Evidence Please Mr Tomlinson!

A few weeks ago on 19th September, Swindon North MP and Minister for Disabled People Health and Work, Justin Tomlinson MP, wrote an article for a column in Swindon’s local paper in which he claimed that the EU was trying to stop food supplies being sent to Northern Ireland from Mainland UK.

A number of other residents of Swindon were very concerned about this, not only because they felt Tomlinson’s claims may have been false and that as a result he was misleading his constituents and the people of Swindon, but also because his comments would encourage the reckless far right elements of the leave campaign into further harassment and intimidation of pro-European campaigners exercising their legitimate right to protest and campaign against Brexit.

Furthermore, as the column is afforded to Tomlinson as a privilege as one of Swindon’s MPs, there was also concern that he may be abusing his privileged position as an MP by making such statements.

Accordingly, those residents complained to both the editor of the local paper and the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner about the article expressing concerns about its accuracy and potentially inflammatory results.

When Tomlinson became aware of this, he sent the following letter to one of the signatories of that complaint, who is also a constituent…

“I understand you are new to my constituency so you may be unaware that I was always very willing to meet personally (and regularly) with fellow local residents who held strong views on Brexit (both sides of the debate) throughout the process. I always fed in all comments raised even where I didn’t agree. I have had hundreds of these meetings.

However, I draw the line when this becomes personal and nasty.
You recently wrote to both the Swindon Advertiser and the Standards Commissioner to say amongst other things: ‘Tomlinson’s claims have no basis in truth. They are of a divisive, almost war mongering nature and are bound to stir up resentment and even hatred towards the EU, our EU migrants in Swindon and those who support them. This is irresponsible, misleading and as a person of authority who is likely to be believed, it is an abuse of parliamentary power and privilege to write in this toxic manner in his local Newspaper.’

I have always supported both respecting the Democratic will of the British public, and securing a Deal – nothing has changed”

Needless to say the group of local residents was rather put out by his response, particularly his failure to address the central issues of the accuracy of his statement and the inflammatory nature of them.

A prominent local pro-European campaigner therefore wrote the following reply…

“Being South Swindon I’m not one of your constituents. However, I must respond on behalf of my friend (redacted name) after you have accused him of writing ‘personal and nasty’ things about you. I too am one of the signatories on the Swindon resident’s complaint about your offending inflammatory article in the Swindon Advertiser.

This complaint was in no way ‘personal’ or ‘nasty’ about you. Only about your words. We consider your words to have been ill considered. In suggesting to your readers that EU is threatening to blockade Northern Ireland you paint a picture of a vast, alien enemy power threatening a vindictive act with the intention of purposely starving the inhabitants of our British province of NI into submission. Can you publish any concrete evidence of this malevolent intention? Your words would certainly make many people extremely angry with the EU, and by association anyone supportive of it or connected with it. We have 21,000 EU citizens in Swindon, plus spouse, children and supporters of EU membership. Similarly, your assertion that the EU is trying to break up the UK. That is an extreme statement and suggests a warlike attack, intended to break up our country. Anyone associated with this will be labelled ‘Traitors’ by very many, Brexit supporters who will be inflamed up by your words.

I was an anti Brexit campaigner both here and in London, as were several of the signatories to the complaint letter. I can assure you, the reality of the effects of your words is vitriol and violence to those who openly opposed Brexit, and this persists still to those who now openly wish to stay closer to the European regulatory sphere and further from the American sphere.

During the past three years I personally experienced two assaults where I was manhandled roughly by large, angry Brexiteers whilst handing out leaflets. Four times I’ve had my leaflets violently knocked out of my hand and had to scrabble in the mud to retrieve them. On each of those occasions the blow was so fast and unexpected I thought ‘Just a bit closer and that would have been my teeth! I have been told to my face on numerous occasions that if we didn’t do Brexit, it would be my ‘blood on the streets’, or that ‘Remainers would be killed’. Most upsetting was witnessing a fellow campaigner, 5′ tall sixty eight year old grandmother charged and kneed in the thigh by a thug who was screaming: ‘BREXIT!’. She was extensively bruised. She is one of your constituents. Being sixty two I’m not much younger myself, having already one hip replacement and awaiting the other I’m not especially young or robust either.

Verbal abuse daily included ‘Fascist, Nazi, Commie, Traitor, Anti democratic, Euro Freak, Euro loon, Disgusting Euro, C-nt, C-ck and every fithy expletive imaginable, accompanied by spitting and objects thrown. (One actually screamed in my face that the ‘EU murdered million Jews during the war!’)….The last time I wore an EU teeshirt in public was in London in July. I had met my daughter in Westminster. A group of skinhead, ‘Patriot’ thugs who had been harrassing the EU ‘Rejoiners’ and some Antiracism protesters earlier, outside parliament earlier that day, spotted my teeshirt, began shouting insults and sexually harrassing my daughter, then chased and surrounded me as I’d tried to defend her. We were only saved by a park warden loudly radioing for police assistance, which distracted them enough for us to escape across the road as the lights changed.

The techical word for supressing political expression by violence or the threat of violence is terrorism. Are you aware that the Swindon for Europe group has had to involve the police on multiple occasions?

Many of us have tried not to be intimidated or deterred by this behaviour as we believe we have a duty to campaign for our country, and indeed our continent. However it is worrying and depressing that many Remainers were bullied off the streets by this behaviour. These extreme and beligerent public statements by Tory Brexiteers in high office such as yourself, and also Farageists DO have a detrimental effect on our public life. However, unless you are at the sharp end of Brexiteer’s fury you couldn’t know. Therefore we are reporting it and want it stopped. Simple as that. Nothing to do with ‘personal or nasty’. Just please stop this hate speech”

Tomlinson has replied, and yet again has not addressed the central issues of the complaint I.e. the accuracy of his comments in the original article and their inflammatory nature…

“I am appalled to read what disgraceful acts you have faced and I very much hope when you involved the Police they took swift and decisive action.
Two wrongs don’t make a right, the language used in your letter was personal and nasty. You are better than that”

Mr Tomlinson, if you are reading this, please addressthe the issues.

You can do this very easily by publishing evidence to support your claims that the EU is trying to prevent food supplies being sent to Northern Ireland from Mainland UK and that the EU is trying to break up the UK. We would even be prepared to publish your evidence on this website.

If however you cannot provide that evidence, what conclusion should Swindon residents draw?

The only feasible conclusion is that your claims in the article were misleading. If that is the case Mr Tomlinson you should apologise and print a retraction…

We look forward to one of those two events happening in the near future

Campaign to Rejoin and Political Parties

A few days ago I outlined a high level strategy as a way forward for the Rejoin movement.

Given the current news coverage and speculation concerning the views of Starmer and Davey on rejoining the EU, I thought it appropriate to return to the subject and expand a little on point three of that high level strategy, which was for those of us who are members of political parties to promote Rejoin within those parties and other issues that lay the ground for that.

The news concerning Starmer and Davey really does highlight the need for this, particularly against the background of increasing calls for a single issue Rejoin party to be established that I have seen in the last few days.

This is an issue that our team have been discussing since last December when we first set this group up and started to develop the Campaign to Rejoin. Initially, after consulting with members, we agreed that it would be best to wait and see what happens with the new leadership and use the intervening time to investigate establishing a new political party.

Establishing a new political party in itself is not particularly difficult or expensive. There are few requirements such a leader has to be nominated and accounts have to be kept to a certain standard and submitted every year (which is ultimately the reason why Furhage set up the Brexshit party as a limited company), but perhaps the most onerous requirement is that the party must convince the electoral commission that it intends to participate in elections – and that’s where the problems and indeed costs, start.

Participating in elections means costs and also a need to adhere to various rules and laws and therefore requires a certain level of funding and expertise, which in turn means more costs.

There are many arguments in favour and against establishing a new single-issue party, not least this need for funding and costs, with perhaps the most common one being the potential for splitting the anti-Johnson and pro EU vote (I’ll explain why I say anti Johnson rather than anti Tory a little later).

Given those arguments and the costs etc. associated with establishing a new party, together with the fact that the next general election is probably around 4 years away, a more pragmatic approach would be to push for Rejoin to be placed onto the agenda of all political parties that have a realistic chance of having MPs elected at the next general election, along with other policies that would help us in our efforts to rejoin, specifically

  1. An enquiry into the conduct of the Leave Campaign and the Brexit related activities of the May and Johnson Governments
  2. Stronger regulation of the press and other media to ensure accurate reporting and the prevention on fake news and a requirement for all news organisations to adopt a politically neutral stance during elections referendum campaigns.
  3. Regulation of advertising by political parties to stop the false advertising such as that undertaken by the leave campaign in 2016 and the Tory party last December.

In addition to these issues there is also the question of changes to the electoral system, however given the cross-party nature of the Remain now Rejoin movement, we need to be very careful to retain cross party neutrality or we could lose support. Whilst I personally am in favour of electoral reform, I am cautious about pushing for it as a campaign goal as it may prove controversial given our need tombs cross party. This is something that we need to discuss as a movement.

As a Campaign we therefore need to be pushing for these issues to be on the agenda of all political parties, including putting forward motions for party conferences.

Furthermore, we need to set the agenda, not follow the agenda of others in the hope that they might just, if we support them, maybe, possibly agree to another referendum.

Another reason to push for Rejoin to be on the agenda of the political parties is that it is a certainty that groups like Labour Leave will be doing their best to keep it off and to place staying out onto the agenda.

To help achieve this we have therefore set up sub groups for the Labour party, the Lib Dems and the Greens for members of those parties, with the aim of promoting and pushing for our cause within those parties. This should include putting forward motions to party conferences.

If you a member of one of those parties please do join the relevant sub-group. You can find details within the group announcements and I will place links to them in the comments.

If you are a supporter of one of those parties, but not a member I would encourage you not only to join the relevant sub-group but also to join the party itself to help advance our cause.

Obviously, there are other pro EU political parties that have the potential to have seats in the House of Commons after the next GE such as the SNP, Plaid, the SDLP and the Alliance. If you are a member or supporter of those parties and would like to help us establishing groups for those parties please get in touch.

Which brings me on to a difficult subject, but one that really does need addressing. Pro EU Tories.

Like it or not it is a fact that 35% of those who voted Remain in 2016 voted Tory in the 2015 General Election. Whilst that figure has fallen quite considerably since, 19% of remain voters in 2016 voted for the Tory party last December. This is why I referred to the anti-Johnson vote earlier rather than the anti-Tory vote.

In other words, 1 in 5 Remainers are Tories. The fact is if we are ever going to retake our place in the EU we need their votes.

We have therefore helped establish a Conservative Rejoin group to encourage pro EU Tories. It is very small currently, but If we are to be successful, we need to help that group grow and get their message out to other pro EU Tories. I will post a link to that group in the comments as well. As much as you may disagree and dislike the Tories, please respect the fact that they are trying to help us achieve our goals. Indeed, they share our main goal of regaining our rightful place in the EU.

When it comes to a new political party, there are two scenarios where I can see a need to establish one, and the first of these relates to pro EU Tories, many of whom may well feel politically homeless at present. A new party would provide a home for them.

The other scenario is where we simply cannot get our objectives onto the agenda of the political parties, in which case we may well have no choice.

So, particularly if you are one of those people who argue that a new party will split the pro EU vote, please help us get our agenda onto the agenda of the political parties!