Author Archives: Richard Flowers

Entitled Isn’t Exceptional: Why Brexit Will Fail, part 4

For readers joining this series late, here are parts one, two and three

So far this week, I’ve discussed the lies and indecision at the heart of Brexit that make it impossible for Johnson to deliver on any of the grand promises he makes.

The biggest lie of all is British Exceptionalism, the lie that we tell ourselves that Britain is somehow special, because of our history, because of the Empire, because of the ubiquity of our language, because of the “special relationship”. The dangerous delusion of “Empire 2.0”.

Johnson in particular, refers to Britain in towering, cod-Churchillian terms, forgetting …

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The Singapore Delusion: Why Brexit Will Fail, part 3

In this third part of the series (part one is here, and part two here), Richard looks at the Singapore-on-Thames concept…

Singapore has seen extraordinary levels of growth over the last decades.

Where Western countries have long-term average growth rates in GDP per capita of around 2% a year, Singapore saw nearly a decade of real gdp growth of 12.7% per year from 1965-1973.

Who could not want that, the average citizen seeing their income double every six years, above inflation. Even the worst off would see substantial increases in income, services, wellbeing…

But the idea that a mature economy like the …

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Decision Impossible: Why Brexit Will Fail, part 2

Yesterday, in part 1, Richard looked at the issue of trust. Today, his attention turns to the internal contradictions of Brexit…

Brexit is going to fail. We know that.

That doesn’t mean that the Quitter side isn’t going to be able to take Britain out of the EU. Although the internal contradictions have been a big part of what has kept us in – and way past first Mrs May’s leaving date and now Boris Johnson’s leaving date, both of which were set in stone, both of which went past without us leaving – we have to face the possibility that if the Tories win, or possibly even if Labour win the 2019 General Election, we will finally leave the EU, either in January 2020 or later.

But we can be sure that the promises made by the supporters of Leave and the Vote Leave campaign will not, cannot be fulfilled.

Because to govern is to choose, but the heart of Brexit is a refusal to make the difficult choices over what Brexit Britain wants.

Some three-and-a-half years after the Referendum campaign there is still no clear consensus on what Brexit actually means. The fatuous slogans “Brexit Means Brexit” and “Get Brexit Done” cover up this key indecision at the heart of Britain’s government and the Leave movement itself.

While there are almost as many Brexits are there were voters, with Vote Leave’s Cambridge-Analytica-driven campaign customising a Brexit to virtually each voter, it’s clear that among them are three big strands:

  • First, the Faragist “no immigrants” Brexit.
  • Second, the sovereignty-first “take back control of our laws” Brexit.
  • And third, the deregulate everything economy Brexit (often linked with the “no deal” or “World Trade Organisation Terms” brands, although those things do not necessarily lead to deregulation).

It ought to be obvious at a glance that these three are all incompatible. We cannot deregulate and at the same time highly regulate our migration. We cannot take charge of our own laws and at the same time sign away sovereignty to the WTO or to Trump in a UK-US free trade deal.

To avoid this contradiction, government and Leave spokespeople pick one and pretend all Brexit is about their one. The media complicity in this, by setting any “debate” between Remain and one-at-a-time versions of Brexit, has left Remainers struggling to land consistent blows when fighting this many-headed hydra of a Brexit.

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A Certain Economy with the Truth: Why Brexit Will Fail, part 1

It is a true maxim that cheats never prosper. Boris Johnson and the Tory Party have lied and cheated, and in the short term it has won them the keys to 10 Downing Street. It may even win them an election. But in the long term it spells ruin for all of us. Here’s why.

Brexit is toxic to even steady growth in the economy.

Economic growth rests on three things: optimism, stability and trust.

People need optimism to believe that they will get something back from the work or cash that they put into any investment.

People need stability in order to predict whether what they put in over time will pay back the cost, in hours or money, of putting in the effort.

And they need to trust that what they are told about the situation is true, that the rules are not going to be changed arbitrarily on them, and that they are on a fair playing field, that some other people are not going to suddenly be given the profits that they have worked for.

Brexit is not an optimistic ideology. It is made of nostalgia and fear of change. A desire to turn the clock back to a time that never was is not the dynamism that you need to create opportunity for the new.

Boris Johnson himself may have optimism in spades (or may not; often, when challenged, he appears to be faking it), but no one at all trusts him. Twice in the election debates he has raised the idea of trust in his government and twice audiences have literally laughed in his face.

Brexit is built out of lies. From that bloody bus; via the disingenuous all-Brexits-to-all-people approach that short-term winning was more important than telling people true what they intended; through the use of “othering” minorities, blaming migration, breeding hate-crimes but also dividing the country; and up to lying to the Queen and refusing to publish the report into Russian interference.

That consistent lack of trust, that attitude of looking backwards not to the future fundamentally undermines our economy.

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We should demand free speech but use it with kindness

Free speech is important to us as Liberals. So much so we made it a fundamental human right. The freedom to exchange ideas and challenge orthodoxy is what leads to new radical plans to make a better future. Without debate we have dictatorship, literally by dictation. 

And yet, often we choose to limit how freely we use our speech. Classically, this is put as the “Does free speech include demanding the right to shout ‘fire!’ in a crowded theatre?” question.

A modern way of putting that, which we seem to be seeing appear quite a lot, looks to be: “Does free speech include demanding the right to compare the government of Israel to the Nazis?”

To which my answer is: “I will not stop you saying that. But you could perhaps choose not to.”

Many members of the Jewish community in the UK are living in a state of increased fear caused in no small part by the actions of a tiny but noisy number of Labour Party members (and former members) and the inactions of the Labour leadership.

I would like to think we can do better than that.

For a lot of Jewish people the idea of “Israel” is so much deeper than merely a specific geographic place – it is an expression of Jewish and religious identity, and goes to the heart of their sense of self and family and community. It is impossible to describe just how hurtful, wounding and cruel it is to link that idea of self to the Nazi Holocaust that was in large part about exterminating that identity. We just should not do it.

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A candidate’s tale: Part 2

Today Richard continues his account of his campaign in Macclesfield in the General Election. You can read Part 1 here.

We planned a campaign to make maximum use of social media – the leafleting of the 21st Century. (Don’t worry. We had plenty of leaflets too!)

Having practiced our high-visibility public-facing events – canvassing and hustings – we captured them in photos and posted through Facebook and Twitter, so people could see we were out there talking to the voters, taking the campaign seriously. A weekend’s events could be spread …

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A candidate’s tale: Part 1

I was the Liberal Democrat candidate for Macclesfield in Cheshire at the June General Election.

Six weeks earlier, after Theresa May’s as-it-turned-out vainglorious decision to go to the country, Macclesfield Liberal Democrats had found themselves in need of a candidate. And I answered the call.

The last time Macclesfield elected a Liberal was William Brocklehurst (junior) in 1910, and for the last 100 years they have returned only Conservatives (or Unionists) to Westminster. Alas, I was not able to celebrate William’s centenary by retaking the seat.

But I did hold on to the lion share of our vote from two years ago, and held on to our deposit, in the face of a fierce squeeze from Labour backed up by the tactical voting sites and some pretty underhand use of questionable numbers.

And, in spite of being in safe Tory territory, I never felt it was a no-hope seat.

In fact, I remain convinced that a seat like Macclesfield is winnable by a Liberal candidate. Maybe more in five to ten years than five to ten weeks. Where the Tory MP gets 53% of the vote this time, same as last time, Labour’s surge mopping up UKIP votes isn’t ever going to be enough. To reach into that 53%, you need to put together a coalition that picks up not just the moderate Labour voters, but the centrist, Remain-inclined Conservatives too along with the core Liberal vote. And only a Lib Dem is going to do that.

I was incredibly lucky to have a local party who were full of enthusiasm, fired up to resist Brexit, absolutely certain that our message was the right one for Macclesfield – which it is. On top of that, we had a team full of the talents we needed: organising people; organising logistics; designing literature; running social media. No one expected us to be much more than a paper candidacy, but we were determined to be as much more than that as we could manage.

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A Liberal Path Towards a Basic Income

Is the Basic Income an idea whose time has come?” asked Caron, back in February and it seems now that two-thirds of the British public agree.

The advantages seem to speak for themselves: a universal cash payment from the government, means that no one needs to starve, no one is trapped in a bad work situation, and perhaps most important from a Liberal point of view, puts the choices in the hands of the recipient not leaving them beholden to the generosity of the government.

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Liberal Democrats for Free Trade

Vince Cable at Social Liberal Forum conference 19th July 2014 - photo by Paul Walter

In my view, trade benefits all countries. It spreads technology and good practice; it stimulates competition and rejuvenates economies.

Vince Cable, less than six months after being appointed Business Secretary, said that back in 2010 as he welcomed the EU-South Korea trade agreement.

Liberal Democrats should loud and proud make the case for Free Trade.

It ought to be inconceivable that we have to have this argument again.

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A Liberal Democrat Economy Group

Tim’s talking about the economy. And it’s great.

With George Osborne building an economy to benefit big business and Mr Corbyn swerving Labour towards “big state” nationalisations, there’s a clear big gap for the Liberal Democrats to be the Party of Britain’s creative talents, home-grown entrepreneurs and innovators, the self-employed and small business owners.

But we need to go further.

It’s increasingly urgent that Lib Dems present a distinctive economic agenda to underpin our social and liberal plans.

So the Party needs a new (possibly unofficial) Liberal Democrat group to raise awareness and to promote what the Liberal Economy means.

(That is a group about the Liberal Economy to be quite distinct from “Economic Liberals”, or for that matter Social Liberals, accepting input from either side or neither.)

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Please can we stop raising tax out of people’s pensions?

Reading my Spring Conference papers, I saw with interest the motion F7 “Making Tax Fairer”. Would we be doing something to simplify Britain’s massively over-complicated tax system, I thought? Might we be proposing something really radical like linking the personal allowance to the minimum wage or something to address the way people earning much less than the 50% top rate of £150,000 can pay much higher effective rates of tax, more than 50% – sometimes more than 60% – because of withdrawal of tax credits and then Labour’s inequitable withdrawal of the personal allowance?

No, I’m afraid we’re not doing any of those things..

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Opinion: Mike Hancock has grave concerns for a gay constituent facing deportation to Uganda

Robert Segwanyi is a gay man from Uganda. Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda, and Robert was imprisoned and, he says, tortured because he is gay.

In June last year, he escaped and fled to Britain.

Now the UK Border Agency want to send him back.

UKBA does not accept he is gay and a judge rejected his appeal claiming that there is no risk to gay people in Uganda.

This is what Amnesty International said about Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Laws:

Both the current law and the proposed new law violate a number of human rights including the rights to equality and non-discrimination, privacy, liberty and

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Opinion: Nick Clegg in the Guardian Media 100

Leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has been named number 20 in the Guardian “Media 100” list of the most powerful figures in the media, making him the second highest ranking politician (coming in below only the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who was at 13).

In a list that is clearly overshadowed by the News of the World phone hacking (note Lord Justice Leveson‘s abrupt promotion to the top ten, and Tom Watson‘s appearance on the list at 45, apparently the highest placed Labour politician, for his dogged work pursuing the scandal) this …

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Opinion: Nick Clegg should call for an independent inquiry into phone hacking

Yesterday, Nick Clegg called the phone hacking allegations “Grotesque” and “beneath contempt”. Today, he needs to tell the Prime Minister self-regulation by News International has failed and it is time for an independent judicial inquiry.

As Liberals, our first position has to be protection of the individual from an over-mighty vested interest. It is clear that individuals within News International in particular and the wider press in general have taken the power of the free media and abused it. That needs to be stopped.

If we cannot appeal to the Prime Minister’s moral values, we can at least appeal to his …

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The Myth of “Strong” Government

As their hopes recede of using our broken voting system to secure a majority government on a minority of support in the country, the Party most set against reform, the Conservatives, and their media proxies begin to reel out the scare stories.

Lib Dem rules could paralyse government,” warned the Scotsman

Paralysis, indecision and political chicanery,” were the fear of the Daily Mail’s full page editorial.

The IMF could have to be called in,” thundered Ken Clarke!

Far from making a positive case to earn your vote, they resort to the desperate tactics of …

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Every single Lib Dem vote is a vote for change

There are only EVER two stories in an election: CHANGE or MORE OF THE SAME.

The BIG difference that Nick Clegg’s acknowledged win in the Leader’s Debate has made is that many people now realise that while the Labservatives are more of the same old sleaze and spin, EVERY vote for a Liberal Democrat is a VOTE FOR CHANGE.

I’ll say that again:

EVERY SINGLE VOTE FOR A LIBERAL DEMOCRAT IS A VOTE FOR CHANGE.

This may just be the ONE election under our corrupt and broken electoral system where EVERY VOTE COUNTS.

Here’s why:

If you vote for Liberal Democrats you GET Liberal Democrats –

    These

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The ‘Digital Economy Bill Saints’: the MPs who voted against Labour’s internet freedom clampdown #DEbill

The House of Commons voted last night to push through Labour’s latest bit of legislative authoritarianism, the Digital Economy Bill. The Lib Dems were united in opposing it, but Labour brooked no opposition, while the Tories supported it with vague words of change, later, maybe. The Bill was passed by 189 votes to 47.

Alix Mortimer has tallied the scores of how the parties voted:

Of the 189 Aye votes, I make it 185 Labour and 4 Conservatives. Plus the two tellers were Labour.

Of the 47 Noe votes, I make it 23 Labour rebels, 16 Lib Dems, 5 Conservatives and 3 others (DUP, PC, Ind). Plus the two tellers were Lib Dem.

In total 240 MPs took part in the vote: 98% of MPs who voted for the Digital Economy Bill were Labour MPs.

The opposition to the Bill comprised 49 MPs (including the two tellers). As a percentage of the major parties’ representation in the House of Commons that means:

  • 29% of all Lib Dem MPs voted against the Bill (100% of those present);
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