London resident and member of the New York Bar John Nucciarone breaks down where the UK’s European strategy went so wrong.
David Cameron’s negotiations with the EU in early 2016 were both rushed and amateurish. Discussions should have commenced under his first mandate and the obtaining of emergency breaks on free movement within the European Union should have been made part of broader EU-wide reform.
External EU border security, the allocation of refugees between member states, the 3% of GDP deficit rule and Euro were all issues which Italy, Greece, Poland and the eastern Europeans were seeking and needed support with. Served well by London’s employment market, these same member states, along with the Baltics, could and should have been recruited to persuade the EU power brokers that emergency breaks on the mobility right were more than a reasonable demand by the UK.
Cameron could easily have taken the position that the banking crisis of 2008 and the fall of Communism were both epic events which resulted in a historical movement of peoples into both London and the rest of the UK. The emergency breaks he sought would be aimed at the tail end of such times and not free movement in general. Helping the UK obtain emergency breaks would be in the long term interests of these member states and would be more than a suitable price for the UK helping resolve the issues of immediate concern to them. It is just such an alliance that could have taken the reins in negotiations with Paris, Berlin, and Brussels.
If the Tories had kept to this type of traditional British foreign policy, we would not be looking at Brexit, a Salvini, Le Pen, an AFD electoral alliance or the Hungarian and Polish governments on the sidelines waiting for someone to talk to.
Misguided and old-style European nation-state leadership
The gatekeepers of the de facto EU political leadership structure, however, are the ones that created the conditions that led to these developments.
The European Union will eventually tear itself apart if Brussels, Paris, and Berlin continue to think that every economic, political, and cultural policy without exception could or should apply in the same manner and form to every member state despite the different social consequences for the various member states.
Liberalism, multilateralism and leadership are not found in expecting societies which have come out of 45 years of communism to react in the same manner as western European societies when dealing with refugees.
Nor were these progressive characteristics present when the EU scolded Poland for its use of coal as an energy source but stayed silent when Germany began to do so after the 2008 banking crisis. France, which preaches to Italy when it comes to refugee allocation but then does not take in the numbers to which it agreed, cannot then expect to be listened to by its Italian partner.
Moreover, France, which has an economy reliant upon public spending to function, cannot but raise eyebrows when it advocates an EU Finance Minister, just as Spain does, when with its youth unemployment rate of over 32% and large numbers of citizens searching for work in London, makes noises about joining the Paris-Berlin alliance.
The return of old Europe
Fanning the flames of nationalism in Europe has generally not ended well and this is what Stephen Bannon, the right-wing American political activist, is poised to do with his academy in Italy.
Bannon's goal of dismantling the EU may have unintended consequences, as European revolutions often do. It may see judicial independence in Poland further eroded and Viktor Orban moving to reduce economic freedoms in Hungary after already curtailing political ones by his attacks on state media and academic freedom.
For these reasons, a Europe in which populism and nationalism are becoming mainstream is not in the interests of the UK.
The future viability of the EU rests with both a French realisation that this project cannot be a search for France’s lost glory on the world stage and a German acceptance that the Eurozone has provided it with an inherent economic advantage that needs to be addressed.
The British would do well to realise that they cannot view the EU solely in economic terms and as a source of cheap labour for its hospitality and other low wage industries.
When Harold McMillan decided it was in the United Kingdom’s interests to join the European Economic Community he was simply pursuing 400 years of English and British foreign policy of ensuring that no one country dominate the Continent. At that time he had France in mind; things have not necessarily changed since then.
Jobs are no longer a route out of poverty:
Getting into work is the best route out of poverty for families in the UK. At least, that’s the line the British government takes.
The cabinet seems very proud of the fact that the national employment rate, currently 74%, is at its highest ever and unemployment, at just 5%, is at a near-historical low. As of April this year, minimum wage for workers aged 25 and over stands at £8.21 per hour, up from £6.19 at the end of 2012. At first glance, you might think that these glad tidings mean that there are now fewer poor people in the UK. We live in complex times, however, and it’s unwise to take the Tory’s self-affirmations at face value.
More Britons might be working than ever before, but the rate of absolute poverty in the UK has been steadily climbing over the past ten years after housing payments are taken into account. Rough sleeping has soared by a whopping 165% since 2010. Life expectancy has stagnated, and millions of children are going to school hungry every day - and numbers continue to rise. There are now 2000 food banks across the UK, having sprung up in their thousands after the financial crisis (before which there were just 29).
Not least, the composition of households living below the breadline has changed for the worse. A decade or so ago, the number of poor people living in ‘working’ households was 40%. Today, it’s over half. Most disquieting is the effect of this change on children - nearly 3 million children from working families are now living in absolute poverty.
Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom. Pensioners, for example, a group largely shielded from cuts, have seen a huge decrease in levels of deprivation - the number of pensioners living in absolute poverty has fallen from 50% in the early 90s to just 15%, thanks to welfare benefits and a generous state pension which is adjusted for inflation. The numbers of people in work also shouldn’t be dismissed entirely; anxiety levels are down and general wellbeing in the UK is up, which can likely be attested to increased pervasiveness of stable employment.
But Britain’s workers really are struggling, and Britain’s experience shows that being in work is not always enough to keep afloat. Austerity has hit working families hard, and benefit cuts have left thousands struggling to stay above the breadline. Working families with small children have recently seen their child benefits frozen and working tax credits unpegged from inflation, now rising at only 1% per year.
It’s not just the government’s austerity programme that’s to blame, however; after all, as numbers of working poor have risen, many un-working families have been lifted out of poverty. Housing prices are an obvious culprit - since 2009, the average cost of a home in Britain has increased by 10% in real terms. Londoners are some of the hardest hit by the housing crisis, spending a third of their disposable income on rent.
Changes to the labour market have also damaged worker’s long-term employment prospects. Full time work is increasingly scarce, and more and more people are trapped in unstable, part time or temporary jobs. This issue hits those at the bottom end of the labour market, whose skills are typically least in demand, disproportionately hard and many do not work enough hours to make a living wage. The IFS estimates the number of workers in the bottom quarter of the income spectrum in relative poverty as 21%.
The logic behind Conservative welfare reforms has been based on incentivising people to get into work. The centre-left is equally guilty; Clinton’s benefit cuts were aimed at tackling dependency culture and promoting personal autonomy. Blair’s ethos was largely the same - encourage people find work, and stay there. The above presents a challenge to the intellectual basis these types of reform.
Jobs simply aren’t doing enough to keep people out of poverty. With burgeoning housing costs and a skittish labour market, low-paid workers with volatile incomes are in need of a safety net, as well as a job. Universal credit in its current incarnation (which involves a five week wait period before claimants receive their payments) is a meager exacerbating the problem, rather than healing it. In this kind of climate, it is essential that social policy focuses on more than just employment.
As nationalists gather on one side on the wall, it's time for those who believe in the EU to say so.
The European Union has been a victim of its own success for a while now. Its increasing reach over the decades has had a big impact on the lives of EU citizens, making them richer, more mobile and more interconnected.
However, undeniable successes, from Schengen to uncompromising standards on food and commercial goods, have provoked a backlash from those who have a rather different idea of European governance. The feeling that the EU’s top dogs, such as Jean-Claude Juncker and Guy Verhofstadt, want the ever-closer union to become a federal Europe has created millions of nationalists who wish to return to a Europe of competing nation-states.
There are many reasons for this, from immigration to sovereignty, but at the heart of the phenomenon lies a battle of ideas outlining a world either open or closed.
On one side of the wall, the nationalists seek to fortify their battlements, retreating from Brussels and putting up borders. They are often opposed to the unregulated free movement of people within EU borders and blame Europe’s politicians for failing to handle the migrant crisis.
On the other side, a Europe of young liberals, along with older generations who see the EU as the best guarantee of peace on the continent fight for its Union, see strength in openness and weakness in walls. Renew sits firmly on this side of the argument.
This is the defining conflict of our time. But at some point, these two diverse sets of people will need to come together and compromise on their visions for Europe. If they do not, the seeds of division will be sown deep into EU soil. It will be hard to uproot the thorns that grow from them.
The reconciliation may come through the strengthening of Europe’s external borders that keeps Schengen intact, appeasing those who fear (irrationally) an invasion by foreign peoples. Yet appeasement is not enough; the nationalists will need to see the EU as a positive success story rather than something that holds back their communities.
Renew has been clear that this must come by unequivocally backing the EU’s ability to tackle our biggest problems, which transcend national borders. Climate change, the AI revolution and the overbearing surveillance capitalists of Silicon Valley all threaten the future of democracy in the West.
None of these can be tackled alone by a Britain, a France or a Germany. They demand multilateral action and a common framework of regulation.
In the UK, Pro-European parties won the largest proportion of the vote in the EU elections. Now MEPs must take that mandate, for however long they can, and make a no-holds-barred case for the EU’s existence.
By James Dilley
It’s often said that a free press is essential to a healthy democracy. When compared to standards elsewhere in the world, the British press looks to be doing pretty decently.
We shouldn’t get too carried away, though; in the absence of a Xinhua News equivalent, control over our national media has been granted to an entirely different (though perhaps equally troubling) faction. Most British media outlets are controlled by a tiny and very wealthy elite, who are typically as elusive as they are unaccountable.
It was Napoleon who once argued that “four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.” Judging by the situation today, he seems to have been on to something.
News broadcasters wield tremendous power over politicians, who for the most part, do everything they can to avoid unfavourable coverage. It’s easy to see why, given the considerable influence papers can have on voting behaviour.
With SW1 at their heels, media moguls are free to present whatever version of events they so choose – however far this may deviate from the truth. Indeed, Brexit has made this more obvious than perhaps ever before.
It’s no secret that some of Brexit’s major backers have already got richer as the rest of the country’s economy has wavered post-2016. All the while, it’s been easy enough to funnel public anger towards Westminster and Brussels and away from their own misgivings – unchallenged by a government more than happy to dance to their tune.
If anyone needs convincing, they need only look back on Westminster’s response to 2016. Its unquestioning insistence on respecting the referendum result, despite the serious legal failures of both major Leave campaigns, is telling to say the least. In any other circumstance, such violations would have been more than enough to entirely cripple any mandate. In fact, the only thing preventing courts nullifying the result altogether was the fact that it wasn’t legally binding.
Yet, politicians were complicit and the right-wing press in particular was handed full control of the narratives surrounding the referendum. Why? Put simply, being tarnished with the ‘Enemies of The People’ brush doesn’t exactly strengthen your electoral prospects.
Of course, we’ve come to accept a level of bias in major publications as being pretty much par for the course. Most papers are unashamedly prejudiced in their political leanings, and after all, sensationalism is how they sell their wares.
It’s no secret that people are drawn to papers that create echo chambers for their own views – a problem no doubt, but the phenomena’s very existence relies, at least, on a conscious public awareness of newspaper bias. We’re perhaps less susceptible to spurious headlines from the usual suspects, but they’re by no means the only offenders.
Worse, arguably, is the bias that now exists within broadcasters with an explicit duty to be neutral. I’m referring, of course, to the BBC. BBC complaints have reportedly been flooded by remain voters angry at the lack of coverage given to pro-Remain MPs and anti-Brexit marches.
Despite his recent outburst on BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Farage has a lot to be thankful for. Even his most pernicious claims, and those of others on his side, continue to go largely unchallenged despite their (in some cases obvious) untruth. Lest we not forget, talk of leaving the single market was “absolute madness” until an overnight U-turn in the direction of a no-deal; a decision that flew seemingly under the radar of the mainstream media.
Last week, an episode of a BBC panel show was cancelled, due to it featuring the interim leader of new pro-Remain party Change UK. The feature was deemed inappropriate to run during election time. Meanwhile, Farage’s countless fish-related photo-ops continue to get air time (needless to say, the fish do not look best pleased).
While it might be doubtful that the BBC is harbouring an express pro-Brexit bias, it’s easy to see where it’s unwillingness to challenge key Leave supporters has come from. The corporation is consistently under pressure from the reactionary right, and its fearfulness of this is palpable.
It is hard to imagine a world in which even the most popular frontmen of Brexit will escape the process unscathed; as the realities set in and public opinion turns against them, the democratic process will hold them to account. But writers, journalists, media fat-cats – the less discernible architects of Brexit – are unlikely to suffer the same consequences. People will be buying The Sun long after Rees-Mogg is cast into political irrelevancy.
We must maintain a free press, but there is no freedom without responsibility. Our media is responsible for public education, which we cannot do without if we are to place trust in democracy.
Londoner Alex Seale implores you to vote for Renew's Change UK candidates in tomorrow's European elections.
If you are an EU citizen living in London or elsewhere in the UK, you have the right to vote in the EU elections. As you know, EU citizens cannot vote twice. EU citizens vote for the candidates or parties of their country of origin or residence provided that they are registered.
If you are still hesitant who to vote for or where to vote, then you should vote for Change UK.
I know the French living in Britain are worried about the threat of the far-right in France, but Brexit is a big worry too for many French people living and working in London and in the United-Kingdom, as well as for Italians, Spaniards, Polish citizens, etc.
These EU Elections here in the UK are important for the future of the country. If we want a chance to have a final say on Brexit, then EU citizens should vote for Change UK.
Change UK has joined forces with Renew Britain during the EU Elections in order to keep Remain parties together.
Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party might win these elections, so it is important that EU citizens in the UK vote for Change UK in order to stop Brexit happening.
I have a few French friends in London who will vote for the parties of their country of residence and most of them told me they will vote Change UK.
This is a crucial time for our country and we should seize this opportunity on May 23rd.
Storm clouds are gathering over Peterborough. Who will win the mantle to reform politics in the UK?
You might think of Peterborough as an unlikely candidate for a political battleground. Nestled in the heart of Cambridgeshire, this relatively small city has found itself on the frontlines of the battle to revolutionise politics in the UK.
On one side of this new struggle, you have the Brexit Party and their ideological forebears, UKIP. But the latter is dying, pushed to the fringes of the far-right. Instead, Farage’s new vehicle has done an excellent job of corralling the support of disenchanted voters and currently polls around the 18% mark for a future general election. The Brexit Party also seems to be successfully colonising the ‘people from outside politics’ message - except their people believe we should leave the European Union and retreat behind wall and border.
On the other side, Renew, backed by Change UK, as well as other pro-European parties, are fighting for a vision of Peterborough and the United Kingdom that is quite different. They believe in a European society that is socially liberal, open to the world and welcoming to newcomers. They shun the fearmongering tropes of the populists, instead placing faith in hope, reason and science. They believe that Britain is better off at the heart of European decision-making and as a key part of its union.
So the two great storm clouds meet. Yet what is perhaps most interesting is the fact that both agree on one big issue: our political system is in need of a great change.
For example, the average Brexit Party voter in Peterborough is likely to want electoral reform. You can bet your savings that they would support a proportional system that allows for new voices to be heard in Parliament. And you can bet with confidence that the Renewer thinks the same.
Do not be mistaken; this is not naked self-interest from new parties unable to gain a foothold at the highest levels of politics. Both Brexiter and Renewer recognise that the unfairness of our elections increase voter apathy and damage our nation’s democratic credentials. They know it needs to change.
But that is where similarities end. It is what these new politicians do after gaining power that really matters - and the Brexit Party lot want to retreat from our closest allies and pull up the drawbridge.
So, Peterborough becomes a clash of open versus closed, friend versus foe.
If you are a voter reading this, you must then decide - which party do I back to reform politics? Do I run from Europe, or towards it? Do I embrace my neighbour, or view them with suspicion? Do I open my arms, or do I close them?
These two grand visions are now being played out all over the world. Time to choose wisely.
If your homework is bad, you can't just keep handing it in hoping for the best. But that's just what Theresa May is doing with her Brexit deal, says James Dilley.
When you write a bad essay in school, your teacher hands it back to you. The red ink scrawled all over it tells you just how poor an effort it was. Perhaps you will get a detention; you will probably have to write it again.
Imagine your teacher’s ire, then, when you hand the same essay in again the next day, only with a few words changed. “Demonstrates” becomes “shows”, “explains” becomes “elucidates”. But no matter how many synonyms you swap in and out, the content stays the same (rubbish).
You can imagine what happens next. The teacher shoots you down and you have no choice but to go back to the drawing board. It’s time for another blank sheet of A4 and a rethink.
That will be the situation facing Theresa May when she brings her Brexit bill before Parliament one last time on June 3rd. Despite the red marker pen staining the previous iterations of her bill, the student still hasn’t got the message. The teachers want a complete redo, but May can only hand in a botch-job.
Never mind Theresa’s protests that this bill is different from the last. Sure, there are a few moves to better protect workers’ rights after Brexit in a bid to appease Labour MPs, but the fundamentals of previous bills are still there - most importantly that Irish backstop which prevents so many MPs from backing the deal.
It has been clear for some time that the jig is very much up for May’s Brexit. In the words of Gandalf the Grey, it shall not pass.
The responsible thing to do now would be to hold a second referendum with remain on the ballot, since it has become clear that Brexit is an impossibility without accepting the disastrous no-deal route. Many millions around the country can see that - indeed, those millions could now constitute a majority.
If you are one of those people, then be sure to back Renew’s Change UK candidates on Thursday’s European elections. Brexit deserves an F, and we must mark it.
Has bear-baiting reality TV finally had its day? In this opinion piece, James Dilley suggests that the parallels are not as obscure as one might think.
That might be the conclusion after a terrible week for veteran host Jeremy Kyle, whose eponymous show finally met its demise after it emerged that a guest had committed suicide after appearing on the show.
Kyle’s programme, one of Britain’s favourite daytime TV fixes, has long been criticised for exploiting its guests, who are usually poor, troubled and working class. Their tribulations are put on full display in front of an audience, who laugh at their misfortune and boo when Kyle makes them a baddie.
But it is the treatment of the guests after their appearances that proved the final nail in the coffin for Kyle and his circus. After one-time guest Steve Dymond commmitted suicide, it emerged that other guests had been driven close to the brink, too. That’s hardly a shock, given the obvious mental illnesses suffered by many of those featured and the cruel treatment they were subjected to by the nasty moraliser Kyle.
It is unsurprising, but depressing, that it took the death of a person for people to realise that Kyle’s colosseum should never have been built. It is often the way with these things.
Yet the real question lies in whether or not the Jeremy Kyle debacle will herald the end of the reality TV era, which much like political populism has hooked viewers for a number of years now.
The parallels are clear. Populism, peddled by UKIP, the Brexit Party and, to an extent, Corbyn’s Labour, relies on a scapegoat, whether it be the foreigner, the immigrant or the rich. Those we laugh at on reality TV are also scapegoats of sorts and we paint them as willing representatives of social ills or moral failings. We laugh and shout at guests and contestants on the screen just as we are prone to do to minorities in society. Then we vote for the populists because they give us simple solutions.
“You’re evil!”, Jeremy Kyle would snarl at an adulterous guest.
“You’re a criminal!” snarls Farage at the Romanian immigrant.
It’s much the same lie. Both men portray themselves into the moral ambassadors of Britain, even though both are cruel individuals who do not deserve that post. As viewers and voters, we risk legitimising that.
So if we can wake up to the cruel nonsense of reality TV shows, particularly those that prey on society’s most vulnerable, surely we can also see cheap populism for what it is: a disease that we need to cure.
Down at a recent London hustings event, observer Paul Gerken sees fear and loathing at the heart of the Brexit Party.
The scene at Hammersmith and Fulham’s European Movement hustings was never set to give the Brexit Party the warmest of welcomes. Staged in the Irish Cultural Centre in one of London’s most ‘Remain’ areas, the candidates from pro-remain parties knew they were playing to home a crowd. The room was packed with expectation and the Fulham faithful knew what they wanted to hear: Brexit is a disaster, and the Brexit Party is disastrous. Ben Habib, one of The Brexit Party’s melange of somewhat-high-profile candidates, sat regally in front of the baying crowd. Dressed in one of the most expensive suits I have seen, Habib - millionaire man of the anti-elite - was priming himself not to disappoint.
But first up, the introductory speeches. Change UK’s Gavin Esler, with a background in broadcasting, irreproachable remain stance and a deft capacity to land a joke, stood out as an early favourite. Lambasting Labour's middle-of-the-road approach, Esler argued that Labour was a metaphorical dead hedgehog, standing for nothing whilst being run down by both directions of political traffic. Tell that to Seb Dance, however, who had spent his stump speech telling the room exactly what he will be doing in Brussels over the next five years. Dreaming, one can only imagine, that he lived in a parallel universe where his Leader wasn’t in daily negotiations with the Tories to seal the UK’s departure.
Sky’s Lewis Goodall proved to be an entertaining and knowledgeable compare, his only fault being not getting to the audience quick enough. It was only when faced with the curve balls that come from audience participation, that Habib shone a light on the inner lunacy of both his own mind and that of the newly founded Brexit Party. The first ‘I-cannot-believe-he-actually-just-said that’ moment came when challenged about a somewhat significant conflict of interest of pursuing a hard Brexit that would inevitably bring about a fall in the pound. A hard Brexit causes the pound to crash, property becomes cheap, the millionaire property magnate buys lots of cheap property, the value increases eventually, the millionaire property magnate is even richer. What on earth is wrong with that? Habib is the only one who believes in Britain! Why shouldn’t he buy up cheap property after instigating a hate-filled campaigned, that puts hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk, precisely to cause a drop in Sterling, so that he can buy cheap assets? It’s so fantastic to be a patriot.
Note to self, Habib, you’re not actually supposed to share your evil plan out loud…
Next up, the Irish border. You’ll be pleased to know this is entirely a non-issue. Phew - what were you all worrying about, everyone at the Irish Cultural Centre? Habib is here to tell you that because there are borders in the world that aren’t ringed entirely by 12 ft walls of cement, there is, in fact, no issue at all. There are millions of miles of unpatrolled borders, so where’s the beef? Habib had a perfect example up his sleeve to placate the naysayers - the Pakistan and Afghanistan border. And he knows because he’s a bit from there, so... It’s all going to be fine.
Par for the course on Brexit crazy golf is to mention that we don’t need to pay 39 billion to the EU and that we’re just going to waltz into a totally dreams trade agreement with the US, so nothing new to see hear. Habib mustered just the regular tutterings of general despair when he shared his party’s genuine belief that you can walk away from all obligations with your closest neighbours and somehow everything will be just totally fine.
But it was in the closing moments that Habib really went for gold in political what-the-fuckery. After having opined earlier in the evening about how much he believed in democracy, he was challenged about Scotland’s right to determine a future outside of the UK. Well of course for Habib, democracy means only having one vote about one thing ever, regardless of a change of circumstances, so it’s a natural ‘no’ from him. Scotland made their choice, and we will gamble that the world’s largest ever case of Stockholm syndrome descends across everybody north of Hadrian in the glorious years ahead. Challenged on the point, Habib went further - if we are out of the EU, Scotland would have even more dependence on England and it would be economic suicide for them to leave. Scotland would never leave, considering how economically tied they would be to this union with England. OK Habib, that’s sounding… familiar?
Oh these beautiful Brexit sunny uplands, so near you are. If only everyone in Britain could see what Habib sees. A pound through the floor to create cheap assets, supermarket shelves filled with hormone-pumped US meats, half of a nation held hostage by the other whilst its international reputation is torn to shreds… welcome to Brexit Britain: a vast commercial opportunity. Just do make sure you have the foresight to be a millionaire before we leave.
2019's European election was never supposed to take place in the UK. But on 23rd May, voters go to the booths to select their MEPs for the UK's remaining time as an EU member. In this opinion piece, Renew Leader Annabel Mullin muses on the implications of the elections for the UK.
May’s European election comes at a profoundly important moment for the UK. It will be seen, to all intents and purposes, as a rerun of the referendum and a chance to express concern about the UK’s current direction. In 2016, voters narrowly chose the Brexit path, but nobody voted for Theresa May’s route. Even so, there are still millions who know that being part of the EU is critical for our country’s status as a world power. As we watch our soft power and influence ebb away, it is difficult to feel that the future of our country is secure.
The issues that matter, such as climate change, tax evasion by global tech giants or the threats from “systematic rivals” such as China, cannot be dealt with in isolation. United with our European partners, we have the ability to counteract these global threats. Divided, we start from a position of weakness.
The EU elections are a chance for our country to shout out that the impossible vision of Nigel Farage is not the one we want. Renew and Change UK believe in a future of collaboration with our neighbours, open to innovation, international cooperation and a sustainable future. This is a fight for the soul of our country and all 3.9 million EU citizens living here can have their say on it. If ever there was a time to make a stand, this is it.