Unhelpful Thoughts On Brexit

You could spend a lot of time wondering what makes Theresa May tick.

She says she supported remain and voted to stay in the European Union. So her increasing fervour for Brexit has been one of the most confusing factors in British politics over the last two and a half years.

Taking over the Tory leadership after David Cameron resigned was always going to be a poisoned chalice. No-one would have had a good time in that position, except maybe a genuine hard quitter like Jacob Rees-Mogg. That’s probably why Gove and Johnson pulled out.

If she truly believed that staying in was best, though, she would not have rushed into triggering Article 50 (nor would she have gone to court to fight for her wish to do so by diktat; luckily National Hero Gina Miller had the nation’s back on that one).

If she had used more care, collaboration, and consideration, she might have had an easier time when Article 50 finally was triggered and the negotiations started. In fact if she had been more thoughtful in the first place she might even have said something like, “The vote was close; the country is clearly divided. We will discuss the possible ways forward in parliament and with the rest of the EU, and come back to you, the people, for confirmation when we better understand what Brexit means.” 1

But no: “Brexit means Brexit”: she knew up front what it meant, and never deviated. Even if the majority of the country had no idea what it would mean.

She then proceeded as follows:

  • ignore any idea of cross-party talks and so involving parliament (the UK’s sovereign body) in the negotiations;
  • trigger Article 50 as soon as she could;
  • negotiate with the EU27 almost in secret;
  • have inflexible “red lines” to appease the hard quitters, leaving herself no room for compromise in the negotiations.

It’s a truism, even a cliche, to say that she puts the Tory party before the country. But the only way I can explain such a dramatic change of heart is that her love for the Tory party overruled her knowledge that being in the EU was, is, and will be the best situation for the UK. And that she somehow convinced herself that she could heal her fatally-divided party.

In fact, the very thing that Cameron was trying to do by calling he referendum in the first place.

“Tory eurosceptics” used to be a common enough phrase, but it denoted a tiny fringe of the party: a few loons like John Redwood. But in trying to appease them, two Tory leaders and prime ministers have turned them mainstream and brought us to where we are today, on the brink of leaving the EU without any kind of agreement for our future relationship.

And their party is as divided as ever.


  1. That’s fanciful, of course. But it’s what a sane, thoughtful person, who cared about what might happen to the country would have done. 
Unhelpful Thoughts On Brexit

Losing the War on Terror

The front page of today’s Guardian has a picture of what it looks like when you let the terrorists win:

96237412 27may1national01  1

Armed police used to be almost unknown on British streets. Now they’re becoming alarmingly commonplace. I saw two outside Liverpool Street Station yesterday; armed, like the two above, not just with pistols, but with big, two handed things that most people would call “machine guns.” This increasing militarisation of the police was taken a step further this week when the Maybot ordered actual troops onto the streets. And I read that armoured vehicles were going to be deployed at the FA Cup final.

Armed police on a beach: why? Was there a reasonable expectation of some sort of attack on Scarborough beach? And if there was: would weapons have helped? Armed police would not have stopped the tragedy in Manchester.

The aim of the terrorist is to cause terror. All this escalation does is make ordinary people feel more worried, more scared. Worry and low-grade fear aren’t terror, but they’re on the same axis. Overreacting like this is playing into the terrorists’ hands. As well, of course, as being a cynical political move in the runup to an election whose calling was, itself, a cynical political move.

Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn gave speech making reasonable, uncontentious points about the links between foreign policy and terrorism. Predictably the right-wing press and Tory politicians went ape.

Losing the War on Terror

Scattered Thoughts on the General Election

An Election Unlike Any Other

This election is going to be completely unique in our lifetime, probably ever. Because people will be torn between voting on the normal things they care about: health, security, homes, welfare, the economy… — and the big thing of our time: Brexit.

There were close to half the electorate who voted to stay in the EU (close to half the turnout, anyway). There’s no reason to suppose that any of those have changed their minds, even if many now talk in terms of acceptance. There are plenty who voted the other way who wish things had gone differently. And the non-voters are an unknown.

If a party — or a coalition — were to clearly stand on a platform of stopping Brexit, or even of promising a second referendum, they would be in a position unlike any party ever. Or so it seems to me.

Unfortunately only the Liberal Democrats seem to be even close to that position.

I Can’t Vote Labour

I can’t in conscience vote for a Labour party that won’t clearly place itself against Brexit. I just can’t. This means I have to leave the party, I guess. Corbyn called today for “A Brexit that works for all.” No, no, no.

I imagine this means I’ll be voting Lib Dem. Possibly Green. I’m not sure where they stand yet. In one sense, of course, it doesn’t matter, as I live in one of the safest Labour seats, but that’s not really the point. I’ll be writing to Diane Abbot to explain my position, but I don’t imagine it will change hers, which is to support Corbyn, even though her constituency is one of the most pro-remain in the country.

I voted for Corbyn as leader twice, but he’s very disappointing now. Though I have to say that his policies on literally everything else would be dramatically better than the Tories.

Why, and Why Now?

Why has Mayhem changed her mind on a snap election, and why now? The obvious thing is the Tory lead in the polls, and to take advantage of Labour chaos. Nothing to with Brexit at all, not directly.

But something I was seeing on Facebook tonight was the idea that they were about to lose their majority, when the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) brings charges for electoral fraud against up to 30 Tory MPs. The prosecutions will still happen, but they won’t affect the position of MPs who get elected this time round (well, unless they get convicted, of course, but I’m guessing the Tories will quietly deselect the ones who are likely to go down).

Effect of Fixed-Term Parliaments Act

My first reaction was, “They can’t: what about the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act?” Turns out that contains a clause that lets the sitting parliament ignore it, as long as they get a two-thirds majority. The irony of that figure was not lost on me, as possibly my most-retweeted tweet shows:

Without Labour voting with the government they wouldn’t get that two-thirds. Corbyn has cheerfully agreed to go along, missing an open goal. First, the opposition should oppose the government, as a general principle. Unless the government is doing the right thing, which is not the case here. More amusingly, if they didn’t get the two-thirds, they would have to go for a vote of no confidence. That is, a Tory MP would have to stand up in the House of Commons and move that “This house has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.” Even if they could come back from that, Corbyn should have forced it just for the lulz.

Polls Can’t Be Trusted

All is doom and gloom, because the polls look so bleak. Except… if there’s one thing the last few years have taught us, it’s that we can no longer rely on polls.1

On Newsnight tonight Paul Mason says he thinks Labour will win. Gotta admire his confidence, at least.


  1. Or the bookies, and don’t get me back onto that argument about how bookies’ odds can be mapped to percentages of expected voting. []
Scattered Thoughts on the General Election

Laptop Ban Stranger Than I Thought

Today’s Washington Post WorldView newsletter throws more light, a lot of shade, and a lot more confusion onto the ban I linked to last night, on taking laptops and tablets in hand luggage from certain airports.

First, I didn’t realise that the list of affected airports is different between the UK and the US. Second, for the US, it is just a small set of airports, not all airports in the affected countries. The UK takes the broader approach — but for a different set of countries.

The most interesting point to my mind is that this may all be Trump trying to help American businesses:

When pressed by reporters, officials in both countries said the measures were not a response to a specific threat, but rather the result of intelligence assessments that concluded groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda are seeking new methods to sow terror in the skies, possibly through hidden bombs in electronic equipment.

And later:

Farrell and Newman suggested Tuesday’s order is an example of the Trump administration “weaponizing interdependence” — using its leverage in a world where American airports are key “nodes” in global air travel to weaken competitors. My colleague Max Bearak detailed how this could be a part of Trump’s wider protectionist agenda. In February, President Trump met with executives of U.S. airlines and pledged that he would help them compete against foreign carriers that receive subsidies from their home governments.

“A lot of that competition is subsidized by governments, big league,” said Trump at that meeting. “I’ve heard that complaint from different people in this room. Probably about one hour after I got elected, I was inundated with calls from your industry and many other industries, because it’s a very unfair situation.”

So unfair. But if that’s what’s behind it, what the hell does our glorious leader get out of going along with a slightly modified version of it? It’s certainly not to protect British airlines, as they (unlike American airlines) are affected by the ban. Maybe my “lapdog” dig was exactly right. For years Tony Blair was referred too as George W Bush’s poodle. Maybe Theresa May is adopting the same role for Trump. Which is a horrifying thought.

Another WaPo article contradicts all that, though, suggesting that the whole thing might be based on some credible concerns:

The U.S. restrictions were prompted by a growing concern within the government that terrorists who have long sought to develop hard-to-detect bombs hidden inside electronic devices may have put renewed effort into that work, according to people familiar with the matter

But it asks the question and fails to get a satisfactory answer, “Why not ban all electronics on flights, then?”

People familiar with the discussions said the restrictions were designed to defeat the particular type of threat that is of greatest concern: the possibility that terrorists could smuggle explosives inside electronics and manually detonate them once on a plane.

Even if that makes sense (after all, its not like a computer in the hold is (or could hide) some kind of timing device): why just from a strange subset of airports, even in the countries of concern?

And if it’s all based on a real threat, why the US/UK difference?

They also raise the real concern that journalists, activists, and just ordinary citizens, will be separated from their personal information, leaving it under the control of unknown people.

Buckle up, folks, this ride is only going to get stranger and more unpleasant.

Laptop Ban Stranger Than I Thought