I’m not racist but…

In September 2012 I met with a new found friend from Eastern Europe. Our conversation over drinks was wide ranging and eventually turned to how she was finding life in the UK. I was horrified when she informed me that she was struggling with racism and that racism was endemic in the UK. In fact I refused to believe her.

Up to point in time, aged 47, I had only ever witnessed one overtly racist incident. Over two decades previously a senior NCO has sent away a potential Asian recruit from our Territorial Army unit and explained it to us with the words ‘we don’t want his type’.

Looking back on that conversation with my friend on that September afternoon I now realise that at the time I was very wrong and very naive to say the least.

Less than 4 years later my naivety had certainly gone, not least because in the week following June 23rd 2016 I had witnessed three overtly racist ‘incidents.’

Sadly, one of those involved my friend from 2012 who had her phone ripped out of her hand whilst speaking to a family member in their native Eastern European language as she was walking through the centre of a major UK city. She was asked rather impolitely when she leaving, and informed that ‘we voted for you to f*ck off back home.’

Given the words used by her assailant, together with the fact that the victims of both of the other incidents I witnessed that week were Eastern Europeans, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that all three incidents happened as a direct consequence of the referendum, and in particular, the poisonous nature of the Leave Campaign.

For many reading this article this will come as no surprise. There is widespread agreement in the Remain/Rejoin community that the Leave Campaign was racist. Indeed, in early July 2016, my local MP, Robert Buckland, a qualified criminal barrister and former Crown Court judge, sat in my office and stated quite clearly that in his opinion Farage had been treading a very fine line just inside the laws relating to incitement to racial hatred during the campaign over the subjects of Syrian refugees and the potential for Turkish accession. That was actually the last time I agreed with Buckland about anything to do with Brexit!

Whilst there is more or less a consensus within the Remain/Rejoin community that the Leave Campaign itself was racist, there is far less agreement, if not outright disagreement, when it comes to the subject of individual Leave campaigners, supporters and voters being racist. Indeed, one comment I often see in Rejoin circles is “How do you expect to win over Leave voters if you are constantly calling them racist?”

Many of the accusations of racism derive from the actions or statements of Leavers themselves. Indeed, in a BBC poll shortly after the referendum, 34% of Leave voters openly admitted racism had played a part in their decision to vote Leave. I know from my work researching socially sensitive issues that if 34% of people are prepared to openly admit something as sensitive and potentially embarrassing as being racist, then the real figure will be higher. Much much higher.

I’m sure most Remainers/Rejoiners have come across ‘I’m not racist but…’ statements made by individual Leave voters where that individual usually goes on to make the most incredibly racist remarks.

Many Leavers also make claims about immigrants stealing jobs, causing income levels to fall, overwhelming public services such as the NHS and so on, without so much as a single a shred of supporting evidence. Indeed, they often fly in the face of evidence and rely on their infamous ‘it’s common sense’ defence in such circumstances.

The reality is they are blaming immigrants not because they are responsible, but because they are immigrants. That is racist. I have even seen Leave voters blame traffic congestion on the M4 in South Wales on extra traffic caused by immigration. A claim that totally ignores the decades old and infamous congestion blackspot of the Bryn Glas tunnels.

Some Leave voters also seem to lack any understanding of what racism is, often thinking that racism amounts to using certain words to describe non-whites and nothing more. They appear to have no concept of institutional racism, or that constantly portraying people of a particular ethnic background in a negative way or stereotyping certain nationalities is racist. Indeed, one UKIP activist once informed me that ‘you cannot be racist to Germans because they are white’.

Other Leave voters cannot even identify the contradictions and inconsistencies in their own arguments relating to immigrants and immigration, which also point towards racism.

Probably the most infamous example of this is Schrődinger’s immigrant simultaneously claiming benefits whilst working. But there is a more blatant, and in my opinion, far worse example of this type of racist attitude amongst Leave supporters. They often articulate support for free movement amongst CANZUK nations but remain totally opposed to free movement from anywhere else, particularly the EU. Indeed, our current Government has put forward such a plan in the recent past whilst boasting about ending free movement from the EU.
Ask yourself why is free movement acceptable from those specific CANZUK countries and no others?
This inconsistency towards EU freedom of movement is also exemplified by Theresa May’s queue-jumping speech in 2018 which ignored the fact that at the time more British citizens had taken advantage of EU freedom of movement than any other EU nationality. Why is it queue jumping for Europeans in the UK but not for British people in the EU?

This queue-jumping claim effectively amounted to institutional racism on the part of the Tory party given she was Tory party leader and PM at the time. This institutional racism was subsequently reinforced and emphasised with the election of her successor as party leader and PM of an individual who has condemned himself as a racist with his own words, Boris Johnson.

Despite this racism, one of Johnson’s most ardent supporters in his leadership election campaign was my MP, Robert Buckland. Buckland has always claimed to be a ‘One Nation Tory’ and firmly against racism. Indeed, following the tragedy of George Floyd’s death last year, Buckland issued a statement condemning what had happened and, in a subsequent interview with the local paper, stated that racism should be challenged wherever it was found.

Whilst this double standard on Buckland’s part relating to his support for Johnson in his party leadership bid presented me with an open goal, this was the first and only time I have agreed with anything Buckland had said since that meeting with him in July 2016.

Buckland is correct to say that racism must be challenged wherever it is found and we must play our part in that and challenge racism whenever we encounter it.

When encountering such racism many Remainers/Rejoiners offer the defence that many individual Leave voters do not understand the issues and have been misled and that education is the key.

In many way I agree as I am sure many Leavers were misled by the likes of Johnson or Farage or the right-wing press, I am sure many are ignorant and do not understand the issues, and yes I am sure many of them are just repeating what they have heard or read with little if any thought

But racism is racism. If, after repeated challenges, particularly when the challenge is supported by evidence or efforts to educate, an individual Leave activist, supporter or voter persists in making statements that are racist in nature, then one can rightly conclude that the individual concerned is indeed racist.

That we have such overt racism in our society is of course extremely concerning and needs to be addressed by our society as a matter of some urgency, particularly as it appears to have become more and more entrenched since the referendum. Indeed, this is a major part of the reason why I directed so much criticism at Starmer for chasing Red Wall votes in my article three weeks ago given that much if not most Red Wall support for Brexit is based upon false and racist claims about EU immigrants and immigration. Like it or not, by chasing those Red Wall votes Starmer is effectively condoning the racism that lies behind those false claims.

As a movement we must continue to stand up and be counted on this issue no matter how uncomfortable for us or those that we challenge.

Racism is unacceptable. Racism is wrong.

Endless Lockdown doesn’t have to mean Endless Frustration

Over the last few weeks I have seen many people commenting on social media in a manner that indicates that they are quite frustrated about what they see as a lack of “campaign” action towards achieving our goal of Rejoining the EU.

This has made me wonder what people think of when someone mentions the word “campaign”?

For me, when I started the Facebook group “Campaign to Rejoin the EU” on that awful evening in December 2019, I’m not quite sure exactly what I had in mind, but I probably envisaged activities such as marches protests and other large outdoor events. Given the background of the Remain movement, I suspect many other Rejoiners had, or indeed still have, the same vision.

There are a number of reasons why this hasn’t happened, and indeed cannot currently happen. Funding is one, but the biggest by far is the worst pandemic for a century, which for all intents and purposes, has prevented any large-scale events from happening and probably will do for some time to come.

I suspect this is where much of the frustration originates.

Given this I thought I would look up the definition of the word “campaign”. The definition in my dictionary is “an organized course of action to achieve a goal.”

This definition very much reminds me of my time as a marketing communications manager where most of my work revolved around planned and highly organised promotional campaign projects that had one of three goals:

  1. Raising awareness of the company or Brand
  2. Promotion of our Brand Values
  3. Increasing sales either generally or of a particular product.

At the start of each campaign, we would hold what we termed a “launch team” meeting to identify and plan what needed to be done which included brainstorming promotional ideas as budgets would vary and would sometimes be very limited, meaning we couldn’t rely on having the money to advertise on TV or in the Press.

Some of the activities we came up with were really quite creative. We spent several very interesting mornings handing chocolates out with brochures to rush-hour commuters on Liverpool Street Station, we played Scalextrics with journalists for an evening, and we produced a short video based upon men behaving badly.

However, before we could do any of these more exciting activities, we often had to consider what mundane background work needed doing before we could start putting the actual ‘campaign’ into effect.

Indeed, I remember one occasion where the high value and very different nature of a new product meant that we could not actually start selling the product for several months as we had to put in a whole new infrastructure for handling customer enquiries. This included a new telephone enquiry handling team, a new section of our website and underlying IT infrastructure, the recruitment of a new administration team and extensive training for selected people in our sales team to be able effectively sell this new product. In other words, we had to prepare the ground before we could actually start promoting and selling the product.

This is very much where the Rejoin campaign is now. We have to prepare the ground for the forthcoming battles and we have to be creative and realistic about which campaign activities we can undertake given our lack of funding and the restrictions caused by the pandemic.

We also have to be realistic about timescales – the earliest opportunity for a new referendum is at least 4 years away, possibly longer, given who currently occupies number 10. However, whilst we may not be in a position to march on Parliament demanding an immediate referendum in our millions as we did just a short time ago, we can still ‘campaign’ – and there is much that needs to be done!

We have to recognise that whilst we are already ‘sold’ on the idea of Rejoining, many of the wider electorate need convincing that we should. This requires us to prepare the ground by putting into place the infrastructure such as websites and social media channels to enable us to communicate with the wider electorate rather than just ourselves in our closed social media bubbles.

In exactly the same way that it was necessary for myself and my colleagues to raise awareness of the company we worked for and promote our brand values before we could promote and sell our products, the first objective for Rejoin needs to be raising awareness of our ‘organisation’, our objectives and to communicate our values to the wider electorate. Effectively we need to explain the reasons why we want to rejoin the EU to the wider electorate before we can start promoting another referendum and actually campaigning for their votes.

Whilst we may not be able to run events that involve large public gatherings, we are only really limited in what we can do by our own imagination. There is nothing to stop us working towards our goals in other ways such as running online mini-campaigns that prepare the ground for mass public events and the actual campaign to Rejoin in a few years’ time.

• We can reinforce our European identify with campaigns such as our #IAmEuropean campaign linked to next months census.
• We can organise parliamentary petitions such as the successful recent petition calling for it to be made a criminal offence for MPs to mislead constituents which send a clear message to the leave campaign that their devious and dishonest activities will not be tolerated next time.
• We can start building online pro EU communities within all the major political parties with a view to placing Rejoin firmly onto their agenda.

We simply have to be creative about what we do until we are in a position to campaign in more traditional ways. We need to start coming up with ideas and there is no limit.

These ideas do not need to be complex but do need to be varied as we are all different and not everyone will be comfortable undertaking all activities. For example, I am not particularly comfortable being videoed or working street stalls. Others are. We each need to work to our strengths. One of my strengths is writing, and not just blogging. I regularly contribute to social media groups in my local area and write letters to the local paper. It may not sound much but people do take notice.

Recently on a local Facebook page I posted about a controversial EU linked issue. An acquaintance in the local area, who I am 90% sure voted leave, said to me shortly afterwards that whilst he had started to agree with much that I have been saying, he disagreed with me on that particular issue. I had no idea that he was even reading what I was saying, let alone that he was beginning to accept my arguments and change his mind!

Despite the pandemic, people are prepared to listen to what we have to say and it is possible to change minds. There are other ways of getting our message across than mass gatherings. So instead of getting frustrated that we cannot march en masse to Parliament, let’s all think about something that we can do as individuals that will move us towards our goals.

Sign a petition, sign up for the #IAmEuropean campaign, join a political party and promote EU membership in that party, write letters to the local press, contribute to local social media groups, run a social media group or channels. The list really is endless.

Yes the pandemic is frustrating, but there is so much we can do towards Rejoining.

Self-regulation of the news media has failed

We all know how dishonest and biased some parts of the news media can be – and that often comes to the fore when reporting on issues relating to the EU which culminated in the media frenzy over Article 16 and vaccines a few weeks ago when the British news media wrongly reported that the EU had triggered article 16.

Part of the problem is the current regulatory system for the news media is virtually useless as it is a self-regulatory system that has little real means of enforcing decisions and the press are not under any obligation to report in fair, objective and unbiased manner.

Let’s send a very clear message to the news media and parliament that this is not an acceptable situation by signing and sharing this petition.


Rejoin Needs to get its Act Together

Sadly, hardly a day goes by without coming across some sort of argument between Rejoiners.

These arguments are almost always based upon some form of party political or ideological disagreement. Everyone seems to want to attack Tory Rejoiners, Starmer supporting Rejoiners want to attack Corbyn supporting Rejoiners and vice versa, Scottish Nationalist Rejoiners want to attack Scottish Unionist Rejoiners and vice versa. The list goes on and on and is pretty much endless. Furthermore, the mere mention of some staunchly Pro-European individuals such as Tony Blair can be enough to start an argument.

Given that support for Rejoin is spread right across the political spectrum this needs to stop otherwise our goal of Rejoining will become increasingly unlikely and our movement, which has been painstakingly built over the last 5 years, will fragment and die.

As a movement we must stop fighting between ourselves and focus on issues related directly to our membership of the EU. However, there is also a need for considerable improvement in that area as well.

Imagine yourself as an outsider listening in to what the Rejoin movement is saying. Many of the messages we effectively broadcast to the outside world are inconsistent and contradictory, and can even inadvertently legitimise what our opponents are saying and end up working against us. Furthermore, some of what we say is very complex and difficult to understand and often very negative.

There is still a tendency within Rejoin to focus on the negative aspects of Brexit. Apart from ironically the fishing industry, the dire predictions of mass bankruptcies and associated job losses are unlikely to materialise. Even if they do, they will either be masked by Covid, or are going to occur over a longer, slower period of time rather than the quick cataclysmic event that would be needed to shock average leave voters into the realisation that Brexit is a bad thing that they should not have supported in the first place. Even then, as has become apparent in recent weeks, many if not most staunch leave voters will either blame everybody and everything other than Brexit, or will claim Brexit is worth it to ‘get back our sovereignty’.

Other arguments presented by Rejoin, such as the cause of Brexit being the desire to avoid EU anti-tax avoidance rules have no resonance at all with large sections of the electorate such as Red Wall voters and never will. Some arguments, such as challenging the result of the 2016 referendum on the grounds that there should have been a super majority, whilst understandable, actually end up having the opposite of the desired effect and confirm the legitimacy of the 2016 result in the eyes of many ordinary voters.

This inconsistency and contradictory nature of what we are saying a movement is not helping our cause and needs addressing urgently.

When discussing our campaign over Christmas a fellow Rejoiner pointed me in the direction of Moscovici, a French social psychologist, and his work on minority influence. Whilst I am still exploring his work, the potential it has to aid our cause rapidly became apparent to me.

Amongst other things Moscovici theorises that consistent arguments that do not change over time and that are perceived by the majority as legitimate and unbiased will succeed in changing the views of that majority. Implicit in this theory is a need for the arguments presented by the minority to be simple and straightforward so that they are readily understood by that majority.

The implications for the Rejoin Movement are that instead of the multiple, complex and often contradictory and inconsistent arguments that we usually present to the outside world, we need to simplify what we are saying and present far fewer but more consistent messages that will not change over time.

Effectively, we need to forget issues such as super majorities, tax avoidance and what our opponents’ term ‘project fear’, and focus on messages that are easily understandable by the majority of the electorate and which will resonate with them. Fortunately for us many such messages are readily apparent, meaning it is simply a case of adopting them and using them consistently. Examples include:

  1. We reject Brexit as the Leave Campaign lied, broke Electoral Law and Data Protection Law
  2. Nationalism and false claims about immigration are the root cause of Brexit.
  3. Membership of the EU is beneficial and is a good thing for the UK

Adopting a smaller and simpler set of messages such as these for broadcast to the outside world does not mean that we cannot engage in deeper discussion amongst ourselves or indeed with the wider electorate. However, before the wider electorate will engage with us in these deeper, more complex arguments, they need to accept that we have something to say that is legitimate and worthwhile, which is where these simpler consistent messages come in.

These simpler consistent messages are the key to that deeper engagement and persuading a politically apathetic electorate that we have a valid argument and that the question of EU membership needs further consideration.

Why should the media get away with it?

Despite this last weekend being far quieter on the political front than the previous one, I still had quite a sour taste in my mouth over the news media coverage of the Article 16 issue that previous weekend.

Even now, ten days later, I have yet to see any evidence that Article 16 was in fact triggered.

The is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the EU considered it, but that does not justify claims in the British News media that they had triggered article 16 or the one-sided frenzy that the media subsequently created with virtually no mention of Boris Johnson’s threat to trigger article 16 a few weeks earlier.

Since then, a Parliamentary Petition calling for Article 16 to be triggered has been created and is being heavily pushed by Arlene Foster. And yet the News Media has said next to nothing about that.

Sadly, neither this inaccuracy or bias is news to the Rejoin Community. I am sure I have no need to give names but several of the more popular daily newspapers are very based towards the Pro Leave argument and accuracy is not something that certain of those newspapers have a reputation for.

The inaccurate and biased reporting over article 16 however appears to have extended well beyond newspapers into other media, including the BBC.

Not only does this whole affair demonstrate the need for the system of press regulation to be overhauled as I suggested in my last blog post on this subject, but it also demonstrates that there is a need for the Rejoin community to be more proactive in this area and actually do something about it rather than just moan about it amongst ourselves.

To that end I have put together and submitted a new parliamentary petition on the issue which hopefully will be accepted and we can lush to highlight these issues.

But we do need to do far more as a movement, and one of the things we need to do is complain to the relevant organisations and regulatory bodies every time we see a story that is wrong or in the case of the BBC, biased.

IPSO, who look after complaints about newspapers and organisations, have put together the very useful graphic I am posting with this, but here are a few other useful links.
This is the article where I found the graphic which outlines the whole process of complaining about the news media


This is IPSO’s complaint form


This is where you start a complaint about the BBC’s news coverage


This is OFCOM’s complaint form https://ofcomforms.secure.force.com/formentry/SitesFormCSLEStandardsComplaints

So next time there is something in the news media that is factually wrong or inaccurate rather than just moaning about it we must be proactive and formally complain. If enough of us do we might actually get something done!

Starmer, the Red Wall and Rejoining

Starmer’s decision to chase the Red Wall vote and the expense of Rejoining the EU has caused considerable concern to many in the Rejoin movement. This vote chasing in the long term will do nobody any favours and will most likely backfire on Labour. His stance is probably strongly influenced by his new policy chief and committed Leaver, Claire Ainsley. However, what is really needed from Starmer is some leadership on the issue rather than simply chasing any particular group of voters – Red Wall or Rejoiners.

The nature of the Leave Campaign in 2016 was dishonest beyond anything ever seen previously in British politics. To paraphrase Professor Michael Dougan of Liverpool University, the Leave Campaign was dishonest on an industrial scale on just about every major issue.

I came across one such example yesterday when attempting to ‘discuss’ Brexit’s lack of legitimacy with a hard-core supporter of Farage. The individual concerned claimed that the EU had never had its accounts signed off, a claim on the part of the Leave Campaign that is actually very easy to disprove with a simple Google search. No matter what I said or what evidence I presented, this individual simply would not accept the reality of the situation. The EU’s accounts have been signed off every year it has been in existence.

This is typical of the false beliefs about the EU held by many Leave voters. People in the Rejoin movement talk about ignorance and dishonesty of Leave voters, and whilst this may ring true, one needs to remember that ultimately the problem is with those who lied.

Such deeply held entrenched beliefs did not just happen or come about in the relatively short space of time of the referendum campaign in 2016 itself. In many ways they remind me of the belief’s individuals hold about Brands which are the product of planned and sustained campaigns on the part of brand owners to implant a particular perception of their products in the minds of consumers.

Such deeply held false beliefs about the EU can only have come about as a product of a deliberately and sustained campaign to discredit the EU using falsehood over a substantial period of time.

Starmer’s decision to chase the Ref Wall vote and allow Brexit to stand therefore has serious consequences for the quality of our democracy, indeed the very future of democracy in the UK. It sends a message to individuals and organisations that deliberately misleading the electorate in this way is acceptable in the UK.

Starmer therefore needs to show leadership and challenge that dishonesty for the sake of democracy itself. And that is without even considering the issue of the serious breaches of both data protection and electoral laws committed by the Leave Campaign for which it was heavily fined.

There is however a further reason why Starmer should address this issue which is the subject of some of those lies, specifically immigrants and immigration from the EU, which is often cited as the main issue that caused Red Wall voters to vote leave.

The Leave campaign made all sorts of allegations about EU immigrants and immigration such as a reduction in income, stealing jobs from British people and overwhelming public services such as the NHS.

These claims are false.

Study after study has shown little if any impact on wage levels caused by EU immigration, in fact the only authoritative study I have seen on the issue showing a reduction in income concluded that there was a reduction of just a few pennies, and even then, only in some industries not all. The claims of the Leave Campaign were inconsistent on the issue of stealing jobs with the famous Schrődinger’s immigrant simultaneously stealing jobs and claiming benefits whilst also telling us we had record levels of employment. Various studies have also shown that rather than overwhelming public services, EU immigrants actually contribute more in taxes than they take out in the form of services and benefits to the tune of several thousands of pounds each year.

When challenged over these false and misleading claims, leavers prove to be just as stubborn and often claim that they are based on common sense – if an immigrant is in the UK, they must be stealing a British person’s job. Not only does this show a lack of knowledge of the manpower shortages faced by the UK economy, it is also difficult to understand why they hold such beliefs when many Red Wall areas such as the South Wales Valleys have very few immigrants, EU or otherwise.

These claims raise two further issues that need addressing by Starmer, and indeed in the case of the first issue, by the wider UK society as this is where many of the allegations of racism on the part of leave voters arise.

EU immigrants were and are still being blamed for issues, not because they are responsible but simply because they are immigrants. That is racist and needs to be addressed no matter how uncomfortable it is for Starmer and the Labour party.

Secondly, whilst the cause of the long-term structural problems linked to industrial decline faced in many Red Wall areas is debatable and could include issues such as Thatcher’s monetarism of the early 1980’s, privatisation, militant trade unionism, lack of investment, the nationalisation of much of our heavy industry, or in the case of the coal industry, the longer term need to protect the environment, such problems were not caused by immigration or immigrants. Stopping Freedom of Movement by leaving the EU will therefore not solve the problems.

Furthermore, the desire expressed to rebuild the UK industrial base now that we have left the EU expressed by many in the Labour Party who supported Brexit is flying in flying in the face of the reality of the 4th Industrial Revolution with its digitisation and automation. Mass employment in manufacturing will soon be a thing of the past and the financial realities of the huge sums needed for automation make investment in a small British economy disconnected from the EU unrealistic.

Furthermore, the captive markets of the British Empire that our industrial base once relied upon for customers will not be coming back, indeed many of the countries that made up the British Empire are now emerging as economic powers themselves eager to export the products of their own manufacturing industry. India for example is growing in economic strength and given its size and democratic nature will no doubt become a leading economic superpower, perhaps even the leading economic superpower.

Leaving the EU will therefore do nothing to address the structural issues faced by Red Wall voters which are the ultimate cause of their dissatisfaction.
Starmer’s vote chasing with its implicit failure to show leadership on this issue of our EU membership will therefore not only result in alienating remain voters but will almost certainly also alienate Red Wall voters further. And, of course, waiting in the wings to exploit that alienation is Farage with his hate filled right wing populism.

Starmer needs to show leadership and act. He needs to face up to the issue of the lies of the Leave Campaign and lead Red Wall voters rather than just chase their votes.

The Need for Reform by Bill Sylvester

In this piece, I am going to suggest that, although the conscienceless Tories and Brexit are problems, they are not the real problem. Yes they need to be sorted, and yes, in the short term, their impact is very damaging, but actually they are symptoms, and their origin is something much more fundamental.

The painful truth is that our system of government is no longer up to the job. Our constitution has turned out to be a gentlemen’s agreement, worthless as soon as one side chooses to ignore it. The seesaw of bilateral politics, based on the pivot of public opinion, can be too easily manipulated by outside forces, be they media, billionaires, ideologists or extremists.

In the US, exactly the same problem allowed Trump to run riot over the institutions of state, to disrupt the tenor of US international relations, and to divide the country more deeply than anything since the Civil War. Biden may now provide a firm hand on the helm, but the political future looks a lot like the past. The Republicans will return, radical swings in policy will continue to waste time, energy and money.

In the UK, our first past the post system has given us a Tory party which has been steered by its own right wing even further to the right. Brexit has been championed by a relatively small number of people, for selfish reasons and through corrupted practices. In the short term, of course we must resist both, but the longer term offers the real potential for change. We have to find a route to a more representative parliament, with something closer to a legally enforceable constitution.

Realistically, the next general election offers three possible outcomes. Unless something extraordinary happens in Scotland, a majority Labour government is the least likely outcome. Another Conservative government, probably with a reduced majority, is the most likely. The third option, a minority or coalition government led by Labour is probably achievable and undoubtedly our best hope.

We need to recognise that there are two distinct lines of attack. On the one hand, we must maintain pressure on the Government and on their handling of Brexit and Covid19. They cannot be given a free ride, even if they continue to ignore all criticism.

Inevitably this is a confrontational approach. For that reason, I think it should be kept separate from the other strand of work which is the creation of a progressive alliance, bringing together all those who accept that we need to overhaul our structures. Many of the opposition parties would already support that aim, as might some Leave-supporting sectors of the electorate.

Such an alliance would need to go into the next election with a shared manifesto and with an electoral pact. The pact speaks for itself, to give the strongest pro-reform party a clear run on a case-by-case basis in each constituency. The shared manifesto would be fairly simple, and time limited. It should include commitments to:
an agreed form of proportional representation
reform of the House of Lords
enactment of the Nolan principles into law
fresh elections under the new system
There may be room to agree other measures, for example on the environment.
As has been said elsewhere and often, the next step is to get motions to the the party conferences which support these or similar aims. There is a separate and continuing need to scrutinise and attack the Government when it goes wrong. But it is worth suggesting that for the reform movement both Brexit and the current Tory government should be treated as irrelevant.

Bad PR or Dodgy Journalism? Time for Change

This last weekend has been one of the most difficult weekends that the Remain/Rejoin movement has ever had to endure. What started as a simple contractual dispute concerning the failure of Astra Zeneca to meet its contractual obligations to deliver a certain number of vaccines to the EU very rapidly and very publicly spiralled out of control turning into a PR disaster which ended up with, amongst other things, the EU being accused of trying to steal British vaccines. Our opponents had a field day as a result.

The EU had every right to insist that Astra Zeneca fulfil its obligations under the contract, not least because they had paid a large sum of money up front, and whilst raising important questions about what has been termed ‘vaccine nationalism’ that deserve serious consideration, the EU also had every right to attempt to secure supplies of the vaccine for its citizens.

Indeed, it should be noted that the UK has restricted the export of around 170 drugs relating to the treatment of covid to ensure supplies for British people and the US has restricted the export of vaccine to ensure there is enough for Americans.

The EU was also within its rights to consider all available options to secure that supply, including triggering article 16, which is where the real trouble started.

The EU was slated in the British News Media for triggering article 16. Except, as I write this, I still have not been able to find any evidence that the EU actually triggered article 16. I’m certain it was discussed, but far from sure it was triggered.

What appears to have happened is that someone in the EU published a draft document that had not been agreed but which made reference to triggering article 16. The British News Media picked this up, and for some reason, reported that article 16 had actually been triggered.

Whilst it was a serious PR blunder for the EU to publish such a sensitive draft document in that way, it is equally concerning that the British News Media reported it as a done deed, with the BBC possibly being the first culprit. Accurate reporting is key to quality journalism.

In addition to this shortfall in accuracy, in the ensuing media frenzy, the British news did not mention that Johnson had threatened to trigger article 16 around two weeks ago and thereby failed to present a fair and unbiased portrayal of the issue and the headlines soon degenerated into nationalistic jingoism aimed at discrediting the EU.

As we in the Rejoin movement know only too well, this sort of thing is nothing new. Inaccurate, misleading and all too often, biased and false stories about the EU are commonplace in certain sections of the British news media. Furthermore, during the 2016 referendum some prominent UK news organisations, including the BBC, failed to challenge blatantly inaccurate claims made by the Leave Campaign such as the cost of our EU membership.

Such issues are not restricted to news stories relating to the EU, but run right through the reporting of some sections of the British news media, indeed, some news organisations often appear to be little more than mouthpieces for a particular political party or cause, something that is currently deemed to be acceptable.

What is perhaps more frustrating, is that very often it is difficult if not impossible to have inaccurate or misleading stories corrected as the British news media is self-regulated by an organisation that has limited powers of enforcement and where participation is voluntary.

There are also no requirements for journalists to be qualified or registered in any way. The risks of this omission are illustrated in my own area by an individual named Martin Costello, a former UKIP parliamentary candidate and now an activist in whatever Farage is calling his latest political reincarnation. A few years ago, Costello set himself up as ‘journalist’ with his own TV ‘news channel’ based on social media platforms. As far as I can establish Costello has no training or experience as a journalist whatsoever. In reality Costello is a far-right political commentator and activist and nothing more. Each week Costello pumps out hours of supposed journalism which in reality is nothing more than far-right political propaganda. No doubt he will be ‘reporting’ on the EUs attempt to ‘steal’ British vaccines soon.

This situation is not acceptable. A much stronger statutory regulation which requires accuracy and fairness along with formal qualification and registration of journalists is needed, which should be accompanied by a requirement for news media to be politically neutral.

Had such a system been in place this last weekend we would have seen a very different story presented to the public. One that was far closer to the truth and one that was much less biased.
I am sure we would still have seen reports that the EU was considering triggering article 16, but we would not have seen reports that it had been triggered along with the frenzy that followed. In presenting the story, facts such as Johnson’s threat to trigger article 16 may also have been included in the interest of political neutrality and balance, along with reporting the restrictions on exports by the UK and US mentioned earlier.

Such a system or regulation would not threaten the ability of the news media or journalists to investigate any issue they wish, but would stop the current bias towards a particular political party or cause currently evident in many sections of our media.

Such a system of regulation is not new. The broad outline is exactly what has been introduced for the financial advice industry which was out of control with poor quality commission driven sales. That new regulatory framework has transformed the industry over time and improved it. The same improvements are needed in the world of journalism and news reporting and the profession and industry would ultimately benefit with a better reputation.

The role of the news media is to report the news, not create it or to set the political agenda, it should be somewhere to find out the facts and hear both sides of the story in a balanced and fair manner. This is not the case at present. The events of this weekend demonstrate that there is much wrong with the news media in the UK and that change is needed.