A lengthy and complex judgement …

Well today there was a glimmer of good news from the clusterfuck that is British politics at the moment: the High Court has found for the claimants in the Article 50 action, meaning that (pending Supreme Court appeal), Parliament’s approval is required to invoke Article 50. Cue, of course, all those who foamed at the mouth about “the sovereignty of Parliament” now foaming at the mouth because, um, Parliament has been held to be sovereign. This action was never about stopping Brexit—though I live in hope that will happen, and this is certainly an aid along the way—but about ensuring Parliamentary oversight of it.

No need to rehearse all of that here: but there is a piece of fallout from today that I think is worth noting: the statement made to the House of Commons by David Lidington, the Leader of the House, concerning the result. It is, he said, “a lengthy and complex judgement.”

I urge you to go and read this lengthy and complex judgement. It runs to 32 pages and 111 numbered paragraphs (probably about 150 in total). I read it in about ten minutes. Most of it is setting out the background and context: the findings themselves are a mere ten pages. Far from being complex, the judgement is remarkably pellucid (© Robert Jay, 2012): constitutional precedent and laws indicate that the royal prerogative (the government’s authority to take executive action) cannot overrule primary legislation regarding domestic law; that the European Communities Act 1972 is primary legislation that, by incorporating EU law within UK law, has granted UK citizens a range of rights under law; that invoking Article 50 would start an “irrevocable” process that would result in withdrawal from the EU and consequent loss of those rights (a point agreed on by the government prior to the judgement); that the government’s claim that it would replicate those rights in UK law was not germane and, anyway, there are some rights (such as appeal to the EU Court of Justice, and the right to elect MEPs) that UK domestic law could not replicate; and that the government therefore lacks the authority to invoke Article 50.

I have published case law. This is a concise and clear judgement: try wading your way through the various company law test cases in the late 1980s and the 1990s. To claim that the judgement is “lengthy and complex” is, quite simply, not true. What depresses me is how unnecessary Lidington’s lie was, and what it shows about the “post-truth” state of our politics, where a government minister can blithely misinform the House simply for the convenience of not being asked awkward questions (such as: “this is a pretty unambiguous finding, isn’t it?”) and not an eyebrow is raised.

 

At the risk of falling foul of Godwin’s Law …

I’ve been quiet of late, because I’m in Jordan. Ordinarily trips to foreign parts bring a spike in my blogging as I regale you with my hilarious anecdotes and pithy observations. But, firstly, the hilarious anecdotes usually start with large-scale consumption of a substance somewhat frowned upon here; secondly, my pithy observations are being saved up (believe me); and, thirdly, I’m ridiculously busy trying to learn Arabic, which it turns out is something of a tricky language.

But things in Britain go on without me, it would seem, and pretty horrifically so (not least because as every week passes, things get roughly 5% more expensive for me here). I don’t have time for a long rant, or the mental energy to be excoriatingly insightful, so all I intend to do is provide you with a short list some of the anti-Jewish legislation passed by the National Socialist government in Germany in 1933.

February 27, 1933: The Reichstag Fire Decree curtails civil rights in the face of “communist violence.”

  • 2014: R v Incedal and Rarmoul-Bouhadjar becomes first trial to be held entirely in secret, the gagging order is upheld in 2016.
  • 2016: Theresa May announces British troops will not be subject to the European Court of Human Rights.

March 31, 1933: Decree of the Berlin city commissioner for health suspends Jewish doctors from the city’s charity services.

April 7, 1933: Law for the Reestablishment of the Professional Civil Service removes Jews and Communists from government service.

  • 2015: Home Secretary Theresa May launches drive against “entryists” in public service.
  • 2016: UK government bans foreign-born LSE staff from advising on Brexit.

April 25, 1933: Law against Overcrowding in Schools and Universities limits the number of Jewish students in public schools.

  • 2016: Schools must collect data on the nationality and citizenship status of their pupils. Amber Rudd introduces restrictions on overseas university students.

Look, obviously these comparisons are not exact. I am not claiming that the approach of the Conservative government is anything like on the scale or malignancy of the pre-war Nazi-controlled Weimar Republic. But what I am saying is that both of these represent, in an environment of economic strife, a systematic and institutional process of marking out a group of the population as “other,” making them lesser human beings to be monitored and restricted, and identifying them as responsible in large for the economic problems and potentially actively repugnant to the ideals of the state.

As well as scale, there are differences in kind. I can think of two in particular:

  1. In the Weimar Republic, the economic conditions were utterly disastrous for the whole populace (this is not to demean the experience of the half million plus forced to use food banks in 2015), but were also imposed from outside by the punitive stringency of the Treaty of Versailles. In contemporary Britain, the economic straits are a consequence of policies of precisely the same government (or, at least, the same party) that now seeks to blame them on their selected “others.”
  2. Most obviously, Hitler was a maniac, whereas Theresa May is an intelligent and, one presumes, fairly rational human being. The data exist showing that migrants bring a net economic benefit to the UK; that even in the jobs most affected by immigration—low-paid semi-skilled or unskilled service jobs—the effect of migration on wages equates to about 2p per hour; and that migration has virtually no effect on employment levels (and where it does, it is migration from outside the EU that has the effect). No-one would suggest that the Nazis should have known better, because knowledge was irrelevant to their programme. Theresa May does know better—she can hardly be unaware of these data—but knowledge does not appear to be relevant to her programme either. This, above everything else, is deeply worrying.

I get back from Jordan in late December. I have been, whilst here, thinking hard about whether to stay in the UK and fight the good fight; or to leave for other shores and let the country descend into institutionalized xenophobia without me. The latter option is winning out at present … I can just see nothing, nothing good that can come of our present direction, nor any practical way to change it.

June 23rd was the day that Whig history ate itself

I haven’t blogged much about Brexit, partly because I’ve been busy, and partly because there seemed to be little I could say that had not already been said. Sure, I could have poured scorn upon the assorted narcissists, neo-nazis, and nasties who conned the country into this disaster. I could have reflected upon the irony that David Cameron—for whom an insinuation of a lack of patriotism is an easy, cheap hit upon a man who dares to not like the medieval hangover that is the monarchy—will doubtless be wearing a proper suit and doing up his tie when he sings the national anthem of the United Kingdom for the last time, as that very union that he hung out to dry in order to mop up a few votes from UKIP is dissolved. I could have ruminated upon the extraordinary duplicity and ego of Boris Johnson—that Brexiter who had us all running in fear from 80 million Turks, yet who not that long ago was ardently advocating their joining the EU, and to whom the achievement of that expansion, far from being a reincarnation of Third Reich or Napoleonic domination as he more recently claimed, would be a glorious unification of the East and West Roman Empires. Or, perhaps, I could have dallied a little over the backstabbing Michael Gove, whose impersonation of a human being is quite passable on good days, but who appears to have skipped Basic Human Interactions 101 (as well as instruction in simple co-ordinative feats such as drinking a glass of water or clapping), making him stunningly blind to the fact that the double-crossing of a double-crosser is not usually seen to cancel itself out. I might even, if I had the stomach, have pondered a little upon the human pile of excrement that is the loathsome Nigel Farage, that neo-fascist schoolboy barely grown up, spinning his campaign of hatred and racism for years on end only, upon achieving his aim, to up and run as fast as he can when he realizes the scale of the clusterfuck that he has unleashed upon the country.

But I shan’t waste my time with this hideous brigade of liars and fantasists, mainly because I can’t spell parallepsis. Instead I shall offer one slight observation which I believe is relatively novel, and I haven’t seen anywhere else: that June 23rd was the day that Whig history ate itself, and that if nothing else good can be rescued from this unnecessary and unworkable mess, it is at least this.

The Whig interpretation of history is a historiographic stance, an interpretation of British history, that presents the events that have transpired on this particular lump of rock as consisting of a slow and incremental progress towards better governance and greater liberty. It is a deeply ingrained narrative, one which dominates our schooling and our public discourse, and one that is utterly, utterly wrong.

Whig history starts at 1066—the last undeniable major upheaval—and claims that, from that point onwards, we have, in a good conservative fashion, inched our way bit by bit towards our (apparent) current glory. All other upheavals are minimized or ignored: what schoolboy learns of the Anarchy, the twenty year civil war between Henry I’s only legitimate child and her usurping cousin? The Barons’ Wars and the Peasants Revolt are footnoted, the stunning rejection of Rome by a previously devout Catholic (“Defender of the Faith” does not refer, as the idiotic Prince Charles seems to think, to the Church of England—it was a title granted by the Pope to Henry VIII for a theological tract opposing the Reformation and upholding Rome) gets reduced to the ins and outs of his marital bed and a money-grab for monastic gold. The subsequent bloody conflicts are largely smoothed away: the violent re-entrenchment of Catholicism under Mary is presented hindsightedly as guaranteed to fail, despite the fact that in her five years of rule she was highly successful in her progress towards the restoration of the faith, and that it was only the fact that she bore no children and the extraordinary coincidence that her right-hand man—Archbishop Reginald Pole—died the same day as her that stopped her project in its tracks.  Similarly written out as an aberration is the interregnum: necessarily Cromwell is portrayed as a hideous maniac (who hears of the Putney Debates?) and the Restoration of the monarchy is a glorious (and inevitable) return of the proper way of things. The 1688 Dutch invasion and overthrow of the King is presented as a invited takeover of power, purely on the grounds that some quislings in Parliament were in cahoots with it. England has been a kingdom, a kingdom within a union, a republic, even a papal fief. The Magna Carta was not a progressive constitutional reform, it was a peace treaty in a civil war (and one that was reneged upon almost as soon as the ink was dry upon it), the Great Reform Act was not a considered movement towards more representative democracy, it was forced by radical uprising—who hears of the Peterloo Massacre? Women’s suffrage was, similarly, forced upon a previously wholly unwilling government in the aftermath of the First World War.

Whig history takes the anarchic, radical, violent history of this country and smooths it away, soothingly telling us that England, and then the UK, is stable, it is well-behaved. History moves slowly and gently, and always progressively. As such, this interpretation is the tool of conservatism: it says that the British way is the slow, gradual way. Not for us revolutions and uprisings, we are the tortoise to the hare of radicalism. And it is still used: Michael Gove, when he was education secretary and had yet to discover a taste for sharp knives, rewrote the history syllabus expressly to have it taught in chronological order, with a clear “narrative of British progress.” I am not asserting active conspiracy here, of course: simply that those who run the country tend to have come up through a schooling which promotes this view, they find it meshes nicely with their political aims, and so it becomes convenient to believe it and to promote it yet further.

But, finally, their commitment to this view is what has caused them to come unstuck. Why did David Cameron take such a wildly irresponsible gamble on the future of the country? Because he never believed that we did this kind of thing. Why did Boris Johnson put all his pro-European ardour aside to campaign for Out? Because he wanted Cameron destabilized and unseated, and it never occurred to him that we might actually do what he was campaigning for. Why did none of the fuckers have a fucking plan: the Brexiters for what they purportedly wanted to happen, or the government because any responsible regime plans for all foreseeable circumstances? Because none of them thought it would happen, because those kind of things don’t happen here. Because they bought their own fork-tongued narrative of history, sat complacently upon it, and have now been bitten in the arse. The only leaders who really considered Brexit a possibility are the true bigots and maniacs—à la Farage— who have turned tail and run from the catastrophic consequences. Even they were Whigs to a certain extent: they could not believe that this would be catastrophic. Michael Gove, another True Believer, famously derided the massed ranks of “experts” who warned of disaster: how could there be? We don’t do disaster. They believed that change, being slow and gradual, could simply be reeled back: that we could easily turn the clock back a hundred years or so to Empire, glory, and dark people in their proper place. Finding that is not the case, they have scarpered.

So, welcome to Brexit Britain. We are economically screwed, probably on our way to constitutional collapse, a rainy little nowhere island viewed by the rest of the world with suspicion and derision. But at least we won’t have to put up with this silly, self-justifying narrative of establishment conservatism. A thin sliver of hope lies in the fact that maybe, just maybe, having put this nonsense aside, we may find room for the true, progressive, leftist radicalism that will be essential to preventing the poorest and worst off in society—those who have been fucked by thirty years of neo-liberal economics and were conned into believing that their destitution was the fault of foreign powers and not successive callous and indifferent UK governments—from suffering yet further as the fallout of this monstrously deceitful campaign continues.

On tactical voting

This is a politics post that is neither a rant not a funny. It’s something I feel extremely strongly about, so much so that I’m not even going to indulge in my usual rhetoric and hyperbole. It’s a simple proposition I have—directed at readers in UK, especially England and Wales—and it is the following: in the election on 7 May please, whichever party you support, vote for that party. Please do not tactically vote. Please never again tactically vote. Tactical voting is the curse of our political system and, as long as you tactically vote, you are supporting an unrepresentative pseudo-democratic system.

I currently (for a few more days) live in Oxford West and Abingdon, which gives me one of the most powerful votes in the country. I decry this situation, where one voter’s choice has more influence than another’s, but that is post for another day. Oxford West and Abingdon is a very marginal constituency: in 2010 the Conservatives beat Dr Evan Harris, the incumbent Liberal Democrat by 176 votes, and then only after a rather despicable and slanderous campaign in which pamphlets were circulated branding Harris “Dr Death” and claiming he had a “enthusiasm for euthanasia” due to his support for assisted dying. This Conservative seat is therefore ripe for over-turning. Not only that but, in an election where it is almost certain that there will be a hung parliament, and that Labour and Conservative will be seeking to form formal coalitions or confidence and supply arrangements with smaller parties, every MP matters to them.

Conventional electioneering will tell me that—though I am one of those who voted Liberal Democrat in the last election, felt myself entirely betrayed by their subsequent actions, and therefore have totally removed my support from them—I should hold my nose, and vote Liberal Democrat. Anything else, I will be told is a “wasted vote”; not only that, but if I vote anything but Liberal Democrat then I am effectively voting for the Conservative government that I dearly wish to see ejected from power. If I were in Oxford East, with its safe Labour majority, I would be allowed, according to this view, my “protest vote.” But here in Oxford West and Abingdon I must, apparently, vote Liberal Democrat.

I will have none of this, and I urge you not to either. I shall vote Green: my reasons for supporting the Green party are not relevant to this post, but what is important is that they are the party whose manifesto most closely reflects my political position and so I shall vote for them even though I do so knowing that my vote may well substantially contribute to a Conservative MP being returned for my constituency, and even though a single MP may make the difference between whether Labour or Conservative form the next government.

In every election of my life—and for many elections prior to that—the country had a choice between a Conservative or a Labour government; and this is, ultimately, the case in this election too. As a result, both parties have focussed their policies and campaigning on the “centrists,” the voters whose views fall somewhere between the two with the consequence that—especially under Blair’s Labour, though less so under Miliband—the differences between the two parties have all but evaporated. The UK, in the next parliament, will be represented by a government committed to monetarist, minimally-regulated free market economics. The UK, in the next parliament, will be represented by a government committed to scapegoating immigrants for the financial crisis caused by said economic policy. Privatization; free schools; negligible movement on renewable energy; in all of these and many other issues the country simply has no choice.

You may well approve of some, or all, of these policies, and as far as this post is concerned you are welcome to (though see me after); but I hope you will nevertheless agree that the absence of any real choice is not only not good for democracy, it is quite simply not democracy at all. Electoral reform, of some kind or another, is necessary to achieve better representation of the wide ranges of views within the UK electorate, but my argument is that as long as governments are formed within the context of tactical voting in a first past the post system, no incoming or incumbent government will have any interest in introducing any level of proportionality into the electoral representation, because every incoming or incumbent government will have achieved their position precisely because of tactical voting.

Not only this, but it is a myth that in the interim, having voted for Green, I will not only have elected a Tory but have wasted my vote. In 2010, the Green vote in my constituency was 1,184, and it is safe to presume that if everyone who had wished to vote Green but did not do so because of the tactical voting demands that dominate our election analyses actually does vote Green then this vote could be substantially larger; let us say maybe 2,000. Now, I may well end up returning a Tory MP; but if that Tory MP is returned against a larger Green vote in this election then that MP—and all other candidates—will realise that Green issues matter here and, in preparation for the next election, will be more likely to support ecological motions in the Commons in this Parliament; and other parties in my constituency will be more likely to select candidates with environmental credentials in the next election. That is, the triangulation and centrism that currently only happens at the level of the party and the country will start to happen at the level of the constituency. If the Conservative Nicola Blackwood is returned by a narrow margin again this election, and if the vast majority of the other votes are Liberal Democrat, she will have no knowledge of why people voted against her other than the fact that they wanted her out. Whereas, should she be returned on the same narrow margin but with a substantially increased Green vote, she will realise that, to gain those votes for a more secure win in the next election, she would do well to support environmentalism. She is more likely to go against her party whip on these issues than if she had an opaque, entirely Liberal Democrat voting opposition in this constituency. Voting for your chosen minority party, instead of tactically voting, will therefore have an immediate effect: your MP—whether of your desired party or not—is far more likely to be a good representative of you if he or she can see not only that they were opposed, but the issues on which they were opposed.

A tactical vote is a vote against democracy; it is a vote against local representation; it is a vote for a status quo in which the only foreseeable government for the foreseeable future will be one of two largely indistinguishable and centrally-controlled parties.

Vote democratically, vote for representation, vote for what you believe in, and do not, not, not tactically vote.

A to Z blogging challenge: T