Author Archives: Bernard Aris

With Tories deaf to Rory, and Corbyn rehashing Wilson, the Lib Dems should flourish even more

According to last night’s Newsnight, and Heather Stewart in the Guardian, Jeremy Corbyn told a very fractious shadow cabinet meeting that he was reading Harold Wilson’s memoirs as inspiration. Shadow ministers saw that as a signal that Corbyn, like Wilson, “is not ready to become a cheerleader” for EU membership. 

According to  those memoirs, published in  1986,  end in 1964, the year he became PM and  started grappling with the possibility of EEC accession which he asked for after vastly improving his government majority in 1966). 

In their book “Post-War Britain, 1945-1992” (Penguin Books, 1993), professors Sked & Cook tell us that Wilson as shadow Foreign Affairs spokesman  was “unenthusiastic” about the EEC and was “characteristically (..) content to follow rather than to lead”. Wilson wrote in 1962 that “a dying government doesn’t have the right (..) to take a divided nation into” the EEC.”

Andrew Marr (“A History of Modern Britain”; Pan/Macmillan, 2009, p. 295) writes about Wilsons opinion on the EEC in 1965: “the strongest view” he had about joining the EEC “was that he didn’t have a view”. And Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Wilson ) and Marr say Wilson never had a holiday on the continent; whereas his Tory successor Ted Heath had oodles of continental travels and ditto political conversations from the 1930’s onward (Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Heath ; and Marr, p. 295, 327). And Marr writes that Wilsons contribution to the 1975 EEC referendum was mumbling “vaguely in support, rather than actively making the European case” (p. 348).

You can see many similarities with Corbyn; the only difference is he never wrote that the dying May/Johnson government doesn’t have the right to push the divided UK out of the EU.

So we cannot possibly, ever expect any strong Remain endorsement from Wilsonite Corbyn.

On the other side we have Farage’s raging Brexit Party, and a field of four Tory leadership candidates with unicornish ideas of blackmailing, cajoling the EU (with threats of No Deal and no Severance payments) into a “good deal”. The only voice of reason and realism about that, Rory Stewart, stayed in as long as he was useful to push Raab out, and then was left dangling.

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Prorogueing Parliament will scupper any EU goodwill in Trade Talks, prorogueing the Tory Party Conference is better

Hearing British politicians talk in a cavalier way about proroguing parliament to push through any controversial policy should remind the British of the age when prorogueing and circumventing Parliament was all the rage (and instilled a different rage in the electorate): the reigns of kings James I and Charles I. In trying to get money without having to ask Parliament, Charles adulterated the “Ship Money” statute by applying it not just to the coastal and harbor cities, but to the whole of England. According to its Wikipedia item, demanding Ship Money of its own was possibly even an infringement …

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A Photographic Salute to the Lib Dem Resurrection

I am sending our best wishes from D66 and The Netherlands for the European Elections tomorrow. Here are some pictures from our own European election campaign.

This first picture is a group of big letters “WEUROPE” (pronounce “We Europe”). D66 activists travel around big cities with these letters, to point out that we are the most pro-European Dutch party. The people behind the letters are D66 MP’s and activists.

The second picture is me standing in front of those letters, holding up the famous phrase from the Preamble to the LibDem Constitution.

The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.

The pair are meant as a salute from D66 to your resurrection struggle, as two comrades in arms in the same pro-EU struggle, embracing the same Social Liberal principles. Good luck!

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Change UK peacocking threatens to let jingoists and the far right run amok

As a lifelong active member of the Dutch party “Democrats 66” (D66), I know how difficult constitutional, structural and cultural improvements of state (and European) democracy can be. My party had both improving national democracy (example: direct election of the prime minister who would lead the formation of the post-election coalition government) and direct European elections in its 1966 founding manifesto,

As anybody consulting Wikipedia can read, D66 was founded by a coalition of both members of existing parties (including an orthodox Marxist one) and unaffiliated, new citizens who’d become concerned that Dutch politics was stagnating and becoming oligarchic. (From 1963 until 1967, there were three different coalition governments on the basis of the 1963 general election results).

So, I can sympathise with the pride of Chuka Umunna over assembling a similar British party (wanting to renew the existing party democracy, solidly pro-EU feeling; assembled from active party members and concerned unaffiliated citizens) in Change UK.

We entered the Dutch parliament in 1967 with a spectacular 7 seats (of 150) thanks to proportional voting, but struggled to be heard for years.

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Reflections on the Tory Party Revolution – part two

Conservative Party logo
Part 2: from the 1940’s generational change to the growing hostility to Europe
Reading Alan Clark’s history of the Tories 1922-1997 (Phoenix/Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1999), and Alan Sked and Chris Cooks “Post-War Britain” (Penguin, London, 4th. ed., 1993), you see how in 1940-51, while party leader Churchill was concentrating on foreign affairs (winning a war until ’45, then uniting Europe in his “interlocking circles”: Europe, the Commonwealth, and NATO), the other parts of the Tory party reacted to more domestic modernising trends and proposals. (See about Churchill’s priorities: Clark, Tories, p. 321-22; Sked & Cook, Post-War, p. 77-78).

Alongside the “Post-War Problems Central Committee” (PWPCC) formed at Tory party HQ in 1941 under Education Secretary “Rab” Butler, there emerged a progressive “Tory Reform Group” (TRG) of “Young Turks”. Clark says Food minister Lord Woolton (Tory from 1945) was the only Cabinet minister caring about “Post-War Problems”.

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Reflections on the Tory Party Revolution – part one

Conservative Party logoPart 1: From the 2019 Constituency Revolt to the 1846 Corn Law Split, and back

In its April 22th coverage of the Tory Constituency Party leaders’ revolt in demanding an “Extraordinary General Meeting” to shake May’s throne, the BBC inserted the link to its article from August 2018 about how, between the Chequers Cabinet Brexit Agreement and May’s disastrous Tory 2018 Autumn Conference, a Hard Brexit revolt started brewing in the Tory grassroots.

That 2018 article, by BBC researcher Georgia Roberts, referred to the Tory party Conference revolt of 1950, right after the general election that slashed Labours massive majority, when the Tory grassroots “educated the platform” by pushing through the “build 300.000 houses a year”-target for its 1951 election manifesto (whereas the Tory front bench had reacted to Attlee’s nationalization drive by retreating from state direction). That promise turned out to be extremely popular, election-winning (for Churchill, and later Macmillan), and long remembered. Previewing the 2018 Tory Autumn Conference, Roberts wonders if it will see a similar “educating” Brexiteer uprising; it halfway did.

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Dutch opinion poll: Dutch Government coalition supports Second Referendum

For the past few decades, pollster Maurice de Hond (our Professor Curtice) has published his political opinion polls every Sunday. Now that the possibility of a No Deal Brexit looms as of next Friday, it is interesting to see what Dutch political parties think of the present Brexit situation and what should be done.

First of all, there is a broad Dutch consensus, the parliamentary and procedural shenanigans in the Commons since December having convinced many Dutchmen that the structures and culture of British politics are totally wrong for solving existential questions like Brexit-or-Remain. The winner-takes-all mentality instilled by the …

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2012: Under an EU deadline & government collapse, the Dutch parliament grabs the reins Part 2

Read part 1 here:

As Prime Minister Rutte had announced in his press conference on Saturday, when Parliament reconvened on Tuesday, 24th April, his Chancellor (Finance cabinet minister) Jan Cornelis de Jager started doing the rounds with all opposition parties. He was surprised when, arriving in the meeting room of the D66 parliamentary party, he found the leaders and Treasury spokespeople not only of D66, but also of GroenLinks and ChU sitting there to confer with him on a new Dutch budget package for Brussels.  In telephone (and email) rounds on Sunday, and meetings on Monday, the top people of these three parties had hammered out a common set of adjustment proposals to put to the Rutte government. Mr. De Jager played along finding this convenient, but also conferred with all other opposition parties. Dutch Labour (PvdA), back then still a big party in parliament, refused to join the “Kunduz” trio because they thought Netherlands shouldn’t strictly adhere to the 3% GDP norm (Dutch Neokeynesianism was invented by the PvdA in the late 1940’s).

Within two days of furious negotiating, on Thursday April 26th, the coalition government parties VVD and CDA, and the trio D66, GroenLinks and ChU had hammered out the outlines of an adjusted package. Coincidentally they together represented 77 of the 150 Commons seats; another orthodox protestant party SGP, 3 MP’s) joined it, and the “Kunduz Coaltion” or “Spring Agreement” package was agreed by the Second Chamber that evening. It was sent off to Brussels immediately, only just before the EMU/SGP.

The priorities of the three opposition parties shone through in the adjustments made.

D66 got the raising of the state pension age from 65 to 67 years of age (a point we had been hammering away at in opposition from 2007 onwards) and reinstatement of the low VAT tariff for theatrical performances; ChU got cuts on subsidizing palliative care for the dying removed. Being three decidedly internationalist opposition parties, we also got the 0.7% GDP norm for development aid reinstated; and being three just as decidedly green parties, we got green measures inserted (coal-fired electrical power plants started paying coal tax along with all other enterprises; investing in/subsidizing home isolation and durable ways of building houses and edifices). D66 and GroenLinks even got VVD and CDA to start diminishing Mortgage Interest Tax Relief on private home-owners (a sacred cow until then). We had to swallow some other things of course (raising the upper VAT tariff from 19 to 21%; scrapping tax freedom from employee allowances for home-work travel expenses). But we (D66) were proud as Punch that we helped the Netherlands adhere to EMU norms we entered into under the Maastricht Treaty and EMU agreements. ECSC/EEC/EU founder Netherlands remained a faithful member, losing the PVV obstructionists (who since withered in opposition).

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2012: Under an EU deadline & government collapse, the Dutch parliament grabs the reins Part 1

I never in my wildest dreams thought it possible that, after the English Civil War, any English or British parliament would intervene while a government was collapsing (and straining under an EU deadline), grab the reins and impose its preference. But that’s what I’ve just been watching live on the March 25th late BBC News and Newsnight.

It reminded me of the only instance in Dutch politics when, with an EU/EMU deadline looming, the government lost its majority; with the party giving confidence and supply stalking out and staying out, and opposition MP’s saved the day.

In this two-piece article, I’ll explain what happened; I think it goes to show that with responsible opposition parliamentarians involved, parliament taking the initiative from an amputated government can be positive. 

It was 2012, two years into the first (Mark) Rutte government ( with ministers from VVD (car-loving Liberals) and CDA (Christian Democrats), and with Geert Wilders’ PVV giving the support to make up a majority (76 of 150 Commons seats) but without ministers. VVD and CDA had a coalition agreement; PVV supported most of it, but abstained on the foreign bits: (1) Dutch ISAF participation in pacifying Afghanistan (in Kunduz province and (2) European politics: anything remotely related to growing an “ever closer union” as professor Desmond Dinan describes it in his EU history handbooks, starting with EMU. And the PVV got our development aid lowered below the UN norm of 0,7% of GDP.

In 2011, Rutte got the foreign bits of his policy through parliament with the support of D66 (social liberals), GroenLinks (centrist-progressive Greens) and ChU (Orthodox and green protestants); this was afterwards called the (opposition part of the) “Kunduz coalition”.

Being a faithful EMU member in the Greek EMU crisis, and under the EU’s Stability & Growth Pact, the EMU rule book, we had to submit the outlines of our 2013 Dutch budget-package to Brussels and the ECB in Frankfurt by the end of April for clearance: did we adhere to the tough EMU/SGP budgetary norms we were subjecting Greece, Spain and Ireland to?  If we missed the deadline or didn’t adhere to norms, a EMU fine of a billion euros threatened.

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Part 2: Rutte, from Cameron buddy to May’s stern advocate

The liberal Dutch parties VVD and D66 have two distinct identities and historical predecessors. The VVD is more a car-loving, classical-liberal party with, since 1990’s leader Bolkestein, anti-federalist EU instincts, and has less of an environmental record than D66, who premièred gay marriage and are electoral reformers, very similar to the Lib Dems.

Contacts between the Lib Dems and D66 (both social-liberal) are warmer and broader than the VVD-Lib Dems. In Chris Bowers’ biography of Clegg, VVD figures once (p. 104), whereas D66 & Lousewies Vander Laan are on pages  102-3, 104 and 266-7 as Clegg supporters, also in the Coalition.

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May gets blunt Brexit warning from old Dutch ally & EU statesman Rutte: Part I

With the “Bercow Bombshell” (BB), his statement to the house on March 18th, quoting Erskine May’s 1844 anthology of Commons’ customary laws and Standing Orders, that Theresa May can’t have an eternal Groundhog Day rotation resubmitting her Brexit Deal, it has become impossible for May to offer anything new to the EU summit of March 21st.

According to Laura Kuensberg (late BBC evening news, March 18th), that means the EU has no reason to grant May a short prolonging of article 50, making it inevitable that the EU leaders will propose a long prolongation; which would result in a much softer Brexit (the UK having to remain subject to more EU directives, procedures and institutions than under the May deal).

To predict the mood of that EU summit, one can quote the French journalist in Newsnight (March 18th), who indicated that Le Monde, on March 15th, lost hope of May rescuing her deal, saying “let’s get cracking, let’s make a do-able (prolongation) arrangement”. Earlier, Macron said on March 13th that “the solution lies entirely in London”, which must offer a reason for prolongation to make him consider that. The French mood looks unwilling to tolerate any more British “one more heave” pleas for a prolongation; and to start asking concessions.

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May should follow her kindergarten logic

For the past half year (if not longer), Prime Minister Theresa May has, everytime she appeared at the Despatch Box to talk about Brexit (often postponing votes and talking platitudes), told the broad mass of MP’s anxious about getting a No Deal Brexit cliff-jump: “The best way of avoiding a No Deal situation is voting for the deal I’m putting on the table; there is no alternative”.

For the past weeks, she’s been forced by her own party to see if, in the case of the Backstop (which became necessary because of May’s own “red lines”), there could be a slight …

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“No dogs allowed” is back

On the 14th of February, the Dutch Foreign minister was driven to distraction by a big blue Brexit muppet on his desk, impeding him to get anything done (see:https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/feb/14/project-fur-brexit-is-a-big-blue-monster-say-the-dutch ). Only him being bold already, saved him from pulling out his hair. Today, Monday 25th, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte was all over British news media, desperately pleading with the British government to get a Brexit deal through parliament, and thereby avoiding a No Deal Brexit. A no deal Brexit will not only disrupt, nay destroy the British economy, its international traffic of people, medicines and foodstuffs, but will also hit their oldest trans-Channel ally and trading partner: the Netherlands, like a ton of bricks (equaling Napoleons “Continental System”, 1806-13; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continental_System ).

The reasons the Dutch government (fully representing the fears and feelings of its 17 million citizens) makes such a show of its disturbance, annoyance, and grief about the impending chaos Brexit, especially the No Deal variant Rees-Mogg and Boris insist on, will bring, are to be seen from two severe warnings which were also covered by Dutch media today.

On the commercial radio station “Business News Radio” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BNR_Newsradio ), an affiliate of our Financial Times-like daily, chairman Anton Valk of the Dutch-British Chamber of Commerce (NBCC; see http://www.nbcc.co.uk/about-the-nbcc/organisation ) was urging all Dutch enterprises importing anything from Britain, from British companies to urgently look elsewhere for sources of what they’re importing, warning them those imports can be blocked or held up in a No Deal Brexit situation now looming large on the horizon. Needless to say, if the substitute source (in most cases: from inside the EU) proves to be better, its logistics more trustworthy, the British company who was the source, seriously risks losing that contract forever. The eventual delaying of the Brexit Day from 29th of March until say this summer or next year doesn’t diminish the relevance of those warnings one bit; the enduring uncertainty is instead likely to encourage continental importers to seek certainty with EU substitutes to former UK trading partners.

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The Shamima Begum Case: As with Brexit, the Dutch are better prepared for what is coming anyway

As has become a tradition over the past decades, the LibDems and Dutch sister party D66 sing from exactly the same hymn sheet on the subject of taking back “ISIS jihad brides” and their children from the Syrian-Kurdish YPG/SDF prisoner camps they’re housed in at the moment.

And just as usual, the ALDE right wing (in the Netherlands, Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s VVD) is fervently opposed to taking back anybody who has moved to the ISIS Caliphate since 2014, thus bending liberal, judicial and humanist principles to populist kneejerk reactions.

In the Netherlands, Rutte and the VVD know they stand alone (among non-populist, centrist, normal thinking parties) in refusing re-entry; and they know they’re ignoring a special article in the Dutch Constitution. The country of Grotius declares in article 90 of our constitution:

The government stimulates the development of the international rule of law and juridical order.

Scrupulous care for human rights, and the welcome (and where necessary judgment) to “lost sons”, are thus part of what Dutch governments and prime ministers must stand for. And D66 has a traditional attitude of caring about such aspects especially.

In a TV election debate in 2015, VVD leader and (then also) Prime Minister Rutte shocked everybody present by agreeing to the statement: “people travelling to the ISIS Caliphate are better off dying there and shouldn’t be allowed to return”.

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Dutch health & pharmacy sector scrambles:  delivery of 50 vitally crucial medicines and appliances threatened by a No Deal Brexit

People who know about the world market for medical supplies and medicines, basic human necessities in any civilized society, can only agree with Donald Tusk  that many bullhorning Brexiteers never did have a clue how to safely execute Brexit in all its aspects and consequences. 

In her article of 31st January, Caron Lindsay pointed to the growing insecurity around the delivery to British patients and the NHS generally of medicines etcetera imported from the continental EU. But it also disrupts patient security on the continent, and in the Netherlands in a life-threatening way.

On Wednesday 6th February, the Dutch parliament received the second alarming letter in a month from the relevant health minister, Bruno Bruins  about the supply of medicines and appliances like pacemakers certified (for EU use) in the UK. I’m using news items from NOS, our BBC, because it is the headline in all public radio and tv news bulletins today.

A month ago Mr Bruins wrote to parliament, saying that the Netherlands imports around a third (value: 2 billion euros/year from a total of 6,6 billion/year) of all its medicines and appliances from or via the UK; part of those imports are re-exported onwards. NOS quotes him writing that British medical imports are 2700 products (UK being a very big international player) and that Dutch doctors and hospitals use intermediaries and not always are sure where those products come from. He’s asked everybody in the Dutch health system to check where every product comes from and where it was certified for the EU market. If possible, UK producers or providers should be asked to transfer CE certification to the continent, Mr. Bruins wrote to buyers in the Dutch medical sector.

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The ignored nuclear aspects of Brexit

Apart from the power plants, everybody ignored the (trucks with) medical isotopes.

This another two-piece article.

In the first article I talk about the Euratom aspect of the EU, totally ignored in 99% of Brexit campaigns and in present Brexit debates. The aspect of transporting nuclear material for medicinal purposes brings these atomic aspects of the EU very close to everybody’s private lives: the survival of cancer patients

In the second article, I follow on by pointing out that the UK turns out to be the international transport and EU certification hub in the international trade of medicines, medical supplies and appliances. That has a massive impact on the Dutch (and possibly French and German) health system as a whole when a No Deal Brexit occurs.

 As we all know by now, Brexit means a total resetting, readjusting, if not disruption of European-UK ties and supply chains build up in centuries, but especially since Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher (but NOT duplicitous Wilson and NOT Corbyn) led the way in making Britain a member of the EEC and Euratom. 

For example: I give a bottle of champagne to anybody who can point to a substantial (part of a) Brexiteers speech about maintaining (and paying only from the British budget) a safe and secure, that is: Euratom-like safety regime around the British civilian nuclear infrastructure (both the existing power plants and reactors, and those presently being build and/or abandoned by their foreign sponsors). 

But another ignored aspect deals with  the just-in-time transport of nuclear items for medicinal purposes. 

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Dutch ambassador flabbergasted by antique ICT used by HM Customs during Brexit

A recent interview with the Dutch ambassador in London shows precisely why the Dutch, usually a sober, very anglophile people, watch the London political scene(s) with horror, astonishment, and deep pity for the ordinary people who end up holding the bag of Brexit. Rich public schoolboys like Rees-Mogg and Boris won’t suffer from their overseas investments (NOT in Britain!), but neither do they seem to really care about the millions of people in rust belt and abandoned regions of the UK who voted for Brexit as a desperate cry for help, more than out of national pride, or Johnsons ideological hatred of Brussels. The action group “Led by donkeys” (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jan/16/billboard-campaign-reminds-voters-of-mps-brexit-promises ) with its Twitter-poster campaign confirms the worst fears of Dutch Brexit watchers of who is leading the Brexit charge of the light brigade, with scant facts supporting their empty, false promises up to this day.

In an  interview in the national newspaper Algemeen Dagblad (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algemeen_Dagblad ), of Monday 4th of February,  the Dutch ambassador in London, Mr Simon Smits, told about the voyage aboard a Dutch freight truck from Schiphol (Amsterdam) airport to Heathrow, and a working visit to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), he’d recently made to see for himself how prepared Dutch and British truckers, their customs, authorities and others involved in keeping transport rolling are in these Brexit times (see: https://www.ad.nl/politiek/onze-enige-zekerheid-is-onzekerheid~affc3a40/ ). Today, with Britain in the EU, the trip went as smoothly as could be expected, but ambassador Smits was flabbergasted that HMRC still runs the MS-DOS software in its computers. The only advantage ambassador Smits could see was that present-day hackers would be flummoxed by this antediluvian software from the 1980s/’90s, but this badly needs an update before Brexit is upon us. As I remember it, you need to insert first a start-up floppy disc, then a “system” floppy, and finally the “text” floppy in a computer to work that system; very time consuming with thousands of trucks, containers or passengers awaiting handling. Moreover, if it breaks down the recovery takes more time too. It reminded me of the outcry when the newest British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elisabeth was shown to run the somewhat more recent Windows XP software (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/27/hms-queen-elizabeth-running-outdated-windows-xp-software-raising/ ). A centuries-old trading nation running this outdated, vulnerable software in a strategic border (and state income) service in the 21st century… unbelievable.

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Part 2: Present consumer price hikes and the environmental cleanup.

There are similarities between what happened in 2016-’19 in Britain and the Netherlands both in economics and politics and in the people’s perception and polling reaction.

In 2016-’17 the EMU (including us Dutch) was crawling out of the banking and Euro crisis, and Britain was relieved that the Kladderadatsch announced during the EU referendum campaign didn’t materialise substantially. But while the economy recovered (Holland) or stayed even (Britain), people saw that their buying power flatlining, while trusted big high street store chains (V&D here, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V%26D, dozens in Britain) collapsed, and while big problems in health care (caring at home …

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Part 1 (of 2): The “Dunkirk” myth, and Andrew Marr’s facts about that

This is a two-article set; the first looking at the real “Dunkirk” mentality in 1940-’45 up to 1954; the second at Dutch and British present-day politics.

My first point is: no-one can use opinion polls in proving that the “Dunkirk Spirit” about “surviving without flinching” structural shortages, even: rationing, of daily necessities like fresh “fruit and veg”, medicine, etcetera, was as widespread or as solid in 1940-’44 as the postwar legend has it. Opinion polls were a new thing; the first big Gallup polls in British politics and society only started being conducted from 1944-’45 onwards (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_poll ). Moreover, …

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Dutch Parliamentary Brexit-watchers roundly condemn flippancy towards British people

As everybody reading the excellent study of history since Caesar’s times of the North Sea trade by Oxford historian and former BBC journalist Michael Pye, “The Edge of the World: How the North Sea made us what we are” can attest, the trade relations between the British/English and the Dutch (Frisians) Celtic tribes was the beginning of 20 centuries of close economic and ethnic ties. The DNA of inhabitants of areas from Kent to York is indistinguishable from that of people living in Friesland and Holland in the Netherlands; and Frisian is halfway the English and Dutch language. Migration and trade in wool, cloth, grain, herring, etc., been going on, even when Napoleon didn’t want it to (1803-1813); John Locke wrote important (Liberal) books seeking shelter here.

Ever since the 4th Anglo-Dutch war (1780-’84), the Dutch have recognised the British as their senior and vital partner in those economic and cultural relations; and the Dutch pressed general De Gaulle to admit England in the EEC for those same reasons.

But one aspect of how the Dutch see the British people and British politics has been fundamentally changed by the way the UK has been handling the Brexit problem, from the Referendum campaign in spring 2016 to the present day. That can be concluded by what 3 of the 4 official “Brexit Watching delegates” of the Dutch parliament said on Dutch public radio on Wednesday, 14th of January 2019; coincidentally those 3 were from parties of the present Dutch government coalition, so important advisors of both parliament and government.

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Desperate Brexiteers try to pick and choose

According to The Independent, during the second instalment of the Brexit ‘Meaningful vote’ debate, Downing Street has agreed to let the Commons pick and choose around the crucial Backstop articles in the agreement Theresa May and Brussels reached. The agreement is legally binding, an official agreement or treaty between London and the EU.

On the Institute of Government website last December, former IoG expert Simon Hogarth said such an option could mean Downing Street violating its international obligations it freely entered into. That’s what the Hugo Swire Amendment is proposing.

If the Brexiteers in Downing Street or the Commons think this is going to wash in international politics, they are completely bonkers and political ignoramuses.

The Dutch know from bitter experience how swift, tough and compelling the international reaction will be if any country, Great Britain or small Netherlands, tries to opportunistically tinker with such a legally binding international agreement.

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Love, actually

A message to Theresa May & all Britons on Brexit

Here is a video column from the D66 (Dutch Social-Liberal, pro-European sister party), featuring Kees Verhoeven, our MP for European Affairs.

Hope you enjoy!

https://twitter.com/D66/status/1072408573475463168

#makelovedontBrexit

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Party Leadership change at D66: Veteran Pechtold hands over to young talent Jetten

The coalition government has always been difficult for Dutch social liberals; but that never discouraged us from taking responsibility in the national interest. Both the VDB of the years 1901-1946 and my party D66 (founded 1966) have suffered electoral losses because they participated in coalition governments (and Dutch politics always have those), limiting their ability to build profiles on all possible subjects.

Another similarity is that the VDB was the first in the 1930’s to attack principle the pro-Nazi party NSB, and under the party leadership of Alexander Pechtold (2006-2018; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Pechtold ) we were and are the first, and the most insistent and principal attacker of both islamophobe Geert Wilders and Jared Taylor-racism adept Thierry Baudet (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thierry_Baudet ).

In 2003-’06 we suffered in a coalition with VVD and CDA (they used opposition Populist MP’s to press rightist measures) resulting in significant losses (locally and nationally) in 2006. Former cabinet minister Pechtold became party leader and re-energised and professionalised our party organisation. He attacked Wilders and tried to get necessary but unpopular measures (raising the state pension age; environmentalism; Europeanism) through parliament. These activities resulted in a spectacular resurrection of D66 (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democrats_66 ) from then on.

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Steve Bannon builds “Dad’s Army”-brigade for Farage-type Europhobes

The ever-valiant editors of Liberator magazine, who make the Lib Dem glee club sing from the same sheet, have just published a guide to discern all the opinionmakers, leaders and groups in the Brexiteer and Europhobe bubble. And according to the European edition of Politico Magazine, Steve Bannon, the beast from Breitbart, is assembling what could be called the “Dad’s Army” of Eurosceptics and Europhobes discarded by their own groups, or whose sell-by date has long expired.

Using Breitbart as his platform, Bannon had (in the years 2012-16) assembled an assortment of rightwing, libertarian, neonazi and other extremist splinters, and used frequent interviews with tycoon Donald Trump to attract Trumpian voters to get them in touch with those ideas, to solidify their prejudices and their hate of mainstream, fact-loving media. 

Now that Trump has fired him, and Robert  Mercer has banned him from Breitbart , Bannon is trying to repeat what he did to rightwing fringe America; but according to Politico he isn’t having as much luck as he had with Trump.

Like most political currents, Populism and Euroscepticism have to go through an initial phase of competing opinionmakers, theorists and loudmouth demagogues; but the jingoism and preference for “strongman politics” (a leader, statesman able to make sweeping structural changes in a national political culture an – debate), means that the phase of competing schools inside Populism and Euroscepticism endures longer. Populists in one country prefer homegrown leaders, not from neighboring countries, let alone the US.

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Two young Dutch politicians: one substantial, alert to the times, the other unadulterated narcissism

Even with Trump handling his twitter account each morning, there isn’t much happening in politics this summer. As usual, that makes appearances and utterances by politicians stand out more; and two of those in the Netherlands symbolize the contrast in western politics nowadays.

 I’m talking about what two blackhaired young Dutch politicians published recently. The flamboyant conservative-populist Thierry Baudet  published a remarkable photo on Instagram; while the Oxford-educated Churchill biographer and convinced European Felix Klos, presently speechwriter for D66 party leader Alexander Pechtold  emphatically launched his candidacy for D66 top candidate for the European Parliament.

 The Dutch public has grown accustomed to the Milo Yiannopoulos-like  stunts and utterances of Baudet, who led his rightwing populist “Forum voor Democracy”  with 2 out of 150 seats into Dutch parliament in 2017, but his summer surprise raised a few eyebrows, even in his rightwing populist clique and claque. From an unknown holiday resort, he put a photo of himself on Instagram  lying down stark naked near some water, one hand covering his private parts, with just the words “release and reload” as subtext. This unleashed a storm of parodies on twitter; someone inserted Baudet as the body (of an executed killer) in the painting “Anatomy lesson of Dr. Tulp” by Rembrandt.  But even the rightwing populist weblog “Dagelijkse Standaard” (dayly standard) commented that they hoped Baudet would stop publishing this sort of thing and return to real politics.

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Pro-Jewish demonstrators harassed at Dutch Labour event hosting Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn was the main speaker at a “Fair Tax Event” organised by PvdA (the Dutch Labour Party) in The Hague on Thursday 6th of July, the last day before the Dutch parliament went into its summer recess.

The event was a clear attempt by PvdA to regain some leftist credentials and kudos, after most Labour voters and supported have concluded that PvdA, in its “two big parties” coalition (2012-’17) with Mark Rutte’s VVD (NatLib; car-owner liberals), had abandoned those credentials and all its anti-VVD election rhetoric, in order to overcome the EMU Greek crisis and the EU migration crisis …

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The D66 version of Priestley’s “An Inspector Calls” in Brexit Days

Today, Dutch VVD (NatLib; car driver-liberal) prime minister Mark Rutte, the only statesman who while visiting Donald Trump in his Oval Office dared interrupt a Trump rant against the EU during the press & photo-op moment, is receiving British Prime Minister Theresa May in the garden of the Catshuis, the The Hague meeting point and residence of Dutch coalition cabinets.

At the same time, D66, the Dutch version of the Lib Dem Social Liberals, is publishing a Facebook video of the visit Kees Verhoeven MP, our EU/Brexit and ICT/Privacy parliamentary spokesman, recently made to the doorstep of Downing Street 10; another coalition residence (since 2010 and 2017…).

Like a famous Bob Dylan video, Kees has a stack of large pieces of paper in his hands, which while he peels away one paper at a time, form a clear message from Dutch Remain supporters of al hues (but most of all: us D66 activists) to Mrs May, her squabbling Cabinet (including Heathrow Commons vote deserters), and Brexiteers everywhere, including those being investigated by the FBI Special Counsel for illegal Putin-Trump connections and Cambridge Analytica Fake News manipulation.

Like the bookseller said to Saint Augustine: “Tolle, Lege”; read and take on board, take with you as you continue on your way…

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What a start of a new coalition! D66 both the biggest (Dutch) progressive and the biggest Liberal party

In my previous postings about the D66 contribution on entering the new Dutch coalition government (here and here), I noted that D66 surprised everybody in Dutch politics by being able to have some profiling, and indubitably progressive programmatic points in the coalition agreement. Also, D66 was the main provider of women (cabinet) ministers; and they are highly qualified women politicians!

A brief “tableau de la troupe” of the new Dutch government…

It consists of two Liberal parties: the progressive, pro-European D66 and the more eurosceptical, car-owner oriented VVD (with prime minister Mark Rutte); and two Christian Democrat …

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“Once more into the breach, my friends!” D66 Delivers On Its Feminist Social-Liberal Tradition in the New Dutch Coalition

Part 2 (of 2): The people in the Dutch coalition: strong D66 women

For me the proudest D66 boast about the new Dutch coalition is that, where all four coalition parties said having more women in government is important, D66 with its social liberal feminist tradition dating from Aletta Jacobs and her British suffragist friends (see my earlier posting about her and Millicent Fawcett) actually delivered on this: with three female and one male Cabinet ministers, and with one male and one female minister, we have the highest proportion of women, and deliver the bulk of the female Cabinet ministers.

And they are not only there because of their gender; they’re quality persons, and we present the first lesbian vice prime minister in Dutch history (married, because D66 introduced gay marriage to the world). Let me give brief descriptions on their expertise and working past:

*) Kajsa Ollongren worked at the top in the Dutch prime minister’s department before becoming alderman and deputy mayor of Amsterdam. She put herself forward for parliament in 2006 when D66 went through an electoral nadir (after an unhappy time in a right-wing coalition), and in Amsterdam she got transnational platforms like Uber and AirBnB to respect the wishes of the local population and put limits on their operation. She is Home Secretary and vice prime minister. In her departmental days she and prime minister Rutte got along famously.

*) Sigrid Kaag who evolved from a British-educated (universities of Exeter and Oxford, and Cairo) Dutch top diplomat to a high-flying UN manager, negotiator and mediator, leading the UN chemical disarmament operation around the Syrian Assad dictatorship. She is Cabinet minister for Development Aid and International Trade, combining the humanitarian D66 instincts with hard-nosed practical experience.

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“Once more into the breach, my friends!” D66 delivers on its Environmental, Education and Feminist Social-Liberal Tradition in the New Dutch Coalition

Part 1 (of 2): The coalition agreement: many D66 issues, initiatives

Due to the fragmented party-political parliament which resulted from the Dutch general elections this spring, forming a coalition was always going to be a difficult process. Setting aside populist protest parties like Geert Wilders’ PVV, people expected the political center (from center-left to center-right) to play an active role in building a workable coalition. The only exception was about the PvdA (Dutch Labour party): because they lost disastrously after having been the junior party in a two-party government (led by Mark Rutte, leader of the VVD, and “Green-Right” ally of …

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    Geoff Tordoff was Chair of the Liberal Party when I was first elected to the National Executive Committee in 1979. He was an outstanding Liberal...
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    David is so right about the urgent need for increased spending on social care. The cutbacks may even have contributed to a fall in life...
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    1st August is the date.
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    You could not publish articles like this in a newspaper. If they were printed the publishers would be in trouble. The same law should apply...