Monday, 27 June 2016

The Law of Unintended Consequences

The internet says:-

The law of unintended consequences, often cited but rarely defined, is that actions of people—and especially of government—always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended.

I think most people would agree that, post the referendum Brexit result, we are in quite a mess and nothing seems clear or straightforward any more. As I wrote the other day, we thought there was a clear decision and as a nation we were on the path to Brexit, but that was to seriously under-estimate the cunning and guile of the political class and it now seems quite likely any exit will either be considerably delayed, or may never happen at all. 

With a Prime Minister nearly gone and an Opposition Leader possibly on the way too, it's anyone's guess what might happen next, but before I throw in my twopenneth, this off Facebook made me chuckle and I hope the author doesn't mind me bringing it to the attention of a wider audience:- 

Right. F*ck this. We're ALL up shit creek and we need a paddle. Now, not in three months.

Fellow Remain voters: Enough already. Yes, we're all pissed off but navel gazing ain't gonna help. Not all 17 million Leave voters can possibly be racist northern pensioners without an O level to their name. Maybe they have a point about this quitting the EU thing? Maybe not. Whatever, we are where we are and no amount a whinging is gonna change that. Allegedly we're the intelligent ones, so get your thinking caps on.

Leave voters: Well done. Good game. We hear you. Now you need to get stuck in to the aftermath and not just piss off back to Wetherspoons. (Just banter, twats!). And the first person to say they "want their country back" gets deported to f*cking Gibraltar. OK?

Politicians:

David. F*ck off. Shut the door behind you. Now.

George. You may be a twat but you're our twat. Plus you know the passwords for our Junior Savers account. Get your calculator. Drop the face-like-a-slapped-ass routine. You're on.

Boris. Sorry mate. That photo of you abseiling by your scrotum over the London Olympics while waving a Union Jack can't ever be un-taken. Plus, you'll never be able to appear on Question Time again without some sturdy Glaswegian nurse asking where the f*ck her 350 million quid is. Not only will she have a very good point, she'll be wearing a T shirt that shows you gurning in front of that f*cking bus! No captains hat for you I'm afraid.

Theresa. You're in charge love. Get the biggest shoulder pads you've got. We need Ming The Merciless in drag and you'll scare the shit out of 'em.

Nicola. Yep. Fair cop. You probably could get us on a technicality, as could London. But we f*cking love shortbread. And oil. And to be honest you're probably the best politician we've got, so we need you on side. Sort your lot out and we promise never to mention that Jimmy Krankie thing again (although it is pretty uncanny) and we'll make you a Dame once we're sorted. Bring Ruth Davidson. She kicks ass.

Opposition party. We'll need one. Someone take Jeremy and John back to the British Legion Club where you found them. Take Nigel as well. Give back their sandals, buy them a pint, then go to Heathrow and collect David Milliband. F*ck it. Lets gets Ed Balls as well. He keeps George on his toes. I think he works on the lottery kiosk at Morrisons now?

Oh. And Mark Carney. Give him a knighthood and tell him to keep that shit coming. We definitely need more of that good shit!

Everyone set? Right. Hold the Easyjet. We're going to Brussels and this ain't no hen party.


--oo00oo--

Unintended Consequence 1 

The wrong bloody decision. Ok Angela decided she couldn't cut David a better deal, but Project Fear was still supposed to deliver the right decision because, lets face it, who in their right mind would vote Brexit? Well, as we now know, the working class did and they turned out in significant numbers either blissfully ignorant of the official Labour line, or determined to ignore Jeremy's lack-lustre campaign message of being 'sort of 7.5 out of 10' keen on the EU. 

Unintended Consequence 2   

The Prime Minister resigns. When announcing his intended departure from No 10 Downing Street, David says it's up to the new PM to fire the gun by sending the Article 50 Declaration to Brussels. It turns out the referendum result is only 'advisory' anyway and of course with most MP's being for Remain, any PM is most unlikely to obtain a mandate from Parliament authorising the firing of the gun.

Unintended Consequence 3 

The political class choose to circumvent the wrong decision.They cry 'foul' and demand another referendum and start exerting all kinds of pressure as only this group know how. The Brexiteers are made to feel guilty having robbed the young of their inheritance and start threatening to seek revenge on the old. The working class begin to realise they've been screwed over, but also realise there's nothing they can do.

Unintended Consequence 4  

There's going to be a general election. Despite the fact that none was likely until 2020, it looks highly likely there will be one before the year is out in order for the new PM to seek a 'refreshed democratic mandate' over whether we really do Brexit or not. The beauty of this is that it won't be held under that pesky system where every vote counts, but rather first past the post where every vote doesn't count.

Unintended Consequence 5   

HM Opposition implodes. Realising that a general election is only months away and not years, old Blairites suddenly become seized of the view that the chance of electoral success under Jeremy is close to zero, despite his huge popularity amongst individual Labour Party members. They know this is due to a number of factors, including the first past the post electoral system.

Unintended Consequence 6 

Jeremy was never meant to be Labour leader. It started as a bit of a joke and the desire to have a proper debate within the party, but it back-fired spectacularly and he proved hugely popular amongst individual party members, together with significant numbers of 'supporters' only too keen to shell out £3 in order to cause mischief. 

Unintended Consequence 7

It will be impossible to ditch Jeremy. He is highly likely to lose a vote of confidence brought by the Parliamentary Labour Party, but despite efforts to keep his name off the leadership ballot paper, he will be handsomely re-elected to the utter dismay of many Labour MP's.

Unintended Consequence 8     

The rise of UKIP. Having won the referendum, some might have assumed that UKIP no longer had a purpose and would quietly fade away so that politics could get back to normal. This might have been possible, but having had the referendum decision circumvented, UKIP will enter any general election well-placed to benefit from working-class outrage in the previously loyal Labour heartland. They also find themselves well-placed to benefit from outraged Tory Bexiteers in their heartland.  

Unintended Consequence 9 

UKIP become HM Loyal Opposition. Any general election is likely to be fought on the basis of the Tories trying to seek a 'refreshed democratic mandate' for a skilfully-negotiated proper deal with the EU, against a UKIP demand for Brexit. It will be working-class pitted against political class again, but this time under first past the post. I have no idea what the pitch from Labour under Jeremy will be, but it's highly likely that first past the post will deliver them close to oblivion. Remember how many MP's UKIP got in 2015 under that electoral system and 4.5 million votes? 

Unintended Consequence 10  

We stay in Europe with a choice of Tories or UKIP in government. 

Napo at Work in the South West 3

Yet again thanks are due to the keen reader from the South West who keeps us informed about what's going on in that neck of the woods:-

Chairs AGM Report SSW Branch 2016

Welcome members,

This is the second branch AGM for our amalgamated area South South West. It is a difficult geography to manage against the backdrop of reduced travel arrangements across the board. Less frequent meetings given the distances and time with a membership that have been so hard pressed this year many are resigned to making do than making a challenge against the deterioration that has beset our working conditions and branch activism. Nevertheless the branch remains strong and committed to fighting off as much as we can and pursue all avenues of defence where possible. In particular we have the General Secretary now taking a direct hand in the overall support of our efforts in the SSWest branch.

Regular readers of Napo articles will know that we are a busy active and capable branch. We have a strong leadership and a team of activists that monitor and support our members in every location across the CRC and the NPS offices. This is getting harder as the onslaught to close CRC building gathers pace. More difficulty for those in the NPS as we have seen colleagues separated and the activism is split from comrades in the different organisational structures.

While there is still much to be done we are trying to retain all the linkages and we have to combine your efforts to do that. However this AGM report is to keep you informed of the progress we have made over the year.

This branch has managed to deliver planned branch meeting across all the locations in our areas with most of these just making the quoracy requirement. For that, we thank you as journeys for the exec are long and there is some reward with well attended meetings as we can get on with current NAPO members led sanctioned business. There was also a series of successful office based meetings on the pay ratification issue although we have not seen that materialise into paid back pay just yet. 


We have as a branch exec maintained our reporting structures and central links to NAPO NEC committee and wider involvements. We thank the national activists for their personal commitment travel time lost and exceptional commitment to you. Also to acknowledge that some of our members have obviously been able to take opportunities to end their careers in this time of organisational uncertainty.

Barry Adams long standing NEC rep who has more than a few battle scars within that forum departing our structure in December. We wished him well then and acknowledge his brand and style no matter how controversial will be missed.

Another leaver who has to me in particular, been a colleague, a working practitioner an excellent trade union leader and a great friend. A loyal NAPO supporter and activist with both local and national experience with strong and capable views. Helen Coley. Sadly leaving the organisation after nearly 30 years service, this is Helens last AGM. Helen retires from the JNCC and branch and now is moving onto a national Union role. With her skills and ability they will be richer and we wish her well knowing that Helen will be around in communication and as a trade unionist. Our best wishes to Helen and sincere thanks.


The branch thanks and recognition list is lengthy, yet most on the Executive continue to keep working hard in the background and look for nothing. I want to recognise this group and ensure we acknowledge them. 

In combating and challenging the excess of the management cutting all jobs agenda considerable efforts by the executive ensure we remain strong, and of course they deserve all our gratitude for their support. The NPS side of the Executive constantly working to bring a closer cohesion into union matters is a difficult task.

What has become clear is the need to deliver a report for both sides of the NAPO membership in the NPS and the CRC. It is also clear the different structures are creating needs that range from the reorganisations and the associated staffing sickness stress recording and workload issues. To those of role change variation and the process to change the NPS under E3 agenda. I know this AGM will be full of the situations many members now face. What we do and how we organise to challenge the dictatorial structures within the NPS remain to be seen. That starts in the AGM this year and how much strength and revitalisation we can achieve as things start to get worst and your resistance will be needed. Whatever the challenges we have to remain as strong as we can and I will as your Chair in NAPO SSWest branch will be here until such time that many of our members posts become terminated from the process of reorganisation within the CRC. To help us understand the events and contextualise what this means for all our members we welcome our guest speakers Angela Cossins Deputy Director NPS and our own NAPO General Secretary, Ian Lawrence to answer your questions. We thank them for contributing and their time.

In relation to the coming year it is looking to me at least, like a lot of bleak signals as we see the plans to close offices separate our colleagues further and start to end the commonalities across all our usual working practices. We will as your elected representatives, and this is an illustration of the posts that remain vacant and the uncontested union positions, think about putting yourself forwards to help. Many of us currently will be coming to the end of our allowable terms and to continue to resist and challenge the changes we should have new and optimistic branch activists to help. We look on hoping for your continued support and new membership where possible recruit.

Members, the 2015-16 year has been punishing in the announcement last October of the likelihood of mass reductions we are fearful of what this may bring by next October but we are not fearful of having the fight on your behalf as things worsen keep us informed so we can ensure all matters are recorded.

Finally, this branch has managed to secure through a range of contacts and through some additional Central Napo funds particular branch training. We have provided specialised Women’s interest course, and have this month seen 10 branch activists engage in their TUC accredited stage 1 union reps training. This learning compliments the national Napo efforts to develop new activists. While Napo have provided funding support I want to ensure Mona Lim is recognised as the ongoing treasurer for making sure things happen behind the scenes. Also the skilled educators that have made efforts to encourage and develop our comrades so they are enabled to look more critically and skilfully at what they can do to help protect us all as part of the union movement. They know who they are we say thank you.

Dino Peros 

Branch Chair AGM report.

12 06 16.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

No Brexit After All!

The fallout from Brexit continues, especially where the political class are concerned. Forget all that crap about the democratic will of the people, the wrong decision was delivered on Thursday and it's not binding anyway, only advisory. Here's David Lammy MP on twitter demonstrating his democratic credentials on behalf of the metropolitan political class:-

View image on Twitter
I guess the working-class never did stand a chance when up against the sheer guile of the political class who make for very sore losers indeed. As I write, they are in the process of collecting zillions of signatures on a No10 petition crying foul and demanding another referendum. It is suggested that Thursday's vote has no legitimacy because:-
"We the undersigned call upon HM Government to implement a rule that if the Remain or Leave vote is less than 60%, based on a turnout less than 75%, there should be another referendum."
It's a great wheeze, like that of David Lammy's, but for a variety of reasons won't or can't get anywhere - but it turns out that nothing is exactly as most people might be tempted to think it is. We might have voted for Brexit, but that doesn't mean we have yet and maybe we might not at all. This on the Jack of Kent website:-

Why the Article 50 notification is important

On Thursday 23rd June 2016 there was a historic referendum vote. A clear and decisive majority – though not a large majority – voted for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. And the following day, Friday 24th June 2016, something perhaps just as significant did not happen. The UK did not send to the EU the notification under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on European Union which would have commenced the withdrawal process.

The Article 50 process is the only practical means by which the UK can leave the EU. There are other theoretical means – which would mean effectively the UK unilaterally renouncing its treaty obligations – but as the UK wants to be taken seriously in future treaty making, such approaches would lose credibility. And so unless and until the Article 50 process is commenced and completed, the UK will stay as a member of the EU.

If it is a notification which can be made by a Prime Minister once the referendum vote result was known, then it was a notification which could have been sent yesterday. That such a speedy notification would be made was certainly the impression David Cameron sought to give when the referendum was announced back in February:
Then there is the legality. I want to spell out this point very carefully. If the British people vote to leave there is only one way to bring that about – and that is to trigger Article 50 of the Treaties and begin the process of exit. And the British people would rightly expect that to start straight away. Let me be absolutely clear how this works. It triggers a 2-year time period to negotiate the arrangements for exit. At the end of this period, if no agreement is in place then exit is automatic unless every 1 of the 27 other EU member states agrees to a delay.
If you read this carefully, you will spot that it is quite deftly worded: Cameron was not committing himself to making the notification. It was instead something which would be “rightly expected”. He did not promise to meet that “expectation”. But in his (resignation) statement yesterday, Cameron said something different about Article 50:
A negotiation with the European Union will need to begin under a new Prime Minister, and I think it is right that this new Prime Minister takes the decision about when to trigger Article 50 and start the formal and legal process of leaving the EU.
So Cameron has gone from it being “rightly” expected that the notification be made by him straight away, to it being “right” that the decision be made later by somebody else at the time of their choosing. The fact is that the longer the Article 50 notification is put off, the greater the chance it will never be made at all. This is because the longer the delay, the more likely it will be that events will intervene or excuses will be contrived.
There will be those who will say: of course, the notification under Article 50 cannot take place straight away – don’t you realise it is part of a process? The UK should negotiate as much as possible before the notification is made and the two year deadline is triggered. They may have a point, but pretty soon they will perhaps become self-conscious of explaining away why the notification has not been made quite just yet. It may dawn on such people that the notification may never be made at all.
And so long as the Article 50 notification is not made, the UK continues to be a full member of the EU as it was before the referendum took place; indeed, as if the referendum never took place at all. The Article 50 notification also has another side to it: unless and until it is made, there is no obligation on the European Union to negotiate with a Member State about to leave. As I set out yesterday at the Financial Times, this means there is a stand-off:
Nothing can force the UK to press the notification button, and nothing can force the EU to negotiate until it is pressed. It is entirely a matter for a Member State to decide whether to make the notification and, if so, when. In turn, there is no obligation on the EU to enter into negotiations until the notification is made. There is therefore a stalemate. If this were game of chess, a draw would now be offered. Stalemates can last a long time. And unless there is political will to resolve it, this stalemate will not resolve itself.
There is no indication that UK politicians – including those like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove who are possible successors to Cameron – are in any hurry to make the Article 50 notification. It is not impossible to imagine that the Article 50 notification will never be made, and that the possibility that it may one day be made will become another routine feature of UK politics – a sort of embedded threat which comes and goes out of focus. The notification will be made one day, politicians and pundits will say, but not yet.

And whilst it is not made, then other ways of solving the problem created by the referendum result may present themselves: another referendum, perhaps, so that UK voters can give the “correct” result, or a general election where EU membership is a manifesto issue, or some other thing.

This will not please Leave campaigners, and rightly so. It means the result of the referendum will be effectively ignored. But that was always possible, as it was set up deliberately as a non-binding referendum (unlike the Alternative Vote referendum, which was designed to have binding effect if there was a “yes” vote, which there wasn’t).

“Of course, they will respect the popular vote. They would dare not ignore it!” is the cry. People saying this have a good point, but they should also remember a ship which never did get called Boaty McBoatface. In my view, if the Article 50 notification was not sent yesterday – the very day after the Leave result – there is a strong chance it will never be sent.

If this view is wrong, it remains the case that those with a sincere interest in the issue of UK’s membership – whether Remainers or Leavers – should keep their eyes on the Article 50 notification, regardless of noise and bluster and excuses. As long as the notification is not sent, the UK remains part of the EU. And there is currently no reason or evidence to believe that, regardless of the referendum result, the notification will be sent at all.


--oo00oo--

Quite a few people have been writing about how the referendum result can be circumvented and a new term has entered the lexicon, the need for a 'refreshed democratic mandate' as espoused here:-
Some have mooted that our Parliament could simply ignore the referendum result. Although that may be right in legal theory I don’t, myself, consider it a practical likelihood. But, what democracy has commanded shall be done it can also command to be undone. Or, to put the matter less grandly, a second vote, this time for Remain, would undo the democratic imperative of the first. So I see a refreshed democratic mandate as key. 
How might such a thing be delivered? I can see two routes. First, were we to have an early General Election fought by one party on an explicit Remain platform and were that party to prevail it would, I think, amount to a ‘refreshed democratic mandate’. The electorate would have spoken such that the result of the Referendum would be superseded. Second, even without such a General Election, Parliament might decide that circumstances had changed sufficiently, as in Ireland, to put the proposition to the electorate again.
--oo00oo--
A reminder how we got here by James Galbraith on the DiEM25 website:- 
The Day After
The groundwork for the Brexit debacle was laid last July when Europe crushed the last progressive pro-European government the EU is likely to see – the SYRIZA government elected in Greece in January 2015. Most Britons were not directly engaged with the Greek trauma. Many surely looked askance at the Greek leaders. But they must have noticed how Europe talked down to Greece, how it scolded its officials, how it dictated terms and how it made rebellious country into an example, so that no one else would ever be tempted to follow the same path.
If the destruction of Greece helped set the tone, Leave won by turning the British referendum into an ugly expression of English nativism, feeding on the frustrations of a deeply unequal nation, ironically divided by the very forces of reaction and austerity that will now come fully to power. The political effect has sent a harsh message to Europeans living in Britain, and to the many who would have liked to come. The economic effect will leave Britain in the hands of simpletons who believe that deregulation is the universal source of growth.

That such a campaign could prevail – leading soon to a hard right government in Britain – testifies to the high-handed incompetence of the political, financial, British and European elites. Remain ran a campaign of fear, condescension and bean-counting, as though Britons cared only about the growth rate and the pound. And the Remain leaders seemed to believe that such figures as Barack Obama, George Soros, Christine Lagarde, a list of ten Nobel-prize-winning economists or the research department of the IMF carried weight with the British working class.

Since nothing happens, at first, except the start of negotiations, the immediate economic effects may be small. If the drop in sterling lasts, British exports may actually benefit. If the world gets skittish, the dollar will rise and US exports may suffer, with possible political consequences in America this fall. Otherwise, in the most likely case, the markets will settle down and British life will continue normally at first – except, of course, for immigrants. This will further give the lie to the scare campaign.

Over time, however, as they apply to the United Kingdom, the structures of EU law, regulation, fiscal transfers, open commerce, open borders and human rights built over four decades will now be eroded. Exactly how this will happen – by what process of negotiation, with what retribution from the spurned powers in Brussels and Berlin, by what combination of slow change and abrupt acts, with what consequences for the Union of Scotland to England – is clearly unknown to the leaders of the Leave campaign. This morning they appeared on British television in equal parts triumphant and clueless.

And the crisis now erupts everywhere in Europe: in Holland and France, but also in Spain and Italy, as well as in Germany, Finland and the East. If the hard right can rise in Britain, it can rise anywhere. If Britain can exit, so can anyone; neither the EU nor the Euro is irrevocable. And most likely, since the apocalyptic predictions of economic collapse and “Lehman on steroids” that preceded the Brexit referendum will not come true, such warnings will be even less credible when heard the next time.

The European Union has sowed the wind. It may reap the whirlwind. Unless it moves, and quickly, not merely to assert a hollow “unity” but to deliver a democratic, accountable, and realistic New Deal – or something very much like it – for all Europeans.

James Galbraith is author of “Welcome to the Poisoned Chalice: The Destruction of Greece and the Future of Europe.


--oo00oo--

Here's Fraser Nelson writing in the Wall Street Journal explains how the die was cast:-

Mr. Cameron has been trying to explain this to Angela Merkel for some time. He once regaled the German chancellor with a pre-dinner PowerPoint presentation to explain his whole referendum idea. Public support for keeping Britain within the EU was collapsing, he warned, but a renegotiation of its terms would save Britain’s membership. Ms. Merkel was never quite persuaded, and Mr. Cameron was sent away with a renegotiation barely worthy of the name. It was a fatal mistake—not nearly enough to help Mr. Cameron shift the terms of a debate he was already well on the way to losing.

The EU took a gamble: that the Brits were bluffing and would never vote to leave. A more generous deal—perhaps aimed at allowing the U.K. more control over immigration, the top public concern in Britain—would probably have (just) stopped Brexit. But the absence of a deal sent a clear and crushing message: The EU isn’t interested in reforming, so it is past time to stop pretending otherwise.


With no deal, all Mr. Cameron could do was warn about the risks of leaving the EU. If Brits try to escape, he said, they’d face the razor wire of a recession or the dogs of World War III. He rather overdid it. Instead of fear, he seemed to have stoked a mood of mass defiance.

--oo00oo--

Finally, a powerful piece by John Pilger on the Counter Punch website:- 

The majority vote by Britons to leave the European Union was an act of raw democracy. Millions of ordinary people refused to be bullied, intimidated and dismissed with open contempt by their presumed betters in the major parties, the leaders of the business and banking oligarchy and the media.

This was, in great part, a vote by those angered and demoralised by the sheer arrogance of the apologists for the “Remain” campaign and the dismemberment of a socially just civil life in Britain. The last bastion of the historic reforms of 1945, the National Health Service, has been so subverted by Tory and Labour-supported privateers it is fighting for its life.

A forewarning came when the Treasurer, George Osborne, the embodiment of both Britain’s ancient regime and the banking mafia in Europe, threatened to cut £30 billion from public services if people voted the wrong way; it was blackmail on a shocking scale.

Immigration was exploited in the campaign with consummate cynicism, not only by populist politicians from the lunar right, but by Labour politicians drawing on their own venerable tradition of promoting and nurturing racism, a symptom of corruption not at the bottom but at the top. The reason millions of refugees have fled the Middle East – first Iraq, now Syria – are the invasions and imperial mayhem of Britain, the United States, France, the European Union and Nato. Before that, there was the wilful destruction of Yugoslavia. Before that, there was the theft of Palestine and the imposition of Israel.

The pith helmets may have long gone, but the blood has never dried. A nineteenth century contempt for countries and peoples, depending on their degree of colonial usefulness, remains a centrepiece of modern “globalisation”, with its perverse socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor: its freedom for capital and denial of freedom to labour; its perfidious politicians and politicised civil servants.

All this has now come home to Europe, enriching the likes of Tony Blair and impoverishing and disempowering millions. On 23 June, the British said no more.

The most effective propagandists of the “European ideal” have not been the far right, but an insufferably patrician class for whom metropolitan London is the United Kingdom. Its leading members see themselves as liberal, enlightened, cultivated tribunes of the 21stcentury zeitgeist, even “cool”. What they really are is a bourgeoisie with insatiable consumerist tastes and ancient instincts of their own superiority. In their house paper, the Guardian, they have gloated, day after day, at those who would even consider the EU profoundly undemocratic, a source of social injustice and a virulent extremism known as “neoliberalism”.


--oo00oo--

Is it just possible that when things calm down in Brussels, rather more wise heads may prevail and that in order to stem a very ugly move by electorates in other Member States for exiting, some serious negotiations begin behind closed doors for both EU reform and a proper deal that keeps the UK in the club?

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Making Sense Of It All


I guess we've all got to try and make sense of what happened on Thursday, why it happened and where things go from here. It's certainly a day to remember and probably the most significant domestic political event in most of our lifetimes.

For over 30 years I've acted as Presiding Officer at the same Polling Station in an edge of city community now comprised of the white working-class, students and immigrants from many nations. It's a harmonious community, has always been a safe Labour seat and over the years I've become pretty familiar with regular faces and voters grumbles such as 'we've had no leaflets' or 'no one's been round'. 

At the general election last year I'd already noticed that I'd lost nearly half of my register because students are no longer 'auto-enrolled' at their university accommodation and this time most had gone down for the summer anyway. We'd been warned to expect a high turnout and queues, but what really struck me was the number of people I'd never seen before and obviously from the long-term settled white working-class community. Something had galvanised them to turn out and vote.

To be perfectly frank I'd found the campaign a universally unedifying and disgraceful spectacle on the part of both sides. I really do not take kindly to being deliberately scared witless by my own government and treated to a succession of bullying threats of fiscal carnage by an endless number of highly-paid, mostly men in government jobs and suits telling me that effectively I'd be f*cking mad to vote anything but 'remain'. The figures were obviously being plucked from the etha and the official policy of predicting armaggedon eventually proved counter-productive to me and I suspect many others.

Strangely, I didn't find the other side quite so offensive, possibly because I decided early-on to ignore all the stuff about immigration and instead try and make my mind up on the basis of other factors such as politics both domestic and European, together with what I suppose might be generally termed 'sovereignty'. Each one of us had to make an extremely difficult judgement-call on a deceptively simple question and I suspect in the process just edited-out those aspects we didn't feel important or relevant or distasteful and zoomed-in on what we felt was.

John Ward is always worth reading:-

Whatever the result today (and the one clear signal from the polls is that not one of the companies involved has a clue which way it will go) it will not have been democracy in any recognisable form.

Proper democracy and genuinely free voting can only be said to have taken place when:

  • The electorate is genuinely informed about the issues and their relative significance
  • The voters have not been threatened or bullied in any way
  • The vote has been called willingly by the Government of the day
  • All the previously agreed rules and regulations have been observed by those on either side of the argument(s).
If anyone still believes the electorate knew which way was up on this, the second Referendum to be held about Britain’s EU membership, then they simple aren’t informed about just how uninformed the average voter was.

I have sighed, slapped my forehead, sworn at the television, and at times laughed out loud at the opinions expressed – and cynically encouraged – about, for example, how the UK will be frozen out of trade, how the EU can be reformed from the inside, why we must be safer attached to the biggest basket case outside Brazil, and how we should not be voting in the same way as people we dislike. Some of the ludicrous hopes and laughable aspirations have suggested that a great many Brits simple cannot extrapolate or discern conclusions from general events and governance behaviours any more.

And of course, the cancer of our age – ideology that was past its sell-by date long before best-before was invented – evokes denial on a delusional scale.

But the real culprit dissuading any exercise of rational assessment or emotional identification has, as always, been the disinformation dished out by mass market media. I have always found it amusing that while hacks call my profession ‘hidden persuaders’, the facts we used to persuade consumers had to be stood up using field tests and research data. No such onerous insistence on the Truth exists to worry the Fourth Easte: “never let the truth get in the way of a good story” as one apocryphal journo is alleged to have long ago asserted.

Nobody on either side of the debate has so much as managed to attach any glory to itself on this dimension….let alone be covered in it. I could, right now, pull out seventeen completely misleading articles and ‘news’ items quite deliberately glossing over contrary evidence in order to suggest bogus outcomes and malign motives. Twas ever thus, people say – but today no more than half a dozen reprobates with varied business agendas control how some 80% of all Western editorial is filtered. The abolition of Net Neutrality will make that situation even more distorted; but nobody gives a monkey’s about it, so I long ago gave up posting on the subject.

The spread and digestion of information in 2016 is nothing more than the reassurance of the somnambulant by the sociopathic. It causes direct democracy to change, imperceptibly over time, into passive bondage.

--oo00oo--

Essentially it was an impossible task, confirmed in my view by the relative closeness of the result and inability of most commentators to predict the outcome. But one of the most unedifying and unpleasant aspects of this whole bloody mess has been the widespread and arrogant assumption by the political class that there was only one 'right' way to vote and anyone who was for Brexit was clearly either a racist, had been hoodwinked or was just plain thick. There could not be a more clear illustration of the class divide and it was indeed the working-class who have been so often patronised and ignored in the past who revolted on Thursday and stuck two fingers up to the political class.

Some readers will recall that I've mentioned the urgent need for electoral reform several times on this blog and each time I think it's fair to say the issue has been dismissed as irrelevant. I would venture to suggest that the failure to address this utterly untenable democratic deficit was probably one of the key reasons we've ended up in the mess we now find ourselves in. Whether you agree or not with the views of groups like UKIP or the Green Party, I find it arrogantly contemptable that the political class simply dismisses the case for electoral reform as unimportant and unnecessary. More worryingly, many seem to feel that ensuring these groups are not represented is actually best.  

Well, I believe this arrogant view was a significant contributing factor in the result that was delivered on Thursday when the usually disenfranchised realised that this time every vote would actually count and they duly turned out and made a protest. Not the best way to cast a vote on such an important issue, but how else do they get the attention of the political ruling class?

In trying to pull together some thoughts on what has happened and why, I feel the need to comment on some more arrogance, this time from the new President of the EU. I think I heard him threatening the UK on the day before the vote and yesterday I heard him demand that effectively we 'f*ck off' at the earliest opportunity. He strikes me as a most unpleasant bully, but of course as the top guy in Brussels we must presume he is representative of the club we are expected to be happy being a member of?            
This from the Telegraph:-

Jean-Claude Juncker's most outrageous political quotations

The former Luxembourg prime minister expected to become European Commission president tomorrow has a pragmatic approach to politics, the press and the public – and is rarely afraid to show it:-

On Greece's economic meltdown in 2011
"When it becomes serious, you have to lie."

On EU monetary policy
"I'm ready to be insulted as being insufficiently democratic, but I want to be serious ... I am for secret, dark debates"

On British calls for a referendum over Lisbon Treaty
“Of course there will be transfers of sovereignty. But would I be intelligent to draw the attention of public opinion to this fact?,”

On French referendum over EU constitution
“If it's a Yes, we will say 'on we go', and if it's a No we will say 'we continue’,”

On the introduction of the euro
"We decide on something, leave it lying around, and wait and see what happens. If no one kicks up a fuss, because most people don't understand what has been decided, we continue step by step until there is no turning back."

On eurozone economic policy and democracy
“We all know what to do, we just don't know how to get re-elected after we've done it”

--oo00oo--

Then there was all the stuff about a vote for Brexit would just mean an even worse Tory government. I notice Ian Lawrence, General Secretary of Napo had something to say about this yesterday in his blog:-

Britain Divided?

See EU later David”, is about the only bit of humour that I can muster this morning after what is probably the most seismic shift in British politics that I have witnessed in my lifetime, and no doubt there will be many of our members who share that view.

Given the size of the vote and the fact that the result reflected a range of opinion from across the political spectrum, it’s probably worth saying that there will be many trade unionists who took the Brexit line on the basis that they believed that once we are out of the European Union we can get on with the essential business of rebuilding Britain’s manufacturing base, nationalising our railways, postal services, utilities and energy companies and making much needed investment in public services and the people who provide them. Taking this further, those comrades I have spoken to have passionately explained how we can protect our NHS from the dreaded TTIP or equivalent trade agreements, how we can better develop our schools under public control, and start to provide workplace security and decent wages and pensions for all.

I don’t suppose any of us would disagree with those objectives; but, as I have been reminded by those who told me why they were voting to remain: it’s not the agenda that we were ever going to get under this current government. Indeed, today’s news of David Cameron’s intended resignation and the prospect of a new prime minister being installed with a mandate to push on even harder with an already devastating austerity programme can only fill everyone who believes in a progressive socialist agenda with total dread. 


--oo00oo--

Finally, isn't this the opportunity for the left to take advantage of the turmoil in the Tory Party and sort itself out? This by Slavoj Zizek is taken from Newsweek:-

COULD BREXIT BREATHE NEW LIFE INTO LEFT-WING POLITICS?

Europe is caught into a vicious cycle, oscillating between the Brussels technocracy unable to drag it out of inertia, and the popular rage against this inertia, a rage appropriated by new more radical Leftist movements but primarily by Rightist populism. The Brexit referendum moved along the lines of this new opposition, which is why there was something terribly wrong with it. Look at the strange bedfellows that found themselves together in the Brexit camp: right-wing “patriots,” populist nationalists fuelled by the fear of immigrants, mixed with desperate working class rage—is such a mixture of patriotic racism with the rage of “ordinary people” not the ideal ground for a new form of Fascism?

The intensity of the emotional investment into the referendum should not deceive us, the choice offered obfuscated the true questions: how to fight trade “agreements” like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which present a real threat to popular sovereignty and how to confront ecological catastrophes and economic imbalances which breed new poverty and migrations. The choice of Brexit means a serious setback for these true struggles—it's enough to bear in mind what an important argument for Brexit the “refugee threat” was. The Brexit referendum is the ultimate proof that ideology (in the good old Marxist sense of “false consciousness”) is alive and well in our societies.

When Stalin was asked in the late 1920s which political variation is worse, the Right one or the Leftist one, he snapped back: “They are both worse!” Was it not the same with the choice British voters were confronting? Remain was “worse” since it meant persisting in the inertia that keeps Europe mired down. Exit was “worse” since it made changing nothing look desirable.

In the days before the referendum, there was a pseudo-profound thought circulating in our media: “whatever the result, EU will never be the same, it will be irreparably damaged.” But the opposite is true: nothing really changed, except that the inertia of Europe became impossible to ignore. Europe will again waste time in long negotiations among EU members that will continue to make any large-scale political project unfeasible. This is what those who oppose Brexit didn’t see—shocked, they now complain about the “irrationality” of the Brexit voters, ignoring the desperate need for change that the vote made palpable.

The confusion that underlies the Brexit referendum is not limited to Europe—it is part of a much larger process of the crisis of “manufacturing democratic consent” in our societies, of the growing gap between political institutions and popular rage, the rage which gave birth to Trump as well as to Sanders in the US. Signs of chaos are everywhere—the recent debate on gun control in the US Congress descended into a sit-in protest by the Democrats—is it time to despair?

Recall Mao Ze Dong's old motto: “Everything under heaven is in utter chaos; the situation is excellent.” A crisis is to be taken seriously, without illusions, but also as a chance to be fully exploited. Although crises are painful and dangerous, they are the terrain on which battles have to be waged and won. Is there not a struggle also in heaven, is the heaven also not divided—and does the ongoing confusion not offer a unique chance to react to the need for a radical change in a more appropriate way, with a project that will break the vicious cycle of EU technocracy and nationalist populism? The true division of our heaven is not between anemic technocracy and nationalist passions, but between their vicious cycle and a new pan-European project which will addresses the true challenges that humanity confronts today.

Now that, in the echo of the Brexit victory, calls for other exits from EU are multiplying all around Europe, the situation calls for such a project—who will grab the chance? Unfortunately, not the existing Left which is well-known for its breathtaking ability to never miss a chance to miss a chance.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Probation and Europe

Vivian Geiran, Director of the Irish Probation Service (a former Probation Officer) delivered the Nineteenth Annual Bill McWilliams Memorial lecture which was held on a rain sodden Monday 20th June at the Institute of Criminology, Cambridge University with the grandiloquent title of 'Penal Reform and Probation in Europe: Positive Change of Direction, 'Nudges to the Rudder' or 'Steady as she goes'. Acting as the Interlocutor was the estimable Probation academic Professor Rob Canton, readers might be interested in some edited highlights from this event (full text of which will be available in due course).

The tone of the delivery was measured, informative and upbeat, whilst acknowledging the malign impact of some of the more destructive political interventions that have reshaped probation which colleagues will be painfully familiar with in England and Wales, he offered a broad brush overview of developments across European Justice areas. The Irish Probation Service has statutory oversight of around 10k 'offenders' and 14 prisons, but still derives its probation heritage from what he noted as this country being the 'cradle of European Probation' with a resolute indebtedness to the shared history of probation centred on the 1907 Probation of Offenders Act, which still holds a central place in framing the core relational elements of probation 'advise, assist and befriend' and which had he opined had 'stood the test of time'. He alluded to the chilling effects of political interventions in penal matters often prompted by 'high profile offences' - presently in the Irish context that of gang related violence in Dublin - which often invited robust, toughened penal measures that 'chewed up' more evidenced informed approaches to community safety and more established and confident supervisory oversight.

Citing some of the latest academic literature on best practice, penal overreach (mass supervision!) service user participation and voice, EU Victims directive and evaluation studies, the centrality of the connectivity of Probation globally (one of the evident spin offs of which was his references to European capitals he had visited in his Council of Europe role to bolster local probation services - which mileage might make travel writer Simon Calder blush!). 


The continuing durability of the term 'Probation' was alluded to - not in any rheumy eyed nostalgic throwback - but simply because it was so widely adopted and service users after many years of endless iterations of Offender Management speak - still refer to being 'on probation'. Although there exist many diverse organisational manifestations of how Probation systems operate across Europe (with the exception of Scotland and Slovenia!).

Drawing on other sources of good practice and insight from what he called 'strangers to practice' to support the probation endeavour - the redemptive recognition of 'second chances' and the here to stay place of EM existing alongside well argued supervisory packages, informed by the need to exploit social media (as we know it, Jim!) Aided by a grounded criminal justice consensus 'quite revolution' inspired by the energetic front line promotion of what works - to 'how to work' - that points towards the harm arising from over-imprisonment, recognises the place of hurt and suffering from offending, the centrality of relationships, proper investment in stressed communities (without ameliorative social policy measures much of the above becomes Pollyanna musings!) and how contingent events can unsettle practice and the perennial trope of effective and fearlessly engaged leadership (who now speaks for probation in the corridors of power?) also featured in his address.

Whilst solidarity and integration are fine sounding concepts (there was limited reference to the essential role of trade unions in the wider penal framework or judicial engagement!) the sense I drew from a detailed and nuanced presentation was that at the Trans-European level there are a number of well resourced and valuable probation led initiatives (readers can find link to CEP) - an organisation that was shaped at the outset by Napo - as one well respected former colleague noted in the Q&A session. By widening our field of vision to encompass insights from continental jurisdictions (pre/post EU referendum!) a rich resource of criminal and social justice practice may well offer a more optimistic lens from which to view the current dismal fragmentation evident in the dismantling of Probation (its death -knell!) under the present NPS/CRC arrangements. 


The 'rehabilitative green shoots' that offer this more upbeat scenario can be easily undermined by what Rob Canton in responding to the talk noted as a return to 'the auction of cruelty' evident when populist politicians seeking short-term crude electoral advantage promote 'tough' politicised penal measures. The corrupting influence of expansive profit-driven commercial relationships in probation - (Blog passim!) can be offset by promoting more rounded personalised narratives from service users to a wider public audience on the everyday challenges of positive change and reduced victimisation - valorising the role of Human Rights in penal policy, again within the overarching EU/UN justice framework, there are a dizzying number of such policy directives, but these seem sadly peripheral to those at the front line, were also flagged up.

Although the number of attendees (which including some esteemed former speakers) appeared to be down on previous years - especially evident in the few practitioners present - maybe this event could fall within accredited training! A 20th Bill McWilliams Memorial lecture is planned for 2017 (as is the Third World Congress of Probation in Tokyo). For hard pressed colleagues struggling to cope in an unforgiving probation landscape captured in many of Jim's blog posts, such conferences may well seem somewhat remote and detached, but remaining steadfast to the mission of probation, articulated so well in the life and work of Bill McWilliams, and through his legacy the continuing viability of the lecture series, means that speakers (whether professional or academic) retain a proper focus in their various presentations on how probation from its inception, worked towards reducing the harms of crime on communities, in this talk across continental Europe. 


Can they continue to invigorate a progressive approach towards more inclusive, restorative and evidenced informed practice. Can such engagement at the local, national and international level with practitioners, service users, policy makers and communities be sustained. Maybe next years lecture, to borrow the nautical metaphor, might once again nudge the rudder - but in which direction will the future of probation go?

Mike Guilfoyle
Associate Member Napo.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Inspiration

On the day of the Big Decision, here's something hopefully non-controversial and that might give food for thought.  

I continue to find it a sad fact that there is so little to feel inspired by in the world of probation nowadays, in stark comparison to my thoughts about the past I have to say. Many of us with long memories seriously bemoan a previous bifurcation, that with our social work roots and so it was with great interest and not a little reflection that I noticed the following on the 'In defence of youth work' website. Sadly I didn't know the guy, but wish I had:- 

Bob Holman R.I.P. – an inspiration, even a legend by Tony Taylor

The world of social, youth and community work has lost one of its most inspiring activists with the death of Bob Holman. His 1981 ‘Kids at the Door’ became a classic text, telling the story of his first five years on the Southdown estate in Bath, where he lived, his home the hub of his work with young people. It is a moving tale of a person-centred, process-led practice, which confronted poverty and inequality. Bob had given up his post as professor of social administration at the University of Bath in 1976, declaring that he wasn’t much good at admin and that community workers ought to live in the communities they sought to serve. He stood by this principle when he moved in the late 1980’s to live on the Easterhouse estate in Glasgow, where he was a member of the Baptist church. Among his heroes were Keir Hardie, the principal founder of the Labour Party and George Lansbury, the great social reformer, both Christian pacifists and committed supporters of women’s suffrage.

In a piece on Keir Hardie, Labour founder’s views on equality still ring true for public services, written in 2010, Bob commented,

Voluntary organisations are now seen as public services, and the major political parties favour charities taking over more of the state’s duties. I doubt if Hardie would have agreed. He did not deny that charities did good work, but he saw them as maintaining an unfair society. He criticised wealthy philanthropists whose factories paid low wages, and accused one of harming workers and then paying a charity to give the homeless a bed. Better, he said, to improve society and “to dispense with Christian charity”.
Today, voluntary bodies are much improved and often employ skilled and committed staff, but Hardie’s criticisms still have some relevance. Philanthropists may give generously to charities of their choice, which allows them great power over who should be helped. The affluent determine the nature of service.
Further, some charities are run by committees of the wealthy and powerful. Top directors of some charities, while decrying poverty and inequality, may be paid the kind of excessive salaries that reinforce these evils.
Hardie argued that the state should take responsibility for essential services. In 1887, he stood in a by-election in Scotland. His address called for the nationalisation of land, the abolition of the House of Lords, and a reduction in the money spent on the royals. He ended: “I ask you therefore to return to parliament a man of yourselves who, being poor, can feel for the poor.”
Speaking of the monarchy Bob Holman declined the offer of an MBE, arguing,
I am an egalitarian. I believe that a socially and materially equal society is more united, content and just. The royal honours system is designed to promote differences of status. It is made clear that those who are made knights or dames are socially superior to those given CBEs, OBEs or MBEs. But all are socially above those without honours. These imposed differences hinder the co-operation, interaction and fellowship, which are the characteristics of equality. Refusing a royal honour is a small step but one in the right direction.
Finally, in 2000, he wrote ‘Kids at the Door Revisited’, in which he interviews 51 of the people he related to during the Southdown project, reflecting on the impact or otherwise of those rooted relationships. In a world where the notion of impact is tossed around as if it’s somehow new and innovative, Bob’s self-critical exploration of his and their stories ought to be required reading for those, who peddle the myth that in the past we didn’t give a toss about the quality or accountability of our practice. The book is on the shelf above me as I pen these inadequate words. I’ll take it down and read afresh this weekend as a way of honouring the memory of an outstanding bloke.

See also an obituary in the Guardian and an interview with him from 2014, Leading by example in the fight against inequality.

I’ll leave the last word to Bob.

I’ve lived in deprived areas for nearly 40 years and I don’t think I’ve ever seen poverty or inequality as bad as it is now. And it’s made even worse by this whipping up of feeling against the poor. Most poor people are now in work. I have a friend who’s 59 and has always worked. He’s been on the minimum wage since it was introduced, but it’s so little. He has only one week’s holiday a year and he’s in debt. He’s had to take out loans. There are now three loan sharks and a pawnbrokers in our row of shops in Easterhouse. This is a real indication of what life is like. My church started a weekly cafe in response to the crisis. It offers free drinks and fruit and cheap snacks. We are meeting people in severe financial need. Citizens Advice send in workers once a fortnight to help those sanctioned. I’ve had a friend sanctioned for six months. He had absolutely no money for six months. Ten years ago this would have been unbelievable. But even Labour didn’t protest. One of the services we run from Fare is an annual holiday. We take youngsters to Lincolnshire, it’s all in tents. The holiday costs £140 a week for everything – transport, food, trips. We’ve run it for years but two years ago people couldn’t afford to pay so we cut it to £70 and raised the rest of the money. Last year people couldn’t pay £70. Never before have parents found it so difficult to pay for their kids’ holidays. This is the inequality. One thing we can do is to make sure these kids go on holiday. It’s the Elastoplast level we are down to now. It’s not changing society but it’s justice. There are people who are really struggling. These people are my friends. They’re not my clients.
--oo00oo--

Bob Holman obituary

Bob Holman, who has died aged 79 after suffering from motor neurone disease, earned a unique place in social work, when, in 1976, he resigned his professorship in social administration at Bath University to become a community worker on the city’s deprived Southdown estate. He saw his affluence and position as inconsistent with his Christian faith. He and his wife, Annette, and their two children, Ruth and David, moved from a comfortable middle-class area in the city to a home next to the estate and he started the project where he then worked.

Ironically, this thrust him into far greater prominence than university life afforded, as he published widely to propagate ideas forged by his experiences. His advocacy, as well as the way he lived his life in a disadvantaged community, earned him many admirers, within and outside social work; some saw him as almost a secular saint.

As an academic Bob had published the groundbreaking Trading in Children: A Study of Private Fostering (1973), but, in his new life, he produced a veritable flood of books, articles and letters to newspapers. Many of his books had a pleasing combination of observation, anecdote and research.

To reduce poverty, he believed, was not enough. Inequality, too, had to be tackled. He highlighted the desperate struggles of those with whom he worked and lived, but he also emphasised their strengths and ability to run their own lives. The single parents and unemployed people who ran the projects were for Bob evidence of the possibilities of working-class collective spirit and individual integrity.

After a decade in Bath, in 1987 he went to live and work on the vast and deprived Easterhouse estate in Glasgow. He always wanted to show what could be done to motivate and involve people and bring communities together. Bob spurned any distinction between himself and other residents, calling himself a “resourceful friend”. His daily work involved filling in social security forms, accompany young people to court or helping a neighbour to raise a loan for a new cooker.

He was born in Ilford, Essex, the middle child of Robert Bones, a removal man, and his wife, Lily (nee Simms). He later adopted the maiden name of his grandmother. Bob’s primary education was disrupted by evacuation, of which he was to write a history; in his case, it involved stays in Surrey and Herefordshire. Following grammar school and national service in the RAF, he studied history and economics at University College London and transferred to the London School of Economics for his certificate in social administration.

From 1961 to 1966 he was a child care officer with Hertfordshire county council, also becoming a tutor in child care. He then held lectureships in social work and social administration at Birmingham and Glasgow universities. It was in Birmingham where the reality of widespread poverty dawned on him. At Bath university, though, he decided he was ill-fitted to be a professor: he disliked administration and not working directly with those he cared about.

Bob’s attitudes to poverty and inequality and criticism of those whom he characterised as running a “welfare industry” – highly paid heads of voluntary organisations and directors of social services – were profoundly shaped by his Christian faith, which he had come to as a teenager. He saw in the life of George Lansbury, the MP for Poplar in London, pacifist, Labour leader and cabinet minister, who lived simply in his East End constituency, the epitome of the Christian socialism that he, too, sought to practise. Holman wrote a biography, Good Old George (1990). Later there came other labours of love: a biography of Keir Hardie, and another, Woodbine Willie (2012), about the pacifist clergyman and poet Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy.

In 1989 Bob helped to establish Family Action in Rogerfield and Easterhouse (Fare), a grassroots organisation, especially for families and young people. It encourages neighbours to work with one another; to keep young people out of the care and criminal justice systems; and to lift people’s aspirations, while trying to tackle anti-social behaviour.

Bob’s enemy’s enemy became his friend when, always a socialist, he developed a friendship with Iain Duncan Smith, then Tory leader, who on a visit to Easterhouse seemingly underwent something of a conversion to the cause of social justice, after voting against every progressive measure of the Labour governments. The friendship did not survive Duncan Smith’s role in the Coalition and Conservative cabinets.

Although he allegedly retired in 2004 and moved elsewhere in Glasgow, partly to look after his grandsons, Bob continued to write, speak at conferences, undertake voluntary neighbourhood work and act as visiting professor at the universities of Glasgow and Cardiff.

He turned down an MBE and, asked about collaborating on a biography, said: “If I have achieved anything, I hope it is seen in other people, not me.”

In the aftermath of the Tories’ return to office and Labour’s obliteration in Scotland in May 2015, Bob wrote to me: “I can’t do much in politics. I am going to write less ... After that – in the days I’ve got left – I want to concentrate on local individuals. We cannot take them out of poverty but we can provide people with some togetherness and show that we respect, not blame them.”

Within two months, that time left had shortened with the diagnosis of motor neurone disease. Bob is survived by Annette, his children, David and Ruth, two grandsons, Lucas and Nathan, his sister, Janet, and brother, John.

• Robert Holman (Robert Bones), academic and community worker, born 8 November 1936; died 15 June 2016

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Every Vote Counts

Following the big BBC Debate last night, I thought I'd have just one more go at saying something about the extraordinary political machinations of the last month or so. I actually started writing this a couple of weeks ago having watched some 'vox pops' interviews on tv and the penny dropping as to something very interesting developing. 

'I'm voting Labour' said the man stopped in the street and asked for his opinion on the EU referendum. I suppose it made me feel uncomfortable because the piece would inevitably lead to the poor guy being ridiculed, but I now realise it was a graphic illustration of something quite scary indeed, the class divide. This referendum has brought into sharp focus some very unpleasant aspects of our society and some very uncomfortable truths about our 'democracy' and why we could well be making a momentous decision to leave the EU tomorrow. 

At this point it's probably worth reminding ourselves how we got into this mess in the first place. Basically, the rise of UKIP so put the wind up David Cameron prior to the 2015 general election that he felt obliged to promise a referendum in order to try and spike their guns. Despite this, UKIP won a staggering 4 million votes, but the disgraceful workings of our first-past-the-post electoral system delivered them just one MP - job done! How this is called democracy beats me - what if they were 4 million Green Party votes? - but having surprisingly won a 12 seat majority, Cameron realised this was one promise he had to deliver on, hence the referendum.    

It's all been very carefully planned of course and by now 'Project Fear' was supposed to have thoroughly scared us all witless by the extremely well-informed and sensible-looking Remain campaign, so how is it that the opinion polls began to show that the Leave campaign was getting ahead? I think the answer lies in our historic class-based tribal politics, enshrined and perpetuated by the first-past-the-post electoral system. 

It's the system that enabled the closet Tory Tony Blair to gain pre-eminence, move Labour to the right and lay the foundations for extending the privatisation agenda, but kept in power by the loyal white working-class vote. As a group they were cynically used whilst he worked on gaining a greater chunk of the middle-class vote. Of course it's the system that delivered a smoking ban, so loved by the middle-class, whilst the working-class were robbed of their right to a cig and a drink in comfort at either a pub or a bingo hall. It's about beer v wine; North v South; cosmopolitan v provincial.   

This by Lisa McKenzie in the Guardian:-

Brexit is the only way the working class can change anything

From my research I would argue that the referendum debate within working-class communities is not about immigration, despite the rhetoric. It is about precarity and fear. As a group of east London women told me: “I’m sick of being called a racist because I worry about my own mum and my own child,” and “I don’t begrudge anyone a roof who needs it but we can’t manage either.”

Over the past 30 years there has been a sustained attack on working-class people, their identities, their work and their culture by Westminster politics and the media bubble around it. Consequently they have stopped listening to politicians and to Westminster and they are doing what every politician fears: they are using their own experiences in judging what is working for and against them.

In the last few weeks of the campaign the rhetoric has ramped up and the blame game started. If we leave the EU it will be the fault of the “stupid”, “ignorant”, and “racist” working class. Whenever working-class people have tried to talk about the effects of immigration on their lives, shouting “backward” and “racist” has become a middle-class pastime.

Working-class people in the UK can see a possibility that something might change for them if they vote to leave the EU. The women in east London and the men in the mining towns all tell me the worst thing is that things stay the same. The referendum has become a way in which they can have their say, and they are saying collectively that their lives have been better than they are today. And they are right. Shouting “racist” and “ignorant” at them louder and louder will not work – they have stopped listening.

For them, talking about immigration and being afraid of immigration is about the precarity of being working class, when people’s basic needs are no longer secure and they want change. The referendum has opened up a chasm of inequality in the UK and the monsters of a deeply divided and unfair society are crawling out. They will not easily go away no matter what the referendum result.


--oo00oo--

Well, the beauty of a referendum is, unlike a general election where most votes don't count at all, suddenly the middle-class have woken up to the fact that every single bloody vote counts, even those of the 'uneducated', mis-informed or just plain thick working class. Of course the plan was that with the Labour Party officially supporting the Remain camp, this group would loyally follow, but with such an obvious half-hearted campaign the evidence shows that many Labour Party members either don't know what the policy is, or even worse think it's Brexit!   

I think it's much more than this though. The working-class have been royally shafted and ignored for years. Their concerns and interests are completely unkown to the middle class, the metropolitan political class that runs the country, but they're going to get a very rude wake-up call on Thursday because 1) they are fed up 2) they are going to turn out 3) they don't feel bound by any party loyalty and 4) their vote actually counts for once. 

Now this is so very worrying and dangerous for the middle-classes that I already detect the beginnings of an ochestrated campaign, firstly to blame the working-class for being ignorant and secondly ensure we never have a bout of democracy again where every vote counts. Clearly the working-class simply can't be trusted to soak up the reasoned rhetoric, be thoroughy scared of the dire warnings of all the experts and put the bloody cross in the right box! They can't be trusted to know what's best for them. 

Worryingly, here's a guy I really admire, Owen Jones, being patronising in the Guardian:-

Working-class Britons feel Brexity and betrayed – Labour must win them over

Too many working-class northern Labour voters are being seduced by Vote Leave’s disingenuous campaigning. The party has two weeks to reach them

If Britain crashes out of the European Union in two weeks, it will be off the back of votes cast by discontented working-class people. When Andy Burnham warns that the remain campaign has “been far too much Hampstead and not enough Hull”, he has a point. Even Labour MPs who nervously predict remain will scrape it nationally report their own constituencies will vote for exit. Polling consistently illustrates that the lower down the social ladder you are, the more likely you are to opt for leave. Of those voters YouGov deems middle-class, 52% are voting for remain, and just 32% for leave. Among those classified as working-class, the figures are almost the reverse: 36% for remain, 50% for leave. The people Labour were founded to represent are the most likely to want Britain to abandon the European Union.

When presented with a vote on the status quo, it is no surprise that those with the least stake in it vote to abandon it. The same happened in Scotland’s independence referendum. Threats of economic Armageddon resonate little with people living in communities that feel ignored, marginalised and belittled. “Economic insecurity beckons!” people who live in perpetual economic insecurity are told. A Conservative prime minister lines up with pillars of Britain’s establishment with a message of doom – and it makes millions of people even more determined to stick their fingers up at it.

--oo00oo--   

Finally, it's probably worth reflecting on how the 'Beast of Bolsover' and champion of the working-class, Dennis Skinner MP is going to vote - why Brexit of course.