...a blog by Richard Flowers

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Day 6202: DOCTOR WHO: Steven Moffat’s The Abominable Bride


Last Christmas… was the Doctor Who Christmas Special from two years ago, but last Christmas we got “The Husbands of River Snog”, and this year – to save you from tears – I’m going to review the Special from last Christmas. Which isn’t “Last Christmas”. Are you with me so far?

Time can be rewritten. And so can Doctor Who Christmas Specials. The human colony of Mendorax Dellora, as charming and Christmassy a redressing of the sets from “Face the Raven” as you could ask for, feels a lot like a return to earlier Moffat Christmases, whether Sardiktown in “A Christmas Carol” or the town of Christmas in (shudders) “The Time of the Doctor”; the crashing spaceship is reminiscent of the also-meteor-struck Titanic in “Voyage of the Damned” or more apropos the crash of the Byzantium in “The Time of Angels” or Amy and Rory’s honeymoon liner in (again!) “A Christmas Carol”. Crashing spaceships are the new “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day”. You start to get the feeling Mr Moffat’s doing this deliberately.

Steven Moffat, the Grand Moff, has always treated the story of Doctor Who as a palimpsest, even his own works, going back again and again to re-write and over-write what has been before. And always, it seems, to reject closure. He’s never happy to just live with things that end. Even his most famous killer monsters, the Weeping Angels don’t kill – they send you back in time for more life. He’s going to be inconsolable when he has to finally hand over to Chibnall. He’s forever reaching for that get-out clause, to – as the Eighth Doctor might put it – hold back death. Whether it’s rewriting the end of the Time War to save Gallifrey, or going literally to the end of all the Worlds to snatch an endlessly extended extra moment from Clara’s death.

This time he even has his own creation, River Song, accuse him of doing it:

“There’s always a loophole. You wait until the last minute and then you spring it on me. […]
But you will. You'll wait until I've given up hope. All will be lost, and you'll do that smug little smile and then you'll save the day. You always do.”

The life of River Song was always bounded by the fact that it ended where it began back at the Library. Even then, he wouldn’t let her go, giving her a cyber-heaven to inhabit. OR even come back from, in “The Name of the Doctor”.

And he does the same thing again here, giving River and the Doctor one last night together, at the Singing Towers on Darillium… and then teasing it out to twenty-four years. Eventually we’ll have to stop renewing and just return!

In a way, though, it is very Doctor-ish, to keep cheating death, tricking his way out of death.

But you only get a commendation for reprogramming the Kobayahi Maru the first time.

Having said all that, the opportunity to do a screwball comedy across time and space with two of the finest actors working today, written by an author with genuine talent for farce, does kind of make the exercise worthwhile.

All the time they are on the screen together is delightful. Their timing, their chemistry, their obvious enjoyment of the fun they are having.

The supporting cast – makes shrugging gesture – mm, less so.

I’ve never been that taken with Greg Davies, nor the brand of shouty acting that he’s been asked to deliver for the role of King Hydroflax here. Like someone who’s seen Brian Blessed but not understood the subtlety of menace that he can bring to, say, Caesar Augustus, a role that Hydroflax ought to resemble. But, he’s actually there as a slapstick prop, a head-in-a-bag to be tossed about like the quips that Capaldi and Kingston exchange, so I was still laughing out loud at pretty much every scene he was in.

More distressingly, Matt Lucas’s as Nardole was quickly quite irritating: whiny and snivelling and just not given very funny things to do or say. Which is a shame as he’s the one returning this year, though thankfully he appears to have – somehow – got his body back.

I did, however, enjoy the outrageously oleaginous MaĆ®tre D’, Flemming, played by Rowan Polonski. It’s through his delicious banality of evil that we understand that the passengers of the starship Harmony and Redemption – arrived at in a sudden plot swerve halfway through – don’t believe in harmony and don’t deserve redemption.

And Mr Scratch, River Song’s buyer – not quite Doctor Who versus Scratchman, but whose flip-top head seems very lifted from the New Adventure “All-Consuming Fire” – was very nicely sinister, in a Colony Sarf sort of a way.

But Kingston and Capaldi make a glorious double act. For him, it’s a joy to see the Doctor laughing and grinning his way through the adventure, getting to be the companion, enjoy doing the “bigger on the inside” right, and be the one who knows more than River, just this once. For her, there’s such a range of new and different facets of the character to portray: the lies within lies, or perhaps it’s not lies, it’s acting. When we first meet her, she’s playing Darth Vader, sweeping down the boarding ramp in flowing cloak; then she’s role-playing devoted wife – and so over the top we’re sure she’s not very good at it; then it’s the cold assassin, plotting a decapitation with whom she assumes is a pliantly complicit barber-surgeon; then she’s heroically angry with Hydroflax the butcher for his theft from the Halassi of the diamond that’s stuck in his cranium… and that’s all in the five minutes on board the joyfully retro flying saucer (nice that King Hydroflax can accessorise his spaceship and his robot body, by the way – though I suppose he does have plenty of cash…)

What River’s acting does – and the Doctor notes this when he asks “Is this what you’re like when I’m not about?” – is to flag up the way this story is about different perspectives.

Hydroflax, for example, on the one hand he’s worshipped by millions; on the other he’s loathed as a monster; or the Doctor just thinks he’s a moron; and in the end his own robot body decides he’s just rotting meat.

The passengers on the Harmony and Redemption: are they innocent travellers, as we at first assume? Or are they killers and planet burners, as River tells us? Or are they a cult of Hydroflax followers as they reveal themselves to be?

Even the diamond, the Halassi Androvar, the McGuffin that drives the plot, to the Doctor it’s just downpayment on a dinner date.

And so River herself. Which perspective of her do we take away? Hero or villain? Archaeologist or thief? Righteous or rogue? Warrior or wife? As many faces as, well, as she has husbands.

And what about Moffat? Does he keep coming back and rewriting or is he still trying to capture different perspectives on the same ideas? When – like Big Finish – he inserts more and more stories into tinier and tinier gaps, when he gives Clara immortality in her last heartbeat, is he fishing from an infinitely tiny well or like a fractal unfolding discovering infinite regress within the snowflakes?

Does it even matter so long as it’s fun?

“Happy ever after” doesn’t mean forever, River tells us, just for some time. Perhaps it would be better put as “they lived ever happy after”. But some things even Moffat cannot rewrite.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Day 5769: Marmite Wars are Merely the Beginning


Today Captain Clegg launched his third pamphlet on the challenges facing the UK due to Brexit. This one is about food and drink.

Nick Clegg at the National Liberal Club

If you’re still watching POLDARK on the BBC you will know it’s a tale of noble-but-impoverished workers of mine and land, ground down by the machinations of sinister bankers who manipulate the laws and the local dimwit Tory MP for their own ends, and so must turn to smuggling to get goods past the exorbitant import tariffs.

What you might NOT realise is that this is a BOLD sci-fi drama set in the DISTOPIAN post-Brexit FUTURE! With occasional topless scything.

And the reaction was basically terrifying. (To Brexit, not the topless scything!)

That’s not the position of Captain Clegg – who was at pains to point out that we should definitely be trying to save people from their fears by at least agreeing a Norway-style EEA agreement that maintains our trading links.

No, the fear was present in the questions arising, questions from small farms, from small retailers – corner shops and newsagents – who are all already staring down the barrel of disaster as the collapse in the pound sees their prices soar; the sort of everyday working folk whose concerns for their businesses and livelihoods and families are dismissed from the ivory towers of Conservatories like Jacob Rees-Mogg who’s never had to do a day’s work in his life and puts down the questions of ordinary people as “just more Project Fear”.

And another very good question came from the Commonwealth countries who can see their gateway deals to the EU via the UK collapsing and WTO trade tariffs of 40% on chocolate or 50-60% on beef and lamb being imposed by the careless diktat of Liam “Fantastic Dr” Fox, disgraced former Defence Minister and not-yet-disgraced (‘96 days and counting’) International Trade Minister.

Across the continent, the papers are not full – as Cap’s Nick put it – of the cunning of Mr Fox, the honesty of David Davis or the diplomacy of Boris Johnson. No, our friends and allies are instead AGHAST at the language and occasional downright xenophobia coming out of this chaotic Tory government, particularly things like the conference speech of the “Go Home” Secretary, Ms Green Amber Rudd. Less of a dog whistle; more of a traffic light stuck on stop!

Prime Monster Theresa May (or May Not) holds out against delivering ANY answers beyond Brexit means Brexit means a slap on the wrist for ministers who dare to speak the unspeakable, but insists that she has the power to Invoke Article 50 without taking a vote in Parliament. Talk about “taking back control!” Will those Tories – David Davis, John Deadwood, Peter Bone, Rees-Moggy? – who made such a BIG THING of Parliamentary Sovereignty call her to account? Or will they sell their principles in a heartbeat?

MPs were EXPRESSLY told that the Referendum would be only ADVISORY – or else they might have voted for more stringent checks, such as a two-thirds majority, or other thresholds – and those Brexiteers who are trying to say that in passing the referendum BILL Parliament has already voted on Brexit are clearly trying to take away the democratic and sovereign rights of Parliament.

Noted thinker A. C Grayling is writing to every MP to ask them why they are allowing this, and that they should demand a debate AND VOTE on the issue.

It is, after all, their DUTY to “take back control”.

It is clear that unchecked, Mrs Maybe’s unelected administration will see us BOUNCED into the most CHAOTIC TORY BREXIT!

Unilever and Tesco may have come to an accommodation that sees the Marmite back on our shelves, but that’s far from the end of it.

We currently SELL more than £18 billion of food abroad, one of our biggest export industries, and two thirds of that goes to the EU. Tariff and other barriers, like regulations or defining chocolate to be only high cocoa solids, that would exclude British chocolate altogether, will more than eliminate any benefits of the cheaper pound. And THEN we have to compete with the highly subsidised EU food production because THEY’LL still have the much-derided Common Agricultural Policy that WAS pouring billions into OUR farms.

But also we EAT more than we can GROW, so we have to BUY IN more than 25% of the food we need, and more than 70% of that is from Europe.

Companies importing food are going to face a choice of three options: put up prices – difficult in a cutthroat market with discounters already at their heels; cut into their own profits – which are already very tight, especially for small firms that import ingredients to make into prepared foods; or stop stocking certain lines altogether – the Marmite option.

For the moment, big importers will have their prices protected – either by long-term agreements with their suppliers or by insurance (called “hedging”) that will cover the higher cost of buying stuff with a pound that is worth up to 18% less.

But small companies who can’t afford big insurance are being hit with those choices already.

And even the bigger companies, their contracts will run out and, as Tesco discovered, new agreements will need to be made; those insurance policies are to smooth out short-term the ups and downs of the currency markets, not to protect long-term from a major devaluation. And then the higher prices will have to be paid.

In the next year to two years we will see a (first) big spike in food inflation, and that will hit the least well off the hardest.

We need to work RIGHT NOW to protect against an even bigger hit from collapsing out of the Single Market.

As Master Yoda so very nearly said of Bojo’s foreign policy: Victory? There was no victory. Begun, this clown war has.

Steve Bell in the Grauniad

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Day 5714: Brexit Means Batshit or Brexit means Bullshit


“Brexit means Brexit,” says Prime Minister Theresa May. But what does Brexit means Brexit really mean? You might as well say Wiff Waff means Wiff Waff, for all the facts it tells us.

The dilemma… or trilemma or quadlemma… that faces Mrs May is: how does she satisfy all the different Leaver’s different reasons? And of course she can’t. They’re utterly irreconcilable.

The real choice facing the Prime Minister is whether she faces down that section of the voters who will scream betrayal most loudly or she accepts trashing the economy to satisfy people who voted for magic unicorns.

Look, either you can determine all your own rules. And no one will do business with you. Or you can compromise and have trade.

So either you are batshit crazy. Or you were bullshitting when you said we would “take back control”.

Here’s why:

People who voted Leave will give you one of a dozen different reasons for why they voted – almost all variations on the cry of “*I’m* not a racist!”.

(This refusal to admit that immigration was the big driving force of the Leave Campaign that is the sort of reprehensible moral cowardice that sees Labour’s Gisela Stewart happy to parrot the lies of Farage and Gove and then wring her hands at the entirely predictable (and indeed predicted) outcome.)

“We have valid reasons,” they say.

…Actually they mean “we have morally acceptable arguments” (not like the racists).

For an argument to be valid is has to be true:

  • “Europe stops us barring foreigners from entering the country” is true, but morally reprehensible.
  • “Europe is holding us back from free trade” is invalid because it’s nonsense.
  • “Europe prevents us from cutting workers’ holidays and doubling their working hours” is true but repugnant, and not the sort of thing that wins public support for your buccaneering free marketers.
  • “We should be making our own laws” is invalid because the law needs to be the same for everyone if it’s going to work.

“We should make our own laws”, is one of those big assertions that Leave say won them the campaign. It gained a lot of traction in the referendum. And it’s total nonsense.

The law must apply equally to both sides in any agreement. Like, say, a trade treaty. If one side is going to say they can change the law (possibly on a whim) what is in it for the other side?

Suppose your next door neighbour says that they should make up the laws that govern their house. And they decide they don’t agree with those pesky laws about noise after midnight. Or fly tipping. Or that property is theft?

That’s just the same as when we get, say, UKIP’s Suzanne Evans (on Radio 4’s Westminster Hour) saying we don’t need follow the rules in Article 50 at all; we should just change the law in our own Parliament to leave. Reneging on the Lisbon Treaty would mean that no country on Earth would trust us with those “free trade agreements” that the likes of Ms Evans say it will be so easy to make.

There’s a section of the Leave vote who might be completely happy with that, with no trade with Europe at all. For them, the only satisfactory outcome will be to slam the door to the EU on our way out.

It’s probably not a large section, but you can bet it’s going to be a very, very noisy one.

And they are never going to be satisfied. Because that sort of isolationism is not going to be acceptable to anyone who wants to be able to buy bananas or avocados or for that matter petrol.

For absolutely anyone else, anyone who wants to be able to buy things from abroad and sell our stuff there too, then you are going to have to compromise. Starting by agreeing on the law – the rules – for your treaty.

What you cannot get is the completely disconnected from reality version where we want lots of trade with everyone… but they all agree to follow our rules, the sort of magic thinking represented in the Cabinet by “Fantastic” Dr Fox, the man already picking a fight with the empty room that is Boris Johnson’s Foreign Office.

Two months have passed since THAT vote. The Prime Minister has been able to take a holiday. Labour continue to stage their what can hardly be called leadership election. And thankfully, neither the World nor the British economy have ended in the meantime. In fact we have had positive economic figures for July: retail sales are up and unemployment is down.

But it’s early days. We haven’t actually done anything irreversible yet. It’s still difficult to see how we will not get a spike in inflation caused by the fall in the value of the pound – particularly once fuel bills start to go up in winter. And it’s an awkward question but where is the investment in jobs and trade going to come from, now that companies are looking more to the continental mainland for their European bases?

So far, Theresa May is Wile E. Coyote, running on empty air. We need to know whether what she’s got in her handbag is a parachute… or an anvil. Ideally before she looks down and notices the economic gravity.

We don’t want a recession. So what are the government doing to prevent a bump in the road turning into a shock to the system? Things have changed (or the vote was meaningless Miranda Hart look) so the government needs to say what changes it will make in response. Complacency and inertia won’t look so good with hindsight if things do go pear-shaped.

Putting off telling us what “Brexit” will mean stops the government telling us what actions they will take. “Brexit means Brexit” is actually damaging.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Day 5662: Messages for Cheadle #4 - March for Europe


Not in Cheadle, but joining many thousands marching on Parliament to show support for the European Union, and to remind people that democracy means listening to the minority not just doing what the victors demand.

Liberal Democrats will give the 48% a voice that will not be silenced.

I’m marching today with thousands of others for a better future and a better Britain than we’ve seen in the last few weeks. Because standing together is better than splitting apart.

I’m marching because the best of British means never giving up. When you’ve taken a knock, to get up and try again. Because Brits aren’t quitters. Even in the rain! [assuming it’s raining]

I've seen a lot of reactions to the referendum. Anger. Grief. Despair. Denial. People who've lost their opportunities to travel, learn and work. People who feel they've had their future ripped away. I've felt those things too.

The country is split down the middle. People who feel left behind. People who feel they've been had by a leave campaign that's already weaselling out of every promise they made. And they just want the 48% to shut up. That's not democracy.

I've seen leaders of Tory and Labour Party panic. Fall into infighting. That's not leadership.

What we need now is hope.

Tim Farron has shown real leadership in this crisis. We accept the result of the referendum. But we're not going to stop making the case for an open, outward-looking Britain that remains a part of the EU.

The Liberal Democrats exist to build a free and fair society. One where no one is left behind. One that doesn't put the blame on migrants. One where there is a better future. For everyone.

Britain is better than this.

12000 people have joined us since the referendum, because they want to hope again.

Join us, and we can bring hope to a new generation.

If you want a better Britain that gets stuck in and doesn't quit, join us.
If you want a better Britain that stands for hope not hate, join us.
Most of all, if you want a fairer, better future for all of us, join the Liberal Democrats.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Day 5657: Where Do We Go From Here


Over the weekend, the Vote Leave campaign have revealed that they genuinely have no plan for what to do now they’ve torn everything down. And Labour have chosen absolutely the worst moment to hit the self-destruct button.

The first observation is that if the vote were to be held this week, after the last 72 hours of the most vigorous rowing backwards, it seems unlikely that the Leave Campaign could win a referendum on the sun coming up tomorrow, so shot is their credibility.

All the promises of the Leave Campaign have been thoroughly trashed… by the Leave Campaign.

Farage was pooh-poohing the promise of £350 million a week for the NHS within minutes of the final result, and IDS denied thrice before cockcrow he’d ever said it on Marr on Sunday, leading to a flurry of photos of him stood in front of the Boris Bus saying exactly that.

Johnson, Gove and Hannan have all made it very clear that they don’t really want to leave the single market, or even end the free movement of people that proved such a decisive part of the campaign they ran.

Morten Morland, via Times Red Box

Indeed Johnson’s pusillanimous piece in the Telegraph seems very much more like saying we’ll be staying entirely IN, give or take some legal fiddlings – this is just more of his policy of pro-having cake AND pro-eating it. And Brussels has already rubbished it.

Alas, Boris, to govern is to choose. If you want the job…

And this is only going to get worse before it gets better.

For too many, the World carries on merrily in its own little way, so all must be all right for everyone and ignore the rise in hate crimes and the fall of the markets. The bomb has dropped, but no one has noticed yet.

48% of the country are appalled by what has happened. But the 52% who voted Leave last Thursday are only going to be disappointed.

Many thousands apparently are disappointed already, shocked that what they thought was a protest vote has ramifications that are suddenly horribly real.

Many people are amazed at the speed with which the “Mystic Clegg” predictions are coming true.

Many more are only now reading the “What Brexit Means for You” columns in Mail and Sun and howling with betrayed outrage that the very papers that instructed them to vote Leave didn’t warn them of these consequences before.

But many of the others currently still celebrating are going to get frustrated and angry at the kind of Brexit or semi-Brexit or Neverexit that is delivered.

Prime Minister (in name only, now) Cameron’s decision to pass the buck to his successor was a typical act of “why should I” entitlement, but it has served to skewer the Leavers on their own contradictions, even while it leaves the EU infuriated by being left hanging in the wind over when or even if we are actually going to start the Brexit machine going.

And at the same moment, struck by terror that a new Tory leader might precipitate a snap general election this year while they’re still stuck with Corbyn as leader, the Labour front bench have chosen this moment to stage an Ides of March-style attempted assassination. And after two days the Shadow Cabinet’s clown car is still disgorging resignees.

Consequently, we have neither Government nor Opposition and are neither in nor out of the European Union.

London Metro, Monday 27 June - sums it up

Will There Be a General Election?

Given that they fought the referendum on the grounds of “democracy” it would be a bit of a sore point if the Brexiteers then allowed a new PM to be installed without the British people having a say.

Having said that, they’ve abandoned the rest of their platform so swiftly, it would hardly be a surprise.

The PM cannot trigger Article 50 on a whim. It’s a bit legalistic, but because it would be – effectively – repealing the European Communities Act he cannot just use the (so democratic) Royal Prerogative. He needs to pass it through Parliament, and Parliament has a huge majority against leaving the EU and is not particularly minded to give the Tories an easy ride. It only takes the few remaining Europhile Tories to play the same game that the Maastricht rebels played for it to fall at the first hurdle.

And that’s without reminding you it’s got to get through the Lords too. All those Leavers banging on about the sovereignty of Parliament ought to remember that more than half of Parliament is the unelected Peers – without a manifesto pledge to Brexit, the Lords will be well within their rights to block any Article 50 notification.

All of which is a strong case for a pro-Brexit Tory Prime Minister to go to the country.

But there are downsides for the cautious punter to consider.

The timetable that Mr Cameron wanted to set in place meant that there would be no new Tory leader until at least the first week of October. (I say “at least” because in fact, Liam Fox was pushing on Monday morning’s Today Programme for the contest to begin at the Tory Party Conference to “allow all the candidates to parade their wares” – code for “give me time to put my candidacy in order”.)

The shortest possible election campaign is about three weeks, placing polling day no earlier than Thursday 3rd November. November, being cold and wet, is not a well-starred month for elections. Certainly if the Tories do drag out their contest even longer, then any election would have to be next spring.

The 1922 Committee (the people who run the Tory Party’s business) have recommended a shorter timetable, with the new leader elected by 2 September.

This could in theory allow for an earlier election, but only if the Tories don’t mind bulldozing the conference season and can persuade Parliament to go for it. Because although there are ways of fudging the Fixed Term Parliament Act, Parliament needs to be in session to vote itself out. Labour – probably still in the middle of their own leadership crisis – are going to be disinclined to play ball in early September. No confidence-ing their own government out of existence is hardly the most auspicious start to an election campaign, and there’s still a two week cooling off period, which leaves them basically back where they started.

But why go to the country at all when you’ve got a working, if small, majority and the only way is down.

A general election would be difficult for the Liberal Democrats, despite being the most united party, and with a clear message to stand up for the 48%. Many of our local parties are still traumatised by the punishing 2015 election. Bouncing back to our pre-coalition highs of 50+ seats looks unlikely. But that’s not to say that there are not seats that we lost in 2015 that would not swing back to the gold column, particularly in those Metropolitan boroughs and University Towns that voted remain, now that they’ve seen the alternative is an ever-more unfettered right-wing Tory government. Eight MPs might seem like a joke, but doubling that, to sixteen to twenty would make us relevant again. And would deprive Prime Minister May or Johnson of their slender majority.

But the real threat to the Tory hegemony is UKIP.

With his article today, Johnson essentially cedes all advantage to Farage’s mob. In any snap general election, Nigel will campaign on a “we didn’t vote for THAT” ticket (the “stab in the back” narrative) and with Labour in such total disarray, might actually mop up large numbers of seats in the North whose grievance will only have been fuelled by “Boris the Betrayer” (“he stabbed his mate Dave in the back and now he’s sold us out on immigration, the elitist old-Etonian, London so and so”).

I’m inclined to think that if buccaneering Boris gets in, he probably will want his own mandate. Though whether the “men in grey suits” would let him, is another matter. Theresa May is more likely to be content with being PM for four years and seeing if things get better for her prospects of re-election.

And yet only a general election offers us a way out of our current cleft fork.

I do not believe that Vote Remain should be trying to tactics or legalism to get this current Parliament to ignore or thwart the will of the people for Brexit.

But it appears that the leadership of Vote Leave… do NOT want us to leave.

And so new leadership is called for.

What is needed is either electing a pro-Brexit government with a mandate to do the difficult business of unwinding our laws and negotiating new treaties, or giving victory to a pro-Remain government that would certainly be a popular mandate for saying the people had thought again about the referendum result. Or more reasonably, it would be a case for asking the question again.

I’m proud of my Party sticking to its pro-EU guns. (After all, no one would expect UKIP to turn all Europhile if the Remain Campaign had won 52:48. In fact, Farage said as much, up to and even after the polls closed, when he thought he was going to lose.) And we should do everything in our democratic power to keep making that positive case for IN.

And the Lib Dems sweeping to a majority on a pro-Remain ticket would be the clearest possible sign that the public had looked into the Leave abyss and thought better of it after all.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Day 5655: Taking Pride!

Saturday – Happy Pride!

I was one of more than 40 LGBT+ Liberal Democrats to march in the 2016 Pride in London Parade, joined by Parliamentary representation from their Lordships Liz Barker and Brian Paddick, along support from London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon and Chair of London Region Chris Maines.

A good showing for Tower Hamlets too, with my friends Anita, Ed and Richard, and friend of the borough Drew also joining the march.

It was a joyful day, much needed after the referendum results. The crowd greeted us with great enthusiasm, loudly joining in chants of “E.U. We. Love. You!” It was a day to warm a liberal internationalist’s heart.

Liz Barker said: “Remember – we showed real leadership and it is recognised and remembered!”

Chair of LGBT+ Lib Dems Adrian Hyyrylainen-Trett was on the Pride organising committee and with Liberal Democrat Ed Lord marched at the head of the parade alongside London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

(Seen here in blue shirts either side of the mayor; photo from the Guardian)

Many thanks to Ben Mathis for organising our shocking pink “Be You Be Free Be Liberal” tee-shirts and getting us entry tags for the parade.

It was a day when we could be Proud of any and every sexuality and gender identity; Proud of London; and Proud of being Liberal Democrats. And the cheering crowd agreed.

(This blog also appearing at: 25TH JUNE: TAKING PRIDE)

Friday, June 24, 2016

Day 5654: If You Brexit You Bought It


By 6 o’clock this morning, Friday 24th June 2016, it was clear that the British public had voted to leave the European Union.

Britain has chosen a new direction. But we won’t be afraid, even if there is a difficult path ahead, because we trust the people of this country to make it through. And we believe, more than ever, that Britain will need a compassionate liberal voice to help along the way.

It's a sad end for David Cameron, aka Mr Balloon, who gambled recklessly with the county’s future. To keep his job as Prime Minister he gave in to his more unspeakable right wing. He has paid the price of losing and resigned. History won’t be kind to him, the man who deeply wounded his country’s future for his own ends, may even have ended Great Britain altogether.

By the Referendum Divided
Because we’re waking up to a country that is shockingly divided. Important parts having voted to Remain: not just Scotland and Northern Ireland but also many of the great cities of England – Greater Manchester including especially my home town of Stockport, Liverpool, Leeds, Bristol, Oxford and Cambridge and above all London, including my current patch in Tower Hamlets where the vote was 2 to 1 in favour of Remaining.

And it is a matter of pride that those two places where helped the campaign, Cheadle and Tower Hamlets, were among those to buck the national trend and vote to remain.

But while I wouldn’t blame them, I don’t want to see Scotland, let alone London, leaving the UK, tearing us even further apart.

Tearing things apart because you can’t have your own way is the way of the childish tantrum, the way of Farage and his Vote Leave crusade.

Vote Leave is fundamentally anti-democratic, something made pretty glaringly obvious by the way the next Prime Minister will be decided by internal machinations of the Tory Party and not by a vote of the British people.

Democracy means compromise, it means sometimes not getting your own way, something that the Vote Leave campaign – for all their talk of democracy – do not care for.

And this is why you need to elect liberals – if you don’t then the extremists get to take over the asylum.

We face uncertain times. The stock markets and the pound seem to have pulled out of their crash dives, and the Bank of England has promised a quarter of a billion to calm things down. But the pound is significantly weaker and the global economy has taken a blow. Already some companies talk of moving their offices from London to Frankfurt or Bonn.

We can survives this, but we need to pull together, not apart.

This country needs a new politics.

The Tory Party are clearly split and may never be able to put themselves back together.

Labour’s leadership have been weak and indecisive leadership throughout the campaign, their indifference to their own supporters means they abandoned many voters to UKIP’s brazen promises, populist solutions and outright lies.

Only the Liberal Democrats have been consistent and positive about the opportunities and benefits of an open liberal Britain, and that puts us in the best possible position to shape the new politics that we so clearly need.

There is a huge well of support for a liberal, outward-looking Britain and we will not let the triumphalist Leave Campaign ignore that voice, your voice. We will hold them to their promises of a free-trading Britain that is open for business. They promised to give you control. We will hold them to that too.

Now, even more than in the aftermath of last year's general election, we need you to stand with us. Stand up and be counted as the voice of the real Britain. Don't leave it to others. Don't leave your country in the hands of Johnson, Gove and Nigel Farage.

Join us and we will make Britain Great again.

(This blog also appearing at:

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Day 5651: The Dark is Rising


We must turn back the tide.

In the last week there have been two murderous attacks on people who, although not close to me are only a short step away and feel like my people.

In America, my soon-to-be-step brother knows people in Orlando who have lost loved ones in the massacre at the Pulse nightclub – an attack on the gay community, my community.

And then in Birstall, I know people who have campaigned near there and who have campaigned with Jo Cox for better treatment of refugees – an attack on liberal-thinking politics, my tribe of politics.

At the Westminster vigil

These incidents do not come in isolation.

The roots of this poison go deep. Fear, anger, rage have been encouraged, fed by years of austerity. Left and right have encouraged a blame culture and simplistic answers. Our media have traduced politicians as venal and corrupt. The immediacy of social media has unleashed a tidal wave of trolls with the power of abuse. And this referendum has been the ugliest political campaign, fought in the ugliest political climate. To get to this point.

How many tweets calling a person with the opposite view a traitor does it take before some people think it's okay to shout abuse in the streets? How may expletive-laden chants of traitor have to be shouted before some people think it's okay to whisper threats of rape and violence to a young woman as she campaigns? How many whispered threats before some people think it's okay to stop threatening and use violence? How many assaults and beatings does it take before one person thinks that he will do what everyone he reads is saying he should do? To get to this point.

When did it become okay to say we've had enough of experts?

When did it become okay to say that violence would follow if you don't get your own way?

When did it become okay to just lie?

Those on the right need to be held to account for how they have promoted simplistic – and wrong – answers, seeking protectionism and blaming the foreigner, the other, despite the clear historical precedent that these answers do not work – we hear people like Peter Oborne saying the working class are fearful for their jobs but stoking that fear by repeating the falsehood that immigrants "take British people's jobs" when that is simply not how economies work.

Those on the left need to look at how they behaved during the coalition years: all the cries of betrayal and blame, never seeking to promote answers or accepting responsibility, abandoning arguments just as they abandoned the working class vote to the nationalists – the likes of Polly Toynbee who now condemns the toxic climate but never took a week off from denigrating Nick Clegg for trying to make a bad situation work.

Those in the media need to admit to their own faults, and failings and bias, who have given platforms to Farage and his rag tag minority far beyond what they deserved until the prophecy has become self-fulfilling; who have spun news stories – or just plain falsehoods – to the tune of business tycoons whose interests do not in any way correspond with the interests of the British public; and who push the idea that politicians never give a straight answer, but who won't let a politician answer the question without interrupting, and some questions need more than a soundbite to answer, who have earned far more than the MPs they bully while painting politicians as venal and corrupt and deserving of abuse and yes even death.

But I won't accept false equivalence. There are faults on all sides, but they are not the same, and to pretend that there is any sense that the Stronger In campaign mounting piece after piece of evidence that things will not be good outside the EU – dismissed as "Project Fear" by the people scaremongering about immigrant rapists – is in any way similar to the malice and lies of Vote Leave is to give succour to the racists who can hardly even be said to be hiding in plain sight any more, they are out in the open and revelling in their vile views.

There comes a time when you have to ask yourself – as in the Mitchell & Webb sketch – are you the baddies?

UKIP are not the victims here. Nigel Farage, asked about the death of Jo Cox, claimed that he was the victim of hatred. Nigel Farage is not the victim here. If you foment hate and you get hate back, that is not a free pass to go on spewing hate.

Evil exists.

It is a childish thing to think in terms of good and evil. We are more sophisticated than that. Grown up life is so much more complex and nuanced, full of difficult compromise and the best being enemy to the better. But sometimes is really is that simple. Because we have seen this road before and we know the place it ends.

It is a childish thing to think in terms of good and evil. But it is story of my childhood that keeps coming back to me – Susan Cooper's "The Dark is Rising". And that is what I have been feeling, for the last days, weeks, months even.

There is Darkness in all humans. And that Dark is rising.

I'm not immune. I'm not a saint. I've felt anger, fury even, at some of the things that have been said and done in this campaign. I like to tell myself that I've tried to campaign in an honest and optimistic way, that I've tried to stick to the facts and called on people to use fact and reason to build their case, to use the best of British tradition to encourage us to be part of holding together a Europe that for the first time in history has gone not one but two generations without tearing itself apart. But if you scrutinise, I would not be surprised if you found I'd sent a tweet in wrath, or posted an irate put-down on FaceBook.

Many have said that her death was the first they had heard of Jo Cox. Because she'd been working with Tim Farron and Yvette Cooper to urge Britain to do more for refugees I was vaguely aware of her work. But I can hardly say that I knew her.

But I want to try to be a better person, to not give in to that anger, as my way to honour her memory.

We must all strive to do better. And we can be better.

Today I am appalled to hear that a man was planning to assassinate Donald Trump. We cannot defeat Trump – or Farage – by killing him. That way, we only replace him.

The vigils that have been held for Orlando and for Jo Cox, the dignity of the tributes paid in parliament, have shown that there is love and there is a better way. The sudden and very obvious panic in the Vote Leave camp, and in Farage in particular, the way he's desperately trying to turn this around to make the story all about him again, the disrespectful claim that Remain are out to "profit" from the death of one of their strongest voices all tell the tale that they know they've been rumbled.

These vigils are not about any political campaign any more. They are about doing a politics that is Good.

Vote Leave's fear and anger is because they embraced the Darkness months, if not years ago. They lost the argument. All they have is driving people with fear, anger, hate, poison.

There is now the palpable sense that people have awoken to the clear and present danger of allowing free reign to this poison that has festered. There is a sense that I am not alone in wanting to strive to do better.

The Dark is rising.

But the Light is rising to turn back the Dark.

“The hope is always here, always alive, but only your fierce caring can fan it into a fire to warm the world.”
― Susan Cooper, Silver on the Tree

Monday, June 06, 2016

Day 5636: Winning with the Facts


Nearly 12,000 people came to read my Fluffy Diary in May – that's a HUGE spike in readership, and it's all driven by ONE post.

This one: Day 5588: EUROPE – JUST THE FACTS, MA'AM

People are DESPERATE for the FACTS in this referendum. And if you give it to them straight, sometimes you can win them over.

At the Cheadle Lib Dems’ street stall on Saturday, I talked to a student who was going to vote leave "because the EU isn't worth it".

I gave him the facts, simple maths convinced him, and he said he'd be voting in.

From the independent IFS:

The EU costs us £8 billion a year.

But it's worth 5% extra on our GDP.

5% of £2 trillion is £100 billion.

That's worth £40 billion to the Treasury.

MORE IMPORTANTLY, that's worth £60 billion to the pockets of all of US, something the Quitters never seem to factor in when they talk out "our" meaning the government's money.

Think of all the people employed with that money who have jobs because of the trade and investment through our membership of the EU.

Remaining IN gives those people – US! – more opportunities to work.

Because the Leave campaign keep talking only about the numbers cost to ‘Westminster’ – ignoring all the money coming to actual people that government had nothing to do with.

The FACTS in the Europe referendum are stacking up on the REMAIN side.

More and more independent bodies – like the IFS, the CBI, the OECD, and the IMF – weigh in with more and more evidence.

The Quitters’ increasingly desperate cries of "conspiracy" and "self-interest" merely highlight that only their own very few pet experts will speak up in defence of… well, whatever it is they think post-exit Britain will look like today.

The Leave Campaign say all these people are wrong. All of them. They say the Treasury always gets its predictions wrong… they missed the target on the deficit… they didn't see the crash of 2008 coming… Who on the Leave side got these things right? They simply don't have a counter case to put. Even the Treasury's results are BETTER than the people who haven't even written their name on the exam paper.

More and more of our friends and neighbours – like America's President Obama, Canada's Premier Justin Trudeau… and he’s not even the first Trudeau to plead with the UK that we stay in what was the EEC… Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi – appeal more and more to us to stay In Together.

The Leave Campaign SAY that countries around the world would be just waiting to do trade deals with us, gagging for us to leave and spend years negotiating whole new agreements with them after we rip up all the ones we’ve already got … but when we ASK those countries… they all say STAY IN.

The Quitters are wrong. But when the FACTS say they're wrong, the Leave Campaign deny the FACTS.

So now they say everyone on Earth from the President of the USA on is part of an EU conspiracy and the USA, Canada, Australia, India and all the others really want. The peoples of the USA, Canada, Australia, India don’t get a say, and the people they actually elect should shut up – only the Quitters can say what they really want. It’s Boris who’s the real President of the USA!

And when they don't like the future, they MAKE UP new ones to scare you.

Look out! They'll double the budget! They'll make us bail out the Euro! Seventy-seven million Turks are coming to take your jobs AND lounge about on benefits!
Even though NONE of this is true and if any of it were to be suggested we can veto it.

The FACTS about the EU Budget – Britain, playing our part, by agreeing with our allies from other countries, got the EU budget CUT (and it HAS been signed off by the auditors)!

The FACTS about the Eurozone – the Prime Monster's renegotiation might not seem like much, but the important bit was getting the EU to respect and protect those countries that had NOT joined up to the single currency, and to keep them OUT of any bailout!

The FACTS about Turkey – of course we WANT Turkey to join the EU… but when they are good and ready! When they've got human rights, and pulled out of Cyprus, and given women equal treatment, and when their economy can take it. And once they've GOT those things… then they are so much less likely to want to or need to become migrants. It will be a LONG time before they get there, if they even decide that's where they want to get.

The Cheadle Street stall on Saturday was gently reassuring for the Remain campaign. Sure, we had our share of vociferous Quitters (three, as it happens – including the one who said that Manchester's temporary Mayor having been appointed without election (yet) was proof that the EU was a "tyranny"…); and there were a few people who would see the In Together balloons and a look of nauseated disgust would cross their faces before they shuffled angrily away; but by the end of the day more than a dozen – quietly, and not wanting to attract the attentions of the Quitters – had come up to us to say that they would be voting "IN".

Not afraid. Not confused. Just quietly hopeful for a future faced together. FACT.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Day 5628: Messages from Cheadle #2 - the EU


Street stall campaigning can be fun...

I'm Richard Flowers.

Liberal Democrats believe in working together.

That's why we want Britain to remain in the EU.

And that's why I'm here today at the Cheadle Lib Dems street stall, putting the positive case that we remain stronger in together.

You'll've heard all the scare stories. About the economy and trade.

But we don't believe the British are quitters.

We believe Britain can lead in Europe, and that there are positive things we get.

28 countries working together has already delivered a longer period of peace and prosperity than ever before in history.

But think about the future. Kids today who deserve the chance to work, travel, learn yes and even retire anywhere in Europe. We want to give them that opportunity.

The Liberal Democrats believe in a future that's better for all of us together. And that's why we want to Britain to remain in Europe.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Day 5625: Messages from Cheadle #1 - the NHS


We are trying a new experiment in VIDEO BLOGGING.

Daddy Richard will be doing some news'n'views from his old home town, and for the start he has brought Daddy Alex along to go back to the very beginning, the place where he was born.

More to follow, you lucky people!

Richard: I’m Richard Flowers – and my husband Alex was born here, at Stepping Hill Hospital.

Alex: We both depend on the NHS. And we’re both grateful for all the things that they do.

Richard: We’re glad that the junior doctors have got their agreement – at last – but why do the Tories keep picking a fight with the NHS? Last time it was the nurses. This time it’s the junior doctors.
Why do they keep trying to rip up the NHS?

Alex: It’s the same with the schools, and even the BBC. I just don’t get why the Tories keep trying to break the British institutions that all the rest of us love.

Richard: The Liberal Democrats want to build a better future – invest in the NHS and work with professionals, not against them.
The big change that we want to make isn’t imposing bureaucracy or picking a fight.
We want the NHS to get better at delivering for mental health issues. And we’d put in the money to do it.

Alex: We all know people who suffer with mental health problems. But they’re not as easy to put into targets – or photo opportunities.

Richard: These are the priorities for the Liberal Democrats.
Not picking a fight with doctors.
But building a better future and a better deal for those who need it most.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016



"We have had our lovely leaflet from HM Government about reasons to stay in the EU… but could I please have both sides of the argument given as facts so I can make an informed choice?"

People don't actually make up their minds based on facts.

So, if you are inclined, even slightly, to vote "remain" then the government's little pamphlet provides some comforting homilies to warm you to the idea you're making the right choice.

But, and this worries me, if you find yourself wanting "other facts" to justify your doubts maybe you're drifting into the "Leave" camp.

That doesn't make you a bad person.

The desire to protect your own, yourself and your family first, is one of the strongest human impulses.

I do however think that some very bad people are trying to use this to their advantage. Ask yourself, do you believe that Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson are acting in your interests or in their own?

Asking for the facts ought to be a good thing.

But the "Leave" campaign doesn't HAVE any facts. They have promises and guesses. Uncharitably, they have fiction.

It's not like they haven't had FORTY YEARS to work out what they would do instead.


They deny every fact presented by the Remain campaign – every report is biased, every testimony is a conspiracy; every piece of friendly advice is an unwarranted interference (and in the interest of a foreign power!).

(Though when President Obama wants us to remain and President Putin wants Britain to exit, you have to ask: who exactly do our best interests coincide with?)

John Redwood on the Today Programme (18 April), a Tory deriding the Treasury report on the grounds that you cannot trust Tory Treasury figures (I kid you not), said in pretty much these words: "We will be better off if we leave. I cannot tell you why or how."

(Do you remember how the Scottish Nationalists promised, promised everyone in Scotland would be better of leaving, because Scotland was a proud, independent, oil-rich nation… and then the oil price collapsed.)

I'm pretty sure John Redwood will be better off. But will YOU?

Remember how the Tories said they were "held back" by the Liberal Democrats? And then, as soon as they could govern on their own, they cut benefits to the disabled to give a tax cut to dead millionaires.

That's why they want to get out of Europe. So that they don't have to give workers their rights, or paid holidays. So they can trouser more of your money.

Michael Gove, supposedly a "leading intellectual" in the "Leave" campaign was given free reign to present his "vision" to the nation on the Today Programme (19th April).

His so-called positive pitch can I think fairly be summarised as:

"Europe might go wrong! Immigrants! Deregulate the banks [seriously! After that went so well last time?!] We have no influence in Europe! But they'd give us a magic trade deal! Terrorism! Aren't Remain MEAN!"

If I might borrow from Raphael Behr, pressed to present what post-Brexit Britain would look like after leaving the EU, Gove answered:
"Like Canada, but not Canada. Better in indescribable ways. Imagine a good thing. That."
And Gove is supposed to be the BRAINS of the outfit!

Perhaps I can help him out.

These are the three basic arguments that the "Leave" campaign deploy:

  1. Britain should govern its own affairs.
  2. Britain would be better off out.
  3. Britain can never control immigration while we are members of the EU.

And these are all DEEPLY disingenuous positions.

I will try and approach these as three questions. I'll try to avoid using too many numbers because politicians have used "bullshit statistics" so often that now a lot of the time statistics obscure rather than enlighten. And I'm not going to pretend I'm not biased.

1. How much say in our own affairs do we have if we remain or if we leave?

This is what you might call the "philosophical" reason for the "Leave" campaign and plays strongly to people's sense of patriotism, and belief in "our way of life".

Many people who want to leave the EU do so because they have an honest belief that Britain is better governed and should only be governed by laws made by the British Parliament.

(They tend to do this by talking about a "European elite" or "democratic deficit" or about "Europe 'overruling' Westminster". Nationalists in Scotland and Wales say similar things about the Westminster government.)

If we remain in the EU then the Westminster government will not have as much freedom as it would if we were to leave.

  • There are some pieces of EU law, called "regulations" which immediately become UK Law. These are the most powerful – and most controversial – pieces of EU law. They cover areas of consumer protection, your rights at work, and the rules for companies (including the rules for banks and finance institutions).
  • There are other pieces of EU law, called "directives", which Westminster will have to pass as its own legislation to bring into British law.
  • There are some things that Westminster cannot do because they would be against the various treaties that the British government has signed up to – though of course we have treaties with lots of places, not just the EU. AND "Leave" say we would make new trade agreements, which would mean we would have to make many lots MORE treaties if we were outside the EU.
  • And there are some things which the Westminster government would not do because it would be diplomatically difficult.

Equally, if we remain in then the British Government gets an equal voice in the main governing body of the European Union, the Council of the EU* [that's one vote in twenty-eight], and can appoint one of the EU Commissioners [one of (again) twenty-eight; one for and from each member state].

[edit to add additional explanatory note:]

European Union Laws – regulations and directives – are proposed by the Commission, but only become law if they are agreed by both the Parliament and the Council.

(Except for decisions on the common external tariff and EU trade treaties, which require only agreement of the Council.)

Agreement of the Council of the EU requires what is known as qualified majority voting: a decision is only agreed if about [pardon the numbers here] THREE-QUARTERS of the votes are in favour AND those votes represent at least HALF the countries of the EU AND those votes represent at least TWO-THIRDS of the population of the EU.

[*note: originally I referred incorrectly to "the Council of Europe", which is a different body. I am grateful to Richard Allan for pointing out this correction.]

So by remaining in Europe, our Government has less power to govern itself, but more power to govern all of the other countries in the EU.

We, the British people, also get a direct say in running Europe because we get to elect Members of the European Parliament.

[We get 73 out of 751 or 9.7% of the parliament. Germany has 96 MEPs, France has 74, Italy, like the UK has 73. The next largest country is Spain with 53 and then Poland with 51 and Romania with 33. Other countries have 26 or fewer MEPs. No one country is able to dominate.]

How democratic is Europe?

The EU is MORE democratic that the Westminster Parliament in the UK.

ALL members of the EU Parliament are elected by a proportional voting system to represent all the viewpoints of the citizens of Europe; the House of Lords [MORE THAN HALF the members of the UK Parliament] are UNELECTED, and the remaining members are elected by a highly disproportional system that gives complete power to Parties that have support from a minority of the population.

The "Cabinet" of the EU is made up of elected heads of government of all the member states; the Cabinet of the UK is appointed on the whim of the Prime Minister and can even include people who have not been elected at all (usually by granting them an instant peerage).

In the EU, the top civil servants, the Commissioners, are appointed by democratically elected governments and are accountable to the elected Parliament; in the UK, top civil servants, the ones known as mandarins or Sir Humphreys, are unaccountable and appoint themselves.

The board of the European Central Bank are appointed by the Heads of Government of the member states, after consultation from the European Parliament. The Governor of the Bank of England is appointed "by the Prime Minister" though as this is on recommendation from the Bank, effectively the bank selects its own governors.

And so on.

So how "democratic" are they, these people who seek to steal your right to vote in Europe?

John Redwood, since I mentioned him, holds a seat that has never (and I mean NEVER, since it was first created 131 years ago) elected anyone other than a Tory. Essentially, he has a job for life, gifted to him by a tiny unelected, unaccountable selection committee of the Tory Party. So does Michael Gove. So does Boris Johnson, another leading figure of the "Leave" campaign. Or there's the Lords Lawson and Lamont, who take unelected seats in our Parliament and lecture us on how we should get out of Europe (Lawson while living comfortably in France!). And the list goes on. You can NEVER get rid of them.

We saw, during the expenses scandal, that the safer an MPs seat the more likely they were to abuse their expenses. So this isn't just unfair, it's fundamentally CORRUPTING.

And many of the "Leave" campaigners are the same people who campaigned to keep Britain's unfair, corrupting voting system, and keep themselves in a job for life.

These people have done everything in their power to retain power unaccountably and for ever. Why should you believe that they want out of Europe in your interest, and not their own?

For YOU as an individual, your say in your government amounts to: if we remain – one vote every five years for your Member of Parliament and one vote every four years for your Member of the European Parliament. If we leave, you will get only the one vote every five years for your MP.

If you think that the government having less power to do exactly as it pleases is bad, then you might well think that it is better to leave the EU.

However, if you think government should not have more power over you, or if you think that having two competing centres of power competing for your vote gives you, as an individual, more say, as you get two vote and have several different representatives to approach if you need, then you might prefer to stay in.

But doesn't the EU make 75% of our laws?

Bluntly: no.

EVERY Law that affects the UK has to be passed by Parliament. Our MPs cannot be forced to pass European Laws.

Research by the House of Commons Library in 2010, found that few of our laws were influenced by Europe.

[I'm going to have to use some numbers here: just under 7% of Primary Legislation (Acts of Parliament) and just over 14% of secondary legislation (regulations being adjusted by ministers under previously agreed laws).

Even assuming that there's no double counting if you add those figures together (and there certainly is) then that is no more than one fifth of our laws coming from Europe before they are agreed by MPs.]

Other research by the BBC's "More or Less" has tried to trace where that "75%" figure comes from. The earliest reference they could find was a speech by… Nigel Farage. It appears that he just made it up!

(See also: Boris Johnson, who; got fired by the Times for making up stuff when he was Europe correspondent.)

How much power can Britain wield?

Campaigners for "Leave" (those who got to vote in the 1975 referendum) often say something like: "we voted for the Common Market; we didn't sign up for this super-state".

But the biggest single change to the EU (the change from EEC to EU, in fact, but that also formally abandoned the ideas of a country called Europe in favour of "ever closer Union") was when Mrs Thatcher used Britain's influence to champion the Single European Act.

The EU is now a much more "British" free trade area than it was when it was the EEC.

What may change that in the future is a side-effect of adopting the Euro on the single currency area. Although primarily a way of making trade even easier, the economic fallout has driven calls for stronger and faster POLITICAL union. (Because a European government that would be able to distribute money to poorer areas is seen as the answer to the pull of money to areas that are already successful.)

So long as we remain in, though, we would have an absolute block on that because we could, in the end veto it. The only way it could happen is if Britain (and all the other members) agreed that it was more in their national interest to let it happen.

So the thing to learn here is that when Britain gets involved in Europe, we get a more British Europe; when we haver on the sidelines, we lose influence and Europe goes another way.

2. Will we be better off if we remain or if we leave?

You might call this the "practical" question of the referendum, and it is the one that will be the decider for most people who are not committed believers in Europe of Brexit.

Britain is a trading nation. We sell a lot of things to Europe. We buy an awful lot more things from Europe.

The "Leave" campaign like to claim that this gives us the upper hand in negotiations – "they need to sell to us more than we need to buy from them", they say.

I buy more from Asda than Asda buy from me. Brexit logic says this puts me in a stronger position than Asda. Do you think that's true?

A very large percentage of our nation's income comes from the financial sector.

[More numberwang: The City of London contributes more than 11% of all the tax raised by the government.]

A large part of that income is because the City is allowed to trade in Euros and on the European exchanges. They are allowed to do that because we are part of the EU. If we leave, that business will go to Frankfurt. It's probably worth more to Germany than all their car sales put together.

Some of the people saying we should leave, claim we could easily negotiate new free trade agreements with other countries. They suggest Canada as an example. It took Canada seven years to negotiate her free trade agreement with the EU. That is "Leave's" definition of "easy".

But yes, of course we could negotiate new deals. But why start again when we are already in the biggest free trade agreement in the World? If it's about trade, we've already got the best deal going.

As part of the EU we have no tariffs between us and other EU countries. Also, as part of the EU we have automatic tariffs between us and every other country in the World. If we leave the EU, we will have the common tariff between us and our neighbours. Imports from Europe will be more expensive. Exports to Europe will be harder. That means for consumers in the UK prices will go up; and for anyone selling anything to Europe either their prices will go up and their product become less attractive, or they will have to make cuts to stay competitive.

This is not to say that Britain could not survive outside the EU. But that the "Leave" campaign appear to be saying that the first thing they would do is struggle all out to get back to where we are now. Does this not seem like it will be a great big waste of time, money and life?

If we leave – it is said – we would be free to negotiate with countries outside the EU. Except we are free to do that now. The EU in no way hindered the recent trade deals with, say, China (that one to among other things build a nuclear power station). We have negotiated deals with India and Brazil too. Leaving does not make these deals any better. It could make them worse, if we can no longer offer a gateway to the European market.

They say we could negotiate a new deal with America. The Americans have said they have no interest in negotiating with a UK outside of the EU.

Meanwhile, others of the "Leave" campaign are saying we should leave precisely because the EU is foisting a free trade deal with America upon us.

Which is frankly incoherent. But it is why it is so difficult to counter the "Leave" campaign "arguments", when they can just switch to the exact opposite of what they've just been arguing.

TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership, is mainly a deal to recognise each other's regulations and standards, and so make it easier for small and medium sized companies to trade across the Atlantic. It is not a threat to the NHS or any other state service, as these are explicitly outside the negotiations. And it is not a "secret deal". In fact it is one of the most openly talked about trade deals ever. We know much more about TTIP than, for example, that deal with China I just mentioned.

If we leave Europe, we will no longer have to obey all the EU's regulations. Unless we want to trade with the EU (which "Leave" say they do), in which case we will have to obey all the EU's regulations (just as Norway and Switzerland do). Except we will no longer have any say in how those regulations are decided.

And if we want to trade with America… we will have to agree to obey America's regulations. Unless we can negotiate a deal to recognise each other's regulations and standards… ah, like the one we are negotiating right now with the backing of the entire EU.

In summary: if we leave the EU then we will be able to do all of the things that we can do now… except for the ones that we can't. And some of the ones we can will be harder.


What are the downsides to remaining in?

Growth in the European Union, post 2008 banking crisis, has been slower than elsewhere in the World. Though mainly that is because developing economies like India and China have grown while developed economies outside of America have stood still. And American growth is an exception literally being powered by shale gas extraction (fracking).

There is an ongoing problem for the Eurozone countries that is causing money to be sucked into Germany and away from Southern Europe. (Actually, the same thing happens in the UK because London sucks money in away from all the rest of the country, except the government pushes it back out again by spending.)

As a productive manufacturing economy (we are more like Germany than Greece) this would be more likely to work in Britain's favour, drawing more inward investment and purchases here.

What if we need to bail out the Euro? Even though we have obtained explicit exemptions from anything to do with the Euro AND David Cameron managed to get the – actually significant – agreement that the EU would act in the interest of all members not just the Eurozone members, it is not impossible we might find ourselves in a situation where it is necessary to help out our neighbours. We did, for example, help to bail out the Irish Banks. And we did this because it's right to help your neighbours when they need it. But also because having our neighbours go bankrupt would be really really bad for us too.

So if Europe does go bust on our doorstep… do you think we would be able to ignore that and suffer no consequences? Or do you think that we would be obliged – by self-interest, if no better human instinct – to help out even if we'd left, because the alternative would be to wreck all those trade deals with Europe we are promised would happen easily once we exit.

In which case, being in or out of Europe wouldn't make any difference.


But it costs us money to be in the European Union

Yes it does. Just like it costs to be a member at Costco so you can get the better deals on prices.

Britain pays money in to the EU and gets money back. We pay more money in than we get back, so there is an effective cost to remaining in.

That's because we are the second richest country in the EU (after Germany and in recent times ahead of France).

If you believe that the richest should pay more in tax than they get back in benefits in order that the poorest should be supported, then you should have no problem with that at all.

And if you believe that the rich should not have to pay to support the poor, then ask yourself how much of the health service, schools roads and other services you would be willing to do without if the City of London thought the same way about the rest of the UK.

On that basis alone, and sticking purely to the facts, the "Leave" claim that we could save money is morally reprehensible.

[Numberwang: The "Leave" claim that the EU costs £350 million a week is also a lie. That's a strong term, but they have been repeatedly given proof that it is not true and there is simply no excuse any more for repeating that claim. Because of Mrs Thatcher's rebate, we actually pay in £250 million a week. And we get about half of that back in support for farmers and fishermen and other grants – which "Leave" usually promise they would continue to support, so cannot be counted as a "saving" – meaning our net contribution is £120 million a week. A little more ONE THIRD of what "Leave" continue to claim. What do you think that says about all their other numbers? Oh, wait, there aren't any.]

I'll add more here: it's not just moral. It's a multiplier. By getting access to trade, without tariff barriers, we make much more money.

And "we" means ALL OF US: workers and businesses and everyone who trades with the EU, and all of us consumers who get things cheaper from the EU.

The government gets back in higher tax returns the money it invests in paying the membership fee for all of us, but then all of us ordinary people get lion share of the benefit.

When they talk about cosuing "us" however much a week, the "Leave" are counting the money as if only the Westminster Government that counts. Ordinary people's cash doesn't matter.

Usually those Tories who back "Leave" claim to be in favour of giving you more of your own money. But for some reason when it comes to Europe they want the Westminster Government to keep more of your cash and you to get much less of it.

[Some more Numberwang: UK GDP is about TWO TRILLION POUNDS. That's £2,000,000,000,000. Leading economists estimate that the free market gives us a head start worth 1-3% a year on our growth figures. But even suppose membership of the EU adds just a TENTH of that, JUST 0.1% to growth, that means we add two billion pounds a year to our GDP, EACH year, EVERY year – so we would be TWO billion quid better off next year, FOUR billion the year after, SIX billion the year after that and so on. It quickly dwarfs any cost of taking part.]

3. Will there be more or less immigration if we remain or if we leave?

This is the dark side of the referendum.

UKIP (and others, often but not exclusively on the political right) will often say "it's not racist to talk about immigration". Well, it IS the way UKIP talks about it. They claim "we're not allowed to talk about immigration." We've talked about almost nothing BUT immigration for the last ten years at least (remember Michael Howard asking: "are you thinking what we’re thinking" – no, we weren't, fortunately).

Immigration means change, and that can be frightening. We like stability, because it means safety and (as before) protecting our own.

Failure to manage change – to make sure that homes are available and services remain able to cope with numbers – leads to tension. And in a time when services are being cut back, it's easy – and wrong – to put the blame on "the others".

(And just by raising the subject of racism, they are giving the nod and wink, the "dog whistle" to people who ARE racist.)

The (not very) coded message in the words used by UKIP (and the "Leave" campaign) is that immigration would be a LOT lower if they were in charge.

Mr Farage like to say that the EU is prejudiced against non-EU citizens and that he wants to treat everyone equally. What he really means is that he wants to be equally prejudiced towards everyone.

Firstly, this begs the question: "is immigration actually a bad thing?"

Economies with net immigration always do better than ones with negligible immigration or net emigration. Always. Britain in the Nineteenth century, America in the Twentieth, potentially Germany in the Twenty-First.

In simple terms, more people do more work.

"Ah," comes the reply. "That all very well for the middle classes with their plumbers and restaurant staff, but it not good for everyone because immigrants take low paying jobs and so keep wages down for working people." This seems so self-evident that people don't challenge it, but there is NO EVIDENCE AT ALL that this is true.

And you know that if there WERE evidence, the "usual suspects" would be shouting about it very loudly.

It turns out immigrants do not just "take jobs". They also create opportunities: they need food, homes, schools, services. This leads to further economic growth and MORE jobs.

Areas of high unemployment are caused by economic decline, or because local people do not have the training or experience to apply for new jobs that are created. But that's not caused by immigration. That is a failure of government, a failure to manage change and to deliver education (or re-education) and opportunity. And Government could and should intervene to help.

Very often, immigrants are both highly motivated and better educated, which can see them being placed in jobs that locals are not able to get. That is not caused by immigration; those jobs could not have been filled without immigration.

Will we be at greater risk of terrorism if we remain or if we leave?

This is the even-more-highly-charged version of the immigration question: the old "stranger danger" the red under the bed, the yellow peril, the black man in pursuit of the white woman, the witch in the woods. It's old and it’s ugly.

The speed and glee with which some of the "Leave" campaign jumped on the terrorist atrocity in Belgium to try to scare people into their camp was very nearly as sick and evil as the terrorist perpetrators themselves. I do not say that lightly. Both groups were trying to use a horrible act of murder for political ends. And both with the SAME political ends: to weaken and divide Europe.

The rolling news cycle and the immediacy of the internet (not to mention politicians and police promoting their own little empires) makes it seem that the threat is greater than ever. Yet we used to suffer two or three terrorist outrages every YEAR. Now, we've had two incidents in the last DECADE.

But we should not be linking terrorism to the Europe debate AT ALL. The roots of terrorism are complex, taking in a long history of Imperialism, fallout from the Cold War and the World Wars, global poverty, abuse of religious ideals, disenfranchised youth, criminal cartels, oil, corruption, Western failure to support Russia that has led to renewed guarded hostility, the miscalculation of European approaches to Ukraine, all those terrible choices that led to Iraq, Libya and Syria and some people who, given the chance, are just pure evil.

We cannot walk away from that mess, even if we quit the EU. No man is an island. These days, even no island is an island. Even the most paranoid of "Leave" campaigners are not suggesting we seal the borders entirely. Mostly, in fact, "Leave" say they want us to be an "open trading nation". Terrorists would still reach these shores.

Blaming the Schengen Area is a complete red herring.

Firstly, without an awful lot of barbed wire, passport controls will not make for secure borders between the countries of mainland Europe who do not have the advantage of a small sea between them and their neighbours; they are just too long, too open and too easy to cross.

The greatest terrorist threat to this country was the IRA and they never had any difficulty slipping back and forward across the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

Second, Schengen also means a common ID papers area, and allows police in any of the states within it to challenge people for their ID – that's actually MORE draconian security than in Britain, more actually, than Britain is willing to put up with (given our huge scepticism about "stop and search" and "sus laws" and "ID cards").

Tackling terrorism requires international co-operation. Isolation can only make us MORE VULNERABLE.

But what about our "culture"?

In the last 500 years, we British have been all over this World and brought back cultures from everywhere on the globe. America, Asia, Africa and of course all of Europe, have influenced us, from our language to our cuisine. Our tea comes from China, our curry from India, our coffee and chocolate(!) from the Americas. Our algebra and astronomy come from Islam.

Multi-culturalism hasn't failed. Quite the reverse, it thrives in the way we all (almost all) manage to rub along together in our silly busy ways, making accommodations with each other. That's life.

The global meltdown of 2008, and the austerity afterwards, plus the behaviour of certain of the super-rich, has shaken people's faith in the liberal economy, in spite of literally decades of proven success (not to mention protectionism directly causing the Great Depression and a World War!).

Our leaders have demonstrated their failings over and over. Some have been greedy – but fewer that you think – some have been stupid.

Add to that, the long-running Tory civil war over Europe – between those who see our place in the World as taking part in the common endeavour and those who yearn for a dead Empire – has combined with half a decade of the Labour Party indulging its worst tantrums to scream "traitors" at any and all outside the Party faithful and between them they've managed to create a truly toxic atmosphere of resentment, grievance and hostility.

And grievance is all that "Leave" has to offer. Why can't things be like they used to be?

Why? Because they are BETTER now.

When I look at the world, I see war and famine in Africa, I see religious conflict and terrorism in the Middle East, I see human rights abuses and billions in poverty choking on the very air in China…

Europe used to be just like that. Hundreds and hundreds of years of war, and famine, and plague and death.

And I see what we have achieved in Europe. Together

Millions of refugees are risking death to get here. Why? Because every single person living on the face of this planet (apart, it seems, from Britons) knows one true fact:

If you want to protect your children: BE PART OF EUROPE.

The EU question isn't quite the same as Climate Change or Evolution where "balance" means there's a debate between the people with science, research, evidence and peer-reviewed data… and dangerously deluded idiots who are actively harmful to the survival of humans as a species.

But broadly speaking, and there are nebulous areas of gut feeling about this, but the risks and rewards of liberal economies, free trade and international cooperation are worth more than isolationism and protectionism.

That is a fact.

Really that's the only fact that matters.

Peace, human rights, scientific exchange, free travel, retiring to the Costa del Sol (even if you're not a Great Train Robber), cheaper roaming tariffs… they all follow from that one fact.


You still want the facts? Here are the facts:

Here is the IMF's (International Monetary Fund's) World Economic Outlook report for 2016 listing United Kingdom exit from the European Union as one of seven main risks to the outlook for the world economy.[pdf];

...and here is the report by a globally recognised authority on the risks of us staying in… oh, wait there isn't one.

This is the UK Treasury study (in great depth) showing we would be worse off for leaving the EU;

...and here is the study showing how we will be better off if we leave… no, hang on, there isn't one of those either.

Here is the case from the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) for Remain;

...and here is the… oh, no, you guessed it, no reputable business group for out either.

Here are the Scientist for IN;

...nope, no scientists against.

And here are the Featured Artists Coalition (from Pink Floyd to Radiohead) who want us to Remain;

...I think you're getting the picture by now.

So finally here are the In Facts from In Facts.