The European elections in the North

At 7am tomorrow morning the polling stations will open in every town, village and neighbourhood across the North for the elections for the European Union parliament – elections that nobody expected to see happening in circumstances of Brexit being completely unresolved.   What’s in store?

the irritating gentleman cropped

Unbidden, NU advises a voter on tactical voting options in the d’Hondt election system

At last, useful polling data

At the weekend Best for Britain, the marvellous anti-Brexit campaigning organisation that Northern Umbrella identified last July as a cut above the Peoples Vote campaign, did something that not a single mainstream media organisation had hitherto bothered to do: it published an opinion poll that actually gave numbers for each region of England, the regional constituencies which form the basis for the MEPs getting elected. It also published the numbers for Wales and Scotland.

Suddenly – lo and behold! – we discover that the SNP is not bumping along at 4%, as the BBC and the newspapers were reporting, it is polling at 38% in Scotland, 18% ahead of all other parties: on course for a huge victory.  And of course, at 0% in England and Wales.

Almost as sensational is the reveal that Plaid Cymru is the second-placed party in Wales at 19%, four points ahead of Labour, albeit miles behind Nigel Farage’s Brexit party which is polling at 35%.  In case you missed it being reported in the BBC news, Adam Price, the erudite new leader of Plaid Cymru, is now pushing for an independent Wales inside the EU.  Quite a turnaround in Wales, where outright independence was rarely seriously considered.  But this is the impact of the Little Englanders’ Brexit.

So what were the poll findings for the North?  Here are Best for Britain’s numbers as adapted by Northern Umbrella from Brexit Factbase (links provided in the discussion section below):

B4B poll by region

Choking on straws

There are some straws of good news we can clutch at: the main one being that it appears that Northerners appear to be less taken by the Brexit Party than any of the other regions of England outside London.  In the North East they stand on 35%, in Yorkshire 33% and in the North West, 32%.  This compares with Brexit party support of 37% in the South East and East Midlands, 40% in the West Midlands and East of England, and a scary 42% in the South West.

But it’s a straw to choke on really: the Brexit party is in a big lead in all three regions of the North – a lunatic situation to be in on a day when Brexit has killed off Scunthorpe steelworks after 150 years, and most likely taking Skinningrove in Cleveland down with it.

The 64 million dollar question of whether the combined vote for pro-Brexit parties exceeds the combined vote for anti-Brexit parties depends entirely on how you classify support for the Labour party.  One thing that the numbers show quite clearly is that there is no majority in the country as a whole for a hard Brexit.  That at least is good news.  But there is no obvious majority for Remain either.

What this shows, perhaps above all else, is that a vote for Labour in this election is a vote for letting someone else interpret what your vote means in terms of your position on Brexit.  Len McCluskey and Ian Lavery will interpret it their way, Andrew Adonis his way, Lisa Nandy and Caroline Flint their way.  If you’re happy with that, fine.  But if you’re not, tomorrow is a day to think hard before voting Labour.  More on this in the final section below.

The Brexit fantasy bubble

The Brexit party is as transparent a scam as has ever been perpetrated.  In fairness, you have to admire the sheer chutzpah of Farage saying “vote for me first and I’ll publish my manifesto after the election” – and romping to the top of the polls on the back of it.

But, as Northern Umbrella pointed out back in February, it is only succeeding because the people are now willing participants in the con trick.  Like TV wrestling, they know it’s not real, but they’re going along with it anyway.  Support for “Just get on with it” Brexit has long since lost any contact with reality, and is now just pure self-indulgence.

25,000 jobs can go in a day with Brexit clearly to blame – and with it the end of steelmaking in the North, a whole industry central to the North’s former industrial greatness – and yet for the “Just get on with it” brigade it won’t make a blind bit of difference to how they will vote.

Why not – is it not real for them because they think it won’t hit their pension, won’t hit their housing equity?   You can tell them, “oh yes it will, and post-Brexit poverty is coming for you” – and probably deep down they will know you’re right.  But they won’t be listening because it’s not real for them today.  Today they can, so they will, carry on pretending.

It’s a fantasy bubble that has blown up over the last three years perhaps because of, as much as in spite of, the facts piling up that “have your cake and eat it” Brexit was not on offer.  But instead of bursting on contact with reality, it just morphed into the fantasy that a “clean break” Brexit is doable and won’t be any trouble that we Dunkirk veterans can’t handle.  It’s a bubble that was given new life by the deadline extension granted by the EU on 31 March, and it has not been pricked in any way by this election campaign.

Fox in the (chlorine-washed) chicken house

It is said that a people get the politicians they deserve, but you would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at the incredible – but unstoppable – prospect of the North West’s “Just get on with it” gammon getting the Revolutionary Communist Party’s Claire Fox as their anointed representative.

There cannot be many Brexit party voters in the North West who don’t know by now that Claire Fox wouldn’t condemn the IRA bombing of her own home town of Warrington.  They are ignoring it through the power of cognitive dissonance.  But quite a few will still be unaware of how weird she really is.

The RCP of the 1980s was to all intents and purposes a cult, and had all the weirdness that goes with that.  It’s difficult to say what Claire Fox and the other RCPers really believe these days, but it appears to all intents and purposes that the core group of cult members still exists and acts as a collective.  Whether or not they still think they are overthrowing capitalism, it seems plain that they think they can play Farage and the Bad Boys of Brexit to their own advantage.  Meanwhile, the Bad Boys think they can play the RCP.

So far, so banal.  But also, and far more sinisterly, the RCP think they can play the Koch Brothers and the American dark money.

The American vampire capitalist dark money, which is so obviously funding the Brexit party through undeclared £499 PayPal donations, cares literally not at all for the welfare of the North of England or its people.  But they certainly have an interest in us.  We are there to be used as a pawn in their geopolitical game, and as a population that can be bled dry for cash, then thrown away.

Their main geopolitical game is to try to destroy the EU, and thereby remove as the only world force capable of showing the American people that there is another way.  But, on the business side, to them we are a population there to be used and abused as they ram through the privatisation of the NHS to American healthcare corporations, and open up our kitchens to their factory farm corporations, and all the hormone-fed beef and chlorine-washed chicken you can stomach.

You can help support efforts by investigative journalists (such as Peter Geoghegan of Open Democracy)  to get to the truth of who is funding the Brexit party, here.  Whatever you donate, you will certainly get your money’s worth when the truth comes out, because it will more sensational, and horrifying – and absurd – than you can imagine.

What is to be done?  Northern Umbrella’s tactical voting picks

In the face of this absurdity and darkness, it is too easy to despair.  It is also too easy to say brightly, don’t despair, vote tactically for the LibDems, as if it wasn’t the LibDems’ enthusiastic adoption of deep austerity that is the main root cause of this Brexit mess in the first place.

Nevertheless, turnout is everything in an election like this, so GET OUT TO VOTE.

Unlike our lucky friends north of the border in Scotland and west of the border in Wales, this is the only chance a Northerner gets to vote in an election that isn’t run under the first past the post system.

Although the party list system and single non-transferable vote used for the Euro election is a terrible version of PR (chosen deliberately by Tony’s Blair’s Labour party to benefit themselves and discredit electoral reform), it is a proportional representation election, and so there is a clear temptation to say, just vote with your heart and give your vote to your first choice.

However, in the North, there certainly is a case for judicious tactical voting.  The Best for Britain polling numbers translate into forecast seats as follows:

Y&H NE NW
Brexit Party 3 2 3
Conservative 0 0 1
Labour 1 1 2
LibDem 1 0 1
Green 1 0 1
Change UK 0 0 0

Lots of tactical voting advice is out there but Best for Britain’s Vote page allows you to test your own options using sliders – try it out.  A hat tip also to the info put out by Democratic Audit and Brexit Factbase.  Meanwhile, Northern Umbrella’s advice is as follows:

Across the North, a vote for Change UK is a wasted vote.  Change UK has been a hubristic yet lacklustre shambles from the start.  Let’s use this election to kill it off.  Their supposed big beasts can eat humble pie and then go crawling to the LibDems to let them in.  It will do them good – especially the Labour contribution to Change UK, who are a far less attractive bunch than its Tories.

In the North West, tactical voting is relatively easy.  Labour and the Brexit Party look comfortable to win two seats and the LibDems to win one, so it looks like a three horse race between the Green Party, the Tories and the Brexit Party for the final MEP seat.  Therefore all Remain tactical voters should give their support to the Greens, to get their experienced and effective campaigner Gina Dowding over the line and elected.  What a great breakthrough that would be for Green politics, and for saving the planet.

In the North East, where only three seats are up for grabs, the numbers show that Labour can comfortably win one seat but will struggle for two.  If you are inclined to vote tactically, the best chance to deprive the Brexit Party of two seats is to vote LibDem.

In Yorkshire and Humber, the top two Labour candidates are Richard Corbett and Eloise Todd, and probably there are no two people in the country with better anti-Brexit credentials.  Eloise Todd, who spoke to Northern Umbrella last July, is in with a sniff of getting a seat, and tactical voting would help her.  As Chief Executive of Best for Britain, Eloise has worked her socks off to stop Brexit, and Yorkshire could not elect a better or more well-qualified MEP.

But for Eloise Todd to do this, she will probably need to squeeze out the Green Party’s “magic” Magid Magid (last year’s superstar Lord Mayor of Sheffield) and the Yorkshire Party’s Chris Whitwood.  Which would be a shame.  It would be good to see either Greens or the Yorkshire Party break through – in the table the Yorkshire Party are hiding in ‘other’ at 5%. Even though 5 or 6% wouldn’t win them a seat, it would represent a breakthrough on a journey to give the Yorkshire a progressive, civic regionalist force something like its own version of Plaid Cymru.   Too difficult – no recommendation.

And they’re off!

An update will be posted here when the results are announced on Sunday.

 

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Think on, Rebecca

As we enter the second day of Jeremy Corbyn’s talks with Theresa May, what will happen next is very unclear.  Corbyn’s own intentions remain remarkably inscrutable – nobody really knows if he is the same Bennite Brexiter he was in 1975 and 1983, or if he is actually a ninth dan master of constructive ambiguity who is going to come out of this game of three dimensional chess with both a second referendum and the keys to No.10 in the bag.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (centre), shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer and shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey in his office in the Houses of Parliament in London preparing for a meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images)

Salford’s own Rebecca Long-Bailey (blurred in the above photo) is a key part of Labour’s negotiating team.  What Northern Labour MPs think, and what they perceive Northern voters think, is a really important part of what happens next.

Northern Umbrella’s take on it all is simple: let Corbyn cook up any deal he wants with Theresa May, but whatever it is, PUT IT TO THE PEOPLE.  The ‘Kyle-Wilson’ compromise would be the simplest given the extreme lack of time we have – vote through Theresa May’s existing deal, which we know the EU will agree to, on the condition that it is put to a ratification referendum, with Remain as the alternative.

Jez kidding?

The real danger is that May and Corbyn will agree on some softer form of Brexit (all the Labour bullshit of ‘a’ customs union, as opposed to ‘the’ customs union), conspire to sell it as a happy compromise between the extremes of Remain and No Deal, and rush it through before the EU’s deadline of 12 April.

Why would they do that?  There is no such thing as a ‘jobs-first Brexit’: all forms of soft Brexit deliver a worse deal with the EU than the one we already have, and would be a stupid, pointless throwing away of Britain’s seat at the EU table.  People propounding soft Brexit only ever make the case in terms of respecting the 2016 referendum vote, they never make the case in positive terms of what it offers the country.  Nobody even bothers to ask them to.

The problem with soft Brexit is that it only unites the country in the sense that nobody wants it.  So why would Corbyn and May go for it?

One argument in its favour is that it drives the hard Brexiters nuts.  The only enjoyable thing coming out of the latest twist in the crisis is watching the charlatans, clowns and disaster capitalist crooks of the Tory ERG lose their shit as they realise they have lost their control over what happens next.

But the argument offered here is that what both Corbyn and May share is a vested interest in keeping Westminster’s undemocratic two party, first-past-the-post-in-single-member-constituencies duopoly system intact.

They both fancy their chances in a Westminster General Election, while both deeply fear having to contest the European parliament elections in June, run under a proportional representation system*, when the real state of support for their two parties would actually be revealed.  (*A very bad version of PR, the so-called party list system, cynically chosen by Tony Blair to discredit PR.)

Think on, Rebecca

But if Labour would just stop and think for one minute, they would never do anything as mad as push through soft Brexit in cahoots with Theresa May, without a ratification referendum.

If Brexit is any one thing, it is a crime by the old against the young.  The statistics on the age breakdown of the Brexit vote in 2016 are astonishing.  The old – with many honourable exceptions of course – wanted to leave and the young wanted to stay.  And things have got even more polarised since then.

The most amazing fact about Brexit voters is that not only are they much more pessimistic about the future than Remainers, but also that they do not expect Brexit to change that.  Brexiters think Britain’s best days are behind it, full stop – even after Brexit.

The most amazing fact about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party is that he would not have won the leadership, and he would not have hung on to it against a vicious backlash by the Labour party establishment, without the enthusiastic support of the young.

If Corbyn and Rebecca Long-Bailey secure a confirmatory referendum as an outcome of these talks, then they will be walking on water as far as the young people of this country are concerned.  One million marchers and six million signers of the revoke petition will become a young and enthusiastic doorstep army to win the referendum, and they will probably then move on to put Jeremy Corbyn into No. 10 too.

If they conspire with Theresa May to deny a referendum, then their support from the young will evaporate overnight.  Furthermore, and quite rightly, the young will turn against Labour and the dream of a reforming Corbyn government will be over.

Labour’s high command must have thought through the arithmetic, and if they come out against a referendum, they must believe that Brexit voters in the North are the crucial factor in their chances of winning a general election.  They would be making a gigantic strategic mistake.  Alienating the young and siding with the past against future is no way forward, in the North as much as anywhere.  Assuming young remainers have nowhere else to take their vote would soon be proven wrong: they are a lively lot and would create somewhere else to take their vote, and Labour as a dynamic and forward-looking force would be finished.

The Northern Labour MPs holding out for hard Brexit are a mixed bag.  Some, like Caroline Flint, are compromised by spending too much time in Annabel’s with Andrew Neil and the dark alt-right netherworld he is a gateway to. Some want to represent what they feel their constituents are saying to them.  Some just worry about getting re-elected.

But most, like Ronnie Campbell, are nice enough guys but at the end of the day are just living dinosaurs: yesterday’s old party men whose best days are well behind them and have given up on offering any kind of hope or future to the young people of the North of England.

Brexiters are now a clear minority in the country.  As they attempt to deny this, it is worth asking: if they represent the will of the majority as they claim to do, why are they so afraid of putting that to the test of a referendum?

The hard Brexiters, the crooks and the charlatans, cannot be compromised with.  They can only be confronted and defeated.  Meanwhile the “just get on with it” brigade, the pensioners who read the Daily Express, and believe the shit fed to them in it, should be sympathised with, but we can’t allow them to crash the car with all our kids in it.

Rebecca Long-Bailey could be a good leader of the Labour party some day.  She should consider: does she really want to side with the past against the future?

[UPDATE]: 25 Labour MPs’ letter urging Corbyn to reject a referendum

So 25 Labour MPs have written to Jeremy Corbyn urging a quick compromise deal with Theresa May “to avoid fighting the European elections”.  They say that Labour party policy is that a “deal that secures jobs and rights at work… does not require a confirmatory ballot”.

Of the 25 MPs, 20 represent Northern seats, and all apart from one represent seats in the North or the North Midlands.  It’s a broad group of Labour MPs, men and women, old and young, from different wings of the party – it’s not just limited to the dinosaur brigade.  What links them is that they all represent seats that voted heavily for Brexit.  It’s long and depressing list of ex-mining and manufacturing towns that are in a bad way:

Trying to get a better future for places like these is why Northern Umbrella exists.  So it is right to respect that this letter comes from these towns’ elected MPs and represents a genuine point of view.

However, we are entitled to ask these MPs to make clear what their ‘Labour Brexit’ deal would actually do to make their towns a better place.  Because they have nothing to say on this.  All they can say is that making Brexit happen “respects the result of the 2016 referendum”.

All of these MPs will be fully aware of the well-known issue that Brexit will hammer the areas that voted for Brexit hardest.  Sure, soft Brexit won’t be as bad as No Deal Brexit, but it will be bad.  To be aware of this problem, and not to show leadership in their communities on it, just for the sake of avoiding bother, is shameful.

Of course respecting democracy is important, and this is why it is a travesty of democracy to deny the people a confirmatory referendum on the actual Brexit proposal, as opposed to 2016’s blank sheet of paper that nobody cared to define and nobody understood (and was lied and lied about, in a Leave campaign that broke the law).

The real reason they don’t want a referendum is because they know they will lose it, and lose it quite badly.  A soft Brexit deal they claim can “bring leave and remain voters together” if put to a referendum would likely do just that – it would bring them together to reject it, and would struggle to get 30% of the vote.

It would be a particular travesty of democracy to ram through a hurriedly lashed-up deal without scrutiny, just so that the Labour and Conservative parties can avoid having to face the genuinely democratic test of a European election.

In fact, holding the European election is a great democratic opportunity to find out what people really think about Brexit, and what they want to do next.  It’s a PR election where votes properly count, and so a range of parties that actually reflect the range of public opinion will be able to set out their stall, and people will be able to vote for the platform they like best.

Contrast this to a general election where questions of much more vital importance to voters than Brexit need to be settled. We have had a taster of this with the Newport West by-election tonight, won by Labour with a 1,951 majority over the Tories in a campaign in which “neither Labour nor Tory focused on Brexit”.

We need a general election, and we need to settle Brexit.  But a general election is not a good means of settling Brexit, in fact it is a very bad one.  And a British general election least of all, with our unfit for purpose, first past the post, single member seat system that turns our general elections into such a rigged, fundamentally undemocratic and depressing occasion.  Polls are saying 80% of people don’t want a general election now.

There has to be a suspicion that these MPs want the two party duopoly Westminster system, and their safe seats within it, more than they want to make sure they are doing what really is best for the country.

Let’s be charitable and say that this suspicion is unjustified.  In that case, we need to make the time for them to present their case, and for it to be debated.  To do this, we are going to need a long extension to the Brexit deadline, a breather so that everyone can calm down, and then return to a more reasoned debate.

There is only one way to bring the Brexit debate to an end so that we can move on to solving the North’s actual problems.  We must engage seriously with those who have reached for Brexit as a panacea for the serious problems of neglect and austerity, whilst at the same time confronting the No Deal Brexit fantasists and fanatics, and democratically defeating them.  The Labour MPs who can’t see that are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

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April Fool’s Day

Should the inquest ever come to be held on why Britain committed national economic and diplomatic suicide by crashing out of the European Union without a deal, April Fool’s Day 2019 will be the most important day to examine.

Today is the day to stop fucking around with mad Soft Brexit unicorns like a customs union or Common Market 2.0.  The very idea that any arrangement can be negotiated with the EU at a few days’ notice is utterly ridiculous.  The only possible deal we could get would be one that would put UK at a massive disadvantage to the EU.  Two years was spent negotiating on Theresa May’s deal.  It’s a bad deal for Britain, because our fundamental strategic economic weakness made that inevitable, but it’s the best one we can get and still Brexit.

The fact that there are still large numbers of the public who think crashing out is going to be a matter of a short period of belt-tightening then we’ll be fine is a national disgrace – a disgrace for which the BBC bears a large share of the responsibility.  The BBC’s conduct must be placed at the centre of any future inquiry.

The best deal Britain can get from the EU is the one that we spent the last 45 years negotiating: the one we already have.  The only available alternative is Theresa May’s deal.  That is why there are only two options left on the table that make any kind of sense: the first is the Kyle-Wilson proposal for parliament to vote through May’s Deal on the condition that it then goes to a ratification referendum with two options on the ballot paper: May’s Deal or Remain.  This is a viable option in that it is straightforward and something the EU can understand, and therefore may agree to.  Remember, we have now reduced ourselves to supplicants to the European Council.

If Theresa May and her Tories cannot agree to a ratification referendum, then there is only one option left, the one that should have expired on 29 March but the EU kindly extended to 12 April, which is to revoke Article 50 and stay in with our existing deal.

All else is bullshit and it is an utter scandal to see Tories and Labour – and the media – focusing on garbage like a General Election or, God help us, a Tory leadership election. Yes, those things are going to be needed, but we have 12 days to come up with a proposal that the EU will accept, or to revoke Article 50, which they will have no choice but to accept.  It’s one minute to midnight, folks.

It looks like Labour may whip its MPs for sanity and a second referendum today.  Let’s hope so.  The Labour party failed to support the indicative vote for the ‘revoke Article 50 in an emergency’ option – for the very mature reason that it was proposed by the SNP, who they hate.  Today is the day to put that right – let’s hope they do.  But there remains the issue of Northern Labour MPs defying the whip and voting with the ERG for national oblivion.   The descent of the North of England into unrecoverable decline and social disaster will be not only the Tories’ fault, but it will also be their fault, and we will never forget that.

Northern Umbrella will be watching you!

 

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Independence Day [updated post vote]

Two years ago, when 29 March 2019 was set up as Brexit Day – what Nigel Farage called the UK’s Independence Day – who could have believed that the British government would have descended so far into utter incompetence and shambles as to be in all seriousness offering up a totally blind Brexit to parliament and people today?

It must be the greatest failure of British statecraft of all time -all the government’s fault, all Theresa May’s fault, all the Tory Party’s fault.  Yet would you realise this if you relied on the BBC for your information?

The Brexit end game now resembles the closing minutes of a football final where both teams are exhausted, have abandoned all footballing skills, and are just punting the ball up and down the pitch in the desperate hope that somehow the ball will go in the net before the whistle blows.  It’s end to end stuff.

Today is Theresa May’s last desperate attack upfield.  As a last minute step to “get the deal over the line”, it was long planned by the Prime Minister.  Finally getting the ERG on board for her deal, it would come down to the arithmetic of getting more Labour MPs to vote for it than there were Tory remain rebels to vote against it.  But since the move was planned, we have long since descended into farce.

Last Sunday the “grand wizards” of the Tory ERG – Boris, Rees-Mogg, IDS, babyface Dominic Raab – went to Chequers and agreed to vote for Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement today on the basis of a promise that she will resign and they could decide which of them would be the next Prime Minister by the means of a Tory party leadership election.  It was a nakedly shameless performance by the public school Toryboys.

Mercifully it now looks like that not only is their last shot at goal going to fail, but it may banana into a fatal own goal.  The DUP have told them to fuck off, and so have the true believer half of the ERG.  Boris Johnson and the ridiculous Dominic Raab, who were willing to spaff the country up the wall just to get the keys to No.10 (to use Boris’s own language), may have ended up just spaffing their own support up the wall.

Yet even now, incredibly, it remains possible that some of the North of England’s Labour MPs are actually going to vote for the May withdrawal agreement tonight.  Let’s see.

MPs take back control

On Monday the ball will be punted up to the other end of the pitch, and we will go into the second day of the indicative vote process led by backbench MPs, having wrenched control of the parliamentary timetable away from the government.

Monday – three days after “independence day” – could at long last be the day when the Brexit way forward comes into view.  And it is then when the actions of Northern Labour MPs will be vital.

It is worth shining a spotlight on the behaviour of Northern Labour MPs in Wednesday’s indicative votes.  As everyone knows, none of the eight options succeeded in getting a majority.  (The BBC immediately followed the government propaganda line that this was a shambles and showed that MPs could not be trusted with charting the way forward.  In fact, it was always intended that Wednesday’s vote would tee up a debate to be had over the weekend with Monday as decision day.)

What ought to be more widely known is that two of the propositions could have gained a majority on Wednesday if Labour MPs had not opposed it.

45 Labour MPs defied the Labour whip to either vote against or abstain on Margaret Beckett’s proposition that any Brexit deal should go to a confirmatory referendum.  Of these, no fewer than 32 were MPs for Northern seats.

Just look at the list of places – all places where people voted for Brexit and where their MPs judge their constituents still want it, and want it so much they are not prepared to put the actual Brexit deal to the democratic test of a referendum.

That people in places like Wigan, or Jarrow, or Batley & Spen can still be believing in Brexit after the last 2-3 years is the North’s tragedy.  When was the last time anybody even bothered to say what possible benefit Brexit will bring for people in the North’s towns?  All anybody is saying is respect the 2016 vote or “just get on with it”.

Give credit to the grand wizards, they are doing what they are doing for a logical reason – they are doing it for the money and for the trappings of high office.  They have made their promises to the City and to Wall Street that they will privatise the NHS, and allow all manner of looting of the British public realm, and offer up the British people as debt slaves to them.  What reason have the people of Heywood and Middleton, or Don Valley, or Blyth Valley got for still going for Brexit?

Although more and more Northerners are grasping that Brexit is suicide for the region – either a fast demise under no deal, or a slow inexorable decline under May’s deal – it is a tragedy that so many people, especially the retired, have still not faced up to this.  There comes a point in the face of the blindingly obvious that staying ignorant becomes an active choice.

We can still rescue the North from Brexit, and should, but a lot of damage that will take years to put right has already been done.  The two main parties must pay a political price for this.  Future posts will discuss what this should be.

UPDATE

So it was 286-344.

Jacob Rees-Mogg couldn’t even deliver half the ERG, never mind the DUP.  He trooped through the lobby to vote for Theresa May’s deal and all he achieved was to spaff his own minimal remaining credibility up the wall, joining Boris Johnson in the Eton mess.

4 Labour MPs joined Jacob and Boris to vote for Theresa May’s deal, 3 of them from the North: Kevin Barron (Rother Valley), Rosie Cooper (West Lancs) and Caroline Flint (Don Valley).  2 abstained, both from the North*: Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) and Dennis Skinner (Bolsover).  (*working on Northern Umbrella’s rule that north Derbyshire can count as the North if we want it to.)

It is rumoured that the going rate for a vote in favour of the deal was £10m per constituency.  (Link to tweet to follow).  Will they now get the money??

 

 

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Fiddling while Rome burns [updated for skolstrejk]

The Arctic has melted and we have entered a new climate era.  Nothing can be the same again and there can be no going back to how it was before.

The full gravity of that statement is really difficult to face.  All across Earth – even in the damp and mizzly North of England – our forests and grasslands are literally on fire: our home is burning down.

saddleworth blaze

A weather statistician tells us that the statistical probability of the record-breaking warm weather in the North of England in February was close to zero: effectively, it was impossible.  But it just happened.  What he means is that it used to be impossible under the old climate system, driven by a frozen Arctic Ocean, which has produced all our weather records to date.  Now we are in a new climate era with a melted Arctic, and a lot of things become possible that are a lot less pleasant than a few days of shirtsleeves weather in the North of England during winter.

Nothing can be the same again and there can be no going back to how it was before.  Yet MPs are not treating the matter seriously.  Here is a picture of the House of Commons during the debate on climate change on 28 February.  Around 600 out of 650 MPs simply did not show up.

commons climate change debate

Skolstrejk for Klimatet

On Friday 15 March, the “school strike for climate” movement started in August 2018 by Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg will stage its biggest demonstration yet, in countries all across the world, with many thousands of school students.  On 14 March, Greta, aged 16, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

With the world’s climate scientists giving us just 10-12 years to stave off catastrophic civilisation-ending climate change, this is one tremendous ray of hope.  Tremendous and shaming: we grown ups are reduced to hoping that the children will find the courage to act that we have not.

The North of England will play its part.  The UK Student Climate Network (www.ukscn.org) is reporting that school strikes will take place in 23 towns and cities across the North.  Adults are welcome to go along to support, but not to try to take over.  The locations are: Bradford, Burnley, Calderdale, Carlisle, Chester, Durham, Guisborough, Hexham, Huddersfield, Hull, Kendal, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Macclesfield, Manchester, Newcastle, Preston, Scarborough, Sheffield, Stockport, Teesside, Warrington and York.   Links to the details are here.

On 15 February, the day of the first large schoolchildren’s strike protest in Parliament Square London, Andrea Leadsom MP, the Tory Government’s ‘Leader of the House of Commons’ tweeted: “It’s called truancy, not a strike”.

What has any of this got to do with Brexit? 

Northern Umbrella is supposed to be focusing on the campaign to stop Brexit.  But after the February heatwave, it just felt like it could not be more insanely trivial for Northern Umbrella to be put up another post about Brexit, or, God help us, the formation of “The Independent Group” of MPs in Westminster.

But actually, with now just 14 days left on the Brexit countdown clock, we will continue to argue that stopping Brexit is the most urgent thing we can do right now.  To give us any kind of chance of waging a successful battle against climate chaos, famine, war and extinction, defeating the Brexiteers like Andrea Leadsom with their warped view of who we are as a nation, and their banal, doomed vision of where we should go next, is a crucial first step.

So normal service will soon be resumed on Northern Umbrella in posts to follow this one, with a few thoughts on what political demands we should start making in the aftermath of the debacle that has been Brexit 2016-2019.  In the meantime, a post on the small matter that our house is on fire, and that men in tweeds with shotguns have got a lot to answer for.

What has any of this got to do with grouse shooting?

On 23 Feb, when the warm snap started, reports started coming in that gamekeepers on “driven grouse shooting” estates across the North were taking the opportunity to burn the moorland heather whilst it was dry.  They do this in order to force the heather to throw up more green shoots come springtime, a preferred food for the grouse.  The immediate issue for nearby village communities in the dales and valleys was the pall of smoke pollution spoiling the opportunity to enjoy a warm sunny day.

The gamekeepers always try to make sure that the fires they start do not burn out of control.  They don’t always succeed.  Having said that, the out of control fire on Saddleworth Moor shown in the picture above may more likely have been started by a young arsonist, which is itself also an old Pennine tradition.

Whoever lit this particular fire, look at the picture and remember that this is February.  Last June, in 2018, giant fires raged for days on Saddleworth Moor, Winter Hill near Bolton, and elsewhere.  Unless we act now to change the way we manage our moorlands, fires like this are only going to get worse.  Because the droughts and heatwaves coming our way are going to be like nothing we have ever seen before.

One of the things that is going to have to go is the driven grouse shooting industry.

The grouse moor racket – a microcosm of all that is wrong with the North

Moorland management for grouse shooting is a scandal and an environmental disaster.  The overstocking of grouse means that gamekeepers poison, trap and shoot the grouse’s natural predators and herbivore competitors for the tasty young heather shoots, such as hares, often treating wildlife protection laws with disdain.  The stink pits which are found by people like Hunt Investigation Team (don’t look at this one on Bingley Moor if you have a weak stomach) are a disgrace.

The burning destroys the natural habitat and ecosystem, creating soil and peat erosion, and what is in effect a degraded upland wildlife desert.  It is the ultimate bad neighbour activity in that it, alongside all our other failed moorland management practices, is also responsible for exacerbating the flash flooding experienced in the Pennine valleys during exceptional heavy rainfall (which will become more and more commonplace as global climate system breakdown continues).

Driven grouse shooting is an unusual ‘sport’.  Shooting at birds to supplement the pot is an old country tradition across Europe and the world.  But dressing up in tweeds to stand still and blast away at short range at hundreds of grouse rounded up and driven by beaters into the line of fire is a peculiarly British activity.  It’s strongly associated with the old aristocracy and the old British Empire: the costumes and the rituals are all the kind of thing so many love to watch on Downton Abbey on our tellies for a cosy Sunday evening.

But who knew that it’s almost as big today as it has ever been?  Who the hell goes grouse shooting for fun – do you know anybody who does it?  It’s an expensive hobby.  The answer is exactly the same as it was in the 1880s or 1930s, other periods of deep austerity for the majority of the North’s people: it’s the new rich, who want to celebrate and reinforce their arrival in the elite by aping the habits of the old aristocrats.  Today, these aren’t the mill owners or the industrialists of yesteryear, it is mostly people who are making crazy money from the ‘financialisation’ of the British economy – in short, to use the Cockney rhyming slang, a bunch of City bankers.  A country treat for a bunch of hyper-competitive men who need a break in the fresh air from cutting deals, doing coke and spending time in pole-dancing clubs.

For all these gifts they give to society, the grouse estates are entitled to and take public subsidy.  Because the grouse estates were there when the National Parks were set up in the 1940s and 1950s, the National Park authorities think it is their duty to preserve these ‘traditional’ uses creating these ‘traditional landscapes’ exactly as they were on the day they were set up.  And because of their symbiotic relationship with the finance sector and the City of London, many of the estates are up to their neck in all sorts of fiddling: tax offsetting and tax avoidance schemes.

In the industrial Pennines, it’s not even as if the old aristocrats are the big landowners.  The biggest landowners are actually the privatised water companies.  Many of the moors were bought by local authorities like Sheffield Corporation or Bradford Corporation as catchment areas for their reservoirs and city water supply.  The municipal water boards were nationalised by the 1973 Water Act and brought under the control of regional water authorities: in the North, Yorkshire Water, North West Water and Northumbrian Water.  In 1989 they were privatised in one of Margaret Thatcher’s great share giveaway gold rushes.  Most of the small shareholders sold out within months or short years, and now the English water companies rank as testaments to the extraordinary decades-long scam of privatisation, being world-class cash extraction businesses with a sideline in water engineering.  But that is another story.  In the battle to fix the North’s moorlands, the water companies’ landholdings will be vital.

The grouse moor campaigns – a microcosm of all that is great about the North, and can be greater

Yet the story of the North’s moorlands is not a one way street of exploitation and degradation.  Out of the ashes of today’s moorlands, a better way of doing things can rise like the phoenix.

There is of course a whole Northern tradition of using the moors as a place of recreation and spiritual recharge.  The story of the battle for access to the moorlands for harmless walking, rambling and birdwatching is well known: for example, the celebrated Kinder Scout mass trespass of 1932, and its lesser known predecessor, the Winter Hill mass trespass of 1896.  The whole Northern social infrastructure of Clarion Clubs and ramblers’ associations is a great and still relevant living tradition.

Cumbrians William and Dorothy Wordsworth arguably created a whole new way of looking at wilder landscapes which is now common currency across the world.  The National Trust, which for all its flaws remains an internally democratic organisation, was co-founded in the Lake District.  In the North, the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts, the Woodland Trust, the Conservation Volunteers and many others are strong and vibrant.

Spanning both these traditions now are the activist groups taking on the driven grouse shooting industry and its crimes and abuses, and working positively for upland management across the North that is better for wildlife and better for people.  There is no space or time to list them all here, but a flavour is given by Yorkshire’s Stop the Shoot , and the Peak District’s Moorland Monitors.  Meanwhile, Calderdale’s Slow the Flow, Ban the Burn and Treesponsibility all give cause for hope.

There is a huge win-win just waiting to be had in the North’s moorlands: better for wildlife and better for people.  Every gamekeeper made redundant by the banning of driven grouse shooting and of burning the moors could be immediately re-employed as a moorland wildlife guardian and guide.  ‘Rewilding‘ the grouse estates and sheep ranches of the North’s moors, and restoring the natural ecosystems could see them teeming with wildlife.  The millions of Northern residents and potential tourists who are now actively kept out of the grouse estates, would instead be welcomed in for walking safaris, generating jobs and trade for the local businesses of the area far greater than what grouse shooting does.

The North of England is well behind Scotland in thinking about and acting on issues like land reform, but it can learn much from Scotland.  The water companies, returned to some form of public ownership, have the potential to become an immense force for good in the North.

All this might be hopeless in the face of rapid global warming, but it feels like something worth fighting for.  And fought for it will have to be – peacefully and by persuasion.  Go into a real country pub in the North’s grouse shooting areas, and the whole rotten, ridiculous, traditional system will be defended to the hilt.  The police’s first instinct is to  defend the grouse estates against ‘trespass’, even against blatantly harmless volunteers not even on their land, rather than to enforce wildlife protection laws.  But campaigning can change that.

Change is going to have to come, and it can come whilst bringing people along with us.  Or we can carry on having a brew whilst Rome burns.

this is fine dog

UPDATES at 17/3/2019

15 March: School strike in the North.  This was a success: 1,000 gathered at Leeds Town Hall, as well as in Sheffield and elsewhere.  Well done school students!

16 March: Floods in Calderdale.  Heavy rain leading to flooding in Todmorden and elsewhere down the Calder Valley.  Disastrous moorland management is responsible for the flood peak being earlier and higher than it would otherwise be, as water pours off the denuded tops.  Part of the blame lies with burning of moorland for driven grouse shooting.  Here is the flooded Calder Valley railway line near Todmorden, causing serious and costly disruption to rail travel between Manchester and Bradford.

16-17 March.  Farage ‘march to leave’ fiasco in Sunderland, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough.  Dressed for a grouse shoot.  City boys in tweeds as part of the problem, not part of the solution.  The whole farce skewered by Led by Donkeys.

Friends of the Earth are on the case investigating this winter’s round of heather burning, in apparent clear contravention of voluntary agreements to stop the practice, signed in 2018.  This FoE piece gives you all the information you need.  This video featuring Guy Shrubsole and Alasdair Cameron is fantastic: showing you the beauty of the moors and how careful research and investigation can help expose what an untrustworthy bunch the grouse estate owners are.  Here they are: just look at the state of them.  Seven pillocks in tweeds and one woman in PR.

23 March and 10-13 May: Take Back the Land! 

Are the residents of Calderdale and valley bottoms across the North just going to sit there as the landowners on the moors above them trash the land, break agreements, and literally dump on them with repeated damaging floods?  No!  The Land Justice Network is on the case and planning a ‘land justice camp and occupation’ in Calderdale in May 2019.  The National Gathering to plan the event is in Manchester on Saturday 23 March.  Could this be an epic ‘rising of the lions after slumber’ to rival the great Kinder Scout mass trespass of 1932?  Watch this space.

 

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Only the Brexitometers can save us now

The North of England is now the hottest windiest part of the front line in the battle to save the whole UK from Brexit and disaster, or – at best – inexorable, sorry decline.  Northern Labour MPs claiming to represent their constituents’ views could soon end up being the people who condemn the North, selling it for a handful of beads.

And so, with 50 48 days to go, there is no alternative than to persevere in the mission of changing opinion in the North, and – crucially – showing these MPs that more people have already changed their minds on Brexit in the North than anywhere else.

This post attempts to show the full range of activities going on this weekend across the North to take the word out on to the streets.  It may be the first attempt to consolidate the activities by the different anti-Brexit groups into a single list.  It’s pretty low-tech, and apologies for that.  If anybody is already doing it better, please get in touch.

180726 Unite the North against Brexit logo

Take one step back and look at this madness

If Theresa May persists in pursuing her Brexit deal, she will be looking to increase the number of Labour rebel MPs voting for her Blind Brexit.  She is posing as a maniac in a suicide vest – do as I say or I will blow us all up.  It’s a plan that only works if she looks maniacal enough to press the detonator – and by God, she is doing a good job of that.

Enter Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit ‘compromise’ deal, offered yesterday.  It’s pitched as sweet reason, a midpoint between the extremes of Leave and Remain, something to unite a divided country around.

But if you just pause, take one step back, and look at it, the insanity of it all is revealed.   If Hard Brexit, No Deal Brexit or Theresa May’s Blind Brexit are crazy self-harm, then Soft Brexit (including the concept offered by Jeremy Corbyn to Theresa May yesterday) is just simply pointless – milder self-harm, but needless self-harm all the same.

Ask a simple question: can the proponents of soft Brexit point to anything that is better than the deal we already have now, as full members of the EU with our votes and our veto, and our various special opt-outs highly advantageous to us.  Then boggle with amazement and anger that this question is deliberately not being asked by the BBC, as part of its policy to ‘disappear’ Remain as an option.

So let’s get out onto the streets and ask it ourselves!

Street smarts

The genius who invented the Brexitometer deserves an award.  Can there be any better way to open up a conversation about Brexit than to ask people to put a coloured dot next to their preference among the remaining Brexit options?  The Brexitometer allows people of all points of view to express their opinions freely, whilst also creating the possibility of opening up minds to thinking differently.

It shows people that their neighbours and fellow citizens hold a wider diversity of point of view than they may perhaps have realised.

And it just brilliantly undermines and demolishes the claim that asking people what they think is “a democratic abomination” – The Sun’s political editor Trevor Kavanagh’s way of describing giving the final say on Brexit to the people through a ratification referendum.

Leeds Crossgates Brexitometer 2 Feb

The Brexitometer Central Facebook page is a valiant attempt to keep abreast of the all the Brexitometer efforts across the country, and this amazing web map shows the results of previous Brexitometer exercises across the country.  Unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be one single place on the internet where you can check what Brexitometer activity is coming up in your area.

Navigating the political minefield

Inevitably, the movement to Stop Brexit has its political divides and enmities, which can sometimes be confusing and dispiriting for the less tribal citizens who want to get involved. But the vituperation that can be found on the internet is very rarely found in person, on the ground.  In reality, what unites Remainers is greater than any political divide.  In exactly the same way that deep down what unites Remainers and Leavers is stronger than what divides us.

The European Movement UK, and its many local affiliates, provides a great, non party-political umbrella for Remain campaigners to gather under.  So does Best for Britain.  In the North, Leeds for Europe has taken the lead within the regional on uniting the North against Brexit.

Meanwhile, more non-aligned left wing folk, especially young people, members of the Green party, and members of the Labour party for whom the slogan ‘Love Corbyn, Hate Brexit’ is a good summary of their position, might prefer the Another Europe is Possible group (also previously called the Left Against Brexit).

The strongest enmity in the Remain movement is actually within the Labour party – between the former New Labour establishment, its MPs, apparatchiks, and longstanding members and the Corbynistas who now control the party at the national level, but not everywhere at the regional and local level.   The Corbynistas are understandably frustrated with the Labour MPs who give a higher priority to using Brexit as a means of seizing back control of the party than in actually stopping it.  But other Labour party members are understandably disappointed that Corbyn isn’t doing better on Brexit and better in the polls, given the shambles the Tory government is in.  Nevertheless, in all cases, the overwhelming majority getting involved are good people acting in good faith.

One upshot of all this is that you won’t find information on what Another Europe are doing on the Peoples Vote website, and vice-versa.  So this listing by Northern Umbrella *may* be the only place on the internet where such a thing exists.  We hope not, because there is definitely room to do it better, and more high tech.  But we will provide it until we can point to someone else doing it better.

Street campaigning activities in the North for Remain, Saturday 9 February 2019 

This list is last minute and will inevitably be incomplete, but is worth putting together just to show the range of places where things are going on.  We will aim to do better and get it our earlier for forthcoming weekends.  All additional information gratefully received – email us here.   Every event is on Sat 9 Feb, unless otherwise indicated.

For further information, check https://www.peoples-vote.uk/events and https://www.anothereurope.org/join-us-this-weekend/  Anything being organised by anyone else will be added as information comes in.

North East/Tees Valley

Darlington.  10am. Peoples Vote.  Meet outside Model T pub

Jarrow.  10.30am. Another Europe is Possible.  Meet 73 Ellison Street NE32 3JU

Saltburn.  11am.  Peoples Vote.  Meet outside Sainsburys, Milton St

Washington.  1pm.  Peoples Vote.  Meet outside Washington Old Hall

Yorkshire

Batley.  10.45am.  Another Europe.  Meet outside Batley library

Barnsley.  11am.  Peoples Vote.  Meet at Wombwell railway station

Bradford. 11am.  Another Europe.  Meet on Great Horton Road outside Tesco

Pontefract.  10.30am.  Peoples Vote.  Meet outside Argos

Rotherham.  2pm.  Another Europe.  Meet at Clifton Park & Museum

Wakefield (Crofton) 11.30am.  Peoples Vote.  Meet at Crofton Academy

North West

Ashton-under-Lyne.  11am.  Peoples Vote.  Meet at Ashton bus station

Bolton.  10am-1pm.  Best for Britain.  Outside Waterstones, Deansgate

Manchester, Blackley.  10am.  Another Europe.  Meet at City North library,

Manchester, Wythenshawe.  11am.  Another Europe Meet at Wythenshawe Town Centre Metro

Oldham.  1.30pm.  Another Europe & Peoples Vote (yippee!).  Meet at Oldham Central Bus Station

Stoke-on-Trent*.  11am.  Peoples Vote UK.  Meet in the Knave of Clubs car park.  [*Northern Umbrella reserves the right to count Stoke as the North when it feels like it]

Wigan.  12 noon.  Another Europe.  Meet 4 Market Place, outside Tui

NOTE: Northern Umbrella is compiling this list, but has no responsibility for organising any of these events and cannot verify whether or not the information is correct.

180726 Unite the North against Brexit logo

 

 

 

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Tha Brexit, tha owns it

The Brexit debate already has quite enough angry invective, especially from somewhat gammony middle-aged men.  But unfortunately what the Westminster village is serving up now, with just 53 days left on the Brexit countdown clock, demands fury.  So, with apologies to Lynsey de Paul for pinching her lyrics, here goes.

If you haven’t got time to read it all, in summary: if you break it, you own it.  If North of England Labour MPs end up as the crucial votes to get Theresa May’s Brexit deal over the line, then the inexorable decline and despair of the region resulting must be hung around their necks like the albatross.

nothing has changed

It’s not complicated.  Tory Brexit offers not one single thing that will help fix any of the North of England’s problems in any way.  It will just make all of them massively worse.  For Labour MPs this should be absolutely basic.

Yet, last week in the House of Commons, Northern Labour MPs played a vital part in passing ‘the Brady amendment’, the bad taste joke that sends Theresa May back to Brussels to negotiate ‘alternative arrangements’ to the Irish border backstop that neither Brady, May nor anyone else can describe.

It’s a debacle that destroys what little remained of the UK’s international diplomatic reputation and – unless reversed – will in time destroy the United Kingdom itself.

It’s hard for anybody who gives a damn about our country’s future not to despair.  But whilst there remains any slim chance of stopping Brexit, there is no better option than to soldier on.  The indefatigable Brexitometer volunteers are an inspiration.

Our message is simple: in the North, the 2016 Brexit vote was never about the EU, it was about the state of us.  So let’s take a long hard look at ourselves, and get serious about our choices.  Amazingly, there is still time to drop Brexit and get on instead with addressing our actual problems – our society, our environment, our economy and our democracy.  Or we can choose Tory Brexit and ruin.

This shit is our shit

Say what you like about Sir Graham Brady, but the Salford-born MP for Altrincham, Chairman of the Tory 1922 committee and former Chairman of the Durham University Conservative Association, is unquestionably a Northerner.  As is Tadcaster-born former Yorkshire miner and Rother Valley MP Sir Kevin Barron.  As is Tynemouth-born former Northumberland miner and Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell.  As is the Beswick-born, global warming-denying Labour MP for Manchester Blackley, Graham Stringer.  The three Labour MPs are all working class boys made good, and they are all well rooted in the communities they represent.  They are also three of the Northern MPs who voted with Brady last week.

And it’s not just the pale, male and decidedly stale.  Laura Smith, 34 year-old former schoolteacher and now Labour MP for Crewe & Nantwich, and Liverpool-born Labour MP for West Lancashire Rosie Cooper, are both unquestionably Northerners too.  They were among the 14 Labour MPs who voted against the Yvette Cooper and Dominic Grieve amendments that would have wrestled control of the Brexit process away from Theresa May and her Tory minority administration, and given it back to parliament.  These 14 Labour MPs exactly cancelled out the 14 Tory remainer rebels and gave Theresa May all the votes she needed to retain power over parliamentary business.  These 14 Labour MPs are personally responsible for an excited Boris Johnson being able to bounce onto live TV to tell the nation to rejoice for the great achievement of a reunified Tory party.

In other news in the last week, Nissan announced that it is not investing further in its Sunderland plant, Airbus as good as announced that it is leaving as soon as possible, and the European Medicines Agency left London for Amsterdam, which spells the beginning of the end for Britain’s competitive edge in pharmaceuticals.  In a single week, we have seen the death sentence pronounced on three of the four remaining jewels in the North of England’s manufacturing crown.  This will leave the North with one last world class manufacturing industry: warplanes and weapons.

Brexit.  Call it the craziest own-goal in football history, call it a self-indulgent, weirdly camp, masochistic act of self-pity borne of a misplaced sense of both superiority and grievance (© Fintan O’Toole), call it what you like, but we Northerners own a big piece of this shit.  The North of England voted for Brexit, by approximately 56%-44%.

If we’re honest with ourselves – and it is time to be honest with ourselves – it’s part of any Northerner’s comfort blanket to blame London for the misfortunes that befall the North.  But although this colossal fuck up is being enacted in Westminster, it is being done by ‘England-outside-London’ for England-outside-London.  For once, London didn’t do this to us; we are doing it to ourselves.

Every single one of those Northern Labour MPs, whether young and diligent, or old, tired and cynical, did what they did safe in the knowledge that they had enough voters in their own constituencies behind them.  Some did it because they think their duty is to be their constituents’ voice even if they don’t agree with them, some did it simply to help their chances of getting re-elected.  Some did it from a perfectly preserved 1983 ‘Lexit’ stance, some did it some did it because they are just dodgy old rogues.  But in all cases it is absolutely wrong to say that what they did was not democratic politics in action.

Although there is good evidence that working class Northerners are among the people who have changed their minds the most on Brexit between 2016 and today, and it is certainly true that the opinion polls show that the UK would vote by 54-46 to remain in the EU if another vote was held, the fact is that the vast majority of people have not changed their minds.

Such is the state of madness we have got ourselves into, that it doesn’t matter that neither these Labour MPs nor anybody else is able to describe what tangible good Brexit will do for anybody’s actual lives, because Leave voters themselves are not asking this question.  All that seems to matter is whether the Leave vote, the will of the people, is being seen through to the bitter end.

An image-canny, ideologically flexible MP like Doncaster’s Caroline Flint can see this, and so prepares the ground for getting into bed with Dominic Raab by emoting about respecting the vote.

Pro- or anti-Brexit is now a political tribal identity as strong as ‘right wing’ or ‘left wing’.  As strong maybe (whisper it) as Northerner or Southerner.  And when someone accuses your tribe of being thick, or deluded, or even just honestly mistaken, the general tendency is not to examine the evidence behind the accusation but to fight back on the emotional level and double down on the original point of view.

Let’s admit it: we supposedly wonderful, honest, caring, funny, plain-speaking, well-meaning, hard-working, passionate but common sense-loving Northerners are not averse to a spot of tribalism.

Is God to blame?

Most Northerners who voted for Brexit did so in what for them was good faith.  Yes, some Northern Brexit voters are nasty white supremacists, or absurd empire nostalgists.  But most were good people acting in good faith.

Yes, they were conned and deluded by the shameless lies of the Bad Boys of Brexit.  But they were conned and deluded partly because they wanted to be conned and deluded.  They wanted to believe.  They wanted to believe in their own country as a place that would help them and their families, rather than be a country that would continually rip them off and ruthlessly attack their dignity in times of need.  ‘Believe in Britain’ was as powerful as slogan as ‘Take Back Control’.

They wanted to believe so much, that they were willing to overrule the evidence of their own eyes that Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson were obvious shysters.  Or to be more precise, they knew they were being lied to, but they chose to believe it anyway.  It’s so similar to religious TV in the USA, it’s scary.

I am haunted by a conversation with a 20-something, working class, lesbian Yorkshirewoman, who told me that “Come Brexit”, deep rooted but austerity-ravaged community facilities in her neighbourhood were going to stop closing, and things in her life were going to get better.

Subconsciously she was harking back to a more religious Northern past, when people were happy to believe that “Come Glory” wrongs would be righted, the last would be first, and justice would be done.

On referendum day, she and millions of others took back control and promptly handed it to Liam Fox to hand over to Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump, and the rest of the vicious, banal, planet-destroying international kleptocrats, who are lying in wait to right royally do her, and the rest of us, over.

It was and is a giant mistake.  Nobody likes to admit to a mistake.  But it’s preferable to being screwed by Donald Trump.

Where are we?  Rock Bottom. 

Let’s be clear where we are now.  We’re in the mire.

Labour and the Tory ERG have bullshitted on for months about going back to the beginning with the EU to renegotiate an exit deal, but back in November Theresa May got it dead right when she said there were only three possibilities still left in play: her deal, Brexit with no deal, and No Brexit.

What happened last week was that Theresa May disowned her own deal.  The EU won’t renegotiate the Irish border backstop not only because – to their credit – they won’t sell the Irish down the river, but also because it is not meaningfully logically possible.  If there is a border customs arrangement acceptable to both the UK and the EU that can be found, then it will be found during the two years of the transition period, and the backstop will be unnecessary.  But if there isn’t, it won’t, and that’s why there needs to be a backstop.

Those who support sports teams prone to relegation will know well that point in the season where your fate is no longer entirely in your own hands.  That’s what happened last week in the Brexit process.

Even if Theresa May comes home from Brussels with something that looks like a concession from the EU, and puts her vaguely amended deal back to parliament, there is now no longer enough time for a legally orderly Brexit on 29 March.  There are too many pieces of legislation needing to go through the British parliament, never mind the vagaries of getting the amended deal through the 751-member European parliament.  So we will shortly be going back to the EU27 on our knees pleading with them to extend the Brexit day deadline, not for a public referendum to ratify the original deal (which they might grant), but simply to help us out with some crummy amended version of the deal.  They may extract a price.  Or they may have lost patience with us and decide to toss us over the cliff.

The only action that is still entirely within our own hands is to unilaterally revoke our notification of intention to withdraw from the EU under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.  And looking at last week’s parliamentary arithmetic, that looks like it is going to require a mathematical miracle.  A point in the season that those who support sports teams prone to relegation will also be well familiar with.

Tragedies, we got ‘em

Brexit is going to go badly wrong.  No Deal Brexit, particularly if it happens on 29 March, will be carnage from the off.  By contrast, if we do sign Theresa May’s deal after all, then it won’t be so bad in the early days – there will be food on the supermarket shelves and medicines in the chemists.  But the North’s economy will go into a steady, inexorable decline.

The trade talks with the EU, which only start when we leave, will be horrible, and will go on for ever.  People tend to forget that the withdrawal agreement was the easy bit.  The EU is waiting for the UK to become a third country before it really starts playing hardball with us.

The one great achievement of Maggie Thatcher’s economic policy, the selling of the UK to Japanese manufacturers and others as a stable, reliable base for them inside the EU single market, has now been killed and can’t be revived.  With No Deal, most non-military advanced manufacturing will be gone within months.  With May’s deal, it will be run down more gradually over a few years.

A truly impressive achievement of the New Labour years, the creation of the image of Cool Britannia as an open, welcoming country for international university students and researchers, has been profoundly damaged.  The North’s university campuses, which have been doing so well even as much of the rest of the North has struggled, will cease thriving.  Because universities are now over-leveraged businesses rather than groves of academe, many will go bust.  Expect to see vice-chancellors and other professional administrators sprinting for the exits with holdalls full of cash.  In some Northern cities, it’s going to be like the last chopper out of Saigon.

Meanwhile, the Trump White House is literally standing in line waiting to shaft us.  Chlorinated chicken for tea will be the least of our worries.  Northerners’ pensions and financial assets, and the region’s accumulated social and physical capital (for example, our NHS) will become a kind of financial strip mine for Wall Street.  They will extract everything they can and then walk away, leaving behind penury.

But the thing we can be absolutely sure of is that when Brexit goes wrong, Rees-Mogg and Farage won’t be blaming themselves.  They’re going to blame literally anybody and everybody else.

The tragic irony is that, deep down, a large proportion of Brexit voters don’t even really want to leave the European Union.  Their comfort zone is to be inside the European Union, enjoying their pensions and Spanish holidays and fully-stocked supermarket shelves, with the luxury of someone else being to blame for betraying them, and keeping them in the EU against their will.  That is most probably the real ‘will of the people’.

Remedy?  Why don’t we rub it out and start it again

Lesley Riddoch wrote a fantastic opinion piece in The Scotsman calling on Northerners and Midlanders to direct their rage at Westminster, not the EU.  (What a shame that we have to go to Scotland to get a decent newspaper independent of London.)

Representative democracy is the right answer, but we need a better version of it than the antiquated and unfit Westminster system.

The core of the problem is the single seat system with first-past-the-post elections.  This creates the tendency towards a two party duopoly in which Labour conspire as much as Tory to deny real democratic choice.

Few want a general election – look at the Brexitometer results.  One reason that a general election does not arouse much enthusiasm (contrast for example with the hundreds of thousands of people coming out to march for a fresh referendum) is that it is not really a very democratic exercise.

Westminster seats are all single member seats and the vast majority of them are safe for one of the two parties.  Therefore the campaign only really takes place in the marginal seats.  And even in the marginal seats, the experience is too often not about voting for a candidate or party you feel enthusiastic about, but rather about voting tactically to keep out the candidate of the party you are against.  Negative campaigning dominates.

During the campaign, tactical voting is encouraged by the two main parties, squeezing the vote for independents and smaller parties – lend us your vote, don’t waste it!  But then as soon as the vote is in, those votes are presented by them to be genuine support, locking in the two party system.  Theresa May delights to say that in 2017 80% of people voted for parties who promised to leave the EU.  They did indeed, but she draws the wrong lesson from it.

We should reform to the Irish system for Westminster and local council elections, and for a new regional government assembly for the North.  In the Republic of Ireland, each constituency elects 4 or 5 members, and voters list all candidates in order of preference (single transferable vote).  This means that everybody’s vote counts, everybody gets to express a preference for the person as well as the party label, and every candidate has to give the voters a positive reason to vote for them.  When the election is done, the support for each party is proportionally represented in parliament, and almost every voter feels that they are represented by a person they expressed a preference for.  It is noticeable that the Irish appear to be much more content with their democracy and their politicians than we are.

Getting reform to the system won’t be easy, and Labour will be as much an obstacle as the Tories.  The status quo is protected by the majority of MPs who have safe seats.  This means that they have to fight a competitive election just once in their political career – the selection meeting of their local party for their candidate for the vacant seat – and then they can settle back, often for decades on end.  The system does throw up some good people, but sadly, not enough.

Getting rid of the system may require destroying the Labour machine.  This is what it took in Scotland, and nowhere was more solidly, reliably Labour than there.  For Scotland, it’s been worth it, and things are looking up for communities across that country, although of course they will be hammered by Brexit too.

Maybe that will be no great loss, because it looks like the dream of a radical, reforming Corbyn government has died in recent weeks.  Corbyn simply left his pivot from constructive ambiguity to loud ‘n’ proud backing for the young people of Britain (who are 80% for Remain) too late.  It’s a tragedy and it’s also an irony: who would have guessed that, of all things, triangulation would be the ruination of Jeremy Corbyn!  But that’s what a two party system does to everyone.

Maybe it’s not too late for Corbyn, but it feels like it is.  Had he pivoted to Remain earlier, so many young people (and older citizens willing to pound the streets for votes) would have done anything for him.  Now, it may well be that whatever he says, he won’t be able to get them to listen to him any more.  Let’s wait and see.

Meanwhile, trusting the Labour party and trusting the existing electoral system is about trusting John Mann to negotiate with some random Tory minister to get serious new money for coalfield communities.  Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.

With sympathy – oh I get it.  Harmony – you said it. 

The prospect of Brexit is so bleak that there really is no point this side of 29 March in doing anything else than keeping fighting, and hoping for our miracle.

The Brexitometer volunteers are the heroes of the hour.  Going out in all weathers, to engage the people in discussion and seek their views on the big Brexit questions of the day.  Only they can save us now.

Here is the result from Cross Gates in East Leeds, a working class stronghold of Leave in the city of Leeds.

Leeds Crossgates Brexitometer 2 Feb

Here is the result from Wombwell, near Barnsley, pit village and former stronghold of Arthur’s Army, which voted massively for Leave in 2016.

Wombwell Brexitometer 2 Feb

Both a bit different from what you might expect listening to the BBC’s narrative of what is going on.

Back in July 2018 Eloise Todd told a public meeting in Manchester that the 10 Downing Street game plan was to disappear Remain as an option.  The narrative would be, it’s either Theresa May’s deal, or the bloodcurdling prospect of No Deal.

The BBC has stuck religiously to those instructions through thick and thin.  It simply blacks out news that doesn’t fit the narrative.  Rest assured that the BBC will not be honestly reporting that revoking Article 50 is enjoying widespread and growing support, even in some of the most strongly pro-Leave areas.  The Scots have been through all this before with the BBC.

But if the Brexitometer volunteers keep going, and keep getting information about the results they are getting out through social media, eventually even the BBC will be forced to play catch up and report what is happening.  Probably initially to try to ridicule it.  First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they attack you… then you win.  Let’s hope so.

Here are the Barnsley Brexitometer volunteers’ takeaways from a chilly Saturday in Wombwell:

  • Barnsley folk are warm & friendly regardless
  • No amount of evidence will change some views that we’re scaremongering, or in any case “we’ll be right, we’ve survived worse!”
  • Something needs to change in our political system
  • Lots of support for Remaining!

Let’s take heart from that.  There’s no future for England without bringing Wombwell with us.

The next post will look at where the Brexitometers are going next.

eurovision 1977

 

 

 

 

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