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.  

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.

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.’

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

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.