All Change Please

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Following the success of the “leave” vote David Cameron’s position was always going to be untenable. He took a huge gamble in calling the referendum and lost. So has George Osborne and he will be forced to resign too. Boris Johnson will have deeply upset his friends in the City of London for jeopardising the status of the City as the pre-eminent financial centre of Europe and will pay for that in the end.

Jeremy Corbin dithered on the sidelines and remains the most unelectable Labour leader since Michael Foot. Although Corbin’s party ostensibly stood for “Remain” it was clear that Corbin himself was pro-exit and that view transmitted itself to large numbers of Labour supporters in the northern working class heartlands who felt they were safe in exercising their anti-Europe anti-immigration traditional view. Had Corbin and Labour campaigned convincingly to remain the result could well have been different. Corbin was elected in large part due to the support garnered from young Labour voters who joined the Party in big numbers following the Labour defeat in 2015 and specifically to vote for him as leader. Corbin has let those young voters down and he needs to at the very least call a leadership contest to ensure that he still has the support of his Party and those young voters who elected him. I suspect he does not.

What this referendum shows is the deep divisions within the UK. Between the younger generation and the over 50’s, between the haves and have nots and the Scots against the English.

Nobody voted for regime change but that is what has happened. The referendum was  supposed to be about Europe. What we have is a change of government. From the more liberal Cameron and his supporters to the more extreme and right wing elements of the Conservative party, UKIP and other right wing elements.

Once the Tories have chosen their leader then a General Election needs to be called so that the electorate can express their views on the change of direction the new UK Government will have. Boris Johnson, Gove et al do not have the “mandate” to bring in right wing policies neither have they been elected to lead by the UK electorate. But regime change is probably what is needed.

The UK needs a new kind of politics. Political matters are grey not black and white. Britain’s confrontational system means that single issues dominate the agenda such as immigration or the economy and that means that the subtleties of the world are ignored. Politicians focus on those big sound bite issues in order to win a vote even though they know that by focusing solely on those single issues problems will arise in other areas which will need to be dealt with but will attract electoral opprobrium when political leaders are forced to confront them. “Leave” has given a major headache to any new Prime Ministerial incumbent. There needs to be a greater honesty from politicians as to the consequences of the decisions they and us make. There is a price to pay for “taking control” and to limiting immigration. There is no way that the UK will get access to the European Single Market on terms better than it had despite many saying Europe needs the UK more than we need Europe and the EU will have to make a deal on our terms. Europe will not and Europe cannot as the whole edifice of Europe will collapse. The best the UK can hope for are the terms that all the other countries accept which includes budget contribution and acceptance of free movement of people. We may even have to accept Schengen as a condition of entry. The latter can’t be accepted given the vote and so the UK is effectively locked out of the Single Market. Any trade deals will have to be worked out on a country by country basis and given the problems Europe has already it will be difficult to negotiate these with any degree of speed.

Given the position the UK is in what is required is a government that will invest in the economy and provide an environment where new business can flourish. It will need to provide more support for training and encourage exports in order to use the temporary benefit created by the plunge in the value of sterling. Funding for scientific research will need to be provided. Banks will need to lend more to business and repay the “debt” due to the country following the rescue of banking in 2008. The government will probably need to cut corporate taxes further in order to attract inward investment and retain the overseas companies that are here already. There will be a huge pressure on overseas manufacturers to relocate to other EU countries. What benefit can Honda, Nissan, and Toyota have to remain UK based when they can move production to Spain or Hungary? Government borrowing will inevitably need to increase and increase substantially. This means world capital markets need to be convinced that the UK has the ability to create an economy that is radically different than that which we have seen over the last 100 years. There can be no return to confrontation between workers and business even if that means workers giving up some of their rights which were granted as a result of EU legislation. Unfortunately the UK will need to do this at the same time as the rest of the world.

I am not convinced that the system and people that are in place at present can deliver such an outcome but unless as a nation we can find a solution then the next 10 years could be very difficult.


Brexit – There shouldn’t even be a vote


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There has been a lot of comment during the referendum campaign that a reason to vote to exit is in order that the nation can take control back from the unelected mandarins of the EU. The argument goes that by leaving the citizens of the UK can once again represent themselves on the world stage and the UK will once again be a sovereign nation in charge of its own destiny. (It still is by the way either in or out of the EU)

But just how representative is the UK in recognising the views of its population.

In the 2015 General Election according to the BBC only 66.1% of the available electorate bothered to vote. Of that 66.1% only a minority of 36.9% voted for the Conservative party. Therefore the controlling party in parliament has the active support of less than 25% of the available voting public. In Scotland this support for the party in charge is substantially less.

In addition to this the parliamentary candidates of all parties are chosen by a very small number of local party members. Those local memberships by virtue of the fact that they are activists will tend to represent the more extreme views of their respective parties and by inference are more likely to chose candidates who share those views. The majority of voters do not choose MP’s.

The referendum itself illustrates the nature of the problem. Whichever way the vote goes, and it is clear that the decision will be close, a substantial minority will not get the decision it seeks. The vote if very close would mean that over 20 million possible voters will see a decision for which they do not agree imposed upon them. That being the case and given the size of that unsatisfied electorate the conflict within the UK will continue. If the leavers fail they will feel justified in continuing to progress the cause just because a significant minority hold the same view. If the remain camp fail then it is unlikely they will be in a position follow a policy of re-admittance to the EU and their feeling of injustice will be heightened by the fact that such a small difference in the vote swayed the decision. The independence campaign in Scotland will be re-ignited and possibly in the other nations comprising the UK.

Democracy as we understand the term works on a small scale where individuals can have an impact on the decision and the impact on the number of citizens will be low even if the proportion of the total is high. As voting numbers increase then the magnitude of the numbers who disagree increases. What are you more comfortable with a disagreement of 2 out of 10 or 200 out of a 1,000? That 200, just by the size of the minority, feels more justified by its position just from the number of fellow people who hold the same view. Unless people become more actively involved in the political decision making process at a local and party level so that their views can be added to the political conversation at an early stage then the idea that us as individuals have a say in the governance of the nation is a fallacy. A vote every 5 years based on manifestos published by the parties which are rarely implemented in full and remain largely unread or cherry picked views conveyed to the populace by the media does not give political power to the voter.

Those who obsess about sovereignty and control need to examine the reality of our political form. The reality is that as a nation we cede sovereignty to numerous organisations, lobbyists and governments who claim mandates but who in reality have very small bases of active support among the electorate.

Most people take very little interest in the political life of our countries most of the time. The best we can hope for is that the policies and views of those to who we hand political control remains unextreme and moderate. In that way, even if we do not agree with all the policies, at least the majority of us can accept moderate exceptions which is why we as a country are willing to accept our system as it stands with little individual participation from the majority of the population.

There is a strident call for the nation to retake control of its destiny and give power back to the people. This power does not exist for most of us. The political elites and big business may gain some personal power but for the ordinary voter their influence will remain what it has always been, very small.

If we as voters accept that we abdicate political power to small elites and accept their decisions as binding then this referendum should not even be happening. Our membership of the EU has been democratically decided by our Parliament, has the support of the existing Government and both these institutions have been voted for by the electorate under the terms of the political process we as voters have accepted so there is no constitutional reason for all this energy to be wasted on a vote that has no justification. If people want to leave the EU then at a General Election they should vote for a party who will guarantee to leave the EU. You wouldn’t even need to guarantee a majority. That is how our system works.