Thursday, 30 June 2016


Even a quick look at the political landscape in Britain right now reveals the seismic changes that have already been brought about by last Thursday’s result. I'm a very, very long way from a political expert, so can only say it as I see it, but it all rather suggests that the front each party presents to the electorate has been tissue-paper thin all along. I suspect that would surprise nobody (and could fill an entry all of its own), but it’s nonetheless a bit worrying.

On the one hand, the Tories are going through a leadership election that was always going to happen if the vote went against Cameron. The declared runners at time of writing are few, with likely candidates like Boris Johnson* and Jeremy Hunt announcing they’re not running. but even so - you know it’s grim when you’re looking at the selection and thinking to yourself ‘I hope Theresa May wins’. And she’s been backed by ‘Corrible’ Hunt – I’m sure she’s delighted.

Obviously though, being instinctively a lefty, it’s Labour’s leadership issue which most concerns me. I confess to having felt mixed feelings about Corbyn specifically – it’s not easy to support a man the majority of whose parliamentary party is against him, simply because it makes things easier for the Tories at a time when their own divisions should be being exploited.

That said, ultimately those MPs are (supposedly) elected to represent their constituents, and many of the rank and file Labour Party members who voted for him in large numbers come from those constituencies. So overall, I think the PLP should shut up and get behind a man who has a clear mandate from the membership and would likely win again in the event of any formal leadership challenge. Indeed the Labour Party membership jumped specifically before his election, with many joining so they could vote for him. Those members haven't gone away, as the rising membership of Momentum demonstrates. The Parliamentary Labour Party should not be distancing itself from the very people who put them there, even if they disagree with many of them on the specific issue of the EU. Corbyn’s support of Remain may not have been convincing but he did support it, at least publicly. He did what was right when it mattered – the PLP should do the same.

The biggest concern for me in all of this is who’s likely to exploit any political vacuum caused by the splits on both sides. Usually the centre ground would benefit from such problems, but the Lib Dems are still reaping the whirlwind of their own voters’ ire after they coalesced with the Tories, so that’s not necessarily the case now. That leaves the worrying possibility that more extreme parties, of whatever persuasion, stand to gain from the chaos. Imagine a general election where the Tory vote is split or lowered because they’ve lost the support of Remain voters in London and elsewhere, the Labour party has split in two, dividing their votes with them, and nobody wants to vote Lib Dem. What you’ve possibly got then is a very low turnout and UKIP and others improving their share of the vote dramatically.

That doesn’t bear thinking about, but the referendum result has generated such turmoil in politics in Britain right now that it’s the kind of hypothetical scenario that we have to.

*Has it all got a bit real for Boris, such that he suddenly doesn’t want anything to do with it? He and Gove looked like rabbits in headlights in the direct aftermath of the Leave victory, and it’s since become clear that they’d done not an iota of planning between them for such a result.

Sunday, 26 June 2016


I've always been a proud Englishman, but that pride is not bound up with the usual motivations for it, or expressions of it, that typify such an animal. I've always, for example, absolutely detested the flag-waving, tub-thumping spectacle of the last night of the Proms. Instead it's come from the fact that I've always thought us an island of open minded, tolerant, modern-thinking, creative, culturally significant people.

That belief has, obviously, taken something of a dent these past few days. Immediately on hearing the referendum result, my reaction was pretty sanguine. Just accept it and get on with it, I thought. But what's been happening since then has served only to make me think that, frankly, we're a nation of idiots. Look at this piece in the Indy, for example. The morning after the vote, and only once the result had been announced, there was a surge in Google searches for what happens if we vote to leave. I'd thought, rather naively as it turns out, that this is the sort of thing you looked for before you cast your vote. Accepting that some of these may have been worried Remain voters fearing the worst, if you don't even know what it is you're voting for, should you really be in the damn polling station in the first place? I guess it's possibly because many Leave voters were busy fretting about being robbed by a conspiracy to alter the results by erasing the pencil marks beforehand. Perhaps they didn't have time to actually consider the other stuff.

Then there's the quantity of spoiled ballot papers - over 26,000. Of course the bulk of those are people making some form of personal protest, but over 9,000 of these were rejected for both boxes having been marked. What the fuck? How much more simple does it have to be to enable people to vote correctly?

The post-vote response of some people has been startling, too. A workmate told me that more than one of his friends had said they 'didn't think their vote would count'. Apart from wondering why they bothered to vote in the first place if they genuinely believed that, you again have to ask how they thought this process was going to work if some votes counted and some didn't.

There's no room for voter remorse, and no point arguing the result. No matter how huge the petition grows for another vote, it's pointless and doomed to failure because it's asking for retrospective legislation. There was one vote, and it's done.That's how democracy works - the people have spoken and now have to deal with the consequences. Consequences that we're seeing all too quickly. An apparently broken PM resigning, the only thing he could do in the circumstances. The Parliamentary Labour Party rebelling against its leader and, in the process, showing that it doesn't think the same way as the bulk of its voters - in the north at least - because Corbyn, who better reflects what those northern voters think, was too lukewarm in his support of Remain. The prospect of Boris Johnson or Michael Gove taking over at Number 10, in the process giving us an unelected leader that I rather thought was the type of thing the Leave campaign were against. The two of them may at least have managed to sound gracious in victory, but it's hard to ignore that they were doing so when a nice spot in Downing Street had just opened up.

We're also seeing the first noises being made in what could ultimately lead to the break-up of the supposedly United Kingdom (what a joke that name looks like now, given the enormous division in voting). The Scots were already pissed off about the failure to deliver on promises made after their own devolution referendum. They're positively livid now. And what's going to happen on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic? Surely they're not going to want to return to the days of patrolled borders, checks to get across etc, which would be horribly reminiscent of the Troubles they've worked so hard to leave behind.

Meanwhile, Leave are busily distancing themselves from much of the stuff they'd campaigned on. The £350million claim, for example, which I described as already discredited in my previous entry, has now been called a 'mistake' by none other than Farage himself. The version of Britain for which Leave voters thought they were voting never existed, and never could. I wonder if they're beginning to realise that for themselves now.

I confess that, living in Lambeth, with its second highest pro-Remain vote in the country behind Gibraltar, I'd been optimistic that it would go the way I wanted. I hadn't seen a single Leave sticker, window poster etc, in my area. It was difficult, as that's all I was seeing, to see it going against Remain. I thought people would vote with a 'better the devil you know' nervousness about what would happen if we left. I was very badly wrong.

So - and I realise this is sour grapes, since that bitter taste in my mouth must be coming from somewhere - over 17 million people, plus the 28% who couldn't be titted to vote on the most important matter in our lifetimes - have forfeited their right to complain about what happens in future as a result of this vote. They've made the bed, it's just a pity that the young, the Scots, the Northern Irish, Gibraltarians and Londoners, the majority of whom all voted to Remain, will all have to lie in it with them.

And that pride in being English I was talking about? Well, during the General Election people turned out in their droves in Farage's constituency, some of them openly saying they were voting tactically specifically to keep him out. That's the sort of thing I was talking about making me proud. It's a pretty good thing they did, because his lack of class in victory was quite incredible. Then there's this sort of thing. I don't feel a great deal of pride at the moment. I feel ashamed, to be honest.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

I can even get biscuits into an entry about the referendum...

It's been, again, a long time since I made an entry here, but the third-ever national referendum in Britain, and one held on such a fundamental matter, seems suitably weighty a subject on which to return.

At time of writing, we're perhaps eight hours, and certainly less then 12, from knowing the final result of the vote that seems, thanks to the ludicrously negative and bitter campaigning, to have taken forever to arrive. I had to queue to cast my vote this morning, which suggests a high turnout, so at least all the effort both sides have put in may have been worth it from the point of view of voter engagement.

It does seem to have been something that people genuinely care about. Mooching around a farmers' market in Oval recently - very good chorizo Scotch eggs to be had there - there was a civilised debate going on between two fairly eloquent reps, one from each side. This was being amplified though speakers so the whole market could hear, and indeed there was a decent smattering of people sitting listening. This debate, though perhaps atypical of the campaign as a whole in that the speakers were at least civil and didn't interrupt each other, instead alternating at the mic, still threw up some ridiculous claims from each side that were all too typical of what we've been hearing over the past few months.

The Leave campaigner, for example, trotted out the standard bollocks about the £350m fee we pay every week to the EU, a number long since discredited since it makes no account of either the rebates we receive or the mitigating benefits we're paying for - see this rather marvellous piece from John Oliver for a much better response that this layman can come up with. In turn, the Remain campaigner retorted that for every £1 we spend on the EU, we get £10 back. She offered absolutely nothing by way of evidence for this number, merely giving her opponent the rope with which to hang her. This was somebody on the same side of the debate, broadly speaking, as me, but who'd still managed to make me snort with derision at what she'd said.

Overall, the two rather nicely summed up the biggest problem with what amount to the sticks with which each side has beaten the electorate lately - there's been nothing genuinely convincing from either side. As far as I can tell, the Remain campaign has largely been about all the crap that could fall on our heads if we pull out. While I can, of course, see that, couldn't they have focused the main thrust of their argument a bit more on the positive, rather than treating them as some kind of side show? The Leavers' argument, however, can pretty much be summed up as 'Hurrumph. Bloody foreigners.' Not even close to good enough, lads.

It's only fair to point out that, as somebody whose partner is an EU citizen who came here a long time ago, and who hopes to move permanently to Spain with that partner, my own position would be rather simple even without all the 'facts' that have been spat at us during the course of the campaign. My partner has worked without a break ever since she got here, and has certainly paid more tax than I have during that period, offering considerably more to our society with her career in teaching and the charity sector than I ever have with mine in advertising. We'd like to live in Spain but come and go to Britain and elsewhere as we please. We'd also like to do this without having to get married, or either of us taking the other's nationality. So to me this is a no-brainer before either side even put their case to me. 

I like to think, though, that I'd want something a bit more substantive than 'if the immigrants would only sod off everything would be OK' to make up my mind, even if I weren't living with one. But in the event that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, to go on, I still think there'd be a way to decide. Let's imagine you had, for whatever reason, not the slightest knowledge of what each side was campaigning for. Not an inkling. You've been living as a hermit for ten years so for all you know, it could be about whether chocolate digestives should be banned from having a layer of caramel added between the choccy and the biscuit base - you just have no idea what's going on.

But you've come back from your little hole in the desert ground, have realised from the hubbub that this is important, and need something to key on before you cast your vote. All you'd need to do is take a look at some of the standard bearers for the respective campaigns. They've given us nothing more useful to go on, so that's as good a criterion as any. So, let's see...

On the Remain side you've got the leaders of the main political parties, a lot of high-profile business leaders and quite a few celebrities. Not exactly the champions you'd send in to joust for your honour, but hold on - have a look at this lot on the other side. Yes, there are business leaders on this side too. But... Gove. Boris Johnson. Nigel fucking Farage

Quickly! Give me that pencil. Decision made.