Being pragmatic


Apparently the government is worried about spreading misleading news:

Just because a story is online, doesn’t mean it’s true. The internet is great, but can also be used to spread misleading news and content. Make sure you know what you’re sharing. Don’t feed the beast. (Cabinet Office)

Maybe they’ve been reading my MP’s Brexit updates. Her latest update isn’t an improvement…

Well it’s been another bumpy week pushing the Brexit process along in a leaky Westminster, and from my inbox, more than at any other time, it’s crystal clear that this Parliament’s inability to find a route by which it can support a smooth, orderly and timely exit from the EU is harming our democracy.

Parliament had been trying to find a compromise solution to allow a smooth and orderly exit, and found several which were closer to a majority than Theresa May’s deal, despite the government’s efforts to block the process.

As Eastleigh’s MP, I’ve always recognised that MPs on ALL sides need to be pragmatic – if we are to move forward towards negotiating our future trading relationship, and that’s why I’ve supported the Withdrawal Agreement agreed with the EU27.

Pragmatism is clearly now a euphemism for agreeing with Theresa May, who hasn’t changed her red lines since she made them up, and hasn’t changed her ‘deal’ since November.

If MPs across the House had chosen to do the same, by now we would have left the European Union and be doing exactly that.

Out of interest, what do you think an MP’s job is?

Instead, MPs, in particular this week led by Labour’s Yvette Cooper, are pushing through Bills within just ONE DAY in order to try and thwart Brexit.

I agree that they’ve left things a little late but rushing the article 50 extension bill through doesn’t seem exactly surprising after the Prime Minister only requested a short extension despite the previous vote on requesting an extension. Also, it doesn’t ‘thwart’ Brexit at all, which I’m sure you realise.

If Ms Cooper and others were so intent on preventing a No Deal Brexit then they should have supported the negotiated Deal – it’s clear that their actual end goal is to drag, disrupt and frustrate the process in the hope that we never leave.

Threatening MPs with no deal to force them to agree a deal which they, rightly, believe to be bad for the country hardly seems pragmatic. At least they are trying to prevent no deal; there was a time time when you were concerned that the opposition wanted to “crash economy into No deal & blame this on Govt” which was far fetched even then.

Other MPs, led by the Liberal Democrats and SNP have taken a separate route to thwarting Brexit, instead choosing to push for a ‘Confirmatory’ formerly ‘Peoples’ Vote – a move supported almost exclusively by those who wish to reverse the result of the 2016 Referendum and ensure that we remain in the EU.

You really don’t seem to want to allow people to have a say on whether the deal negotiated by Theresa May meets their expectations. That would be slightly odd even if there wasn’t an impasse in parliament but, under the circumstances, it seems like a perfectly pragmatic solution to the current problems.

If a Second Referendum was held, I do believe it would be even more divisive than the first and only add to where we are now. People want us to do our jobs and deliver for them. It’s a very fair ask! I know people do still feel strongly on either side too and I appreciate and understand this. The division and current lack of cohesion can’t be taken lightly.

Holding the first referendum on Theresa May’s deal may well be divisive but that very much depends on how it’s conducted. If politicians started being honest about the trade-offs we face, and stopped framing the ongoing democratic process as thwarting the will of the people, or a betrayal, a referendum may well provide the space needed to bring most of the country back together. It’s certainly better than threatening the country with endless cliff edges to get your own way.

So, I have voted for every option by which I feel could lead to a timely exit from the EU – delivering on the result of the 2016 Referendum and to try to move us forward.

You have done a good job of supporting the deal we agreed with the EU, which only Kenneth Clarke did better at.

Recent by-election results have shown the impact that the inability to deliver Brexit is having on our democracy, with the number of people using their vote visibly reduced to around 30% in some areas – this comes on the backdrop of the EU Referendum which saw close to 80% of the people in our area turning out to vote.

Treating democracy with contempt probably doesn’t help turn out. Our first past the post system is another issue, especially when neither of the two main parties differ significantly on a subject as significant as Brexit. Even so, it will be interesting to see what happens in the local elections.

Yesterday I had many constituents visit Parliament for a chat and a tour, and it was clear overall that they want us to get on and deliver a smooth and orderly Brexit as soon as possible, and I shared this with the Prime Minister when I met with her again yesterday evening.

Have you started keeping track of constituents Brexit correspondence properly yet? If you’ve not already seen it yet, quite a few of your constituents signed the petition to revoke article 50. It’s a pity you missed the debate.

The Public has rightly run out of patience with those MPs who simply wish to and choose to continue to delay, disrupt and then choose not deliver on their promises to the electorate. There is a plague on all our houses by these actions, and our democracy, one of the world’s greatest, will surely suffer as a result.

I would agree that people are entitled to be frustrated about the prime minister’s track record of unnecessary delay. She wasted a huge amount of time calling a snap election after triggering article 50. She only finally managed to agree a deal with the EU in November last year, which MPs were then not given the opportunity to vote on until months later. She keeps on delaying and running down the clock, which she started without an agreed plan even within her own cabinet.

Remind me which promises that were made in the referendum campaign will be delivered by Theresa May’s deal. What about in the event of no deal? Our democracy is suffering already and only a significant change in behaviour will begin to repair the huge damage that has been done.

That is why I will continue to work towards delivering on the EU Referendum Result, and help the Prime Minister to move our Country forward.

How? By voting to leave ‘on time’ regardless of the consequences? By refusing to compromise to get an alternative deal through parliament?

I know that some constituents have concerns over the current discussions between the Government and the Official Opposition, however, we do not choose the Leader of the Opposition.

My only concern is that they are just for show. The government should have been working across party lines since the beginning, and certainly since you lost a majority in the snap election.

I think it is right the Prime Minister works across Parliament to try to seek a consensus, but I do very sincerely like many others do find this hugely difficult due to the history and associations the Leader of Opposition has on record of being engaged with.

To be fair it must be difficult working with the prime minister given her history of broken promises.

Yet delivering on the outcome of vote cast by my constituents both in June 2016, as well as in the General Election in June 2017 is what this Government must do and can never stop trying in this and if we can find common ground it will be a welcome miracle!! But it may deliver again different challenges. We will see! GULP!

Those outcomes were a narrow majority to leave the EU, and your party losing its majority. The prime minister still seems to be having difficulty accepting either of those things.

But to conclude for this post- something brighter-There is hope and opportunity beyond leaving the EU and by Parliament delivering on the Referendum result – we have so much to gain!

Such as?

MPs must now chose to believe in a Global Britain in the way voters have entrusted their belief in us.

Good grief, we were Global Britain. Leaving the EU is not going to make us any more global, and leaving without meeting our international obligations will be incredibly damaging to our global standing.

If not, our democracy runs the risk of being damaged beyond repair. The stakes for all Parties are high – with the public now just seeing us as a whole delivering nothing but heightened divisions and ongoing damage.

The stakes are high but the biggest risk at the moment is a prime minister who is almost out of control.

It’s high time for this whole Parliament to do much better – as sincerely it is in the National interest.

I couldn’t agree more! It’s time for all MPs to step up.

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Contempt of democracy


My MP. Mims Davies, recently emailed her latest Brexit update to Eastleigh constituents but if, like me, she didn’t send it to you, don’t worry; it didn’t say anything new. In fact, despite my response to her last update, it contains the same specious claims as before: control, borders, money, citizen rights, jobs, etc. I guess she didn’t read my letter.

It would be a joke if it wasn’t so serious, unfortunately it looks like Mims is going to carry on spreading the same misleading alternative facts as the prime minister until the bitter end. It’s this complete contempt for democracy that has got us in to the current mess and, whatever happens on the 29th March, it’s not going to end well.

Both leave voters and remain voters have legitimate concerns about democracy and respecting the referendum, and both are right to feel aggrieved because we have all been treated with utter contempt from the very beginning. Starting with David Cameron’s reasons for giving us a referendum.

If you think the EU referendum had anything to do with a genuine concern for what the country wanted, ask yourself why there wasn’t a referendum on something the country actually cared about before 2016. For example, austerity, or the NHS.

No, David just wanted to solve a problem he had with the Conservative party, and protecting the conservative party has featured just as strongly in the self inflicted crisis ever since then.

Having called for a show referendum it would have been nice if MPs had taken it seriously but unfortunately they proceeded to treat the whole thing with just as much contempt as the prime minister had. No need for a threshold on such a constitutionally significant question because it’s just advisory. That turned out well didn’t it.

Happily we don’t need to say too much about the actual referendum campaign, suffice to say it was universally awful.

And the result of trying to unite the Conservative party was a toxic narrow victory for leaving the EU, which looks like it has successful divided the country for a generation. It’s also worth noting the result is unsafe but since it was advisory, who cares?

Things looked bad, but even at this stage David could have built a sensible consensus on the way forward that truly respected the narrow win for leaving the EU. Dave? Dave?

Oh.

David Cameron outside number 10

Photo: Open Government Licence v3.0

Things really took a turn for the worse when Theresa-totalitarian tendencies-May moved in. Respect for democracy? Don’t make me laugh! From the outset, this was her chance to get rid of all those pesky foreigners that she’d been failing to keep out for her entire career.

Obviously triggering article 50 without a plan and calling a snap election makes perfect sense. Who wouldn’t give up their best (only?) leverage and waste a good chunk of the subsequent two year deadline just to lose your majority?

Having made these unforced errors, the contempt for democracy shifts up a gear. She hasn’t once behaved as if she lost her majority. In attempting to ram her own personal Brexit through, she has trampled over parliament at every opportunity. Mostly successfully to MP’s great shame.

Talking of shameful MPs, my MP is now essentially voting to leave the EU on 29th March with no deal. I would really love to know how she thinks this is in anyway a good thing for the UK or her Eastleigh constituency.

She still talks of 17.4 million people as if that number still exists, rather than being a fleeting coalition of people projecting their own vision of leaving onto the blank canvas of the leave campaign. What she’s actually doing is fuelling that belief that democracy is frozen in time in 2016 and must be respected at all costs, rather than being an ongoing process. It’s a dangerous illusion that will surely fail when people realise that none of the promises made in 2016 have been respected.

No one voted for the kind of Brexit that we’ll get if we leave the EU on the 29th March without honouring our international obligations.

Since MPs have so spectacularly failed to do their jobs over the last two years (obviously with some notable exceptions) it doesn’t seem unreasonable to go back to people with the options that are actually available.

Sadly Mims is not the only one to characterise a referendum on Theresa May’s own personal Brexit deal as a Second Referendum. Perhaps she’s confused because MPs have already had two chances to vote on the deal, but the rest of us haven’t even been given our first opportunity to provide our informed consent. In the unlikely event that the people voted to remain in the EU at this stage, how is that in any way disrespectful of the people in 2016? Or was the snap election disrespectful? It’s hard to keep up on what is democratic and what isn’t.

None of this is going end well, whether we eventually leave the EU or not. Thanks to a persistent pattern of contempt for democracy by a large number of people in the UK, including my MP, the mother of parliaments is not looking well. I fear that it’s almost too late to save her.

Manchester March


This weekend I’ll be in Manchester supporting the stop brexit march and I thought it would be worth letting my MP, Mims Davies, know some of the reasons why.

Dear Mims,

Thank you once again for taking the time to respond to my letters. In particular, I greatly appreciate your public support of EU citizens’ rights. You have consistently been supportive on this issue since I began writing to you, and I hope you will be able to build on that support with your colleagues at the Conservative party conference. It is time to turn promising language from the Prime Minister’s recent speech into real progress on implementing an acceptable guarantee, independently of the rest of the negotiations. Our friends and neighbours have already waited too long with the current uncertainty.

While it has been my long held view that this country is significantly stronger and more influential as a member of the European Union, I do understand that there is a perception that the UK is somewhat detached from the rest of Europe, and perhaps has differing aspirations.

If our exit from the EU had been skillfully handled, shaped on the basis of the small majority who voted for that outcome, with proper debate and broad agreement, I would probably not be marching in Manchester this weekend.

The unfortunate reality is that the whole process has instead been botched at every step. From the bill to set the terms of the referendum; the appalling referendum campaigns; the subsequent Conservative leadership election; the questionable manner in which Parliamentary consent was finally requested to trigger Article 50; the arbitrary deadline for making the Article 50 notification, without even agreeing on what brexit actually meant; the utterly irresponsible snap election while the two year Article 50 countdown was already running; to the deal with the DUP to cling on to power when the border in Ireland is such a key issue in the negotiations. This is not our finest hour.

If we manage to negotiate an agreement with the EU before the two years ellapse, good, bad or otherwise, it will be a miracle. Regardless of what the current Prime Minister offers by way of a final vote on the deal in Parliament, I hope and expect all MPs to put the country first and act in the best interests of their constituents.

Regards, James


Lies, damned lies, and more damned lies


It was tough to settle on just the one rant today but the general election had barely been announced before I spotted the first reminder on twitter about the Lib Dems broken tuition fee promise…

Yep, no arguments there. Broken promise. Bad. Still, Nick Clegg did actually apologise, which is something. And, to be fair, Labour had already let students down on tuition fees. Is that broken promise a good enough reason not to vote Lib Dems though?

I guess it’s hard to quantify or compare broken promises. (I’m not a student, although I have another reason for caring about tuition fees who is rapidly growing up.) Having said that, there seem to have been a few broken promises about lately. “We say: yes to the Single Market”, “Let’s give​ our NHS the £350 million the EU takes every week”, “There should be no general election until 2020”, and so on.

Perhaps if the only dishonest politicians were Liberal Democrats, I might vote for a party that supports brexit. (More likely I’d spoil my ballot again.) Back in the real, post-truth, world, I’ll probably be voting for the only pro-EU party I can.

350 million squirrels


If you’re unfortunate enough to follow me on twitter, you’ve probably noticed that I’m currently just a bit grumpy about the UK’s crazy course towards the worst possible exit from the EU.

To be clear, unless someone can convince me otherwise (I’m still waiting for a reply from my pro-brexit MP), I will be voting to remain in or rejoin the EU at every available opportunity. I’ll also be at the Unite for Europe march on the 25th March.

But the thing that really makes me grumpy is the lack of any kind of sensible opposition. What usually gets me yelling at clouds is when someone pops up moaning about the pledge to spend more money on the NHS. (Apparently some people don’t think the bus was really misleading but the billboard seems less ambiguous.) The whole thing reminds me of a larger scale version of distracting a toddler. Oooooo, look, squirrel…

Photo © Patrick Wagstrom

Even if, and this is clearly never going to happen, the current government suddenly do decide that they’ll give any of the supposed £350 million to the NHS, it kind of misses the bigger picture. That £350 million is already worth less than when it was plastered on the side of a bus and we haven’t even started to leave yet. Pointing out that the Conservative manifesto included a commitment to the single market would probably do more to help the NHS than complaining about a bus. Actually ensuring MPs get a meaningful role in shaping the UK’s future relationship with the EU might also be a good idea. There are plenty of issues that will impact the NHS at least as much as extra funding, all of which deserve more scrutiny than they are going to get as things stand. For example, the European Medicines Agency or staffing from the EU. I’ll stop before this turns into even more of a rant but the point is that Brexit could mean anything and it’s about time we started taking it seriously.
It’s not that I don’t have a problem with misleading busses. For some reason you can get away with saying whatever you like in a referendum, which needs to change if we’re going to persist in having them. I’d personally prefer never to have another referendum again but if we must have one, perhaps it could be on the NHS? Unless the government know the will of the people on that as well.

Epic referendum fail


 

Arg. I had been mostly managing to avoid looking directly at the referendum, unfortunately a ‘myth buster’ and some ‘facts’ dropped through the door today.

FACT: Adding ‘FACT:’ in front of anything you like doesn’t make it a fact!

I know, life would be so much more fun if that did work…

Sadly there has been a distinct lack of facts from both sides of the debate. If I’m being charitable, that could be because the whole thing is a massive unknown. The substitute has not exactly been constructive though.

Perhaps it would have been better not to have the referendum at all? Our recent track record of referendums hasn’t exactly been stellar, and the EU referendum in particular is even more problematic. Perhaps we could all agree to stop having referendums whatever the result is this time. Or would we need a referendum to decide that?!

I did at least spot a couple of more interesting looking articles during the predictably depressing campaign:

Plus this discussion on twitter:

I know that the EU is far from perfect but unless I hear any compelling reason otherwise, I think I’ll be voting remain on Thursday. There are probably pros and cons for either choice but ultimately where you draw borders is so completely arbitrary that I’d personally prefer to live in a larger area that allows free movement of people, than a smaller one. I don’t want to live in a gated community for similar reasons!

I also tend to agree with Ben Goldacre’s reasons.

Having said all that, the real issue of the whole campaign is, why isn’t the official leave site on a .uk domain, and why isn’t the official remain site on an .eu domain?

Update: Uh oh…

 

 

Nothing better to do?


MPs must have finished debating all the important issues recently because now they’re getting all flustered by a European Court of Human Rights ruling that a blanket ban on prisoners voting is unlawful. If the primary purpose of prison is punishment, then I would have thought it would be better to keep inmates slopping out rather than taking their vote away.

The suggestion that keeping the ban on voting for some prisoners while allow others to vote also seems fairly pointless. Why even worry about where to draw the line? If my calculations are right, the entire prison population is less than a single constituency like the Isle of Wight. Even then, it seems optimistic to think that voter turnout in prisons would reach the heady heights of around 65% outside prisons. It looks like only 4% of prisoners even registered to vote in the Republic of Ireland.

Giving prisoners the right to vote is hardy going make any difference to re-offending rates is it? So just give them all a vote and stop whining. I do understand why a lot of people don’t like the idea of prisoners getting votes, but who likes the idea of bankers getting bonuses? And how’s that working out?!

Photo © Andrew Bardwell cc by-sa 2.0