Archive | Politics RSS for this section

UK General Election 2017: what happens now?

At around 10.00 today my twitter timeline became alive as announcements were made that Theresa May was due to make an announcement at 11.15. There was much speculation. Rumours that she would announce war on North Korea, direct rule in Northern Ireland, pulling out of Eurovision and the resignation of Arsene Wenger amongst others. Laughably, some suggested that May would announce a snap election despite all her previous pronouncements.

Oh.

There then followed cries of: “What about the fixed term parliament act”? Shortly followed by Labour, SNP and Lib Dems all “welcoming” the election call. So that’s the FTPA sorted then.

But what happens next?

Some say that Theresa May is calling an early election so that she can deliver a softer brexit without having to concern herself with her own hard-liners. I find this difficult to believe. It depends I suppose what you mean by a hard brexit but she has committed herself to leaving the Single Market and therefore any chance of Freedom of Movement. It is possible of course that she does a u-turn on this as she has done over an early election but I doubt it. I believe that she believes that a stronger mandate domestically will also strengthen her hand in negotiations, something that experts on Europe are dismissing. Whatever, we need to force her to commit to confirming or denying that our negotiations take us out of the single market and the customs union.

There are many calls for a progressive, anti-brexit alliance. Unfortunately Labour have ruled themselves out of such an alliance by 1) stating that they would make brexit work for the British people (whatever that means) and 2) their utter contempt for other parties. The current leader and his entourage can barely work with other members of the Labour party so it is hardly surprising that they won’t work with others. What I want from Labour is to not only to state what they want but how they are going to go about and get it. Jeremy Corbyn has said that he has spoken with socialist parties across Europe. What are the results of these talks? Are there any strategies in place? Many of their other policies, far from being hard left, are radical and can be seen in other progressive parties. If Labour could declare to be anti-brexit and work with others, I believe we could defeat the Tories. I also don’t think it can happen.

The Lib-Dems were very quick out of the blocks. If you want to remain, vote Lib Dem. I would firstly point out that we are still operating in a first passed the post electoral system. It is the number of seats that count. I also saw a tweet suggesting that to say that you can’t vote Lib- Dem because of the coalition is a “dumb argument” is really not helpful. Many are disgusted at the betrayal of the Lib-Dems (I had expected a Lab/Lib Dem coalition) over tuition fees and benefit cuts and these take time to heal. Many will need persuading and the way for the Lib Dems to do this is to be totally clear what they stand for. If they gained an overall majority (bear with me on this..) would they stick to a second referendum call or will they be bold and stand on reversing article 50? I think the latter should be their starting point. But they also need to state what they would do if in a position of being in a coalition again. I would expect them to state that they will not work with anyone for less than an EEA agreement. And I expect them to stand aside if a Green candidate had a better chance of success.

Because this is going to be a tactical election. If we want to stop Brexit, or even want to remain in the EEA (which many brexiteers wanted) we are going to have to defeat the Tories. If we are to have any hope of doing this we must be tactical and demand clarity from the parties. We need to state clearly what we expect from the EU and the positives it has achieved. We need to not pander to racism and xenophobia but to present and agree on policies that address the insecurity and anxiety of many people.

I know I am tired and many others will be too. Many of us have spent the last 11 months saying “we warned you about that…” But now is our chance, however slim, to do something about this. We need a high turn out, high voter registration-particularly amongst the young- clarity and clever tactics.

Labour, indyref and brexit- where are the progressive policies?

         “What I would say to all my leftwing friends in Europe: don’t try to fake the          populace,” he said. “Stand for your principles. Be straight. Be pro-refugee. Be pro-European. We’re gaining momentum in the polls. You can stop populism.”Jesse Klaver’s GreenLeft

I listened to Kezia Dugdale on BBC Radio 5live refuse to answer the basic question- “Do you agree with May’s govt. veto of a second independence referendum?”

Could not, would not address the question. Because they are afraid of the instant reaction from broadcast media and social media.

Yet it is perfectly tenable to say-

  • The uk government has no right to say whether there should be a Scotland Independence vote. It is up to the people of Scotland.
  • But we don’t believe a referendum is timely and we will vote against.
  • If the referendum takes place, we will campaign vigorously against independence

But they are scared. And what is missing? Scottish Labour ‘s call for a UK federalism. It is there apparently but hardly being shouted from the roof tops. And to work, surely it has to be supported by UK Labour?

Not a word.

And Brexit. I’d be really happy if someone could explain to me what Labour’s tactics on Brexit are hoping to achieve.

“Stand for your principles.” But what are they?

Is there any one who will stick by a policy of a Federal UK within a federal Europe? A bottom up federation with decisions made at the most appropriate  level….. Not the Labour party, divided on indyref and brexit.

Not the Labour Party, too busy arguing between themselves. Neither wing of the party will work together so that coalition is now dead. Neither wing of the Labour Party can be described as progressive.

If Labour doesn’t unite round a left/centre coalition, become a progressive party and stand against media it will die in the same way as social democrat parties are dying across Europe. Perhaps that would be a good thing.

 

 

 

 

Self employment, NIC and the bigger picture: a few thoughts.

The increase of National Insurance Contributions for the self employed has caused quite a stir. The Labour Party have suddenly found a rallying cry, Tories from the right and the left of the party have risen up in rebellion. This has the potential of being an issue on which cross party MPs can unite against the govt.

And yet. My twitter time line has contained many negative comments. Self employed people are tax dodgers. That sounds to me like the claim that all benefit claimants are scroungers.. We need a tax hike. True. But who should be paying that extra tax. They accept  brexit but revolt against this tax adjustment…

Come on. This is important. The govt. have blundered into something in the same way they are blundering into Brexit. There is a real opportunity for cross party solidarity against the government. This might give the remainers in parliament some spine. And the issue is important.

The first thing to recognise is that many people classed as self employed who shouldn’t be. We need to look at case law, look at common sense and look to changing legislation.Many workers should be on PAYE, with the following benefits and certain tax liabilities.

HMRC need to be equipped and able to carry out meaningful enquiries into tax avoidance and evasion.

In fact, the whole tax regime needs to be looked  at and brought up to date.

There is a review due, so why not wait?

This is about the govt. blundering around, making decisions for the  wrong reasons. We can’t keep touch with the changes in society, we need more taxes, we’ll increase NI for a group of people who are ill-defined, many of whom are victims of a tax and liability avoiding businesses.

The govt are going to have to make a humiliating climb down or face defeat. Or the Tory rebels will have to show they are spineless. This is a good thing isn’t it? For the first time Labour have agreed a cross party rebellion.

There is a glimmer of hope.

We need:

  • a review of the definition of self employment to protect the right of workers

who should have employed status.

  • a review of tax avoidance schemes
  • Greater resources for HMRC to investigate and prosecute

We need, really to review the whole tax system to take into account the changing world we live in.

We can use this opportunity to hold the government to account. Who knows, this might give parliament the confidence to question brexit.

 

 

Dear HMRC-a few comments on my contribution.

Dear HMRC,

Thank you so much for sending me a breakdown of how my tax and NI contributions have been spent in 2015-16. I have just a few questions and comments if you don’t mind.

  • I notice that less than £100 has gone towards the cost of the EU. Could I continue to pay this and remain a member of the EU? I personally find this great value for all the benefits membership of the EU gives me and my family. Frankly, I would be prepared to pay a bit more if you like.
  • If this is not possible, I look forward to receiving information as to how much I am contributing to the cost of Brexit over the coming years. I trust that this will be less than the amount I am paying into EU.
  • I notice that the largest sum I pay is towards welfare. I am a strong believer in a generous welfare system but I am concerned that a large proportion of this is being paid to scroungers- to private landlords charging exorbitant rents for substandard housing subsidised through Housing Benefit, to large companies and their shareholders paying low wages via in work benefits. I am sure that you agree we should tackle these scroungers and reduce the bill.
  • Health is another large sum I have contributed to and again, I believe fully in the NHS. I wonder though if you could break down the amount spent? I would like to know how much of my payments went to 1) the profits of private companies who are benefiting from the internal market and 2) the crippling cost of PFI
  • I would be grateful if I could swop the amount I pay for defence (about £450) with the amount I pay for overseas aid (about £100)? I think I would feel safer and better if these sums were reversed.
  • Business and Industry- what does that involve? Hopefully you get some of this money yourselves to adequately pursue tax evasion and avoidance schemes. Perhaps you could even save yourselves some money by bringing the tax regime up to date to take into account the changing nature of work and employment.

There is much more I could say but I realise you must be very busy. Have a great year and I hope you all the best in pursuing the big tax avoiding scroungers.

Richmond Park : of by-elections, alliances and conclusions.

A huge sigh of relief could be heard across my timeline this morning as the news of a Lib Dem victory in the Richmond Park by-election filtered through. For anyone who wants to stay in the EU, is against the vitriol and lying about immigration, this was the first bit of good news for a while, something to be grabbed at and savoured.

Some of the claims made- that this is the start of a Lib Dem revival, a nail in the brexit coffin- are optimistic to say the least. If you haven’t come back to earth after the elation of this morning, read the excellent post by Excel Pope here. But there are some pointers here that look like a possible, positive way forward.

The most important and undeniable conclusion that can be drawn from this result (as Excel Pope says) is that a Tory MP has been replaced by a Lib Dem MP. This in turn means that the government’s working majority is down to 13. That majority can be defeated if the opposition chooses it’s battles and works with those Conservative MPs who are uneasy with the tone and some actions of the government. Other than Brexit I would concentrate on the appalling state of social care. (Read John Harris’ excellent article here). This would require political parties to put pride aside and concentrate on battling against the government and not each other- or in the case of the Labour Party, to put aside the battle within the party.

There is also a glimmer of hope for the power of a progressive alliance. I understand that individual parties would want to stand to enable voters to express their wishes and not the least bad option. The first past the post system however does not reflect those wishes and if we are to fight for representative democracy against the rise of populism and rule by those who speak loudest, we need to change the system. In my view PR is a priority and to get there we would need to make alliances to make that happen. This was not just a Lib Dem victory but a victory for the Green Party and the Conservative and Labour voters who put aside their loyalties in order to obtain a result. (rather than making a stand…)

Note of caution- the turnout. For 47% of the electorate (+/-) not to feel it is worthwhile to vote in this by-election is worrying. This really needs to be addressed,another failure of our political system, the democratic deficit. If it isn’t, the demagogues of populism will fill the gap.

Conclusion? Good news for those of us who oppose brexit and intolerance and who want a change to our voting system. A glimmer of hope before the weekend… (Austrian presidential election, referendum in Italy.)

 

 

Flight or Fight- reacting to the world we are living in.

I met up for a drink with a friend before the match yesterday. I hadn’t seen or spoken to him since the Trump election. After a perfunctory football related conversation (will we win- depends which side turns up, should we play A or B etc) I asked what he thought of the Trump election. He stopped me and said that he did not want, no, could not talk about Trump, Brexit or indeed anything political. He has closed his Facebook account and silenced his Twitter. He no longer watches or listens to the news. He threatened that he preferred it if we stood drinking in silence than talk politics…

Flight…….

I am extremely tempted by this option. I enjoyed the simple escapism of the match, especially as we won 3-0. And today I spent the afternoon reading a book (fiction) in front of an open fire. But I haven’t got the will power to shut myself off completely like that, tempting though it is….

Or Fight…………

I read two very good articles this morning urging us- progressives? Liberals?- to fight back and to fight back effectively. The article by J. Clive Matthews looks at the way the alt-right (fascists and racists?) have marketed their campaign, why they are being successful and the marketing lessons “we” should learn from and fight back, using all the marketing strategies we can. Jonathan Freedland’s article carries the same message though from a political point of view. We need to fight back and fight back hard.

Flight or fight? I am stuck in the middle right now, not sure which way to go. It is all so depressing when you believe in a free, fair society..

I will, I am sure, go into fight mode eventually, as indeed I think my friend will. But I feel I don’t have the strength right now. Labour have totally capitulated on brexit- I feel sorry for the likes of Keir Starmer and Richard Corbett who have fought hard for a proper view on eu within the labour party. I really support the idea of a #progressivealliance but I suspect it won’t happen. And we have to accept that the parameters have shifted- people like me have to support people like Anna Soubry…

At the moment I feel that I am, yes, listening to and reacting to the news but also hiding under the duvet… Soon I – we- need to start the fight back. It might take different forms. Stop Funding Hate is a nice, simple campaign to start with. As a teacher, I am interested in promoting critical thinking, something that seems lost these days. It seems to me that populist politics thrives when there is a democratic deficit. Electoral reform must be high on the list…

There is much to do when we have found the energy to do it..

 

 

Saudi Arabia and Iran: oil prices, war and peace

We welcome Iran to the band of “civilised” countries and agree a nuclear plan.

We arm and advise our allies in Saudi Arabia.

Both countries, with our tacit agreement or indirect support, continue to kill the people of Syria and Yemen.

Yet both countries reach a deal over oil prices- here

Are we really powerless in this? Have we no influence?

I don’t think so. We are complicit in the slaughter that is happening in both Syria and Yemen and cannot Stand By.

 

Eu referendum campaign- dull isn’t it?

So far, I have found the #eu campaign dull, on all sides. I say on all sides because so many different elements make up the “yes” and “no” arguments. There will be some strange coalitions over the next few months….

The three main strands are straight OUT, wait to see what Dave does and IN. I can’t be the only one who thinks that the “wait to see what Dave does” campaign is a waste of time. I can’t see swathes of OUT/NO supporters suddenly thinking: ” Well done Dave, that makes all the difference. I’m going to vote Yes now” when the negotiations are completed.

The OUT/NO campaign is doing exactly what I expected them to do- retelling stories with no basis in fact and with the connivance of the mainstream press.

The IN/YES campaign is also doing exactly what I expected it to do- play on the fear of the unknown.

Dull.

I am a convinced European. I will vote YES/IN , come what may. But we can’t rely on fear of the unknown and apathy lead the campaign- that is what the “Better Together” campaign in Scotland relied on and it nearly didn’t work. Instead, we and the media need to be asking what our  relationship would be if outside of the EU. It is only right that the OUT/NO campaign explain how this would work. Not in vague terms but exploring the practical options.

4 my main concern is that the IN/YES campaign is not doing enough to point out how much better off we’d be if, instead of just tolerating the EU, we embraced it and took full advantage of what we can contribute and benefit from. The obvious example in recent times is the floods and the EU solidarity fund. We could have, but did not, claim money from 4the EU to help the regions affected by the recent flooding. Why?

I cover this extensively in this post- Confused European: floods, rebates and solidarity fund. 

Basically, the government could have claimed money from the EU to help pay for cleaning up after the floods but, despite campaigning from local MPs and MEPs, this has not happened. Why not? The media has been slow to take this up. What they did though was pick up and run with a spurious story, promoted by the OUT/NO campaign about how EU regulations caused the floods… My blog post here-

EU referendum: the press, the floods and the narratives.

This is a serious issue, which affects people across vast regions of the UK but which has barely touched the IN/OUT debate.

Another issue that has a real impact has arisen this weekend. I hope it becomes part of the debate. I suspect it won’t.

It relates to the scandal of the Google tax negotiation and tax havens. The EU has been trying to bring in sanctions against tax havens but this has been opposed by the British government-

Full story here  (The Observer.)

To me, this is another example of how we could positively contribute within EU and benefit from EU. A European approach to tackling tax on global companies would be welcomed by many. The IN/YES campaigners should not be afraid to highlight these issues yet they seem to hang back. So dull it will remain  I fear. Worse, I fear that, if the IN/YES campaign don’t highlight these issues, the so-called immigration debate will dominate, disrupt and deceive.

See also-Narratives, statistics- eu “migrants”

 

 

 

 

EU referendum: the press, the floods and the narrative.

Well at  2 Belgian tweeters are laughing at us Brits following this headline in our esteemed paper, The Daily Express-

Capture

I wouldn’t normally comment on a Daily Express article- to be honest, I wouldn’t normally see a Daily Express article- but I couldn’t quite let this one go. For me, it highlights the real need for a proper debate on the EU, one which I know we won’t get……

A quick look at this article. Firstly, the paper claims that it is farmers who are blaming Brussels for the floods. But immediately, in the first paragraph, it is clear that this isn’t a statement from a group representing farmers-

”  The millionaire leader of a campaign for the UK to leave the EU has blamed rules from Brussels for flooding as he called on Britons to vote to “liberate” themselves in the referendum on EU membership promised by David Cameron.”

So, not farmers but the backer behind the Leave EU campaign, Arron Banks, which supports UKIP.

But this ban on dredging is something we should look into though isn’t it? These meddling bureaucrats are always banning things aren’t they?

Well, no.

I have not checked out the relevant directive- I don’t need to. The Express says;

However, an EU directive says rivers should be left as close as possible to their natural state,”

which does not sound like a ban to me and the rest of the sentence is a non-sequitur-

      “effectively banning farmers and other landowners from dredging.”

Right. No farmers blaming Brussels for a banning directive that doesn’t exist. The story continues to disintegrate as the Express obtains quotes from the Environment Agency confirming that they do do some dredging (so not banned then…) and that dredging isn’t a simple solution to the floods.

But of course it is the headline that sticks. This “one headline, different story” from the Express is not new and can be found across the media. I despair that this will be the level of debate on the EU in the coming months.

I found this particular story irritating for 2 reasons. Firstly, neither side of the brexit campaign seem to want to inform us what the EU actually is and what it does and how it operates. And how we could change it. The Pro-EU campaign- so far- has been similar to the No campaign in the Scottish referendum; a negative, fear-of-change campaign. Not a positive campaign.

Secondly, the mainstream media coverage of the floods has been appalling in my view. Plenty of feel good stories  about the resilience of communities but very little of the politics behind the floods. George Monbiot has tweeted that there has been little or no interest from the media on his views of what could be done despite considerable interest on social media.

Those of you who follow me on twitter will know that I have been particularly preoccupied by the mysterious case of the lack of claiming from the EU solidarity fund. My post can be found here-https://overhere1.wordpress.com/2015/12/07/confused-european-floods-rebates-and-solidarity/

Put succinctly, we could claim money from the EU Solidarity Fund for damage caused by the floods. But we won’t. And the mainstream media is not challenging the government to ask them why not. This is important primarily as there is a source of funding which would help people affected by the floods which the government refuses to acknowledge for political reasons. It is also a prime example of the type of issue that should be discussed in the EU debate- but won’t.

 

 

Confused European; floods, rebates and solidarity.

A committed European and supporter of the EU I still admit to being confused over varies aspects of the EU. I had intended writing a series of posts, explaining my confusions and hoping for explanations, Like so many of my blog ambitions, I failed to deliver. For your information, you can read the original confused European post, with updates, here.

My confused European status was reawakened by the floods and this post by @jonworth

The UK government and EU flood aid money: about as clear as the Cumbria flood waters

The EU has a Solidarity Fund for regions within the EU struck by national disasters. Cumbria and areas in Scotland and Lancashire would appear to fit the bill following the flooding. But, like Jon, I have found no record of UK having made a claim against this Fund in previous flooding. Here

So my Confused European question is: why won’t the UK make a claim against the Solidarity Fund when it will benefit the regions hit by floods?

Well of course it is still open for the government to make a claim. Tim Farron of the Lib Dems has apparently urged a claim against the fund though failed to do so when they were part of the government.[I have been told that LibDems had a go but were overruled.  Apologises . 23/02/16]

And there was a similar situation when the UK government refused funding available for food banks from the EU Aid to the most Deprived Fund. Here The argument there was that national governments knew better how to spend their money in alleviating poverty- apparently side stepping the fact that national government had the right to say how the money was spent. Here So, I think it is highly unlikely that UK will apply for EU funds to help pay for the devastation caused by the floods. Again, I ask, why?

Ah. The UK rebate. Our hard fought attempt to demonstrate our difference. Our rebate would be at risk if we made a claim…

Hang on though… @jonworth- who knows stuff were as I don’t- tells me that for each £3.00 paid out of the Solidarity Fund we would lose £2.00 of our rebate. Now this I know- that means £1.00 gain. In these days of austerity, surely ever extra £1.00 counts.

So why are the UK government unlikely to claim from the EU funds available? The only answers I can come up with are 1) the idea of the “rebate” is so important to the government as a symbol of our separateness that it will sacrifice the extra money, 2) despite the rhetoric of devolving powers and the Northern powerhouse, the government does not want to give up the rebate (paid to UK government) in return for more money, but paid out to the regions. [3) the government does not want to make it look like the Eu does good things] Suggested by @jonworth and I agree. Even the pro eu lobby in #euref  don’t want to trumpet this too loud.

The EU referendum debate needs to include such issues or it will fail us all. And in the meantime, I hope that meps whose constituents are affected will lobby for maximum resources to deal with the floods.