Strong Parliament is better than strong Government

Kier Starmer’s invitation for Natalie Elphicke to join him on the Labour benches is a dreadful piece of political opportunism. At a time when public trust in politicians is at an all-time low, welcoming an MP who was a member of the ERG and whose views have long placed her to the far right of Ghengis Khan is a staggering shot in the foot. The backlash the following morning runs from the Guardian to the Express. Few see this as the move of a statesman.

So, why has he scored this own goal? He doesn’t need her to improve Labour’s polling, and he will soon discover what a thorn in the flesh she is to any party. But he just couldn’t resist sticking the knife into Rishi Sunak and twisting it a little further. It’s pathetic. Such naiveté is troubling for anyone viewing him as a viable Prime Minister, especially for many Labour MPs and members. It will undoubtedly lose him more votes than it gains.

For the Liberal Democrats and other progressive parties, he has created an opportunity. Many centre-left voters will baulk at the idea of someone with such poor statecraft having an overwhelming majority in Parliament. For decades, the pushback against electoral reform was that proportional representation promised coalitions and ‘weak’ government. But since 2015 we have seen unassailable majority parliaments wielded like wrecking balls by a slew of dreadful Prime Ministers. Boris Johnson alone proved how dangerous unfettered majority government can be in the hands of a maniac.

Of course, the LibDems are still hampered by the residual disdain for coalition that both Labour and the Tories disseminated throughout the electorate. But it is residual and Rishi Sunak’s inept steering of Johnson’s legacy majority is much more in-your-face vote influencer.

The path the LibDems must surely follow now is one of vision, maturity and common sense. Whatever the Jenricks, Bravermans, Andersons, Tices and Farages, or even the Corbyns may think, the majority of British people are centrist – that’s why it’s called the centre. They want change, indeed they may be desperate for it, but they don’t want more ideology forced upon them.

Most now see that what we’d said about Brexit was true. Many recognise that the UK’s global influence has been diminished. From the NHS to housing, education to policing, cost of living to corruption, British people are crying out for real, meaningful change of direction. But while many will simply turn to Labour, as Starmer attempts to portray himself as Blair 2, his actions this week will make many think twice. They will want to temper Labour’s wilder fantasies with an opposition that doesn’t block policies out of pique, but that makes government think things through, much as that last bastion, the House of Lords has been left to do for 10 years.

On the doorsteps, when people suggest a vote for the LibDems is a wasted vote, we now have a strong argument – You’ve had a decade of government that does whatever it wants because it couldn’t lose a vote. Whether it’s the Tories or Labour, do you want more of that? Really?

Never has there been a stronger argument for a strong opposition that commands respect, that can defeat government extremism and even influence policy. For the Liberal Democrats policy makers and leaders, there is a gaping chasm in British politics for anyone who can offer a coherent, visionary policy platform for leading the UK out of the global political wilderness. We did it in 2010 but we made mistakes. Hopefully, we have learned from them without becoming over-cautious or timid.

Let Sunak and Starmer spar it out in the political playground. We have to look like grown-ups.

* Neville Farmer is a Chippenham Branch member and Corsham Town Councillor, former Vice-Chair of the Western Counties and former PPC for Wyre Forest.

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79 Comments

  • Peter Martin 9th May '24 - 10:34am

    “..Such naiveté..”

    I don’t believe this is naiveté. Anyone Sir Keir disapproves of has only to tick the ‘like’ box on the Facebook page of a SNP member to be disqualified from “his” Labour Party. The more plausible explanation is that Keir Starmer is a long way further to the right than he previously pretended to be when he was striving to become politically established in the Labour Party. Then he claimed to be a friend of Jeremy Corbyn. Now he claims never to have been. He’s changed his tune on just about every previous policy position. Even his position on antisemitism in the party was far more malleable when he was in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet.

    The usual accusation is that he is “Sir U turn”. It’s fair enough to change your mind when circumstances have changed and, of course, they are always changing. But how have they changed sufficiently to justify being able to afford to allow a lower rate of income tax on higher earners than he previously promised, and that there is no need to cap bankers’ bonuses at the same time as saying we cannot afford to scrap the two child benefit cap?

    The only rational explanation is that these aren’t U turns at all, but rather the reversing of previous political deceptions. There are some in the Labour Party who hope that he will reverse them back once he is safely ensconced in number ten.

    Highly unlikely IMO!

  • Paul Barker 9th May '24 - 11:26am

    I can’t see the point of this article.
    Our job in the coming Election is twofold –
    to get as many Libdems MPs elected as possible
    to get as few Tory MPs elected as possible.

    Our Long-term goal is to replace The Conservatives as The Official Opposition. Whether Starmer has a majority of 100 or 400 makes no real difference except that the bigger it is, the stronger the argument for Electoral Reform.

  • Martin Gray 9th May '24 - 12:43pm

    ‘Most now see that what we’d said about Brexit was true. Many recognise that the UK’s global influence has been diminished’….
    Global influence to do what exactly…
    The average voter couldn’t give a fig about a seat at the big boys table ..
    They want criminals locked up longer , an NHS that delivers, failed asylum seekers returned forthwith, gp appointments, schools , decent transport , asb dealt with , pro active policing etc etc ..
    PR is never on that list – as it doesn’t resonate with most voters ….As for NL – they limped along with the likes of Denis Mcshane & Margaret Moran .. Labour & Cons hardly a fag paper between them these days ..They’ll be no meaningful change for those that are struggling – in the EU or out , not much changed for them . Centre politics = the status quo…

  • Many recognise that the UK’s global influence has been diminished.

    How on earth could regaining our democracy and independence possibly diminish our standing in the world? It’s truly baffling how anyone could even think that. They’d have to be remarkably uninformed and unaware of how others see us. In trade, for example, we’ve gone from having our voice subsumed amongst 27 others to having our own seat at the WTO table, we’ve joined the fast-growing CPTPP putting us right at the heart of world trade, and launched the widely welcomed Developing Countries Trading Scheme (DCTS).

    In Brand Finance’s Global Soft Power Index, a comprehensive survey of more than 170,000 respondents from over 130 countries, the UK has strengthened its position as the world’s second most influential nation…

    ‘Brand Finance’s Global Soft Power Index 2024: USA and UK ranked top nation brands, China takes third place, overtaking Japan and Germany’ [February 2024]:
    https://brandfinance.com/press-releases/brand-finances-global-soft-power-index-2024-usa-and-uk-ranked-top-nation-brands-china-takes-third-place-overtaking-japan-and-germany

    The United Kingdom has overcome a soft power risk from temporary instability in late 2022 resulting from tumultuous government changes and the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. This year, the UK ranks 7th in ‘strong and stable economy’ compared to last year’s 12th and improves on ‘politically stable and well governed’ up to 12th from last year’s 16th. The nation’s Global Soft Power Index Score of 71.8 continues an upward trend from 67.3 in the previous year.

  • Peter Martin 9th May '24 - 5:21pm

    @ Paul Barker,

    “Our Long-term goal is to replace The Conservatives as The Official Opposition.”

    The opposition to whom?

    If the Tories, then you need to be going after the Labour Party under Starmer. If the Labour Party, you need establish that you aren’t just the Labour Party Mk II. Who would want such a narrow choice of policies? The offering of Labour and the Lib Dems are much of a muchness at the present time.

  • Surely replacing the Tories means, reducing the Tories to 3rd party status, which implies Labour and the LibDems would be the main parties. For what it’s worth I think that’s an excellent idea. It does however require the LibDems to attract lots of previous Tory voters, which therefore means the LibDems need to position themselves as at least centrist and pro-market, which I get the impression quite a few people who comment here would not be comfortable with.

  • “his actions this week will make many think twice”

    Sorry, but that’s simply not true. “Many” ordinary people (ie the ones who don’t follow politics and aren’t party members) don’t have a clue about Elphicke’s politics or voting record. If this registers with them at all, they will just see it as more evidence of the Tories collapsing in on themselves.

    That said, I wouldn’t want her in the Lib Dems….

  • Mick Taylor 9th May '24 - 7:54pm

    @Peter Martin. Your comments show how little you understand the Liberal Democrats. We are a decentralist party, not a centralising one. We want to give power to people, Labour want to make decisions for them. We want safe legal routes to come to the UK and want people coming to live here to feel at home. Labour continue to demonise immigrants and are no better on small boats than the Tories. We want to rejoin the single market and the customs union with the eventual aim of rejoining the EU. Labour want a better Brexit (which is impossible). We have called for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza. Labour are equivocal. We want to bring an end to sewerage dumping by creating a regulator with teeth who can and will force water companies to provide the necessary treatment plants rather than pay out to shareholders. Labour has said almost nothing about this issue. We want climate policies that tackle global warming and Labour have just abandoned theirs.
    We are not promulgating these policies very well and our presentation needs much improvement. If the LibDems did become the official opposition (a long shot but not impossible under FPTP) we would have plenty to oppose Labour on and given they have moved so far to the right to be almost indistinguishable from the Tories, we’d be doing so from the left.
    I might have thought that would be something you’d approve of.

  • I don’t think there was much chance of Elphicke trying to join the Lib Dems. She has at least enough political savvy to realise that there is no room here for extreme anti-liberals. Causing mayhem within Labour may save one or two seats for her former colleagues. Groucho’s comments about not joining a club that would accept the likes of him seem quite sensible compared to the weirdest floor crossing I can remember!

  • Martin Gray 9th May '24 - 10:10pm

    @Mick Taylor….How is handing fiscal control of the UK economy to a cliche of German financiers – giving power to local people ? …
    From action on climate control to safe routes for asylum seekers – scratch beneath the surface and you find that those solutions are not as popular as you’d like to think …

  • Nigel Jones 9th May '24 - 10:14pm

    Mick Taylor, a good list of policy differences with Labour but what about tax (where we believe the issue is about how it is spent and Labour want to cut it) and the child benefit cap ? As to our presentation are we afraid to state our radical credentials because we want soft Tory votes ? That suggests that not only is Labout moving to the right but we are in danger of doing that also (not that left-right is useful comparison for our accurate image). Tackling the structures of our governance, society and inequality and hence fairness is what we are about and we do not seem to want to tell people that tweaking the current systems is not enough to tackle our current problems. For example, as even Ken Clarke has said, cutting taxes is not the answer, but a fairer taxation system is definitely part of the answer.

  • Nigel Jones 9th May '24 - 10:17pm

    I must add to my comment that I am disappointed that we and Labour are not telling people that we are NOT a high tax country; that is Tory propaganda, not even supported by the IFS or the OBR.

  • Neil Hickman 9th May '24 - 11:23pm

    My initial reaction to Elphicke joining the Parliamentary Labour Party, like many other people’s, was “What on earth…?”
    But it seems to me that there is a difference between someone saying to a party “I would like to stand as a candidate under your party label” and someone saying “I am already an elected member and I would like to sit with your group for the remainder of my term, but will not be seeking re-election”.
    In the first case, you do a certain amount of due diligence on them – as, presumably, the Lib Dems did before accepting Philip Lee (prompting the departure from the party of a number of people concerned by his position on LGBT issues) and Sam Gyimah (recently a contender for the leadership of the Conservative Party).
    In the second, perhaps you say “Very well, but you accept the group’s discipline from here on and we are not fast-tracking you into a safe seat somewhere else”. Perhaps.
    Whether the embarrassment caused to Sunak is worth the anger of anyone to the left of centre in the Labour Party is, I guess, a matter on which Starmer is going to have to take a view.
    I suspect, though, that I’m not the only former member of the Labour Party who wishes that Starmer and Mandelson showed meaningful signs of some ambition higher than being the subsidiary cheek of a basically Tory arse.
    BTW, Jeff, I take it your post was satire…?

  • I am sure that the two major parties disagree with the author’s view…

  • David Symonds 10th May '24 - 8:18am

    I think that if MPs defect from one party to another they should be forced to face the electorate in a by-election as in this latest case the defection appears opportunistic as her views are not in sink with her new party.
    The General Election might result in Lib Dems becoming the main opposition if the Tories implode. That should provide an opportunity and that could even mean the Tory rump supporting PR as they could suffer badly now under FPTP particularly if Reform peel away millions of their voters. A Labour supermajority based on 45% of the vote (with about 75% of seats) is obviously bad for democracy as well and Labour will be able to ram through anything it wants without even trying. The left will become vocal as they will not need to worry about jeopardising the majority. Labour’s problems may then become evident as the Trade Union paymasters will be wanting payback. Remember despite appearances Labour has not changed from the 70s and 80s and will pursue high tax, high spend and high borrowing. That will lead to high inflation and the LD’s can point out that Labour and Conservative are just as bad as each other, both sectarian and not able to unite the country. Labour will never shed their corporatist socialist image any more than the Conservatives will shed their anti public sector and big business image.

  • Peter Martin 10th May '24 - 10:47am

    @ Martin Gray

    “How is handing fiscal control of the UK economy to a cliche of German financiers – giving power to local people ?”

    Good question and one which Remainers / Rejoiners will find hard to answer.

    It also goes much further than this. If, in the event that we do ever rejoin, and we have to accept that EU law has supremacy over UK law we’ll be handing over control of just about everything to the EU.

    So have have the rather odd situation where most Lib Dems are both in favour of devolving power to a local level and in favour of concentrating it in a Pan European authority.

    It reminds of of Schrodinger’s cat which is simultaneously both alive and dead, Its fate is decided by the ‘winner’ of two superimposed quantum mechanical wave functions.

    Who would had thought Lib Dem policy could be quite so complex?

  • Peter Watson 10th May '24 - 1:53pm

    @Mick Taylor “We are not promulgating these policies very well and our presentation needs much improvement.”
    @Nigel Jones “are we afraid to state our radical credentials because we want soft Tory votes?”
    I can’t help but feel that there is a massive gap between what Lib Dem activists believe their party is about and how it has presented itself to target voters, and after any electoral success, this could cause problems and disappointment for one or both groups.
    For what it’s worth, I fear that this, following a longstanding drift (possibly more purposeful than that word suggests) towards representing and targeting a particular affluent segment of the electorate, makes me question just how robust are those “radical credentials”. 🙁

  • Peter Martin 10th May '24 - 5:52pm

    @ Mick Taylor.

    “we would have plenty to oppose Labour on and given they have moved so far to the right to be almost indistinguishable from the Tories, we’d be doing so from the left.
    I might have thought that would be something you’d approve of.”

    Your comment could do without the ‘woulds’ though! How about ‘We have plenty to oppose Labour on already’ and ‘we are doing so from the left’.

    That would really be something to approve of!

  • Peter Martin 10th May '24 - 6:11pm

    @ Neil Hickman,

    I do have to admit that sometimes Jeff writes a load of tw*ddle, such as with his anti science views on Climate Change and Covid. However, at other times he can make a fair point.

    His question “How on earth could regaining our democracy and independence possibly diminish our standing in the world?” seems fair enough and deserves an answer.

    My questions are “If the EU were anything like it is claimed to be why do we see a huge increase in the far right there? And why do refugees want to risk their lives crossing busy shipping lanes to get to the UK if they could do far better economically in France and enjoy their better weather too?”

  • Mick Taylor 10th May '24 - 6:12pm

    @Peter Martin. “We will be handing over control of just about everything to the EU”
    This is nonsense and you know it is. The EU has competence mainly in areas of trade, freedom of movement and – assuming we do join the Euro – the currency and areas of economics. It also set common standards for EU elections and for goods and services to ensure a level playing field.
    When we were members, the EU had no competence over the NHS, Education, Health and Social Care, transport, housing, pensions, local government, the arts, devolved authorities, extra-EU immigration. Even in the areas where the EU had competence, there were areas we could exercise a veto and other areas that required a qualified majority, where both a majority of countries and a majority of the votes in the council of ministers had to be obtained. [Incidentally, the UK was on the winning side in the vast majority of these qualified majority decisions.]
    Criticise the EU and its institutions as much as you wish, but please do it on the basis of fact, not wishful thinking. And before you come back and tell me I’m wrong, please remember that I lectured on the EU and its institutions for over 10 years and I do know what I’m talking about.

  • Peter Martin 10th May '24 - 6:43pm

    @ Peter Watson,

    “…… representing and targeting a particular affluent segment of the electorate, makes me question just how robust are those “radical credentials”

    Probably not very!

    The Labour candidate where I live, in not such an affluent area seem to be taking a similar approach. On her FB page we see a lot of smiling faces of young volunteers as they do their door knocking. We see photos of her with a group campaigning against dog poo on footpaths. Photos of her with a local service veterans group. Another with a litter picking group. Photos of missing pets and people. All very worthy causes no doubt, but the nearest she gets to anything that might be called political are claims that if we want a better NHS then we have to vote Labour. As if a cross on ballot paper would have some magical effect!

    She seems a nice enough person and I’ll probably end up voting for her even though she’s a not very political politician.

  • Martin Gray 10th May '24 - 7:07pm

    @Mick Taylor ….Even with ten years of lecturing on the EU Mick – surely deep down you realise the British public would not accept the Euro & Schengen… And why are right wing political parties across the EU becoming more popular…Be interesting to see the next EU election results – if the population turns out in any meaningful numbers , as in many countries it’s woeful…Even the Darling of the left in Germany has set up her own party after a road to Damascus moment…

  • @Mick Taylor. Claiming that rejoining the EU amounts to handing control of just about everything is clearly a gross exaggeration. But it’s equally clear that rejoining the EU (or even rejoining the SM) means handing control of a lot of things (including trade policy, intra-EU immigration, numerous regulations, as well as imposing various restrictions on our laws) to the EU. That does amount to more centralisation and to moving power further away from people. So it’s not unreasonable to point out that it seems to be in direct conflict with the general LibDem view that power is already too centralised and needs to be devolved to be more local wherever practical.

  • Mick Taylor 11th May '24 - 6:21am

    @MartinGray. I never said anything about those two issues, but I recognise that if we do want to rejoin the EU, we will have to accept the Euro and Schengen. People have been systematically lied to about both and it will not be easy to reverse opinion, but it will be necessary. I believe that given the facts the UK electorate will be willing to go for those 2 changes.
    @SimonR. Like Peter Martin you misunderstand the way the EU works. You use Brexiteer language to describe the EU. We would not be handing control to a faceless EU, but sharing power over the issues you mention and would be fully involved in any decisions able to veto some (for example treaty changes, new countries joining, trade treaties) and with others subject to qualified majority voting as explained above. For a clearer understanding of how the EU works, I recommend ‘Policy Making in the EU’ by our own Helen and William Wallace, an excellent textbook I used for my lectures on the EU.

  • Martin Gray 11th May '24 - 8:02am

    Anybody who thinks that both the main political parties & the country will come to a position where they overwhelmingly support joining the EU with a commitment to Schengen and the Euro – has obviously not knocked on enough doors & are still wedded to thier student politics days ..

  • @Mick while I wouldn’t claim to have your level of knowledge, l am aware that all EU countries contribute to EU decisions. But that doesn’t change that a decision made for 67M people (UK) is likely to be a lot more local and closer to the people than a decision made for 515M people (UK + current EU). Besides, when you’re just one of 28 countries, your proportionate say over decisions isn’t exactly large!

    Regarding the alleged Brexiteer language of handing over power: I don’t see that as inappropriate. By analogy, the Westminster Parliament is made up of MPs representing local communities across the UK, Government ministers are almost all drawn from that pool of local representatives, and there are all sorts of mechanisms by which local opinion within communities is communicated to MPs and to the Government in order to influence Government decisions. That doesn’t stop us from speaking in terms of Westminster having all the power: No one, on the basis that MPs represent local constituencies, would talk about – say – Hastings or Aldershot sharing power with Westminster. So I’m not sure why you think we should go out of our way to use that language when it comes to comparable (not identical, but comparable) decision-making processes by EU institutions.

  • Peter Martin 11th May '24 - 9:45am

    @ Mick Taylor @ Simon R

    On the question of handing over “just about everything to the EU” I can concede that this might have been a slight exaggeration but no more than that.

    The EU, to survive, will have to become the United States of Europe. I’m in agreement with Guy Verhofstadt who’s written a book with this title. Was this “fact” something you mentioned in your lecture course, Mick?

    All the countries of the EU would end up with exactly the same constitutional status as the individual states of the USA. So it’s probably not totally fair to write that, say, Maryland has handed over “just about everything” to the Federal government. They still have the power to levy some local taxes and issue driving licences etc. We all know that the President of the USA is Joe Biden.

    How many governors of the individual states do we know?

    The problem, as I see it, is that the EU will never get there and won’t survive in its “betwixt and between” form indefinitely. Even if it does I wouldn’t want to be a part of it. It would be far too big and remote from the population. Maybe, at least on this point, I have some hidden Lib Dem tendencies! 🙂

    It would be far better winding itself back to what it was in pre Maastricht days. I don’t think it will do that either.

    https://www.amazon.com/United-States-Europe-Federal-Trust/dp/1903403863

  • If we do Rejoin, we will certainly not go into the Euro.

  • …………..Kier Starmer’s invitation for Natalie Elphicke to join him on the Labour benches is a dreadful piece of political opportunism…..

    You really think that Starmer or his team approached Elphicke first? I just love the ‘holier than thou’ approach when this party went into coalition (“We’ll have nothing to disagree about”) with a Tory party of Redwood’s, Duncan-Smith’s, Rees-Mogg’s, Patel’s, etc.
    Elphicke will not be standing at the next GE so there is no conflict of interest and, as far as ‘purity’ is concerned, I’m reminded of Churchill’s response when his hated communist Russia was invaded by Hitler, meaning that they were our allies against the greater threat, “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference of the Devil in the House of Commons.”…
    Starmer knows that there are ONLY two contenders for No. 10, him and Sunak, any weakening of Sunak gets him closer..

  • Peter Martin 11th May '24 - 10:47am

    @ Martin,

    “What is the objection to signing up to the Schengen agreement?”

    I’m surprised you need to ask, Martin!

    My own view is that It’s one of a number of indications that the EU wants to be a single country rather than a confederation of independent states which trade freely with each other. There may be a few exceptions but, generally speaking, the model in the world is that each country has control of its own borders.

    Other indications are the desire to have a common currency, a common Parliament, and a unified legal system.

    If this is what the people of Europe want then fine. However, I doubt that they do.

  • Peter Martin 11th May '24 - 11:25am

    @ Expats

    “You really think that Starmer or his team approached Elphicke first? ”

    Don’t these things usually start with a social conversation in the Commons tea room or bar? So it’s highly unlikely there would have been a formal invitation from either side until both had agreed on the outcome.

    This hasn’t strengthened Starmer at all. Many members have left the Labour party because of the rightward drift. Even more are far less enthusiastic to get out and do the hard work that will be needed at election time. Even much of the PLP is unhappy with Starmer’s latest stunt. You can guess what the more radical party members are thinking.

    Last weeks elections weren’t the first time that the extent of the Labour lead nationally wasn’t reflected in the actual results. Most of the Tory losses didn’t go to Labour as has already been pointed out on LDV. Lib Dems came second.

    The general feeling is that this success won’t be repeated come the next general election. That’s probably right if Lib Dems continue to give Starmer a free pass. However, get stuck in to Starmer and his support will fall. The important thing is to do what we all can to make sure he doesn’t get that huge landslide majority that many are predicting.

  • Hello, Simon, your comparison of local councils/Westminster and Westminster/EU is a poor one.

    When we were in the EU, Westminster clearly had very significant powers and legislative capability, many in areas of greater importance than the limited matters decided at EU level.

    And ultimately, Westminster was the higher power, as our withdrawal from the EU demonstrated. Neither Surrey, nor Kentucky are able to withdraw from the UK or USA respectively.

  • Whatever Natalie Elphicke’s past policy statements, she now sees enough common ground with the Labour party to want to join it.

    That is what politics is all about, is it not?Persuasion to change people’s minds. People are allowed to change their minds.

    Or are we only allowed well-educated right-on right-thinking liberals in our party, without a scandalous past of voting Tory or UKIP?

  • Btw I personally find all the indignation and huffing about Elphicke quite unattractive. You’d think that butter wouldn’t melt in the mouth of some of the critics.

    Have none of them ever committed a sin? None of them ever said something regretted later?

  • Peter Martin 11th May '24 - 1:41pm

    @ Chris Moore,

    “Or are we only allowed well-educated right-on right-thinking liberals in our party..”

    But Ms Elphicke isn’t joining your party and this is the point.

    We’d all expect Labour to be on the left, then there’d be the Lib Dems in the centre with the Tories on the right. We’d have the Greens somewhere to the left of centre too. Then we have Reform to the right.

    So there should be at least two parties to the right of Labour for any disaffected Tory who might be moving in a leftward direction.

    The fact that there isn’t is the issue. Starmer has taken the Labour Party well into what should should be Tory territory and that’s why we see Elphicke jumping ship. And others too. She’s not the only one.

  • Mick Taylor 11th May '24 - 2:08pm

    @PeterMartin and others.
    I know and admire Guy Verhofstedt. My daughter, Rebecca, was an MEP under his leadership. Peter Martin well knows the difference between a political polemic and and academic textbook. Guy undoubtedly feels passionate about a United States of Europe, but that doesn’t make it an EU aim and the two other major groups in the EP do not share his vision. So, I did not include it in my lectures about the EU, which were about how it works – and believe me there was great ignorance about that amongst my students and more than one accused me of lying – because Guy’s views are an aspiration not a current or even future EU destination.
    Schengen is a great idea. Once in the Schengen area you can travel freely within it for business, for trade and for vacations. Having a common currency obviates the need for changing currencies -always at a cost – and allows for easy comparison of prices. Bulgaria and Rumania are joining both Schengen and the Euro this year.

  • Alex Macfie 11th May '24 - 2:25pm

    David Symonds:

    “…if MPs defect from one party to another they should be forced to face the electorate in a by-election”

    This would mean MPs were merely party ciphers rather than individuals, and if we institutionalise that idea then really there shouldn’t be by-elections at all — anyone who steps down mid-term should be replaced by a nominee from their original party. I considered the B&S (2016) and SW fake by-elections to be a worrying step down the slippery slope of considering elected representatives to be little more than party delegates.
    On a more practical point, it would give too much power to party machines. Any rebellious MP could just have the whip withdrawn, forcing them to step down.

  • Chris Moore 11th May '24 - 2:35pm

    Hi Peter,

    Starmer Labour and Conservatives have quite a few points in common: economy and immigration are just two.

    I don’t see Labour as being as a whole to the left of the LDs. (Some Labour members are.)

    A left-right spectrum is not enough to determine the being of parties.

    Also bear in mind the different philosophical roots of liberalism and socialism.

  • Alex Macfie 11th May '24 - 3:21pm

    @expats: There is a world of difference between going into coalition with another party and joining it. Tories and Lib Dems still fought each other in by-elections between 2010 and 2015 — it was a coalition, not a merger.

    I tend to agree with @Nick Baird on the effect of Natalie Elphicke’s defection on ordinary voters, who mostly won’t have heard of her until last week and will have forgotten about her by next. Back on whether she should have resigned to face a by-election, it would have been rather pointless given that she doesn’t intend to stand again at the next GE. Such an unnecessary election would really irritate the electorate in her constituency.

  • Peter Martin 11th May '24 - 7:23pm

    @ Mick,

    “Once in the Schengen area you can travel freely within it for business, for trade and for vacations.”

    Obtaining visas can be a difficulty at times but nearly everyone has a passport now. It’s really not a problem to have to show it when travelling.

    “Guy undoubtedly feels passionate about a United States of Europe, but that doesn’t make it an EU aim….”

    Others are far less open about their prefered direction of travel of the EU but if we are to take the EU at their word about ‘ever closer union’ we can easily know what this will be.

    There’s often a comparison made between riding a bike and EU integration. ‘You either keep moving forward or you fall off’. That may not be true, strictly speaking, but we get the message. The EU has to become an U.S.E. if it is to survive.

    That’s why we have Schengen, the EU Parliament, a EU president, an E.C.J. , and a common currency. I doubt if anyone really believes it was about saving travellers the inconvenience of changing their money at the border.

    I don’t often quote Milton Friedman buthe explains very well what the euro was about and why it is a flawed concept. Do you include this POV in your lectures?

    https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/the-euro–monetary-unity-to-political-disunity

  • David Symonds 10th May ’24 – 8:18am:
    I think that if MPs defect from one party to another they should be forced to face the electorate in a by-election…

    Indeed they should, at least when proactively defecting directly from one party to another unless within six months (or maybe a year) of the last possible date for a General Election. As far as I’m aware the only MPs ever to do so were Mark Reckless and Douglas Carswell who both resigned and stood in by-elections after defecting from the Conservatives to UKIP. Both were reelected, but Reckless lost his seat at the following General Election. Maybe someone here can name others?

  • Alex Macfie 11th May ’24 – 3:21pm….@expats: There is a world of difference between going into coalition with another party and joining it. Tories and Lib Dems still fought each other in by-elections between 2010 and 2015 — it was a coalition, not a merger…….

    Really, Alex? Nick Clegg stated openly that, “There is ‘no future’ for the Lib Dems as a left-wing alternative to Labour”.
    Supporting NHS reorganisation, Vince Cables pushing for weakened employee rights, Danny Alexander spending more time in the media than George Osborne defending the depth of cuts to welfare and social care, the bedroom tax, etc… If they are Liberal values then, as my mother would have said, “I’m a Dutchman”..

  • @Jeff: The only other MP that comes to my mind who resigned and fought a by-election was Dick Taverne back in 1973. He left the Labour Party to sit as independent Labour, kept his seat at both the by-election and the following Feb 1974 general election, but then lost his seat at the October 1974 general election. According to Wikipedia, he subsequently joined the LibDems (via the SDP). I have no idea whether he is still a member/still active.

  • Chris Moore 12th May '24 - 7:12am

    @expats: where would you put Labour and LDs on a left-right scale now?

    My feeling is LDs are currently to the left of Labour. This hasn’t been an active shift on LDs’ part. Labour has drifted right.

    There’s always been a collectivist socially authoritarian element in Labour: Elphicke fits in well there. It’s the core liberalism of LDs which would put her off.

  • Chris Moore 12th May '24 - 7:12am

    No way she would have defected to the LDs.

  • Nonconformistradical 12th May '24 - 8:43am

    @Simon R
    Re Dick Taverne – he is still shown as a LibDem peer – no idea how active he is. Age 95.

  • Mick Taylor 12th May '24 - 9:32am

    @PeterMartin. I don’t suppose I should be surprised at anything you say. I should have learned by now that there’s no way to debate with a committed Brexiteer. I never thought you were a conspiracy theorist as well or indeed able to see the future. The EU is not the United States of Europe nor likely to be any time soon. Neither the socialist grouping nor the Conservative/Christian Democrat group are committed to this.
    As an aside, what’s so special about nation states? They have been the cause of a large number of wars, that the EU was created to avoid and has largely succeeded, p;rior to Ukraine.
    As I said before, when I lectured in politics and government, my lectures were factual and confined to giving my students a clear understanding of how institutions work and what the broad outlines of the various isms are, without giving any slant.
    As to Milton Friedman. Who can give any credence to an academic fraud, who simply ignored all data that didn’t confirm his theories? When I was an academic, you were supposed to explain data that was out of line with your theory not ignore it and if the data was correct, modify your theory.

  • @expats: Nick Clegg is no longer active in UK politics, and the leadership team of the time has disbanded. He handled coalition politics very poorly, treating it as a love-in when it should have been a business arrangement, and the Lib Dem party should have differentiated itself much more clearly from the Tories throughout. However, there was never any serious consideration of electoral pacts or the like.

    @Neil Hickman: “Very well, but you accept the group’s discipline from here on and we are not fast-tracking you into a safe seat somewhere else” as the Tories did for Reg Prentice?

  • Neil Hickman 12th May '24 - 11:36am

    @Alex Macfie: well, quite, but one expects the Tories to be unprincipled. I was vaguely trying to persuade myself that in accepting Elphicke, Labour wasn’t being equally unprincipled.
    No sign as yet of any committed Labourites joining Tory constituency parties like Julian Lewis did with Newnham Labour Party back in the 1970s, so I guess that’s something

  • Alex Macfie….@expats: Nick Clegg is no longer active in UK politics, and the leadership team of the time has disbanded. He handled coalition politics very poorly, treating it as a love-in when it should have been a business arrangement, and the Lib Dem party should have differentiated itself much more clearly from the Tories throughout. However, there was never any serious consideration of electoral pacts or the like….

    Alex, ref your first sentence…. Elphicke ‘will no longer be active in politics’ in a few months (having done a lot less damage than Nick Clegg)

    Ref your final sentence…. As far as I’m concerned electoral pacts are pre=election agreements whereby separate parties temporarily put aside differences in order to allow one party to get elected…Why was there a need for any such pact when this party was applauding and implementing Tory policies?

    BTW..This will be my last post on this subject..

  • Alex Macfie 13th May '24 - 8:19am

    I forgot about Shaun Woodward!

  • Alex Macfie 13th May '24 - 9:02am

    @Jeff: What exactly does UK membership of CPTPP mean for this country? It means slightly easier trade with a group of countries most of which are on the opposite of the world from us. This means that its effect on the UK economy is marginal. And since we joined after the trade negotiations were finished, we had no say in the terms. There is also no democratic accountability.
    CPTPP is utterly pointless; it in no way makes up for the loss of seamless trade in a single market with our natural trading partners.

  • Peter Martin 13th May '24 - 10:15am

    @ Mick,

    “…….what’s so special about Nation States”

    Like democracy itself, they may be highly imperfect but so far no-one has come up with anything better.

    I appreciate most EU politicians don’t openly advocate for a U.S.E but they may not be in the inner circle. Here is one who was explaining how it’s done:

    “ We decide on something, leave it lying around and wait and see what happens. If no one kicks up a fuss, because most people don’t understand what has been decided, we continue step by step until there is no turning back.”

    “We all know what to do, but we don’t know how to get re-elected once we have done it.”

    “When it becomes serious, you have to l*e.”

    In way I agree with JC Juncker. The EU does need to become a single country to survive but the problem is there is no democratic mandate for it. This stealthy approach is the only way forward.

    Here is someone who is perhaps more to both our liking who’s saying the same thing as Friedman:

    https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v14/n19/wynne-godley/maastricht-and-all-that

    I do hope you don’t dismiss your students as “conspiracy theorists” if they dare to express similar opinions or agree with Prof. Godley.

    PS: Do you have a reference for your Friedman accusation? I’m saying he hasn’t done anything untoward but I haven’t heard of anything specific.

  • I agree that this presents an opportunity for us. Instead of blindly moving from Conservative to Labour voters might look at alternatives, even under our present electoral system. As Starmer looks vulnerable many would vote Lib Dem especially with our recent successes. We need to show that we present a credible alternative to the hord of voters who decide who to support in the weeks leading up the General Election.

  • @Mick Taylor. We all know there are some people who don’t engage in reasoned debate, but saying you can’t debate with ANY committed Brexit supporter seems pretty far-fetched.

    I would also like to know what evidence you believe there is that Milton Friedman was an ‘academic fraud’. That seems a pretty severe accusation against someone who gained a PhD, lectured in economics for 30 years at the University of Chicago, and was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. By the way I read his article that Peter linked to and it seemed very reasonable and well argued.

    Wars have been a frequent occurrence since the dawn of human history. From my limited knowledge of history, my perception is that they have declined in frequency (although not intensity) since the emergence of the nation state as the main political entity. (Ever read anything about the history of Europe before there were nation states? It was basically non-stop one war after another!). Wars are caused by all sorts of things including greed, the desire for territory, hatred against other peoples, the desire for revenge over perceived past slights, etc. I don’t think it’s plausible to blame them on the existence of nation states per se.

  • Peter Martin 13th May '24 - 5:44pm

    @ Simon @Mick

    “before there were nation states. It was basically non-stop one war after another!…..”

    Yes. I’m not sure when the nation state took over: Sometime after the Restoration in the mid 17th century?

    Before that wars were more akin to modern day turf wars as conducted by organised criminals. The King of England had his patch which he wanted to expand and other Kings in Europe had theirs which they too wanted to expand. For example, the Hundred Years war of the 14th and 15th centuries didn’t arise out of any quarrel between France and England – still less between French and English people. The English King wanted to be the French King too and that was all it was about.

    WW1, which set the course of the rest of 20th century history, started as a conflict of Empires rather than a conflict of Nation States. We had the British, Russian, and French Empires on one side and the German, Austro-Hungarian and Turkish Empires on the other.

    In the parts of the world where there are only nation states, such as South America, we don’t see any serious conflict between them. They are far from perfect but at least we don’t have to be too concerned that Argentina will invade Brazil.

    So if the EU is turning into an Empire, there’s no reason to expect that history couldn’t repeat itself. Who knows what might have happened already in Ukraine had both sides not possessed nuclear weapons?

  • Chris Moore 14th May '24 - 6:49am

    “In parts of the world, where there sre only nation states, like South America, we don’t see any serious conflict between them.”

    This is just wrong. There have been a fair number of wars in the last 150 years between South American nation states!

    Secondly, the fact that the European nation states of the early 20th century had empires doesn’t mean they weren’t nation states!!

    The EU has certainly been a forum for peace between former mortal enemies. This is undeniable. Whether there would have been war otherwise is debatable.

  • Chris Moore 14th May '24 - 6:55am

    Your last paragraph is very confused.

    Ukraine do not have nuclear weapons. If they had had nuclear weapons, the Russians might not have invaded.

    The EU is not an empire. It has no army. It has no weapons. It has no nuclear weapons.

    The nuclear weapons of the one nuclear power within the EU have not been deployed to defend Ukraine.

  • Peter Martin 14th May '24 - 10:04am

    @ Chris Moore,

    Your argument that there have been a ” a fair number of wars in the last 150 years between South American nation states” needs fleshing out with some examples of what you have in mind.

    There will always be border disputes between neighbouring countries which can escalate into military action. We do, however, have to get these into some perspective. No-one is saying Nation States are perfect.

    There was a period when there were wars of independence in South America between emerging countries and the Spanish Empire . Are you including these?

    The point about Empires is that they are either in a period of expansion which can give rise to military action, or they are decline which also leads to military action as the rulers seek to maintain the previous status quo or even reverse the process.

    So whatever we might think about the EU, it has recently been in a period of expansion, and well into the former territory of a the Russian Empire (USSR), so therefore the latter was in decline. It’s these two processes between Empires which can lead to major wars.

    You seem to be saying that the Ukraine war is just between them and Russia. If that were the case it would have been all over within a matter of months.

  • Regarding South America: you need to famialiarise yourself with the history. Your claim that there have been no wars between nation states is wrong.

    Regarding Ukraine: I’m simply responding to your confused remarks. The EU is not a combatant and has no weapons.

    Both Russia and Ukraine are receiving war materiel from other countries. Both sre receiving vital supplies from other countries. That does not make those countries combatants, whether that’s China, Iran, North Korea or the UK.

  • Peter Martin 14th May '24 - 11:19am

    @ Chris Moore,

    Maybe you’d like to re-read what I wrote. It was “no serious conflict” between them rather than “no wars”. Seriousness is always relative of course. The Native populations of South America will have their own historical grievances of course. However, as far as I’m aware, there’s been nothing to compare with the conflicts that have occurred in the rest of the world.

    You’re being rather naive if you think that the Ukraine war is anything other than a proxy war between the west and Russia plus allies

    Just within the last few days there have been reports that France has sent its first troops there.

    https://www.firstpost.com/opinion/how-foreign-legion-troops-in-ukraine-will-only-prolong-the-stalemate-in-war-13770577.html

  • Chris Moore 14th May '24 - 6:25pm

    Here is a list of wars between nation states in South America:

    War of the Triple Alliance 1864-1870 Paraguay v Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

    Pacific War 1879-1884 Chile v Peru and Bolivia.

    Acre War 1899-1903 Brazil v Bolivia

    Chaco War 1932-1935 Paraguay v Bolivia

    There were a series of less long-lived and less bloody conflicts, which I’m not going to list, as YOU might not consider them to be “serious” enough. The above certainly were.

    The many Ukrainians that I know strongly object to being told they are mere “proxies” in a war between Russia and the West. How naive they all are!!

  • Chris Moore 14th May '24 - 6:26pm

    And all in the heyday of your beloved nation state.

  • Peter Martin 14th May '24 - 7:43pm

    @ Chris,

    Thanks for the info. I hadn’t actually heard of any of these conflicts previously. Had you or did you have to look them up ?

    Can I just ask what you take the phrase “ever closer union” to mean? It must, as I understand the English language, mean that that the Union continues to become closer and closer until no further closeness is possible.

    So how will this end point be any different from the EU becoming a single country? An ultra large “nation state.”

  • Chris Moore 15th May '24 - 7:59am

    Hi Peter, I live in Spain, speak Spanish fluently and am reasonably well-versed in Spanish and South American history. So no, I didn’t need to look them up. The wars described were bloody to catastrophic.

    Regarding the EU: there won’t be ever closer union. There are “visionaries” who want that, but they are substantially outweighed by pragmatists and those who want a looser union.

    Believe we’re worse off out of the EU, but the EU has many flaws, like all human institutions.

  • @Chris – saying that there will never be closer union within the EU seems completely contrary to history: Ever since the EU’s ultimate forerunner the European Coal and Steel Community was founded, the trend has been to ever closer union, with the EEC, then the European Parliament, then Maastricht and the single currency, then Lisbon. What makes you think that today, all of a sudden, that long term trend to closer union is going to stop?

    By the way I agree with you that the wars you cite in South America were serious, but the most recent one was nearly 90 years ago ( I realise since then there has been the Falklands plus a few more minor conflicts). So it looks from that list like, since WWII the nation-state model of South America has been just as successful as the EU model of Europe in avoiding wars

  • Peter Martin 15th May '24 - 11:57am

    @ Chris @ Simon R,

    Chris could be right that the EU won’t be able to make it to its destination. Even if it does democracy won’t work at all well. Parties will emerge which promote only ethnic and national interests

    The euro which was designed to promote political unity has probably had just the opposite effect. Quarrels have arisen over debts which are always going to be unrepayable. The only way Greece can get euros to repay Germany is to export more to Germany than they import from there. The problem, not just for Greece but the EU as whole, is that German trade mentality is very much about running surpluses which they view as a success. Trade deficits are a failure.

    EU rules say countries should run deficits but there’s no way Governments can prevent them. Any large organisation which is so beset with fundamental contradictions is unlikely to survive in the longer term.

    Prof Godley issued this warning prior to the implementation of the euro:

    ” It needs to be emphasised at the start that the establishment of a single currency in the EC would indeed bring to an end the sovereignty of its component nations… and the power to issue its own money………is the main thing which defines national independence. If a country gives up or loses this power, it acquires the status of a local authority or colony. “

    It’s a point which is still not as appreciated as it should be.

  • Chris Moore 15th May '24 - 6:38pm

    Hi Simon R,

    What I said was is that I don’t think there will be EVER closer union.

    There are clearly countervailing forces that oppose EVER closer union. I don’t believe this is likely to be one way traffic in perpetuity. “Ever closer union” may be the extreme desire of a few “thinkers”, but it’s pretty unattractive to the vast majority of pragmatic pro-EU sympathisers like myself.

    Regarding South American nation state wars: there are severe tensions between Venezuela and its neighbours currently.

    There is quite good evidence that democracies are less to go to war with each other; this must be a factor in the long peace in Western Europe.

    If the UK did go back inot the UK

  • Chris Moore 15th May '24 - 6:40pm

    Sorry, left out the critical word.

    ….quite good evidence that democracies are less LIKELY to go to war with each other..

  • Chris Moore 16th May '24 - 5:18pm

    Hello Martin,

    The closer co-operation of allies is surely not what EU-phobes are concerned about.

    The Ukraine war has also exposed differences amongst EU countries: Hungary and Slovakia have not been pro-Ukraine.

    The more countries join, the wider the Union: the less deep?

  • Peter Martin 16th May '24 - 7:46pm

    @ Chris Moore,

    “The closer co-operation of allies is surely not what EU-phobes are concerned about.”

    Not sure us being “EU-phobes”! I personally don’t want to join the local golf club. It doesn’t make me a “gold-club phobe”!

    You’re right that we aren’t concerned about how close the EU countries eventually choose to become whether this is politically, economically, or militarily. Now that we’re out we don’t expect to have any say in that.

  • Alex Macfie 13th May ’24 – 9:02am:
    What exactly does UK membership of CPTPP mean for this country?

    It offers tremendous potential to shape world trade, expand our exports and obtain cheaper imports. The removal of tariffs, fast-growing economies, and many more set to join will all boost UK exports. Even David Cameron is impressed…

    ‘Cameron the convert now ‘delighted’ at Brexit benefits’:
    https://brusselssignal.eu/2023/12/cameron-the-convert-now-delighted-at-brexit-benefits/

    “I’m delighted that we’re doing CPTPP. We’ll be one of the largest players in this new emerging bloc. We can help shape, develop and grow it.

    …It means slightly easier trade…

    Digital trade is a lot easier. The EU is still stuck in the last century with wads of protectionist paperwork and ‘wet signatures’.

    ‘A Worlds First for Digital Trade’:
    https://www.fortvale.com/news/a-worlds-first-for-digital-trade/

    The first ever fully digitalised goods shipment landed in Singapore from Burnley yesterday (24 September) after the UK introduced world-leading legislation to make trading cheaper and easier for businesses.

    …a group of countries most of which are on the opposite of the world from us.

    The gravity model of trade was never that applicable for the UK. 60% of our non-EU exports are services with two-thirds being delivered digitally – it only takes milliseconds to send an insurance policy to a shipowner in Sydney. UK goods exports are mostly high-intrinsic value, such as whisky and aerospace components, where shipping costs a tiny percentage.

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