...a blog by Richard Flowers

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.