The sinister side of expecting people to produce ID in order to vote

The Tory proposal to require photographic ID to let people vote is a cynical attempt to stop some people voting and undermines trust in democracy. Both help Boris Johnson. Both are anti-democratic and erode trust in elections.

The Queen’s Speech on 19 October has been dismissed as an exercise in electioneering rather than a programme for government. Usually the Queen’s Speech outlines the government’s legislative programme, but as Boris Johnson seems very keen for an election in the very near future, this Queen’s Speech seems more getting the Queen to outline a Tory manifesto than a serious programme for government.

The inclusion of an item to require people to produce photographic ID in order to vote could sound innocuous. Turning up at a polling station and simply giving one’s name does sound like something that could be abused. But the Electoral Reform Society points out that there were just 8 allegations of voter impersonation in 2018, so this is hardly a problem.
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Avoiding Boris Johnson’s “People v Politicians election” trap

There is a very real risk of Boris Johnson’s newly right-wing Conservatives winning a snap election by the same distortion of truth and pedalling of fantasy that enabled Leave to win in the referendum.

Boris Johnson, making statement after Commons returned from unlawful prorogation

News of Dominic Cummings describing the present Brexit chaos as “a walk in the park” nails the idea that what’s been going on recently is an inept Prime Minister making a mess.

Boris Johnson has been talking of a “People v Politicians” election soon. He could do well, especially if he gets to dictate the timetable and force an election this autumn (as he seems to want).

Horror at his conduct is causing a surge of support for the Liberal Democrats, and there is the temptation to support an election because it will almost certainly produce many more Liberal Democrat MPs, but the real risk is that they will be opposing a deeply dangerous Johnson-majority government. Continue reading “Avoiding Boris Johnson’s “People v Politicians election” trap”

Brexit and the blindness of ambition, through the lens of the Mahabharata

The ancient text of the Mahabharata seems to speak into the latest craziness of Brexit — speaking of the folly that comes with blind ambition, and the price paid by the next generation.

Death of Duryodhan

For some time now I have been working my way through the Hindu epic the Mahabharata, serialised on Indian television in the 1980s, and now on youtube. At its core is a huge war between two sets of cousins. It’s sometimes cast as a war between truth and untruth. Like all wars, its causes are complex.

Part of the explanation is that king Vichitravirya’s elder son, Dhritarashtra, was born blind, so his younger brother, Pandu, was named Crown Prince. Dhritarashtra succeeds to the throne after his brother’s premature death. That contains the seeds of a deadly for succession between the sons of Pandu and of Dhritarashtra — not helped by Dhritarashtra’s blind loyalty to his son Duryodhan, despite his obvious rashness, which stands in marked contrast to the wisdom of Pandu’s elder son Yudhishthira.

This evening I’ve been watching episode 92. In which Duryodhan, the last of Dhritarashtra’s sons died. There is a telling exchange between Dhritarashtra and his courtier, Sanjay:
Continue reading “Brexit and the blindness of ambition, through the lens of the Mahabharata

Taking the government to court (again) over Brexit

Gina Miller has said she’d take the new Prime Minister to court if he tries to prorogue parliament, so it can’t debate or vote, to stop it blocking a “no deal” Brexit. The backlash says a lot about the dangerous forces that have been unleashed.

Proroguing parliament for political reasons didn’t work out well for Charles I

In the normal course of events, there is a Queen’s Speech at the start of each parlia­mentary session, and a prorogation at the end.

But there is a more extreme precedent: an unpliant parliament led to Charles I doing this. It produced a period of “personal rule” (1629–1640) — fuelling the resentments that led to civil war and his own execution.

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Remembering the liberty message of the Liberal Democrats among the Brexit madness

The Liberal Democrat result in the European Elections has shown that the #BollocksToBrexit message has finally got through. But my twitter feed in the last couple of days makes me think that our position on civil liberties is also very relevant to the chaos around Brexit and all that this stirs up for people.

Recently there was an article in the Telegraph about secret talks between some Tory donors and Nigel Farage with a view to a pact to avoid Tory Brexiteer and Brexit Party candidates standing against each other.

My twitter feed had a string of comments from people alarmed at this. The sharpest I saw was from @bulshdetector on 16 June 2019: Continue reading “Remembering the liberty message of the Liberal Democrats among the Brexit madness”

Leave.EU (wrongly) blaming fallout of referendum on Sadiq Khan

Leave.EU’s latest recruitment advert tries to blame Sadiq Khan for the socially-destructive fallout of the referendum. It’s time to call out this this hypocrisy.

Sadiq Khan

A recruitment advert from Leave.EU turned up in my twitter feed this morning which shows an extract of an interview with Sadiq Khan quoted out of context, and a transcript of part of that, giving an impression which is not just wrong, but fascinatingly and revealingly wrong. It reads:

WATCH: “Gun crime is up, robbery is up, knife crime is up, rape is up… and you think honestly that London is more safe now than when you took over as Mayor of London?”

@SadiqKhan: “I do.”

The stone cold loser is dangerously delusional…

Support us at (and links to the “get involved” page of their web site)

The London Assembly web site does indeed provide information on an increase in crime, but the levels are low. There’s not much chance of an individual being directly affected (unless they are already involved in drugs or other criminal). As a frequent visitor to London, my instincts echo Sadiq Khan’s comment — it feels safe.

There are some big “buts”… not least, the fact that I am white and have a British accent, so I’m not likely to be the target of xenophobic attack.

Continue reading “Leave.EU (wrongly) blaming fallout of referendum on Sadiq Khan”

Lessons from the Mahabharata in the context of D-day and Brexit

The Hindu epic the Mahabharata offers a way to think about the absurdity of attempting of commemorating D-day at the same time as trying to leave the EU set up to prevent another war in Europe.

Abhimanyu, fighting in the Kurukshetra war

The last few minutes have seen a startling justaposition in my news feed, in quick succession I heard:

  • On BBC Radio 4’s The World at One there was coverage of the 75th anniversary of D-day, with a reminder of the seriousness of the task and the sheer amount of support from other countries that enabled this to succeed, which flatly contradicts the idea that “the UK won the war” in it’s own strength.
  • A video from Russia Today showed both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt advocating leaving the EU with no deal — immediately followed by a commentator pointing out the damage that’s already happened and how much worse “No deal” would make things.
  • Also on The World at One was a tiny comment about Rory Stewart (also pitching to become Tory leader) explaining that it is crazy to imagine that the EU will re-open negotiations, or to think there is money for drastic tax cuts.
  • I’m slowly working my way through the Hindu epic the Mahabharata, as serialised on Indian television, and caught a moment where two mothers whose sons are on opposite sides in the war at the heart of the story console each other. One asks the other whether she will pray for victory: she doesn’t want to force the choice on God who has to disappoint one of them if they both pray for this.

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Building on the European Election results

The Liberal Democrat campaign for the European elections made an emotional connection with voters that the Remain referendum campaign missed. It spoke with clarity and trustworthiness. That’s in stark contrast to many people’s response to they dysfunction both tin the government and the Labour party. We need to connect with people in this space to help the country find a saner alternative.

Vince Cable and some of the Liberal Democrat MEPs
After the European Parliament elections

The actual results were exciting, with pro-Remain parties getting more votes than pro-Brexit ones and many people voting Liberal Democrat who would not have done so a year ago.

Polling from Lord Ashcroft since then suggests that many of these voters would follow this up by voting Liberal Democrat in a UK General Election.

The campaigner in me instinctively thinks this is the time to be out and visible, particularly in places where people don’t hear from us very often. It’s one thing for people to vote Liberal Democrat in exceptional circumstances and quite another if it’s followed up by enough contact to mean this is not a flash in the pan. On top of the usual task helping newly-elected councillors to dig in, this is a golden opportunity to recruit members and deliverers.

But things are not so simple.
Continue reading “Building on the European Election results”

European election campaign priorities for the Liberal Democrats

It seems inevitable that the elections to the European Parliament will be read as a vote on Brexit. That risks the election campaign being a rehash of the referendum, alienating an electorate frustrated by #BrexitShambles, and putting the emphasis on whether we should be there rather than on what our we are electing people to do.

Instead of this, campaigning on the core of the programme of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) gives Liberal Democrats a chance to shift the debate, adding something new and inviting supporters of Brexit to see things differently.

ALDE’s programme begins with a summary the British electorate would do well to hear:

“In more than 60 years of European integration, the European Union has served us well in achieving peace, stability and prosperity. The EU has promoted and extended to half a billion people the four freedoms: the free movement of people, services, capital and goods across borders. We want the Union to play a key leadership role in tackling today’s and tomorrow’s global challenges.

As such, the ALDE Party believes in a Europe based on the fundamental Liberal principles of liberty, democracy, the rule of law, human rights, tolerance and solidarity. We believe in a fair, free and open society which harnesses the abilities of each and every one of its citizens to participate fully in society, presenting them with the opportunities to fulfil their potential, free from poverty, ignorance, and discrimination.”

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The nerve David Lammy touched

David Lammy’s speech to the crowds at the People’s Vote march on 23 March hit a nerve. He’s been accused of likening the ERG to Nazis. Except that he didn’t. What people are hearing in his words deserves attention.

David Lammy, speaking Parliament Square in the rally at the end of the People’s Vote March

Lammy’s speech spent more time calling out the lies of the Leave campaign and the failings of Theresa May. But he did include this:

“I’m just looking over there at Winston Churchill. On 30 September 1938 he stood in parliament and said we would not appease Hitler. I’m looking across to Nelson Mandela, who would not give in to apartheid. We say, we will not give into the ERG. Will not appease.”

A few weeks later, he was interviewed by Andrew Marr. The first part of the interview allows Lammy space to put the case for a People’s vote, but then Marr challenges him, quoting that part of his speech, and suggests that he is likening the ERG to Nazis which he says is unacceptable. Lammy responds by saying he didn’t go far enough. Continue reading “The nerve David Lammy touched”

Notre Dame fire: reactions showing how European we are

I reacted strongly to the fire at Notre Dame. In the complex emotions there’s something around identifying with a national symbol of another European nation, which seems to be around reacting as European. This is a taste of the more complex sense of national belonging that’s now emerging on both sides of the Brexit debate.

Notre Dame fire: showing us as more European than we realise

At one level, I’ve a lot of sympathy with Dr Johnson’s description of patriotism as “the last refuge of the scoundrel”. The increasing use of both the Union Flag and the Cross of St George by the far right means I’ve come to associate both with an extremism with which I am not comfortable. If someone waves either flag to justify the mis-treatment of ethnic minorities, my instinct is to be on the side of the minorities.

But this isn’t the whole story. Identity — including identification with country — are really complex and multi-layered. “National identity” has become blurred, and in the blurring there are real surprises as well as dangers. Continue reading “Notre Dame fire: reactions showing how European we are”

Dangerous support for a “strong leader”

Recent research from the Hansard Society shows a majority of Britons favouring a “strong leader who would break the rules”. This is a dangerous next step in the saga of Brexit.

Dangerously popular

The Hansard Society’s recent 2019 Audit of Political Engagement shows “54% say Britain needs a strong leader who is willing to break the rules”.

That research was done towards the end of 2018: it seems a fair guess that the present state of shambles around Brexit will have seen that number going up since then.

The Guardian coverage of this report on 8 April highlights the sense of concern: it was entitled “UK poised to embrace authoritarianism, warns Hansard Society”, with a subtitle “Public attitudes emerge that ‘challenge core tenets of our democracy’, says report”.

This connects with something I blogged recently about the Brexit saga in terms of failed dependency — of the raw emotions exposed when the sense of failed dependency. A very natural response is to seek a leader who can be trusted (or gives the impression that they can).

The Audit of Political Engagement also shows people thinking the government shouldn’t have to worry so much about votes in parliament, that more important decisions should go to referenda, puts public trust in MPs even lower than it was in the expenses scandal, and says 74% trust the military to act in the public interest, but only 34% say the same of MPs (and 29% say it of political parties). On top of this, it adds that 50% say the main political parties don’t care about people like them, 63% say “the system” is rigged to help the rich and powerful and the proportion who don’t think that political engagement can change the way the UK is run has hit a 15 year high.

That’s a heady cocktail. Like the scepticism around MPs, referenda assume we can’t trust parliament — it shifts the decision from politicians expected to find out facts and deliberate with each other to find a way forward with broad consent, to people coming to positions without the facts or the deliberation. That’s dangerous: lots of people would be tempted to vote “yes” to lower taxes and “yes” to more money for the NHS, but those two contradict and it takes information and deliberation to reconcile them. Continue reading “Dangerous support for a “strong leader””