Category Archives: Politics

1997-2017: A political transition from triumph to despair

Just over 20 years ago, on May 1 1997, a General Election took place which Tony Blair and Labour won decisively. After years of supporting the Labour Party, and having become a member earlier that year, it was a wonderful time for me, full of hope for the future and a belief that things really ‘could only get better’. To put the icing on the cake, GB won the Eurovision Song Contest a couple of days later with Katrina and the Waves, with their song ‘Love shine a light’!

I have often asked the question ‘what went wrong’? World events didn’t help, and although I supported our intervention in Iraq at the time., clearly Labour lost a lot of support because of this. Making Gordon Brown leader didn’t help either (he was a great Chancellor of the Exchequer but no leader). In politics, parties tend to lose support after a long spell in power, and the 2010 election result was no surprise. Since then we’ve had 5 years of coalition government, and less than 2 years of the Tories, with David Cameron presiding over the EU Referendum with its disastrous result, and Theresa May taking over as PM. Now we have another election on June 8th, with an almost certain outcome of a large Tory majority and a hard Brexit. Labour have made themselves virtually unelectable thanks to their leader (and some of his shadow cabinet) , and it’s too soon for the LibDems to make much of a comeback, although they are making a spirited effort, which I am trying to help.

For me, we have truly gone from a time of positivity and belief in the future, to one of sheer despair. Sad times indeed.

 

My thoughts on the triggering of article 50

I haven’t posted about Brexit since my post of 10 July last year. Since then not a lot has happened; there’s been plenty of talk, but because we were (and still are) EU members, nothing of any consequence changed. But today article 50 is triggered, which sets us on the irrevocable road to leaving the EU.

I heard Nick Clegg speak on Radio 5 live this morning; not someone I’ve ever had much time for, but he does speak sense on the EU. He reminded us that the EU referendum was set up by David Cameron to deal with a rift in his party, rather than thinking about the national interest, and also expressed the view that I share, which is that many people’s vote for Brexit was a protest vote against many things, some of which had no connection with our EU membership. I covered this latter point in my post which is linked in the last paragraph.

If I think back to when we joined the (then) Common Market in 1973, I was 16, and politically aware enough (thanks to my parents), and I was very much in favour of us joining. Two years later, Harold Wilson called a referendum on our membership, and I remember wearing a ‘Keep Britain in Europe’ badge to school. Now I am probably coming to the last few years of my working life, and I do worry for the future of the United Kingdom outside the EU, especially if, as is likely, Scotland votes for independence in a few years time.

In terms of how leaving the EU will affect me job wise, I am concerned about the loss of EU research funding, and the effect on student mobility. Hopefully the negotiations that will start from tomorrow (presumably) will take these issues into account, but unfortunately I have no confidence that Theresa May and her team will give priority to these issues. All we can do is watch this space. To misquote Gloria Gaynor, we will survive, but our country will change, inevitably, and not necessarily for the better.

 

Who does Labour represent now?

With Jeremy Corbyn’s latest decisive victory in the Labour Leadership election, I am led to ask the question, who does Labour represent now? It certainly doesn’t represent the centre left, nor does it seem to be in a position to form an effective opposition at a time when one is badly needed.

Having been a Labour supporter for 40+ years and a member from 1997-2013, I am used to differences of opinion in the party. I used to console myself with the thought that ‘Labour is a broad church’. But eventually the ‘church’ began to narrow and some members, like myself, found ourselves heading for the exit.

What is different about Jeremy Corbyn’s position is that he has been elected by overwhelming support from members who have a very idealistic position, but little practical understanding or appreciation of the kind of politics that is needed to make a party capable of forming an electable government that can deal with the many issues the UK now faces. It doesn’t help that Jeremy himself seems to be stuck in the 1970s, still talking about renationalisation, and advocating the reduction of austerity by throwing money at the problem without any consideration of where it might come from.

It remains to be seen what moderate Labour MPs will do, who don’t identify with Jeremy’s agenda. I know from my days as a member how loyal Labour supporters are, but if the situation becomes intolerable for them, and the party splits, there is an opportunity for an amalgamation of ideas and possible cross-party links with social democratically minded LibDems like myself.

Just over a year ago I joined the LibDems, partly in anticipation of what was likely to happen in Labour, but also because I saw them as a party where my centre left views might be better represented. Through LibDemVoice I got in touch with George Kendall, and together we have set up the Social Democrat Group, whose aim is to reach out to moderate Labour members so links can potentially be built. So far we have held successful fringe events at the Spring and Autumn LibDem conferences, and attended the Fabian and Progress summer conferences, with future meetings planned.

Going back to the title of this post, it is clear that Labour as it is doesn’t now represent many of the people who need it most. The formation of a new centre left grouping, formed by a social democrat consensus between moderate Labour and LibDems, might fill that gap, and in the coming weeks, months and years we hope it might become a reality.

You can find out more about the Social Democrat Group by visiting our Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/SocialDemocratGroup/, or following us on Twitter at @socdemgroup.

Brexit thoughts

It’s ironic that I should be sitting here in Lyon writing this. I’ve been too upset and horrified by the Brexit vote to write anything in the 2+ weeks since the vote. But travel enables one to be slightly detached, and now I feel able to say a few words.

First, it is clear that the vote was mostly not about our EU membership, but it was a protest against many people’s perception of how life had become for them, and who was to blame for what they saw as negative changes. The government, in fact the past few governments, should take a share of the blame. Under-investment in social housing and infrastructure has meant that immigration has put a strain on  local resources in some parts of the country, while much of our press has continually put out the message that the EU is responsible for immigration (in spite of the fact that, as I mentioned in a previous post, most EU immigrants get well-paid jobs and contribute to the economy through taxation). Then there was the nonsense about the mythical money that could go to the NHS if we left the EU, and scaremongering about Turkey joining (which won’t happen for years if at all).

Second, the government has made it quite clear that it will respect the verdict of the referendum. There will be no second referendum, in spite of the widely supported petition. We are where we are, and have to move forward as best as we can.

My greatest concerns are those that affect my work, namely what will replace EU research funding, and will free movement of staff and students within the EU be adversely affected. I have discussed these concerns at length before.

One thing is clear, and that is that nothing will happen for some time. Until we have a new Prime Minister, the exit and negotiation process cannot even begin. And Labour’s likely split is not helping as we have no effective opposition either. We just have to sit tight and see what happens. Writing this in Lyon naturally makes one think about the possibility of moving to an EU country. But attractive though that sounds in theory, it’s simply not a practical proposition. We live in worrying times.

Are we sleep walking ourselves to Brexit?

When I wrote this back in December 2015 it was in the spirit of a ‘worst case scenario’. Sadly, how true it turned out to be ):

Rob Jackson's Blog

As far as I am concerned, there is no question that the UK should remain an EU member, for a multitude of reasons. These include trade, security, freedom of movement as well as educational opportunities and research funding. And I don’t know anyone who disagrees with this.

Cameron’s attempts to renegotiate the terms of our EU membership are both unnecessary and doomed to failure. The only reason he’s doing this is to pacify the right wing of his own party (and to minimise the threat from UKIP), but he won’t achieve enough ‘concessions’ to change their mindsets. Added to this is the undoubted effect of the Murdoch press.

The worry is that many of the benefits of our membership are not understood or appreciated by a majority of the electorate. Instead they will respond to Cameron’s likely failed negotiations and the screaming newspaper headlines by voting No. And before we…

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Some final words on the EU Referendum

Well, we’re almost there, folks! After weeks of campaigning, finally we will vote tomorrow.

As the weeks have progressed, I’ve had times of feeling negative (e.g. see my last post), and times when I have felt that things may be going the way of the Remain camp. But to be perfectly honest, now I just don’t know.

As others have commented, the No camp have been tapping into a kind of resentment of authority and experts that seems to have been simmering below the surface for several years now. There have been plenty of theories expounded of where this resentment has come from, and I won’t add to these except to say that successive governments have avoided having a proper national conversation about contentious topics like immigration. Had these been held, more people might realise, for example, that immigrants are not to blame for job losses, or strains on local housing/schools.  They might appreciate that in the vast majority of cases, they are doing important jobs, which for various reasons are not filled by local residents, and that it is the fault of succesive governments for not providing finance to provide the necessary infrastructure to support them. But these national conversations have not been had, and the resentment has built up. It will be very unfortunate if the vote is for a Brexit partly as a result of this.

I don’t need to list again my reasons for supporting Remain. Apart from the economy, justice, and freedom of movement, there are the very serious consequences for universities (research funding and teaching cooperation) that would result from a Brexit.

All I can do now, in closing, is to hope for the best outcome on Friday morning. The No campaign have been very vocal, but I know that there are many who support Remain. It’s very difficult to judge, and after the 2015 election, opinion polls have lost their kudos somewhat.

Here’s hoping that we are still #INtogether on Friday.

Brexit contingencies and coping strategies

As I’m sure you’ll know from my FB and Twitter feeds (if you read them), as well as a previous blog post, I’m going all out for a vote for the UK to remain in the EU. At this point, with less than 3 weeks to go to the referendum, the leave camp are capitalising on the immigration question, using largely inaccurate and misleading data, but getting a lot of publicity in the process. The vote will undoubtedly be close, and I still believe remain will win the argument. But suppose we don’t, and we wake up on 24 June to a Brexit result?

I’ve been discussing with family and a close colleague what we will do if this happens. There will be the amusing spectacle of the Tories tearing themselves apart, but that will be something of a pyrrhic victory. But what of the other consequences?

First, David Cameron may either just resign, or a leadership election may be forced, which might result in Boris Johnson becoming PM. Second, the Brexit result could lead to the SNP demanding another Scottish Independence Referendum, and winning it, thus breaking up the UK. These are terrible consequences, but they could happen.

By facing these worst case scenarios now, I am trying to prepare myself for the worst possible outcome. By doing so, this is my coping strategy for the future. This might avoid what happened after the last General Election, where I was totally unprepared for the result, and the seismic shock waves it produced.

Of course, if the worst happens, those of us who are unhappy with the result will have to regroup. It might just force a realignment of some political parties (not just the Tories), but this is a high price to pay for such a change.

Having said all that, I’m still trying to stay positive!