Brexit – The Serendipity of Politics
Brexit – The Serendipity of Politics
Truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder’
We had a referendum about our membership of the EU because the Conservative Party wanted one! Why? They wanted the people to choose between the ‘traditionalists’ and the ‘modernists’ in the party as the leadership was not able to sort these divisions out for themselves. The ‘traditionalists’ have been unhappy about our membership of the EU since we joined in 1973 and have fought a continuing ‘rear-guard action to have the decision reversed. The ‘walls were breached’ in 2010 when David Cameron promised the ‘traditionalists’ that there would be a referendum on our membership of the EU if the Conservatives won the 2015 General Election. They did and the new Government under David Cameron announced on taking Office, that the promised referendum would be held, probably in the mid-term, towards the end of 2017. Clearly this was not acceptable to the ‘Brexit’ group and the referendum was brought forward to 23rd June 2016.
On 23rd June the people had the opportunity to decide whether to Remain with David or Brexit with Boris. We did and chose to go with Boris. Has this solved the problem for the Conservatives? The answer is clearly no. The Conservatives now have a decision from the people by the people for the people; all they have to do is implement it. Implement what you may ask; it’s clear no one really knows because no one had a plan for what to do after ‘Brexit’. REMAIN assumed they would win and Brexit were expecting to lose, so why plan!
So what to do? David Cameron’s decision to resign immediately provided the opportunity for the Conservatives to have another go at solving their internal conflict over our EU membership for themselves under a new leader; and this they did in three short weeks. Impossible you might think, but no, they did it; new hand on the tiller? Maybe!
Phase 1 W/B 27th June – Hats in the ring – The Conservatives begin the ‘leadership change’ debate
Phase 2 – W/B 4th July – Choice of final two candidates, Mrs May and Mrs Leadsom for election by the membership in September. Note. No male candidates on offer, where had Boris and his team gone? They campaigned for Brexit; now they seemed to have ‘gone to ground’. Did they know something we didn’t? Are the Conservatives seeking another Margaret Thatcher? This would be enormously popular with the people of the North who delivered Brexit!
Phase 3 – 11th July 2016 Mrs Leadsom withdraws from the race (on queue?) and Mrs May is declared the winner. No three months nail-biting debate to worry about here!
Phase 4 – 13th July – Mr Cameron meets the Queen and hands in his resignation, 3 minutes later Mrs May is officially Prime Minister with the task of implementing the ‘peoples’ desire to Brexit.
Phase 5 – Mrs May creates her Government – WIP
A great example of the Conservatives in action; they even managed to ‘bury’ Chilcot in the noise! Labour on the other hand still has ‘a long row to hoe’ as we gardeners say, to get their leadership problems sorted out.
We now have a new team in Government and the Brexiteers, or most of them have re-appeared; Mrs Leadsom is now Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. In her acceptance speech Mrs May told us that she believes that Brexit really means just that. She and her team, apart from running the country, will by Christmas, have created a vision of the UK under Brexit; how it will look and feel to be British by 2025 and have a series of strategies to deliver this vision which I am sure we are all looking forward to debating over the Christmas Turkey.
Where to start? It seems to me that it is important understand why Remain lost as some of the reasons why people voted for Brexit appear to be at odds with those set out in the Brexiteers campaign. These differences I believe need to be understood and taken into account if the Mrs May’s team are to be successful.
Why did Remain lose the referendum?
There are many reasons for this however I believe these five are the most important;
‘Remain’ expected to win. They had won an unexpected election victory in 2015 with an aggressive campaign and felt a little more of the same would do the trick. However in this situation the ‘shires’ were not the majority; a referendum really means one person one vote! The negative, parent/child style of the General Election which had clearly not gone down well with many voters was repeated together with ‘kindly’ daily advice from world leaders and financiers on how to vote. Forecast after forecast foreshadowing disaster for any other course of action were the daily diet. The Chancellor even produced a ‘pseudo’ budget showing how poor people would become if they did not ‘obey’ the call to stay. For many, this form of ‘direct instruction’ created the opposite response; someone had forgotten the ‘Dunkirk spirit’!
2. Recent political history
Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979 with a programme to destroy the Trades unions and re-establish the power of the ‘establishment’. This she did with considerable enthusiasm and support from the establishment. The decimation of traditional industries in the North and the focus on finance and banking primarily in the South East as the new ‘saviours’ of the UK economy, confirmed the north-south divide. The problem was further exacerbated by the Blair government which followed similar policies on employment and economic development; Labour did however pump more money into the North to try to alleviate some of the hardship.
In addition to the hardship caused by the loss of thousands of jobs the North has suffered from a lack of justice for events like Orgreave, Hillsborough and the several ongoing high-profile paedophile investigations. Hillsborough was finally brought to Justice in 2016, twenty-seven years after the event; we are still awaiting a decision on whether justice will be seen to be done at Orgreave and the paedophile cases are ‘lying in the long grass’ at the moment. Sadly, whilst many of the victims are still alive the accused are dying off!
3. The ‘big bad wolf’ syndrome
Since joining the European Union in 1974 UK politicians from all parties have used Brussels as the whipping boy for their own failures. If they are not able to achieve something it was always Brussels fault! Consequently large numbers of people believe that Brussels is the problem; it’s full of ‘unelected bureaucrats’, including ours of course, who are just eating our hard-earned money. These people ‘stop our poor politicians from solving the nation’s problems’ so we will help them by leaving. Own goal!
Man is a ‘wanting animal’ and quickly becomes bored with ‘more of the same’. It’s clear from comments made after the referendum that many people felt that having been in Europe for a time, maybe it would be a good idea to try something else, a bit of a challenge! If you are not prepared for people to take the challenge, don’t offer it!
5. UKIP – The UK Independence Party
Last, but not least we have UKIP. UKIP was founded in 1991 by the historian Alan Sked as Eurosceptic party with the simple aim of freeing Britain from the yoke of Europe. The party slowly established itself as the focal point for the Eurosceptic vote. Nigel Farage became leader in 2006 and in the 2015 election received 13.6% of the vote which in a democracy based on Proportional Representation would have given them seven MP’s in Parliament. Sadly they only have one and he is a defector from the Conservatives. They have three members in the House of Lords and twenty-two MP’s in the European Parliament where they are the largest in the UK contingent. They have 488 local councillors in the UK and recently won seven seats in the Welsh National Assembly. They are roundly disliked by the other political parties and there are rumours that there has been some collusion to keep them out of Westminster. However it is their vote that has delivered BREXIT so, it seems to me that they have a right to be engaged in the development of the post EU Britain. This will clearly provide a challenging opportunity for the new Conservative administration, however Nigel Farage’s resignation should make this easier.
There are clearly many more reasons why one would vote Brexit including of course our NHS, but I believe that these are the main reasons why Brexit succeeded. For me this referendum demonstrates the reality of the North – South divide and the ‘distance’ between the politicians and the people which is ‘built’ into our electoral system. Whilst our ‘traditional’ form of electing governments is ‘comfortable’ for the two main parties it means that Governments of either hue, will normally only represent around 30% of the electorate; this, it seems to me, does not reflect the ‘will of the people’ in 2016.
For Mrs May the first part of her premiership apart from managing the day-to-day affairs of the country, will be to preside over the creation of the party’s vision of Brexit UK. It seems to me that there are four main parts to this.
1. Rectify the situation which led to Brexit
2. Assess the real value of the European Project and decide the type of relationship we would like with Europe and the rest of the world in the future and how this will be delivered
3. Create a ‘fair’ strategy for enabling the UK to live within its means. There is no good reason, in my view, why the poor should continue to pay for the mistakes of past Governments; neither does it make any economic sense to make the poor poorer.
4. Turn the Conservative Party into a ‘one nation’ machine that will work with the people to deliver a fair quality of life for the majority of our inhabitants.
Rectify the situation which led to Brexit
For Mrs May and her new team the first job should be and it’s clear from her acceptance speech that this is her intent, to start to build a new relationship between Parliament and the people, especially the people of the North. This mens creating the conditions for greater involvement of the people in politics. We have a new Government and a new opportunity to develop a trusting relationship between the people and their Government. I believe that to achieve this, the Government needs to put in place a new system of communication. For example Mrs May could introduce a monthly ‘PM’s Question Time For the Nation; a 30 minute slot on prime time TV where the PM updates us on what’s going on and answers some questions from viewers. Maybe this can be supported by monthly News Letters by MP’s to their constituents; this can be further supported by a quarterly review of MP’s performance. In this way major decisions can be communicated to the public before implementation and their views taken into account before enactment. For example Mrs May has said that she expects to have at least an outline programme for the Brexit negotiations with our EU partners the end of the year. This could be shared with the people before moving to implementation and their views taken onto account. The adoption of something based on the Swiss model of democracy might also be considered.
Assess the real value of the European Project
Was ‘BREXIT’ a good decision for the UK and indeed for Europe? It depends how one looks at it. On the plus side the EU has given us;
1. Peace in our time, at least in Western Europe – Whilst some EU countries have been involved in wars for different reasons, the repercussions of which are being felt in Western Europe there has been no war in the West for over 70 years. This is the longest period without war in our history.
2. Simplification / Standardisation – An enormous amount of valuable work has been done to standardise weights, measures, forms, documents, procedures etc. All of which is clearly beneficial to the free movement of goods, services and people across the EU.
3. We can freely sell and transport our goods and services in a ‘common’ market of over 510 million people in 28 countries.
4. Open borders – We can travel from one end of the EU to the other without let or hindrance. No queues at border posts, no posts, no visas, nothing, one country.
5. The freedom to live and work where we would like – Thousands of people now live and work in countries and jobs of their choice, thousands more have retired to sunnier climes to enjoy their ‘troisième âge’. The EHIC allows us to receive free medical treatment in any EU country and those who move for longer periods can easily transfer their Health Care provision to their new country of residence.
6. Greater security – It is clear that in these troubled times ‘intelligence’ is vital to enable law enforcement officers to maintain a secure environment for us to live and work. Co-operation between different national security agencies, we are assured by those who know, has been very valuable.
On the minus side we have;
1. The cost of membership – This clearly a very emotive question and the answer depends on what costs you count, what you compare them with and what you see as the benefits of membership. Clearly there will be waste, as there is in all bureaucracies and something could be done about this, however it’s the cost of membership. If the value of the membership out weights the cost, then it’s good to be a member, if not it’s time to seek a type of membership that will yield better value for money.
2. Rich and poor countries – The idea of supporting the poor of other nations does not resonate well with the British public. There will always be rich and poor countries, as there are rich and poor regions within countries and rich and poor districts in towns and cities. Every nation, region and city has these and provides relief for the poorest members of their society because they are a ‘national’ concern. The problem for the EU is, as I see it, is that EU members are nation states, not states within a nation. The current solution is for the rich nations to lend the poor nations money to solve their problems but this is clearly self-defeating as the interest and repayments only drive the borrower further into debt!
3. Currency; nineteen of the twenty-eight countries in the EU are in the ‘Euro Zone’, the others are not – Those who are in the euro have the advantage of a common currency thus avoiding the fluctuations of currency and exchange costs within the market. For the eight countries like the UK however which has retained the £ the market decides the value of the currency. This can have a significant impact value of trade deals and thus the profitability of buyer and seller.
4. The free movement of people – This has been a major driver of Brexit but at the same time is an essential part of the UK economy. The destruction of our three tried education system during the Thatcher years and the unrealistic upgrading of young people’s expectations has led to a major gap in basic skills base. This has been and is being filled by workers from other EU countries. These people are not immigrants, they are workers who are doing jobs that our indigenous population either don’t want to or can’t do. We need these people and we need to change our attitudes towards them.
5. Our attitude to Europe. It seems to me that our politicians have never embraced the concept of Europe. There has been a continual ‘blame game’ in which they use Europe as a scape goat for their own failings. Margret Thatcher set the tone for an adversarial relationship and we have continued with this ever since.
6. We have a trade deficit with the EU that we are unable to resolve. This is not an issue concerning our membership of the EU as such but reflects our competitiveness as a trading partner. ‘Since 1998, the United Kingdom has been running consistent trade deficits mainly due to increase in demand of consumer goods, decline in manufacturing, appreciation of the GBP £ and deterioration in oil and gas production’ See http://www.tradingeconomics.com/united-kingdom/balance-of-trade; The main reason for this as I understand it, is that our trade with China, which we conduct through our EU trading portal, is ‘unbalanced, we buy more than we sell. We finance this deficit by borrowings which have caused our UK Sovereign Debt to rise from 85% of GDP in 2010 to 90% today.
So is BREXIT a ‘good’ decision for the UK? Some aspects of membership of the EU are very positive. There is no doubt that membership of the EU has been good for Britain and the British people. It would be a tragedy if we were to lose the freedoms it offers for people and trade. We don’t like some of the legislation, although we approved it! The Human Rights Act has upset the Government from time to time because it’s not convenient to have decisions made in Whitehall overturned by a learned judge in Strasbourg; does it really matter? Should British citizens not have the same rights as other EU citizens? Of course we should. No, the real problem as I see it, is not our membership of the EU, it is our lack of competitiveness; we are not able to earn as much as we spend!
Create a ‘fair’ strategy for enabling the UK to live within its means.
The key here for me is ‘fair’ strategy. The policy of the Conservatives under David Cameron was ‘austerity’; taking money out of the economy to reduce consumption. This means taking money from the poor. Downsizing Government services and the planned withdrawal of £30Bn from the economy would only reduce economic activity and punish the poor for the sins of the rich. This is clearly ‘unfair’’; the poor did not create the problems and should not be forced to pay for them. Happily Mrs May has indicated that her Government will abandon the austerity programme and seek to follow a more Keynesian approach of ‘value adding’ investment to expand the economy. No one knows at the moment what this means and we await the ‘Brexit’ Plan for clarity. The key to success will be the addition of sufficient new ‘value’ in our economy to allow us to maintain our desired standards of living.
Turn the Conservative Party into a ‘one nation’ machine
I feel that this is an opportunity for ‘cross party’ action. It’s clear that the Conservatives are not the only ones with problems. The Liberals were decimated at the last election; primarily it seems to me, for having the temerity to partner the Conservatives in the last Government. Labour is having its own crisis with a major conflict between the ‘traditional’ and ‘modernising’ wings of the party. At this moment neither the Government nor Opposition are fully able to devote themselves to the needs of the electorate; they are both split into groups each with its own agenda. This is not a children’s game, we need our politicians focused on doing what is best for the country. We now have an opportunity, not to just ‘put the wheels back on the ‘economic wagon’ which I believe to be broken anyway, but to create a new paradigm. Something relevant to a world of infinite supply and finite demand where ‘work’ the cornerstone of capitalism is in short supply and can no longer be the driving force of the economy but a privilege for the few. Where things like job sharing, lifelong education, career change and ‘garden leave’ will become the norm. The Swiss Government recently ask the voters if they would approve the idea of paying people for not working. The proposal was rejected of course however the fact that serious people like the Swiss Government are thinking about it means it needs to be on the agenda.
How might this be achieved? Well it seems to me that nothing can be achieved whilst the ‘traditionalists’ are fighting the ‘modernisers’ in both major parties. So why not create two new parties. The ‘traditionalists’ from both Labour and Conservative can come together and create a new party called, for example ‘TRADS-INC’. The ‘modernisers’ from each party can come together and create a new party called ‘MODS-INC’. Thus the like-minded people from both sides would be together. They can both create a programme for what they would like to do with the country over the next five years and we the electorate could vote in the party with the most appealing programme. The chosen party could then devote their time and energy working for us, the people. Crazy? Maybe, but it’s equally crazy to think that we can go back to things as they were and none of us would really want to. The only direction open to us is ‘onward and upwards’; to achieve this change of direction something radical needs to be done!
It seems to me that the most important lesson from Brexit is the failure of politicians on both sides of our divide to do anything practical about our economic problems. Whoever rises like the phoenix from the flames of this debacle needs to be a truly ‘one nation’ leader if we are to rise again.
Looking forward to Christmas!
George & Richard, July 2016