster below, published, I think, by the @ByDonkeys twitter account, so appealing. Incompetents? Undoubtedly. Zombies, more like.
The truth, however, is that I’m currently sleeping well at night (in part thanks to my current medication).
I speculated recently that Theresa May has actually gone mad under the pressure of trying to appease both the insane and sane wings of her party and – nominally at least – to be Prime Minister. Perhaps so – but she really has turned into some kind of zombie. And, just look at the others in the picture above! “Invasion of the Zombies” would be an entirely appropriate title for a future movie based upon these troubled times.
A crash test dummy could play Theresa May. Fill in your own names for others shown in the poster above.
I guess that the thought which could really disturb my sleep is this. Whatever happens this week, May will stand down (or be pushed out) as PM in a matter of months, if not weeks. Absolutely every likely successor for her in the Tory Party would give me nightmares! When do we start screaming? And why has Michael Gove been so deafeningly silent these past few weeks!
I hope you have been enjoying the unseasonably warm weather. Well, make the most of it, because we won’t be seeing the likes of it again.
Continental Air Flow
My newspaper described the high temperatures as the result of the country basking “in a continental air flow”. In the event that the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal, all free movement of air to and from other EU states will be banned. Without new Trade Wind agreements, we will all be breathing pure British air. An immediate advantage is that we shall be free to abandon all EU air quality standards. As the country which has consistently failed to meet those standards, the possible downside will be that the figure of 40,000 premature deaths each year from air pollution will rise. But, hey, there’ll be no pesky EU officials to point this out to us, so we are free to die happy and in ignorance!
Tory Party constituency chair Gerard Hayter, age 94 (known to his friends as “Gerry”) commented: “During the war, we thought nothing of walking the streets of London without a gas mask, breathing in smog and the brick and cement dust from recent bomb explosions. I’m not afraid of a few diesel particulates!”. At this point, Mr Hayter wheezed, coughed and promptly expired. (Another Leave voter bites the dust.)
Free Trade Wind Agreements
In the event of no deal, over 40% of the air freely traded between the UK and our continental neighbours will cease flowing. But don’t worry, because Trade Wind Secretary Liam Fox has successfully negotiated deals with more than four other non-EU countries, together accounting for nearly 1% of our air.
First to be signed was with the Faroe Islands. Great news! Average temperatures on the Faroes range from 3 degrees in winter to a balmy 13 degrees in summertime.Throw away those summer clothes now! They won’t be needed again – unless you are one of those unpatriotic types thinking of taking a summer holiday abroad, somewhere hot and sunny.
Fox continued: “With our historic Free Trade Wind Agreement with the Faroes, our island paradise will have wet and windy weather all year round, and not just most of the time. With air flowing freely between our two great island nations, the Conservative Party will have delivered one of our key election promises: a strong and stable climate. Strong winds and predictably cool temperatures every day. At a stroke, we will have also abolished climate change, for the UK anyway.”
One consequence of the the banning of the free movement of air will be the effect on the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. All passenger and vehicle movement will be limited to a maximum of 2mph (the Irish insisted on 3km/h but we told them to fuck off). The speed limit is seen as necessary to ensure no undue air disturbance at the border. Prime Minister Theresa May gleefully reported that she had, at last, solved the Irish border question. People and goods will continue to flow freely between the two countries, only from now on, very, very slowly. The DUP were delighted with the result. Leader Arlene Foster commented: “Average vehicle speeds across the border will return to levels last seen in the 1680s, thereby achieving another of my Party’s objectives. It will only be a matter of time before we return the whole of the UK to the 17th century.”
A Matter of Time
Speaking of a matter of time, May’s government is considering two further measures. The first is the abolition of British Summer Time. Under pressure from the ERG, the proposal would ensure that all-year-round GMT leaves the UK 2 hours behind its neighbours in summer, instead of just one hour at present. And, of course, with the UK as the potential 51st state of the USA, the ERG are keen to reduce time zone differences with America. Spokesperson Rees-Mogg stated he was confident that the time zone gesture might mean that the Americans could be persuaded to allow us to continue driving on the left. Otherwise,we would have to agree to every US demand that a UK-USA Trade Wind Agreement would impose under Donald Trump.
A more controversial proposal concerning time is a consequence of our newly-signed Trade Wind Agreement with Singapore. The city state sits on the equator, resulting in 12 hours of daylight throughout the year. With the free movement of air between the UK and Singapore, the more intelligent members of May’s cabinet have reached a startling conclusion. Dark, night-time air particles will be arriving on our shores for 12 hours each night, with the bright, daytime particles arriving freely for 12 hours each day. Parliament’s agreed solution would be to find “alternative arrangements” for UK clocks to even out daylight throughout the year. The government has appointed a team of unicorns working for Capita to work out the practicalities.
Human Eyes Exclusive!
A copy of a document from Leave extremists in the Tory Party has been leaked to Human Eyes. As part of a wider plan to privatise everything, secret plans to privatise air have been exposed. This would appear to be the true motive for ensuring free movement of air is banned in the event we leave the EU. The leaked document reveals a plan to create a series of local monopolies along similar lines to the rail and water companies – because these have “worked so well” in consumers’ interests.
Final plans are yet to emerge. The document lists 3 leading alternative proposals:
Each person to have an air meter fitted into their windpipe at birth, with incentives for retro-fitting older children and adults, e.g. 3 months’ free air. Benefit claimants will have prepayment meters, to encourage them to “budget” their own breathing;
A variation of the water rates system: a fixed annual fee based upon house market values in the 1980s;
A fixed lifetime quota of air, supplemented with a trading system. For the latter, various compulsory euthanasia sub-options are briefly compared.
I’m no mental health professional so please excuse the “cod psychology” in this post!
Does being Prime Minister make you mad (as in “insane”, not just “very cross”)?
Is Theresa May mad?
I have absolutely no doubt that Thatcher was insane when she was deposed by the Tory Party. My evidence for this? I had the dubious pleasure of “meeting” her about a year after John Major took over. Specifically, I was a guest of a company CEO at a regional lunch meeting of the Institute of Directors and Thatcher was after-lunch speaker. (Yes, I know! The things I did to earn a crust!) The table where I was seated was 5 to 10 metres at most from Thatcher’s lectern. It was the eyes that convinced me. Barking, without a doubt. And very scary to be that close. Enough said: it still sends shivers down my spine just to think of it.
I believe there is a case to answer that Tony Blair, over the decade he was PM, developed some kind of mental health issues. Compare the “before” and “after” pictures below. He suffered some form of premature aging, I’m sure.
Probably he wasn’t totally out with the fairies like Thatcher was, but rather he was well on the way by the time he handed the baton to Gordon Brown. Was it the promise he made to George W Bush that started the mental decline? I leave that to you to judge. There is certainly a case that being under the constant pressure of 24 hours rolling news media puts a great strain on any human being. The peculiarly adversarial approach to politics in the English-speaking world creates further pressure. And Labour PMs face the additional burden of the hysteria of the mainly right-wing press, the most one-sided in Europe.
But you don’t have to be PM to be mad: sometimes just being an MP will do. I have the misfortune to have Nadine Dorries as the MP for a constituency bordering on mine. She rightly earned the epithet “Mad Nad” as a nickname used by her political opponents long before the “Get Me Out of Here” days. Certainly there has never been any evidence of any neural connection between her mouth and whatever passes for her brain. She can be guaranteed to say something stupid at the drop of a hat. So it’s hardly surprising that she has emerged as one of the most extreme MPs over the question of the UK leaving the EU.
And so to Theresa May and my second question.
Several of my earlier posts have made reference to May’s character and personality traits. May’s fans and spin doctors (of which I am clearly neither) could, at one time, have suggested these were virtues. May at one time had a reputation for levelheadedness and was seen as a moderate, by Tory standards. Some traits have always been clearly negatives: her refusal to trust people or take advice, her apparent inability to socialize and her tendency for obsessive behaviour have always been worrying signs. Her prime obsession, in my view and that of many others, was over immigration, which has coloured her whole approach to negotiations with the EU. Commentators have remarked also on her total lack of understanding, or care for, people outside a narrow circle of Tory Party members and supporters. I now place trying to avoid a split in the Conservative Party as another true obsession which has emerged more clearly over the past year or so.
I stand by my “Mister Men” caricature of her as “Little Miss I-Know-Best” as an accurate assessment.
So is she mad, in the medical sense? I think we need to break down her time as Prime Minister into three phases. We must also remember her as the author of the “hostile environment” whilst Home Secretary, also adopted in the DWP, which has led to incalculable misery for UK citizens of colour, would-be asylum seekers and the disabled, poor and most vulnerable of our citizens.
Phase 1 was in the early months of her premiership. She made a massive error of judgement by pandering to the far right anti-EU fanatics in her party in the first Conference speech as leader and Prime Minister. Her famous “red lines” boxed her negotiating position in too soon and she rejected any bipartisan approach to the UK’s negotiating position. Her perceived necessity to balance remainers and leavers in her initial Cabinet appointments led to some extraordinarily bad choices. The UK’s reputation abroad will take decades to recover just from May’s decision to appoint Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, let alone the other appalling mistakes.
Her other major act of bad judgement was in triggering the Article 50 process too soon, before she had any proper plan how to proceed. Her focus was on Tory Party unity, not the views of the EU27, especially that of Ireland. Even before the 2017 election, the DUP dependency and bribe, May saw Ireland simply from the narrow perspective of maintaining the unity of the UK. Ireland’s and Scotland’s wishes (and Remain majorities) were ignored and Wales probably didn’t even get a second thought.
But there was a lot of hubris in the air and in the Tory Party – although May herself denied six times she would call a snap election – until she called one. Her rabid cheerleader, the Daily Mail, ran the headline “Crush the Saboteurs”. May was intending at this phase to use so-called “Henry VIII powers” to override Parliament and act as an absolute ruler over key aspects of the legislation needed to leave the EU. Gina Miller, who successfully challenged this approach in the courts, was vilified by Tories and their cheerleaders alike.
But even during this time, I saw May as someone with poor judgement, a tendency to authoritarianism, but with no clear evidence of mental health issues.
The second phase followed the 2017 election and the creation of a hung Parliament. May could have attempted a multi-party coalition even then, but chose instead to throw her lot in with the DUP – the most unrepresentative bunch of bigots imaginable to represent the interests of the people of the Six Counties and to protect the 20 years of peace brought about by the Good Friday agreement.
May’s room for manoeuvre was even more hemmed in by her pact with the devils of the DUP. But there were long periods of vacillation, key votes delayed or postponed as she agonisingly tried to get first a negotiating position and then an agreement with the EU that would (just about) hold her Cabinet and most of her Party together. Who now remembers what the Chequers deal said? It’s been drowned out since by talk of backstops, time limited or not and much tactical posturing by Tory Party factions – Labour too. (Remember the agonies of the wording of the Labour Party’s position?)
But I think this phase came to a crashing halt last month when her agonizingly-crafted position was rejected in the Commons by a massive 230-vote margin. But still, I would say, no clear evidence of May actually going mad.
This phase is continuing. May’s position has see-sawed between further appeasement to the far right in her Party and a cynical and insincere reaching out to placate some of Labour’s demands on workers’ rights in particular. May’s underlying personality flaws have always made her a bad choice for Prime Minister (but, throughout the relevant period, all the other candidates are worse). But the shock of the size of her Commons defeat was followed by the pseudo-reprieve of the “unicorn” key vote. Based almost entirely on Tory and DUP votes in favour, Parliament instructed May to return to Brussels to negotiate “alternative arrangements” to the Irish backstop.
This is perhaps the second low point in recent years for the UK parliament. A mixture of cowardice and delusional fantasy by mainly Tory MPs voted for an impossible fudge driven by a forlorn desire to put Party unity above national interest. (The first low point was in 2015 when Parliament agreed to hold a referendum without any of the usual safeguards that a country with a proper constitution would already have considered, e.g. a super-majority needed for change.) But my main point is that the combination of the shock of the 15 January defeat and the cover provided by the “unicorn” vote on the 29th has tipped May over the edge.
May still refuses to rule out “no deal”. This is a position of supreme folly and a criminally irresponsible way to treat a mature democracy. We can infer that Party unity is now May’s only driving force and her stubbornness, which some saw as a virtue, is now pathological.
The UK on Valentine’s Day 2019
So, welcome to the current reality. May is doggedly pursuing her unicorn in a rabid and illogical attempt to hold both the mad and sane wings of her party together. She marches, blinkered, towards the cliff edge. All the alternative Tory candidates for leadership seem to belong to the mad faction of the party. Labour, under Corbyn, dithers.
The only people who approve of our plight are some neo-fascist fringe parties in mainland Europe, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump and others of their ilk. The rest of the world thinks we’re mad.
I nearly fell off my chair laughing. The comment wasn’t intended to be funny, but I found it hilarious. It was made by that little pipsqueak, Gavin Williamson, who – please don’t laugh – was actually appointed Defence Secretary by Theresa May. Williamson, the Private Pike of the Cabinet, was in friendly company and he let his imagination run away with him a bit.
In a speech to the “Boys Who Like their Toys to Go Bang” (aka the Royal United Services Institute), he spoke of his dreams. He dreams of drones which swarm like flies to put off the enemy’s defences. He dreams of sailing our one aircraft carrier to the South China Sea (to frighten the Chinese). He dreams too of spending lots more money on the Toys the Boys like so much. (Reality check: the aircraft carrier might be ready by 2021. Oh, and it might have some planes – American, of course. If the Yanks have managed to fix the 300 “unresolved high-priority deficiencies”, reported by the Pentagon, by then. The planes? US F35s, a snip at 92 million quid – each!)
How about this as a rousing cry to the true blue-hearted amongst us? “We must strengthen our global presence, enhance our lethality (our what?) and increase our mass”. By eating more junk food, perhaps – preferably radioactive, to enhance our lethality. (Plutonium is heavier than lead, usefully.)
But it wasn’t that which made me laugh. No, it was this little gem: “We should be the nation that people turn to when the world needs leadership”. Leadership?? In one bound, little Gav goes to the top of the pile – and it’s a big pile – of deluded Tories.
It wasn’t really little Gav’s fault that I had laughed so much. You see, I’d only just finished reading a 2-page article from reporters in seven EU countries of their views of Britain. I’ve used the phrase “laughing stock” in posts before, but that really only captures a part of it.
To give you a flavour: the full article can be found here. Phrases like “a pantomime”, “un big mess”, “national psychodrama” sprinkle the article. A view from a Netherlands newspaper: “It’s like the crew of the Titanic deciding, by majority vote, that the iceberg should get out of the way”. “Perhaps Great Britain is so fundamentally insular and protective of its own future and freedom, this is its destiny”: CEO of the port of Calais. He adds: “But it’s a pity”. A Spanish academic muses that the “systemic failure” of our attempt to leave the EU calls into question the very idea of the great British democracy. There is some regret: a German diplomat compares it to being dumped by your girlfriend: “I still have her jumper … hoping her scent will linger.” A Czech political analyst describes it as seeing “an established democracy descending into this chaos and irrationality”.
Perhaps the last word should, fittingly, come from Ireland, a country we treated very badly for 800 years. It rekindles the idea of “perfidious Albion”. An Irish history professor: “there is a sense that with the British, unless it’s written down you can’t trust anything they say”.
Which brings us to our “Prime Minister”. Some of us have memories long enough to stretch back to last autumn. That was when May signed a legally binding agreement with the EU which included a “backstop” to protect free flow of goods and services between the Irish Republic and the Six Counties in the north. That’s the same Theresa May who, a few weeks later, encourages Parliament to vote against that agreement. Parliament (i.e. Tories and DUP) duly obliges, defeating the agreement by a margin of 230 votes. May offers to renegotiate what she agreed only weeks earlier. Perfidious seems a fair enough description.
May has stated she will stand down as PM before the next general election. Some rumours say she we leave her post this summer. It’s too awful even to contemplate who might win an election involving just 100,000 geriatric out-of-touch-with-reality Tory Party members. There is literally no one who could conceivably lead the Tories who could actually be described as a leader, except in the deluded, pied-piper, over-the-cliff sense of the word.
So, let’s have just a few words about the Labour alternative. Opinion polls give conflicting results, but there is no sign of a clear win for a future Labour government under Corbyn. He has anti-EU history and shows no leadership qualities when it comes to his avowed respect for Party democracy (i.e. the policy decisions of the 2018 Labour Party Conference) where they differ from his own long-held views.
Whether he deserves this or not, he carries the air of a man who hasn’t changed his opinion on anything in forty years. Don’t get me wrong, I would not like a Labour leader who has such a lack of principles, putting Party before national interest, as any conceivable Tory leader (including May herself). But a measure of pragmatism would enhance his reputation for humanity.
The EU referendum has wrecked UK politics and political parties. It’s a matter of when, not if, the Tory loony irreconcilables split off from the saner Party members. Labour may yet fracture, too, although for different dynamics: at least with Labour, both the rival wings are broadly rational in their thinking.
So, where does that lead us? Basically fucked, I guess. But whatever Britain is in 2019, it’s crystal clear what we are NOT. And that’s “the nation that people turn to when the world needs leadership”. No matter how many drones we buy (which don’t actually work yet as Williamson desires).
Over the past two and a half years, I have tried to imagine any plausible scenario whereby the government could have made a bigger mess of negotiations with the EU following the June 2016 referendum result. So far, I haven’t come up with any. In other words, Theresa May has made the biggest mess of these negotiations that I can imagine. With the results of the last two Tuesdays’ House of Commons votes fresh in our minds, I feel it is time to apply some analysis to May’s performance.
Hence my name for this post is Catalogue of Errors. I want to break down this sorry tale into 3 categories: strategic mistake, lesser errors and major errors.
Lest we forget: the 2016 referendum showed a nation divided, broadly speaking, down the middle. The vote was 51.9% v 48.1% with 29% of the voters not bothering to vote. Our MPs are paid to represent our interests; specifically to recognise the closeness of the result and to act accordingly.
May got it wrong practically from day one. It is now crystal clear that she focussed her strategic objective on Tory party unity, not the national interest. In practice, this meant dealing with the chronic Tory infighting over EU membership, endemic for over 40 years, rather than seeking a broad consensus based upon cross-party cooperation. This is a major, major strategic error which has affected all else. It is only in the last few days where the extreme weakness in her authority has forced her, reluctantly and with gritted teeth, to make a number of unconvincing gestures to opposition parties. Nothing has come of them so far.
The decision to suck up to (and bribe) the archbigots of the DUP (who represent the opposite to majority opinion in Northern Ireland over EU membership) was a consequence of this strategic mistake and the hung parliament following the 2017 election. The hubris which led her to call the election was also a consequence of the original strategic mistake (party before country), aided and abetted by the right-wing press – remember the “crush the saboteurs” rhetoric?
I will briefly summarise a string of the more obvious tactical errors committed by May since becoming Prime Minister.
Perhaps the most obvious was in her self-preserving idea of “balancing” leavers and remainers in her Cabinet. This led to monstrosities like Boris Johnson becoming Foreign Secretary, a man so narcissistic and self-unaware that he single-handedly turned the UK into a laughing stock. David Davis, a lazy, brainless idiot and Dominic Raab, a swivel-eyed Leave zealot “led” our EU negotiations. These embarrassing appointments further downgraded our standing in the world, as well as wasting about 2 years of negotiating time.
May’s personality and reliance on a few close allies led to her isolation both within the Tory Party and worldwide. Contrast this with the open way in which the EU negotiators kept close contact with key politicians in the EU27, thereby ensuring there was transparency and a high level of agreement amongst those with whom the UK was negotiating.
But I return to the two major errors committed by May since the summer of 2016. Both have been, in effect, appeasing the insane Leave fanatics in her own party. The first instance was the speech she made to the Tory Conference in autumn 2016 with her famous “red lines”. That earned her the approbation of the 70-somethings in the conference hall but has boxed in her negotiating position ever since.
The second major error happened yesterday. She made a U-turn by supporting the Brady amendment which in effect trashed her own negotiated deal following her crushing 230 vote defeat last week. Leading up to this vote, May had said it was her deal or none: renegotiation was “impossible”.
Worse, the Brady amendment’s notorious “alternative arrangements” plays totally into the fantasies and delusions of the worst Leave fanatics. True, she has bought a few days’ grace as the nominal leader of the country (and a few deluded headlines in today’s papers – check out the Mail’s page one headline for an extreme example). In exchange, she persuaded the House of Commons to support the maddest of the Leave extremists’ fantasies. The EU had made it clear that renegotiating the withdrawal agreement was a total no-no. The “alternative arrangements” are straight unicorn-thinking.
Major failed to control his “bastards”. Cameron appeased them by holding a vacuously-worded referendum. May has played into the hands of these lunatics not once, but twice. Albert Einstein (or maybe somebody else) famously defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. If so, then we are being led into a fantasy renegotiation, already having been told “no”, by a mad woman leading a party of cowards and fantasists.
End of Democracy?
The UK famously claims it does not have a formal written constitution – not strictly true, some of it is written down, but not all in the same place. But the arrangement leads to a whole lot of making it up as we go along. Can UK democracy survive this apparent collapse of the past few days? That will be the subject of a future post!
I write this post just a few hours before the so-called “meaningful vote” on May’s EU exit deal.
I have today read two comment pieces which speak volumes in the “I wish I had written that” sort of way. The first is a piece in the Independent by Tom Kibasi today which gives an excellent overview on just how badly Theresa May has mishandled the EU negotiations from the very start. The second is a depressing piece in today’s Guardian” by Polly Toynbee stating that tonight’s vote in the Commons marks just the start of our problems: misery and division will beset us for a generation or more.
Two people are primarily culpable: David Cameron and Theresa May: sequentially each the worst Prime Minister (at the time) in my lifetime.
Cameron’s culpability derives from his sheer uselessness. Being endowed with the sense of entitlement to rule taught by our most elite private school led to his gross error of judgement. This was to turn an internal Conservative Party rift (between the tiny band of “Dunces” exemplified by Rees-Mogg versus the rest of the Tory Party) into a national rift which split the country asunder. My earlier post David Who? satirizes Cameron’s weaknesses, inspired by Jeremy Paxman’s remarks calling Cameron “the worst Prime Minister since Lord North”. Those 40-odd maverick MPs have stirred up racist, xenophobic thugs who now roam the streets and violently threaten all who disagree with them. One such follower murdered Jo Cox MP. Several sitting MPs and journalists must now fear for their safety, just by doing their jobs.
Well done, Cameron.
May’s culpability stems from her personality type. My Mister Men caricature of her as “Little Miss I-Know-Best”, written in June 2017, was even closer to the truth then I realised at the time of writing! Even my post written just after she took over as PM, Who May She Be?, spotted the dangers. My suspicions were not misplaced that her fine words, spoken on the steps of 10 Downing Street on the day of her appointment as PM, were just that – words. Even my jokey rewrite of the song lyrics in Forever Walk Alone still rings true.
But the best analysis is in the Kibasi article referred to above. He summarizes how May, at every turn, misjudged and mishandled her own party, Parliament, public opinion, EU negotiators and leaders of the EU27. She even tried Perfidious Albion’s old trick of “divide and rule”. May is incapable of even understanding the concept of the “national interest”, no matter how many times she repeats the phrase in her Maybot mode.
Well done, May.
Fearful for the Future
However things turn out at the big vote tonight, the UK will still be broken. It will not heal in my lifetime, perhaps not even for 20 to 40 years. The future is not bright and definitely not Orange, even if the bigots of the DUP have had May in a bind recently.
May was foolish enough to refer in Parliament yesterday to how history will judge us. I confidently predict that history will judge this period as our worst in modern times. And the chief culprits will be Cameron and May.
Enough for now. The future, after the big vote, will be here soon enough.
Meanwhile, for all those who voted Leave, here is an interlude…
In this post, I shall compare and contrast two mindsets: monarchist and republican mainly by referring to two countries: UK and the Irish Republic. I argue that the former mindset has led the UK to its current post-EU referendum mess and has also led to a terrifying rise in the levels of intolerance. I contend further that the latter mindset has enabled Ireland to escape from the dead hand of the Catholic church to become a modern, secular, tolerant society.
Monarchists and Republicans
First, an important definition, to avoid any misunderstanding. I’m using the word “republican” in the “I want an elected Head of State” sense, rather than the “I’m a moron who voted for Donald Trump” sense. By that definition, it should be clear (from earlier posts) that I’m a republican. But the central point of this post is the sort of thought processes that flow from each position and the views a person is likely to hold.
My starting point comes from the USA, ironically enough – Trump as head of state is unlikely in a monarchy and would be a good argument against my position! I refer, of course, to the US Declaration of Independence and the words “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal…” The Declaration continues “…that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness….” OK, it’s not quite right: “People”, not “Men” for a start. And as an atheist and Humanist, I’d rewrite the bit about “endowed by their Creator”. But the overall thrust is in line with my starting point.
From these principles, it’s easy to see that phrases like “We, the People…” and “the People versus X” (in court cases) follow naturally. In the latter case, I’m contrasting this with “the Crown versus X” used in UK courts.
In monarchies, by contrast, the presumption is that we are not all born equal. Some enjoy privileges (and duties) simply by accidents of birth and of lineage, although the duties are often a matter of custom and convention rather than constitutional principle. The more traditionalist, conservative institutions police these conventions with a fierce conviction. Every democratic and progressive change has been resisted and delayed by a privileged elite.
The UK, Saudi Arabia and Other Monarchies
Any objective-minded person can see immediately how corrupt and bloated the royalty of Saudi Arabia is: I believe there about 7000 people who call themselves Princes and, by any objective measure, Saudi Arabia is the least democratic, worst abuser of Human Rights on the planet. At the other extreme, more “modern” monarchies, such as are found in Scandinavia, have a modest role for their monarchs with a small group of people labelled “royal” leading relatively modest lifestyles.
In some respects, the UK is more like Saudi Arabia than Sweden or Norway. Despite some democratic add-ons, we have a grossly bloated “royal family” (think Andrew – better still, don’t!) and an unelected second chamber in Parliament. Worse still, in the UK, it is possible to buy privileged access to power simply by having rich parents – or connections with the “right” people. The English public school system teaches – at least according to one alumnus – what he called “ESS”, an Effortless Sense of Superiority. From this flows an innate sense of entitlement to tell lesser souls what to do. Of course, the rules don’t apply to you or your rich chums or – better still – the rules (law, taxation) are biased to suit them.
A republican outlook can bring a different set of problems. In the USA, for example, it can lead to an excess of individualism and a cult of the “common man” or woman, no matter how ill-informed they may be. In France, there is a tendency for interest groups to gather together, block highways and generally make a nuisance of themselves. On balance, I’d rather live somewhere with republican-type imperfections than monarchist-type ones.
Distilling all this down, the two forms of government (or of national culture and history) lead to two distinct mindsets. Contrast these: “subject” v “citizen”, concessions reluctantly wrestled from the powerful v Human Rights, lip service v real democratic practices, secrecy v openness, etc.
I turn now, as a prime example of my general point, to comparing recent events in two countries, one a monarchy, one a republic: the UK and its former colony the Irish Republic. The events are two contrasting referendums: on EU membership in the UK in 2016 and abortion rights in Ireland more recently. The UK referendum is a role model for how not to carry out a referendum and deal with its aftermath. The Irish referendum is a good example of how to do it right.
The UK is still in the thick of the mess caused by holding and mishandling the EU vote. Some obvious conclusions can be drawn so far:
It has effectively split the country down the middle: England, at least, has been revealed as consisting of two groups who see each other with mutual mistrust and suspicion
It has had a catastrophic effect on the level of toleration of people whose views differ from each other
It has encouraged acts of violence by fringe groups, encouraged by politicians’ ill-considered language
Jo Cox MP was murdered
It has given Archbigot Arlene Foster and her morally repugnant DUP de facto power far beyond their electoral support
It has sown the seeds of the destruction of the UK, principally by the Little Englanders’ total indifference to the views of the Scots and (Northern) Irish
And the economic impact, which has been well rehearsed elsewhere.
Compare this with the comparative ease with which the Irish Republic conducted the abortion referendum and the peaceful implementation of the decision.
The Irish Citizens’ Assembly
I believe a key component of the Irish success has been the creation of the Citizens’ Assembly. For more details on the activities of the Citizens’ Assembly, check out its website here. Briefly, the Assembly was set up in 2016 to inform public debate on a number of strategic issues. The most significant was to abolish the Republic’s 8th Amendment to the Constitution, thereby opening the way to legalise abortion. The Assembly is chaired by Mary Laffoy, a judge in the Irish Supreme Court. The 99 other members are “citizens entitled to vote at a referendum, randomly selected so as to be broadly representative of Irish society”. They worked using a combination of expert presentations, Q&A sessions and debate, roundtable discussion and a plenary session. It was an opportunity to deliberate topics, in an informed way, in marked contrast to the soundbite dominated shouting match which constitute much of modern political “debate”.
From these deliberations, the wording of the referendum question to be put to the Irish electorate was formulated. The Irish Parliament took great care to ensure the electorate was as well-informed as possible before the vote. Although the Cameron government consulted the Electoral Commission for expert advice on the wording, the whole process was much more “top down” than the Irish case.
I believe that this was no coincidence. A republican mindset is far more likely to produce solutions which are “bottom up”; a monarchist mindset is far more likely to impose “top down” ones.
The People’s Vote
So, where does this leave us, going forward? It’s far too soon to say what might emerge from the current mess and Parliament’s “meaningful vote” (if that goes ahead next week). One possibility is another referendum, the People’s Vote, notwithstanding the problems caused by the 2016 one and referendums’ poor fit with the UK convention of Parliamentary sovereignty.
Back in February last year, I came very close to writing a blog post satirising a People’s Vote, to which I was at the time opposed. I have changed my views since then: a People’s Vote may be our only chance to avert catastrophe. If such a vote were to go ahead, I would strongly advocate some form of Citizen’s Assembly to inform the wording of the question(s) to be posed. All of this would take time and require the Article 50 process to be suspended. There are many who would be bitterly opposed to this, but I say that’s their problem: the issues are to important not to get this right.
Two (or Three?) Barriers
There are two, or possibly three, barriers to this happening. Theresa May has ruled this out (though who believes anything she says any more?). Any likely Tory successor would only make the chances worse. Second, delaying Article 50 needs the agreement of 27 other countries. And the third, possible, barrier? Jeremy Corbyn.
Towards a Democratic UK
But let’s just be optimistic for a moment. It’s not impossible that a People’s Vote will occur in the way I have described. And that we are spared the disaster of crashing out of the EU. Surely then, the time will be right to question our entire semi-democratic, ramshackle constitutional setup. My “best case” wish list would be something like this:
Democratise the House of Lords into an elected Senate;
Specify what role, if any, referendums have in our democratic arrangements;
Move to an elected Head of State using (again) the Irish system as a possible role model
And of course, demand of any political party that puts itself up for election as a future government to play a fully engaged, constructive role as a member of the EU. That includes making a clear case for the benefits – both to the UK and to the other member states – of EU membership. Infantile heckling of the EU and its institutions from the sidelines must become a thing of the past.
Who is more to blame, Humpty Dumpty or Theresa May? I will leave you to decide, after reading through the words which follow. Students of English as an Additional Language are welcome to join in the game – in other words, “foreigners are welcome”. To my website, I mean: to many of my compatriots, perhaps as many as 52% of them, this phrase is an alien concept when applied “to my country”.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” Humpty Dumpty, of course, is a fictional, fairy tale character who, by the time Lewis Carrol wrote those words in the 19th century, was drawn to look like an egg.
The original fairy tale has its origins in the First to Third English Civil Wars (with the Fourth now coming soon!) The real Humpty Dumpty was a cannon used by the Royalists to defend Colchester Castle during a siege by Parliamentarians. (You may remember the Parliamentarians, aka Roundheads: they were the first to die in their thousands in the cause to establish the concept that Parliament, rather than the King, is sovereign.) Parliamentarian forces successfully knocked the Cannon from the castle battlements and it fell into swampy ground outside the castle walls. As the story goes, “All the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again”.
One of the most vacuous (unless you have mental age of eight) neologisms is May’s phrase “Brex*t means Brex*t”. To this, Leave extremists have given us “Leave Means Leave”. These tautologies, together with a commonsense knowledge of how language works, might lead you to the conclusion “X means X”, where X is any word. You would be wrong. There is at least one exception to the general rule. The assertion “Indefinite means indefinite” is false, when followed by the phrase “to remain” and stamped into a passport.
In her New Year message to the nation, May has added yet another empty, meaningless phrase to the lexicon: the country can, apparently, unite so long as we “turn the corner” together. Where exactly this corner is, and why it has such magical properties to unite us, are both unclear. But fear not, good people, the corner that will do the trick is out there somewhere. I assume that we all have to meet somewhere round the corner from the corner in question and turn the corner together to make it work. I await further information! See you there!
English for Foreigners
The ever-hostile Home Office last week launched an online registration scheme for EU nationals resident in the UK. This is to enable them to continue to receive their existing rights to move freely into and out of the UK. The fee is £76 (with exemptions for some). Without such registration, under the “hostile environment” policy created by Theresa May, such EU nationals would be liable to harassment by UK Border Force, denied benefits, free NHS treatment and fearful of unlawful deportation, just like the Windrush generation has suffered.
Reaction has been hostile. In a Guardian report, one long-term resident who is a Danish national wrote: “You absolute s****! I’ve lived here 35 years, got a stamp in my passport for ‘indefinite leave to remain’ in 1985 and now you want me to apply to stay in my own home.” Max Fras, a visiting fellow at the LSE, sarcastically expressed his “deep gratitude” at the opportunity to pay £65 “for the possibility of letting an app as reliable as Southern Rail on a snowy day to decide the future of my existence”. Even the Sun criticized government policy in a leading article headed “EU are welcome”. It’s a pretty pass when the government’s main tabloid cheerleader has turned against the May Government’s inhumanity.
One elderly holocaust survivor even compared this government to the Nazis’ treatment of Jews:
The accompanying text says “The last time my family qualified for registration and ‘settled status’”. There’s nothing more I can add.
According to our Home Secretary, we’re facing a “crisis” because, since mid-November, an average of nearly 4 people a day have been landing illegally on our shores. (At the peak 3 years ago, an average of 2000 people a day were crossing the Mediterranean to enter Greece. From which I conclude the Government’s panic is propaganda, not proportionate.) I, for one, will be sleeping more easily now that I know Sajid Javid cancelled his holiday to return home to save us all. Better still, he’s getting 2 UK Border Patrol boats to sail back to UK waters to deter Johnny foreigner. According to Wikipedia, the length of the UK coastline is 12,429 km or, if you include the larger islands, 31,368km.
I’ve got a better idea, adapted from Trump’s Wall: why don’t we just build a higher sea around our island? That’ll keep ‘em out! Their flimsy little boats will never be able to climb over that: a quick capsize, problem solved! And all we have to do is just keep on pumping out the CO2. Sorry, East Anglia, it’s been nice knowing you. Seaside holidays in Norwich, anyone?
The far right, particularly in the USA and increasingly here in the UK, clearly welcome any development which obscures the truth and confuses people. Russia under Putin would agree. So come along, all you people. Learn the New English where all words are stripped of any meaning and we call all march forward into 2019 united and happy.
A thought: why didn’t May take her Cabinet to The Corner instead of Chequers to teach them the New English? Then they could have all turned the corner together, united and happy!