Category Archives: The EU

The asymmetry of the Brexit debate

The trouble with what is now almost certainly the pro-EU majority in Britain is not that they are ‘moaners’. They don’t moan enough. Too many are ‘bored’ with the whole chaotic saga and have switched off. They don’t talk about it, and they dare not think about it. Still less do they try to influence the outcome.

It is not that those who wish to remain in Europe are undemocratic. Exactly the reverse, a great many believe, however despairingly, in the democratic legitimacy of the 2016 referendum. Otherwise the cries of protest would be overwhelming. That is why it is so important to point out, as I have been doing from the start, that the way the 2016 referendum was a conducted was a travesty of democracy.

Even before the revelations of massive social media manipulation, Russian interference, and electoral law-breaking by the Leave campaign, I listed numerous factors (see earlier posts), any of which could have swung the marginal result, and which must, at the very least, have cast it into doubt as an expression of ‘the will of the people’. 

Another trouble with the pro-EU majority is that they are too gentle, too reasonable and too timorous. There is simply no equivalent on the Remain side for the viciousness and hatred which has been employed so systematically by the Brexiteers. Thus the debate has been extraordinarily asymmetrical. There has been nothing remotely comparable in the Guardian or the Financial Times to the “Enemies of the People”, “Crush the Saboteurs” bellowing from Paul Dacre’s Daily Mail. Nor is it conceivable that Gina Miller would have received the same avalanche of threats and abuse if it had been the legitimate rights of the Leave campaign for which she had been fighting so valiantly and so effectively.

I would not wish it otherwise, but I do point out that while the Leave side has gone on breaking rule after rule the Remainers have remained, scrupulously decent and ever so British.

The same asymmetry was seen during the 2018 US presidential election. This may be some explanation for the bizarre fact that Brexit and Trump are so strongly linked in people’s minds. Thus there was absolutely no equivalent in Hilary Clinton’s campaign for the hatred whipped up by the other side. There were no ‘lock Him up’ slogans targeted covertly at susceptible voters – although that message would have been infinitely more justified – and there were no T-shirts flaunted at Clinton rallies showing Donald Trump‘s face overprinted with a shooter’s target.

As the momentum for a second vote builds up, it is significant that people are talking of civil disturbance if the decision to leave should be reversed. It makes me wonder why the thugs are perceived to be on just one side of the argument. It makes me think that it is not very patriotic to bow down to threats. And it makes me wonder why decent Leavers, whose sincerity I do not doubt, are not more vocal in repudiating the fellow-travellers who so discredit their cause.

What is certain is that it is the democratic and patriotic duty of those opposing Brexit to reject apathy and fatalism, and perhaps an element of  cowardice, and draw attention to these facts. Before it really is too late.

March for a People’s Vote on Brexit   23rd June 2018

Brexit: We are all more susceptible to persuasion than we like to think.

I was a young doctor. I had it in my power to help this guy. So I did.

He was a drug rep. Sitting opposite me in my consulting room. Half a century – most of a lifetime – ago. He had been waiting outside for much of my morning surgery, as reps used to in those days, hoping I would see him before I started on my paperwork and visits. As usual it had worked – me being too soft-hearted to say no and send away a fellow human being with a wasted morning.  ‘There but for the grace of God’, and so on…

So there he was, and as well as laying out his samples and his glossy leaflets and his free-lunch offers, he was telling me a personal tale of woe. It may have been his idea of a novel pitch, but something about his demeanour struck me as genuine and it got round my usual defences big time. I remember it went something like this:  company cutting down on reps – prescribing figures in his patch down – in danger of losing his job – children at home – wife…

So.  I had an impulse to help him. To my utter shame as a rational scientific doctor, from that day and for a long time afterwards I changed the routine medium strength painkiller I prescribed to one of the preparations he had been pushing. I mean promoting.  Paramol 118 was the name of the drug. A nicely packaged mixture of good old paracetamol and dihydrocodeine. The latter a mildish opiate in widespread use at the time under the trade name DF118. So it was a perfectly legitimate preparation of well-established ingredients likely to be effective in one of the commoner clinical indications – pain control.

I should explain that in those days long ago, before limited prescribing lists, National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), generic substitution, and even before NHS prescription charges, the doctor’s clinical freedom was regarded as sacrosanct. We general practitioners (GPs) could write prescriptions for any approved drug that we liked. The pharmacist would dispense it without question and the NHS would reimburse them.

The point of this story is that it taught me a valuable lesson – it made me realise how easily my judgement can be influenced.  I am not proud of that, but I am proud of the fact that I acknowledged it and took steps to protect myself.  I made it an inflexible rule that I never saw reps, so the receptionists told them that and they never sat all morning waiting in hope. I never went on drugs company lunches, in fact I never had had time for them anyway, and with one exception I never went on ‘freebies’. The one exception was when a local company, Merk, arranged for a glider flight at the local airfield, Lasham, which was irresistible and remains a sensational memory. Most particularly, I never allowed reps to set up their stalls in the corridor while I was a course organiser on the Wessex GP Training Scheme.

None of this was particularly popular. The most respected GP colleagues would tell me confidently that they never allowed themselves to be influenced as I had been. But somehow I always doubted that the average of four thousand pounds per GP per year that the pharmaceutical industry was spending in those days, was entirely wasted, even on them. The fact that in subsequent years my prescribing costs were the third lowest in Hampshire (something I had to work out for myself from the tables we were sent) added to the feeling that I was right about this.

The moral of this story is that we are much more open to influence than we like to think. We now know that the various organisations seeking to influence the 2016 EU referendum used social media to target voters in a way which was vastly more sophisticated than anything employed against the judgement of doctors like me in the 1970s. We know that a foreign power, Russia, used similar techniques to achieve the same objective. By analysis of millions of stolen social media records, yielding frighteningly-detailed personality profiles, both identified people who were likely to be persuadable. Arguments were chosen that were likely to strike a chord with these individuals. (In the same way that my rep, years ago, struck a chord with my human sympathy). They then bombarded each of these people, in a way which was hidden from general sight, with messages of prejudice, hatred and misinformation. What’s more, they subsequently claimed credit for swinging the result of the referendum and precipitating the expected withdrawal of the UK from the EU.

So, when I read people saying that they think it unlikely that these campaigns of targeted propaganda had a significant effect on the result, still less that they cast the validity of the result into serious doubt, then I remember the respected colleagues who were so sure that the pharmaceutical industry was wasting its money in trying to influence their magisterial clinical judgement.

 

 

 

Not the ‘will of the people’


48% or 52% of an apple?

 

To Damian Hinds, MP for E Hampshire and Secretary of State for Education

 9 April 2018

Dear Damian

You may remember that I never accepted the validity of the 2016 referendum. I gave my reasons in a letter to the (Alton) Herald immediately after the result and last November I added a further ten reasons in a blog post which I shared with you. Only one voice disagreed with me. This was on Twitter and when I asked the anonymous author to specify which parts of my piece they disagreed with, they said ‘all of it’, because I was a ‘remoaner’. At the other end of the intellectual spectrum the people who agreed with me included a professor at the Institute of Advanced Studies, Princeton, which is where Einstein and Gödel worked. I sent you his comment as well.

Since November the reasons I gave have been confirmed or amplified, and shocking new ones have been added. Several of these influences alone could have swung the narrow result, and indeed were claimed by their perpetrators to have done so; acting together there is not the slightest doubt in my mind that they were responsible for the unexpected outcome.

If there was ever a case for claiming that there was a democratically expressed ‘will of the people’ to leave the EU, there is none today, certainly not for the kind of outcome which is now unfolding, so manifestly damaging to our standing in the world and to our national prosperity, and so utterly different from that promised by the Leave campaign.

The minority of MPs who favour leaving Europe are not behaving remotely like people who believe they have won an argument. Jacob Rees-Mogg has now added ‘Stone age’ to the insulting epithets thrown at half the nation. We have been called traitors, saboteurs, enemies of the people, worse. We have been accused of being unpatriotic and undemocratic. The few principled MPs who have sought to debate the issue, and the senior judges who confirmed they were right to do so, have been vilified and threatened.

Why are decent MPs like yourself not standing up against these outrages? Why do you not protest when the Leavers claim falsely that the Remain campaign, of which you were part, lied as much as they did? Why did Theresa May sup with Paul Dacre, whose paper has the distinction of being black-listed as an unreliable source by Wikipedia, the evening before she announced a fixed date for Britain leaving? Why did David Davies hurry back from a crucial opening session to meet the same man?

To take only one of the perverting influences on the referendum result that I have listed, you will no doubt be hearing people say that Cambridge Analytica and the Russian bots – whose micro-targeted and unattributable messages played on individual susceptibilities deduced by means of highly-sophisticated analysis (sic) of illicitly-obtained Facebook records – could not have had made enough difference to voters’ attitudes to swing the result. That is not what Cambridge Analytica said when they were boasting of undermining the campaign of ‘crooked Hillary’ to people they thought were going to buy their services in another democratic election. That is what these people manifestly do, and the various Leave campaigns paid them huge sums (possibly illegal sums, but that is a separate issue) for something. If you haven’t watched the Channel Four documentary which exposed this new way of perverting democracy then I think you really must do so and make up your own mind as to whether it could have been ‘edited’, as has been claimed, to give a misleading impression. This is an abbreviated direct link to the video: https://goo.gl/bvo4VV

We have also been told to ‘get over it’ and that ‘we’re leaving’. I’m not getting over it, and we haven’t left yet. I am not a fatalist, and neither was Winston Churchill when people must have been telling him to ‘get over it’ after Munich. I am a patriot, a democrat, and, stubbornly, an optimist. The other day I took a phone call from Lesley’s old pen-friend, ringing out of the blue from France. When I mentioned Brexit she had one word – ‘Stupid’. I find that more cutting than all the infantile abuse of the Brexiters, and I am trying to do something about it by writing to you.

Sincerely as always,

James

As you will see from the addressee list, I am copying this email to a number of contacts and to the editors of The Times, The Telegraph, the Guardian and the Observer. I am also adding it to my blog, Generally Speaking

Further evidence that Brexit is going ahead on a false premise

This new report of massive alien (Russian) interference in the 2016 EU Referendum  has excited far less comment in Britain than reports of similar interference in American democracy have excited over there. ‘New analysis by 89up.org confirms the scale of Russian Media influence during Brexit vote dwarfed the main Vote Leave and Leave.EU campaigns, driving anti-EU propaganda, disinformation and fake news to influence voters’

 

This is yet another reason why the ‘Brexit’ vote cannot be said to represent the democratic ‘will of the people’ to add to those given in the post immediately below this one.


Meanwhile, among the many messages of agreement that I have received since that November post, here is a particularly powerful comment from a friend who happens to be a distinguished American academic:

“I am so glad to see you pursuing the truth and logic of this lamentable situation. There is one overarching principle that is completely misconstrued by many members of parliament. It is so evident that you do not bother to state it (taking it as a tacit given). I call your attention to the writings of Edmund Burke as follows:

“Greek democracy involved the ability of a broad swath of citizens (not slaves or women) to directly vote on laws and regulations. This rapidly became untenable as populations grew and issues to be decided became almost hopelessly complex. The modern world—the UK included—has entirely replaced the direct democracy of the Greeks by representative democracy, in which a small set of legislators is deputized by an election process to make laws and decisions for the country. The technical inability of the average citizen to understand the detailed consequences of most laws, foreign relation treaties, business regulations, defense policies, … makes direct democracy an impossible form of government today.

“So instead, the UK has representative democracy. The duty of a representative was well stated by Edmund Burke:

“It ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

“Forget for the moment the fact that popular referendum is an utterly inappropriate way to make a decision on so complex an issue; forget the fact that the voters were lied to and were lamentably ignorant of the likely consequences of an ‘exit’. Burke eloquently points out that the fundamental duty of a member of Commons is to decide the issue on the analysis of the likely consequences of Brexit for her/his constituents. The members of parliament who bleat ‘we must carry out the will of the people as expressed in the referendum vote and exit the EU’ and use this as the basis for their vote in Commons on Brexit are failing at a fundamental level in their moral obligation to the voters. Their voting should be determined by a rational analysis of consequences to the people they represent, regardless of how it might influence the likelihood of their being reelected, and regardless of the ‘expressed wishes’ of an uninformed electorate.”

I quote this comment in full because I agree with it so strongly. As he says, it ought to have been be so self-evident and I made the mistake of taking it as a ‘tacit given’, without bothering to state it. Clearly, the words of great historical figures like Edmund Burke, and those of ‘experts’ like him, have never been more essential for the health of our representative democracy.

Britain’s exit from the EU is going ahead on a false premise – 10 more reasons why what is happening now is not, and never was, ‘the will of the people’

Theresa May says the reason she is continuing to lead Britain out of the European Union is that she is “delivering on the will of the people “.  This is in spite of her previous convictions, eloquently expressed two years ago, and very probably in spite of her better judgement today. The same can be said of the many MPs—including my own, Damian Hinds—who previously made up the parliamentary majority for Remain but who now claim this same justification for their altered course. Even pro-EU newspapers, the Observer for example, have declined to question the validity of the June 2016 vote as a democratic expression of the will of the people.

But I question it. I questioned it immediately after the referendum, writing a letter to our local paper pointing out that the Leave camp had secured its result

  1. by telling lies,
  2. by deliberately inciting hatred and xenophobia,
  3. by allowing its media to give an exclusively partisan account of the issues,
  4. and by shamelessly urging voters to discount the wisdom of ‘experts’“.

For these and other reasons I said that calling the result  ‘the will of the people’, would be “to say the least, disingenuous” and it would be irresponsible not to question its validity. My letter was given prominence in the Alton Herald and a great many people, not just in the town, went out of their way to thank me for it and tell me how strongly they agreed with me.

Since then nothing has happened  to raise the slightest doubt in my mind about the points that I made. On the contrary, some have been strongly reinforced. To give one example, deep in a long Spectator article describing how the referendum was won, the director of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings, asked himself the question  “Would we have won without £350m/NHS?” and replied ” All our research and the close result strongly suggests No“.

But now, with a YouGov poll showing a majority believing Britain was wrong to back Brexit (final point below), a whole list of additional reasons have accumulated to make it even clearer that what is happening was never the ‘will of the people’ as expressed in the 2016 referendum, and that the government is pursuing its ‘Brexit’ agenda on a false premise. Here is my attempt to set out these further arguments:

  1. Anecdotal but widespread evidence that people’s votes were cast for reasons which had nothing to do with the real issue (and, let us not forget, in the general expectation of Remain winning.)
    • Everyone was in ignorance of the immensely complex implications. (This was inevitable and entirely understandable. It is now quite clear that nobody understood these implications.)
    • Some voted as a general reaction against irksome restrictions/regulations/safeguards which are inevitable in any modern society, but which for years, encouraged by the overwhelmingly Europhobic media, people had been habitually blaming on ‘Brussels’.
      There was the notorious  bendy bananas myth, but a better example of this was the staged banning, of obsolete, inefficient (in other words hot) light-bulbs. The Daily Mail and others campaigned against this, ignoring the fact that pressure for this reform largely originated in Britain and that it was in fact a triumph of enlightened international action, enabled by the EU, of which we should all be extremely proud!
    • Many voted as a general protest against austerity,  the Conservative government, David Cameron, George Osborne, and against what was probably perceived, especially in strongly Leave-voting areas, as a posh metropolitan elite.
    • Some older people voted because they couldn’t forgive the Germans for the Second World War—one of these is a dear friend of mine who made sure of getting her postal vote in early. Two others separately gave this as their reason while talking to fellow-canvassers in our High Street (extrapolate that to the whole country!).
    • There was even ignorance of what the EU actually was (for a brief period after the announcement of the result ‘What is the EU?‘ became the second commonest search term on Google.)
  2. Subsequent arrogant and bullying behaviour by the triumphant Leavers.
    • Attempted suppression of comment and debate, including debate in parliament.
    • The extension of the hate campaign which had been so successful against foreigners to include the ‘remoaners’, ‘whingers’, ‘traitors’, ‘enemies of the people’, ‘saboteurs’, ‘citizens of nowhere’people like me in factwho had the courage to speak out for almost half the nation.
    • The appropriation of our national flag and the very names ‘Democracy’ , ‘Patriotism’—even ‘decent people‘—by the divisive anti-EU cause, which still tries to deny the fact that people can be loyal and proud members of a hierarchy of nested communities – family, locality, country, continent, planet, and so on.
    • Vicious attacks and threats against individual MPs and senior members of the judiciary for scrupulously and courageously doing what is unequivocally their duty and their job.  To take a relatively mild example of this, instead of answering the legitimate arguments of the Governor of the Bank of England, they repeated try  to ‘shout him into silence’.
      (It seems to me that the failure by any of the prominent advocates of Leave to repudiate these outrageous abuses lays them open to the charge of complicity, and casts grave doubts on their fitness to be responsible leaders of a law-abiding society.
      If I were a convinced Leaver I would, at the very least, be apologising to my fellow citizens for this behaviour and seeking to build bridges instead of acting in ways that exacerbate division.)
  3. Things have changed since the votes were cast.
    • The election of Donald Trump in America—a possibility which seemed remote or even impossible at the time of the referendum—and the unfolding story of his erratic behaviour in office, has produced a fundamental change in the international geopolitical environment. Carol Cadwalladr puts it neatly: “Britain tying its future to an America that is being remade – in a radical and alarming way.”
    • The undermining of confidence in objective truth in public life and especially in journalism. This phenomenon blossomed during and after the American presidential election, but was already established in this country during the referendum campaign. Social and print media are thus employed to disseminate blatant and deliberate misinformation. Having established this environment of distrust, any opinion or fact that is challenging or inconvenient (not just the size of an inauguration crowd) can then be routinely attacked and neutralised by the label ‘fake news’.
  4. “Not what we voted for.”—unforeseen consequences of the Brexit process:
    • Contrary to sweeping promises, the exit process is not easy and is not going well.
    • We are not in a strong position in negotiations with Europe. It is increasingly clear that we need Europe more than it needs us.
    • We are not in a strong position in negotiations with anyone else.
    • Far from hastening a predicted disintegration of the EU, the example of Britain’s referendum appears to have strengthened Europe and weakened anti-EU sentiment within the populations of the remaining 27.
    • ‘Hard’, ‘crash-out’, or ‘no-deal’ Brexit, i.e. leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union, was specifically ruled out:  Daniel Hannan, a leading behind-the-scenes architect of Leave, declared “Absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the single market” Yet the extreme  advocates of Brexit are now demanding that the 2016 vote be treated as an unquestionable instruction to do exactly that.
    • The NHS is losing large numbers of precious EU staff, as are agriculture and other vital sectors of our economy. The ill-effects of making these people feel unwelcome in Britain are incalculable.
    • The NHS may be opened up to US investors as a necessary sweetener for a new trade deal.
    • The unfolding evidence of unpreparedness and incompetence, even delusion, on the part of the small group of politicians who have been entrusted with the implementation of the Brexit process.
    • The fact that, rather than a balanced, cross-party group of the most competent people available, the future of the country is being decided, potentially for generations to come, by a small, unrepresentative group defined by their obsessional anti-EU convictions.
    • Previously unacceptable public expressions of xenophobic hatred have been unleashed and to some extent legitimised.
      The deliberate cultivation of hatred is something that has been suppressed in this country and elsewhere for a long time, partly because it is so easy to do, so powerful, and so corrupting. George Saunders, in his 2017 Man Booker Prize winning novel Lincoln in the Bardo speaks of “our revived human proclivity for hatred-inspired action“.
      The notorious ‘Breaking Point’ poster appeared, as it turned out, on the same day that the British MP Jo Cox was murdered by a zealot in a frenzy of xenophobic hatred. Its image of Nigel Farage, in front of a picture of desperate refugees fleeing the war in Syria, had nothing to do with the EU or with Brexit but was deliberately designed to incite this gut reaction.  “This was not done on the hoof,”  boasted Arron Banks afterwards, “We played to win – we weren’t going to play Queensberry rules.
      This explosive growth of targeted hatred has been intensified by the new ubiquity of social media. Its almost simultaneous appearance during the United States presidential election, again employed overwhelmingly by only one of the two sides, is one of the features that may account the widely-perceived similarities between the Leave and the Trump campaigns.
    • Although there are indications they may soon be forced to back down, the government has persistently refused to release 58 studies of the economic impact of leaving the EU (on the grounds that to do so would weaken our negotiating position). However, we do know that:
      · the UK government is spending hundreds of millions of pounds, and hiring around 3,000 bureaucrats and lawyers, to cope with Brexit.
      · Chancellor Philip Hammond admits that a Brexit ‘no deal’ will mean less money for NHS and social care. (Thus even further undermining the £350m a week slogan which Boris Johnson has recently reiterated).
  5. Possible subversion of the democratic process by a new and largely hidden technique of ‘data mining’ which enables the targeting of individual people whose susceptibility to persuasion is revealed by personality profiles derived from the analysis of millions of Facebook posts.
    • This new technique was used by one side only.
    • Vote Leave and Leave.UK paid millions of pounds to tech companies Cambridge Analytica and AggregateIQ for these services and subsequently claimed that they had swung the referendum (In the same way that these techniques and companies were subsequently claimed to have secured the election of Donald Trump).
    • Vote Leave’s director Dominic Cummings has said: “Without a doubt, the Vote Leave campaign owes a great deal of its success to the work of AggregateIQ.  We couldn’t have done it without them.”
    • This was allegedly enabled by an American billionaire, Robert Mercer,  partly as a trial run for the subsequent Presidential campaign.
  6. Questions about the use of ‘dark money’, and possible illegality in the funding of the Leave campaign which have been raised in Parliament and described by Andrea Leadsom, replying for the Government, as ‘incredibly important‘.
    The fact that the almost £9m which Aaron (also Arron, amongst other names) Banks says he contributed in cash, loans and services to pro-Brexit causes was the biggest donation in British political history.
    And Banks’ reported comments: “We were just cleverer than the regulators and the politicians. Of course we were”, adding that he didn’t break the law, rather that he “pushed the boundary of everything, right to the edge. It was war.
  7. The fact that the agenda continues to be set, and popular perceptions continue to be distorted, by a predominantly anti-EU national press which is owned by a handful of extremely rich, foreign or foreign-domiciled men, whose motives for fighting  relentlessly for Brexit are obscure.
    Joris Luyendijk, a Netherlander who is leaving Britain after living here with his family for five years, puts it this way in the November 2017 edition of Prospect Magazine:  “…Not only the division, but the way it had been inflamed. Why would you allow a handful of billionaires to poison your national conversation with disinformation—either directly through the tabloids they own, or indirectly, by using those newspapers to intimidate the public broadcaster? Why would you allow them to use their papers to build up and co-opt politicians peddling those lies? Why would you let them get away with this stuff about ‘foreign judges’ and the need to ‘take back control’ when Britain’s own public opinion is routinely manipulated by five or six unaccountable rich white men, themselves either foreigners or foreign-domiciled?”
  8. On the day when Theresa May triggered Article 50, Nigel Farage reportedly raised his pint glass to toast “Well done Bannon, Well done, Breitbart. You helped with this hugely.
    If true, this bizarre tribute to two leaders of the American far right is a disturbing pointer to what is alleged to be a pattern of cooperation between avowed opponents of liberal democracy on both sides of the Atlantic and possibly in Russia, suggesting that they may have conspired together to influence our EU referendum.
  9. We now know that the scheme for securing the economic future of Britain which the advocates of Brexit envisage rests in large part on the reduction of taxation and public services and on the rescinding of regulations, environmental / domestic / workplace safeguards, and of workers’ rights. That such a ‘bonfire of regulations‘ would be against the interests of the majority of ordinary people is surely beyond dispute.
  10.  Electoral issues
    • Remain: 16,141,241 (48.1%)
      Leave: 17,410,742 (51.9%)
      Total Electorate: 46,500,001
      Turnout: 72.2%
      Rejected Ballots: 25,359
      Didn’t vote: 12,948,018
      Therefore: Didn’t vote for Brexit: 29,089,259 (63% of the electorate)
    • Polls suggest that of those who didn’t vote (possibly because some accepted the predictions that Remain was bound to win) a large majority would have chosen Remain.
    • 16-18 year olds, who overwhelmingly would have chosen to Remain, have a strong case that they should have been enfranchised in a vote so crucial for their futures.
    • Slightly less clear-cut is the argument that the 2.5 million EU nationals resident in Britain should also have been given a vote. Probably a large majority of these would also have voted Remain.
    • MPs who raised their concerns about the disenfranchisement of these two groups prior to the vote  are said to have been reassured on the grounds that the referendum result would be advisory rather than binding. I have raised this with my MP and in his reply he did not deny it.
    • A recent YouGov poll indicates there is now an overall majority for Remain.  This adds to a pattern of poll evidence that a majority of the British electorate almost certainly want to remain in the EU. As time passes and the population ages, this majority is likely to increase.

Of course there will be faults and omissions in this list –  it is no more than the honest product of my common sense. But at least it can’t be written off on the grounds that I am an expert.

What is clear is that several of these factors could have swung the vote sufficiently to produce the marginal victory for Leave. Indeed, as I have shown, several of them were triumphantly claimed to have done so. Acting together, however, they overwhelmingly invalidate the pretence that it is, or ever was, the ‘will of the people’ to separate Britain from the European Union at all, let alone unconditionally. If politicians continue to use the 2016 vote as an excuse for switching off their judgement and their responsibility to do what is best for our country, not to mention the wider world, let them be warned that a better list than this will be raised by history against their memory.


 

I have found writing this piece uncomfortable and disturbing. Parts of the story strike me as being profoundly sinister. I am also aware of the hatred and abuse that such things provoke in the current polarised environment (see above). Nonetheless, they are things which need to be said and yet, on the whole, are not being said. It seems obvious to me that they need to be heard and thought about by responsible Leavers much more than by Remainers. Unpleasant though the task has been I have felt compelled to persist with it because I see some very, very important issues at stake for our democracy and for our country, which extend far beyond the issue of EU membership, crucial though that obviously is. And for some reason I have a ridiculous idea that I might actually make a tiny difference.

All my life, ever since my two years as an embassy child in America, I have been intensely patriotic. Attending a conference in Reykjavik this summer, however, I felt, for the first time in my life, actually humiliated by my nationality. I do not like that feeling, and I do not want our foreign friends to think that some of us were aware all along of the emptiness and folly of the reasons being given for the mistake we were making, but were too lazy, intimidated, or—most un-British of all—fatalistic to speak out. That really would be something to be ashamed about.


26 February 2018 : I have now added an eleventh item for this list in a further post  whilst at the same time quoting a particularly thoughtful and pertinent reaction I have received from America.

Entente Cordiale never more important

How to celebrate the 10th anniversary of our twinning with the town of Pertuis, Provence, way down there in the glorious south of France? And return the compliment of their having named a major roundabout

(circle in American, Rond-Point in French) after us, showing the genuine warmth of their appreciation of the link with Alton.

Well, by a sheer stroke of serendipity, there was a second bird, as one might say, just waiting to be killed with this stone. Because, by a curious historical anomaly, Alton has for some years rejoiced in the possession of two parallel roads both called Whitedown Lane. That’s more Whitedown Lanes, you must agree, than any town strictly needs.

two-roads
OS map showing too many  Whitedown Lanes

And, by a further happy chance, one of these two Whitedown Lanes was completely devoid of houses, so that nobody would have to change their postal address were it to be renamed – obviously a no no if it had been otherwise.

So, the responsible authorities swiftly agreed the proposal, new road signs were ordered and erected, Google (if not as yet the OS) updated their map,

pertuis-avenue
Pertuis Avenue on the (Google) map

and the unveiling of the new road sign was arranged for the Saturday morning of the Anniversary visit by two dozen of our friends from Provence – the 22nd October. Just over a week ago.

First thing that morning I loaded the car with potted greenery and set off to join Don in decorating the sign, leaving Lesley to finish breakfast with our two French house guests

p1090385
Not quite the breakfast Ramond and Simone  gave us in Pertuis last year

and then take them to the Mayor’s reception in the Town Hall.

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Nearly ready for the unveiling

It is an amusing thought that Altonians will have as much difficulty pronouncing Pertuis Avenue as  Pertuisians presumably have with Rond-Point d’Alton.

But less amusingly, while I was bending to plant the flags you see on the left of this picture, a bag of rubbish thrown from a passing car bounced off my shoulder. Which interested me, because the marksman either showed astonishingly quick reactions coming round the corner, or, much more probably, took the trouble to get his driver to turn round and come past again for the sole purpose of expressing his (I assume his) xenophobic venom. Which suggests a level of calculated malice sufficient to raise an appreciative editorial eyebrow  at the Dailies Mail or Express. Indeed, should either of these publications wish to award a prize, the till receipt from the Petersfield MacDonalds which the lobber thoughtfully enclosed in his grubby bundle might help them in tracking him down. (Funny that – Petersfield says more ‘Telegraph’ to me, but ‘Daily’, just the same.)

I had these thoughts during the hour I spent guarding (yes, in these Brexit times it did seem to be necessary) the site,

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while Don, in his capacity as Twinning Association Chairman, joined the meeting in the Town Hall.

Passers-by, hearing why I was grumpy, fell over themselves to cheer me up – “Here – let me take the rubbish so that you can forget about it” “That sounds wonderful, I was just setting off for Dartmoor but I love France and I’ll stay for the ceremony” (She did, plus her dog) “Can I get you a cup of tea?” To which – “How very kind of you, but there isn’t a loo…”

The happy Ceremony

That afternoon, in the town, was endlessly heart-warming. Everyone seemed to know about the Anniversary visit. Walking with our guests around King’s Pond, we introduced them at random to a lady with two children feeding the ducks near us and found that she was an enthusiast for twinning, and that her son was corresponding, through school, with a contact in Pertuis. And the little son who was with her, probably no more than five, had learned a few words of French and exchanged them, in an utterly charming scene, with our visitors.

Happy faces at the dinner at the end of the weekend

On the way back from leaving Simon and Raymond at their coach on Monday morning, I stopped to photograph the three flags flying on the Alton War Memorial flag poles, a symbol of our better selves, and of hope for the future.

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Entente cordiale never more important

Tomorrow’s EU referendum- the need to listen to the experts

Does the panel agree with Michael Gove that we’ve had enough of experts?

That was the question I submitted in advance for the EU referendum debate in Alton Assembly Rooms this Monday evening. Unfortunately it was left to the very end – in fact five minutes after the very end (timed for the England/Slovenia match) – and the panel were asked to give it a one-word answer.

I had been hoping for more than that.

I had chosen my question, after much thought, specifically to Continue reading Tomorrow’s EU referendum- the need to listen to the experts