Let’s fix this country first

I have thought for a while that Brexit is not just about Brexit. Leaving the EU is only a step on the way for fundamental Brexiters to get what they want, which is to turn Britain into a neoliberal paradise – Singapore on Thames is exactly what they want. That being the case, populism is not going to disappear, because it is still the primary tool for securing that end. Farage has already switched from Brexit to covid: he is adept at latching on to anything that stokes resentment, and we will continue to see the politics of resentment at high intensity for years to come.

For that reason, I think Nick Tolhurst here:

is right about future prospects but wrong about strategy. I’m coming to think more and more that figuring out how to rejoin the EU is the wrong focus, for two reasons. The first is that the populists will use it against us very successfully: it will actually do us more harm than good. The second is that if we are to be acceptable as renewed members of the EU we have to fix this country first. We have massive problems – the voting system which denies power to people, the Parliamentary system which denies power to MPs, the media system which allows newspapers to tell lies without consequence, the tax system which allows rich people to find all sorts of ways to protect “their” money, the economic system which promotes inequality (and inequality kills, as we are seeing ever more with Covid), etc, etc, etc.

This is a long term struggle. (The Brexiters have spent forty years refusing to accept the result of the 1975 referendum and plotting for this moment.) In some ways we should view it like a military campaign. Don’t fight battles you can’t win – if we focus on re-entry to the EU now, we will not win that battle, we will merely give strength to our enemies. And secondly, you don’t just slam in and fight a battle when it is offered, you first shape the battlefield – you organise your army, you build up supplies, you send small elements to nibble away at your enemies’ strength, you pick when and where you are going to fight. That takes a great deal of organisation and preparation. And you always start with what you have now, not with what you wish you had, So we start with this country, here and now – it’s rotten voting system, its rotten economic system, its rotten political system, its rotten culture which promotes argument over conversation.

So my feeling is we should work on our internal problems, which is a massive job in itself, and let the gravitational pull of the EU gradually repair our relationship to the point where we can begin again to talk realistically about our integrated future.

I end with a titbit: a very interesting thread by German historian Helene von Bismarck on why Brexit does not signal the end of populism
here:

* Rob Parsons is a Lib Dem member in Lewes. He blogs at http://acomfortableplace.blogspot.co.uk

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55 Comments

  • Helen Dudden 2nd Jan '21 - 9:47am

    I would like to see a healthier Health System.
    Today, I hear operating theatres are to be used as wards. I thought these were sterile environments, used for a purpose.
    The volunteer, retired, former health workers, who wished to return, but the paperwork was simply overwhelming.
    Paediatric wards being used for Covid.
    If, I was an MP, my idea would be a little different. There has been enough wasted time and funding on going no where projects, inappropriate use of tax payers money.
    The Nightingale Hospitals, Florence Nightingale, did show how it was many years ago. She was passionate and dedicated.
    Prince Charles, is writing today on the lack of cancer treatment, someone has too.
    For years, our NHS has struggled under constant cuts, and a top heavy management. The Hospital Matron was a force to be reckoned with, one thought for the future.
    My wish for the New Year, a better Health Service, without the constant interference from those in the same mind as Jeremy Hunt, a service that has respect for its adequate staff. A new approach for the future.

  • Antony Watts 2nd Jan '21 - 10:24am

    “In principle”, is the way. “In principle” we would be better off, as we have been, as members of the European Union.

    Let’s get that straight

    However you are right, this is not today’s issue. We must overcome the nasty “individualism and nationalism” of our society. No doubt a Tory ideal. But not a people ideal.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Jan '21 - 10:36am

    @ Rob Parsons,

    If you do manage to “fix this country” why would anyone want to risk ‘unfixing’ it by making any kind of drastic and fundamental changes? Like re-joining the EU.

    The other approach is to copy the ultra left’s “revolutionary defeatism”. You actively seek to make things worse so that you might later get what you want. Like that’s ever going to work!

    So, yes, your best prospects of electoral success are to stop harping on about the EU and working to make the new arrangements work as well as possible and stop what you might term Singapore-on-Thames. Having said that, the real Singapore is more socialist, or at least State Capitalist, in practice than many on the political right here would like. I don’t expect them to want to follow that model.

    But don’t think it will lead to what you want. The EU will either have broken up in ten years time or it will be well on the way to a United States of Europe. That’s the only viable model and many in the EU like Guy Verhofstadt and Emmanuel Macron are fully aware of that. Rejoining won’t mean we’ll be offered anything like the terms we had before.

    If the PTB in the EU have any sense, which I do admit to doubting from time to time, they won’t want us back anyway!

  • The point about parking the EU membership question for a while and concentrating on explaining how we would improve the country is well made. However in our analysis we need to be accurate.

    There were two distinct visions of the future in different parts of the Leave movement, tied by an unspoken marriage of convenience.

    (1) An economically liberal internationally minded, stream, welcoming high calibre immigrants, accurately described as “Singapore on Thames.” Two examples of proponents are Daniel Hannan and Rishi Sunak. See the book “Britannia Unchained” for the ideology.

    (2) A populist movement wanting to shut out the world, xenophobic, nostalgic for the 1950’s, wanting more state spending and ramparts against foreign competition. I would put Nigel Farage in this camp. They want similar policies to the French National Rally nee National Front, Hungary’s Fidesz, or Polands Law and Justice Party.

    Loose language describing the “Singapore on Thames” people as populist is simply inaccurate. Such group (1) people are happy to use language that gains support from group (2) when it suits them, but group (1) policies are not populist policies.

  • Most Lib Dems have no idea why so many people voted for Brexit. They like to imagine that all who voted to leave were either stupid, evil or gullible. They also have no idea why so many did not wish to remain in the EU. Until the party members understand these things, the party will just keep going round in circles chanting the same old beliefs.

    Understanding these things will not necessarily change your views but they will inform you. As you formulate future party policy it will help you to understand why people see more opportunities outside of the EU and why they did not wish to remain inside the EU. The voters had to weigh up these matters against the powerfully presented risks of Project Fear yet they still voted to leave.

    Many Lib Dems have not yet accepted that reality. Until they face up to it and try to understand it there is no way forward.

  • Alex Macfie 2nd Jan '21 - 11:51am

    “individualism and nationalism” that’s a contradiction in terms! Anyway the philosophy of these right-wing Brexiters is not “individualism”, as the term means focusing on people as individuals, whoever they are. The only individuals that matter to them are the ones who conform to the way they think individuals should behave. It’s a divisive, authoritarian collectivist politics that focuses on conformity and discourages individuality.

  • Nonconformistradical 2nd Jan '21 - 12:02pm

    @Helen Dudden
    “I would like to see a healthier Health System…..”
    So would I but how would you go about fixing the problems on a long-term basis without first addressing the political problems which are our country’s very own problems – no-one elses?

    Because it seems to me that without fixing those problems first our electoral system is likely to continue resulting in wild swings between major parties, one of which might be expected to put more resources into the NHS (maybe not necessarily better targetted..?) and then the oother one comes in and undoes it all again?

  • Rob, I voted to Leave, but I have no idea what a neoliberal paradise is or why you think that I want one. Please can someone explain?

  • Barry Lofty 2nd Jan '21 - 12:21pm

    I think I know why people voted to leave the EU and also think they were misguided and misinformed but only time will prove who was right or wrong!!

  • Helen Dudden 2nd Jan '21 - 12:41pm

    Nonconformistradical. I think this is the challenge, how do things move forward?
    When, you have a government that can do as it wishes, make medical treatment a non subject, and treat the people with little value.
    I find it heart breaking, that patients are being put through so much trauma.
    Firstly, we have to stop cronyism, creeping into easy money making. At present, there is no come back to those involved. Wait, until the ballot box, is not the answer. Accountability, has to become part of society.
    Massive problems with housing, debt increases within renting. What happens about mortgages?
    Politics, has to be approachable, this is why we are in this situation. Johnson, relies on those who do not follow the rules.
    With school closures who is responsible for key workers children? Another thought. These children are getting stressed. My little granddaughter, was crying with bad dreams. Mim is just one child, but I see and understand the failings. Mental Health, is not just a set age group.
    We are living in the land of the common people, words of a popular song many years ago.
    We value our families and those around us.
    The EUROPEAN Union is another subject for another day, I wrote about my feelings, on those parked up lorry drivers. Society is broken, even more after this fiasco.

  • There’s nothing worse than that pesky individualism. We must stamp it out. People might get funny ideas about deciding how to conduct their own lives. We need a strong state to tell them what is what. People can’t make decision on their own and need the guidance of those of high moral fortitude. Everyone who disagrees is ether to foolish to have agency or is obviously a selfish neoliberal.

  • Paul Barker 2nd Jan '21 - 2:11pm

    It seems to me that The road back to EU membership is indeed through Re-alignement, its the path most EU Members have taken; that can begin in 2026 but “We” – The Centre-Left/Progressives have to win in 2024 first. The same goes for mending our broken Family of Nations.
    The first step comes in May. The Libdems, Labour & The Greens (GPEW) have to take lots of Tory Seats in the Local Elections.

  • Little Jackie Paper 2nd Jan '21 - 4:09pm

    Is anyone planning on mentioning the single currency?

  • @Little Jackie Paper – I think that is what you call a conversation stopper!

  • Nigel Jones 2nd Jan '21 - 9:22pm

    Mohammed Amin and Peter make good points about the need to better understand why so many people voted leave and why a few who voted remain changed their minds to get Brexit done. Much of it was a huge misundertanding about the EU, but some of it was the fear of those in the EU who speeches suggested moves towards integration which would be too fast and too far for so many, in Europe as well as in Britain.
    Rob Parsons is right to suggest we do not now start a campaign to rejoin, but we must challenge some of the things that are wrong within our own country, especially its economic inequalities and lack of well-being. We can take every opportunity to point out disadvantages of Brexit as they occur, so it will be clear we are talking the truth. As to Health, I think Helen and others miss the important point that it is far more than just the NHS; it is about services to families and young people, so-called public health services, social care for children as well as adults and sufficient income to feed oneself well physically and mentally.

  • Nigel Jones 2nd Jan '21 - 9:30pm

    About populism, I think we have seen in 2020 that populism is not just about Brexit. In this Covid crisis, we have seen Boris say what he thinks people will like to hear. He makes everything out to be marvellous, even when he completely changes his mind in a very short period of time. He (and Matt Hancock) made out goverment was doing what was necessary for our care homes, because they knew that is what people wanted to hear, when the opposite was the case. More than once he (and Gavin Williamson) insisted they were doing all they could for the sake of school children and young people, when actually their lives were being messed around. So it went on. The fight against Covid was described like a war and just as in war, the truth was being hidden from us and our local leaders. Boris has committed umpteen remarks of deception, just because he wants people to like him. On that basis, populism will continue over every major policy area.

  • Nigel Jones 2nd Jan '21 - 9:32pm

    In addition to my previous comment, I think we have seen in 2020 that populism is not just about Brexit. In this Covid crisis, we have seen Boris say what he thinks people will like to hear. He makes everything out to be marvellous, even when he completely changes his mind in a very short period of time. He (and Matt Hancock) made out goverment was doing what was necessary for our care homes, because they knew that is what people wanted to hear, when the opposite was the case. More than once he (and Gavin Williamson) insisted they were doing all they could for the sake of school children and young people, when actually their lives were being messed around. So it went on. The fight against Covid was described like a war and just as in war, the truth was being hidden from us and our local leaders. Boris has committed umpteen remarks of deception, just because he wants people to like him. On that basis, populism will continue over every major policy area.

  • Peter Hirst 3rd Jan '21 - 10:22am

    I agree Rob and not just for external reasons. We need a sea change in our values before we see changes in public attitudes to re-joining. Let’s lead on electoral reform, a new constitution, reducing inequality, be world leaders on combatting climate change and all the isms. Then we will want to re-join and it will want us to.

  • Peter Martin 3rd Jan '21 - 10:44am

    “…….. the way for fundamental Brexiters to get what they want, which is to turn Britain into a neoliberal paradise – Singapore on Thames”

    There was a comment on a thread I can’t find now (there a gap between Christmas and the end of the year on the Archive), with an objection to the use of the term ‘neoliberal’.

    It’s a perfectly valid term and is not directly connected to the Lib Dems. There is more info on its Wiki entry.

    The real Singapore does reasonably well with its neoliberalism because it suppresses its exchange rate in order to run a large trading surplus. Approx 15% of GDP the last time I checked. All countries which are said to pursue “fiscally sound” policies, so beloved of the neoliberals, have to do this otherwise their economies slump – as we saw after the GFC when the coalition tried to ‘balance the books’.

    The world need us net importers to counteract the effect of the ‘Germanys’ and ‘Singapores’ of the world economy. For every net exporter there needs, on a 1:1 basis, be a net importer.

    I doubt a Singapore model of this sort will on the cards even if the political right do get their way – but here’s no reason they should in any case. The purpose of Brexit was to increase the democratic accountability of the UK Government. Or, so they said. Let’s take them at their word.

  • Peter Martin 3rd Jan '21 - 10:46am

    “…….. the way for fundamental Brexiters to get what they want, which is to turn Britain into a neoliberal paradise – Singapore on Thames”

    There was a comment on a thread I can’t find now (there a gap between Christmas and the end of the year on the Archive), with an objection to the use of the term ‘neoliberal’.

    It’s a perfectly valid term and is not directly connected to the Lib Dems. There is more info on its Wiki entry.

    The real Singapore does reasonably well with its neoliberalism because it suppresses its exchange rate in order to run a large trading surplus. Approx 15% of GDP the last time I checked. All countries which are said to pursue “fiscally sound” policies, so beloved of the neoliberals, have to do this otherwise their economies slump – as we saw after the GFC when the coalition tried to ‘balance the books’.

    The world need us net importers to counteract the effect of the ‘Germanys’ and ‘Singapores’ of the world economy. For every net exporter there needs, on a 1:1 basis, be a net importer.

    I doubt a Singapore model of this sort will on the cards even if the political right do get their way – but here’s no reason they should in any case. The purpose of Brexit was to increase the democratic accountability of the UK Government. Or, so they said. Let’s take them at their word.

  • The article by Bob Parsons is very interesting. My view is that we do not have, as a party, the power to change things in either the U.K. or Europe. It has long being pointed out by the press that the further away from power the Party is from power the more they argue about the details of policies. I joined the party in 1959 and my own opinion is that there are two ways in which the party gets influence. One is to have a leader who is able to put in strong and simple terms what we stand for. The problem is of course that to provide the backing such a leader needs money. Money for research. Research into how to communicate complex ideas. Money also to spread the message while the media might ignore us.
    The second way has been through community centred local election campaigns. This again requires resources. We have seen examples of where hard working teams have won against seemingly Impossible odds. The resource we need here include enthusiastic people. Of course this applies to all parties, and I can name wards won by Greens, Labour and Conservatives using similar methods of intense local campaigning
    To me the third way is to recognise our lack of many of these resources and build a party which fully involves members, and involves them in decision making in a real way. With the changes is technology there are ways of doing this in real time. These are issues which need to be explored so that a way forward can be planned.
    Finally on the subject of bexiteers or remainders, there are no such things. There are people. They are no tribes with different names. I remember the first question asked of me by the children was “are you Liverpool or Everton”, At least they didn’t show any desire to connect the labels with other attributes.

  • Christopher Haigh 3rd Jan '21 - 11:10am

    @SteveComer. My thoughts exactly Steve. From now on the Brexiteers are going to come under pressure. Mendacity was quizzed on the Andrew Marr show about how things will now improve in Leigh. His usual mumbling made no mention of the revival of say silk manufacturing or any other, but that Leigh will be able to open a Freeport for importing stuff !

  • John Marriott 3rd Jan '21 - 11:30am

    Fix the country? Welcome to Groundhog Day……again.

    Wilson tried to ‘fix the country’ back in 1964 (remember “The white heat of technology”), only to be stymied by stubborn unions operating under the false facade of ‘Swinging Britain’. Who remembers ‘In Place of Strife’ today? At least we had Roy Jenkins’ much needed social reforms and the Open University to show for his first term in office.

    Heath tried a ‘Dash for Growth’ in 1970 and a legal corralling of unions, but failed to factor in the quadrupling of oil prices, the scarcity of housing and the country’s lack of competitive edge, which allowed inflation, by U.K. standards, to go through the roof. Thank goodness for the EEC, the IMF and North Sea Oil, that, between them, saved our bacon.

    Thatcher tried to ‘Fix Britain’, particularly after 1983, by finally abandoning the post war leitmotif of ‘Butskellism’ for a slash and burn attack on what was left of large swathes of our manufacturing base in favour of shuffling money around in the City. By the way you want a target for your rotten eggs and tomatoes they are hoping to raise a statue in her home town shortly.

    Blair claimed that he wanted to ‘fix Britain’ and, with a Commons majority to die for, frankly blew the best chance for over fifty years to get it done.

    Cameron (and Clegg), admittedly hampered by an economic crisis that many had predicted when Blair and Brown got too cosy with the bankers, still had a great opportunity to prove that a proper coalition could work in peacetime. You have to ask yourself whether either really wanted the kind of radical change that many of us still feel our country needs. As usual, when a big boy and a little boy get together, the big boy gets all the prizes.

    (I draw a veil over the period 2015 to 2019 because, quite frankly, while one could blame individuals, it was largely our wonderful parliament that blew it.)

    And now we have Johnson with an 80 seat majority. So………

  • Nigel Baldwin 3rd Jan '21 - 11:39am

    First, reform. Then re-join. Rob Parsons’ case is sound.

  • John Marriott 3rd Jan '21 - 11:57am

    @Nigel Baldwin
    By ‘reform’ I hope you meant the EU as well. As I often say, it takes TWO to tango! Either way, unfortunately, I can’t see ‘liberalism’ having much influence.

  • @ Peter (Comment 2 Jan @ 11:39am) For the avoidance of doubt it would be helpful if you set your your reasons for voting Leave.

    I infer from your comment that one reason for your decision was that you see more opportunities outside the EU. Why, specifically, is that?

  • Barry Lofty 3rd Jan '21 - 1:10pm

    Yes it does take two to tango but as we are now outside of the EU our input into any reforms have been completely negated, perhaps Boris Johnson will be able, with his known diplomacy and leadership skills, to continue a positive dialogue with the EU and persuade them to mend their ways? Some hope of that scenario.

  • John Marriott 3rd Jan '21 - 1:53pm

    @Barry Lofty
    We Brits weren’t the only stroppy SOBs in the EU. It’s just that we made the most fuss, while still obeying the most rules. Let’s see what countries like Poland, Hungary and Greece get up to over the next few years. Also, watch out for the far right ‘libertarians’ in France, Italy and Germany.

    What we should all be worried about over the next few years over here, besides, of course, getting over COVID, is the potential breakup of the (Dis)United Kingdom.

  • Commenter Gordon has asked for my reasons for voting to leave the EU.

    I believe that the people who make our laws should be elected by the citizens of this country and should be accountable to them. The EU is not a democratic regime.
    Like other countries throughout the world, we should control our own trade, taxation, borders, politics, investments, transport, employment law, medicine, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, industry, food, fishing and much more. The full list is extensive and is the competence list of the EU.

    While EU trade is important to us, it is shrinking as a proportion of our total trade. Until we left, the EU was in control of all of our trade. Today we can make our own deals anywhere in the world. That is a very great opportunity which most other countries enjoy.

    There are also reasons for wishing to leave the EU, some relating to the risk of unwanted conditions being imposed. These include ever increasing financial contributions, likely future financial crises, increasing taxation, increasing integration such as financial controls, future political interference at an EU wide level, EU army and other military ambitions, compulsory migrant allocation, increased foreign policy influence, more regulation, further erosion of sovereignty and perhaps even an unwanted change of currency.

    The reasons can be summed up as taking back sovereignty, control and restoring improved democracy. Provide more freedom to create our own opportunities. Avoid the suffocation of ever more regulation and integration within a large, cumbersome bureaucratic system.

  • Peter Chambers 3rd Jan '21 - 9:06pm

    Shortly after the 1997 Scottish devolution referendum I heard Charles Kennedy speak about how that event was prepared for. Almost nothing was left to chance in preparation of the climate of opinion. Many civil society organisations, churches and political parties were involved. The result was approximately 74% in favour with a turnout of 60%. Kennedy described the outcome as the Settled Will of the Scottish People. This level of super-majority is a good example of what should be aimed for in constitutional change. The price for this is long term preparation.

  • Rob Parsons 4th Jan '21 - 9:59am

    Peter, 3rd Jan, 6pm Peter, thank you for your explanation of your reasons for voting to leave the EU. I have always thought there were respectable reasons for wanting to leave. However, many, many people voted on the basis of the lies they were told rather than a dispassionate assessment of the facts. For that reason, I disagree with your original statement that LibDems do not understand why people voted to leave. I do not believe that many Leave voters are stupid, evil or gullible. I do believe however that many of them were misled. That is not a contradiction. Intelligent people can be misled, and a campaign to mislead them has been going for forty years, weaponised in the last two decades primarily by Boris Johnson and the Telegraph who found that they could not only get away with but would actually be rewarded for routine lying.

    There was also the impact of Nigel Farage, who found the sweet spot when it came to stoking and exploiting resentment, which it turned out was a powerful emotion and quite inimical to democracy. The resentment is real – we do know that – but the target mistaken.

    That is backed up by the steady change in polling since the referendum with many, many people changing their minds once confronted with reality and saying they would now vote to remain. The number who have changed their minds the other way is minute by comparison. And even bigger majorities now regularly saying that leaving the EU was a mistake.

  • Rob Parsons 4th Jan '21 - 10:00am

    So while I accept that your reasons for leaving the EU were rational and well thought out, it is also clear that many people were misled into voting against their own interests.

    Furthermore, while I accept that you have thought through your decision, I do not agree with your conclusions. Let me just focus on a couple. The first is that you believe that you have taken back control of our trade, taxation etc from the EU. The fact is that nobody controls their own trade, taxation etc. All have to work in a world where they must respond to global forces far more powerful than any nation state. Working together with other countries enables us to have more control over these factors, not less.

    Secondly the idea that somehow removing ourselves from the EU will enhance our democracy. You state that the EU is undemocratic. That is simply not so. The legislative powers of the EU are vested in the Council of Ministers, consisting of the elected representatives of each member state, and the members of the European parliament, directly elected by the citizens of the member states. Executive powers are with the Commission, appointed by the elected governments of the member states. That is very democratic indeed. It only appears to us Brits to be undemocratic because of decades of constant, and usually mendacious, harping on the work of the Commission by our tabloid press (I include the Telegraph as a tabloid for this purpose.)

    And you think that being on our own will somehow restore improved democracy. Look at what our government has done since leaving. We have sunk further and further into corruption, cronyism, unaccountability and deliberate incompetence. I very much hope we do improve our democracy – improvement is desperately needed. But we could have done it within the EU, and we certainly are not doing it outside.

  • The problem with the pro-EU movement is that it isn’t sufficiently pro-EU.

    The only way for the EU to survive is to either reduce itself back to being a purely economic arrangement, or for it to become a full nation in its own right.

    Nationalism is pretty distasteful to most of those on the pro-EU side, but a healthy dose of European nationalism would do no harm at all. Something that makes us feel solidarity with others across the continent and gives us pride. Something positive, celebrating the things we have and have done, not negative or boastful, demeaning the achievements of others.

    When I look at the pro-EU movement in this country, it’s not really that pro-EU at all. It’s simply anti-brexit. Almost nothing was heard of it until 2016 and when it did arrive, it was mostly about not being on the same side as Nigel Farage.

    When arguments were being made prior to the referendum, the pro-EU side seemed to spend a lot of time denying plans for ever closer union rather than celebrating them and making a positive cause. Maybe that was right at the time; it’s important not to frighten people, but now it’s time to acknowledge that those things exist, and are a good thing.

    If the EU is to survive then it needs a Europe-wide culture and feeling of nationality. That will need to be built across the whole continent, but the pro-EU faction here can help.

    Look at the media: the pro-EU paper “The New European” has 33 stories linked from the homepage of its website this morning. All bar 2 of them are focussed on the UK and its relationship with Europe. A large number are just about slating or mocking brexiteers. This paper could help create a feeling of Europeanism by becoming a genuinely Europe-wide newspaper, reporting on events in Poland and Croatia like a UK paper would on events in Durham or Cornwall.

    Other things that could be embraced are things like European leagues in sport. Would a “European Superleague” in football really be so bad? Of course it would have its down sides and the existing structures do already go quite a long way without losing too much, but anything that contributes to a feeling of nationhood across Europe would help.

    I don’t know if these things would be at all popular. Maybe they wouldn’t be. But I think the pro-EU side needs to stop being afraid of closer union and start making a positive case for a United States of Europe. Otherwise, what’s the point?

  • Peter Martin 4th Jan '21 - 11:25am

    @ Christopher Haigh,

    “…….how things will now improve in Leigh”

    Leigh, the one near Manchester, is known as a former mining town not for its silk production. That would perhaps be Macclesfield.

    How do Lib Dems answer the same question? It wouldn’t be to reopen the pits. Pay everyone in Leigh a UBI perhaps?

    The good citizens of Leigh weren’t too impressed with the answers they heard between 2010 and 2015. Lib Dem support fell from over 18% to 2.5% in the two GEs. Some have since forgiven you. You were up to 4.5% in 2019.

  • Rob, I shall update the list, stupid, evil and gullible to include misled as the reasons for leaving the EU as judged by remainers. I don’t think that your claim that many people changed their minds after the referendum is backed up by the most important poll of all – the general election.

    Within the EU we were prevented by law from conducting any trade deals since that was a role of the EU. Now we can do so freely anywhere in the world which I think is more appropriate for a large economy with a history of carrying out global trade. Being part of the EU trading machime is very beneficial for small countries.

    Trading negotiations often involve bartering of rights and aspects of sovereignty. These arrangements are made by the sovereign nations and are seldom permanent. The EU does not work like that. Membership involves ceding power to the EU on an assumed permanent basis as we discovered.

    Every time a new president and members of the Commission are elected there is outrage throughout the parliament and council because of the undemocratic display of cronyism. Are you suggesting that citizens are closer to the legislators in the EU?

    Leave or remain is a judgement, not a question of blind ideology. I happen to believe that the UK has the potential to be much more successful and satisfied as a self determining, independent nation state. I further believe that the EU is entering long term decline and reform is overdue.

  • Dan Martin, I agree with you. The remain campaign was Project Fear, all negative consequences of leaving the EU and no positive reasons for remaining. I have never heard the case for joining the Eurozone. Is there one today? Probably not. Why join the EU? After forty years most people will see through fake reasons. Remainers never offer any reasons.

    Why should anyone look forward to a great future in the EU? Remainers and the EU itself have failed misearably to make any sort of case other than it would be catastrophic to leave. I see that the case for rejoining is based on hopes and prayers that our nation will become a complete failure due to Brexit. That will impress the voters.

  • Rob Parsons 4th Jan '21 - 3:48pm

    Dan Martin 4th Jan ’21 – 10:34am and Peter Peter 4th Jan ’21 – 2:04pm FWIW I agree with you about the Remain campaign. All three of the main pillars of a democratic vote let us down in the referendum – those for, those against, and the media from which we get most of our information. Primary blame attaches to the Leave campaign, including associated newspapers. It adopted a deliberate campaign of blanket lies throughout. The Remain campaign was the feeblest and most pointless political campaign I have ever been involved with. The media also let us down badly – the right wing press by amplifying the lies; the left wing press and the broadcast media by being utterly feeble about exposing the lies. But, yes, on the basis of the 2016 Remain campaign, who would want to join the EU? The argument has been much better expressed and in much more positive terms since the referendum by those who understood what they were about to lose.

  • Rob Parsons 4th Jan '21 - 3:50pm

    Dan Martin 4th Jan ’21 – 10:34am and Peter 4th Jan ’21 – 2:04pm FWIW I agree with you about the Remain campaign. All three of the main pillars of a democratic vote let us down in the referendum – those for, those against, and the media from which we get most of our information. Primary blame attaches to the Leave campaign, including associated newspapers. It adopted a deliberate campaign of blanket lies throughout. The Remain campaign was the feeblest and most pointless political campaign I have ever been involved with. The media also let us down badly – the right wing press by amplifying the lies; the left wing press and the broadcast media by being utterly feeble about exposing the lies. But, yes, on the basis of the Remain campaign, who would want to join the EU? The argument has been much better expressed and in much more positive terms since the referendum by those who understood what they were about to lose.

  • Little Jackie Paper 4th Jan '21 - 9:50pm

    ‘Democracy is a new and modern system of government,’

    LIBERAL democracy is new and modern – barely 100 years old and a lot of people forget that. We don’t live in democracies, we live in constitutional systems and nothing inherently guarantees liberalism. What we see in the EU thus is not a democratic deficit, rather we see a constitutional deficit. The EU has tried to hammer a number of very diverse economies into an optimal currency zone, and failed, whilst forgetting that an optimal currency zone needs an optimal political zone.

    The Excessive Deficit Procedure and Stability and Growth Pact are one-size and it is the size that fits no one.

    In outsourcing ever greater amounts of policy-making competence to the EU what we have seen in practice is a crass neofunctionalist spillover effect that is in practice near irriversible. The results have been predictable: economic policies in one size – the size that fits no one. And politics unable to handle it. The French party-political system has been destroyed, UKIP won the EU election in the UK, we have seen hard-right parties in power across Europe, the Germans have seen the rise of the AfD from fringe to widespread representation. Irish austerity…the list goes on. Somehow liberals have formed the view that ‘popular’ is bad in the name of a bizarre and uncritical attachment to an ‘open agenda’ political framework.

    The stark reality is that since Maastricht ratification the UK would likely have voted out at almost any point in time since. Governments in Europe have become thoroughly Europeanised whilst politics has lagged behind. The constitutional deficit in Europe is the core problem and no one has a mandate to do a thing about it.

  • Peter Martin 5th Jan '21 - 5:30am

    “The only way for the EU to survive is to either reduce itself back to being a purely economic arrangement, or for it to become a full nation in its own right.”

    Yes. Absolutely right.

    And you’re right too in saying, if I understand you correctly, the argument that the EU is fine providing we don’t have too much of it doesn’t sound at all convincing.

    On the other hand, those running the Remain campaign weren’t stupid. They knew that most Remain voters were concerned about the economic effects of leaving the EU and that was about it. An argument in support of a U.S,E, or Europa, would have pushed many into the Leave camp. It would have been self defeating.

    And this is the problem. The EU is stuck in a betwixt and between unstable and non-viable state. It is political impossible to move back to a EEC and also politically ultra difficult, through lack of popular support everywhere, not just in the UK, to move forward to a U.S.E.

  • @ Peter – A disturbing feature of the whole Brexit debate is how rarely either side has really tried to understand the other’s position and respond appropriately so thanks for setting out your reasons for supporting Leave so clearly. They are close to those of a good friend of mine.

    But, while I agree with your aims, I think Brexit is the wrong strategy and that its long-term result will be a big net loss of sovereignty which is a complicated thing where the underlying reality can be hard to perceive while a superficial gloss of it is easy to fake and/or big up for nefarious purposes.

    Hence, I have a dim view of the Tory right/ERG banging on about ‘sovereignty’ because of their complete silence on the ISDS clauses included in the TTIP trade deal with the US we were on a glide path towards until Trump stopped it. For those not up to speed on ISDS, it creates private courts staffed by big company lawyers that ranks above national laws in dispute resolution. (Shamefully, the Lib Dems also supported TTIP). By contrast the ECJ (aka CJEU) is a proper court working in the public interest.

    So, what is the ERG’s true motivation? Smuggling in US-style rule by big corporates? If so, it’s a very odd sort of ‘sovereignty’ they are supporting. Especially as the US is more or less a failed state at this point.

    Another point is that smaller/weaker economies orbit the largest/strongest nearby economy just as in astronomy the Moon orbits the Earth, and both together orbit the Sun. So, trade deals favour the larger party. Negotiating with the US is tantamount to taking dictation – no sovereignty there – and we will not easily escape the gravitational pull of the EU27 because we must follow EU regulations or kiss goodbye to that market. And if we do that, we also lose many of our 3rd party markets because those ride on the back of EU-directed capacity – e.g. in cars.

    Early reports of the Deal support my worst fears. Both sides got their red lines (else there would have been no deal) but on everything else the EU seems to have got most of its asks and the UK very few, even surrendering the UK’s centuries old internal market. As ever, Boris is expert at covering up failure.

    If that’s right, we will have surrendered our seat at the top table to become rule-takers and may well see the breakup of the UK in a few years.

  • @ LJP (comment 4th @ 9:50pm)

    I agree with most of what you say. The Euro and all the stuff that goes with it is, and always was, a terrible idea, guaranteed to cause serious harm as we have seen. The EU establishment will try very hard to make it work but it’s not workable so it will eventually fail causing even more harm.

    However, I don’t think the EU is entirely (or even mainly!) to blame for the political destruction you list though it does provide a very convenient whipping boy. That is mainly due to the failure of mainstream parties everywhere to provide any meaningful opposition to a system in which money is the only object of work and its getting the sole measure of virtue, an approach that has led to soaring inequality and the rest.

    That is compounded by the rigidities caused by top-down targets which work like an organisational straitjacket to prevent local initiatives. Meaningful strategic direction from the top is somewhere between difficult and impossible because it makes the whole organisation so clunky and inflexible – just as we have seen multiple times with the Covid-19 response.

    That is why, IMO, the slogan, “Take Back Control” gained such traction, but its proximate target should have been Westminster, not Brussels.

    Incidentally, the former USSR’s commitment to targets and top-down control famously didn’t work and was a major cause (probably THE major cause) of its collapse so I’m not sure why ALL mainstream UK parties are repeating that failed experiment.

    In this there is a great opportunity for Lib Dems if only they can shake off their commitment to a top-down approach and develop a better alternative. It’s an existential challenge.

  • @Gordon, I didn’t support TTIP either. I can’t speak for the ERG. I think that the EU did get the better deal but that was always going to happen. We knew that leaving would involve sacrifices. Do not underestimate the opportunities of Brexit. We have the ability to be agile, act quickly, make new trade deals and forge our own way in the world.

    The rest of the world is where the rapid growth is, not the EU. The EU will become less important in the scheme of things. However, I agree that we don’t want to take orders from the US either.

    The best way to save the union is for the UK to become a dynamic, successful trading nation and use our increasing wealth with care and fairness. That is where all politicians should be aiming.

  • Little Jackie Paper 5th Jan '21 - 4:41pm

    Gordon – I suspect we agree on much.

    The euro was always a very high risk project, it has caused untold damage and will, more likely than not, fail. The changes needed to make it work are radical and there is no prospect of a mandate for them. For me that alone is a showstopper for rejoining. Of course EU IN/EZ OUT was always hard to sustain politically.

    It is rare that I come to the defence of David Cameron, but he really was the one that was holding the Maastricht timebomb when it exploded. If it wasn’t him it would have been another PM. See

    https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/politics/the-inside-story-of-how-david-cameron-drove-britain-to-brexit

    Particularly the section, ‘In his view, the project to modernise his party, and …’ on. This is why EU IN/EZ OUT was always high risk. Interests between the INs and OUTs were always going to diverge. I am yet to hear any compelling reason why at Maastricht we did not set up an EZ and something like the EEA.

    Where I do disagree with you I think is on the question of politics vs government. I don’t like the term left behind very much however it is on the matter of politics vs government that it does to my mind have relevance. Ratification of Lisbon was, by any standard, an affront. But what it did was speak to the fact that voters have less and less relevance the moment anything is passed to EU level. And, as neofunctionalism tells us the spillover is remorseless. The EU left too many voters behind. It showed up differently in different places – free movement in Britain, austerity in Southern Europe and so on. Too often the, ‘it’s good for the economy,’ line has been used as though it solves all arguments. Sending kids up chimneys would probably be good for the economy. Currency, immigration, trade, signing up to ISDS courts – the voters have been diminished and all that is left is protest and populism. I see now the EU has started referring to the vaccine programme now as a ‘health union.’

    This is well beyond a membership arrangement and it ill-behoves remainers to gloss over the constitutional deficit as, ‘it’s good for the economy.’ By all means say how very, very wrong it was to have a referendum with no mechanism to handle an OUT vote, but let’s not pretend that the EU is some sunlit upland. Every trend that led to that OUT vote started during the period of EU membership, not post-2016.

  • @Little Jackie Paper – Excellent comment.

  • Peter Martin 6th Jan '21 - 2:31pm

    @ Gordon,

    “The EU establishment will try very hard to make {the euro} work but it’s not workable so it will eventually fail causing even more harm.”

    Any currency will work reasonably well if there is a single government to manage it. Just how well depends on the quality of the management.

    It’s when a currency is shared that fundamental problems arise. It’s like sharing a bank account with people you don’t really trust. ie Not a good idea!

    So the EU needs to become the United States of Europe for the euro to work but that’s probably not a good idea either!

  • @ Peter Martin

    Well, yes. I simply don’t believe that a ‘single government’, aka a ‘transfer union’ will be doable in Europe despite the day dreams of some in Brussels and elsewhere. That’s because, as I’m sure you know but others may not, a transfer union MUST involve taking some of the tax paid in surplus countries and paying it out as benefits in the deficit ones if imbalances persist and accumulate as they have in fact done.

    German, Dutch etc. voters will never agree to that; the right wing in those countries would make hay with any such proposal, wrongly (but politically effectively) stigmatising the potential beneficiaries as lazy scroungers when really they are victims of the disastrous eurozone experiment.

    For now the only strategy to cope with this is can kicking in various forms. That can go on for a long time but not for ever. When that plan runs out of road…? I don’t know but it will probably be very messy.

  • Peter Martin 6th Jan '21 - 3:57pm

    @ Gordon,

    Yes I largely agree. But German and Dutch voters need to understand what they’ve signed up to.

    In any currency union there has to be a transfer of funds from the wealthier areas to the less affluent. In the USA there is a transfer from New York to Mississippi. In the UK from the SE of England to Wales.

    This is already happening in the EU too. Except that the flow is usually labelled as a loan. But who thinks such loans will ever be repayable? I’m sure not German or Dutch voters. So it’s possible that they could accept the reality of that. A greater difficulty would be the acceptance of a EU Federal Govt to which any elected German govt would need to be subservient. I can’t see that ever happening.

  • Little Jackie Paper 6th Jan '21 - 5:36pm

    Gordon/Peter Martin – Exactly. The ‘debts’ that Greece and Italy and others have for example are, in an economic sense, not much of an issue. The ECB owns the euro and so can create or delete euros as its Governing Council wishes. The problem with that is that in writing off debts they are cancelling the assets of the northern surplus states. Economics are not a problem the sums are small in the context of the EZ economy, politics are the problem. And Blair tried to tell us that this was an economic and not a political project.

    Whilst I can indeed fully understand why German/Dutch populists would not like the ideas of write offs I fully sympathise with southern Europeans who have found themselves in economies where all that has been left is internal devaluations – what else is there in a monetary union? The less charitable characterisation is ‘thump your population in the name of the ECB.’ And, just for good measure many of those economic dislocations ended up exercising free movement to the UK outside of the euro so causing more dislocation. There has been divergence in the eurozone driven by European monetarism which truly is the one size that fits no one. It was never clear to me that voters that backed Maastricht really understood the possibilities.

    Any rejoin campain necessarily will mean a treaty obligation to join the single currency and it’s not clear to me that campaigners have understood that. Good luck getting that through a referendum. Most of the EZ states probably wouldn’t get the single currency through a referendum now. This is the key point about so-called populist parties. The single currency got through 2011 on the back of extraordinary levels of political sacrifice that blew up long-established national party systems. As those systems have been displaced the extraordinary political support for the next crisis just won’t be there.

    Whilst it is true that the Commission has not yet shown any inclination to force the issue on the OUTs (and Sweden expressly voted in a referendum against the euro, treaty notwithstanding) they do have the means to do so.

  • All of which means that the Euro is fatally flawed and will eventually collapse. The solutions are to fully integrate or ditch the currency. Either one of these will destroy the entire project because the electorate will never agree on one of these.

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