London has the potential to rival Silicon Valley says Kam Balayev, the Renew Party candidate for Mayor of London. Kam believes there are opportunities to drive social and economic growth in the city by accelerating London's digital economy and championing the fintech sector. He outlines his thoughts here:
“Digital technology is now second nature,” said Kam. “From people in older age groups embracing Zoom to the ubiquity of smartphones, content streaming, websites and apps, digital tech is deeply embedded into our daily lives. The coronavirus pandemic has speeded up this process.
“This is particularly obvious in the health and education sectors. Online consultations have helped keep GP surgeries safe and ensured access to treatment for vulnerable people. Home learning for school children and university students has gone from being a marginal practice to completely commonplace. The potential for these two vital sectors to embrace digital solutions is huge, and London's expanding tech sector can help facilitate this shift further.
“We have the opportunity to use the knowledge and expertise of the tech sector to improve the lives of Londoners in other ways too. A key component in any city offer to residents or new investors is safety. Rising crime, particularly violent crime, is a huge concern for Londoners. In fact, it's the issue of most concern to residents after healthcare. By using the latest digital technologies, divisive stop and search techniques can be replaced, while still ensuring that knives are taken off our streets. What works in London can then be exported to other UK cities and across the world.
“London is at the forefront of the UK's digital economy. For example, it has played a pioneering role in cyber-law. And the English language is a key advantage — overwhelmingly the language of choice for global tech companies. The city also contains huge numbers of highly skilled and ambitious bilingual people. London has the potential to become a global hub where ambitious tech entrepreneurs want to be based. But the competition from other cities is fierce.
“However, I believe there's a gap in the market. Silicon Valley is a place for ambitious start-ups, but thanks to tech giants like Google and Facebook, the market has become more insular. It can be difficult for start-ups to find a foothold, as small and medium-sized businesses are priced out. That's where London comes in: a new 'silicon centre' that incubates the tech giants of the future. Innovative, exciting start-ups, growing businesses and emerging giants could flock to the city if it creates an attractive environment, with the right infrastructure in place to support them.
“But, in order to seize this opportunity and build a really exciting and prosperous future for London, we need an electoral system that works. Participatory budgets, e-petitions and citizen assemblies would all hand real power to citizens.
“We are at the threshold of being able to create something truly amazing for London and Londoners and that is why I have put myself forward as a candidate to become the next Mayor of London. We need the political reform that Renew is working to achieve across the country and we need to listen to the people and deliver what matters to them. I am committed to delivering on my promises and building an exciting future for this incredible city.”
Alex Haida is Co-Chairman of Volt UK. Renew and Volt UK have been working together in recent months as we discuss ideas and opinions on the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Alex has laid out his thoughts for moving forward in this article.
I would like to take you back to May 2019. I remember it was a rainy month, I was struggling to put my wet leaflets through doors in Ordsall during the local council elections campaign. I stood as an independent but told the people I met that I was a member of Volt UK. My programme focused on cleaning the many waterways in Ordsall and as well as initiatives to strengthen the local community (I was thinking about a new community pub). As I campaigned throughout my neighbourhood, I had many special moments when I knocked on doors and met the people in my community.
In between all the stories that I told and listened to, my encounter with one woman particularly struck me. She lived in one of these houses of typical crimson Salford bricks with a small garden out front. I gave her my usual Volt pitch of working together in Europe and using best practices to improve our local community. After that, she only said one thing to me: She had voted Leave, yet she would vote for me because I was not one of them even though I was firmly pro-EU. This struck me profoundly and I was left speechless, I couldn’t say anything else other than that Volt didn’t align for what you voted for back then, but I thanked her and let her go.
red brick terraced urban streets of moss side, manchester
A Leave voter chose me over the other candidates from the established parties. Even though I was campaigning in the name of the pro-European Party, Volt, she voted for me. She voted for a neighbour, who was born in Germany and had only lived in the UK for a couple of years, but was campaigning for our Ordsall. She needed to know that I cared about local issues and that I was doing something about it. She did not really seem to care about Europe, and she did not really seem to care about Brexit either. It highlighted to me what we must focus on when we try to find balance between prosperity and desire.
Why was she planning to vote for me despite our differenc of opinion when it came to Europe? It was not important to her as a voter ‘how’ I do politics. All that mattered was ‘why’. Unknown to her the way I was doing it brought me to her doorstep. I needed not only her vote, but also her voice as a citizen of the UK to make change happen. People-powered change, regardless of political affiliations, but based on trust and human values.
The 2016 referendum was a disaster. Instead of asking a stupid Yes/No question, the question should have considered the political diversity and opportunities of the UK. The questions never needed to be Yes/No to Europe, the conversation needed to be ‘How do we interact with Europe’.
Brexit is still unsolved. Nevertheless, I think we can find a solution by asking the right questions: How do the British people see themselves in Europe? What do people really care about? What is a British dream for Europe about?
Quo vadis, Britannia?
Firstly, there is a frustration with politics and politicians. This was demonstrated during the last general election. Many could not side with Corbyn’s hard left agenda, while others were dismayed at the failure to create a real remain alliance. Many, as usual, felt that voting was a waste of time. The Brexit referendum offered a change. This change has not happened; all we are left with is division.
The UK is our house, we live in it, we work in it and we want it to thrive in a neighbourhood where, thanks to teamwork and compassion, we can build certainty and a future.
Politics needs a new product. Politicians need to understand democracy as a marketplace. Let us take an example: Imagine a market selling different types of transportation. You can buy horses, bicycles or cars. All the products come with pros and cons, but all the products will help you to move forward. You know a fair and open market should allow you to choose your product and make deals that work best for you. Generally, the best salesmen are the ones that listen and advise you to purchase the product that best suits your needs. Bad salesmen, on the other hand, promise you the option that suits them best, not the option that is best for your needs. Sounds familiar? Ask yourself: Do I really need a Ferrari when I only drive it to Aldi?
If we continue to follow Johnson, we might get ‘true independence’. Britain will sit on a throne made from the legacy of the once proud Empire; Britain will wear a crown again. It will have control back again, as they say. That is true. However, the throne is a cracked and unstable chair, rather a piece for the museum, standing remarkably close to the gates of a much grander castle called Europe. Previously, the UK had helped build this castle, but no more. In Brexit Britain and under a No Deal, we will wear a paper crown as we wave hello to our old friends from the US, India, or Africa, that will flood to our castle gates. But the UK will not be their destination. They will be en-route to Europe.
Johnson dictates for a new era where the British people live poorer and with less freedom and less choice as they go about their lives. They talk about winning the sovereignty of the UK, but what happened to the sovereignty of the people? We don’t have it. We have no proportional representation, we are lacking effective devolution, and we have tribal party politics, personality cults and a lot of old men shouting at each other in an old building on the island that is London, far away from where politics needs to implement the change. This doesn’t sound like sovereignty to me.
The political establishment lost the people; they are assets on balance sheets, without dignity, without care, without hope.
The people of the UK, their families, their businesses, must not lose out to Brexit: open doors and open opportunities in our continental neighbourhood are vital. Was 52% a strong enough mandate to pull 100% of the people 100% away from this neighbourhood? Mathematically this is a majority, but it is a majority of the people who voted not a majority of the people and Britain is more than numbers and figures. It’s not just Yes or No. Britain is diverse and is proud of that, too. We are champions of debate and compromise. No Deal is no compromise.
In the end, we need to draw a new future for the UK and all of its people. Of course, you cry, everybody talks about it. The Government is talking about it, but it still can’t open or even find the next door to replace EU membership. You can argue that we have seen some political change; the Government under the rule of the Conservative Party did a remarkable job breaking their ancient values by introducing the most Socialist manifesto the UK has ever seen. But this only proves that political pragmatism, not political idealism, is leading the way. However, we need a new political product that suits the citizens, not the establishment.
But why is Europe really important for the UK, you may ask yourself? I think the British people are not wrong with their concerns about uncontrolled immigration, security threats, the uncontrollable Commission and missing links between fiscal and monetary policies; the EU gives you a headache rather than a solution. The EU has plans for reform but will it be able to adapt to global challenges? The UK is experienced in tactfulness and finesse and knows how to play a significant role on the global stage. To a level with the USA, China, and India, too.
Nevertheless, the strengths of the UK will be amplified with the help of close relationships with other countries. With Europe, the UK can set improved standards for defence, foreign affairs, green energy, and trade, all of which must be reformed in the EU. Economic freedom can be developed when the UK works with Europe and especially under the Single Market, Thatcher’s legacy to the EU. Does the UK want to leave it to a Franco-German playgroup, which fails to realise the potential of a liberal single market that benefits all market players? A competitive market that really benefits everyone from the grain farmers of Bulgaria to the pub landlord of Anglesea. Over-regulation and complicated bureaucracy can be shown the door, but only with a pragmatic Britain at the helm.
Of course, a future deal with the EU must ensure that the UK can be a global political trend setter. If Europeans want Britain to enter the European castle again and play a part in it, then there have to be special arrangements in regard to currency, social security and taxation that will guarantee the social and moral principles of the British people.
The Brexit debate has brought back the dead: we are reminded with Churchill’s rhetoric when fighting Nazi Germany, leading the UK to glory and unforgettable victory. The EU is a by-product of this victory. The UK helped to build the EU, but Churchill himself was hesitant to further integrate with the Europe that he helped to keep alive. Does that make him a great, modern European? Many would say not. But with all respect, he was certainly a great warrior, and the one Europe needed in its darkest hours. After ‘45, there was no war anymore. Reason took over, however nobody other than Margaret Thatcher moved ahead with the proposal for the Single Market to further shape the European Project. The seeds for two main aspects of the EU, peace and economic power, were planted by Brits.
So, what happened to the reason and courage that characterised Churchill’s and Thatcher’s politics in the fight for a strong and stable European continent when it was needed the most? When we want to play our role at the helm again and help others with good old British pragmatism, we need to implement reforms that solve the people’s frustration. We must address the lack of participation and fight against populism. However, these reforms must happen here first. Firstly, we need to fix the UK, then we can talk about Europe. Do you remember the lady in Ordsall that voted for me? She was interested in why I campaigned, not Europe.
It doesn’t matter how you do it
Thatcher said: “to be free is better than to be unfree – always. Any politician who suggests the opposite should be treated as suspect”. In a way she is addressing the untransparent, unaccountable EU. But what she forgot was the will of the people of Britain. Brexit is pushing Scotland and Wales into a position where political change threatens the United Kingdom as we know it. Don’t forget too that England does not even have its own parliamentary representation. It does not have a voice like the other British nations have. If the British people are so proud of their political pragmatism when it comes to foreign affairs, then the pragmatism in its internal affairs must feel like loss of freedom. So much about sovereignty.
We need to enable citizen power, working locally as neighbours for neighbours, just like I did in Ordsall. As I mentioned before, democracy is a marketplace, a living process, not a single event. A new political product, which includes electoral reform and empowered communities, and will put tolerance and pragmatism over tribal loyalty and faith. It works, the woman in Ordsall is proof of that.
How do we move on with Europe then? Firstly, do not take anything for granted. Britain has been and will probably always be special in Europe. When politicians in the coming months look to preserve Europe’s most valuable aspects, they must remember the British art of making deals again. We need a deal that gives everybody the chance to reach their full potential and ensure the people’s sovereignty is not blocked by politicians more interested in satisfying their own interests.
This brings me back to the British Dream of Europe: Do you remember the song by Madness, “Our House”? The lyrics include the following: “I remember way back then when everything was true and when | We would have such a very good time, such a fine time | Such a happy time | And I remember how we’d play, simply waste the day away | Then we’d say nothing would come between us | Two dreamers”.
Where have those dreamers gone? Johnson can’t open the door that provides hope and a prosperous future. He closed all the doors. No more dreams. But the UK dreams to play a global role. Britain is full of nostalgia for the good old days, “when everything was true”. we must reflect, be honest to ourselves and admit that the EU is also our legacy and whatever it will be able to achieve, it will be thanks to a lot of input from Britain. We must understand that Europe is not only a German or French house; it is also a British house. From a British point of view, our European House is broken and needs to be fixed. But first, we need to take care of ourselves. So let’s not let anything “come in between us, two dreamers”, leavers and remainers let’s make things happen. Let’s fix the UK.
Create an electoral platform for change.
While the opposition works in the parliament, keeping Boris in check, we must seed a new political community to campaign for change. If you want to self-realise your political goals, want to join a movement that stands for change and are not happy with the other parties, then let’s join together and create a new political platform. I am sharing my story to give you a vision for Britain’s role in Europe. For your role in “Our House”. However, two dreamers are not enough. I invite you to be the change you wish to see in the UK. Together, we can create something new and special. You can do it, because you are “not one of them”.
Britain saved the European continent in two World Wars. But there is a new war, a new crisis. It’s a crisis of identification and vision. We forgot what it means to be British: We used to be the guardians for peace and economic prosperity in Europe. The populists pull us back into the past but we have been there before, when we were blind to foresee the future and what is best for us. But we are lucky. We can learn from the past, we can advance. So, I ask you: Do we want to take the same path again?
Who do you want to be in this new, global world: A leader?
Tom Meek, Renew’s lead for Policy and Strategy, finds common cause with John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge’s new book
You can’t say we haven’t been warned. John Micklethwait, previously editor at The Economist and now Editor-in-Chief at Bloomberg News, and Adrian Wooldridge, the Bagehot columnist at The Economist, have written a new book: The Wake Up Call. Why the pandemic has exposed the weakness of the West – and how to fix it. For a very accessible overview and discussion of some of the implications, read this interview that John Micklethwait gave to Alain Elkann on 6 September.
In this latest offering, the authors pick up the challenge they outlined in a previous book – The Fourth Revolution. The global race to reinvent the state (2015). As veteran observers of the workings and politics of Western states they have long seen the cracks: a persistent lack of trust in politicians, an apparent inability to deliver real reform or large projects, and resignation among voters that they can effect change through the ballot box. The Wake Up Call turns that polite exposition into an urgent shout. They argue that respective reactions to the pandemic have shown up all too clearly how the West is now far behind the East in terms of efficiency and capacity. And this is not at all an argument for centralised control and complete disregard for personal and property rights. Quite the opposite. Pointing out that efficiency, capability and capacity of states have very little indeed to do with levels of liberty guards against Western states seeking to use that excuse.
So what is the real reason for the West having fallen behind in this way? Micklethwait and Wooldridge pull no punches in answering this: the West’s weakness stems ultimately from the people running Western states. And this is certainly the case here in the UK. The brightest now tend to avoid joining the civil service or government. The UK state has taken on more and more over the past 70 years but has not kept pace with technological progress. So the state is overloaded and is not drawing on creators and innovators to help improve efficiency, capacity and capability.
At Renew we would go further than examining the quality of the people running the UK. Behind that, and the issue we are setting out to tackle, is the political culture in the UK. We get the people we get in government because of the way our political system works. Patronage and top-down, centrally-driven parties create toxic environments for anyone wanting to offer themselves up for public service as an MP or in government. And the treatment of the civil service by politicians is enough to put anyone off joining, before you mention the pay. (As an ex-civil servant myself, I feel pretty sure that many still serving endorse this infamous Tweet.)
So fixing the UK state requires fixing our political culture first: opening our politics up, changing where power lies and who controls it – giving it back to voters and even to the MPs themselves – and making every vote count. If we are successful in this we will be well placed to reinvent the wider apparatus of government and turn our attention to working with people to deliver what they need where and when they need it.
We have heard The Wake Up Call loud and clear and we are already taking steps to respond. Will you join us?
With people continuing to be targeted by tax avoidance scheme promoters who have played a part in condemning up to 100,000 people to the nightmare of the Loan Charge, Renew’s business spokesperson Gary Burke, says it is time the government got tough.
With the Finance Act 2020 receiving Royal Ascent in July 2020, the hopes of up to 100,000 people who are subject to the draconian Loan Charge legislation (which retrospectively changes how tax law is applied in the UK) were shattered.
In its original guise the draft Loan Charge legislation allowed HMRC to look-back to 1999 and re-assess how much tax thousands of individuals needed to pay; individuals who used legally promoted tax schemes that HMRC were fully aware of, and who submitted their annual tax returns in full accordance with prevailing requirements i.e. everything was above board and legal.
After almost universal criticism of the Loan Charge legislation, including an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) consisting of more than 230 MPs from all parties, the House of Lords as well as tax and accountancy bodies, an independent review conducted by Sir Amyas Morse was undertaken. This concluded in December 2019 and it made various recommendations to the draft legislation; one of which was to limit the ‘look-back’ period to start from December 2010 when it was asserted that the law became clear.
Ignoring the issues that have subsequently surfaced regarding how independent the review was, it is the ‘law was clear’ point that is deeply contentious.
Many tax experts, including Phil Manley, a former tax inspector who led HMRC’s technical response team for Accelerated Payment Notices, argue that the law was not clear until 2017. This view is further reinforced by changes that were made to legislation over the following years, and court cases that HMRC continued to lose.
The Morse review also found more than 65,000 instances of scheme usage occurred between April 2011 and March 2016; not a great endorsement for a supposedly clear law.
However, the assertion that the law was clear may soon be tested in court as Mr. Manley is leading a challenge on this point, with funding currently being raised through his campaign website https://www.loanchargelegal.com.
A further recommendation from the Morse review, and one long overdue, was that the role of scheme promoters should be looked at. As a result, in August 2020, the government launched two new consultations to deal with tax avoidance:
- Tackling promoters of tax avoidance
- Call for evidence: Tackling Disguised Remuneration tax avoidance
The first of these consultations includes considering how to deter taxpayers from taking up such schemes. The second consultation seeks to understand, amongst other things, what drives the continuing use of these tax avoidance schemes.
Between April 2019 and May 2020, HMRC themselves have identified more than 45 schemes being marketed and aimed at individuals, designed to avoid tax on employment income. As is stands, some 20,000 former NHS staff have returned to the NHS to help with the Covid19 pandemic and HMRC has confirmed that unscrupulous promoters are targeting those returning workers with cold calls and emails to try to persuade them to use tax avoidance schemes.
Renew’s message to the Government is very clear:
- Regarding the Loan Charge, HMRC need to recognise that the individuals subject to the Loan Charge were following the rules and the law at the time, and do not deserve to be punitively victimised
- Regarding the tax avoidance scheme promoters (and the still legal promotion of these), MAKE IT ILLEGAL! and, when promoters are caught, impose very heavy fines and prison sentences; and, if you won’t do that then please explain why not!
Renew's David Britten discusses how the exams fiasco this year shows why we need political reform
Turn your mind back to March when we were in deep lockdown. I was talking to my son and he was concerned that he had his A levels coming up and did not know if he would be able to physically sit his exams or if they would be on line or even what he would do next year and his plans for university were just a dream. An article in the Guardian on March 15th was even advising the Government that they should cancel the school year for those students taking GCSE’s and A levels, and they would restart their final year in September 2020. You can imagine his response to a 3 year A level course.
So the Government closed schools on the 18th March, and all exams were cancelled. In his statement the Prime Minister said “I understand their frustrations, we will make sure their progress isn’t impeded and that in time they will get the qualifications needed”. He was advised that he would get his grades based on teachers adjustments. Basically teachers would be asked to give each student a grade, and within that grade rank the students.Ofqual would check to make sure there was no overinflation by schools. Simple and straightforward, and my son was told by his teachers he would have his predicted grades. No mention of algorithms.
Roll on early August, he had been contacted by his university, and his halls have been confirmed. With results day on the 13th August, I felt a slight apprehension with this Government, but surely even this Government after Covid 19, Brexit and numerous other mistakes that have made would not mess up these exams results. I was wrong. Having been involved with Renew since we started, seen up close how this Government, and previous Tory Governments works, I was concerned. The sensible and experienced Conservative politicians like Damian Hinds and Justine Greening (previous education secretaries) had been forced not to stand for reelection as they refused to back Boris Johnson and his disastrous ‘Get Brexit Done’. They had been replaced by Williamson and Gillian Keegan (No 2 at Department of Education) - Gillian Keegan was on holiday in the French Alps tweeting about her holiday on the day of publication of the A level results, you could not make this up.
Having some experience in the ‘algorithm’ world after working in tech start ups for the last 10 years, we would test a new algorithm to see the results and if we could create anomalies. It seemed Williamson aka Cummings didn't even do that, as they would have immediately seen the results and broken the algorithm- an exceptional student in a year group whose expected grades would outperform previous years results, and from an inner metropolitan borough with a high class size would, with the algorithm,have their grades downgraded. The student who attends a high performing school, with small class sizes would have their grades maintained if not upgraded.With competition so intense to be accepted into the top universities, a downgrade from A to B would mean instant rejection.
To allow the results day to go ahead was a dereliction of duty by Williamson, when he knew of the disaster looming. 500,000 students would receive A level results, and saying each child has 1.5 parents who are involved in their education, you have 1,250,000 people of voting age who would be furious by this mismanagement of the A level results. It just shows the arrogance of a party run by Cummings with a majority of 80 seats- they don’t care about public opinion. Fortunately after pressure from public opinion there was another U turn and the predicted grades, or the algorithm grade- whichever was greater- was awarded. It was a disgrace to see the Liberal Democrats silent on this issue.
But we can do something about this. We need to reform the Political system and you can only do that from within. If you are a student contact Alex Gunter firstname.lastname@example.org who is heading our drive to sign up students and young people so Renew can become politically active on campuses. If you are a parent and you are outraged by how your children have been treated contact us email@example.com and help us ensure this never happens again. I was so outraged by the fiasco, I have started a petition for the government to release the working of the algorithm- my petition passed the first hurdle but is now waiting review which due to Covid could take 14 days before I can launch a full petition- again a Cummings ploy to take the steam out of the situation and stop democracy working.
If you follow the political pundits, it appears Williamson offered his resignation but Johnson/Cummings refused to accept it. How can Williamson leave and not Cummings after the Barnard Castle arrogance. Williamson will be moved sidewards or downwards in the Autumn reshuffle- betting companies are refusing to take bets on the Williamson demotion. But it does appear that some people have a conscience as Sally Collier, chief regulator of Ofqual, has fallen on her sword and resigned.
So please do something, exercise your responsibility and make a stand against how the 2020 Students were treated. Sign up for the newsletter, join as a member or if you are a student contact Alex. And if you can sign my petition I would be most grateful!
Renew's European Co-ordinator Terry Knott on the reality of Brits living in the EU27.
It’s not generally known that there are some 1.3 million (upper estimate 2.1 million) British passport holders in the other (currently) 27 countries, of the EU. The majority are based, inevitably, in the four big nations: Germany, France, Spain and Italy, but there are still lots elsewhere.
These Brits are often referred to as 'ex-pats', abbreviated from the Latin, ex-patria or out-of-country. This term is technically correct, but misleading, as it conjures up a mental picture of our slightly chubby, slightly balding chaps with hankies on heads, sitting in deckchairs, with a six-pack of beers nearby! Or even worse, the tattooed, frequently drunk, topless and/or mini-dress clad louts and loutesses, on the beaches and bars of Europe.
The reality of Brits abroad is very different. The UK Dept for Work & Pensions records that some 80% are in fact working, studying, researching and exploring other countries and their respective cultures, while enjoying differing climates and scenery. The rest (around 20%) are mainly retired. In doing so, a very large percentage are paying U.K. tax, either on salaries, or pensions, as well as tax in their country of domicile. Those working are often at the sharp end of British marketing and sales, usually earning revenue for the U.K.
As Brexit looms (there, I’ve mentioned the B word), it’s worth pointing out that there are tax reciprocal agreements between most EU nations and the U.K. One must hope this will hold true, after Brexit; but don’t bank on it.
Apart from the ‘hard’ aspects of living in the EU, the Brits abroad are also ambassadors among locals, with most taking a part in local communities and learning local languages, although ironically it’s usually those who voted Remain; while Leavers often insist on speaking English, speaking slowly, in loud voices, as if still running a British empire.
Talking of Empire, Brits abroad do in fact have the advantage of history. In spite of a slightly sniffy attitude in Paris*, to spoken English, I have found a touching regard for our language in many EU countries, (including, speaking personally, Germany, France, Spain, Holland, Scandinavia and Italy). English is still the most widely used second language across the world. Allied to this, there is also a sneaking admiration for our military and economic history, while (thanks to Brexit throwing the issue into relief) there is increasingly incredulous regard for the appalling mess that the current Tory Government is making of Brexit: derision and sympathy, in each parts, but still a long term affection.
To integrate in France, I spend about four hours a week learning French and using it in shops, garages and soon helping my daughter to refurbish a local house. Recently I organised 140 French & Brits in a local Boules competition - good fun! I also speak some Spanish and, since I’m married to a Norwegian, I also speak other Scandi languages. I do my best to portray the ‘Best of British’ to my local neighbours, in inverse proportion to the bad manners of our U.K. politicians and the vituperation of most of our U.K. press.
Finally, a word on the rights of Brits abroad to vote in U.K. elections. In spite of three successive Tory Manifestos, promising to rescind the so-called 15 year rule, the Tories have failed to do so; and in fact ‘talked it out’, after the relevant Bill’s Second Reading, in the House of Commons. This legal device prevents U.K. passport holders, who have lived more than 15 years outside the U.K. from voting in U.K. elections; this in spite of continuing to pay taxes in the U.K. Post-Brexit, Brits abroad will also lose their local election vote in their host country; although there is an ECJ legal challenge to allow Brits to retain European Citizenship (status to be clarified).
It is alleged the 15 Year Bill was blocked, by the Tories, who believed (with some justification), that Brits abroad would vote lock, stock and barrel, to block Brexit and its ensuing chaos and reduction in Freedom of Movement. But let us recall, that the English lost the American Colonies, under the battle cry of 'No Taxation, without Representation'!
The new, energetic U.K. Renew Party (www.renewparty.org.uk) is a leader in the UK-wide European movement, which includes helping represent Brits abroad and also reversing the adverse, downstream effects of Brexit, such efforts to be stepped up, as the U.K. moves towards another government election, in 4 years time; but also upcoming elections in Scotland & London. The Renew Party seeks to pursue a fair, honest set of policies, to counter the more extreme swing in politics, that we have seen from both Hard Right and Hard Left, in recent years.
Summary. A considerable number of Brits live and work abroad, estimated at 1.3 to 2.1 million, on the U.K. government’s own figures. Most of these pay some taxes in the U.K. Some 80% of Brits in the EU are working, studying or researching, with an appreciable income stream, to the U.K. Yet those having lived in the EU, for more than 15 years are currently barred from voting in U.K. elections and referenda. There are ongoing efforts to overturn this unfair & unjust situation, including support from the U.K. Renew Party.
European Coordinator, U.K. Renew Party
* For Parisiennes, secure in their superiority, it must be said that most French, outside Paris, regard Parisiennes as étrangers (foreigners)!
With debate around the influence and role of social media raging, Renew’s Technology Spokesperson, Dan James, tells us why he thinks it should receive an ASBO.
“Last week, I lost a friend to Facebook,” said Dan. “She was someone I’d lived with for several years and was always “open minded” to new ideas in a way that was great to see. Unfortunately, however, it also made her susceptible to misinformation. Sadly, I had seen it coming for some time. It started with ultra-right-wing articles making semi-sensible points in a deliberately flammable way castigating “leftist hypocrisy” and the like. Then it was defending the free-speech rights of conspiracy theorists who’d had their Facebook or Twitter accounts revoked; eventually this moved on to a few of the conspiracy theories themselves. Last week, she posted a meme about COVID-19 and when I responded to it with evidence and rational argument, she replied it was all fake because it came from the mainstream media and that she was a “COVID denier and wasn’t going to hide it”.
“The power and scope of these companies and their platforms is well known, but hard to overstate. With billions of users and integrations with sites and apps in every walk of life, Facebook and Twitter have made billions around the world by gathering and selling users’ data. And they often seem to be beyond the control of governments to regulate. When Facebook was fined five billion dollars over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, their stock actually rose because, despite it being the largest fine levied on a tech company, it was basically a slap on the wrist.
“In the 16 years since Facebook was created it has grown massively, now claiming a third of the world’s citizens (2.5 billion in total) as users. It has a market cap of over $700 billion and gobbles up companies left and right, including Instagram and WhatsApp. Twitter, though smaller (300 million users and $28B market cap) has equally shown itself to have an outsized influence on public discourse and the way people interact.
“The influence of these companies on world affairs has been both profound and terrifying. Twitter is believed to have helped Donald Trump win the 2016 Presidential election, ushering in arguably the most destructive administration that country has ever seen. Evidence suggests that Cambridge Analytica and Facebook helped both the Trump election and Brexit, helping to embolden and give voice to hate speech and nationalism on a scale not seen for decades. These platforms are accused of being used to spread terrorist propaganda and to organise the genocide of the Rohingya people. Local examples of literal witch hunts, attacks on LGBT+ people and ethnic minorities aren’t hard to find.
“And then we get to the fake news. The conspiracy theories. The disinformation. The mire in which my friend has become trapped. From racist and xenophobic rumours to claims that 5G spreads COVID or that masks don’t do anything, Facebook and Twitter have opened a Pandora’s Box of modern terrors. Gone is the day when people would turn to NGOs, scientific and medical experts and well-researched sources for their information. In their place stand innumerable groups dedicated to lies about vaccines, flat-earth true-believers and neighbourhood groups that churn up a distrust of authority in all its forms and a miasma of provably false and often very dangerous “information”. People believe them because social media has created such an echo chamber that we are inundated by opinions that echo our own and some can be easily drawn to more and more extreme views. The nature of these companies’ algorithms also contributes, suggesting viral content and more-extreme views as a user becomes embedded.
“Is there anything that can be done? It’s difficult to say and it may already be too late. As mentioned previously, the American government’s largest-ever fine was a drop in the ocean for Facebook and didn’t slow them down for an instant. Users may cry foul and protest, but ultimately, Facebook has apologised for transgressions in the past, then immediately gone back to committing them and usage never meaningfully drops, so that is unlikely to have little effect. Alternatives may pop up to try and challenge these Goliaths of the tech sector, but they are either flattened by the might of the giants or bought up outright. Facebook has become so ingrained in our lives that it is a genuine challenge for many to do away with it entirely and Twitter has become so entrenched in politics and news that any mass movement away seems unlikely.
“Right now, the best hope is to hit these companies where it hurts them the most: advertising revenue. A number of large companies have banded together to “hit pause on hate”, agreeing to boycott any advertising on Facebook until it can better police and moderate its content (a daunting task, but not one that should be insurmountable for a company with access to some of the smartest and best-funded data and computer scientists in the world). Facebook is ultimately driven by advertising revenue more than anything else, and if that starts to slide, investors may change their tune. The risk is that those companies may lose their resolve if not advertising on Facebook affects their bottom line or allows competitors to gain an edge.
“At Renew, we applaud these companies for taking this step to try and reign in the hateful and dangerous content that has become so pervasive. We will do our (small part) for the cause by committing to not buying any ad space on Facebook for the rest of August. We would encourage all the companies in this campaign to hold their resolve and avoid fuelling hate speech online through Facebook and would encourage all other companies advertising on Facebook to do the same. We would encourage all our followers to consider whether a supplier they choose to buy from supports this campaign when making spending decisions.
“At this point, it’s hard to see whether there’s any light at the end of the tunnel we’ve gotten ourselves stuck in. Social media has become toxic and corrosive, challenging the very core of liberal democratic ideals and causing tangible, real-world harm to many of the most vulnerable in our society. This situation is untenable and is causing damage to our lives and our society. Social media deserves an ASBO and must clean up its act. And personally, I want to see my friend pulled back from that conspiracy-theory abyss.”
Renew’s Education spokesperson, June Davies, said: “Firstly the government sticks young people with grades geared towards keeping them in their socio-economic box, then the appeals process is so confusing and time consuming it is unlikely to provide students with any clarity on their University places. As usual an example from the Conservatives on how to make a drama out of a crisis. A shambolic, chaotic, arrogant approach to the futures of millions of young people, which highlights that our government is totally lacking in understanding about what matters to real people. It is so unfair that our young people are having to go through this stress and confusion, especially at a time when people are already concerned enough about their future prospects. Renew calls on the government to end this nightmare now – give students the grades their teachers believed they deserved in A Level Results and GCSE results. Renew also calls for an independent enquiry into this mess, which started with Gove scrapping AS levels. Universities, teachers, parents and pupils have lost confidence in the system and we need to reform it asap.”
In a new feature, this week we will be looking at the human side of international politics.
This week we speak to a Brit living in Holland, and a Nederlander living in the UK.
1) When did you settle in the Netherlands/UK, why, and how easy was it?
2001. I had studied in Amsterdam for the 1999-2000 academic year, and after graduating from Durham I was determined to return to the Dutch capital.
At the time it was no more difficult than traveling to Amsterdam and moving in with my then girlfriend. Apart from getting a tax number at the tax office I don't think I properly registered until I bought a flat in 2010. Of course since Brexit I have applied for permanent residency, but nothing like that had been necessary before.
I came to London in 2006. Arrived at Gatwick, took a train into Victoria to see the city I was going to call home for the foreseeable future, and remember thinking ‘What have I done?!’ when passing some of the more deprived parts of London. Parts that are now undoubtedly unaffordable. I got to Victoria Station armed with an Oyster Card given to me by someone who had lived here and was going to pretend I’d lived here for yonks. I was going to navigate the Tube like a local.
It turns out the card had been disabled, the Oyster gates to the city wouldn’t open for me and the accent of the TfL chap was undecipherable. I was not yet accustomed to the many accents that make London so cosmopolitan.
I chose London in search of a bigger city after Amsterdam had gotten too small for me. I remember that I found the first year quite challenging. The city was considerably bigger alright, with all the perks that come with it, but the downsides were considerable too. Everything is at least 45 minutes away, most things are quite expensive or otherwise complex to obtain. The hoops to jump through were Kafkaesque (How to open a bank account without a proof of address? How to sign up for a utility without a bank account?). That first year the city was a living organism trying to make life as difficult as possible.
2) Will the UK's departure from the EU affect you in any practical ways?
I have taken several Dutch language exams to qualify for (non-EU) permanent residency and eligibility to apply for Dutch nationality. One of the many things I have learned from Brexit is that I really need to vote somewhere, preferably where I live. As The Netherlands generally disallows dual nationality, becoming Dutch would mean renouncing my UK nationality. With every day of Boris Johnson's 'government' such a step becomes more attractive, but the 500 pound fee is rather irritating, especially as it was 50 quid until shortly after the referendum. It's almost as if someone wanted to make a bit of cash out of people having to take such a drastic step.
My partner and child are Dutch nationals, so obviously I have to accept the fact that moving with them to my home country is going to be very difficult from now on.
As a freelancer with UK nationality I do also have concerns as to whether I can work for clients outside the Netherlands after the transition period ends. Also, if I apply for jobs, will employers look at my nationality and assume hiring me will involve cumbersome administration?
It already has. I run a number of businesses, one of which we deliberately headquartered in the Netherlands so it would remain in the EU. It has added quite a few uncertainties and administrative headaches, though.
Brexit has also created new business for me. I used to advise foreign companies that were interested in coming to the UK. Usually either American companies wanting to come to Europe and who thought the UK was a good bridgehead (thinking that the British are just Americans with funny accents, they find out soon enough) or startups from the Continent who saw the UK as a first step towards the American market. That flow has largely vanished so I now help Dutch businesses wishing to come to the UK despite Brexit or, sometimes, UK companies that want to have an EU foothold in the Netherlands because of Brexit.
I was also asked to become a regular Brexit columnist for Dutch business publication De Ondernemer where I now help Dutch SMEs make sense of what on earth is happening in the UK.
Compared to my British friends I am less impacted by Brexit, fortunately. I have Settled Status in the UK but I obviously kept my EU Citizenship so I still have Freedom of Movement in 30 odd countries. If I ever tire of London I can move to Berlin or retire in Lisbon. Some of my friends are less fortunate.
3) How is life different now?
People generally just laugh about how silly 'we' are and how incompetent and ridiculous Boris Johnson is. I fear that a no deal outcome will damage the Dutch economy and lead to an anti-British mood.
I don’t feel that I am perceived differently since the referendum but I suppose that is partly because I live in London and not in Lincoln. I can also, inexplicably, sound like an English public schoolboy so if anyone dislikes me it’s usually for that, not for being foreign.
What I have noticed, though, is that London seems to have lost some of its shine since the referendum. So many friends and ex-colleagues have left London for Berlin, Barcelona or Copenhagen. I wonder how that will pan out over the next few years.
4) If you had known then what you know now, would you have done anything differently, or prepared better?
I should have taken permanent residency and done the exams prior to the referendum. The result would have been less unsettling. My daughter was born in January 2018 and I did worry a lot about possibly being separated from her.
Like so many I underestimated the sentiment and the lack of knowledge about the EU among many Brits. Going back I would have wanted to educate people about the EU years before the referendum.
That said, I studied Political Science while living in one of the founding members of the European Union and during the signing of the Treaty of Amsterdam, and I have learned more about the EU in the last four years than in the last twenty-five.
You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone so educating people about what the EU actually is would have been a lot harder in, let’s say, 2015 than it was after the referendum.
5) What have you learned from your new home (and what have you taught it)?
I have learned that Amsterdam is very different to small-town Netherlands, which is generally very conservative. The Dutch equivalents of our very own populists are working hard to exploit these differences to create a culture war. EU membership isn't the main item on the radar at the moment (Muslim immigration and Zwarte Piet are more popular) but that can always change.
There is a process that I assume many newcomers to a country go through, I certainly did. The first year was full of ‘This is stupid, why don’t they just do this like we do it in the Netherlands?’. This was followed by probably two years of ‘This is quite a good way to approach this, why don’t they just do it like this in the Netherlands?’. After that you enter a phase where you see the flaws in both, and try to fix both. I have learned more about the good and the bad of the Netherlands in the fifteen years that I lived in London than I did in the thirty years I’ve lived in the Netherlands haha! I can certainly recommend leaving your country of birth for a while to better understand it.
As for teaching the Brits, I am still on the virtual barricades. Whether that’s linguistically (when you live in Great Britain you can’t go on holiday to Europe, you’re already in Europe) or politically (a parliament that doesn’t control its own agenda? Interesting). I am not holding my breath, though.
6) What are the greatest challenges now facing the EU and the UK?
Protecting our democracies from lies and misinformation that targets people on social media. The threats of populism and nationalism are ones I fear we will succumb to if we don't.
I think the UK needs to find its feet again, and that won’t be easy. A lot has been upended in the UK, economically and socially. The dust (and polarisation) needs to settle a bit and then comes the long hard slog of slowly re-aligning on a case by case basis. Over the next decade I expect the UK to sign up to Erasmus and Horizon again, Europol eventually and, who knows, back in the Single Market at some point?
The EU will need to learn to trust the UK again. As the Dutch say ‘Trust comes on foot but leaves on a horse’ so that will take some time.
7) Cheddar or Gouda?
I'm a vegan. I don't eat cheese. I have noticed that veganism seems to really wind Leave voters up. Why?
Gouda, because I really don’t get Cheddar. You can wake me up for Stilton or Wensleydale though!
8a) Which Brexiter would you most like to debate?
I'd love to ask Michael Gove if he was 'ignorant or just lying' when he promised a British lady living in France that EU based Brits were protected by 'all sorts of treaties' and that a vote to leave the EU would have no effect whatsoever on our residency rights. He did this live on a TV debate for Sky News.
I'd then like to ask him if he is the same 'Michael Gove' who - 3 years later - advised Brits living in the EU to take the necessary steps to secure local residency as our rights would be removed when Britain leaves the EU and that there was nothing the UK Government could do to assist us.
8b) What’s the best thing about the United Kingdom?
The Arctic Monkeys. Or Radiohead.
Thanks for reading!
P.S. - if you find current UK politics dark and/or heavy, try Cavell's music.
The recent decision by the German government to replace its fighter fleet with Boeing’s F-18E signals a major transition for the UK’s aircraft industry. Renew’s defence spokesperson, David Gubbins, discusses the decision in this article.
“Way back before even I was born, the UK Government developed, flew and then cancelled the most technologically advanced military aircraft in the world, the TSR-2. The furore that erupted around that decision had far reaching effects, effects that are still felt today in the British aviation industry.
“The investment in TSR-2 wasn’t however entirely wasted. In a Britain that was, at that time, looking to Europe, the UK, Germany and Italy developed the Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA), later known as the Tornado. The Tornado took the best elements of TSR-2 and incorporated them into a smaller, less ambitious package, sharing the risk amongst European partners. The Tornado became the mainstay of the Royal Air Force for the next 30+ years. The Luftwaffe introduced the Tornado at about the same time, as did the Italians. The UK retired the Tornado recently and with the aircraft becoming ever more aged the Germans decided to replace its fleet of Tornadoes.
“The main contenders for the contract were Lockheed with its F-35 Lightning, Boeing with the F-18E and Eurofighter with the Typhoon. The F-35 was quickly discarded on cost grounds and the Typhoon looked the favourite given the German industrial input into the Eurofighter Project. However, the Eurofighter was never designed to carry nuclear weapons. British and NATO doctrine drove this design feature, requiring a nuclear armed aircraft to have a two-man crew. The Eurofighter is primarily a single seater and therefore the nuclear role was never included in the design.
“Back to the German procurement. As part of the German NATO commitment, the Luftwaffe still has a requirement for an aircraft capable of carrying the American B61 nuclear weapon in a two-seater aircraft. This may seem outdated in the 21st century but the requirement remains and there-in lies the German government’s dilemma.
“The two seat F-18E/F is an aircraft undoubtedly fit for purpose. But it will require considerable additional expense for the German government; training of crews and ground crews for a new aircraft type, procurement of the aircraft’s ground equipment and possible modification of existing infrastructure to accommodate the new aircraft. It all adds up and all without much benefit to the German industry.
“All this to accommodate a hopefully outdated NATO requirement.
“But there could be more to this than meets the eye. Eurofighter is a European project, involving the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain. With the UK turning its back on Europe, the country can no longer be relied upon to support the project. Indeed, the press in the UK are already understating the Eurofighter’s importance to the UK, and the Royal Air Force has a history of preferring American equipment to anything European built.
“Tornado and the Anglo-French Jaguar were both retired prematurely, also the Anglo-French Gazelle and Puma helicopter have been retired or are in the process of retirement. The future of our Royal Air Force looks bleak, it is becoming a subdivision, embedded into the American Air Force.
“Why should we care? Well for one thing British jobs are at stake, particularly technically challenging jobs as we move from being an airframe and systems provider, to a provider of rear fuselages and left wings for other manufacturers. Our brightest and best will have to move out of the UK to find challenging work. Our military posture and defence requirements will be set by other governments and potentially we could see the Parachute Regiment and the Marines being dissolved and consigned to history, as Mr Cummings has already suggested.
“The government has a solution to our aviation building problems, wouldn’t you know it! A plastic representation of a future aircraft known as Tempest was recently unveiled. The chances of it ever seeing service, however, must surely rely on our ability and experience in aircraft manufacture.
“Thankfully the cold war is over, the TSR-2 decision turned out to be a correct one and the UK no longer has the ability to air launch nuclear weapons. However, new asymmetric threats to our security abound and with an ever-shrinking defence budget do our security priorities for the future include a traditional force approach or do we now need to focus on the new and emerging electronic and cyber threats?”