Category Archives: Politics

Brexit thoughts

This will  be a brief post describing my thoughts in the run-up to the UK leaving the EU tomorrow.

Above all, I am sad. I will always feel more of a European than (say) British, and we have been in the EU (or its earlier forms) most of my life. Coincidentally the first time I voted was in 1975, in the first referendum on our membership.

Apart from being sad that we are leaving, I know it will be damaging in so many ways. To our country – losing trade deals with our nearest neighbours, and losing freedom of movement of our citizens, all in the name of regaining ‘sovereignty’, which we never lost anyway. And to my life and work – scientific research will lose out on access to funding, and the ability for staff to easily travel and work in Europe, and universities may lose visiting staff and students if we leave the ERASMUS scheme. I’ve said plenty about this before, so there’s no need to elaborate now.

But the really strange thing is that I don’t actually know anyone who voted to leave. By that I mean really know – and that includes friends, work colleagues and family members.  It’s as if something terrible is being imposed on us, totally against our wishes.  And the real tragedy is that if there had been a second referendum, evidence suggests the 2016 result would have been reversed.

So, what to do now? I’ve joined various European movements which will ensure the EU and Europe is always in focus, and hopefully the LibDems will make rejoining a priority. We have to start the slow process of convincing and re-education, so that some time in the future we can rejoin. I suspect that aim will be helped when people realise the disastrous consequences of having left.

Above all, tomorrow will be a sad day, and one which I hoped would never happen.

Election Post Mortem

12 days have passed since the election, but it has taken that time to gather my thoughts and try to come to some conclusions. We still had a week of teaching to do after the election, so I couldn’t give much attention to it until now.

First, in my previous post, I was completely wrong in my predictions, but looking back on it, I suspect it was written more in hope than anything else, because when the polls closed and the prediction from the exit polls was of a majority of about 65, I wasn’t particularly surprised. In the end, the Conservatives got a majority of 80. So, how do I begin to rationalise this result?

Looking at the national picture, it was clear that Labour had a bad campaign, and that the Liberal Democrats, although they had a good start, didn’t make much impression in the end. In my opinion, Labour did badly for two reasons: (i) because of the Corbyn factor – many voters simply didn’t trust him, and (ii), in constituencies that voted for Brexit in 2016, there was some irritation among leavers that Labour had agreed to a second referendum, much as that was viewed positively by remainers such as myself. As a result, these leaver voters probably turned to the Conservatives or the Brexit Party instead of Labour. As for the LibDems, it is possible that the pledge to scrap article 50 if they formed a government backfired, although I felt it was a positive message that should not have put off potential voters. It also certainly didn’t help that Jo Swinson was not invited to take part in the Johnson-Corbyn debates. My conclusion on the overall result was that the Conservatives won because Labour did so badly, rather than there suddenly being a resurgence of Conservative support.

Locally the results very much reflected the national picture, although there are some interesting details to look at. Newcastle under Lyme went Conservative for the first time ever. The long standing Labour MP, Paul Farrelly, had stood down, having been MP since 2001, and was a remainer in a constituency that voted heavily to leave the EU in 2016. His majority had been steadily decreasing, and was down to 30 in 2017, although there were some issues with the voting that year, which probably affected this. His successor, a union official from Manchester, didn’t look likely to impress beyond loyal Labour supporters, and certainly would be unlikely to attract tactical voters. In the end, the Conservatives took the seat with a majority of 7000+ over Labour. The result in the neighbouring Stoke seats was also particularly interesting, given that Gareth Snell (Stoke Central) and Ruth Smeeth (Stoke North), had both voted in favour of Boris Johnson’s EU deal (both constituencies having voted to leave the EU in 2016). It didn’t help them, however, with Gareth losing narrowly to the Conservatives, and Ruth losing by a similar margin to that of Labour in Newcastle under Lyme. Since Stoke South had already gone Conservative in 2017, it means that all 3 Stoke seats, and Newcastle under Lyme, are blue now.

As this is a post mortem, I will attempt to look at ways forward, although like many others, I feel thoroughly demoralised. What Labour do is for their members to decide, but as an ex Labour member I remember how it felt losing the 1983 election, and how long it took to make the party electable again. From the comments I have heard so far from some prominent MPs, that lesson may take longer to learn this time round, especially with Corbyn hanging on for a period of ‘reflection’. The LibDems have lost their leader (and how shameful was Nicola Sturgeon’s reaction to the result – look it up if you haven’t seen it). There will be a leadership election in due course, with Ed Davey and Sal Brinton acting as interim leaders. We will see who stands, but I am no Davey fan. Maybe one of our new MPs will come forward?

Regarding the inevitability of Brexit happening, I am not willing to give up on the idea that we may eventually re-join. I am not in the ‘accept the result and move on’ camp, and in the New Year it will become clear what the potential LibDem party leaders think about this. I will leave further comment on this topic until then.

In the meantime I am looking forward to a quiet Christmas, free from political angst. There will be plenty of time in 2020 to re-engage in political debate!

Pre-election musings

I first started this blog at the beginning of 2010, and politics has always played an important part in my posts. Since I started it, we have had General Elections in 2010, 2015 and 2017, and of course the Scottish Independence Referendum and the EU Referendum. We now face another election in a few days’ time.

In writing this latest post, I have started by looking back on what I wrote in the run up to previous elections. In 2010 I was a Labour member, in 2015 I supported Labour but had left the party, and in 2017 I was a LibDem, as I am now. My political views haven’t changed over this time, but Labour has, moving to the left under Jeremy Corbyn. I won’t discuss this further here, but you will find posts, including this one, that cover that topic, and my reasons for changing parties.

In 2010, when Labour lost and was finally replaced by a Conservative/LibDem coalition, I discussed the result here, and in subsequent posts. That result triggered a Labour leadership election, and I strongly supported David Miliband (and still believe things might be very different now had he been elected). I discussed the difference between the Miliband brothers and their policies/perception to voters here. As we know, Ed was elected, and David, sadly, left politics (although I can’t blame him for doing that).

Moving to General Election 2015, the Conservatives won enough seats for an overall majority, and I discussed the election result here. Of course, a year later we had the EU referendum, leading to David Cameron resigning as PM, to be replaced by Theresa May. In turn, she called the now infamous snap election in June 2017, which didn’t go as she hoped. I discussed that here. And so we come to 2019, and all that has happened in the last few months. I’ve said enough about our EU membership already, so the rest of this post will concentrate on the election that is due to take place later this week, on 12 December 2019.

Regarding the forthcoming election, the polls point to an overall Conservative majority, but as I’ve said before, opinion polls don’t always work well with our FPTP system. Labour seem to be making the same mistake as they did in 1983 under Michael Foot, offering 1970s style policies, centred around renationalisation, and although that may appeal to their core voters, it might not attract many of those who voted for New Labour in 1997 and the next two elections, which Tony Blair won on a moderate centre-left platform. The LibDems will hopefully improve their position, perhaps winning some Conservative seats in Remain areas. What we end up with on Friday could, in my best estimate, be anything from a small Conservative majority to a hung parliament. I don’t expect a Labour majority, because they have lost centre-left voters in recent years, and it is also possible that some of those that voted for them in 2017 may not do so this time because they feel let down over Brexit. It will be interesting to see how the SNP do, but talking to Scottish relatives suggests that Nicola Sturgeon may not have the support she thinks she has. If that happens and the SNP do badly, they won’t be able to prop up Labour either. Finally, whether the LibDems end up in a position of influence depends of course on how many seats they win. Although they have ruled out forming coalitions, a DUP-style agreement with Labour would be a way of ensuring a second EU referendum, but this is very much a best case scenario and may be unlikely. However it is a way of ending this post on a positive note!

Tactical voting

There’s a lot being said at the moment about tactical voting. For example Remain voters are being urged to vote for whichever party is more likely to defeat the Tories, and probably the converse is happening too for Brexiteers. I have concerns about tactical voting, as (i) there is no guarantee that it will have the desired effect, and (ii) if you vote for a party you wouldn’t normally support, your usual party will suffer in terms of percentage of vote, regardless of the outcome. That can be important when overall voting figures are calculated.

Below I quote from my LibDem PPC, Nigel Jones, who explains the argument well.

‘Generally, people should not engage in tactical voting, which is different from two parties coming to an agreement. People should vote for what they believe in for the sake of the message the result sends and for the future of the party  which they truly support, locally as well as nationally.

This applies here in Newcastle under Lyme about voting Liberal Democrat because the other parties are not Remain parties, including Labour.

The voice of Remain needs to be clearly represented especially since we find ourselves in a general election and have not had a people’s vote. In any case we now have the Brexit Party for Leavers as well as the Conservative Party’.

The LibDems as a home for former Labour voters

I write this post in the run up to the General Election which is to be held in a month’s time, on December 12, 2019. I have been motivated to write it by discussions with my local party executive committee,  after hearing that this previously solid Labour constituency (Newcastle under Lyme) has some voters who have fallen out with Labour, but possibly not to the extent that they would vote Conservative. I thought that my own political journey might be of interest, and maybe help some people make up their minds on this important issue.

I was previously a Labour supporter and member for many years, but I left when Labour stopped representing the centre ground. Peter Mandelson’s ‘broad church’ narrowed as the party moved to the left, and this got worse when Corbyn became leader. It seemed there was no longer a home for centrists, and Tom Watson’s departure was a clear indication of this, if it wasn’t already obvious. The long period of indecision over Brexit was sheer frustration, and although there seems now to be a commitment to hold a second referendum, it isn’t at all clear that party policy will support a remain vote.

When I joined the LibDems I helped set up the Social Democrat Group, whose aim is to encourage social democrat policies to be adopted, and to provide a forum for dialogue with Social Democrats in other parties. Although we can’t take credit for the MPs who have recently joined the LibDems from Labour, having a group in the party that encourages such dialogue hopefully helped them feel comfortable in their new political home.

Returning to the local situation, our long standing Labour MP, Paul Farrelly, has stood down. Paul was an unflinching Remainer and a good constituency MP (hard to be both after the Brexit referendum result, but he managed it). Local former Labour voters who are Remainers, and who may not subscribe to the Corbyn vision, could do far worse than voting LibDem next month. Regardless of the election result, both locally and nationally, a vote for the LibDems signals a desire to move away from stultifying two party politics. With our inspirational leader, Jo Swinson, I hope the party can make progress at this election.  I will certainly be doing my best to help achieve that aim.

My Politics in 2019

This is a post that I have been intending to write for some time, but as with so many things, life intervened and distracted me! But 2019 so far has been a significant year, both for UK politics (which is desperate just now), and for my own political situation (which, oddly, is more positive, as I will explain).

Before talking about the awfulness of current UK politics, a word about my situation. As I’ve discussed before, I was a Labour member and voter for years, but finally left the party in 2013. I had two years in the political wilderness, although I voted Labour in the 2015 election. Finally, Corbyn’s election as leader gave me the motivation I needed to become politically active again, and I joined the LibDems in 2015. I got involved with my local party, and helped set up the Social Democrat Group to encourage dialogue with Social Democrats in other parties (principally Labour). I attended the two party conferences in 2016, but then had doubts about whether the LibDems were the right political home for me, with (seemingly) not much interest in the Social Democrat agenda at the time. I left in 2017, and rejoined Labour for a few months, only to quickly realise that Labour was definitely not the place for me either! So for about a year, from April 2018 I was back in the political wilderness, as I needed to think things through. Finally, a few months ago, I decided that the LibDems came closest to my political position, particularly with the Brexit situation (and I have to thank my political colleague George Kendall for saying at one point that one very rarely is a fan of everything a party does, and there was enough in the LibDems policies, particularly on Europe, for me to feel at home). So I rejoined, and was welcomed back both by my local party and the Social Democrat Group, for which I am very grateful. I even attended the party conference in Bournemouth last week, helped out on the Social Democrat Group stand, and voted in support of the motion to revoke article 50 if we form a government (unlikely though that is). The Social Democrat Group has also achieved some more relevance with the recent defections from Labour and the Conservatives, and we hope we can help the party to encourage more.

And so, to current politics. To summarise, Boris Johnson as PM has prorogued (suspended) parliament until the Queen’s Speech in early October. The deadline to achieve a deal with the EU is 31 October, but just before the proroguing took effect, opposition MPs united to pass a law to require that the government would have to ask for an extension to our membership if no deal is reached by 31 October. They also voted down the government’s call for a General Election, twice. Now we are in a waiting game, and it remains to be seen whether the government can reach a deal in the available time, and if not, whether they will obey the new law and ask for an extension (Boris Johnson has hinted that they might try to circumvent the law). The problem is that if no deal is reached, and no extension sought, there is the danger of leaving the EU with no deal, which would be an unmitigated disaster. Then there is a question of a General Election. If the government seeks, and is granted, an extension to our EU membership, the opposition parties will no doubt remove their opposition to having a General Election, and one might be held before the end of the year. Then I’ll be campaigning for the LibDems as best as I can, and there is a real opportunity that they will win seats from both Labour and Conservative, although probably not in enough numbers to form a government. But they may have enough to make a difference, and perhaps to enable a second referendum to take place, which would hopefully finish the Brexit nightmare once and for all.

So, with the new semester a week away, with all that involves, we are in very challenging political times. It remains to see what happens, and I will certainly write more posts as things develop.

A political sabbatical

UK Politics is in a dire state just now. We are being ruled by an effectively lame duck government which nevertheless looks as if it will be able to hang on to power for the duration of its term, we look to be heading for a hard Brexit, and the Labour opposition are not capitalising on the undoubted advantage they have now to represent the increasing proportion of our population who regret the Brexit vote outcome. At present the Labour front bench won’t even support Single Market membership.

Last year, after two years in the LibDems in which I helped try to encourage them to pursue a social democratic agenda, I rejoined Labour. The reasons for my decision are given in a previous post and need not be repeated here. I have since joined a couple of groups representing moderate/centre Labour members (Progress and Labour First), but the prospect of them having any serious impact against the hard left group Momentum looks bleak just now. This article summarises the position well.

For the last few years I have put quite a lot of political posts on Twitter, and have sometimes got a response and sometimes not (recently more often not, which suggests I have less impact in this area than I did, say in 2010, possibly because my views are out of line with much current thinking in Labour). I have decided to stop these posts, at least for now. I will be taking a sabbatical from politics in general, at least for the next few busy months at work, and I will review the situation in the Spring. I haven’t lost interest, but I am thoroughly fed up and worn down by everything that is happening politically at present, and I need to concentrate my energies elsewhere.

Of course, I will continue to post on education and science, but no more political tweets for a while!

Labour pains

As I mentioned in a previous post, I rejoined the Labour Party in July after an absence of 4 years, and a 2 year stint in the LibDems. I felt I was aware of the risks, and thought that my issues with the current leadership of the party would be compensated by my belief that the party is a ‘broad church’ (a term coined by Peter Mandelson, but used/misused by others since), with room for moderate centre left types like myself.  Now I am having doubts. A number of factors have led to this, which include the refusal to debate Brexit at the party conference, and the antics of Momentum in threatening to deselect MPs on the centre left of the party. Then there is the proposed rule change (the ‘McDonnell Amendment’) about standing for party leader, which reduces the number of MPs needed to allow a candidate to appear on the ballot paper, thereby downgrading their influence.

Of course, I am not the only one with these concerns. I have joined Progress, who represent the centre left in the party, and yesterday the Progress director, Richard Angell has published a piece calling on moderates to resist calls from hard-left members to ‘shame them out of the party’.

So,  there is still hope, and I am not thinking of leaving yet. Instead I will try to build links with other moderates, which will hopefully convince me that it is still worthwhile remaining as a member. Otherwise another period in political no man’s land may be the only alternative, and I don’t want to go there again if at all possible!

Part of the union

Almost from the time I started working in academia, back in 1984 when I began my second postdoc position at Birkbeck, until 2005, I was a member of the AUT (the Association of University Teachers). I was even a member of the AUT committee at Keele for a few years. I remember that I got increasingly frustrated with them – they didn’t help us in my School when Chemistry and Physics were threatened with large scale redundancies (which thankfully never happened), but rather, got obsessed with ‘worthy’ issues like boycotting Israeli universities. When they merged with NATFHE to form the UCU in 2005/6, I simply didn’t join the new union.

Times change, however. As Acting Head of School, I am exposed and in the firing line if anything goes wrong, and the worrying news about the pension scheme at the weekend (which turned out to be exaggerated), led me to think again. UCU membership doesn’t come cheap, but they do provide an important service for their members, and they speak up for our interests in increasingly difficult times.

Anyway, the upshot is that I have joined the UCU. With it being less than a week since I re-joined the Labour Party, it does seem as if I am returning to something more like my old self, at least in political terms!

(The title of the this post is taken from the Strawbs 1973 song of the same name).

Another political about-turn

It is exactly 2 years since I wrote a post entitled ‘Adieu Labour – the end of a personal political era‘.  This post described my disenchantment with the Labour Party at the time, and my decision to join the LibDems, after 2 years of being a member of no party.  At the time I could really see no way back to Labour (for me), and genuinely believed some kind of realignment of the centre left in UK politics might become a reality. Thinking back to 26 July 2015, it was slightly less than a year before the Euro referendum, and like many, I expected a Remain result. I also expected Cameron’s government to run full term, to 2020. Fast forward a year, and the disastrous Brexit result, and then a year later, Theresa May’s snap election, and the whole political landscape looks very different. While Vince Cable will undoubtedly be a good leader for the LibDems, possibly even encouraging some social democratic thinking in the party, it will take a long time for that to have an impact, and time is something we don’t have!

As it is, May’s government continues to hobble along, supported by the DUP.  Labour did very well in the election, and although I did question at the time whether some of the promises made were deliverable, they are still the best placed party to win a future election, and to make a difference. I have some political differences with Jeremy Corbyn, but Labour is still a ‘broad church’, with a wide range of views represented. Chuka Ummuna, for example, strongly advocates remaining in the single market, and my local MP, Paul Farrelly, has been consistently strongly pro-Europe.

The upshot of all this is that I have left the LibDems and re-joined Labour. I want to do what I can to help them win a future election, as, in my opinion the country has had enough of the ‘pay the deficit or bust’ policies of the Tories. Unfortunately the LibDems have no realistic chance of any kind of influence at the moment, although I am grateful to them for having me for two years, during which time I had a lot of interesting discussions, particularly with George Kendall when we set up the Social Democrat Group.

So, somewhat unexpectedly, a new era starts. Having got involved locally with the LibDems, something I never did before with Labour, I will almost certainly do something similar locally with Labour. Interesting times lie ahead.