Another day, another moment where you can’t believe Anne Widdecombe isn’t an actual zombie from an apocalyptic Brexit-dystopian future sent to the present to kill us all, according to Renew member Paul Gerken.
Strictly’s Anne Widdecombe has taken to the Brexit limelight like, as she may put it, an oppressed slave to a 17th-century transatlantic trading vessel. Shackled, bound, beaten, gagged, tortured and ripped from her family and possessions, Widdecombe took to the stage in Brussels. Anne was here to tell her oppressors that enough was enough; Britain - that cowed, bruised and abused nation - was setting itself free. Like the displaced Africans in America, we will rise up to a glorious future once rid of our brutal subjugation. Just you wait and see…
Not lost on Anne is the fact that the EU Parliament is the only democratic institution that has actually ever given UKIP, and latterly the Brexit Party, a democratic voice. Widdecombe is aware that the UK’s first-past-the-post system means that their voice and party would have inevitably always been crowded out by the two big parties. Of course, it is only the democratic institutions of the EU that have given them the oxygen and platform to survive, but this doesn’t matter at all, because – FISHING NET LEGISLATION! Damn you to hell, EU, and the laws we’re allowed to vote on.
All this reminds me of is that point in history where we ruled a quarter of the globe, shipped people around in chains and sucked vast swathes of the world of their resources without a hint of a democratic voice. It’s exactly the same as our evil past, and we want out!
Alas, at least like with slaves past, there is a generous per diem on offer to Anne for her commitment to voice for the oppressed. I’m not sure how much it was back in ye olde days, but one can only imagine that, with inflation, it was similar to the 320 euros Widders will claim. Did all oppressed slaves also get about a £7.5k base too?
Who’s to know. Probably. Anne wouldn’t go throwing around the comparison if it weren’t pretty much like for like.
Oh for the time we can be free, ruled by the Brexit Party that has no members, just an altruistic Nigel Farage at its helm. I can smell the freedom now. Glorious!
Boris Johnson as your therapist? That's what the United Kingdom is facing as a result of its Brexit breakdown.
It’s 7pm on a Wednesday evening. You’ve been going through a bit of a crisis recently and need to talk to someone. Luckily, your friend has recommended you a new counsellor - a bit of a “rogue”, in her words, but someone who might be able to shed a fresh perspective on life’s trials and tribulations.
Apprehensive, you approach the door. On a big, gold plaque you see the name “Dr Johnson”, emblazoned boldly on its mahogany backdrop. With a small gulp, you enter the room.
Slouched over a desk is a dishevelled, tired-looking man. His poor posture corrected with a jolt, the man they call BoJo sits up, alert.
“Hello”, says Dr Johnson in a gruff, blustering sort of way. “Take a seat!”
Gesturing towards a spindly wooden chair, Johnson gives you a smile. Yet his eyes are cold. You take the seat without removing your eyes from his gaze.
“What can I help you with, what what?” mumbles the man. You’re already skeptical that this is the person to take you out of your deep depression. Could he be a quack?
You explain your predicament. A bad decision, made three years ago. A period of intense self-reflection. Regret. And now this.
Dr Johnson frowns, his doglike expression becoming a bit more gorilla.
“Well, if you ask meeeee”, growls Johnson, appearing to scramble for something useful to say, “you never made a mistake in the first place. Everything is just fine! Just stick with me and you won’t have to worry about a thing”.
You find this odd. This is the first time you’ve met the man and he’s already claiming to be the one-size-fits-all fixer to your problems. Surely he can’t be trusted?
Johnson gets up, staring out of the window of this fifty-floor office. Far below, on the streets that snake past his skyscraper, a car’s tyre bursts over a forgotten pothole.
Johnson sighs, ambling back to his messy desk, hands in pockets.
You’re still waiting for an answer.
But none comes.
He just keeps staring. A dusty, faded portrait of an old politician stares back at him. It could be Churchill or Silvio Berlusconi. Although it makes a difference to you, it doesn’t seem to matter to him. His eyes glaze over.
Then, slumping down in his seat, Dr Johnson falls asleep. Just like that, he departs the conversation. You’re left alone.
His personal assistant rushes in.
“That’ll be £360, please”, she says with an acid smile.
Hundreds of metres below, another car tyre bursts. The driver curses, but nobody hears.
You sigh. Time to have some words with that friend of yours.
At a Brexit Party rally the other evening, Nigel Farage entered the hall to the sound of air raid sirens. What on earth did it all mean?
What the party was getting at with this Budget Blitz Experience was not entirely clear. Were they warning the crowd of an impending strafe? Was Farage about to rain death and destruction on his sextenarian fans? Or was it a distasteful dedication to his German wife?
Who’s to say. The most likely theory is that the Brexit Party, indulging once more in Poundland patriotism, was making a crude allusion to Farage as the saviour of the British nation, equating this pinstripe pinocchio with the stoic folk and brave fighter pilots that dragged our country through some of its darkest hours in the early 1940s. A poorly thought-out and tactless gimmick, to be sure - but what more might we expect from a charlatan snake oil salesman like Farage?
For decades now Farage and his ilk have sullied the flag of the United Kingdom, rocking up in Brussels like Cosplay City boys to wave two aggressive fingers at the rest of Europe. Farage portrays himself as the Christ-like saviour of our national identity, but the man has no problem sitting down with far-right mercenaries like Steve Bannon and the Trumps when it serves his self-interested, destructive purpose. He milked the European Union for a fat salary - entirely undeserved given the number of debates and votes he didn’t bother turning up to - and now wants to milk the memory of World War Two in a pathetic attempt to garner patriotic support.
While the emotive, angry appeal of Farage and the Brexit Party may be seductive to some, it veils a darker project of division. Allusions to Britain’s past glories not only cast Farage in a dishonest and dangerous light, but they help supporters to extend the life of a British myth that holds us all back.
The Empire is finished, Britain is not a superpower and we are better working together with our neighbours for a whole host of cultural, economic and geopolitical reasons. In the Brexit example, this stark truth has fallen victim to a self-delusion of epic proportions.
At this point, you wouldn’t be surprised to see Farage don a flight jacket and goggles before leaving his rally in a recommissioned Spitfire. Fantasy is so easy, after all; why not go the whole hog?
Watching the Tory leadership contenders battle it out last week could only heap despair upon despair, says Paul Gerken.
The magnitude of cognitive dissonance required when you state that schools, health and green energy must be better when you’ve spent the last decade tearing them to shreds, is incalculable. Yet here we are, standing amidst the ashes of a country that is, only for want of time, merely metaphorically burnt to the ground, listening to the ones holding the matches. We must accept that it is their next bright idea that will be inflicted on the nation. The lightbulb that shines brightest? That if we just convince the European Union that we’re crazy enough to do this no-deal, somehow we won’t have to do it.
Let us unpack the logic. Here it’s pretty simple; you can’t get the best deal unless you’re willing to walk away. We’ve all been there – you’re desperate for flip-flops after you lost on them on lash last night down the Khao San Road, but unless you’re not prepared to swivel on your cut and muddied feet and walk away, that street vendor is never going to give you a dirt cheap price. Precisely the same logic can be applied to negotiating with the world’s largest economic entity. We never actually convinced them we would walk away, Johnson and Raab argue, and therefore they’ve completely done us over with that peace in Northern Ireland bit - that would’ve never been an issue had they known we were sufficiently bonkers to destroy every trade relationship we have with the world.
Now, apparently, the £2 billion of our money that was spent precisely on no-deal contingency planning wasn’t anywhere near convincing enough. We should have actually spent more! (I guess?). However, don’t get Raab wrong, he does want a deal, and apparently stating that on TV doesn’t undermine your resolution to leave without one. So, what to do, Dominic? Do we ramp up again the contracts to ferry firms with no ferries, in this great deceit? It remains unclear. What is clear is we need the gun to our own heads, stat, starting with teary bloodshot eyes directly into the resolutely calm face of Michael Barnier.
But please, let’s take a brief moment to look at this from the other side of the table. If you’re the EU, what do you gain from planning completely, with certainty, that no-deal is going to happen? As in, not just a tactic to box the UK into a corner, but planning like it’s the best outcome? Sadly, Brexiteers, they gain everything. Let's think about this:
- The EU gains absolute certainty that it can manage any outcome.
- The EU retains the respect and solidarity of its members, proving its importance.
- The EU has learnt how to manage the withdrawal of any member correctly and efficiently so that the threat of any other member leaving is less of an existential threat to the entire organization.
- The EU cannot be threatened by the UK’s no-deal threat, rendering it completely and utterly useless.
- Considering the above, their money spent on no-deal will never be wasted, but the UK’s will.
The EU has repeatedly stated they are prepared for no-deal, and seen in this light, they would absolutely be best to. They are prepared for a no-deal, not because of our threats, but because it’s in their best interest. They are not preparing as a charade but as a reality. It is us who want the deal, and these threats to Europe are so feast-eatingly embarrassing that it does make you wonder if we have, in any corner of Westminster, the brainpower to get us out of this.
One final point of reflection on the no-deal threat to the EU: If it happens, both sides will lose something, but who loses what?
- UK loses – the terms of every single trading relationship it has with every single country in the entire world.
- EU loses – its trading relationship with the UK.
And what’s more, they’re prepared for this to happen, whilst we are simply pretending to be prepared.
And with that thought, I am seriously not sure who can help us now.
If there is one thing on which we can all agree, it is that the divisions in our society have grown substantially since the Brexit referendum in 2016. While there is a great appetite for change in British politics, one need only look at the First Past The Post voting system and career politicians found in Westminster to see why this is the case.
This arbitrary and undemocratic system is a blight on British politics; it systematically and demonstrably favours larger political parties, mis-representing the political landscape of the UK and preventing dissenting voices from being heard. It is frankly absurd that we cling to such an unrepresentative system for determining the main actors in our political system. First Past The Post does have its strengths, namely that for the purposes of regional politics, an elected representative voted in directly by their constituents has a more legitimate local mandate than representatives elected under certain proportional systems.
However, this does not override the glaring flaws in this system at the level of national and international politics. One need only look at the vote shares obtained by parties in the 2017 general election and their relative representation to understand that this is the case. There is a large proportion of the public, who through being essentially politically hamstrung, have consistently been ignored and marginalised by this country’s entrenched political class. Whether we can say red and blue are dead remains questionable, and rightly so. If we maintain this system of voting, it is unlikely that those who are currently disillusioned with British politics will ever have their voices heard.
Renew seeks to change that. To ensure fair representation at the highest levels of government there is only one possible solution. We must abandon first past the post and replace it with a system of proportional representation. If there is one thing that the result of the 2016 referendum proved, it is that the British public are tired of having their freedoms eroded by a political class drunk on power, who have maintained control of Parliament through the blatant misrepresentation of the diverse political landscape of this country.
Peterborough is the stage for an all-out political fight. James Clarke takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the campaign over the weekend.
It was 10:21am on a sunny Saturday in Cathedral Square, Peterborough, when the confrontation began.
The charge was led by half a dozen turbo-charged mobility scooters, pimped out in party flags and aggressively driven by a guerilla force of extremely motivated individuals who clearly meant business. They were backed up by a large, somewhat slower-moving but ambulatory group of equally fair-skinned and mature warriors (or ‘white-walkers’ for brevity). It was an intriguing match-up of the UK’s newest two political forces; Renew’s ‘happy few’, bright eyed and carrying messages of reform and renewal versus The Brexit Party, with their stubborn, curmudgeonly determination and vast (cumulative) centuries of bitter experience.
“Thanks for splitting the vote!”, called out one venerable gentleman.
“Likewise!”, we replied.
Luckily for the good people of Peterborough, the riot police were not required, milkshakes were kept sheathed and the Werthers Originals remained unspat. Renew lives on to fight another day and the Brexiters went off for a nice cup of tea and a sit down.
Much has been made of the emergence of the Brexit Party and what it means for the future of UK politics. There are two ways of thinking about this. One is that their existence heralds a new era of nationalism, populism and even some new form of British fascism, and that the party is seeking to normalise these ideologies in the guise of defending Brexit and democracy.
Another (perhaps hopeful) view is that the mass mobilisation of generally decent, older people may serve to temper the extremes of the English Defence League, UKIP, Tommy Robinson crew. It’s important to note that there is a real distinction in the tone and age of the two groups. Whilst the Robinson rallies are attended by small numbers of people who would otherwise be sharpening 50p coins or paying late-night visits to Jewish cemeteries, The Brexit party activists are far larger in number and would otherwise be doing the garden.
What we are witnessing may be the start of an overdue transition away from two-party red vs. blue politics in this country. It’s not hard to imagine a great cleavage on the horizon, a realignment where the right-wing of the Tory party coalesce with The Brexit Party to form a closed, nationalist, populist party and the moderate wing of Labour join the Lib Dems and other Remain parties to form an open, progressive and centrist grouping.
This by-election has quite an odd feel to it. The ‘resurgent’ Lib Dems are nowhere to be seen, the lesser-spotted Tory is even lesser-spotted than usual. Labour have been extremely sheepish (for some very good reasons indeed) and the Greens are hiding in foliage.
Next Thursday, the people of Peterborough may gain the unwelcome distinction of being the first constituency to return a Brexit Party MP to Westminster. But the town may also go down as the place where Conservative and Labour’s decades-long and undeserved dominance received its first mortal blow.
As nationalists gather on one side on the wall, it's time for those who believe in the EU to say so.
The European Union has been a victim of its own success for a while now. Its increasing reach over the decades has had a big impact on the lives of EU citizens, making them richer, more mobile and more interconnected.
However, undeniable successes, from Schengen to uncompromising standards on food and commercial goods, have provoked a backlash from those who have a rather different idea of European governance. The feeling that the EU’s top dogs, such as Jean-Claude Juncker and Guy Verhofstadt, want the ever-closer union to become a federal Europe has created millions of nationalists who wish to return to a Europe of competing nation-states.
There are many reasons for this, from immigration to sovereignty, but at the heart of the phenomenon lies a battle of ideas outlining a world either open or closed.
On one side of the wall, the nationalists seek to fortify their battlements, retreating from Brussels and putting up borders. They are often opposed to the unregulated free movement of people within EU borders and blame Europe’s politicians for failing to handle the migrant crisis.
On the other side, a Europe of young liberals, along with older generations who see the EU as the best guarantee of peace on the continent fight for its Union, see strength in openness and weakness in walls. Renew sits firmly on this side of the argument.
This is the defining conflict of our time. But at some point, these two diverse sets of people will need to come together and compromise on their visions for Europe. If they do not, the seeds of division will be sown deep into EU soil. It will be hard to uproot the thorns that grow from them.
The reconciliation may come through the strengthening of Europe’s external borders that keeps Schengen intact, appeasing those who fear (irrationally) an invasion by foreign peoples. Yet appeasement is not enough; the nationalists will need to see the EU as a positive success story rather than something that holds back their communities.
Renew has been clear that this must come by unequivocally backing the EU’s ability to tackle our biggest problems, which transcend national borders. Climate change, the AI revolution and the overbearing surveillance capitalists of Silicon Valley all threaten the future of democracy in the West.
None of these can be tackled alone by a Britain, a France or a Germany. They demand multilateral action and a common framework of regulation.
In the UK, Pro-European parties won the largest proportion of the vote in the EU elections. Now MEPs must take that mandate, for however long they can, and make a no-holds-barred case for the EU’s existence.
By James Dilley
If your homework is bad, you can't just keep handing it in hoping for the best. But that's just what Theresa May is doing with her Brexit deal, says James Dilley.
When you write a bad essay in school, your teacher hands it back to you. The red ink scrawled all over it tells you just how poor an effort it was. Perhaps you will get a detention; you will probably have to write it again.
Imagine your teacher’s ire, then, when you hand the same essay in again the next day, only with a few words changed. “Demonstrates” becomes “shows”, “explains” becomes “elucidates”. But no matter how many synonyms you swap in and out, the content stays the same (rubbish).
You can imagine what happens next. The teacher shoots you down and you have no choice but to go back to the drawing board. It’s time for another blank sheet of A4 and a rethink.
That will be the situation facing Theresa May when she brings her Brexit bill before Parliament one last time on June 3rd. Despite the red marker pen staining the previous iterations of her bill, the student still hasn’t got the message. The teachers want a complete redo, but May can only hand in a botch-job.
Never mind Theresa’s protests that this bill is different from the last. Sure, there are a few moves to better protect workers’ rights after Brexit in a bid to appease Labour MPs, but the fundamentals of previous bills are still there - most importantly that Irish backstop which prevents so many MPs from backing the deal.
It has been clear for some time that the jig is very much up for May’s Brexit. In the words of Gandalf the Grey, it shall not pass.
The responsible thing to do now would be to hold a second referendum with remain on the ballot, since it has become clear that Brexit is an impossibility without accepting the disastrous no-deal route. Many millions around the country can see that - indeed, those millions could now constitute a majority.
If you are one of those people, then be sure to back Renew’s Change UK candidates on Thursday’s European elections. Brexit deserves an F, and we must mark it.