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Auribus Teneo Lupum

For those that don’t follow the machinations of British politics – and I would understand if you chose not to – a leadership election is about to get underway. Between general elections and ill-conceived referendums, leadership elections are about the only other thing that breaks up the monotony of parliamentary democracy. As the party holding the election is currently in power the winner will become Prime Minister. Why anyone would want this job is beyond me, but that’s how it is. The next Prime Minister will be (probably) the biggest influence on the direction that Brexit takes from this point forward.

One of the underdogs in the race is Rory Stewart. He’s had an interesting and varied life outside of politics (Brad Pitt bought the rights to a film about him) and appears to be clever & coherent. This means that he’s got no chance of winning, but his ground campaign is pretty interesting and he’s doing a good job of putting some of the Brexit nonsense to rights. Rory is against a no-deal Brexit (yay), but he also thinks that a second referendum would be a mistake (boo). A couple of months ago I would have strongly argued that he is wrong, but acceptance sets in as time goes on and I’m developing some sympathy for this view. His reasoning is straightforward and nothing to do with sovereignty or democracy or any of the other tropes that Brexiteers wheel out, simply that there’s no point in an exercise where the result will only tell us what we already know: the country (or at least those that vote in these things) is still split. A referendum only solves the practical issue of whether we stay or leave – it does nothing for the social or political fallout, which will far outlast it.

The latin term auribus teneo lupum translates to ‘hold a wolf by the ears’ and is used to describe situations where doing nothing and doing something are equally risky. A more modern interpretation would be dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t. It feels fitting for our current predicament.

Architectural Renders of Temporary Commons

The Palace of Westminster, home to the House of Commons and the House of Lords, is literally falling down. Putting aside philosophical musings about whether this is a reflection on the perilous state of our democracy, the situation has become so severe that MPs are going to have to move out.

I take some dark pleasure from imagining specific MPs having to beg for hot desks around central London like many local government workers now do, but that wasn’t ever going to happen. Instead, they’ll have to slum it out in these temporary digs:

A shame that they didn’t have the option shake-up the layout a bit – or to move it out of London – but I rather like it.

Liars, populists & cretins

I’ve tried to avoid reading about Brexit for the past year because it’s a really good route to short-term depression.

Roughly two years have passed since the UK Government prematurely triggered Article 50. There’s been lots, and lots, and lots of talk since then, but in reality very little has happened – well, quite a lot has happened, but very little of the big stuff that needs to be done by the deadline has happened.

The EU 27 set out their position early on:

  • The UK chose to leave, so they’ll leave and lose access to the benefits of being a member.
  • The EU will manage the exit in a way to cause the least damage to the EU, and hopefully the UK (but they’re the ones that chose to leave, so…).

Seems reasonable. Brexit, as far as the EU is concerned, is a legal process and an exercise in damage limitation – not a negotiation. The UK fundamentally misunderstands this as intransigence.

The UK, under the Chequers proposals, asks for access to the single market (with the ability to strike external trade deals – though with who, nobody yet knows), along with opt-outs from freedom of movement, paying into the EU budget and being under the jurisdiction of the ECJ.

The EU have not been particularly enthusiastic about these proposals,since they undermine the core structures of the union, and the UK has been banging its head against this wall for the past six months.

Theresa May tried to use an EU summit in Salzburg to go over the head of the intractable negotiators and appeal to the generosity of the individual member states, but this failed spectacularly and without benefit of a better plan, she threw a wobbler and announced that it would be Europe’s fault if Britain crashed out without a deal, and that they need to prevent it from happening. The irony is delicious, but there we seem to have become stuck.

Theresa ‘Strong & Stable Leadership’ May is at the mercy of the cretinous elements of the Conservative Party, no one can quite understand what the Labour Party intends to do, and time is ticking.

For a very readable view of the current status of the EU talks, read Chris Grays Brexit Blog. For a giggle (or a cry), read these reports of meetings between the PM and Angela Merkel.

The absolute state of the Labour Party

Politics in the UK is still mostly viewed in terms of left and right and the baggage that comes with them. I don’t subscribe to any strong views on either; good politics should pull ideas from across the spectrum and so I naturally gravitate to parties than govern from the centre. New Labour, under Tony Blair, was probably the closest that there has been to my ideal. It embraced capitalism and globalisation, but also enacted transformative social programs that improved the lives of the poor and vulnerable. It embraced Europe and was confident on the national and world stage.

I have voted in every single one of the four general elections that have taken place since I became eligible to vote. Labour has had my vote in all but the 2010 election, when I voted Conservative and helped to bring in the first Coalition government since the Second World War. The reasoning behind this vote was simple, the scale of government debt following the financial crash scared me, and they were they only party advocating significant reductions in government spending.

I voted Labour again in 2015 and was rewarded with a Conservative majority in Parliament. I joined the Labour party, the first time that I have ever been a member of a political party, and began to campaign for them. I delivered thousands of leaflets. I attended branch and constituency meetings. I even, albeit briefly, served as Chairman for my local branch. I sold the Labour message wherever I went, but then Jeremy Corbyn happened.

The Labour Party has now been out of power for seven years, having struggled to shake of the demons of the past or find a message that resonates with the electorate. It elected Jeremy Corbyn, a left-wing outlier who had never held or even sought high office as its leader. His MPs tried to overthrow him when it became clear that he was incapable of any form of leadership, only to bungle it and have him elected again under an even bigger majority. The Party now finds itself a perpetual and maddening turmoil. I cannot vote for Jeremy Corbyn to be our Prime Minister because he simply is not fit to hold that, or any other office of government. He is a third rate politician, with little intellect and no new ideas.

All of the evidence would suggest that the Labour Party is facing annihilation in this coming general election.

Narratives on Power

It is unusual in British politics for both government and opposition to melt down at the same time. Usually one or the other has the capacity or initiative to kick the other in the teeth when opportunity presents. But Brexit changed everything. The Prime Minister resigned on the morning following the referendum, firing the starting gun on the race for the leadership of the conservative party. The official opposition is in complete disarray: a motion of no confidence has failed to rid them of their bumbling but popular leader, as has the mass resignation of almost the entire shadow cabinet. The man who shied away from power for so long now clings to it for dear life – to the incredulity of his peers, the ridicule of the media and the bewilderment of everyone else. Boris Johnson, the presumptive heir to Cameron, has been brutally stabbed in the back by his colleague Michael Gove – who implausibly launched his own campaign for the leadership. Now both of their reputations lie in tatters and many wonder whether there was any point to the referendum at all.

I cannot think of a period in any time of my life when so much has happened at such an unrelenting pace. The political narrative is driven by the conflict between those that wield power and those that desire it and since Brexit the narrative is being written faster than anyone can fathom. Who can predict what the last page will say? We’ve shaken the kaleidoscope, the pieces are now in flux.

Stronger In 🇪🇺

My country will soon make a monumentus decision. I’m normally for referendums, in theory What purer instrument of democracy can citizens wield? But I don’t like this one. Not one bit. Not because because we shouldn’t ask the question – but because it wasn’t asked for the right reasons. It was offered as a concession to the right of the Conservative Party during an election that they never expected to win. It was a risky play that was lost. It is a sign of how dysfunctional our democracy is.

The ‘debate’ has been a farce. The Remain campaign is fragmented and lacks a strong voice. The leaders of Labour and the Conservatives share the same objective but will not share a stage and they bicker and snipe instead of standing united, still focused on political point scoring. Meanwhile the Leave campaign is headed my a man whose interests lie solely in the job he hopes to gain should he win. It’s a joke. One that would be funny if it wasn’t so fucking serious.

My city is one of the most euro-skeptic in the country. We have massive unemployment, failing schools, poor infrastructure and a high immigrant population. Every year we are beaten into submission by central government which reduces the funding available to us. The population is pissed off and they blame the council, the government, mass-immigration, and Europe. There is no no evidence to support the latter two stances. The actual reasons for our dismal local economy are complex, but Europe has brought our city numerous benefits. The European Regional Development Fund has poured hundreds of millions of pounds into projects in the Humber; regenerating deprived areas of the city, improving our creaking flood defenses and creating new employment opportunities. For years the population was in decline but the trend has now reversed and our population grows again; buoyed by immigrants who have made Hull their home. They have turned shops which stood derelict into thriving independent stores to serve the community. They pay business rates and tax. They employ local people. They’ve stopped us going under.

I struggle to understand the pleas of the nationalist and their claims that we need to ‘take our country back’ and regain our ‘sovereignty’. I’m tired of hearing about immigration. People should be free to move and work wherever they damn well please. This place that I live is just a big chunk of land, surrounded by more land, surrounded by sea, on a ball of rock floating in space. I’m not ignorant of the arguments, and I understand why people are dissatisfied. We live in an unfair world. People suffer. Leaving the EU won’t change that. It won’t stop immigration and it won’t stop terrorism. It won’t magically revive our economy and create millions of jobs. It just won’t. Together we are stronger.

It is almost unimaginable now to consider that there might be major war across Europe, but The EU was born out of the ashes of a series of conflicts which devastated the continent and lead to the loss of millions of lives. Europe’s strength is in the incredible changes that can be made when people work together towards a common goal. Britain leaving would be a selfish mistake of catastrophic proportions that would weaken the fabric of the EU irreversibly and leave the United Kingdom materially and socially poorer. We’re stronger IN.