Sovereignty, Judges and Brexit

So before I get on to the more substantive topics can I just take a minute to bask in the reaction yesterday and today from the hard core Brexiteers and the Daily Heil (et al). People, and publications, who have dedicated for a generation or more themselves to the ideal of “Parliamentary Sovereignty”. People who have treated any act, suggestion (and more often figment of the imagination) that Parliament isn’t, and shouldn’t, be the ultimate decision making body, the first and last word on any matter of significance in this realm.

Them, spitting teeth and feathers, at a court ruling that BACKED UP EVERYTHING THEY HAVE BEEN SAYING FOR YEARS. It is hilarious, actually side splittingly funny. I have been genuinely LOLing in real life at the absurdity of it. If you backed Brexit because you believed in chucking the darkies out  sorry Parliamentary Sovereignty, and you are now annoyed a court has upheld that a Sovereign Parliament will now have the ultimate say on the most significant political, legal and constitutional change the UK has underwent in at least a 100 years, then congratulations you have managed to up the bar on hypocrisy to levels I never thought possible! Bravo bravo bravo!

Ha hah ha hah ha hah ha!

So anyway now I have got that out of my system onto more serious matters.

I voted remain, and did so wholeheartedly. I think the decision to leave is a huge mistake that is going to have very long lasting, and negative, consequences for our country and beyond. I think we will all be poorer for a very long time to come. Britain has already become a nastier, more shameful place. And I rather think that the breakup of the United Kingdom has become a matter of “When, not If”. Furthermore I believe it was sold to the British public on the basis of deliberate knowing lies (£350 Million to the NHS) and deception by a rabid, lying, right wing press. Unless these things are proven wrong I’m not going to change in these opinions.

But…. I believe fundamentally in democracy. That means sometimes you lose, sometimes the other side wins; and it is essential that that is respected. Unless it is clear that public opinion has substantially shifted (and changing of the public’s mind and decisions is another facet of democracy) then the British public have voted to leave the EU and that decision needs to be respected.

How we leave the EU, what sort of relationship we have thereafter, hasn’t been decided though. It wasn’t on my ballot paper what we do if we vote leave. And none of the parties have outlined their negotiating stance, or priorities, in fact none of the national party leaders have fought a general election for their mandates, then someone, somebody needs on our behalf to have a meaningful say of how and when Brexit happens.

And it seems pretty straightforward to me that in a parliamentary democracy where parliament is sovereign, that parliament should be the body to do so. This is pretty elementary stuff, constitutionally. The High Court clearly agree, and I suspect that the supreme court will also agree. I’m personally of the opinion, however disastrous it would be for my Party Labour, that we probably need a general election to determine a democratic mandate for the Brexit priorities and negotiations. But failing that it is absolutely right that Parliament should have oversight.

Sorry I have just dissolved into laughter again about the thought of people who have been fighting for parliamentary sovereignty, being annoyed that a court has ruled that our parliament is in fact sovereign… ha ha ha ha ha ha…. Don’t mind me!

Anyhow back to the topic. So given that Brexit is going to happen I think that this is probably good news for us on a couple of counts.

Firstly because rushing isn’t really in our interests. Cameron did not expect to lose the referendum and both Government and our Civil Service are woefully under prepared to undertake these seismically massive negotiations. Time for us to prepare. Time for us to determine our position, our fall backs. Time to sound out the other side so we can go into negotiations knowing where we agree and where we don’t. Time to get the French and German elections out of the way so the start of negotiations isn’t being conducted on the basis of playing to other nations elections and particularly so that these negotiations are not being used to counter LePen in France.

Time, time is a useful thing when you have a massively important and complicated negotiation to do. Time is going to be in very limited supply once Article 50 is invoked. And despite what the Narnian fantasies of the three Brexiteers and Tim “Al Murray” Martin will tell you these negotiations are harder for us than they are for the EU. At the end of two years we are the ones in a very precarious position if a successful negotiation isn’t concluded.

Really it is in our best interest for as much of that negotiation to have been successfully concluded as possible prior to us invoking article 50. Once that is done there is a ticking time bomb…. A gun to our heads…. That really doesn’t help us do “The best deal for Britain”. We have had our legal, political and economic systems hitched to the EU for 40 years, untangling that in a way that doesn’t have disastrous consequences shouldn’t be rushed. That is surely common sense?

I don’t, BTW, for a second buy that Theresa May doesn’t realise this. I don’t much like her, or her policies. But she has always struck me as a canny operator. Announcing both the timetable for Article 50, the UK Government’s priorities (and the order we hold them in) in a conference speech was clearly to me at least far more about internal party management (a majority of 12 no proper personal mandate is a bitch) and dealing with a rabid right wing press that a sensible and considered approach to something difficult.

I’d be in no way surprised to learn that possibly May, and likely Phillip Hammond and the Treasury are secretly quite glad the court ruled how it did. It gives them some wiggle room to actually do stuff in a more slow and considered way, and gives them a convenient scapegoat for why it is taking longer (”And I’d have gotten away with it to if it wasn’t for those pesky meddling Judges”).

Taking the mechanics of Article 50 and Brexit through Parliament makes a nice little trap for Labour too. You have a Labour leadership who are pro brexit, but a parliamentary party and wider membership overwhelmingly anti brexit. Setting up Labour in the Commons and Lords as the enemy of democracy and frustrater of the will of the people most sound nice to Tory election strategists.

It is also very difficult strategically for Labour. Most Labour voters voted to remain, and many of those will expect the Labour party to be articulating for the 48.1%, but doing so would run a real risk of even worse electoral problems for Labour in it’s heartlands.

If May is smart about things she could have her cake and eat it. Delivery a better Brexit, in her own terms, at her own pace, and put the blame for delays and problems at the feet of others. As a politician, I’d be happy with that.

One thing though I think is pretty clear though the decision  yesterday will have no bearing on whether or not Brexit happens. But it will have an impact on when it happens and how it happens.

I suspect most of my small audience shares with me a belief that Brexit is emphatically not in the national interest. But if it is going to happen then a considered, patient, well thought out Brexit is infinitely preferable to a rushed, botched one taking place on a schedule designed primarily to placate the swivel eyed loons in the Tory party and the Daily Heil.

Whatever happens 2017 is shaping up to be just as cray cray as 2016….. What a goddam horrible thought that is huh?

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04. November 2016 by Ralph Ferrett
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On the origins of New Labour

So one of the things I have ended up talking about a lot on the various Corbyn and Labour debates is about New Labour. What is was, what it meant, what its record was. In some respects analysing what New Labour was, and its record in government is key to understanding where we are and what the various motivations of the various factions are. This blog is about looking at the reason New Labour came to be, and my next blog will be my analysis of their time in office and how it relates to our current situation.

My Union’s General Secretary Dave Ward, a man I respect and admire greatly, even if I think he has got things badly wrong on Corbyn, recently described Blairism as a Virus, and this got me thinking about New Labour and Blairism and what it is…..

So here is the thing I don’t think that New Labour, at least to start with, was an ideology at all. New Labour was a strategy. New Labour was originally concocted as medicine, and I’ll talk about that medicine in a bit.

What is interesting here for me is what that virus/disease that they were coming up with a medicine for was.

I think it is hard for us to now, particularly those of us too young to “get it” at the time, what a horribly, horribly crushing blow the ’92 election was. I was into politics (yeah even aged 12. I know what a loser!) but didn’t really have a full understanding of how things worked. But I knew we were expected to win…. That things were going to change for the better…… That the Tories would finally, in my lifetime, be gone.

I remember seeing the shock, surprise and disappointment in my family members, and some of my teachers. I can only imagine what it must have been like for party activists.

So the party had to think about why it lost, how it lost, and how it could win again. The genesis of new Labour was in this process.

So I blogged a while back about why I think electoral reform should be a touchstone issue for the left, and in that I cover off some of the same ground.

So here is the thing. Because of our political system, first past the post, and the way in which our population and demographics split: in most places in the UK, most constituencies are not up for grabs. Anywhere that requires as swing of much more than 10% are probably not going to change hands however much a party campaigns there (over a longer period of time constituencies can and do come in and out of play). Usually in most of these “safe seats” we all know the outcome in advance. This is, for my money, one of the biggest problems with our system of democracy in the UK.

Barring seismic change, like the industrial revolution, universal franchise, or the rise of the Scottish Nationalist movement these long standing biases are unlikely to change.

So that leaves the parties looking pretty much solely at those seats that might change hands, mostly those with majorities under 5000. New Labour was really a project about how could the Labour party pitch itself, in these places, at the right people, to win these seats and win and election.

This then leaves you with a choice, who do you target? Do you try and get 5001 new voters, or do you try and get 2501 Tory voters to switch? It is a conundrum that will face every Labour Party unless (hopefully until) we get some meaningful reform of our broken political system.

The calculation, as they saw it, is that getting voters to switch is the easier and more reliable path. Firstly because switching voters count double (one more for us, one fewer for them) meaning you have to convince a smaller number of people. Secondly that people who have voted before, are more likely to actually vote meaning the work is less likely to be fruitless.

It was therefore seen as “the path of least resistance” to target getting switchers, in places where switching might make a difference. But the truth is the Labour party could have targeted 5001 new members and still have been trying to fix the same problem.

This is where the “Too small blanket effect” starts to come into play though. Because how a party pitches it’s policy can effect who votes for it in both directions. Your chest is cold at night, and you pull your small blanket up, but then then your feet get cold.

A public policy offer is a bit like a blanket that isn’t quite big enough. Pitch too hard at swing voters in the centre and you annoy alienate your left wing, and potential new voters. Pull too much toward your left in search or new voters and the centrists might switch and vote for the other team.

That was the conundrum facing the Labour party after 1992, that is the “disease/virus” then, it is also the difficult strategic facing the Labour Party today.

New Labour was, initially at least, envisaged as a medicine for how we could do enough, in the right constituencies, to win enough votes to win a General Election.

And.It.Worked.

It really did. Labour won consecutive landslides, then a third big majority. It was by any measure the most successful, electorally at least, that the Labour Party has ever been. Nothing before, or in the short time since has come close.

Now you may passionately disagree with what this medicine entailed (I was incredibly unhappy with much of what the New Labour government did). You may believe, as I do, that the way New Labour targeted its win wasn’t the only way it could have won. I for one think John Smith would almost certainly have won in 1997 had he lived and that his government would undoubtedly have had slightly different policy priorities than Blair’s government did.

Heck once the Tories had been in for 18 years I suspect Labour fighting on the 1992 manifesto again would probably have won in 1997, though probably not with such a landslide.

So feel free to disagree passionately with the medicine New Labour prescribed; but don’t think that the disease wasn’t correctly diagnosed, it was. And that disease is still what Labour needs to address if it wants to win a General Election under the current system. And that small blanket problem is going to be an issue whichever policy direction we take.

Understanding the reasons why New Labour took the path it did, and understanding how that relates to the current choices before the Labour party isn’t the same as endorsing the public policy platform of New Labour.

And it certainly isn’t the same as pretending that the decisions of 94-97 are somehow applicable in the political climate we operate in today. The political world, the electorate, the means of campaigning/communicating any many other things are fundamentally different today and any political party’s strategy and policy offer needs to be different.

But until our political system changes, what is needed in order to win an election remains the same. And depending on which route we go to get the votes we need, in the places we need to get them, that approach may well leave another part of the Labour voting coalition a little cold if we have pulled the blanket in the other direction.

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13. August 2016 by Ralph Ferrett
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Electoral reform and the Left.

blobfish

I like to play games. Video games, board games, card games, passive aggressive games with neighbours about the bins/parking spaces, the “Blame game” with my Branch treasurer when anything goes wrong at work!

One of the things I notice about games is how the rules of those games effect the way people play them. Now in my family we have a long standing schism about Monopoly.

On the one hand you have the pure hearted, wise, intelligent folk on the side of the angels who believe that the correct rules of monopoly are those written down in the rule book to monopoly. On the other hand you have the lickspittle, heretical, dirty dogs who like to pick and choose which rules are applied, though how and why a particular rule has been chosen for the chop I’ll never know.

The rule at the heart of this schism is about what happens if a player lands on an unpurchased property. The rules state that this property is put up for auction, the heretics think that it should remain unpurchased until another player lands on the property.

Depending on who wins the argument the game is dramatically changed. If there is an auction then the landing player needs to consider not just if they want the property, but how much they need to prevent another player form buying it. The calculation is very different form if there is no auction.

So why am I writing about this in a blog about electoral reform? It is to demonstrate why the rules of a game effect how that game is played. Another example for football fans can be found here where Jonathan Wilson dissects the changes to the offside rule in 2005.

blobfishPolitics as practiced by both parties and voters is in some ways a game, and the rules of the game directly affect how it is played. Currently the rules of our  first past the post electoral system mean that in about 400 constituencies (conservatively it is probably far more) the outcome is known in advance, places where a Blobfish with the correct rosette would get elected and the votes there basically don’t count. (Barring seismic change like the industrial revolution, mass franchise extension or an independence movement).

Parties, and voters, in these places know their votes don’t really count, and act accordingly.

Then you have a number of constituencies that are “up for grabs” and in most of these it tends to be a straight choice between two parties (there are comparatively few three way marginals).

For the voter this often leaves them with a tactical choice of the lesser of two evils, forcing us to vote against the candidate we don’t want to get in. For the parties this means focussing their campaigning and crucially their policy offer, in a small number of constituencies where they feel there is a chance of winning.

And within those constituencies because most voters are tribal and tend to in the main vote the same way from election to election there is a huge inbuilt bias in favour of them targeting the small number of voters who are likely to change the way they vote from one election to the next.

Every person in the UK might be entitled to a vote, but not all votes are created equal because of the system we have. And because this is a known factor to both political parties, and voters, both have their behaviour influenced by this.

I live in a key marginal, where in the last several elections the vote has been close, and the seat has changed hands when the government did. As someone who wishes to use my vote to gain the maximum possible advantage there is no way I feel I can vote with my conscience. It is gonna be the Labour PPC or the Tory PPC and given that choice there is no contest for me.

But because the system forces parties to game the way it does it is no wonder people get disillusioned with the paucity of choice offered by the political parties. I long for the day when I get to cast a vote for something I believe in rather than having to just cast my vote against something I want to prevent.

But if the rules don’t change, the game won’t either. In a different world, under a different system, I probably wouldn’t be making the case for why Corbyn has to go.

So let’s imagine we have moved to some sort of proportional representation. How is that going to affect the game?

Well for a start every vote is likely to count, so there is no more being a socialist in the Tory/Lib Dem marginal and feeling that you have nowhere to go if you don’t want to waste your vote but can’t bear to vote Yellow or Blue. Providing your party of choice, wherever they are on the political spectrum, has a reasonable amount of support in your voting unit they you are likely to get represented by your party of choice. It would allow it to make sense to vote with your conscience.

It would even allow the possibility of new ideas, new parties, to form in line with a changing world. For those in the country who like the idea of a Syriza or a Podemos coming along, this could happen in PR in a way I can’t really happen in UK General Elections under FPTP.

But the really interesting thing for me is how it would impact on parties. Firstly it would make just appealing to the couple of hundred thousand swing voters in swing seats entirely redundant. They would have to broaden their appeal because picking up different sorts of voters, in different sorts of places, would suddenly become crucial to their electoral prospects.

Imagine that, parties actually having to court marginalised voters because they would have the *expectation* that it could make a difference. It would radically transform how our political system worked, it would allow and encourage different and new voices into the system.

Now I suspect that there are dogged tribal loyalists in both the Labour and Conservative parties who would vehemently oppose this democratisation of our democracy. But this is happening anyway. We are moving to a more pluralist society, but our system cannot cope with it. It used to be that a party needed 42+ vote share to form a majority government. Now it is in the mid 30s. And millions of supporters of the Greens, UKIP, Left of Labour parties are denied any proper representation.

I’m a Labour loyalist, and I believe in socialism. But I am also a democrat to my core, and it is just morally wrong that the millions of people who vote in this way are not properly represented in our “democracy” whatever I might think of their parties and their policy offerings.

Also from a left position, as I argued here during the AV referendum, there is a lot of evidence that in more pluralist democracies income inequality is reduced.

Our system is almost designed to prevent radical left wing policies form having a chance to be put into place. If you really want to see someone like Corbyn having a good chance of putting his beliefs into practice then you really need to get on board the electoral reform train.

And more than that if it doesn’t happen, and the Labour party splits, then you might be waiting a very, very long time before even an imperfect sell-out Labour government happens.

We should be very, very careful what we wish for.

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13. July 2016 by Ralph Ferrett
Categories: Activism | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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