Monday, 31 July 2017

What to do about Brexit: For the first time in my life, I’m genuinely torn on an issue.

In the year since Britain voted to leave the EU, there appears to be three prevailing narratives about what WE should do. Leave the EU and everything associated with it i.e. the Customs Union, the Single Market and the Parliament. Stay in the Single Market and/or Customs Union but leave everything else to do with the EU and have a second referendum after we negotiate a deal with an option of staying in.

The political party I am a member of, the Green Party, was one of two parties calling for a second referendum at the most recent general election. We even voted on this at last conference and barring one or two of us it was overwhelmingly voted for. I despaired at this because anyone that can briefly research Green Party policy on the EU will see that we backed the initial referendum. Nowhere in our policy did it say we would like a second referendum to have a vote on the final Brexit deal reached. Yes party policy can change but for me it just looked hypocritical and to my friends in the Green Party that are vehemently defending this position, surely you can see that it is how it would look to the outside world.

Since the referendum, I have consistently argued against a second one. However as someone that voted Remain, I do sympathise with the argument. In a Question Time episode shortly after the referendum result, Ian Hislop made a very interesting point that you don’t stop making an argument or stop standing by a political position just because you lose a result. The opposition parties don’t stop opposing a government if they lose a general election. They try to force the government’s hand on certain issues and potentially push for a second election before it officially should happen. Theresa May arrogantly called a general election just two years after the previous one so there is a precedent for having a second vote soon after a first vote on a political decision. Is that ignoring the “will of the people” from 2015 though?

However the difference is, the parties that called for a second referendum got less than 10% of the vote at the 2017 general election and talking to voters on the doorstep in London and Bristol during the election campaign, no one bought up Brexit to me apart from one person. It seems to me that most voters I talked to have moved past the referendum. I realise that this is a generalisation and it could be different in other parts of the country. However it doesn’t appear that there is a desire to have a second referendum even though a recent poll showed that if there was a second one, remain would win. I can absolutely see why people are arguing for this option. Whatever the temptation and logical arguments in favour of a second referendum though, my gut instinct is against it. I don’t think it is a battle that can be won. I also fear a public backlash in the form of a low turnout at future elections, potential civil disobedience and an even further drop in Green Party support because we backed the initial referendum. Also what happens if Leave win that second referendum, is it accepted? It should be but then why would you then stop fighting for what you believe in? See it’s more complicated than people realise.

Let’s go to one of the other options now. Staying in the Single Market and/or Customs Union but leaving the political aspect of the EU, namely the Council, Commission and EU Parliament. Economically this makes sense. No Tariffs on goods traded and freedom for all of us to work wherever we want in the EU at no extra cost via a Visa. Because of the Customs Union, anything businesses want to sell around the EU have no tarrifs on them and they can get through borders and ports quickly because everyone in the EU has the same safety and regulation standards. This also means consumers don’t have to pay an extra charge on buying things from the EU as well. Someone told me that when they bought something from the US recently, they had to pay a customs charge of £15 when they picked it up from the Post Office. This was because it was outside the Customs Union. However if we wanted to stay part of the Customs Union and/or Single Market, we’d have to abide by the same rules we do now but not have any say over them as we currently do. So whilst our economy could benefit, there would be a huge democratic deficit. One of the reasons I voted remain was because I felt we could reform the undemocratic aspects of the EU and enhance the power of the democratically elected European Parliament. So this is why I am very sceptical of this option.

So the last option which a lot of Conservatives and the Labour leadership support is to completely leave everything to do with the EU and work out “tariff free access” to the Single Market outside of it. Whilst I’m sure we could negotiate a deal with the EU, I don’t think it would benefit us as much as being in the EU. I genuinely believe there will be tariff costs unless we compromise and accept the four freedoms of the Single Market which neither Labour or the Tories are likely to accept. Yes this option respects the result and if we still had a close and friendly relationship with the EU then that may quell some remain voters’ fears. However economically we could be left worse off for years whilst we are working out a trade deal with the EU and other countries separately (which would take the best part of a decade as most trade deals do.). And even then I’m very sceptical that any deals we make will be as good as the current arrangement we have as part of the EU.

So all these options have merits and downsides and there are no easy answers here hence why I said I’m genuinely torn. I envy anyone that has a clear thought of what they think Britain’s future relationship with the EU should be. I just see what the least bad option is because there are serious difficulties with all of them. I’ve always been very clear and principled about what I’ve believed. Whether it is on education, healthcare, economic policy and yes I was clear about campaigning for Remain during the referendum. Britain’s future relationship with the EU post referendum is the most uncertain I’ve ever felt about any issue. It’s quite frustrating. But I guess life is complicated and there aren’t always easy answers to things. If anyone can convince me to enthusiastically support one of these options, then please try. I don’t want to feel like this. You may think this blog is pointless as there is no clear conclusion but for me it is hopefully voicing an opinion about Brexit that many have but are too afraid to say. As in we just don’t know and would rather avoid openly confronting the uncertainty for fear of looking weak. I’m not an expert on the EU and yeah I may have got some facts wrong. People may call me unprincipled and say I’m just trying to please everyone with this. But you know what, it is ok sometimes to say the words I don’t know.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Why Blair is wrong to suggest voting for pro-EU Tories

Yes I’m a Green Party member so probably shouldn’t stick my nose in Labour Party business but when I saw the suggestion from Tony Blair that people should consider backing some pro-EU Conservative MPs I have to admit, I did a double take. An ex-Labour Prime Minister suggesting that people vote for a right wing party based on one issue? Brexit is an important issue but is Blair so out of touch that he hasn't seen the damage the Tories have done over the last 7 years? The slashing of our public services and welfare state, which Blair's government actually boosted funding in. How can he possibly suggest supporting that? Whatever his views on Corbyn, surely he shouldn't ask people to consider supporting the party that he fiercely fought three elections against and won?

I agree with him that leaving the EU is most likely going to damage our country in a lot of ways but to suggest voting for any MP that wants to fight against a hard Brexit no matter their party is incredibly one-dimensional and narrow minded. Even some of his protégées such as Chuka Umunna have completely dismissed the idea. Bizarrely he also said he would definitely be voting Labour himself. I’m sorry but if he is voting for Labour then surely he should be saying others should as well? As an ex-Labour Prime Minister, I also think he has a responsibility and a duty to encourage others to vote for Labour and not give any hint or suggestion that people should consider voting Tory. If he could stand as a candidate under Michael Foot’s manifesto, then surely he can stomach campaigning for Labour under Corbyn?

It’s interesting though how we haven’t heard anything from Blair over what has happened domestically in Britain over the duration of this current Tory government. However when it comes to foreign affairs such as the EU and the middle-east he is very opinionated. A few months after the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition formed, they had a clear programme of government which included dismantling our welfare state. When asked about them, Blair said at the time it was too early to tell about whether they were a good government or not. One thinks that he may have secretly supported what they were doing but didn’t want to openly say it. Considering it was the New Labour government that introduced the Work Capability Assessments and the Bedroom Tax in council housing, it wouldn’t surprise me.

I would personally say do not just vote for a party based on what their views on the EU are. Look at what they’ll for the country overall. Of course what their plan in the EU negotiations are, is important but it really isn’t the only issue. Look at our NHS, education system, our public services and tell me could you really stomach voting for a party that will continue to dismantle those things whilst giving tax cuts to the richest just because a particular MP of theirs shares your views on the EU? For me personally, I’ll ignore Tony Blair’s advice. I'd rather not be a Turkey voting for Christmas.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Why I disagree with Jonathan Pie's comparison of trigger warnings and the ban of public swearing by Salford Council

Jonathan Pie/Tom Walker is a fake news reporter/comedian. He is well known for his rants on how the news is presented. In his latest videos he attacks the idea of trigger warnings when tricky subjects are talked or written about. So his video starts bemoaning the fact that Salford council have banned public swearing and local citizens can be punished for doing so. Then he goes on to attack students on the “liberal left” for what he calls “policing language”. He thinks that having warnings on books at universities is “Orwellian”. Yes because I remember that bit in 1984 when they talked about trigger warnings. Also interesting how he accused left wing students of curtailing freedom when a recent report from Amnesty came out and stated the UK citizens were the most watched in the world in terms of surveillance and of course we have a Tory government.

For those that don’t know what “trigger warnings” are, I’ll explain them. Essentially all they are is that before you speak or write about something, you inform people that a certain subject will come up that could be traumatising. If someone is writing an online blog for example or a Facebook post and put a trigger warning beforehand, they’ll start with the letters TW followed by the subject (i.e. sexism, racism, sexual abuse etc) because these kind of subjects can be triggering for people, as in they’ll recall a time where they suffered one of these things. It’s a way of taking someone’s feelings into account before you write or speak about something. Hardly Orwellian.

According to Jonathan Pie “no one has a right to not be offended”. That’s correct but free speech always comes with consequences. Maybe not lawfully but words can hurt and the human mind is complex and people are affected by words that are said. Anyone like myself that suffered verbal bullying at school every day will understand this. To be fair, Jonathan does state that hurling abuse at someone isn’t acceptable. However bullying isn’t always openly aggressive but it can be subtle and damaging over time as the form of bullying I received was. Words matter. That’s the reality. There is a reason that most of us curtail our language and do not use certain racist, sexist or homophobic slurs. Because we know how awful those words are and that they can be used in a Hate Crime. The thing is, we all vary our language depending on the situation we find ourselves in. For example in your workplace, you may swear a lot less than you do with your friends because it’s against the code of practice at work.

In this latest video, Pie also laments the fact that a university has a trigger warning on copies of the book “to kill a mockingbird” because of the racist language in it. He says that everyone should just simply understand context of words and just not get offended. I understand the context of words is important but there is no banning of words here, just a warning for people that say have suffered a lot of racism and maybe don’t want to read a lot of racist slurs that they themselves have been subject to. We put warnings on films when they are on DVD or in the Cinema because they contain certain content like violence, sex or swearing, yet Pie doesn’t appear to have a problem with that.

I don’t see the harm of trigger warnings. You’re not banning people from saying something, but it just means those that don’t want to read about something that can be triggering, get a polite warning beforehand. It’s not something I believe should be enforced however, as you have no idea about what your friends or colleagues will find distressing or not, unless you know them really well.  If you want to talk about certain subjects online or in a speech then fine but if someone says to you in future can you put a warning on before you write or speak about a certain subject because it’s triggering a horrible part of my life, then it’s a polite thing to consider doing.

I think what it also comes down to is that Pie appears to just think that as long as we all debate with people openly and just don’t be offended or upset by words then that is the way to defeat certain viewpoints. It’s true that when Nick Griffin appeared on Question Time, his views were exposed and ridiculed and the BNP went downhill from there in terms of the number of elected politicians they had. But exposing and openly debating racist or sexist views does not mean they’ll be defeated. The rise of UKIP and Donald Trump very much prove that. Pie has blamed PC lefties for the rise of Trump because they were shutting down debate and not talking to Trump voters about their concerns. That’s partly true but it’s far from the whole story. The lies and the hatred promoted by the right wing media in America and the UK has fuelled the rise of the far-right as well as the failure of centre-left governments of Blair, Bill Clinton and Obama to deal with the rampant inequality and allowing industries and communities to fall apart.

Not everyone has the confidence to openly debate with what they see as horrible view points, and yes people do need places they can feel safe, i.e. “safe spaces.” It appears that Pie thinks certain people are weak for getting offended. It’s not weak to be upset or hurt by words. It’s human. This is sadly how the selfishness and uncaring nature of our society that has developed from the Thatcher years has ingrained itself into the psyche of certain people on the left like Pie. He’s talked before about how we as a society need to seriously deal with the mental health crisis in this country. Yet a lot of people suffer from mental health issues because they are had a go at for being offended at certain words by people like Pie. They should just put up with it, not say anything and just get over it, right?

In general, I think Jonathan Pie’s videos are funny and insightful and with things like this, he certainly gets debates going. However I believes he simplifies the issue of free speech and trigger warnings too much rather than considering the merit in carefully choosing words.

NB: Just to note, I realise Jonathan Pie is a character but after reading a recent interview with Tom Walker, Pie is basically the actor’s views but exaggerated for comic effect.

Monday, 23 January 2017

2016 was quite a bleak year for many of us. Let’s make 2017 the year we fight back.

Trump, Brexit, the hate-crimes that have increased since Brexit, the Syrian refugee crisis and Europe’s utter failure to help the millions displaced. It’s easy to see why so many people found so much to be pessimistic about last year.

Before I join in the chorus of people that say 2016 was “the worst year ever” though, good things did happen. In the UK, Zac Goldsmith got punished at the mayoral ballot box for his racist campaign. He also lost his seat as an MP. Furthermore the Trade Union, Unite, helped strike a big blow against Sports Direct and forced them to change their awful work practices. Worldwide, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that global malaria deaths have gone down by 60% since 2000. In addition, the Paris Climate Agreement was signed meaning a lot of countries are doing more than ever (although still not enough) to combat the effects of human-made climate change. However we must be vigilant as Trump seeks to pull the US out of this agreement. So whilst bleak things of a huge consequence did happen and are continuing, there was some good news to mitigate this.

So what does 2017 hold for us? Well in the UK we have the prospect of Article 50 being triggered and a push by the government to get us out of everything to do with the EU, including the single market. Further train strikes are likely to happen because of safety concerns of Southern Staff.  TFL Station staff are also likely to go on strike again because of ticket office closures and staff cuts. The crisis of homelessness in this country and the NHS under constant strain is likely to continue.  In the wider world, we have had the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the US, as well as an ongoing refugee crisis because of conflicts in places like Yemen and Syria.

It is so easy to ignore it all and pretend it’s not happening because to even think about any of those things can be quite upsetting and infuriating. However, the sad but hard truth is nothing will change unless you get involved. If you're not already, become an activist of some sort. It doesn’t matter how big or small your activism is. Pick one topic in particular that you’re passionate about and go with it. If you don’t think you’re passionate about anything, then just think what you’d like to see change about a particular issue. Are you worried about the government’s Brexit strategy? Are you angry at big corporations getting way with not paying tax? Are you worried about the effect Donald’s Trump’s policies will have on the rest of the world? It could even be a local issue such as a green space that is being built on or the selling off of a housing estate that are leading to mass evictions.

There are a number of things you do practically to start of with. Find a group to get involved in, so you’re not doing it on your own. If you google a particular issue, you’re bound to find a campaign group on it. Or start a group with one of your friends and try and build it up. The actions you can do are things like writing to local and/or national papers to spread the message about the issue. You can also write to your MP to challenge the government. Believe or not, some MPs do bring up their constituents concerns with the government. You can deliver leaflets or knock on your neighbours’ doors to get signatures for a petition or to let people in your community know about a particular issue. You can volunteer for a refugee charity and make sure refugees get the help they need. You can even get involved in direct action such as a stunt outside a business or government building or a big protest march. A few years ago when UK Uncut organised protests outside Vodafone shops, tax avoidance become a national issue in the media.

Being an activist can give you so much adrenaline. However, it can be frustrating at times when you think you’re not changing things straight away but if you persevere you may end up making a difference. For example, I mentioned Unite’s Sports Direct campaign before. Now given how long they’ve been treating employees appallingly, and how much in denial Mike Ashley was, it didn’t seem that things would change. But when Unite organised mass protests outside their shops across the country and recruited union members from Sport’s Direct staff, suddenly things changed. The rest of the Sports Direct board got angry with Ashley, a Parliamentary Committee demanded he change the practices in the workplace and ultimately the Sports Direct workers are now organised in their workplace and are treated a bit better.

So many people are apathetic. A lot of people choose to not think or act about what they see as injustice because they think nothing will change anyway. The system is too corrupt and messed up for that. However, if enough people that felt like that actually attempted to change things, we’d have made more progress.

Still not convinced that you care enough to become a political activist? Then here are a few things to think about. Have you ever been angry at train fare rises equalled with poor service? Have you felt that you and you're fellow employees are underpaid or undervalued at work? Have you ever been angry at the fact that you and your friends/family can barely afford to rent let alone buy a house? These are things that you can help change. Even if you are physically and/or mentally not able to really do too much, you can do a simple thing like sign a petition and share it. Any petition that reaches over 100,000 signatures is likely to be debated by MPs in Parliament so it is worth doing and no amount of activism is not enough. 

So what are you waiting for? Be the change you want to see. I know I sound very idealistic but I can’t afford not to be. There is too much at stake to even consider that I won’t make any difference in what I’m doing. The moment you think you can’t change anything, you won’t. Being an activist can be hard and draining at times but as long as all of us have a strong support network around us then we can together make the world just that bit better over time .Looking at the millions that marched against Trump last weekend, including people who hadn’t done it before, it gives me hope that maybe a big fightback is underway this year. Don’t just “watch this space”, be part of it and make a new year’s resolution to be proud of.