It is up to us

Last week I talked about the need to be realistic and not to chase our own Remain/Rejoin version of sunlit uplands complete with the attendant rainbow coloured unicorns. This week I thought I would address one of the two keys tasks that we have to achieve in order to fulfil our goal of reclaiming our rightful place in the European Union.

That task is to persuade the political establishment in Westminster that we need another referendum, something which is very topical given Kier Starmer’s comments earlier this week about not revisiting the past.

Starmer’s comments show that we cannot just assume that such a referendum will be forthcoming if Labour were to gain the keys to Number 10 in 2024 despite the fact that we repeatedly hear that Starmer himself is pro-European and that the Labour Party membership is overwhelmingly in favour of our EU membership.

The situation within the Liberal Democrats may well be better, but it is still concerning from our point of view. Motions have been passed at both the recent Spring conference and at last year’s Autumn conference that confirm a policy of seeking EU membership. But for some reason the party leadership seems most reluctant to say anything that is even close to being unambiguously in favour of that EU membership. They seem to skirt around the subject without giving any form of clear commitment.

I am sure that I don’t need to say this, but even though until very recently the majority of Tory MP’s supported EU membership, the situation within the Tory party currently appears to be beyond hope from our perspective.  It is difficult to see how any support for our cause would be forthcoming from within the ranks of the Tory party at present given that many of the most prominent pro-Europeans such as Michael Heseltine,  Dominic Grieve and Ken Clarke were thrown out of the party for standing up to the likes of the ERG over Brexit.

Furthermore, I strongly suspect that many, if not most pro-Europeans have subsequently left the Tory party, especially as Aaron banks and Leave.EU have been openly boasting for some time about how they have infiltrated the Tory party and orchestrated the deselection of pro-European Tory MPs. The Tory party is presently firmly in the grip of the far right.

Given these circumstances within the Tory party there therefore seems to be just two possible viable scenarios where we might be able to secure a further EU membership referendum following the next general election, but both scenarios require action from us.

The first scenario is for the Labour Party to win the next election with a commitment in its manifesto for another referendum. That would require us to put forward a motion to a Labour Party conference placing that commitment onto their agenda, something that would no doubt be opposed by many  in the Labour Party.     

The second scenario would be for a hung parliament where the party or parties holding the balance of power insist on a further EU membership referendum as part of some form of deal to govern the country.  Whilst that insistence could come from the SNP, they would understandably be more interested in a further referendum on Scottish independence. That insistence would therefore need to come from the Liberal Democrats if we wanted to be reasonably certain that a further referendum would come about. However, given the current ambiguity and apparent reluctance to openly commit to Rejoining, that insistence would need to be formalised as party policy via a motion put forward by us to a Liberal Democrat party conference. Again, that would no doubt be opposed by many.

In either scenario we therefore need to do two things. Firstly, we need to build up the pro-European community within both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, and secondly, we need to persuade both parties to pass our motions.  

We have made a start on both these issues. Our Labour and Liberal Democrat political sub-groups are active and growing. But we need them to be far bigger and far more active within both parties.  

Earlier today I ran a poll in our main Facebook group. Of the 1250 individuals who took part in the poll only 400 indicated that they were members of political parties, and of those, only 100 were active within those parties.     

We need to improve both ratios if we are to succeed. I would therefore urge everyone reading this to consider joining a political party and becoming active in that party to help us achieve that second referendum.

We also need to start presenting arguments for why we think there should be another referendum.

Those arguments need to convince both the politicians of the need for another referendum and also the wider electorate.  We also need to carefully consider what those arguments should be. Any arguments we put forward must avoid the charge that we just want another ‘go’ because we ‘lost’ the argument the first-time round. Such arguments are easy for our opposition to counter and for wider electorate to ignore.

We therefore need to put forward a substantial reason for insisting upon a further referendum, and that reason needs to focus around the legitimacy of the events of 2016 as our opponents will struggle to counter them, and the wider electorate will find it increasingly difficult to ignore them, as long as were are consistent and persistent.

Whilst we have started building these arguments, the survey that we started earlier this week has already demonstrated how much work we still have to do. For example, the preliminary results show that around a third of our own politically active Remain/Rejoin community are unaware of the fact that the Leave Campaign broke data protection law in 2016 and around 15% are unaware that they broke electoral law.

If so many members of our own politically active community are unaware of such issues, the lack of awareness amongst the wider electorate will be considerable.

We have to change that and we have to change the policy of both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. Starmer’s remarks earlier this week showed beyond doubt that there is no cavalry coming over the hill to rescue us.

It is up to us.  

Why I am a European

Why I am a European by Oliver Gray

My father was a linguist and used his skills in the Intelligence Corps during the war to help defeat the Nazis. I was born in 1948 and from quite a young age, I always remember meeting people from other European countries. My mother had taken in Polish refugees in Scotland during the war and I remember a particular friend of my parents called Oki, who owned a Polish restaurant in London where we would occasionally go. He gifted me a set of Russian dolls which I found completely fascinating.

When we moved to the Cotswolds when I was four, various neighbours had au pairs from Switzerland, France, Austria and Germany. We couldn’t afford au pairs but somehow they gravitated to our house, possibly because Father could speak to them in their languages. This meant that my parents made many much-loved friends in Europe, even though they didn’t travel much themselves, and these lovely people would always visit us when passing and send us Christmas gifts.

When I started secondary school, I was mediocre in most subjects but immediately took to languages. I have a very strong memory of my French teacher, whose nickname was Prune. He would write declensions and conjugations on the blackboard at extraordinary speed and it was noticeable that I enjoyed copying then down and learning them while most of my classmates didn’t. As soon as it was possible to take up a second language, I opted for German and immediately realised that I would be destined to do something with this language in my adult life. There was something so orderly, respectable and logical about the language and I loved it even when I had to move to a different teacher, a tiny gentleman call Willie Waters who shared Prune’s lightning blackboard skills but had a short temper. I just found it easy and very satisfying to make progress, even through the A-levels which entailed painstaking word-by-word analysis of extremely tedious works by Goethe and Schiller.

In my mid-teens, Father took me to France with the intention of encouraging my linguistic tendencies. We stayed in a small hotel in a town called Mantes-La-Jolie outside Paris, where I was supposed to make friends with the proprietor’s son. I actually didn’t get on particularly well with him but was completely entranced by the other-worldliness of this country with its different architecture, customs and cuisine. Later on, I was sent on a summer course in Tours in the Loire valley, where I got my first minor taste of an adult experience, meeting people from a range of different countries. I stayed with a sweet family who were incredibly kind and generous to me in every way. This was where I learnt to be consistently outward-looking throughout my entire adult life. Although I happen by chance to have been born British, I have never had nationalistic feelings at all. Having been privileged to travel so much, I just adore the various cultures.

The following summer brought a completely life-changing exchange visit to a small town called Schöningen, right on the East German border. I was able to see the armed DDR guards and the border wall at close hand and form the clear opinion that cutting oneself off from other countries for ideological reasons was a terrible, inhuman thing to do. The way I was welcomed in Schöningen was absolutely wonderful. Everybody was bursting with hospitality and friendliness and I made numerous lifelong friendships with people like Detlev, Brigitte, Christa and Knut. Of course I ended up studying languages at university, where many of the lecturers were from France or Germany. The course was actually called European studies, a very early example of such a concept, and more and more I came to feel more European than British. This was solidified during the most fantastic ‘year abroad’ in the Baltic sea port of Kiel, where I made yet more lifetime friends like Jochen, Ilse and Albrecht. I loved it so much that I went there for another year after completing my degree.

I very much wanted to stay on but this was in pre-EU days and my qualifications wouldn’t have been recognised. Therefore I returned to the UK to do a PGCE teaching certificate and, as soon as that was completed, hightailed it back to Germany, where I was privileged to teach English for three years in a state grammar school. Once again, the way I was received was full of warmth and hospitality. I have to say I loved every minute of it and have remained close friends with colleagues and ex-pupils – in fact so close that I ended up marrying one particular ex-pupil nearly forty years ago. During this period, a colleague and I spent each holiday hitch-hiking round Europe, visiting a total of nine countries and marvelling at our freedom to do so without hindrance. The only exception was Berlin, where my (now) wife and I had to split up and use different ways into the East, because she was German and I was English. Never in a million years would we have dreamt that, forty years later, an extremist regime would once again inflict this indignity on us, and that that regime would be a British one.

I was now intending to make my life and career in this very orderly and friendly society, but at the end of the three years, a political situation grew up and, even though by then we had entered the EU, it was possible for the authorities to terminate my contract and hand it to a German national. Not even thousands of people protesting on the streets were able to change this, and a return to the UK was the only option.

Back in the UK, I landed on my feet in a major way by ending up in a school whose head teacher was a linguist who was utterly committed to the European ideal. Languages were a very important part of the curriculum and for over twenty years I taught in that comprehensive school where all the pupils were very open-minded and there was never the slightest trace of any anti-European feelings. Part of my duties entailed taking annual exchange visits to Germany, and to this day I regularly get ex-pupils telling me that it was one of the most important events of their young lives. We even took a large group to Paris each year and their wide eyes and smiles showed how much they enjoyed and appreciated being exposed to a new culture. I was able to spend a blissful term teaching in a secondary school in France on an EU-organised teacher exchange programme. There I had the same experience as when I taught in Germany: well-behaved, polite and enthusiastic pupils, unhindered by things such as ridiculous uniforms and an excellent social mix, because private, fee-paying schools are almost unknown. There was a great international mix, too, with a good proportion of Portuguese and North African pupils, all speaking perfect French.

Eventually, I quit teaching because my little publishing company had become quite successful. Every single aspect of that company was European, creating reading, listening and speaking resources that enabled so many ex-pupils again to tell me, when I met them in the street, how they were able to communicate on holiday and how much they adored visiting various European countries and being part of them, because of course by then the UK was a full member of the EU. Naturally, both our children are bilingual and massive fans of everything European, particularly their German family and French food!

I know a certain amount about the culture of most European countries but I know most about Germany. What sets that country apart from the UK is that it’s an almost entirely egalitarian society, structured so that few people earn vastly more than others, and there’s a very strong sense of social responsibility in matters such as the environment and education. The gigantic social gaps that are found in this country don’t exist in the same way, and there’s very little in the way of what we know as our class system. No wonder, then, that I am attracted to that kind of society and repelled by the kind of government this country currently has in place, presiding internally over obscene inequality and externally over policies of isolationism and xenophobia.

At the moment, of course, people are naturally concerned about the effects of Brexit on the level of the economy and their personal day-to-day well-being, worried about food shortages, increased bureaucracy, transport issues, pet passports and goodness knows what else. Of course I am worried about these things too, but I hope I have shown above that the most hateful aspect of Brexit is the arrogance and snobbishness that looks down its nose at foreigners. If any Brexiteer tells you “I’m not a racist”, it’s almost certain that he or she is lying or self-delusional. Go on any forum and ask them to explain what advantages will be gained from Brexit and they are completely incapable of coming up with any, other than meaningless platitudes about “sovereignty”, which they can’t explain. It’s nationalism, plain and simple. They are perfectly happy to be ruled over by unelected bureaucrats, as long as they are British unelected bureaucrats. They have no problem at all with the House Of Lords and the Monarchy so yes, they are racist, even though they may not recognise it in themselves. So, for me, it’s all on a personal level rather than a macro-level, and I was casting around to find some sentences to express my feelings when I came across a comment on a Facebook forum that did it for me. I have copied it and reproduce it here now:

“It’s so sad that Brexiteers never saw that the EU was about people, to give them as many freedoms and rights as possible, to live, work and love freely in any EU nation. The EU is far more than just trade. It’s about its people’s lives, and how they want to live. Brexit has taken away all this from us, and given us absolutely nothing in return”.

And this is it for me. It’s about people, human interactions and civilized, open-minded behaviour. People who go on about nebulous concepts such as sovereignty are comparable in my mind to religious fanatics, in that they are committed to believing in something that doesn’t actually exist.
One thing I struggle with is that I believe in tolerance and understanding and reaching out to others. This was a hallmark of my Sixties generation, so it’s particularly horrifying to note that people of my generation, whose parents, like my father, fought for the chance to remove animosity from Europe, now display exactly such animosity. Logically, my policy of tolerance should make me feel warm towards Brexit supporters and forgive them for what they have done. This is where I realize that I am a much harder person then I thought I was. These people have deliberately inflicted pain, inconvenience and cruelty on other human beings for no logical reason, and for that I will never forgive them.

Remain and Rejoin Unicorns

Remainers and now Rejoiners often talk about Leavers wanting their sunlit uplands filled with rainbow coloured Brexit unicorns. Often this colourful narrative appears to have its roots in the lack of knowledge demonstrated by Leavers when they discuss the EU and how it works which rarely bears any resemblance to reality.

On other occasions, this narrative stems from a failure by Leavers to appreciate the realities of a world where Britain is no longer a superpower that can get its own way with the use of gunboat diplomacy. For example,  in a world where the EU has arguably the largest economy in the world, the EU does not ‘need us more than we need them’ and we do not ‘hold all the cards’ in any particular set of trade negotiations, especially those with the EU.

Whilst Remainers/Rejoiners have a much more realistic concept of the UK’s position in the world post Brexit and indeed are often far more knowledgeable about the EU, this does not necessarily mean that there are no Remain or Rejoin unicorns running around in our version of those same sunlit uplands.

Possibly the best example of this to date has been the idea floating around for most of last year that Starmer was just biding his time and had some sort of cunning Baldrick style plan up his sleeve to get us back into the EU. I lost count of the number of times I heard people say give Starmer a chance, or he has to win round his own people or once he has won the election he will take us back in to the EU.

With hindsight most of the Remain/Rejoin community now recognise just how wrong those hopes were with the reality of the situation really hitting home when he instructed his MP’s to vote in favour of Johnson’s deal over Christmas.  

But for many months this was our very own unicorn running happily around our own version of those same sunlit uplands. Consequently, the issue of Labours position on EU membership is only now becoming apparent and for many months we as a movement did nothing to advance our cause within the Labour party. Worse, during that time we also allowed our opponents free reign within the party and we are now faced with the very difficult task of bringing the Labour Party back over to our way of thinking on the issue of EU membership.   

Given the difficulty we will face with that task as our opponents now appear to be very well entrenched in positions of power within the Labour party,  it is important that we do not make similar mistakes in the future. Sadly, however there are one or two other Remain/Rejoin unicorns running around.

Perhaps the foremost of these is the notion that somehow an alliance of progressive parties will be formed to sweep away all opposition before us, including the current Tory Government. For our movement, this notion is concerning in two ways.

Firstly, it ignores the important issue of the cross-party nature of our movement. 35% of Remain voters in 2016 voted Tory the previous year, and although that figure had fallen dramatically by December 2019, nearly one in five Remainers voted Tory in the December 2019 General Election. Put bluntly, a significant proportion of our own support base does not want to see a progressive alliance.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, this notion assumes that Starmer will wish to become involved in a progressive alliance of some sort. Why would he? For Starmer and his advisors to be interested in such a proposition they would need to be of the opinion that the only way they could win an election was as part of such an alliance. Why would they think that?  

The Labour party is a major political force in this country with considerable resources, a developed infrastructure and an entrenched political support base. They will think they can win on their own right up until the moment the result of the next General Election is announced.       

Similarly, another Remain/Rejoin unicorn is that all we need to do is persuade the Labour Party to embrace PR and change the electoral system and all will be well, as in the General Election after next, pro-European parties will sweep into power.

Again, I would ask the same question. Why would Starmer and the Labour Party change an electoral system that gives them an advantage? Yes, PR may be a fairer way of electing a Government, but there are valid arguments against PR and very strong reasons why both our main parties would wish to keep the current system unchanged.

It may well prove possible to persuade the Labour party that they should commit to changing our electoral system however we need to be realistic. There will be significant opposition. Furthermore,  given the cross-party nature of the Remain/Rejoin movement, many of our own supporters will be opposed to any such change meaning we would risk alienating large sections of our own support base by supporting such a change.    

Another example of a Remain/Rejoin unicorn is the popular idea within our movement that Leave voters will all of a sudden see sense because of the tremendous damage that Brexit is inflicting upon us.

That Brexit will inflict such damage is beyond doubt, indeed considerable damage has already been done. The issue however is linking that damage to Brexit in the minds of Leavers, particularly against the background of the pandemic. The pandemic will mask much of that damage and make its cause difficult to ascribe. After nearly three months elapsing since the end of the transition period there is no sign of a major shock to the economy that is directly and clearly attributable to Brexit.

Frankly I do not think we will see such a shock, rather, what we will witness is slow inexorable economic decline. That doesn’t mean to say that a shock will not happen, or that it has to be economic. The break-up of the Union via Scottish Independence could cause such a shock and we may shortly find out how likely that is with approaching Sottish elections.

But even if we see Scottish independence, I am far from convinced that will provide the required shock. Rather disparagingly we often refer to Leavers as ‘Little Englanders’. Whilst we should not be so disparaging there is possibly some truth in such remarks. Looking over data from the last census I noticed that the only areas in the UK where a majority of people declared themselves to be British were certain areas of Northern Ireland with the majority of people in England describing themselves as English.

That makes me wonder just how many Leavers really would be concerned about Scottish Independence to the extent that it changed their views on Brexit.  

The upshot of all of this is that we must be realistic.

We cannot count on the Labour Party suddenly coming over to our way of thinking on Europe, or riding to our rescue as part of a progressive alliance or by supporting PR. If we want the Labour Party to support EU membership, we must work to change their views inside the party and outside.  

Similarly, we cannot count on Leavers changing their views and coming round to our way of thinking because of any adverse effects of Brexit. If we want Leavers to change their views and support EU membership, we must work to change their views by promoting the benefits of EU Membership.

There are no sunlit uplands in our journey back to EU membership, just hard work. Unicorns, rainbow coloured or not, have no place in the Rejoin movement.

Blue and Gold Photo Competition

Sunday May 9th is Europe day.

Help us celebrate Europe day and our European culture by taking a picture of an EU Flag on Europe Day and entering it into our Blue and Gold Photo competition.

The picture could be of yourself, your family or your friends (please gain their consent) with an EU flag, or of an EU flag in a special or unusual place. It really is up to you as long as the picture is taken in May this year on or before Europe Day i.e. between 1st and 9th May, is not photoshopped and includes an EU flag

Prizes are available for the best picture, for the picture taken in the most special place and for the picture taken in the most unusal place. Runner up prizes will also be awarded.

Portrait of Steve Bray by Cathy Kingcome – an A2 sized print is the prize for the best photo

Prizes include a limited edition A2 sized print of Cathy Kingcome’s painting of Steve Bray, Amazon Vouchers, Pro EU Books, CD’s, Badges and Stickers which have been donated by the following sponsors. Please visit their websites and support them.

Ben Chambers of Sixteen Million Rising has kindly donated a copy of the SMR “You Write the Sings CD” – the track list is shown below

The Sixteen Million Rising “Write Your Own Song” CD – The prize for the strangest location

Please visit the Sixteen Million Rising Shop to see Ben’s full range of products

Mike Cashman of ViewDelta Press

Mike Cashamn explains the prize for the most original or interesting location – Sovereign Tea

Mike’s full product range can be found on Amazon – simply search for “Viewdelta”

Oliver Gray who has his own Website

All photographs submitted by midday on the 11th May will be entered into the competition.

3 finalists will be selected by a panel of judges including Adam Poole of Campaign to Rejoin the EU, Jenna Efkay of Remain Resources and Peter Corr of UK Rejoin the EU.

Winners for each category will then be selected by means of a vote amongst the members of the Campaign to Rejoin the EU Facebook Group and UK Rejoin the EU FaceBook Group. These votes will take place prior to the end of May 2021.

A link to the entry form will be placed here on May 1st – in the meantime click here to go to our Facebook event. If you click going or interested you will get a reminder to enter the competition

Brexit, Lockdown and Ideology

The first things that springs to mind when thinking about the Tory Party and Brexit is often the European Research Group which has often been referred to as a right-wing party within the Tory party.

The ERG was established in 1993 with the aim of stopping Britain’s further integration into the EU against the background of the Maastricht Treaty and has exercised considerable influence over the Tory party in recent years. This influence is perhaps best demonstrated by Jacob Rees Mogg, Priti Patel and Michael Gove, who are amongst the ERGs more prominent members, and of course are now senior members of Johnson’s government.

Prior to the ERG, another right-wing group that had a considerable influence on the Tory party was the Monday Club. Founded in 1961 as a response to what was perceived by founding members as the Tory party moving too far to the left under MacMillan, the Monday Club adopted controversial stances on issues such as race, colonial independence and immigration and has counted individuals such as Norman Tebbit, Harvey Procter and Neil Hamilton amongst its membership.

As concerning as their stance on the issues of race, colonialism and immigration was, with hindsight, of far greater longer-term concern and consequence is the fact that the Monday Club was a hotbed of libertarianism in the early 1980s. Whilst the Monday Club has long since lost its influence and libertarianism is rarely mentioned or discussed in most political circles, the importance and influence of libertarianism on issues such as Brexit and indeed Lockdown should not be underestimated.

In a nutshell, libertarians believe in small government and do not believe that governments should restrict or constrain the individual in any way, even going so far as calling for so called victimless crimes, including the use of hard drugs, to be legalised.

Whilst such views can be and indeed often are viewed with some amusement by observers, when transferred to other contexts they can easily become most concerning and can have a profound and often adverse effect on government policy. For example, when transferred to the business world, this dislike for rules and regulation manifests itself as opposition to rules and regulations protecting the rights of workers.

On the political left, this opposition is often portrayed as a desire by the rich and greedy to exploit vulnerable workers, something which is fundamentally incorrect as far as libertarians are concerned. Libertarians oppose such rules and regulations, not because they wish to exploit others, but simply because they oppose all such rules and regulations. They believe that the marketplace will regulate itself and that issues such as wage levels, annual leave and other benefits will naturally settle at appropriately fair levels.

The flaws in this belief are numerous, not least that as economic conditions vary the demand for labour will vary. When demand is high, wages will rise along with other employment benefits, but when demand is weak, the opposite will happen causing financial insecurity for individuals making them vulnerable to the exploitation that the political left fears.

Nonetheless it is this fundamental opposition to regulation that drives libertarians, not the desire to exploit. Libertarians are opposed to all regulation which is why we often hear phrases such as ‘bonfires of regulations’ coming out of the right wing of the Tory Party.

When you consider this ideological belief system in the context of the European Union, it is immediately apparent why libertarians dislike the EU so much. The EU, with its regulatory protection, not just for us as employees, but also for us as consumers and for the environment and so on, is the very antithesis of libertarianism.

Libertarianism is the ideological basis of the opposition to the EU on the grounds of over regulation so often voiced by the right wing of the Tory party, which has its roots in the Monday Club. Indeed, many of the more prominent figures on the far right of the current Tory Party would have been impressionable teenage members of the Young Conservatives when the Monday Club was at the height of its influence in the early to mid 1980s when it was ‘the’ place to be seen for those aspiring to a political career within the Tory Party.

If that libertarian influence on Brexit were not bad enough, the influence of libertarianism on our Government’s response to the Covid is even more concerning.

The dislike that right wing libertarians have for rules and regulations explains why the Johnson Government was slow to impose lockdown and instruct people to stay at home a year ago – as libertarians they were ideologically opposed to the imposition of the lockdown rules and opposed to issuing instructions to us to stay in our homes. Doing so was contrary to their core belief system.

Whilst libertarian opposition to the EU and its influence on Brexit caused economic destruction and removed rights, libertarian influence on government policy relating to the pandemic evidenced by that slow lockdown and that failure to instruct us to stay at home caused thousands of British people to needlessly lose their lives.

People in the Remain/Rejoin movement rightly point to the role of nationalism in Brexit and indeed its danger to wider society but we often forget the role libertarianism played and the dangers it represents to wider society.

We need to recognise that role and that danger.

Untold damage to the quality of our democracy

Perhaps the biggest reason why many in the Remain/Rejoin community challenge the legitimacy of Brexit are the lies told by the Leave Campaign in 2016, and indeed continue to tell to this day. Earlier this last week I caught an elected official of the local Tory party and vocal Leaver lying on the social media feed of my local paper about a Brexit related issue.

The local paper involved was the very same one that Swindon North MP and Minister for the Disabled, Justin Tomlinson, has a column in that he used to make two outrageous claims concerning the EU last September, specifically that the EU was trying to break up the UK and that the EU was trying to prevent food being sent from the mainland to Northern Ireland. Despite repeated requests from myself and others, Tomlinson has still failed to provide any evidence whatsoever to support his claims.

Frankly that failure to provide that evidence doesn’t surprise either myself or the members of Swindon For Europe as we never believed his claims in the first place. In fact, we were of the opinion that Tomlinson was misleading his constituents and the wider public and we therefore wrote to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner to formally complain about that.

Perhaps unsurprisingly we didn’t get very far. A few days later we received a very polite response to our complaint informing us that it was unlikely the Commissioner would conduct an inquiry into Tomlinson’s actions as the ‘Commissioner may not generally investigate complaints about the expression of a M.P.s views and opinions’. Effectively the Commissioner sidestepped the issue.

Whilst myself and the members of Swindon For Europe kept the pressure on Tomlinson over the issue for a few weeks, the political agenda changed as we grew closer to the deadline for a Deal, and we moved on.

But I did not forget and have always intended to return to the issue and indeed the entire subject of Leavers and their lies as and when the opportunity arose. Joel Baccus, with his recent petition calling for it to be made a criminal offence for an MP to mislead the public has provided me with that opportunity.

Joel’s petition has been very successful, and at the time of writing has around 104,000 signatures.I await the outcome of the debate that M.P.s just now hold on the matter with considerable interest.

Whilst we must wait for that debate, as the petition passed the 10,000 threshold several weeks ago, the Government has had to respond to the petition. In fact, the Government has actually responded twice as the Petitions Committee was not satisfied with the Government’s original response. Hardly surprising given the track record of the current Prime Minister on the issue of honesty.

Sadly, even after that intervention, the Government’s response to Joel’s petition is far from satisfactory as the lead paragraph sends us into a revolving door.

The lead paragraph states ‘The Government does not intend to introduce legislation. MPs must abide by the Code of Conduct and allegations of misconduct are investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards’.

In other words, the Government are saying that the responsibility for maintaining standards of honesty amongst MPs falls upon the very person who had point blank refused to investigate our complaint that Tomlinson may have deliberately misled his constituents and the wider public a few months earlier. This is not an acceptable situation. Indeed, the wider situation since 2016 is actually far worse.

In the past, a Minister or Shadow Minister who lied was expected to resign. Indeed, a certain Shadow Minister who refused to resign in 2004 when caught lying about an affair was sacked by party leader Michael Howard. That same individual however continued with his career and subsequently repeatedly lied during the 2016 referendum campaign over the cost of our EU membership leading to an unprecedented intervention of the head of the UK Statistics Authority.
Rather than side line that individual, or even remove them altogether, they were initially appointed them to the post of Foreign Secretary and then elected Party Leader and Prime Minster.

It seems that honesty is of no importance in certain political circles in Westminster.

This is of grave concern as it effectively undermines our democracy, not least because around 15% of the UK population are functionally illiterate, meaning that around 5 million UK voters do not have the skills or capacity to determine if a politician is lying by means of conducting their own research.

When you go on to consider that the Leave majority in 2016 was just under 1.3 million you begin to understand just how important the issue of honesty amongst politicians really is.

Not only is this high rate of adult illiteracy in the UK a terrible indictment of our education system, it is also the reason why we must ensure that our MPs and politicians tell the truth and do not deliberately set out to achieve their political goals by deceiving large parts of the electorate as happened in 2016.

This means that we must find a way of ensuring that politicians are honest if we are going to maintain the quality of our democracy as the only alternative would be to place some form of limitation on those who can vote based upon intellectual capability or educational attainment. I am sure you will read that with the same discomfort that I have just experienced writing it. That would be a very, very dangerous route to follow.

We must therefore continue with our efforts to eradicate dishonesty as an acceptable part of political life and should continue to pursue the criminal prosecution of MPs, and other politicians, who lie and mislead the public, either under a new law or under existing laws such as Misconduct in Public Office.

We should remember the words of Professor Michael Dougan when referring to the dishonesty of the Leave Campaign in 2016:

‘I’m afraid that Leave have inflicted quite untold damage on the quality of our democracy.’