Henry Bettley imagines the process behind the government’s recent announcement of their green number plate scheme, and laments their lack of ambition.
There’s a scene in the first episode of The Thick of It where, in order to cover up their mistakes, Hugh Abbot’s ministerial team have 45 minutes to come up with a brand new policy that wouldn’t need approval from higher up in the party.
“What we need is something that the public want, is incredibly popular and is free,” remarks Glen sarcastically. “Capital punishment?” “National spare room database?” suggests Ollie.
I like to imagine that the recent government decision to give all electric cars green number plates came from a similar process:
The sun sets on the Conservative Party HQ. Dominic Cummings marches around angrily, wiping his glasses frantically on his gilet.
“I don’t get it. We feed the press with our soundbites, we bully and threaten the opposition and our own MPs, we break every parliamentary convention, but still nothing? What we need is a distraction. Something no one can have a go at us for.”
“What about selling off the NHS to Trump?”
“You idiot!” barks Cummings, “not so loud. You never know who might be listening.”
“Free toothpaste for nuns?”
“Free milk for children?”
“Make passports red, white and blue?”
“Green number plates for electric cars?”
The thing is, though, it’s one of my favourite Conservative policies in years, due to the potential that it holds for electric cars and urban design. The idea behind the number plates is two-fold. First, it is a purely cosmetic PR move, designed to get people thinking about electric cars and noticing that there are (slowly) increasing numbers on the roads. This may well have a positive effect on a few people, but surely no more than would be turned off electric cars by that shade of green.
But the real potential of the policy lies in the area where the government has been the least ambitious. They say that the policy would allow councils to provide cheaper parking to electric cars through allowing them to spot the cars at a glance. Also, they say it might allow the drivers to use bus lanes (the bus and coach lobby, CPT UK, are not happy about their lanes being encroached upon). But why stop here? A technology that allows different cars with different number plates into different areas already exists, and we’re using it to police car parks and the congestion charge zones to great effect. But the point is that, with this shift, we will very soon have the capacity to make certain areas and roads electric-only. In our urban pollution crisis, this may be what we need - not straight away, but sooner than you might think. The real problem with this policy is what it exists in place of - mass investment in the industry, infrastructure and consumer subsidy. Electric cars are the future, for now - until driverless cars are ready.
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!
The political system itself is breaking apart - and fast - before our eyes. Throw your rules and assumptions about voting patterns out of the window. Brexit has ushered in an entirely new era of politics. Ciara Murray offers her analysis.
The latest YouGov Westminster voting intention polls have reflected the results of the European Elections. The Liberal Democrats and The Brexit Party, on 24% and 22% respectively, outpace the traditional parties. Labour and the Conservatives are left in the dust at 19% each. While many speculated on Labour and the Tories’ eventual demise owing to their spectacular incompetence these last years, many do not truly believe that Britain would put their money where their mouth is and vote to put them out of office. They are wrong.
While such a phenomenon has occurred before for the Lib Dems - during Cleggmania in 2010, the Lib Dems climbed to the top of the polls and dropped back down on election day -, this is the first time in decades that two smaller parties have outranked Labour and the Conservatives in both an international election as well as in national polling. And there are of course the local elections...
What does this show? It is evidence to suggest that the British people are no longer happy to offer their support to the traditional parties out of blind allegiance and loyalty. Brexit has awoken the British electorate from its political apathy, driving millions to action online, in the streets, on doorsteps - and now in the polling booth. Labour and the Tories’ behaviour - over Brexit, over allegations of racism, over their own internal squabbling - has pushed their loyal bases too far. They have taken advantage, have assumed blind loyalty, have acted with wholly undeserved entitlement and have not listened to the people they claim to represent, despite their cries to be heard. Their members, their supporters, their voters have received nothing in return, at a time when they are more charged than ever. So they have left. Now they are turning en masse to alternative voices who are claiming to offer change.
However, are these parties the anti-establishment forces they paint themselves as being? The Liberal Democrats are emerging from their near-total annihilation after the Tory coalition with its austerity and tuition fees catastrophes. However, for almost three years after the Brexit referendum they did not make any headway or impact with their Remain message, despite being the only party (at the time) who unequivocally backed staying in the EU. Members left in droves, dismayed at their complacency and lack of action at a time when they should have been dominating the discourse to counter the Brexit-peddling Tories, Labour, and UKIP. They kicked themselves into gear three weeks before the European elections on the back of positive local election results. But these punctual waves of energy are unusual - the natural state of the Lib Dems since the referendum has been insignificance.
The Brexit Party is a rehashed UKIP serving as a vehicle for Nigel Farage’s ego, whose UKIP failed to win a single Westminster seat in the 20 plus years of their existence and their near-total domination of political discourse. While they have tapped into a legitimate anti-establishment and pro-Brexit sentiment, they offer nothing new and apart from a pro-Brexit stance, they do not have any other policies as yet. While they have distanced themselves successfully from UKIP’s far-right ideology, when the time comes to create policies, values, and political positions, will they follow the values Farage has espoused for his entire career: anti-immigration, anti-diversity, anti-Muslim, anti-women far-right ideology? With the equally right-wing Anne Widdecombe as their most seasoned political representative, it seems likely.
The people are hungry for change and they are voting for the parties with the biggest imprint available who seem to offer it. Within this renewed landscape, there is an opportunity to present the British public with the real alternative to the current system - smaller parties from people outside politics who also want to radically reform the system. Britain wants radical change - Renew’s lifeblood is to dismantle the old power structures and put the British people in the driving seat of their country. Now is the time to take up space, shore up support at this moment of energy and hope. Renew is the change Britain wants - the polls and the elections prove it.
London resident and member of the New York Bar John Nucciarone breaks down where the UK’s European strategy went so wrong.
David Cameron’s negotiations with the EU in early 2016 were both rushed and amateurish. Discussions should have commenced under his first mandate and the obtaining of emergency breaks on free movement within the European Union should have been made part of broader EU-wide reform.
External EU border security, the allocation of refugees between member states, the 3% of GDP deficit rule and Euro were all issues which Italy, Greece, Poland and the eastern Europeans were seeking and needed support with. Served well by London’s employment market, these same member states, along with the Baltics, could and should have been recruited to persuade the EU power brokers that emergency breaks on the mobility right were more than a reasonable demand by the UK.
Cameron could easily have taken the position that the banking crisis of 2008 and the fall of Communism were both epic events which resulted in a historical movement of peoples into both London and the rest of the UK. The emergency breaks he sought would be aimed at the tail end of such times and not free movement in general. Helping the UK obtain emergency breaks would be in the long term interests of these member states and would be more than a suitable price for the UK helping resolve the issues of immediate concern to them. It is just such an alliance that could have taken the reins in negotiations with Paris, Berlin, and Brussels.
If the Tories had kept to this type of traditional British foreign policy, we would not be looking at Brexit, a Salvini, Le Pen, an AFD electoral alliance or the Hungarian and Polish governments on the sidelines waiting for someone to talk to.
Misguided and old-style European nation-state leadership
The gatekeepers of the de facto EU political leadership structure, however, are the ones that created the conditions that led to these developments.
The European Union will eventually tear itself apart if Brussels, Paris, and Berlin continue to think that every economic, political, and cultural policy without exception could or should apply in the same manner and form to every member state despite the different social consequences for the various member states.
Liberalism, multilateralism and leadership are not found in expecting societies which have come out of 45 years of communism to react in the same manner as western European societies when dealing with refugees.
Nor were these progressive characteristics present when the EU scolded Poland for its use of coal as an energy source but stayed silent when Germany began to do so after the 2008 banking crisis. France, which preaches to Italy when it comes to refugee allocation but then does not take in the numbers to which it agreed, cannot then expect to be listened to by its Italian partner.
Moreover, France, which has an economy reliant upon public spending to function, cannot but raise eyebrows when it advocates an EU Finance Minister, just as Spain does, when with its youth unemployment rate of over 32% and large numbers of citizens searching for work in London, makes noises about joining the Paris-Berlin alliance.
The return of old Europe
Fanning the flames of nationalism in Europe has generally not ended well and this is what Stephen Bannon, the right-wing American political activist, is poised to do with his academy in Italy.
Bannon's goal of dismantling the EU may have unintended consequences, as European revolutions often do. It may see judicial independence in Poland further eroded and Viktor Orban moving to reduce economic freedoms in Hungary after already curtailing political ones by his attacks on state media and academic freedom.
For these reasons, a Europe in which populism and nationalism are becoming mainstream is not in the interests of the UK.
The future viability of the EU rests with both a French realisation that this project cannot be a search for France’s lost glory on the world stage and a German acceptance that the Eurozone has provided it with an inherent economic advantage that needs to be addressed.
The British would do well to realise that they cannot view the EU solely in economic terms and as a source of cheap labour for its hospitality and other low wage industries.
When Harold McMillan decided it was in the United Kingdom’s interests to join the European Economic Community he was simply pursuing 400 years of English and British foreign policy of ensuring that no one country dominate the Continent. At that time he had France in mind; things have not necessarily changed since then.