Is Theresa May About to Betray Brexit?

Ten months ago, I wrote a blog, posted here, describing how the EU and the Remain camp would try to reverse brexit by undermining business confidence and by delaying our exit through intractable negotiations. Since talks commenced, matters are proceeding much as expected. I was initially encouraged by May’s declaration that brexit means brexit but it is becomingly increasingly clear that the statement was meaningless and designed to provide political cover for prevarication. I’d like to say upfront that I really hope that the analysis in this blog is wrong. I really do, but for the life of me I can’t stop thinking that a great brexit betrayal is at hand.

The EU has laid down a staged approach to talks that guarantees that substantive issues on a future UK/EU relationship remain undiscussed. Instead they will only talk about exit issues and the purpose of this is threefold. First, staged talks ensure that politically difficult matters are discussed first. This allows them to highlight the costs of brexit in a way that feeds into campaign hyperbole by Continuity Remain. Second, they ensure that progress is slow by whittling away at the time remaining before the Article 50 deadline of March 2019 and the politically unpalatable prospect of leaving without a deal. Finally, and most importantly, the approach ensures that nothing substantive about our future relationship is discussed. This is important because brexit is about the future not the past. If matters are agreed about our future relationship then it lends legitimacy to the idea that brexit will inevitably occur. The subtext is that so long as nothing is agreed about the future then brexit might still be avoided. President Macron is already talking about a place for the UK in a reformed EU.

So if that is the EU strategy then what of May’s public statements including her recent speech in Florence? Some commentators have suggested that by verbally schmoozing the EU she is attempting to reach out directly to the member states and to by-pass the Commission and Barnier. In fact, she is playing their game. By focussing on what is effectively a standstill transitional arrangement she again avoids the substantive question of our future relationship. If you think about it, it is illogical to talk about a transition when you have not yet agreed the final destination. Importantly, she described the transition arrangement as being ‘under the same terms’ as at present with continued market access. Lets look more closely at that statement by examining how preferential trading could continue after March 2019 when according to Article 50 the UK must leave the EU.

I was very much struck by this article by consultant economist/trade expert, Derrick Wilkinson. In it, he explains that under WTO rules, the UK and EU could only legally continue to trade under preferential arrangements after brexit if the 2 sides had entered into a Free Trade Agreement beforehand. Importantly, he says that this has to be more than just a statement of intent, it has to be pretty much agreed in detail. Thus, under his analysis, the transition cannot legally be used to start talks about trade. It must be an implementation period for an agreement made in detail and before the March 2019 deadline. There is no sign whatsoever of the EU and UK attempting to write a FTA by March 2019 and by ‘conceding’ discussions on May’s requested transition arrangements without an end-state the EU will be able to spin out matters even longer. So what other options for trade exist? Well if it is to occur under preferential terms, and given that May has already discounted the Norway option, there is only one and that is continued membership of the EU by an agreed extension to Article 50 talks which would be just the start of endless delays, uncertainty and ultimately the great brexit betrayal.

I can hear some readers thinking, but what about “no deal is better than a bad deal”? Isn’t that evidence that May wants a FTA agreed by March 2019 or we’ll walk and trade under WTO rules and tariffs? It might have been a convincing threat 6 months ago but the amount of work needed to prepare our ports and customs’ systems for ‘no deal’ is immense and the moment to start making preparations for this has now passed.

In sum, I fear that the EU will continue to prevent the negotiations progressing to a stage when brexit agreements become irreversible and implementation inevitable. Theresa May either through choice or ineptitude has got the country into a position where the only choices available to us are a FULL trade deal (not going to happen), No deal (for which were not prepared) or continued EU membership by an extension to Article 50.

The electoral consequences for the Conservative Party of this situation will be grievous. And I for one won’t care.

Watch The Article 50 Pea Very Carefully

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In my last post I discussed how the EU, aided by a vigorous UK Remain Campaign, will use time and well-judged leaks and statements to destabilise UK markets, reduce business confidence and undermine political support for brexit in the UK. The aim will be to persuade the British electorate to change their minds, possibly in a new referendum or perhaps after a general election held under adverse circumstances. In that blog, I mentioned that the reversibility of Article 50 would become a key plank of the EU’s strategy, and I predicted that the EU’s lapdogs within the UK Remain Campaign would seek to have the matter determined in the European Court of Justice.

Sure enough, today we see an article in the Daily Telegraph confirming my prediction. Jolyon Maugham QC is one of the key Remain lawyers in the recent High Court action and he has been unstinting in his opposition to brexit. He claims to be merely protecting the sovereignty of parliament but his actions and statements are unmistakably political rather than altruistic. His comments in the Telegraph confirm my worst fears and I would like to explain why.

The High Court ruling is important because it requires that Parliamentary approval is obtained before Article 50 can be triggered by the Government. However, the basis of its judgement touches on the key issue that will become the critical political focus for the next few years: the reversibility of Article 50. The ruling stated that the triggering of Article 50 required parliamentary consent because an Article 50 declaration cannot be reversed and so the very act of triggering it would result in inevitable changes to the law which can only be done through legislation and not by royal prerogative. Now Brexiteers might be comforted by the idea that Article 50 cannot be reversed but the matter will not end with this ruling even if it is upheld in the Supreme Court case on 5 December.

In fact, this ruling temporarily suits the Remain Campaign because the effect of a Parliamentary vote in both houses could be to introduce long delays especially if, as the Telegraph article suggests, the Regional Assemblies/Parliaments also have to provide their separate consent. Delays are the key to the strategy of making the UK electorate change their minds. The longer matters go on, then the more opportunity there is to disrupt brexit talks and foment resistance at home. In the worst case, an intervention by the Scottish Parliament could result in a massive constitutional crisis which could cause huge political instability and shake the foundations of our country to the core. The High Court ruling is only a temporary staging post, however. The Remain/EU strategy will only work if Article 50 can actually be reversed, and in this regard British court rulings will eventually become irrelevant as the reversibility of Article 50 is a matter of EU law and it will be decided in the ECJ. If you read the Telegraph article it is clear that this has been the Remain plan all along. It is ironic and sheer legal hypocrisy that the reversibility of Article 50 can be used in the British courts to support one phase of the EU/Remain strategy (delay), and then taken to a European Court to turn the idea on its head for the longer term EU objective.

There are some who suggest that the Prime Minister should not be appealing the High Court’s decision in the Supreme Court. I think there are 2 ways of viewing this depending on how much you trust her intentions. If she genuinely wants the UK to leave the EU then it could be sensible to get as many of the legal arguments out of the way before Article 50 is triggered as protracted court actions will be more toxic once talks are under way. Alternatively, it may be that as a weak Remainer, complexity and delay might suit her and it may eventually become clear that, contrary to her public statements, she is actually complicit in the EU’s strategy of keeping us in. At the moment she has the benefit of my doubt, but I remain open-minded.

The sad fact is that the legal machinations are completely beyond the control of ordinary voters. That said, a political battle of gigantic proportions is already under way and it is one that will determine the outcome of the brexit war and the complexion of British politics for a generation. Leavers must brace Theresa May’s spine and this will require mass overt action on the streets to remind all MPs and peers that not only should the outcome of the referendum be respected but that when the people are asked a question through a democratic medium then they expect their answer to be put into effect. It is not enough for leavers to sit quietly at home moaning until it is too late. The Remain strategy is already in play and they will marshall the full force of the establishment. We need to oppose it with all the vigour we can find because there is more to this than just brexit. There is a fundamental principle at stake.

The Rest of The EU Referendum Campaign

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When the awful murder of Jo Cox MP was announced yesterday, I decided to stop campaigning for a while out of respect for her husband and young family. After 24 hours silence, I have decided to rejoin the fray because notwithstanding these terrible events, the country is still faced with an historic referendum that will determine the future strategic direction of the country for many years to come. It is therefore right that the democratic process continues although both sides may have to make changes to the tone of their campaigns and to recognise the public shock and anger that this attack has stirred.

Disappointingly, it seems there are some that are seeking to make political capital from this attack and in particular from conflicting reports that the assailant shouted ‘Britain first’ during his attack. I have two points about this. First, speculation about the details of the attack are unhelpful and could prejudice future legal proceedings. Trials can collapse if they are seen to be prejudiced by prior media reporting and therefore journalists and commentators should tread warily and avoid speculation. In my experience, witnesses to traumatic events can often give different and conflicting accounts of what they saw or heard despite trying to provide an honest recollection or perception of events. Often, it is only after a full investigation that an accurate picture can be established, and it is therefore important to let the police do their work without any media interference, speculation or comment based on rumours or only a partial view of the facts.

My second point is that whether or not the attack was politically motivated is largely irrelevant to the referendum question before the country. The question is not about political violence. It is solely about our membership of a European political institution. None of the subsidiary issues connected with the question should be affected as a result of a young mother with altruistic views losing her life on the street whilst honestly serving her country. Even if Jo Cox supported the Remain side of the campaign, it is right to say that her death does not automatically make the Remain argument correct even though we all feel complete compassion for Jo’s friends and family. It would be a terrible blow to our freedom of speech to allow her murder to stifle or constrain the debate on a national matter of such importance. Moreover, if we allow fear and violence to affect the discussion we play into the very hands of those that would seek to use violent or undemocratic means to undermine our parliamentary process.

Having said that, egged on by an ever-hungry media, the mood in the country does seem to have changed in the last 24 hours, and the Leave Campaign needs to modify its approach not only to respect the new mood but also to ensure that its message is not lost in a chorus that will likely try to convince voters that to vote leave is somehow to condone the events in Birstall. It is a matter of tone rather than substance. Most Leave supporters won’t change their minds but a soft centre ground could easily switch sides unless matters are handled sensitively. Here are 4 ideas in no particular order:

This week, the Leave Campaign seemed to gain real momentum in the polls and was starting to set the agenda. Any delay in campaigning is to the advantage of David Cameron and his Remain campaign. It will allow them time to regroup and to lead the discussion when it recommences, probably with an attempt to gain the moral high ground. The campaigns should start again as soon as is decently possible to limit this effect.

The immigration debate needs to be couched in terms of parliamentary accountability. Fear mongering about migrants should be avoided throughout social media. The main argument is that immigration is a matter that should be decided in our own national parliament rather than in Brussels. In many respects, this tragedy has put into sharp focus the good that MPs can achieve if empowered, and the Brexit debate should concentrate on why it is better to have that power residing in Westminster rather than elsewhere. I have always held this view about immigration and parliamentary accountability but it is not universally shared within the Leave Campaigns.

Attacks on the establishment will need to be handled very carefully. Individual MPs acting for constituencies are not in my view ‘the establishment’ and it is wrong to question their motives or honesty. It is when they act collectively within the Party system and as governments that much political honesty is lost especially when they act beyond their authority within unelected institutions that wield far too much power. That said, blatant examples of individual political dishonesty, double standards or duplicity are still fair game but the way that they are challenged needs to be thought out carefully.

Arguments about whether the Remain side are trying to weaponise the death of Jo Cox are counter-productive and waste valuable campaigning time. It is better to concentrate on getting out your own campaign message rather than to play on the home territory of the opposition. It is always better to turn the opposition’s negative campaigning into a positive argument for your own side of the argument. Support for our parliamentary process is a good example of how you can do this. Now more than ever, the Leave Campaign needs a positive message delivered confidently in measured terms and with a smile. There should be no anger: leave that behind.

It is therefore a matter of emphasis and tone, and I would urge all Leave campaigners to think carefully before they press the ‘send’ or ‘tweet’ button. Undecided voters and soft Leavers need to be very carefully handled between now and the vote next Thursday. It would be a shame to lose this argument through ill considered behaviour or arguments.

The Leave Campaign Is Missing a Trick

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The problem for the Leave campaign at the moment is that we are trading blows over tactical issues rather than focusing on the big strategic questions that should rightly be addressed over such an important matter as our EU membership. As well as putting voters off our message, it suits the Remain campaign because it allows them to dribble out daily stories over the dire consequences of leaving which support their overall strategy of Project Fear. They can’t run a positive campaign because they know that it would open up to scrutiny all manner of things about the EU that are a complete anathema to voters. The response to this from the leave camp has been disappointing and it has lacked coherence and impact.

To my mind, the two big questions that need answering in this poll are: Where is the EU heading and what should be the UK’s future relationship with it? These are weighty questions with a lot of component parts which themselves are important to voters. However, by plunging into the minutiae of democracy, immigration and economics, the Leave campaign has not sufficiently highlighted that the EU’s overall direction of travel is towards a superstate. Number 10 is desperate to avoid any attention on the future EU because they know that if the subject was properly examined then voters would stampede towards the Brexit. It also explains why Remain has gone very quiet about David Cameron’s EU deal because they know that it affords no protection against future EU state-building, and any decent forensic examination would reveal that under the deal’s terms we are likely to be left half-in and half-out, marginalised, paying the bills and with less political influence than if we were properly out and back at the global table.

By constraining the debate in this way, the Prime Minister is being intellectually dishonest because our EU membership is indeed important and merits a proper strategic debate about our future place in the world. But he knows that if he can use the minutiae to distract attention away from the EU super-elephant in the room then he will be able to avoid the really big questions about our future.

I hope that the Leave campaign picks up on this because I really do think that the core leave vote will be insufficient. By all means, talk about immigration, democracy, sovereignty,cost etc but do it within a very clear framework of the future shape of the EU rather than as piecemeal vignettes. The Five President’s Report may seem dry to most but if presented effectively, items like the report and today’s leak in the Times about a planned EU Army could allow us to highlight the overall direction of EU travel and to develop some overall coherence to our arguments.

A Single Leave Campaign – An Outline Blueprint

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With the EU Referendum polls showing a healthy lead for the Remain Camp and the Prime Minister seemingly on the verge of a deal in Brussels you would think that the various Leave campaigns would be directing all their available firepower at the vacuous nature of these orchestrated talks and the total lack of meaningful reform that they will provide. But oh no! At a seriously important moment in how this might play out, the Leave Camps have decided to direct their fire at each other and also within their own individual campaigns. For a committed Brexiteer, this is totally dispiriting and totally unnecessary. It is largely about the 3 campaigns jockeying for lead campaign status from the Electoral Commission but it is also a dispute about the key messages and how the campaign should be run. There are also large egos at stake, and the result is that at grassroots level activists are left bemused and dispirited. More strategically, the media is starting to portray the Leave Campaigns as a disorganised rabble with all that this means for how the matter is perceived by the general population. This is hardly a recipe for success, and so this morning I thought I would produce a plan that I believe could bring together the major Leave camps under one umbrella whilst allowing them to raise funds and campaign in their own particular way.

In designing this campaign structure I have held one thought in my mind, and that is that unlike a general election there are no political parties who can legitimately claim leadership. The leave movement is actually owned by ordinary people with the strongly held view that the UK should leave the EU. Importantly, it is not owned by those that would seek to organise the campaign; they are merely servants for a broader political idea. This is important because individuals have many different reasons for being prepared to get up early on a wet Saturday morning to deliver leaflets or man a town-centre stall. For some, it is about controlling migration. For others, it is about regaining sovereignty and for another group it is about saving money. All are valid reasons and it is right that the referendum allows these views to be examined otherwise the poll will not have achieved its democratic purpose of determining the people’s will. With this key point in mind, I believe that a united Leave Campaign should try to facilitate all these views. It is not for any one group to impose their will on how the arguments should be revealed. That is for the activists on the streets, in the media and writers in the blogosphere.

Before describing my proposed organisation it is worth mentioning the key campaigning themes as this seems to have been a source of much of the friction. Leave.EU seems to be of the view that immigration should be the major theme of the campaign and this is reflected in much of which is pushed out by their spokesmen. In my view, this particular theme is guaranteed to appeal to the key UKIP support but will not necessarily appeal to the moderate and undecided centre ground if it is couched in the terms often favoured by controversial individuals such as Nigel Farage. That said, the target audience for Leave.EU is still very important and if campaigning along these lines results in a large turnout of the UKIP rump support, then it could prove decisive in determining the result. On the other hand, VoteLeave’s target audience is the undecided centre ground who may be more attentive to arguments about sovereignty and finance. LabourLeave have equally valid messages for their target audience. The point is that all these target audiences will have to feel sufficiently motivated to make the trip to the polling booth and vote to leave and so all campaigns are important with nobody right or wrong. Like many grassroots activists, I don’t care why someone votes to leave so long as they do. With that in mind, my proposed campaign structure tries to reconcile the different views of the main campaigns by adopting a federal structure (sorry to use the ‘f’ word in a skeptic blog) which would allow the individual campaigns to run their own affairs under the umbrella of a joint steering group which would be the officially designated lead campaign. Here’s what it would look like:

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The steering Group would have the following features:

1 Board members would be drawn fairly from the main leave campaigns. This would not necessarily be solely from the three campaigns I have mentioned. Board composition would have to be agreed as some individuals are divisive but whatever the differences, agreement must be achieved.

2. Members and the main spokesmen would have to sign up to some main principles. The most important of these is that the leave campaign is actually campaigning for the UK to leave the EU and not just using the referendum to leverage a better deal from Brussels. In this regard they should sign up for a single referendum and immediate use of Article 50 after a successful vote. I don’t believe that the leave campaign should try to be prescriptive about the question of exactly how the UK would leave as this will be a matter for the government of the day. Options can be provided, but the aim is to be clear that the government of the day must indeed take the UK out of the EU. Second, members should recognise that colleagues from the other campaigns may have different views on how the campaign should proceed. This should not be a recipe for argument but welcome diversity. The board is facilitating the campaign, not trying to run it.

3. The board would dispense public referendum funds to the various campaigns according to agreement and their relative size. Feedback from private polling of interest groups could also be fed down to the separate campaigns to maximise effectiveness.

4. The board would provide a point of contact for the media (media centre?). Better to have this at the top rather than allow the media to try and undermine unity by playing off the separate campaigns against each other. The stronger the leadership at the top and the clearer the message then the less likely this problem will arise. The key message is that diversity of opinion is welcome within the leave camp. The media centre could be manned by personnel from all 3 campaigns and queries answered by the individual most likely to receive a favourable response (e.g. VoteLabour rep vs Guardian enquiry; LeaveEU rep vs Daily Express etc)

Sitting under the steering group are the individual campaigns. These would lose their current strategic role and they would be reprofiled to face their activists. Their key role would be to assist activists and provide campaign resources to street level. The key features of the individual campaigns are as follows:

1. They would be free to raise their own funds subject to the rules.

2. They would be free to run their own campaigns as they wish and to determine their target audience subject to the same requirements as the Steering Group which is that they are actually campaigning to leave in a single referendum.

3. Their key role would be to provide logistic support to the ground campaign such as leaflets, campaigning gear, advertising and information support.

4. They would decide how best to run their campaigns and appeal to their target audience. e.g. mail shot vs leafleting vs street stalls

5. They would manage their database of supporters and sign people up as in the current way.

A key part in my plan would be the joint coordination centre sitting beneath the individual campaigns. This organisation would run a combined database of volunteers to ensure that activities take place across the country in a coordinated manner. It would put local coordinators in touch with volunteers of all complexions to allow manpower to be allocated to the campaigning task. It should be possible to coordinate activities quite closely. For example, leafleting activities could be arranged carefully to target specific audiences according to their likely receptiveness to different campaign themes. I am not prescriptive about how this would work other than to say that there must be some coordination of activities otherwise the street level campaigns will be ineffective and inefficient. The closer the coordination the more effective the results.

Finally, there are the volunteers. In my experience, most of the activists from the various campaigns recognise the joint endeavour and are quite happy to campaign alongside each other. For my part, I would happily man a town centre stall with 3 piles of leaflets and people from the other leave organisations. Questions from the public could be directed to the activist with the best knowledge and likely appeal. In my view, the current difficulties are not at this level, they are within the senior management.

In sum, we need a federal structure that allows the campaigns operational freedom but with a close element of coordination. The current set up is self-destructive and will doom us to lose unless it is gripped quickly. I commend this plan to all those who are in a position to make the changes. Please publicise the ideas if you agree.

Sterile Debate

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Well, HM The Queen has been informed, and they’re off although it’s hard not to think from watching recent performances at PM’s Questions that Westminster has been electioneering for at least a couple of months. It’s only Day 3 of the official campaign and the main parties have yet to publish their manifestos, but already it seems that all sides will play it safe and that the electorate are going to have a particularly tedious 5 weeks.

In a previous post called avoiding the debate, I mentioned some of the factors that have broken the British political debate resulting in electoral apathy and a dangerous cynicism of the modern democratic process in the UK. These included the lack of proper argumentation and the one-sided and repetitive promotion of policies without even a nod to the counter-arguments or an acceptance that a policy is rarely ‘right’ but merely ‘the best’ course of action. This type of campaigning is the result of an unholy alliance between an army of politicians’ media advisors and the media itself who rarely have time for much more than a quick soundbite.

What is rapidly becoming apparent is immeasurably more cynical and disturbing, and that is a ploy by the parties deliberately to avoid clearly stated positions aside from vacuous statements such as ‘I want a country of opportunity’ or ‘we want prosperity for all’. The saddest part of this problem is that it is a deliberate ploy. By taking a firm position on a matter and producing a firm and directed policy to support that belief, it is likely that a floating voter, somewhere, will disagree and switch to the other side. With conventional 2 party political in free-fall, every floating voter has to be courted and issues that might encourage him to vote for the other side avoided. The debate is therefore reduced to dishonest and meaningless platitudes with discussions on personality and looks rather than political substance. It also encourages the promotion of polices targeted at single-issue or niche voters. This provides a poor foundation for proper government as such policies are inefficiently piecemeal and lack an intellectual basis or strategic framework. In effect they are bribes.

In an ideal world, a Party would start with a political philosophy, then develop a strategy for applying that philosophy and then develop policies that fit within that overall intellectual framework. It’s what we used to have before politics became fragmented and it made it interesting which is why voters engaged and, by in large, viewed parliament with respect. The problem is that the more that party politics fragments, then the more the parties will behave in the current manner putting us in a downwards spiral of electoral discontent. The sad thing is that the media advisors are wrong. The public is crying out for a debate based on solid political conviction and belief. Ed Miliband came close to it the other evening during the TV debate which is probably why he polled quite well afterwards.

Things won’t change soon, however, and the sterile debate will get a lot worse before we eventually have to overhaul the system, probably by a change in the voting system. I would also like to see a British Federation to bring politics closer to the people and improve accountability but more of that soon.

More hay, Sir?

Political Grandstanding and Hubris

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In previous posts (here and here) I have discussed the pernicious effect that today’s 24-hour soundbite media has on the quality of our political debate and its contribution to electoral apathy. I don’t want to bang on about this but I was so outraged at the TV coverage of yesterday’s meeting of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee that I feel compelled to get a few things off my chest so that I can enjoy the rest of my day and eat lots of hay without enduring a bad dose of ruminant indigestion.

For those of you fortunate to miss it, this all-party Parliamentary committee, chaired by the Labour MP Margaret Hodge, was taking evidence from HSBC executives on the company’s role in facilitating tax evasion schemes. Now, this is precisely the sort of core business that this committee should be conducting and it is quite right that Parliament investigates any abuse of the tax system. My objections are not to do with the subject matter but the conduct of the MPs during the hearing.

The verbal abuse of Stuart Gulliver and Chris Meares was bad enough but the treatment of Rona Fairhead was an abuse of parliamentary privilege. Unfounded accusations, inappropriate tone, confusing informed comment with personal views, refusing to allow witnesses to answer by talking over them, deliberate rudeness, contrived moral outrage and anger. The list goes on, and it only happened because the proceedings were filmed and presented an opportunity for our parliamentary saviours to grandstand safe in the knowledge that they would get a few moments of glory in the evening news.

The problem with this approach is that the purpose of the proceedings was undermined by the behaviour of the all-party committee members. The idea is to take evidence and report back to parliament, and by behaving in this way the committee members actually reduced the chances that witnesses would provide meaningful evidence and that anything consequential would eventually be reported. Moreover, whilst the MPs may have thought they were courting public opinion with their contrived anger, actually all they were doing was bringing politics further into disrepute and adding to the widespread public impression that they are solely interested in themselves rather than the public good.

It really is time to remove the cameras and have a clear out. I periodically have to do that with my sheep. Distasteful, but occasionally necessary for the benefit of the rest of the flock.

Toxic Policies: Mentioning the Unmentionable

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In a previous post called Avoiding the Debate, I mentioned some of the factors that I believe are stifling our political debate and reducing its quality resulting in worrying electoral apathy and a democratic deficit. Today, I thought I would mention another feature that undermines proper discussion, and that is the toxic policy.

The toxic policy is an issue that has become so politically suicidal ever to mention that no MP will even dare to raise the matter for discussion. It is a political no-go zone. A good example is our centralized funding model for the NHS. Now I don’t know if our current model is the best solution or not. But I do know that the NHS costs an extraordinary sum of money and that demand for health services is increasing at an alarming rate. With this in mind, it seems to me that periodically we should at least look at other ways of funding health care even if we subsequently decide that the current model remains appropriate for today’s circumstances. At the very least we should have the courage occasionally to take a look and discuss it.

Making subjects politically impossible to raise is a deliberate tactic employed by those who oppose change and seek to stifle debate. Frequently, those employing the tactic will try to adopt the moral high ground by implying that someone is extreme or despicable if they dare even to open a matter for discussion. At a local level, a good example is the use of the term Nimby to describe someone opposed to a development. The moral implication is that an individual or party is somehow acting selfishly and against the common good for opposing a development even if they are the person most affected by the proposal. The Greens are particularly adept at employing the tactic when wind farm developments are proposed but it is also used to stifle debate on other policy matters. In these instances, contrived moral outrage is often reinforced by accusations that the very fact that a subject has been opened for discussion reveals that a decision for change has already been made.

The problem with such political correctness is that questions that need to be asked remain buried, change becomes impossible to achieve and political orthodoxy becomes dogma. Now you might think that a politician that is unwilling to tackle the toxic policy lacks bravery and that would be true to some extent, but in the face of the likely adverse media coverage it becomes much easier to bury a subject rather than to raise it.

This is ultimately bad for all us in my view. How will we ever get better if we don’t look at all the options?

Welcome

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Welcome to my personal blog called The Ruminating Sheep. Have you ever shouted in frustration at politicians and commentators for either refusing to debate an issue properly or for re-framing the question to suit their own personal agenda? In my opinion, most thinking people would accept that there are pros and cons to any preferred course of action and they understand that policy is often about choosing the best path rather than one that is right in all respects.

Sadly, today’s media-centric world prevents important matters being debated in such rational terms. Commentators are so restricted by time that there is only a brief moment to blurt out some meaningless sound-bite before the matter is closed and the forum moves on to the next topic. Personally, I am infuriated that politicians’ media advisers tell their proteges never even to acknowledge the existence of a counter-argument. Instead, they are told to promote solely their own stance even seemingly at the expense of personal integrity. As a result, the pros and cons of a policy are never properly exposed, and politicians and commentators are left looking evasive, dishonest and to most of us, utterly foolish. It is no wonder that respect for Westminster is so low and that voter apathy is so prevalent. Why cant they understand that the country is crying out for some honest public debate? An individual that was able to explain rationally why he thought his proposed course of action was better than the alternatives would really tap into this rich seam of frustration, and the political system might be surprised at the electorate’s response. Media permitting of course, but perhaps we’ll come onto that in due course.

Here at The Ruminating Sheep, I would like to open up topical items for friendly and analytical debate. In terms of my own politics, I suppose most folk would describe me as right leaning. That said, part of the problem with modern politics is that the whipped party system seeks to corral opinion into tribal pigeon holes whereas in reality most people have a variety of views that don’t necessarily fit into any one particular political compartment and I would hope that this would apply to me as well. We don’t just want to be policy wonks either as politics can get a bit boring after a while so I will also provide respite by posting on other matters in the news that I think you will find interesting. I would like to point out that the views on this site are my own as an interested layman. I am neither a political scientist nor a member of any political party. With that in mind, what you see is what you get. The blog is completely run within my own resources and without sponsorship.

Technology will also prevail, and you can follow me on twitter at the link on the page. Whilst I hope that you will come here routinely, I will periodically prick your conscience by tweeting links to the latest post if you elect to follow the flock of ruminants.

Lastly, can I please ask that you remain polite to me and to each other, and that you remain on topic. Many of our subjects will invoke strong feelings and opinions but in the spirit of open and rational debate lets try to channel these emotions into some really sharp intellectual analysis. I will moderate the comments for offensive remarks and bad language and repeat offenders will eventually be banished from the sheep shed and into the pig pen! Oh, and by the way, that means offensive in terms of common decency rather than politics!

So, thank you again for visiting. Let’s eat up our hay and start ruminating…..