Author Archives: Rob Parsons

I want to stay in the EU

 

There has been a bit of a sea change in British politics in the last couple of weeks.

Since June 23rd Remainers have had to put up with their lot, accept the referendum result as if it were a binding expression of democratic will and start preparing for a post Brexit world, or face howls of outrage. I guess that is still the likely outcome, despite today’s court ruling.

But it has become more possible than it has at any time since the referendum to say publicly that I want to stay in the EU, and I hope very much that we find a way to get out of the fix that the vote for Brexit has put us in. Partly it is a matter of courage. Any expression of dismay with the result has been met with a explosive mixture of nastiness, aggression, scorn and abuse ever since. The level has not abated but I have begun to summon up the courage to take it on. Partly that comes from having worked out more firmly the reasons why I stand where I stand:

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We need to focus on things which tangibly improve lives

Terraced housingAre we barking up the wrong tree?

I have wondered for a while if we are focussing on the wrong things, particularly where the EU is concerned. For the record, I want to remain in the EU. I see it as a flawed institution, run by the same cadre of neoliberal capitalists as those who run this country and most of the other countries in Europe. It has, however, two things going for it. The first is the possibility of deeper co-operation across national boundaries. The second is that it has woven into it a thick texture of human rights which the neoliberals, despite their best efforts, have been unable to unwind – it was after all woven in before they came along.

But when I look at this country’s biggest problems, the EU is neither the problem nor the solution. The media cacophony remains completely confusing as to why people voted to leave. The people who voted leave are equally confusing, and there are massive attempts to shut down debate by taking offence if suggestions are made that, for instance, cutting immigration will not solve any problems other than the fragility of some people’s sense of national identity. Taking back control does not take back control, but meely hands it to different members of the neoliberal elite. We still need to identify and solve the problems which have caused such disaffection with the political process.

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The Establishment

In a couple of previous posts I have looked at the effects of Brexit and possibilities for LibDem positioning and policy that may emerge. In many ways the EU is a distraction from the key political battles we face. The most pressing problem we have is inequality in its many manifestations and an economic and social system that works very hard to maintain and increase inequality while we try to redress the balance. That is the case whether we are in the EU or out of it. This is an opportunity to consider some key parameters of our policies without having to look at everything through the prism of the EU debate.

One constant in the debate is the thing called the establishment, a word as much misused as used. I cannot think of anyone more “establishment” than Nigel Farage, who has managed to make a career out of selling the lie that he is anti-establishment. Like many insurgent politicians he has no intention of changing the way the system works. He just wants to change the personnel at the top.

The nature and function of the establishment remains the same though its form has changed in recent decades. Whatever it is, it needs to be a focus of LibDem policy making so we need to consider clearly what it is, what it does and how to deal with it.

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Lib Dem policy now

 

In a way the recent focus on the EU has been a distraction from the things we ought to be talking about and campaigning on. There are many good reasons to want to be inside rather than outside, but there are also many good things to work for whether in or out.

Our political and economic elites are almost entirely neoliberal in heart and doctrine, determined to reduce the power of the state and increase that of corporations, despite the world, with the end of the Soviet empire a generation ago, having moved beyond the phase that made that an attractive proposition for stability. Thus we find ourselves with a choice between being beholden to a neoliberal elite on a European scale, or a neoliberal elite on a countrywide scale (the size of the country yet to be determined). Put in these terms, the choice is unappealing, but, all other things aside, given the option, I would still plump for being in the EU, as human rights were woven into its institutions and practices before the neoliberals came along, and woven in so firmly that they have been unable to do winkle them out.

But, in or out, we find ourselves in a fundamentally divided world, in which inequality grows by the minute. Not just inequality in income but in security, worth, identity and a whole host of other fundamental criteria.

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The referendum: What were people voting about?

Two articles give much food for thought about the referendum. The Independent’s “Austerity and class divide likely factors behind Brexit vote” finds that 60% of the country self identfy as working class and have strong views on immigration, benefits and the unemployed. The report also mentions anti-establishment feelings towards bureacracy and government. The social mobility of the second half of the twentieth century, which saw many working class people move into middle class jobs has all but ended so the possibility of social mobility as a route to security is no longer available. The article also notes short terms changes in that in the years immediately following the 2008 crash there was high approval for austerity, but that has now lessened, with views on related issues, such as the proper rate for benefits, being confused. There is also a mixed pattern with regard to stress and freedom at work and also towards the ideas of coalition and voting reform.

The Guardian’s “Meet 10 Britons who voted to leave the EU” outlines a series of views from leave voters about what they were voting for and against.

The views expressed resonate with the idea that people were voting against the EU as representing the interests of the elite and not the interests of ordinary people. This quote sums up that view:

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Agenda 2020 Essay #3 What it means to be a Liberal Democrat today

Editor’s Note: The party is currently running an essay competition for members of the Liberal Democrats, to submit 1000 words on the theme “What it means to be a Liberal Democrat today.” The deadline for contributions is 2nd November. If you would like us to publish your submission, send it to [email protected]

I am a Liberal Democrat because I have a sense of justice. Justice means everybody getting a fair chance without the playing field being tilted against them throughout their lives. Justice does not mean everyone being treated the same all the time. Equality before the law is a sine qua non, but equality …

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Opinion: Time to consider all-women shortlists?

I find myself changing my mind on the subject of all-women shortlists. I’ve always been somewhere between agnostic and sceptical on the basis that it’s fairer to have open candidacies in which the best person gets chosen. If the playing ground needs to be levelled, it is best to do it in training and support rather than fixing the rules for appointments. I based this partly on my now shaken belief that, whatever happens in the other parties, the Lib Dems are nice, our hearts are in the right place, so self evidently good choices will be made.

But three things have shaken that belief. Firstly the Rennard affair, and not just the issue itself but the number of people vigorously defending the status quo; secondly, the endemic sexism still visible in society at large, catalogued in visceral detail at Everyday Sexism; and thirdly, the two separate reports published recently on the shape of the elite in our society – still overwhelmingly male. Patriarchy remains alive and in rude good health, in the party as well as in society at large. The playing field remains permanently tilted against women (as well as against BAME people), and the only way in which we can be fair about that situation is to tilt it back. And niceness won’t cut it. All women shortlisting seems a crude tool but I know of no better one at the moment.

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Recent Comments

  • User Avatarmalc 8th Dec - 9:36am
    "The Burqa ban is a violation of human rights" No it isn't. What is wrong in saying you can't hide your face when you enter...
  • User AvatarJohn Peters 8th Dec - 9:27am
    I used to tour the Scottish on-line papers post Referendum to try to judge the electorates mood. I stopped when it became apparent the SNP...
  • User AvatarPat 8th Dec - 9:07am
    Oh dear .... I think the Lib Dems are definitely backing the wrong horse! The party is taking a huge gamble in calling for a...
  • User AvatarCatherine Jane Crosland 8th Dec - 8:40am
    Edwin, I agree absolutely. The Burqa ban is a violation of human rights. It is contrary to the right to religious freedom, and the right...
  • User Avatarexpats 8th Dec - 8:27am
    Andy Hinton 7th Dec '16 - 11:57pm....It is not undemocratic to reserve the right for the people to change their mind. Indeed, that is essential...
  • User AvatarTim13 8th Dec - 8:06am
    Interesting viewpoint, James Spackman. Thankyou for your replies to my points, Mike S, and for your points Katharine Pindar. I know you make an important...