An extra concern about bullying in government

Allegations of bullying against Priti Patel — and the Conservative Party’s defence of her — point to a much more serious problem in Boris Johnson’s administration.

On the face of it this is a matter of workplace bullying, with one person having received a £25,000 payout in 2015, the looming prospect of an Employment Tribunal case and an enquiry showing that she broke the Ministerial code.

If this were simply a matter of a cabinet minister behaving badly they’d resign, the justice system would do its work, and things would move on.

Instead, there’s been a remarkable level of support from within government. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has chosen not to push her to resign, and there’s a claim that he “asked for Patel report to be palatable”. Continue reading “An extra concern about bullying in government”

More than relief at the election of Biden & Harris

Reactions to the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris show how deep globalisation has gone — the sense is that people identify with the US President in a way that goes deeper than if they were just a “foreign” leader. This might shed some light on continued support for Trump and where we go from here.

I didn’t think much of Donald Trump when he first emerged as a potential candidate for US President, and he has lived down to my expectations. I smiled when a friend sent me a photo of a pumpkin carved for Halloween with a caption that it was “hollow, orange, and thrown out in November”.

But a clear that there was more than that in play came when an American friend told me she had sent in her mail-in ballot (for Biden) and I found myself close to tears. My reaction to the actual election process has been far from neutral. It is as if this is much more than the election of a foreign leader.
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“No deal” Brexit: are people thinking this means things carry on as before?

There are grounds for believing that some people see a “no deal” Brexit as meaning things would carry on as they before, as if it’s refusing imagined future encroachments from Europe, rather than a rash leap into the unknown.

This article was originally written at the start of 2020, but it gives a perspective on why Brexit supporters are not (yet) switching away from support for Brexit, even with the threat of no deal — or a very bad one (and why they don’t seem to share others’ horror at the Internal Market bill, even though this breaks what the British Government agreed last autumn and presented to the electorate as an “overn-ready deal” in the 2019 General Election, runs foul of our commitments under international law and has led the EU to begin legal action.

No deal

A “No deal” Brexit would mean leaving the EU without the benefits of any of the trade deals the UK currently enjoys. The UK would immediately face tariffs on international trade, major disruption along the border with the Republic of Ireland, and significant damage to all the businesses currently using just-in-time delivery chains that cross borders. Failure to recognise its seriousness make it easier for supporters of Brexit to dismiss any adverse predictions as “project fear” and fuels the claims of people like Nigel Farage, that the softer forms of Brexit are “Brexit in name only”. Both introduce an unhelpful level of unreality into the process around Brexit.

The evidence

In February 2019 a Yougov poll suggested that just 4% of people actually think “no deal” means “Remain in the EU”, implying that the problem is minimal.
Continue reading ““No deal” Brexit: are people thinking this means things carry on as before?”

What responsible opposition is, and what it isn’t… (it’s more than attacking Tories and demanding voting reform)…

It’s not about “getting rid of the Tories” or “changing the voting system”. It is about holding the government to account, and giving a voice to the millions who are unhappy with the way things are going.

There’s a powerful case for voting reform. There’s been a powerful case ever since the Labour party emerged as a force in British politics a century ago because first-past-the-post only makes sense in a two party system.

There’s a great deal to question about the present government. I can understand opposition parties wanting to see it gone. But action is needed now, if there’s a change of government in four years’ time.

At an emotional level the bracketing-together of “opposition”, “getting rid of the Tories” and “voting reform” makes most sense as a reaction against the turbulent time we are in, but makes it harder to achieve each of those three aims.
Continue reading “What responsible opposition is, and what it isn’t… (it’s more than attacking Tories and demanding voting reform)…”

The next coalition?

Does soul-searching over the 2010–15 coalition leave Liberal Democrats in danger of failing to take the credit for our real achievements in government and undermining our relevance by being reluctant to try again?

Paddy Ashdown and Tony Blair: last time Liberal Democrats and Labour planned for coalition

Even before the arrival of Covid19 we were in turbulent times. British politics since the referendum has been highly dysfunctional.

In the 2019 General Election, my sense was that the Tories and Labour had lurched to extremes. On the doorstep I found even Remain supporters switching from us to the Tories for fear of a Corbyn-led government. Labour seemed to have prioritised ideological purity over electability, which was the place from which they were attacking us over the coalition.

Under normal circumstances, their choosing, in Keir Starmer, a leader who would be a credible Prime Minister would change everything and point to a revival of their fortunes and ours. As it is, the proposed changes to constituency boundaries are likely to favour the Tories. If the country is to move away from having an anti-European, authoritarian and incompetent government, we will need to work with Labour — which has to include the possibility of coalition.
Continue reading “The next coalition?”

Did Dominic Cummings pull a fast one in his lockdown-bending trip to Durham?

He’s (rightly) been criticised — but has an uncanny knack for mobilising people’s frustration to his advantage. Has he done it again?

I want to describe his trip to Durham during the lockdown as somewhere between “grossly irresponsible” and “utterly foolish”. But it is a little too easy to write him off.

This is the man who took a pile of grievances about things that had little to do with the European Union and coalesced them into a vote for Brexit — even though this will make life worse for most of those who voted for it.

This is the man who (apparently) took last year’s parliamentary stalement and Boris Johnson’s illegal prorogation of Parliament and enabled the Tories to win a handsome majority — even though the tiny increase in the Conservative vote makes it look more like a vote against a Corbyn government than support for a Johnson one.

His Durham trip has been roundly condemned, but he’s survived. I fear that, once again, he has done something I think is foolish, but which might just work to his advantage.
Continue reading “Did Dominic Cummings pull a fast one in his lockdown-bending trip to Durham?”

Dominic Cummings: denying reality over lockdown and Brexit?

Breaking the lockdown was bad, but what about the damage Dominic Cummings has done to the country over Brexit?

Dominic Cummings at press conference after trip to Durham

People are rightly angered at Dominic Cummings’ decision to visit family in Durham when the rest of us were following the government’s advice to “stay home — protect the NHS — save lives”. But this is a fraction of the irresponsibility he’s shown over Brexit. People should be looking at all that he has done — and they should be angry.

As I write this [26 May], people are angry at his decision to travel from London to family in Durham during the lockdown. Apparently his uncle died from Covid19 while he was there which doesn’t really cut it with people who’ve been unable to visit loved ones dying in hospital from Covid19 or going to their funerals.

Keir Starmer has been right to criticise loudly. He says that, in not sacking Cummings, Boris Johnson has “treated the British people with contempt”. He has a point. The contempt is about more than the lockdown.
Continue reading “Dominic Cummings: denying reality over lockdown and Brexit?”

Universal Basic Income: a sensible economic response to Covid-19

Offering a stable basic income to all, without the risk of people falling through the net has been a good idea for a long time. It’s become a compelling one in the face of the economic consequences of Covid-19

A closed corner shop: what about the people who worked here?

The idea of a Universal Basic Income is that the state pays something to everyone, regardless of circumstances. It needs to go with a changed tax system, so that the money is taken back again in tax from most people.

It means that, if people fall on hard times, they stop paying the money back in tax, rather than needing to claim benefits. This matters because there are inevitably flaws in the design of any system of benefits. People can fall through the gaps, whether those are oversights or bureaucratic errors, and face destitution. The five week delay before receiving Universal Credit is a good example. There was credible reasoning behind it, but the number of people needing help from food banks in that period shows that that reasoning was flawed. Not being sure where your food will come from or how to keep a roof over your head does real and long term harm to someone. With a Universal Basic Income, bureaucratic mistakes mean that the tax authorities get their money a little later — which does a lot less harm.
Continue reading “Universal Basic Income: a sensible economic response to Covid-19”

Covid-19, Brexit, and denying reality

Pretending Covid-19, Brexit and climate change don’t matter: why do some people need to ignore reality?

On 24 March 2020 Paul Bullen, formerly leader of the UKIP group on Cambridgeshire County Council, put out a jaw-dropping tweet where he said:

“Isn’t it about time we stopped this nonsense. The majority don’t care about Covid-19, don’t care if they catch it and know that it won’t have any adverse effects. Do we really want to kill our economy? Let’s get back to work, open our pubs and restaurants and get back to normal.” (click to view tweet)

After the Brexit party chose not to stand candidates against sitting Tories, Bullen became an independent candidate in Huntingdon Constituency in the General Election, where I stood for the Liberal Democrats. He took a position that was strongly in favour of Brexit. In hustings he repeatedly claimed that climate change, though real, is not the result of human activity, and that, if elected, he’d not be beholden to any party line, but would speak for his constituents.

I don’t know Bullen well enough to speculate on what he actually thinks, and note that this twitter account seems to have been deleted.

What this does crack open an interesting question about a set of attitudes on Brexit, Covid-19 and climate change more widely.
Continue reading “Covid-19, Brexit, and denying reality”

“Getting back” what was never lost: the tragedy and the impossible task

Brexit “gets back” what was never lost — Boris Johnson has set up himself (or his successor) for failure when this becomes obvious. The consequences will be serious.

The vox pops in my social media feed on 31 January sent a shiver down the spine. There were comments on getting back “our freedom” (that we never lost), “our independence” (that we never lost), our “sovereignty” (that we never lost), our “democracy” (that we never lost) and “our industry” (that we have lost, but not because of the EU).

That’s a heady mix. On social media people were quick to lampoon these positions — with good reason — but people are believing them.

Economics

The brutal reality is that these positions show the depth of the failure thinking that has accompanied Brexit. We can’t get back what we never lost. But globalisation is changing the world radically. The real loss of sovereignty and the real limit on what governments can do is nothing to do with the EU, but does come from increased global connectedness.
Continue reading ““Getting back” what was never lost: the tragedy and the impossible task”

Rejoining the EU will be right… but it’s too soon to push for it

To bring over people who supported Brexit we need to expose the failings of the Johnson government as it unravels, so that “Rejoin” is the response to LeaveLies coming into focus.

Nothing has emerged since the start of the referendum campaign to suggest that Brexit promises anything more than serious harm — to the British economy, British culture and Britain’s standing in the world. That didn’t change at 2300 on 31 January.

But the way forward is more complicated than switching from #RevokeArticle50 to #RejoinEU — and not just because the process for rejoining is not so simple.

Polling suggests that the majority have been opposed to Brexit for a significant time. But to re-join the EU we need to bring over those who supported Brexit.

Continue reading “Rejoining the EU will be right… but it’s too soon to push for it”

Brexit arrives: a day of sadness and grief

The arrival of Brexit is the triumph of nostalgia and folly. It’s Britain launching on a rash denial of reality with serious consequences. It’s turning our backs on an institution built to secure our future. It’s ripping us from our cultural heritage. It has dangerous historical associations. “Get Brexit done” is the political lie since the claim that the Great War would be “over by Christmas”.

As it happens I was in London on “Brexit Day” (though thought better of going near Parliament Square in the evening). I saw someone selling The Big Issue, with a front cover asking “Would the Kindertransport be welcomed now”. Yes, that is a reference to the Dubs amendment, rejected by parliament, that would have offered protection to unaccompanied children. But the xenophobia unleashed by Brexit is ugly. The stories of people who have lived in the UK for years being denied settled status brings up unsettling associations with the treatment of minorities — most especially Jewish people — in Hitler’s Germany. It’s easy to say that is “totally different”. But is it?

On a news stand I saw a copy of Le Monde. The headline “Brexit: L’Europe entre dans l’inconnu” (Brexit: Europe enters the unknown) fits with the front cover of The Economist — a ship captioned “into the unknown“. That’s a more realistic assessment than None of Boris Johnson’s crazy optimism.
Continue reading “Brexit arrives: a day of sadness and grief”