The moral failure of Stronger In

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Not seen this in a while…

The EU referendum was a major campaigning failure on both sides. Whilst Leave won, much of the press has analysed its moral failings; lying red buses, racist posters and the conspicuous absence of even an inkling of a model for Brexit.

Remain’s failure is more obvious: they lost. This failure is practical one. Listless and crippled by its de facto figurehead David Cameron’s inability to be positive, particularly on immigration given his previous anti-immigrant rhetoric instead Stronger In avoided the issue. Labour’s lacklustre campaign in its heartlands exacerbated this, whether you blame Jeremy Corbyn, Alan Johnson or both.

Unfortunately, Bremoaning won’t change the future. Theresa May’s path is unlikely to be swayed from what looks to be a hard Brexit. Largely, all of the above is academic.

There were reasons Stronger In didn’t campaign in poor areas…

There were two reasons for not targeting the poor. Firstly, that it would be ineffective.

The theory: Leave voters were more likely to be poor and fewer would vote except a small, dedicated core of Leavers. Remain voters were more numerous, richer and normally more likely to vote at elections. However, they were less enthused than Leavers on this issue.

Run a good Get Out The Vote (GOTV) campaign in affluent areas and turnout would be high; Remain would win. With a low turnout, this dedicated core of Leavers would outnumber the Remain equivalent.

Secondly, there were safety issues. Attempts to set up a stall in a South Yorkshire town were abandoned due to a ream of abuse. A woman I was with was assaulted (though she was not badly hurt) whilst slightly away from the main campaign group in a city centre. On referendum day, a campaigner talking to parents outside a school was accused of being a paedophile by a local. They then threatened to call the police. Outside the largely good-natured shouts of ‘Brexit’ – from largely from white van men apparently unaware of or uncaring for their stereotype – one group of builders physically threatened a campaign group in a leafy suburb of Sheffield. A local politician placated them with a selfie.

And all in the wake of the death of Jo Cox, herself a passionate Remainer.

…but Stronger In still should have campaigned to the poor

Having discussed the issue since, I know many campaigners – in South Yorkshire in particular – were frustrated that they weren’t talking to the poor. Stronger In’s leadership made its decisions for the reasons outlined but they lost. Turnout was high at 72% and 17.1m voted Leave; in practical terms, they are to blame.

But I’m talking about a moral failing. It comes down to this: we had a duty to talk to the poor about why immigration was good.

I understand why Remain needed to win. I also get this is a very easy decision to make in hindsight. But ultimately it was the right thing to do.

Why? Britain is rarely transfixed by politics but the EU referendum had managed it. We squandered that opportunity to talk to the poor about why immigration mattered to them. Would we have convinced all of them? No. But maybe some. Maybe 600000. Maybe our campaign wouldn’t have looked and felt so insipid.

Labour probably ought to take some blame for this. They could venture into areas Tories, Lib Dems and Stronger In campaigners could not. But the blame cannot lie solely at their feet.

I am a doctor. The most affluent place I’ve worked is Nottingham for 1 year. I spent the other 3½ years full-time in Boston, Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham, excluding a further 1½ years part-time.

My patients are largely poor and they need the NHS more than anybody. I’d far rather work in an area with those who truly need my help. It makes me feel like it’s worth being a doctor.

That’s what the Stronger In campaign could have been – an attempt to at least partially reverse the trend of assuming every poor person hates immigrants. It wasn’t first-past-the-post, there were no marginal seats. And the theory that we would have “woken up” Leave voters was both wrong and offensive.

I don’t know what will happen with Open Britain, the European Movement, Britain for Europe or the British People Who Think Europe Is Really Ace Or At Least Sort Of Alright And Not As Bad As That Floppy-Haired Chap Heavily Implied. I hope above all, that it talks to the poorest in society about immigration. They’re the ones that need it most.

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“No Black No Dogs No Irish” and other thoughts on the EU

I am scared of leaving the European Union.

A not insignificant number of my friends are Leave supporters. I have little doubt they genuinely believe leaving the EU will be of benefit to them. Whether their arguments are about sovereignty or the economy, they’re intelligent people who are appalled they are on the same side as Nigel Farage and George Galloway.

However, there is an undercurrent of fear of the other percolating Leave. Regardless of Boris Johnson opining his love of immigration or indeed that an Australian-style points system would lead to more immigration, much of Leave’s support comes from those who are scared that foreign people make things worse.

To a certain extent, I’m not making a logical argument. It’s that if a politics of populist fear succeeds, it paves the way for more. Fear of the other is the cause of your problems. We need less ‘other people’ and more ‘your kind of people’.

That was, when my parents came to the UK and my brothers grew up, the norm. The National Front were popular in the 1970s. Rivers Of Blood and “if you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Liberal or Labour” still echoed in the ears of immigrants. Even today, for 10 years David Cameron has espoused anti-immigration rhetoric that has now undermined anybody’s belief he supports any pan-European project.

I worry that that social progress will go backwards, even just a little bit. I don’t want to live in a country where that fear is stoked and where that is a legitimate way to win elections.

This referendum is for me whether Britain feels it wants me to be here. So I will campaign for Remain tomorrow. Largely, this will be genuine passion for the EU; partly though it will be out of fear.

 

 

A simple(-ish) summary of Vote Remain

 

This is meant to be a simple summary of the Remain arguments and touches on some of the Leave campaign’s key points but is not supposed to be comprehensive.

Security

Lord Evans and Sir John Sawers, heads of MI5 and MI6 respectively until 2013 say leaving is a bad idea. The lack of a formal intelligence sharing agreement with the EU is irrelevant – we share lots of data which are key to many intelligence operations.

Ex-Met police chiefs Lord Condon and Lord Blair say the European Arrest Warrant speeds up the process of deporting European criminals (over 5000 2010-14) and extraditing British ones (675 2010-15). This includes failed 21 July London bomber Hussain Osman, extradited from Italy in 8 weeks.

Sir Richard Dearlove, who was head of MI6 until 2004, disagrees. However, he’s been a teacher since then so his views are out of date.

Border control

  • Britain is not a part of the Schengen area, the EU’s passport-free zone. As such, we have as much control over our borders, in or out of the EU.
  • The system of France and Belgium checking entrants to the UK before they come here – called juxtaposed controls – is indirectly threatened. That could see Calais migrants arriving on our shores as France and Belgium have less incentive to manage this problem for us.

Economy

This is difficult because Leave have made many different proposals. America, Canada, India, Australia and New Zealand‘s leaders have all supported Remain.

Some Leave campaigners argue Brexit would allow us to negotiate trade deals with Commonwealth countries more easily. The last four of the aforementioned countries are in the Commonwealth, support Remain and make up the lion’s share of non-UK Commonwealth GDP. It gives them access to the single market; a trade deal with the Commonwealth is best achieved through Remain.

(Leave also say we pay £350m/week (£18.7bn/year) to the EU, a claim for which the UK Statistics Authority have reprimanded them. Net, we pay £161/week (£8.3bn/year). This gives us access to the single market.)

Why does the single market matter?

It allows free trade with 440 million Europeans. This means British business can buy and sell in Europe without having to pay a tariff to do so. It also means regulation across Europe is the same.

Often, Leave campaigners cite this as ‘red tape’. However, it means with one set of regulations across Europe; if your product is legal in the UK, it’s legal  in the EU with no modifications. 44% of exports and 50% of goods exports from the UK go to the EU. That’s a massive part of trade to put at risk.

Won’t we just get another trade deal?

Vote Leave – the primary Leave campaign – say we would leave the single market. That would mean tariffs on British business of some description. Leave campaigners have proposed a variety of trade deals but if we do not negotiate within 2 years of voting to leave, we will have no trade deal.

Whilst the EU will want to trade with us, it also has an incentive to make things as painful as possible. Leave supporters argue the EU is undemocratic (to which I’ll come) and too centralised. Thus, on their own terms it makes sense that the EU will want to consolidate power by making Brexit a costly affair. British failure would make it less likely other members try and leave.

Immigration

A net 330000 immigrants came to the UK in 2015. Leave supporters argue for an Australian-style points system. Intuitively, this makes sense – let’s get immigrants who actually fill gaps in the market rather than a large number of unregulated EU migrants

However, immigration’s impact on public finances is “relatively small. Further, in certain sectors, EU migration has a major impact. 1 in 10 doctors and 1 in 25 nurses are EU migrants.  93% of research scientists say the EU is a “major benefit“. The bureacracy of a points system would discourage EU migrants from trying to work here.

Identity

There are Leave campaigners who want Britain to resemble a 1950s idyll which probably never existed. However, Remain campaigners often forget that particularly in poorer communities large migrant communities put pressure on public services like schools and hospitals.

Though nationally migrants are net contributors, we should not forget these local effects. This is however a problem of domestic policy – money should be focussed on ensuring adequate public services and education are available to both British citizens and immigrants. Brexit does not solve the problem.

Sovereignty

I don’t think this is as complicated as is often made out. Sovereignty is our ability to govern ourselves, ostensibly by electing a government. Leave argue we have lost control and ceded power to Brussels.

Firstly, we vote for MEPs directly who stand in the European Parliament. We are represented on the European Commission and Council of the EU. Whilst it’s beyond this post to explain how laws are passed in the EU, this graphic from Simple Politics hopefully explains:

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Apologies for the terrible blue-on-grey; I didn’t make the image.

Secondly, even if we had ceded power to a massively undemocratic organisation, we chose to do that. We keep voting for parties who want to remain in the EU. We can leave and reclaim those powers. If the powers were really gone, the EU would prevents from having a referendum. It’s just that we’re better off in the EU.

Thirdly, there are democratic deficits at Westminster and in councils. Few argue we should scrap councils on the basis only 30% of voters elect them, roughly the same as the number who elect MEPs. The UK sometimes disagrees with Brussels – disagreements are a sign of a healthy democracy.

(NB: Eurosceptics often slate the European Commission for being an undemocratic and overreaching behemoth of an organisation. It has 23000 staff, less than half that of HMRC‘s 56000 and almost a twentieth of the 406 140 who work in Whitehall.)

Conclusion

The EU is an imperfect organisation. It needs reform. Britain knows too little about how it works. But these are not arguments for Brexit.

Remaining in the EU is the only road to prosperity.

What do the election results actually mean?

For the really lazy amongst you, scroll to the bottom. There is a tl;dr.

So, if you’re an interested-in-politics type person, you’ll already know the answer to this. If you’re not, hopefully, this will give you an idea of what has been happening.

So, the following elections happened on Thursday:

  • English local council elections
  • Scottish Parliamentary elections
  • National Assembly of Wales elections
  • Northern Ireland Assembly (yet to be determined)
  • Police and Crime Commissioner elections
  • Mayoral elections
  • Greater London Assembly elections

Hopefully, I’ve not missed any. I’ve put London at the bottom because I live in the North and London is basically in Calais as far as I’m concerned.

How important are these elections?

Councils control a lot of things: housing, council tax, parking, planning permission, road maintenance, schools and school catchment areas, local health and social care policy. Indeed, the majority of issues which people complain about are controlled by councils, not the UK Parliament at Westminster.

The Scottish Parliament has more regional powers. Local elections happen in Scotland too though not this year. The same is true of the Welsh Assembly (though it has fewer powers) and then again of the London Assembly (with fewer powers still).

I’m going to start with the Liberal Democrats because I’m a Liberal Democrat, I’m very important and therefore this must be the most important party. Parliamentary representation be damned.

NB: ‘net’ is how much is gained or lost, not the total number. For things like council seats, that is a more important number than the total as not all council seats are up for election.

Liberal Democrats

  • Net +44 council seats
  • Net +1 council
  • Scottish Parliament: net 0 seats, stayed at 5/129
  • Welsh Assembly: net -4 seats, down to 1/60
  • London Mayor: Caroline Pidgeon 4.6%
  • London Assembly: net -1 seat, down to 1 seat
  • Northern Ireland Assembly: N/A

So what does all that rubbish mean?

Last year, the Liberal Democrats were – to anybody not a weird optimist like most Lib Dems – dead in the water. Now, not every council seat in England was up for grabs and most years only around a third are. Which ones depend on local conditions.

As such, we had the biggest gains of any party in England albeit for a limited slice of voters and offices. For a party  that has not won for 6 years, these were modest gains, but gains nonetheless. Firstly, it means we were actually discussed in the post-election coverage. Secondly, for party activists, it’s a boon to be trying to win rather than merely hold on.

The Scottish Parliament election is notable as, though there was no net change, we took seats from the SNP. Until now, the nationalists were a seemingly invincible force. Though we lost two other seats, it’s nice to know we can win.

Wales was the not insignificant fly in the ointment. Although Kirstie Williams, leader of the Welsh Lib Dems, managed to win a seat, the loss of 4 seats was stark. She has now stepped down and been replaced by Mark Williams, MP for Ceredigion.

London was much of a muchness. Our performance in the mayoral election was as expected – we largely don’t do well.

Summary: not bad. Shame about Wales.

Labour

  • Net -18 council seats
  • Net 0 councils
  • Scottish Parliament: net -13 seats to 24/129 seats
  • Welsh Assembly: net -1 seats to 29/60 seats
  • London Mayor: Sadiq Khan 56.8% (43.2% 1st round)
  • London Assembly: net 0 seats change, 12/25 seats
  • Northern Ireland Assembly: N/A

Ah, Labour. So Corbyn and his allies believe that Labour ‘grew support in a lot of places’. Indeed, you may have seen comments that the negativity around Corbyn’s performance is largely spin. You may have even seen a meme comparing Corbyn’s performance to those of Blair in 1995 and Cameron in 2006.
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It’s not. These results are bad. Really quite bad. Oddly, the examples are excellent ones of how badly Corbyn did.

To put them into context, consider this. The last time an opposition lost council seats outside a general election was 1985. Michael Foot, leader of the opposition, went on to a landslide (read: massive) defeat to Margaret Thatcher.

In 1995 local elections, Tony Blair achieved net +1800 councillors; in 2006, Cameron +300 councillors. These numbers – not the percentages – are the legitimate comparators to Corbyn’s measly -18.

The only saving grace is the prediction of 150 seats lost was wrong. This served to lower expectations. In politics, the aim is often to play to expectations rather than numbers. Appear to do well rather than do well and the positive press will follow.

In Scotland, they again floundered against the SNP, a place where they were once assured. And Wales was, though not as bad, an indifferent showing.

In contrast, Sadiq Khan smashed Zac Goldsmith to become London mayor. He has the biggest mandate of any directly elected British politician in history (the Prime Minister is not directly elected) in a fairytale story. The son of an immigrant bus driver from a London council estate who defeated the billionaire running an (allegedly) racist campaign.

Summary: Corbyn bad, Khan good.

A word on the BBC

Corbynistas suggest the BBC, specifically former Conservative and current  Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg, are biased against Corbyn’s Labour. The coverage of Khan’s victorious campaign suggests otherwise.

Jeremy Corbyn has been under fire from the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP, the Labour MPs) for some time. They detest him. They think he’s unelectable and may render the party obsolete. Kuenssberg’s appointment coincided with Corbyn’s. It may feel as though she does nothing but bash Corbyn but in the end, it’s simply her job, one I’m sure she’ll continue regardless of whom future Labour leaders are.

Conservatives

  • Net -48 council seats
  • Net -1 councils
  • Scottish Parliament: net +16 seats to 31/129 seats
  • Welsh Assembly: net -3 to 11/60 seats
  • London Mayor: Zac Goldsmith 43.2% (36.5% 1st round)
  • London Assembly: net -1 seats to 8/25 seats
  • Northern Ireland: net 0 seats to 0/108 seats

The council results were OK. As I’ve alluded to, in the same way oppositions should win council seats in a non-general election year, governments usually lose them. Exactly why this happens is debatable but often it’s because voters want to give governments a kicking but don’t want to remove them from power.

That the Tories haven’t been destroyed at the ballot box is remarkable. They are at war over Europe; in conflict with doctors over hours and pay; with teachers of over academies; George Osborne has failed to meet his own budget targets; not to mention Tory MPs rebelling on welfare changes. It highlights the abject failure of Labour to provide meaningful opposition.

Tories – for the first time in a generation – have been victorious in Scotland; they are the official oppositionin the Scottish Parliament. Their new leader, Ruth Davidson, provides a real contrast to the SNP. Many centre-left voters will have voted SNP rather than Labour. However, unionists have a new home, even if they don’t agree with all Conservative policy.

Rather like Labour, the Welsh Conservatives produced an indifferent performance. It pales in comparison to their performance north of the border.

London has been a disaster. Lynton Crosby, a political strategist, has been castigated for running a racist campaign. He specifically targeted the British Hindu community on the basis they would not vote for a Muslim. Tory peer Baroness Sayeeda Warsi has criticised Zac Goldsmith. Even sister Jemima Goldsmith has criticised the campaign.

The real sadness is, Goldsmith had the potential to be an excellent candidate. Despite his inherited wealth, he cut a less arrogant figure than previous Conservative mayor Boris Johnson. Instead, a debate about racial division replaced one on the key issues of transport and housing.

After Labour’s anti-Semitism debacle, Goldsmith has somehow managed to out-racist Ken Livingstone.

(I just found out that the Conservative Party existed in Northern Ireland. It didn’t do well.)

Summary: did alright except for the racism in London thing.

UKIP

  • Net +25 council seats
  • Net 0 councils
  • Scottish Parliament: net 0 seats to 0/129 seats
  • Welsh Assembly: net +7 seats to 7/60 seats
  • London Mayor: Peter Whittle 3.6%
  • London Assembly: net 0 to 0/25
  • Northern Ireland Assembly: net 0 to 0/108

UKIP made reasonable gains in English councils which will worry Labour. They made some in Labour strongholds.

They have little presence in Scotland but their Welsh performance was remarkable, gaining 7 assembly seats. Until then, ‘Celtic UKIP supporter’ was almost a contradiction in terms. (Interestingly, disgraced former Conservative MP Neil Hamilton won a seat for UKIP and may be their Welsh leader.)

Their performance in London fits with their anti-cosmopolitan ethos. Bizarrely, UKIP also has candidates for the Northern Ireland assembly who were unsurprisingly unsuccessful given much of the place doesn’t even want to be British.

Summary: impressive performance in Wales, should worry Labour in England.

The Green Party

  • Net -3 council seats
  • Net 0 councils
  • Scottish Parliament: net +4 seats to 6/129 seats
  • Welsh Assembly: net 0 seats to 0/60
  • London mayor: Sian Berry 5.8%
  • London Assembly: net 0 seats to 2/25 seats
  • Northern Ireland Assembly: net +1 seat to 2/108 seats

Yeah, they did alright. Not great in England but pretty good in Scotland – managing to push the Liberal Democrats in to 4th. They have little presence in Wales (which slightly surprises me) and their London performance is about expected. I have no idea what to make of the fact they have 2 seats in Northern Ireland. But they do. So there.

Nationalists

Scottish National Party

  • Scottish Parliament: net -6 to 59/129 seats

For an incumbent party to only lose 6 seats is remarkable but they are showing signs of weakness. They tackled Labour by dominating the centre-left of Scottish politics. It will be interesting to see how a party which sold itself as anti-establishment will perform as a minority government against Ruth Davidson’s now much stronger Tories.

The contrast between the two is much starker and so I imagine Davidson will find it easier to highlight failings of Nicola Sturgeon’s administration.

Plaid Cymru

  • Welsh Assembly: net +1 to 12/60 seats

Still some way behind Labour, it bodes well that Plaid’s only gain was from Labour. Labour are now in a minority with Plaid the official opposition. It’s not a meteoric performance but not an awful on either.

Northern Ireland Assembly

The Northern Ireland Assembly is complicated and beyond what I can cover in this post. Suffice it to say the three primary parties the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) (both loyalist ie want to stay in the UK) and Sinn Féin (republican ie wants to join Ireland) have to work in a power-sharing agreement.

Sinn Féin now have a small but significant presence within Republic of Ireland politics. It remains to be seen how power-sharing will fare following this election.

Police and Crime Commissioner

The problem with this is, nobody cares. It’s not that it isn’t an important position but it just doesn’t make the headlines. Indeed the only one that did was Dr Alan Billings, PCC for South Yorkshire and that’s largely due to the release of the conclusions of the Hillsborough inquiry.

Summary/tl;dr

  • Lib Dems: starts of a recovery
  • Labour: awful but saved by Khan
  • Conservatives: great in Scotland, awful in London
  • UKIP: impressive in Wales
  • Greens: good in Scotland, unremarkable everywhere else
  • SNP: did well but no invulnerable any more
  • Plaid: meh

Hope that helps!

Please register to vote in the EU referendum. I’ll be writing some things about it to try and make it a little less impenetrable. 

Deletion of all references to Iceland total coincidence, say Brexit campaigns

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Vote Leave, Leave.EU, and Grassroots Out have claimed that their near-simultaneous deletion of all mentions of Iceland from the campaign websites was unrelated to the Panama papers revelations surround the country’s Prime Minister.

“It was a coincidence,” said a spokesman from Vote Leave.

“We were doing it anyway,” said a spokeswoman from Leave.EU.

“We were mostly talking about the supermarket anyway, ” said GO!

There was no comment from either the Icelandic Prime Minister or the supermarket group Iceland.

Sajid Javid offered as sacrifice to steelworkers, announces Cameron

2015 General Election - Cabinet
Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that he will be using Sajid Javid as a political ‘human shield’ against attacks from Port Talbot steelworkers.

Mr Javid is renowned for justifying his Euroskepticism and anti-immigration stance by mentioning that his dad was a migrant bus driver. His father was a bus driver. A driver. Of buses.

He has received criticism for remaining on holiday whilst the crisis was ongoing. This is largely because his response to the crisis was to stay on holiday.

Mr Cameron has deflected criticism that he was also on holiday by pointing at Mr Javid whilst shouting “LOOK OVER THERE!” and then running and hiding.

Everything now fine in Syria, claims Putin

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has brought peace and harmony to Syria, said a spokesman.

Russia gave the Syrian government forces a tactical advantage by bombing accidentally-on-purpose bombing rebel forces who they claim to be ISIS.

“We absolutely had to stop ISIS,” said a Russian official, “even if they weren’t always near or even vaguely close to many of our targets.”

Suggestions from Europe and America that there might still be some violence ongoing (what with there being ongoing violence) have been decried by the Kremlin as propaganda.