It's easy to get lost in the madness of Brexit. Here's a Renew rundown of what's going on right now and what might happen next.
It’s Tuesday and things have already kicked off in the madhouse conventionally known as the House of Commons.
MPs Take Back Control
Another momentous day yesterday saw MPs seize control of Brexit proceedings, which it is hoped will help provide a sense of direction that the government has so far failed to deliver. Thirty Tory rebels, including Business Minister Richard Harrington, Health Minister Steve Brine and Foreign Minister Alastair Burt, voted against the government in another historic 27-vote commons defeat. The expectation is that this mutiny will mark the beginning of a bid by MPs to force the government to change course; expect panic in Downing Street.
The radical amendment put forward by former Tory Cabinet Minister-turned-backbencher Oliver Letwin takes control of the Commons order paper out of the hands of the government and into the gleeful hands of backbench MPs. The amendment - the likes of which has not been seen in living memory of the Commons - passed by 329 votes to 302, a wider margin than the whisker expected previously.
Harrington, one of three ministers to resign in support of the motion, published a scathing letter to the PM that accused the government of “playing roulette with the lives and livelihoods of the vast majority of people in this country.” Their departures brings the total number of ministerial resignations under May’s government to a frankly impressive 26.
Parliament plans on flexing its new-found muscle by holding a series of non-binding votes on Wednesday to test support for various different Brexit outcomes. Never before has a Prime Minister lost control of Parliamentary businesses in this way - but then again, we live in an age of firsts.
Intensive cross-party talks are taking place this morning as MPs deliberate on how tomorrow’s votes should actually work. The process is critical; given the relentlessness of the in-house squabble thus far, it is likely that there is no parliamentary majority for any possible Brexit outcome as things stand. If MPs were simply asked to ‘Aye’ or ‘No’ each proposal, there is every possibility that they would all be rejected, returning the house to square one. MPs are therefore keen to figure out an alternative that will lead to consensus. Mrs May’s de facto deputy David Lidington is understood to have floated the possibility of a different system he says would guarantee a result.
The plan is currently for MPs to put forward their own proposals, which will go to a vote at around 2pm on Wednesday. These are likely to include the Prime Minister's deal, no deal, a Canada-style free trade deal, a customs union/single market, Norway-plus and so on. Additional time is expected to be set aside on Monday to allow MPs to decide between the most popular options.
Cracking the whip
May once again faces a dilemma over whether to whip Wednesday’s votes. After losing three ministers after whipping against the Letwin amendment last night, it’s unlikely the PM would risk losing more by whipping MPs to back her deal in the upcoming indicative votes. After all, pro-remain ministers have been dropping like flies of late.
None of these votes is binding on the government and May has made clear her plans to ignore the will of Parliament if it contradicts the 2017 Tory manifesto, which promises that the UK will leave both the single market and customs union. But MPs are one step ahead - their plan is to set aside a third day (likely next Wednesday) to pass new laws that would force government to comply.
Will we get a final say?
Another one to watch is the People’s Vote. It seems that its supporters are concerned that their option would be defeated by a softer Brexit option were both to be tabled and so are keen for it to be recognised as a separate debate altogether. Prominent People’s Vote campaigners including Owen Smith and Justine Greening spoke last night about how a second referendum should be treated as unique among other options. It is still possible that whatever option parliament chooses will go to a public vote if campaigners get their way.
So, what’s the most likely outcome? As usual, goodness knows. But all eyes should be on the Commons over the next 48 hours while we await a decision.
On Saturday, 23rd March, Renew came out in force at the People's Vote March in London. Here's a very quick rundown of the day's events from James Dilley.
Arron Banks called us traitors. But all I saw on Saturday was hundreds of thousands of good people who quite like being in the EU.
To be fair to Arron, the rascals were everywhere you looked. Walking down from Hyde Park Corner, I was shocked to see a family of five tucking into some Pret a Manger sandwiches rather than the traditional Full English. Trundling along beside them were a group of snowflake metropolitan elite teenagers from Wales and some beret-wearing Eurocrats.
As the crowd grew larger, one could even hear the foulest of language. An elderly rebel next to me had the temerity to wave a Union Jack while crying “Bollocks to Brexit”. It was almost as if these people couldn’t see that they were all foreign agents funded by George Soros. Unbelievable!
In all seriousness, though, Saturday’s march felt like a real turning point in the horrible story of Brexit. Protest marches often have an undercurrent of political radicalism - an element of danger, if you like - but this one was different. Despite over a million people being present, there was never any sense that things were going to kick off like they sometimes do at protests.
This might be because the march really was a cross-section of British society; decent, reasonable and completely fed up with Brexit. Not only that, it was hopeful; there was a real sense that the madness can be stopped if the government as just prepared to listen.
And, brilliantly for Renew, loads of our supporters turned out to make their feelings very clear.
Saturday’s march showed the best of what this country can offer, with good-natured people who value tolerance and stability coming together in a very British display of unity. If nothing else, it at least proved that the beating heart of Britain in Europe has not stopped. Indeed, this could just be the start of its finest hour.
In this opinion piece, Gwen Jones explores how we can rethink inheritance tax for the future.
Not all taxes are created equal. Though few taxes can reasonably be described as popular, some are a great deal less popular than others. One that attracts more contempt than perhaps any other is inheritance tax, or ‘death duty’.
This hostility can be felt across the income spectrum. In fact, surveys suggest that opposition to the tax is strongest among lower income groups. And the proof is in the pudding; revenue from inheritance and estate taxes in OECD countries has fallen sharply as a share of government revenue since the 1960s. Even the notoriously egalitarian Sweden has taken the decision to abolish inheritance tax entirely.
Politicians generally know a vote winner when they see one and inheritance tax most certainly doesn’t qualify. It's no secret that politics usually trumps economics - just look at Brexit. It’s my feeling, though, that in the case of inheritance tax we should abandon attempts to appease a handful of voters if it constitutes bad economic policy. While the tax may not be popular, it is, on balance, fair.
I want to make a case for inheritance tax that I believe is both principled and pragmatic. While I’m aware this is unlikely to make me any friends, at a time where wealth inequality has risen to its highest level since the First World War, it is growing ever more important for us to have these conversations. In the UK, for example, the top 10% of households own 45% of all wealth. The bottom 50% own just 8.7%.
The gap between the rich and poor continues to swell. Although there are myriad reasons for this, the role that inheritance plays is growing. A report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) suggests that although more people stand to inherit than before, the vast majority of inheritance will go to the already wealthy. The wealthiest pensioners are already those who inherited most and the effect is getting more pronounced; around 90% of inherited wealth will go to just 50% of the next generation.
When asked, even the most right-wing of Tory MPs will tell you that society should guarantee all people an equal opportunity to succeed, regardless of who they are. In such a society, success is awarded based on talent and hard work, and it is this principle that generally shapes national policy on public service provision, income tax and human rights. When it comes to inheritance tax, though, it's a different story altogether.
Part of the problem with inheritance tax is that it pits two cherished liberal principles against each other. The first is an individual’s right to do as they please with the wealth they earn. The second is an appreciation for a meritocratic society that guarantees every individual with equal opportunity at birth. Inheritance prioritises the former; when large sums of wealth are passed down between generations, the recipient is given an advantage that is unearned and arguably unfair.
The UK system is already failing those born into underprivileged households, but inheritance in particular seems like an unequivocal violation of equality of opportunity. Inheritance tax is not a death duty; not even the most powerful Chancellor of the Exchequer could get a corpse to sign a cheque. Rather, it is a tax on the heir to their income, the recipient, the winner of the lottery of birth.
Another issue I have with the current system is the comparative burden it places on productive work. As a society, we ought to incentivise the things that we want. Something we most definitely want and urgently need more of is productivity. Currently, the majority of the country’s tax revenue is generated by income tax, despite the fact that the majority of recent wealth creation in the UK has resulted from asset inflation rather than wage growth. In today’s world, if you happen to be born into a low income household, the only way you can expect to narrow the gap between you and those at the top is through work. This work is heavily and consistently taxed throughout your lifetime. The wealth of the country’s mega-rich, on the other hand, does not derive from their income, but from the appreciation of their assets; their companies, real estate, and bonds. The current system allows these assets to go largely untaxed, providing they aren’t sold (so the majority aren’t).
Society cannot claim to value hard work and productivity when the balance is skewed so heavily in favour of owning assets. For decades, governments have claimed to support ‘ordinary working families’ - but given the current system, this is very hard to believe.
I’ve heard it argued that inheritance tax is inescapably unfair because it effectively involves taxing a person’s wealth twice; income is taxed during a lifetime and then again on death. But this line falls flat pretty quickly. For starters, it's not the benefactor who is taxed when their wealth is handed on. Again, in case you were wondering, taxing the dead is not an easy task. It is the recipient who shoulders the tax burden, not the deceased. Secondly, the very wealthy (those who, in theory, would be subject to the highest rates of inheritance tax) generally pay very little income tax anyway. As mentioned, the majority of wealth accumulated by such individuals does not derive from their salaries.
And whilst we’re talking about productivity, it’s worth mentioning that inheritance has been shown to reduce the productivity of those who receive it. America’s Syracuse University finds; ‘An inheritance received by a family reduces the probability that both spouses will continue to work, and increases the probability that both will retire.’ Even Barry Bracewell-Milnes, a well-renowned opponent of the tax, acknowledged that ‘Inheritance without taxation weakens the beneficiary’s incentive to work.’
Passing your assets on to your nearest and dearest is generally seen to be the most loving thing to do on your deathbed. But look at it another way - recipients of huge sums of inheritance are deprived of the opportunity to become self-made.
All of the above leads me to believe that the current system has reached its sell-by date. We should be looking to prevent the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few, and encouraging inclusive prosperity and growth. My proposals for reform are based on better incentivising the dispersal of the wealth accumulated over a person’s life when they die. Rather than passing on a lump sum to a favourite child, tax incentives should be used to encourage people to spread their wealth across children, grandchildren, friends, neighbours and charities. For example, by introducing a cap on the value of untaxed wealth that can be passed on to a single individual, as in France. After all, there is downward mobility in our society too, and by dispersing inheritance further afield, it is less likely to remain concentrated in the hands of a wealthy minority.
I can fully understand how a lack of trust in government can chip away at a person's willingness to give up their hard-won earnings to HMRC, and this is likely to be especially true in today’s chaotic political climate. The feeling of hostility towards tax stems in part from a lack of control over where revenue is spent, as well as a biting lack of confidence that it will be spent well. But the thing is, a high rate of inheritance tax doesn’t even have to generate much revenue in itself. A reluctance to pay is almost to be expected, but the hope is that a higher rate of inheritance tax encourages wealth to be used more productively. In a truly egalitarian society, inheritance would be taxed in its entirety back to the state. But in a liberal one, it is important to find a balance between levelling the playing field and maintaining a meaningful degree of personal autonomy.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I’m confident in my conviction that inheritance tax needs a rethink. The trend of rising wealth inequality looks set to continue unless we start introducing real policies to change it. This might mean making some uncomfortable choices, but avoiding the issue won’t provide a resolution.
Note; this article sparked some interesting debate amoung our ranks. Here is Mike Glover, chair of our economic affairs working group, with his take on Inheritance Tax.
I read the interesting piece by Gwen Jones entitles "Mum and Dad's Bank: All about Inheritance Tax". It is though provoking, but I believe there were some points that have not been included, and so the conclusion may be mis-leading.
The question of inheritance can be complex and often emotive. It must certainly be right that hard working people wish to pass on the fruits of their efforts to their nearest and dearest. It should be possible to do this without the recipients having to hand over a substantial proportion of those assets to the tax authorities. The current high rates of inheritance tax (40%) and the derisory tax free allowance (£325k) can be act as a disincentive and/or lead to the contracting of tax planning specialists, which render the collection of taxation voluntary.
There is therefore a breakdown in the principle of fairness. Surely, it must be preferable for taxes to eb actually collected, rather than avoided all together. The vast majority of people would, in my opinion, welcome a fairer rate of taxation on inheritance, so long of course as it is paid by all. How many would begrudge paying something in the range of 5-10%?
It is high time for an overhaul of this area of taxation. It must be made fairer, and in my view that should mean a lower rate of tax, and much wider enforcement.
Mike Glover, Renew Policy
In this opinion piece, we explore the shady financial activity surrounding the Brexit vote on the night of 23rd June, 2016.
“The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes”
True to form, Sherlock Holmes’s insight is every bit as fitting now as then. Today’s political landscape has been overwhelmed by a tidal wave of conflicting narratives desperately trying to explain the nation’s current predicament. In the few short years since the outcome of the referendum was first announced, we have been offered almost every possible interpretation; a populist uprising, a Russian conspiracy, a protest vote, an accident. In a world where everybody has an opinion, it is easy for the picture to become clouded and for palpable forces to be overlooked.
The fact is, complex events often have simple explanations and the Brexit scenario is no different. Whilst no one is suggesting that the entire saga can be reduced to a single incident, vested interests account for more of the picture than we are led to believe.
The night of June 23rd will be branded onto the collective national memory for decades to come. Voting closed at around 10 pm. Those who watched events unfold will remember the words ‘IN OR OUT’ projected over the top of a London building by Sky News after polling stations shut their doors. Britain had made up its mind and the world was watching.
Just minutes after counting began, broadcasts were interrupted by “breaking news”. Nigel Farage, the globally recognised face of the Leave campaign, had made an announcement to Sky News which sounded an awful lot like a concession. Farage’s face filled the screen, as his now-notorious statement was read out loud; “it’s been an extraordinary referendum campaign, turnout looks to be exceptionally high, and [it] looks like remain will edge it. UKIP and I are going nowhere and the party will only continue to grow stronger in future.”
His words were quickly affirmed by a second announcement that followed in short succession. Joe Twywan, head of political research at YouGov, went live on air with results collected from an exit poll conducted for Sky, which also put Remain narrowly in the lead. “We can now expect that the United Kingdom will remain a part of the European Union. […] based on the figures we’re seeing, based on the trends that have occurred, and based on historical precedent - we think that Remain are in the strongest position.” Just over an hour later, Farage was on air once more to confirm his earlier statement. With hours to go until results were announced, Brexit’s frontman had admitted defeat and his position had been backed by one of the UK’s most prestigious polling firms - Remain had it. The bookies agreed, offering 3/1 against Brexit.
The pound reacted. By 10.52pm, it’s value had rocketed to $1.50, its highest mark all year after tracking the polls for months. Investors pounced - in offices, boardrooms and on sofas across the globe, traders placed their bets, assuming safety in the knowledge that Remain would prevail, oblivious of the fact that they were being herded towards a cliff edge. Trillions of dollars in assets would be lost that night.
But the night of the 23rd was not everyone’s loss. Somewhere, tucked away in their nondescript London office buildings, a small group of people were watching with bated breath. Hedge funds were hoping to win big from Brexit and the stakes were exceptionally high. The funds were in prime position to cash in by short selling the British Pound, providing events went their way. In order to secure sure-fire trades, hedge funds needed insider knowledge the rest of the unsuspecting country didn’t have, from sources they could trust.
Hedge funds hired YouGov and several other polling agencies in the run-up to the vote. Their job was to provide a comprehensive analysis collected from opinion polls and private exit polls collected on the day of the referendum. These polls revealed, correctly, that the result was tipped towards Leave. This knowledge was being provided live as voting was still underway and hours before official counts began. UK law restricts such data from being released to the public before voting is closed. There is a legal grey area surrounding private sales, though clearly one which is easily excused - those behind such practices have as yet escaped unmarked.
Though details of the identity and number of hedge funds involved are unknown, estimates peg it at over a dozen.
As Twyman was live on air predicting a Remain victory on Sky, his colleagues at YouGov were simultaneously dishing out private exit polling data to a London hedge fund. The data matched Twyman’s proclamation, giving them a competitive edge for betting on the rise of the pound that would be triggered by his statements. The service cost the fund around $1 million, though yielded enormous returns, according to sources.
Someone with a lot left to answer for is Nigel Farage. Farage, an ex-commodities broker with many friends and allies in the city, has commanded much speculation for his remarks on the eve of the 23rd. According to a report conducted by Bloomberg, one private exit poll that appears to have attracted the most clients was conducted by Survation, owned by a close friend of Farage’s. The poll correctly predicted Leave and in an interview with Bloomberg, Farage admitted to learning of the results before giving at least one of his concession speeches that night. As a result, there is a good chance that Farage’s words were a deliberate bid to distort markets before the true result was revealed.
Farage himself has denied attempts at shorting the Pound and put his words down to a last-minute bout of nerves. The fact is though, speculating on Brexit has made at least one rich Brexiteer a good bit richer. Take the example of Crispin Odey, one of the Leave campaign’s largest donors. On hearing the result, Odey’s reaction was; “I feel fantastic. It’s a fantastic decision by the electorate.” It’s hardly surprising really, given that Odey made £220m overnight after betting against the Pound after moving 65% of his funds into gold in expectation. And just as he said at the time: “I think I may be the winner.”
The relationship between polling firms and hedge funds presents an undeniable threat to modern democracy, and their influence is immense. The information published by polling firms shifts public opinion and moves markets, whilst at the same time, private clients are making fortunes betting on the market movements sparked by public polls. Such practices allow a select group of people to use Brexit to swell their own wealth and power, whilst the rest of the nation scrambles to pick up the pieces. Infamous hedge-fund trader George Soros made a prediction in the early stages of the campaign, and he seems to have been proven right; “A vote for Brexit would make some people very rich – but most voters considerably poorer.”
In this opinion piece, Renew supporter Paul Gerken examines why Theresa May is scared of a People's Vote on Brexit.
A People’s Vote on the Brexit deal is still a longer shot than people think. Although the course of Brexit changes (dramatically) daily, May knows one thing for certain – a People’s Vote on her deal will destroy her and the Tories and they will do everything they can to avoid it.
To listen to the Tories is to believe they have a utilitarian connection with democracy. The argument is that we had one vote, and this vote must – above all signs pointing to national humiliation and economic destruction – be honoured. If we don’t honour it, we undermine the ‘Will of the People’, democratic faith will crumble and there will be riots on the streets (“Project Fear”, anyone?)
The fact that we find ourselves in a situation where the only way to ‘protect’ democracy is to refuse another vote should make us suspect that other motivations are in play.
So what is the reality?
Forget the notion that May cares about the democratic ‘Will of the People’. She cares only about the survival of the Tories.
Let’s look at what a People’s Vote would mean for the Tories.
Firstly, May knows her deal stinks and the public hate it. If her deal was polling above 50%, do you think she would have a problem taking it to the nation for their approval? Would she look at sky-high ratings and then refuse public ratification? Of course not - look at how she was seduced by a general election when her polling was through the roof.
But let’s say we were to begin a referendum campaign tomorrow, how could the Tories possibly sing from a unified hymn sheet? Half of her own party has voted down her deal in Parliament, so they couldn’t argue for it with any credibility. Tory divisions would be further exposed and the resulting infighting and arguing would push the boundaries of political discourse sanity, even against today’s already chaotic backdrop.
So, the deal wouldn’t get approval and it’s likely the country would choose to remain in the EU from the options provided. The fallout would inevitably mean the demise of May and the calling of a general election, but where do the Tories go from there? Outright civil war. UKIP candidates and voters have infiltrated the Tories since the Leave vote and they can only accept one way forward, which is continuing to push to leave the EU. However, the moderate and Europhile wing of the party can surely no longer accommodate them in the face of a public turning its back on this Brexit disaster. They will want to return quickly to reestablishing their image as the party of economic prudence and stability (long since crushed).
Inevitability, the Tories would split around the ERG led by Jacob Rees Mogg and a more moderate, centre-ground Tory party containing the likes of Hammond and Hunt. Whoever gets the leadership of the Tories next will decide whether the party can hold its ground in the centre or whether it will move permanently to the right, but the result will be a fatal fracturing of the party we see today. With their membership already dwindling, it could be the death knell for the modern Tory party, and both remnant parts of the Tories would be tarnished with the disaster they have caused over the past 3 years. After promising strength and stability, they brought the country to disorder and embarrassment like no government has ever managed before.
The Tories may like to embellish the notion of riots on the streets if we have another vote, but we don’t have each other to fear. I don’t believe the British people would riot over a fair election where the choice of our country was put in our hands, just like there was no rioting after the first referendum. They are, instead, playing the nastiest Project Fear game with us; convincing the people that the house will burn down, when in fact it will just be the Tories.
Join the People’s Vote March on the 23rd to show the government that you deserve to be heard.
Ever wanted to take a tour through the weird town of Brexitville? Well now's your chance...
Welcome, welcome one and all! This is your grand tour of Brexitville. That’s it everyone, gather round. Quiet in the back!
Firstly, I’d like to apologise for the last minute rise in ticket prices - I know you’ve all spent a little more than you intended to, but what’s a few extra quid here or there, eh? It’ll be worth it, promise.
Without further ado, let’s make our way on to stop number one - Fortress de Farage, home to the Founding Father of Brexitville himself. The drawbridge is always up, so no closer I’m afraid; our Nigel isn’t all too fond of outsiders, you see.
Not to worry though, you’re not missing much. It’s a lot less grandiose than it looks from a distance. Lord Nigel has a *slightly* inflated sense of his national importance - he’s tried and failed no less than seven times to win election to parliament, and his ye olde UKIP party peaked at just two MPs. He now sits for the mysterious “Brexit Party”, but nobody’s really sure what that is.
Let’s make our way into Brexitville town-centre. Watch your step! There are some rather large cracks in the pavement - the town has been having some structural problems of late. Up ahead we have the village pub, serving home-brewed root beer to the many (not the few). The service inside is appalling, however - the pub’s landlord, Big Jez, is famously negligent. He prefers not to engage in conversation with his fellow townsmen, and one wonders if he ever really wanted the job in the first place. Having lived a quiet, harmless life of EU-hating before being thrust into this position of responsibility, he is now indignantly having to carry on in secret. Organic ales only, with a side of camembert if you’re lucky.
A few yards further into town, and we have Bank d’Boris. Rumour has it the ATMs are dishing out £350 million a week! As yet unconfirmed, you’ll have to try it out for yourself. Its founder, a notorious local wheeler-dealer, was later on the Brexitville bandwagon than most. But despite the spontaneity of its last minute opening, Boris Bank has had remarkable success; the townsmen have entrusted their life savings here, on the promise of brilliant returns. They’ll get it back any day now, honest. Cake is also available as a perk for new customers - and guess what? You get to both have it, and eat it!
Now onwards into the wheat fields at the outskirts of town. Here, it is said that the defrocked Princess May would take her early morning runs before being captured and taken hostage by her own subjects. Princess May has fallen somewhat out of favour with the rest of the townsmen, and is currently on trial for crimes against Brexitville. She stands accused of inflicting unspeakable damage on the town and making a virtually Royal sport out of procrastination. Rumour has it she’s been offered a plea bargain, but she’s never really been one for compromise.
Leaving Brexitville behind us now, we move onwards into the wilderness. Stay close everyone, anything could happen out here! Before we reach our final destination, cast your eyes to the right if you will; here we have Old Mc’Cameron’s Farm, a small (but sumptuously decorated) shed, backed onto by a field of slightly uneasy looking pigs. Inside sits farmer Cam, penning his endless memoirs eschewing his role in the whole shenanigan, that likely no one will ever bother to read. You’ll have to excuse him, this is the first time anything has gone wrong for him in his entire 50 years of life, and he still can’t quite understand it. Shh! If you listen closely, you can almost hear the sobbing.
… And finally, here it is - the Brexit cliff edge. Don’t get too close! If, that is, you can help it. I’d love to tell you more about what’s out there, but frankly, no one’s had the foresight to look.
Wandering through a dysfunctional town, you wonder - "will I ever find the political home for me?"
In a lighthearted take on the options currently facing frustrated voters, Renew's James Dilley tells a story of chaos, farce - and new hope...
They say an Englishman’s home is his castle. But what this proverb doesn’t tell you is that everyone needs shelter regardless of gender or nationality. Come on - it’s 2019!
With that in mind, what are your options if you’re politically homeless? That’s to say, what do you do if you don’t feel like you can sign up to any of the main parties, you’re not sure who you’d vote for and you’re not even that confident in what you believe?
Well, if you don’t mind, we’d like to lay out your options. Whoever you are, here’s a little story of what’s on offer to the lost hermits of Britain…
Stuck in the Middle
Approaching a small town, you’ll find Casa del Corbyn. To rent a room here, you need to fill out a comprehensive tenancy checker to make sure you’re not an Undesirable. You may be asked questions about your political background, your beliefs and your religion. All fairly normal stuff - except the form might want to check whether or not you’re Jewish an uncomfortable number of times.
But make no mistake: if you pass the criteria, you’ll be able to take up a room. You’ll just have to excuse the framed portrait of Dear Leader Jeremy in the hallway. It’s kept nice and clean, with no cobwebs to be found - just like John McDonnell’s Little Red Book, which sits pride of place on the mantelpiece.
Oh and, by the way, we hope you won’t mind, but the Momentum managerial committee have keys to the house - just to check that you’re not fiddling with its socialist foundations. Don’t worry about the cameras dotted around the place either; they’re purely for your own safety. Nobody even monitors them, we’re told, and we’re sure the landlords would never lie.
Across the road at the Conservative crib, things are a bit fancier. There’s an ivory tower where Jacob Rees-Mogg has a nice room overlooking acres of beautiful pasture where David Cameron lives in his luxury shed. Sadly, however, he hasn’t taken the bins out for a long time and his plot of land is starting to become a bit of a tip. You see, David likes to run away from his responsibilities - if you look closely, you can just see him disappearing over a bridge in the distance.
As you enter the door of Mogg’s mansion, be sure to take in the stunning chandelier, with glass donated from a previous Tory residence that fell victim to a few thrown stones.
Oh, and please ignore the elephant in the living room. All you need to know is that it’s name begins with B and it’s threatening to trample the whole place to the ground.
You’ll notice, too, that a hollow Cable runs between the mansion and a treehouse out in the backyard. See the little plastic cup on the end of it that you can clasp to your ear? That’s to make the Lib Dems that live there feel as though they’re part of the conversation; ever since they fell out with their roommates they’ve been forced to spend more and more time here. Unfortunately, being so exposed to the elements, their home is suffering from a bad case of mildew and severe structural problems.
Room at the inn
We’re sorry if none of this sounds that appealing, but there’s a bit of a housing crisis going on.
Hold on. What’s that?
Up on a hill in the middle of the town lies a big gazebo, fluttering in the wind.
Over here are a bunch of normal people who can’t really understand the strange folk downtown. These guys are teachers, firefighters, social workers and cooks. They keep the place running and they’ve had enough of the dysfunction below. So they’ve decided to set up their own little place, where anyone who doesn’t want to fight anymore can get together.
Sure, it’s not a fully-fledged residence just yet. Sometimes, the tent pegs strain, finding it hard to stick in the slippery and unstable ground. Yet the shelter remains, and every day more and more good people come along to decide what to do about the mad lot that live a little bit away from them.
That lot told them that they were crazy for putting a tent there.
“It’s not stable”, they said, “it will never work!”
Yet it’s been over a year now and the tent has grown wider. It’s roof shelters more and more people each day, and allows them to have a chat without being drowned out by the noisy neighbours.
Sometimes, scientists, professors and businesspeople come along to give the people advice about what to do next. They say that the neighbours won’t let them in anymore. Apparently, the Tories don’t even answer the doorbell.
But the tent people listen, and they do this because they don’t want any more nonsense. They just want things to work. And they know that they need to talk to experts for this to happen.
So remember, when it seems like all the other houses are cold and crumbling, these guys are there to put you up. And you never know - you might even want to stay awhile.*
If you’re one of the politically homeless who would like to join Renew’s ever-growing household, become a member today.
*Please note that this article is a work of satire. It uses real names in fictitious ways and should therefore be considered a work of parody not to be taken as factual.
As Theresa May's deal fails again in parliament, Gwen Jones breaks down the Brexit situation.
Just 17 days to Brexit…or maybe a bit longer, you never can tell.
It’s a pretty big week, as far as weeks go - there’s a lot going down in Brexit town. Mrs May suffered yet another landslide defeat in the Commons last night, as her worn-out Brexit deal was voted down by 391 votes to 242.
Still, it’s not as though it came as much of a surprise; sources have been calling it ‘historic’, but by now it’s pretty much just standard procedure. The last nail was hammered into the coffin after Geoffrey Cox, the PM’s Attorney General, warned that the legal risks of the agreement remained ‘unchanged’, despite May’s promises of ‘legally binding’ changes to the backstop.
It clearly hasn’t escaped MPs that even by her somewhat flexible standards of truth telling, May’s talk of 11th-hour concessions is a load of hot air. Well, if there’s anything May’s premiership will be remembered for, it’s losing.
So, what’s next?
First of all, there are murmurs that the PM’s departure from Downing Street may come sooner rather than later. A source told the Telegraph that May’s cabinet support has all but evaporated, with only two ministers standing firm in their loyalty. Likely suspects are Chris Grayling and Karen Bradley, seeing as it’s hard to imagine them hanging on to the job once May’s time in office is over. According to the source, “Everyone else has lost faith in her ability to lead.” Frankly it’s a wonder it’s taken them so long.
Former Tory Minister Nicky Morgan has argued previously that a second defeat should be the queue for May to be shown the door. She’s got a point, given that her entire Brexit strategy has now been annihilated beyond hope of resuscitation. But given May’s track record (say what you like, but she’s got staying power) it seems unlikely she’ll back down, at least if she can help it.
Before all that, though, all eyes are on tonight’s main event - a chance for MPs to vote in support or opposition to no-deal. The PM has chosen not to whip the vote, which perhaps is unsurprising given her tendency to put party above politics. Until now, keeping no-deal on the table has been a central part of the government’s negotiating strategy, but whipping MPs in support of no-deal would’ve lead to a tidal wave of resignations that the PM neither wants nor can afford. A refusal to whip at all is confirmation that May is unable to stand up to either wing of her party, a mark of a government that has lost control.
Tomorrow, the week’s voting slew will be concluded with a decision on whether to extend Article 50. MPs are likely to back the motion, with many viewing it as an opportunity to secure a softer Brexit further down the line. Theresa May is unlikely to be opposed to this either - after all, she’s proved partial to a good bit of can-kicking on more than one occasion in the past.
But about that extension. Word from Brussels is that the EU27 are hardening against the idea. Until a few weeks ago, it looked likely that Europe would be willing to grant us an extension of at least three months, should we be polite enough to ask.
With EU parliamentary elections approaching in May and opposition among member states to the UK’s participation, the tone has now changed. A source tells the Telegraph; “Anything more than a few weeks will come with legal and financial conditions attached.”
Of course, the opportunity remains for the Prime Minister to arrange a third ‘meaningful’ vote in a few weeks, giving her one last opportunity to win over Brussels while using the clock to sway panicky MPs into voting for her deal at the very last moment. There are some in Downing Street who reckon the EU is withholding its final concessions until after the European Council summit on the 21st March, just eight days before B-day. Even by May’s standards, this is cutting it a little fine.
According to Politico’s Jacopo Barigazzi, anyone expecting May to pull out a Greece-style negotiation a la 2015 is setting themselves up for disappointment. Unlike Greece, the UK is not trying to remain a member of the EU; it’s trying to leave it. The EU will not prioritise a wannabe third country over a lasting member, Ireland.
With this in mind, if an extension isn’t granted, we are once again staring down the barrel of a no-deal. This week is an important one - if things go wrong, we could be faced with economic stagnation, job losses and fresh food shortages.
Ah well - maybe Jeremy Corbyn will volunteer to grow some in his allotment...
In this opinion piece, Gwen Jones sets out why people might have 'had enough' of experts - and what to do about it.
In the words of Michael Gove, people have ‘had enough’ of experts.
In days gone by, ordinary folks would rely on experts to give advice on difficult problems, shine a light on complex or obscure issues and generally impart their wisdom onto those who didn’t share it.
But in the post-truth era of clickbait headlines and ‘fake news’, just about anybody can find a way to win people’s trust. Except that is, for genuine experts.
Take the example of a paper published by Andrew Wakefield and 12 others in 1998, which linked the MMR vaccine with the development of autism in children. The scientific limitations of the study were evident, and the paper was almost universally discredited at the time of its publication. Despite this, the Wakefield scandal, as it later became known, still managed to kick off a tide of anti-vaccine hysteria which is still having an impact today. The so-called ‘Anti-Vaxxers’ are now a huge movement, and growing numbers of parents still refuse to vaccinate their children on the basis on Wakefield’s erroneous findings. What’s more, putting your child at risk in this way is viewed not as an act of gross negligence, but as a political decision to which one is fully entitled.
It seems then, as though we are now actually living in a world where Michael Gove is right about something. Shocker.
This same thinking is clear in the public’s attitudes to Brexit and the narratives surrounding it. Forecasts by leading economists are consigned to the dustbin of public consciousness under the banner of ‘Project Fear’. Pro-Brexit politicians, on the other hand, are seen to have all the answers, regardless of expertise.
What’s more, their being proved wrong doesn’t seem to change much either. The Brexiteer promise of a customs union without freedom of movement proved an impossibility, and a swift, profitable deal with the EU never materialised. Neither did the promised trade agreements with the rest of the world, save for a small handful of countries. In fact, we are yet to form the bulk of our global trade deals even on current terms, let alone forge new ones. And yet, the authors of these promises have managed to keep their reputations in tact.
So, ye olde experts of yesteryear have had their day. But what’s behind the public’s disillusionment with experts? There’s no denying our national fascination with a good-old conspiracy, but the public’s new-found distrust of experts can’t be explained in such simple terms.
What's the problem?
Fortunately, there has been some scientific research published on the matter (if, of course, you believe that sort of thing). In 2015, a group of German psychologists conducted a study into what constitutes ‘epistemic trustworthiness’, or in other words, our willingness to place trust in others in matters beyond our understanding. The study cites three key characteristics needed for a person to be deemed worthy of trust; knowledge, honesty and good heartedness.
In short, knowing your stuff just isn’t good enough. Experts must also be seen to have integrity and a good heart. Given the level of public trust in experts currently, they clearly aren’t being thought of as such.
So, what does Nigel Farage have that economists don’t? Why do people endear to him and not to the musings of the Financial Times?
In large part, this may be because experts chose to convey their messages in a way that, intentionally or otherwise, is almost entirely inaccessible to the average person. Academics default to specialist acronyms and complex language which is at best disengaging, and at worst, contributes to an air of haughty elitism which the British public have so grown to despise.
Not only that, but experts’ associations with government don’t do them any favours. People are generally happy to distrust the government, and experts linked to government are therefore untrustworthy by extension.
Well-loved Brexiteers may lack specialist knowledge, but if the government is assumed to be dishonest, their willingness to criticise it is enough to tick the honesty box.
With regards to the final criteria, it’s no secret that prominent figures on the populist right have a knack for pulling on the public’s heartstrings. By manufacturing the image of a common enemy, politicians allow themselves to look like the hero. For Trump, it is the Islamic world. For Brexiteers, it is Europe. Making an enemy of others creates the opportunity to become the protector, the defender of all that is good.
Ultimately, it will always be difficult for the average person to assess the level of expertise in others without having those expertise themselves. As a result, ordinary people are more likely to favour those they feel they can relate to, those who can explain complex issues on their terms.
If the last few years in politics have taught us anything, it’s that people are no longer willing to let remote higher-ups make decisions on their behalf, and there is a tangible desire among the public to take power back into their own hands. If people are to listen to experts, it is vitally important that they are allowed to take part in the conversation.
In this opinion piece, we break down the issues surrounding knife crime in our cities - and how we might be able to stop the epidemic.
It’s not just algebra that kids are learning in school these days. Children in vulnerable areas of the UK have now been taking lessons in how to treat stab wounds, according to the Times.
Pupils are taken through how to stem bleeding and deliver first aid to victims as part of a new scheme designed to protect at-risk young people from the effects of violent crime. It’s not quite long division, but it seems drastic measures are needed in light of increasingly troubling times.
In 2018, a total of 37 children and teenagers were stabbed to death in the UK, a bleak nail in the coffin for the worst year in a decade for knife crime. In total, there were 42,957 offences involving knives in the 12 months ending in September 2018, a 66% increase from 2014 figures.
Just two months into 2019, and already another 11 young people have lost their lives. The most recent victim, David Martinez, was fatally stabbed just days ago in a flat in Leyton, East London. He was just 26 years old.
Things are now so dire that Sara Thornton, chairwoman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, has called on the government to declare the situation a national emergency. Earlier this week, home Secretary Sajid Javid held meetings with the heads of police forces from seven of the UK’s worst affected areas to discuss the knife crime epidemic among teenagers and young people. The talks came shortly after Prime Minister Theresa May insisted there was no link between stabbings and declining police numbers.
The issue of knife crime is complex, and widely misunderstood. Archaic attitudes towards teenagers involved in violent crime are pervasive; on Wednesday night, in an interview on LBC, Brexit Party leader Catherine Blaiklock argued that incidences of knife crime have an undeniably “ethnic component”. It’s also not too long ago that Hilary Clinton made her infamous comment referring to African-American youths as “superpredators”.
This kind of contempt contributes to the shroud of misunderstanding around street violence, and does nothing to tackle the complex causes of crime.
Huge cuts to policing are widely cited as the main driver of the recent spate of stabbings, and tougher, more punitive custodial sentences as the solution. There is undoubtedly an element of truth to this; the number of officers in the 43 territorial forces in England and Wales has fallen by more than 20,000 since 2009. Over the same period, violent crime rates have soared. May might have denied any causal relationship, but the timings line up too perfectly to be passed off as mere coincidence. Cressida Dick, former Metropolitan police chief, has already voiced opposition to May’s statement; "I don't think she listens, quite frankly, to what she's being told."
There is overwhelming evidence that police presence helps to stabilise communities and deter crime. The same can be said of tougher prison sentences - would-be perpetrators are less likely to commit serious offences if there is a genuine belief that they will be held accountable.
But this is far from an easy fix.
No simple solutions
The prison population of the UK is already 90,000. What’s more, there little evidence to suggest that prison time is effective in reforming offenders and preventing further crime. Quite the opposite, in fact. Currently, almost 30% of prisoners go on to reoffend. When looking at young offenders, the figure is even higher - in 2016, 68.1% of 15-17 year olds went on to commit another offence.
Sentencing might be necessary, but the age-old ‘lock them up and throw away the key’ attitude is clearly not the only answer. If anything, it helps feed into the dangerous narratives surrounding young people who commit crime, without ever going deeper into the causes and origins of violence.
As with anything, prevention is radically better than cure. Far from “superpredators”, young people living in dangerous communities are an almost inevitable product of their environments. We know that crime tends to breed crime, as those who feel threatened by their surroundings are more likely to take potentially dangerous measures to protect themselves.
Aside from the wider issues of poverty and income inequality, extensive cuts to youth services have left many teenagers without access to adequate support. As youth centres across the country shut down at a rate of knots due to public spending cuts, there are fewer available alternatives for young people who may otherwise fall into crime.
A faltering education system is also partly to blame. As class sizes grow and resources for special needs provision are slashed, more students are being excluded from schools and forced down a path of pupil referral units, ending up in trouble. Fear, boredom and a lack of opportunity are a dangerous combination.
The knife-crime epidemic, though complex and multi-faceted, is not an impossible problem. However, the solutions are likely to be radical, meticulous and expensive. Glasgow, for example, once regarded as the UK’s most dangerous city, has experienced reductions in violent crime of 69% in a decade. Glasgow’s huge success has been attributed to its adoption of a reformed ‘public health’ approach to crime. Extensive work carried out by police in cooperation with health, education and social work sectors to identify vulnerable populations and address problems at their root. Rather than waiting for young people to commit crimes, investment directed towards early interventions.
Despite remarkable success in Glasgow, uptake has been slow elsewhere. Quite simply, a public health approach to crime requires major investment across the board - in education, healthcare and social services - something the government just doesn’t seem willing to do at the moment.
It took the government more than five years to finally admit to the monumental failures of Universal Credit. How long it will take them to recognise that knife crime is not only preventable, but a direct result of government policy remains to be seen. The longer they wait, the more lives will be lost. It really is that simple.
It is time for the government to take ownership of these most pressing issues, stop shying away from difficult issues and oversimplifying complex problems. It’s not just about being tougher, it’s about being smarter. The situation has already reached crisis point, and frankly, our young people deserve better.