Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Brexitwatch: write to your MP NOW. Support amendment 124 TOMORROW and keep us in the Single Market

Staying in the Single Market is the 'will of the people'. It is also the least damaging form of Brexit, and it solves the otherwise insoluble Irish border problem. This is what I have written to my MP.
Dear Sir Keir,
I know from your previous emails that Labour believes it has to support the Tories on Brexit, however damaging it may be, because it is the 'will of the people'. As you know from my previous emails, I disagree.
However, if you want policy to be dictated by the 'will of the people' that also means we must stay in the Single Market. Every Tory MP elected in 2015 stood on this promise and throughout the Referendum campaign, Leave campaginers such as Boris Johnson, Owen Paterson, Daniel Hannan, Arron Banks, even Nigel Farage, were falling over themselves to assure us we would stay in it.
With such a narrow majority for leaving the EU, it is plain there was a majority for staying in the Single Market. Happily that is also the kind of Brexit that will do least damage and it will solve the otherwise insoluble Irish border problem.
I know that amendment 124 is not a Labour amendment, but on this occasion, I trust you and your Labour colleagues will put country before party and vote for this amendment.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Brexitwatch. Make sure MPs get a MEANINGFUL vote on any Brexit deal

Theresa May's government still wants to present Parliament with only a take-it or leave-it vote on any Brexit deal with the EU. MPs will have to accept the deal she has made however bad it may be, or crash out with no deal - almost universally recognised to be a disaster.

Tomorrow MPs who support Parliamentary sovereignty rather than government dictatorship will try to pass Amendment 7 to the EU Withdrawal Bill to ensure MPs get a meaningful vote. Even Brexiters are supposed to support Parliamentary sovereignty - indeed they told us that is why we are leaving the EU.

Write to your MP and demand they support Amendment 7. This is what I have sent to mine, Sir Keir Starmer:

Dear Sir Keir,
I am bitterly disappointed that Labour is still in coalition with the Tories on Brexit. I had hoped common sense would have prevailed by now. 
However, if you are still determined to block a referendum on the final deal (or lack of one) with the EU, I trust you will at least ensure that MPs get a meaningful vote.
It is crucial, therefore, that you and ALL Labour MPs back Amendment 7 to the EU Withdrawal Bill. History will not forgive those MPs who fail their country in this dark hour.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Monday, 11 December 2017

Brexitwatch; THIS AFTERNOON. MPs vote on giving us a referendum on terms of any Brexit deal

The debate is 1630 this afternoon. MPs have been forced to consider giving us a say on the terms by a petition signed by more than 130,000. Write to your MP to demand they support a referendum.

This is what I have sent to mine, who happens to be Sir Keir Starmer:

Dear Sir Keir,
In this afternoon's debate, I trust you will be supporting the demand for a referendum on any 'final' Brexit deal with the EU.
In spite of all the obfuscation from most Tory, and sadly some Labour, MPs Brexit could do terrible damage to our country. In the 2016 referendum, it is plain that many, if not most, voters had no real idea about its implications.
It is, therefore, vital that the British people are given a REAL choice rather than the fictitious one they were offered last year.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Brexitwatch: at last - a defeat for the fanatics!

Nigel Farage really hates it. So there must be something good about the deal Theresa May has done to allow the UK to, probably, move on to the real Brexit negotiations.

Of course, all she has actually done is to kick the can down the road. As to what trade deal we can get with the EU, what transition arrangement there will be to stop the UK economy collapsing in March 2019, how the unicorns can be persuaded to fly in formation so that there is no border at the border between the EU and the UK in Ireland – all these issues and many more have simply been deferred.

But at least the head-bangers, the Brexit fanatics, did not get their heart’s desire of a suicidal, no-deal walk-out. And that probably represents the first time Theresa May has stood up to them.

People voted for Brexit for many different reasons – a lot of them contradictory and irreconcilable. Now there is a chance to drive a wedge into perhaps the most important fault-line – the one that divides the fanatics of UKIP and the Tory right who couldn’t care less how much Brexit damages the economy and just want to leave whatever the cost, and the more pragmatic Brexit-ers who believe, wrongly in my view, that leaving the EU will somehow make us more prosperous.  

There is a long way to go, but this is an important setback for the fanatics.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Brexitwatch: let's try democracy!

One thing the Brexit referendum and its aftermath has surely illustrated is that even if we finally defeat Brexit, we cannot afford to just go back to things as they were. The UK needs a whole host of reforms - e.g. an elected Second Parliamentary Chamber, a fair and honest press, and a democratically elected House of Commons.

Because of our antiquated first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system, UK governments are virtually always elected by a minority of the voters. That's right. The governments who wield almost absolute power over us are governments most people voted against. 

Below is an exchange of emails I have had with my MP, Sir Keir Starmer, on the need to switch to a proportional system in which if you get, say, 40 per cent of the vote, you get 40 per cent of the seats in Parliament. Feel free to use any of my arguments if you wish to pursue this important cause.

Dear Sir Keir, 
Thank you for your reply. I am encouraged that you do not oppose a fairer electoral system as many Labour and Conservative politicians unfortunately do, but, respectfully, I think the problem of a government and parliament that fails to reflect the way people voted is a bigger problem than you realise.
You say FPTP has 'a history of generally returning stable, single-party governments', but when such government enjoy the support of less than half the electorate, this is a weakness and not a strength. For it means that governments are constantly imposing things the majority of voters were against.
Often such policies are extremely damaging - the poll tax, the Iraq War, an extreme Brexit. No wonder people are disillusioned with politics!
If the constituency link is something you value, this can, of course, be preserved in proportional systems. However, it is easy to overstate the value of this supposed link. A survey in 2013 showed that barely a fifth of the people in the UK even knew who there MP was. And at the 2015 election, more than half of MPs failed to win an overall majority in their constituency. In other words, in the UK system, most MPs spend most of their time voting for things most people in their constituencies are against.
Of course, it is a good thing to ensure that people register to vote, and I do what I can on social media to encourage this. However, it is not an alternative to having a fair electoral system, and without a fair electoral system, it will not solve the disconnect between what people vote for and the government they end up getting.
As the EU referendum and its aftermath demonstrated, we cannot go on as we have been doing. Sir Keir, I urge you to get on the right side of history and become part of the solution, not part of the problem. We need a fair voting system NOW.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington
On 01 November 2017 at 12:06 STARMER, Keir wrote:
Thank you for contacting me recently regarding electoral reform.

I agree that Parliament needs to be representative of communities across Britain and to reflect different views and concerns. I also believe that we must start by making it easier for people to register to vote and to engage more regularly in politics and local decisions.

There are, of course, strengths and weaknesses to all voting systems. The First Past the Post system does have a history of generally returning stable, single-party governments and of retaining the constituency link, both of which I think are important benefits to our electoral system. I appreciate, however, that there is a case to look in detail at our electoral system and that forms of proportional representation are already used in the devolved administrations across the UK, as well as in many local authority elections.

I hope the parliamentary petition debate will allow an opportunity to consider these issues. I also believe more widely that we need to look at ways to ensure our politics connects and engages with the public. Thank you once again for writing to me and for sharing your views.

Best wishes,

Dear Sir Keir,
I trust you will be lending your support tomorrow to the introduction of democracy to elections to the House of Commons.
It is indefensible that UK governments are able to exercise virtually absolute power for five years having often won the support of little more than a third of voters and perhaps a quarter of the electorate.
No wonder the kind of disillusionment that produced the Brexit vote is rife. 
Our voting system was designed for a barely literate electorate. It is not fit for the 21st century. We need proportional representation NOW.
We have seen the imposition of too many divisive policies that most people oppose - the poll tax, the Iraq War, Brexit. We cannot afford another.
I appreciate that the Labour Party may be disadvantaged (though, of course, if it promotes policies that command majority support this will not happen). But this is a time when the interests of the country must come first.
I am counting on you.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Brexit; quadruple (or more) whammy

Another bad week for Brexit. Here are a few of the lowlights.

The UK lost the EU medicines agency and banking authority in spite of rather bizarre assurances from Brexit secretary David Davis that in this instance, Brexit would not mean Brexit and they would stay in London. So up in smoke went more than 1,000 high quality jobs the UK had fought very hard to get, and our international prestige received a huge dent.

It was revealed that since the Brexit vote, European banks had dumped £350bn of UK-linked assets. That’s more than twice the entire NHS budget.

Brexit will cut government tax revenues by £42bn between 2019 and 2021. That’s about half the entire education budget. And because of the higher prices it has caused, Brexit has produced an effective £448 pay cut for every worker.

And one thing we can be sure of, until Theresa May changes course, there will be plenty more bad news.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Prince Philip's rumoured affairs

Just as the Queen and Prince Philip prepare to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary, rumours about Philip's alleged affairs have resurfaced. 

One concerns British actress Pat Kirkwood, whose legs in her heyday were said to have been 'the eighth wonder of the world'. Kirkwood, who died in 2007, always denied there was an affair.

I interviewed her about the story in 1999 for a programme entitled Prince Philip - one step behind the Queen for the American television series Biography made by A&E Network.

She told me the rumours arose because she danced with Philip in a London night club in the late 1940s. As they were gliding across the floor, some people came in, spotted them, and looked rather cross. She continued:

'I said to Prince Philip: "Who are those people that have come in just now? They seem to be awfully disgusted with something." He said: "Oh them. They're the courtiers." Whereupon he started to imitate them, pulling his face into disgusted positions. It was so funny. So I said: "don't you think we'd better sit down now?" He said: "No. And that's an order."'