EU Issues

It was good to see on Friday that the EU Referendum Bill (to enshrine a 2017 referendum in law) jumped its latest hurdle in the House of Commons with no problems. Though Labour MPs spoke against it, it was pushed to a symbolic vote where nobody voted against the democratic principle of giving the public a say on our EU membership. Labour have realised that putting their names on the record as being anti-democratic cowards is a bit of a vote-loser, especially with UKIP on the rise, but it won’t last. There are three alternatives I see occurring next. First, Labour block the bill on its next reading, actively enshrining their distaste of democracy in Hansard for everyone to see. Secondly, that they ‘talk the bill out’. The reason I think this didn’t happen on Friday was that it was scheduled first and there were other bills, including one on circus animals, that Labour wanted to get to and they couldn’t justify jamming up in the system. Talking the bill out would still be active disdain of the electorate but it’s harder to prove and you can’t just say ‘your MP voted against you having a say’ on the doorstep. It’s a sneaky trick, of course, but that’s just what politicians excel at. The third option, though, is the sneakiest. Suppose Labour let this bill through? They don’t vote for but they don’t oppose it – they let it become law. And, then, once they win the 2015 election (or, more likely go into coalition with the lapdog Libs) they just repeal it. There’s nothing the public will be able to do about it at that point. Think about it. We have five year fixed-term parliaments with ridiculous thresholds for votes of no confidence. We don’t have a proper recall mechanism where MPs could be brought to account for repealing such a law. It would be acceptable for Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg (or his successor) to combine and repeal the legislation. Is that Labour’s plan? I do wonder.

The other EU-related occurrence over the weekend massively aided the Eurosceptic cause. In the wake of Downing Street rumblings about curbing freedom of movement, the outgoing President of the European Commission has been doing the rounds. Jose Manuel Barroso has poured cold water over David Cameron’s attempts to limit freedom of movement, calling it an ‘essential’ component of EU membership. Well, that’s us told, isn’t it? In addition, he’s brought out the big guns, saying we’ll have ‘zero influence’ in the world if we leave the EU. He cited the response to the Ebola crisis which made me wryly chuckle: while the EU has been having meetings about it (in my understanding), our little isolated island nation has been a little bit more proactive. Not only has a ship loaded with supplies just set off, we’ve had soldiers in Sierra Leone building treatment centres for several weeks now. I’d love to see a breakdown of what the EU has been doing. The only thing I recall is a meeting last week where they discussed the response to the crisis and basically tried telling us what we should be doing about it. We’re already acting, I’m afraid. Don’t like it? Kick us out.

Cameron is either being impressive putting himself out on this limb or extremely sneaky. He wants to appeal to those voters who have abandoned him to UKIP and recognises freedom of movement raises hackles all over. But does he just want to be seen as the underdog who tried? Since he doesn’t want us to leave the EU, I can only see that being a precursor to an acceptance of the status quo. I wonder if Downing Street has thought through all the permeations of this. There is, of course, the possibility that Cameron is making these noises with no expectation of a 2015 victory and so no need to renegotiate properly on the tough points.

Can it be that both David Cameron and Ed Miliband are hoping to knife voters in the back after the 2015 election? Surely not.

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Propaganda and Spin

I receive a weekly newsletter from my MP, Mary Creagh, which is sometimes fascinating and sometimes so crammed with propaganda and stupidity that it makes me cringe. Yesterday’s newsletter slid firmly into the latter category, mainly due to the section that covered the by-elections last week. Creagh – or whoever writes this thing – is falling into the trap of spreading lies about their enemies and not saying much about themselves, which seems to be Labour’s line at the moment. Here are the offending paragraphs:

Last Thursday we saw a Tory Party in retreat, losing in their own backyard in Clacton and losing ground on what used to be their frontline in the North West. David Cameron has seen the worst Tory defeat in a by-election ever, with a huge swing against them and a 28% fall in the Tory vote in a seat that was one of their safest.

This seems to me a regurgitation of Ed Miliband’s statements on the by-elections. Fair enough, I suppose, if you’re trying to spin a coherent party line. (I don’t believe in ‘coherent party lines’ but that’s another matter.)

UKIP are more Tory than the Tories. UKIP want to introduce charges to use key NHS services, including your GP. Tim Aker, UKIP Head of Policy has said he wants to abolish the top rate of tax – giving the wealthiest another tax break, while raising taxes for working people. UKIP want to abolish your rights as a worker, including parental leave, maternity pay, holiday pay, sick pay, and even redundancy pay.

Okay, now we get to it. The NHS charges lie that Labour keep throwing around here has been repeatedly refuted by UKIP. The quotes Labour use from personal views, not policy documents. And are Labour folk forgetting that it was one of their own advisers who said just a few months ago that GP visits should be charged at £20 a go? That’s not their policy, of course, and I’m not suggesting it is but that fine distinction between rhetoric and actual policy has bypassed some Labour supporters as they foam at the mouth about the UKIP threat to the NHS.

On the tax issue, Labour comes from as ideological a standpoint as they imply UKIP do – if tax receipts can be increased by having a more punitive top rate of tax then, by all means, go ahead, but the evidence has shown this isn’t the case. There’s a threshold where the people targeted believe it’s too punitive and actively look for ways to avoid it. Perhaps the answer here is cracking down on tax avoidance. Perhaps but let’s not forget that France’s ridiculous 75% top rate of tax led to an exodus of the rich. Oh, I know some people will say ‘good riddance’ but, for a start, those tax receipts will disappear too. Also, while we’re on the subject, Labour only raised the top rate to 50p prior to the 2010 election, knowing full well a Tory government would lower it and therefore give them a stick to beat the government with for five years.

I’ll give them the ‘rights’ line. My understanding is that UKIP want to cut red tape, though I don’t agree with the specific proposals on this one. However, I think Labour’s hypocrisy on employee rights is risible given the number of people their MPs and councils employ on zero-hours contracts. Barricade your own houses before throwing stones.

I understand people are worried that their hard work isn’t rewarded, they fear their kids will have a worse life than them and they see their public services under threat. But UKIP isn’t the answer. I support Ed Miliband’s new approach: change in our economy so that it works for working people, change for our party on immigration.

The fears here are real. I know they are. However, I’m seeing very little from Miliband and company to combat either the economy problem or the (rather tagged on) immigration issues. You can’t forget to mention the economy in a conference speech and still expect people to believe it’s top of your priority list. Equally, you can’t make appeasing noises on the one hand and condemn your ‘racist’ supporters on the other. That’s exactly the thing that’s driving Labour voters to UKIP.

You know, I personally like my MP. I met her when she came to deliver a leaflet a year ago and she comes across very well. I want to be able to vote for her but I can’t bring myself to vote for Labour. The latest edition of this newsletter just reiterated why.

Those By-Elections

The dust has settled a bit over the weekend after those too very interesting by-election results on Friday. Douglas Carswell holding the seat as a UKIP candidate was quite predictable but the strength of his vote startled me. My hope in Clacton is that people voted for the man, which is what I believe politics should be all about. Carswell’s aim is to serve his constituents and, by most accounts, he’s very good at that. It will, of course, be interesting to see if this holds sway at the General Election or whether people will be content to become party political sheep again. One thing Clacton proved is that UKIP can win a seat outright – the odds were in their favour because of Carswell’s popularity but it’s a message to other areas that if they vote UKIP then they stand a chance of getting UKIP. That blows a cannon hole in David Cameron’s ‘vote UKIP, get Labour’ strategy. That’s not to say that the ‘vote Farage, get Miliband’ line is unreasonable – the two are different lines of attack. The first relates to particular constituencies where it’s plausible UKIP can win outright; the second relates to the possibility that electing UKIP MPs or splitting the Tory vote could let Ed Miliband into Downing Street.

Labour’s problems are different. While the Tories seem to at least understand why their voters are deserting them for UKIP, Labour are bemused. The disconnect between the elite in the party and the average person they expect to vote for them is astronomical. A lot of people are concerned about immigration. That doesn’t make them racist – one of the left’s most frequently used accusations – but these people encounter the front line of services and they’re not happy with what they see in terms of pressures and demands. Schools are struggling, as is the NHS. Case in point, I was in a queue in A&E last night and there was a (I think) Polish man at the front of the queue taking up a lot of time, asking questions in broken English and baffling the receptionist with what he was asking. The woman in front of me turned to her daughter and said ‘if it wasn’t for the f***ing foreigners’ things would be moving at a decent speed. Of course, I understand the irony of this given the dependence of the NHS on foreign workers but this woman was a typical working-class mum in a deprived area – the kind of voter Labour is supposed to represent. Dismissing her irritation as ‘racist’ would no doubt irritate her more. People who use services day in, day out are far more qualified to comment on the effects of immigration on them than the cosseted politicians who hire an adviser to do their thinking for them.

Labour can’t seem to see past the end of their nose on this. That’s why Miliband’s response to the close-run result in Heywood and Middleton was to say that the Tory vote had collapsed in the North West. Well, yes, it has but that’s not really the point, is it? He followed it up by saying that Labour wouldn’t be ‘complacent’ but that’s just what they are being. People have been predicting that UKIP could affect Labour’s vote for a long time, several by-elections have put the theory to the test and come out in UKIP’s favour. If Labour haven’t ‘got it’ by now then why should this latest shock make a difference?

The implications of UKIP’s surge are best left for another day. Because the prospect of Miliband getting into Downing Street scares me too much to contemplate right now.

Yes to Human Rights, No to ECHR

Do I have to preface this post by saying that I’m not trying to take away anybody’s human rights? Probably. Emotions are running very high on this issue and that’s mainly down to the usual partisan rubbish that insists on labelling things as black and white or, to put it bluntly, right wing=bad and left wing=good. I loathe that kind of narrow mindedness.

By wanting to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), I am not saying I don’t want the rights it covers to be enshrined in law. I’m saying I want them to be enshrined in our law, I’m asking for the sovereignty of British courts, parliamentarians and, yes, voters, to be accepted. It’s true that the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) makes plenty of good decisions but it also makes decisions which many people find abhorrent. Invoking the ‘right to a family life’ should not allow terrorists and rapists to remain in our country but the cases have been well-documented. And, no, I’m not saying that some people aren’t entitled to this mythical ‘family life’ but I am saying that there needs to be a balance between the rights of that individual and the rights of their victims and potential victims. Too often, it seems, the ECtHR throws its weight behind the individual. Which, of course, is its job but, sometimes, there is a wider picture which it fails to accommodate, quite possibly because it is so distant from the average British taxpayer.

Most, if not all, of what the ECHR stands for is already written down in our legislation, if not in that specific form then in various acts which have been passed over the years. For example, I’ve seen tweets passing me this weekend suggesting that trans people only have rights because of the ECHR. Well, what about the Equalities Act? And if it doesn’t already cover it then the answer is simple – we update our laws to accommodate anything which has slipped through the net. What’s so difficult to understand about that concept?

There’s the notion that if it comes from somewhere beyond our shores then it’s automatically ‘better’. I don’t like that idea, and not because I’m a ‘swivel-eyed loon’ or whatever you want to call me, but because I recognise the disparate nations that institutions like the ECHR have to draw together. I’ve seen the argument that we have to be in the ECHR because otherwise we’re setting a bad example and putting ourselves with Belarus as the only country on the continent which isn’t a part of the convention. Well, firstly, if we have the rights enshrined in law anyway then why do we need to be? Secondly, since Russia are part of the Council of Europe and so the convention, any idea that the states inside the ECHR are setting a ‘good example’ to those outside is laughable to the point of hysterical.

The amount of Tory-bashing going on around this issue is ludicrous. ‘The Tories want to take your human rights away’ is fairly typical of what I’ve seen. And, yes, I’m sure that minorities within the party would like to get rid of certain aspects of legislation but I’m betting that factions of the other parties also have their pet grievances. Do not accuse me of agreeing with the way this government has attacked welfare claimants and don’t accuse me of being blind to ‘the truth’ about what right wingers want. The ‘truth’ is a hell of a lot more complicated than many on the left allow for. Things aren’t black and white, Labour are not the white knights barging in to protect of the black depths of Tory devilry. They’re just not.

I’m not trying to take anybody’s rights away but I do want British people to have control over their own lives. Sovereignty and human rights is a viable path. I wish we could stop the screeching and realise that.