Johnson Chunterings

It was pretty despicable of Boris Johnson to start blaming Labour for the release of Usman Khan when he clearly still posed a danger to society. Usman was sentenced in 2012 to Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP). He would serve at least eight years but could not be released unless he had convinced the Parole Board he was no longer a threat. The Conservatives (and Lib Dems) were in Government at that time, and months later IPPs were abolished. On appeal, Khan’s sentence was reviewed and he would serve 8 years before receiving automatic parole subject to license conditions.

The fault lies in the sentencing rules in force in 2012. It does not matter under whose Government those rules were devised. Labour had been out of power for 2 years at that point and there was plenty of time for Tories and their Lib Dem partners to review the rules and update them. We know they did actually did this because IPPs were abolished. That review failed completely to deal with the impact on prisoners such as Usman Khan. Seven years on and innocent citizens paid the price for this error. The error was 100% the fault of the Government at the time of sentencing and in the seven years since when they did nothing to mitigate for the risks. It would be nice if Tom McNally owned up to the Lib Dem culpability to set an example of how politicians should act when events prove them lacking. I’d have more respect for that stance and I think most people realise hindsight is a wonderful thing and it would have been impossible to predict what would happen in 2019 back in 2012. An apology is all that is really needed, nothing more.

It was notable that Johnson did seem to try and distance his Government of 120 days from the Cameron and May administrations in order to try and wriggle out of having to accept even a modicum of responsibility but the bottom line is Conservatives, the party he leads, have been in charge of the Justice, Prisons, and Probation services for nearly 10 years.

Next to the appalling event on London Bridge on Friday, it seems trivial, but Johnson and his cronies seem determined to try and claim that they are creating 50,000 new nursing jobs, when they are actually retaining 19,000 due to be cut and adding 31,000. Same as police – recruiting 20,000 new police officers having already cut 20,000. Net result, zero. The maths involved is worthy of Diane Abbott on a bad blood sugar day.

I’m struggling to work out how, given every conceivable version of EU Exit carries a hit on the economy, all Johnson’s spending plans are dependent on getting brexit done. Magic Money Forests I guess.

In the meantime, the Daily Express (is that still going?) reports that “BBC viewers turn TV off as Andrew Marr ‘loses temper’ in interview with Boris Johnson”. This seems to be based on a number of Johnson’s cronies going onto Twitter and ranting that their Glorious Leader had been prevented by Andrew Marr from deflecting every question asked and rambling off onto a different subject, usually guesswork on what Corbyn would do. Marr, rightly, wanted to hear what Johnson would do on all the issues. This does seem to be a Tory tactic to avoid the awkward questions – tell the questioner what the opposition would do about something completely different followed by “get brexit done” to cure all ills. Corbyn is perfectly capable of burying himself and doesn’t need Johnson’s help with that. Back to the Express, I guess technically if two Johnson-supporting viewers switched off the headline is truthful. Putting “loses temper” in inverted commas means even the Express doesn’t think Marr lost his temper and they were just quoting. It’s good to know that fake news is alive and well in the UK and the Express are leading in that particular skill set. The Express now has a readership of 320,000, down from their high of 4,320,000 when they were a real newspaper. Is it any wonder?

Corbyn Annihilation

As Theresa May had her turning point in 2017 when her campaign came off the rails over social care, so I witnessed yesterday the most comprehensive annihilation of a political leader ever when Jeremy Corbyn was interviewed by Andrew Neil. It has to be a major impact on his credibility amongst those watching directly or even just viewing clips or reading press reports. My mind had been changing over the last week or two on my tactical voting plans, and that interview was the final straw. I will be voting Lib Dem after all and nothing right now could convince me to add my X to a Corbynite Labour candidate regardless of the risks.

The headlines are mostly concerned with Corbyn’s inexplicable failure to apologise for past anti-semitism in the Labour Party. That simple act might have closed down that entire line of questioning but he chose not to.

However, his inability to grasp that bonds are debts subject to interest was appalling. Technically if I buy a house on a mortgage then I have a debt and an asset that hopefully becomes worth more than the debt. They cancel each other out. However, that relies on the house value not going down and me keeping up the repayments. Buying train operating companies and Royal Mail are major risks, not dead cert profit makers with a guaranteed future value. Most of the energy companies make only very small profits and some make losses – hence many many failures in that market.

And then let’s move to Labour’s tax-raising plans. As Neil proved, those plans don’t just involve the most wealthy, even if they stay and pay, but will put up taxes for those on low incomes too, those claiming the married person’s allowance, those reliant on dividend income. He will put up taxes on small companies and on online sales, mostly small businesses run from spare rooms. Anyone who might inherit their family home in London and the South East will be paying up to £60,000 more in inheritance tax. Labour is targetting everyone . The policies disincentivise small business, entrepreneurs, high earners, and homeowners.

Overall, when you add together the failure to properly tackle anti-semitism, ridiculous nationalisations, and the intention to attack small businesses, entrepreneurs and pensioners reliant on modest dividend incomes, it is clear that a vote for Labour is a vote for economic collapse far in excess of what the Tories can achieve with their Brexit plans. Corbyn will turn us towards the Venezuela economic model. In the meantime, Labour moderates are letting Corbyn get away with this, presumably hoping a drubbing in the election will bury him and Momentum forever. It’s a dangerous tactic.

I only hope Mr Neil does the same hatchet job on Johnson, although I am resigned now, I think, to leaving the EU being the only way of lancing the boil and making the case for rejoining quickly, maybe not completely but along Norway lines. Johnson has to fail spectacularly in his Brexit to close the argument down for all time. Nevertheless, the way the polls are working at present, as Labour drops, the Lib Dems rise so a steep Labour decline at this point will only help us. Maybe Jo Swinson won’t be PM but she has a much better chance after last night of perhaps making major advances in Parliamentary numbers. The Lib Dems might be able to stop Labour extremism if Labour end up as the largest party.

EdX: Free University Education

I was lucky enough to go to University in the days where not only was tuition free but students got grants for living expenses (mainly beer and chips). Later in life my then employer paid for me to do an Open University Professional Certificate in Management. Today I’m doing courses at a variety of top Universities from around the world via EdX. These courses are completely free of charge. You can pay for verification and certificates if you want at nominal cost but if it is the learning you are after it won’t cost a penny. Currently I have courses at Berkeley and University of Washington on the go. This is all done via online videos and other course materials. Courses delivered to thousands of students globally at the same time, paid for by the verification fees from a relatively small number of those.

Whilst Oxford University has a single course available, no other British University seems represented, yet US and Australian institutions are enthusiastic participants. It strikes me that we, as a country, are way behind the curve here. It is disappointing.

Is the purpose of University education to educate the people, especially the workforce? Countries that invest in education reap the rewards in terms of productivity many times over. Or is it to maximise the fee income of universities? Like retail moving more and more online and high streets changing beyond recognition forever, so education at this level will start to move the same way. No longer will students be restricted by geography but, for many subjects that don’t require physical attendance, they can choose from any university in any country.

Here is my suggestion for a Lib Dem education policy. Within 2 years every publicly funded UK university should have at least one free course available on the EdX platform – centrally coordinated by the Open University to avoid too much duplication of content. The cost would be relatively low and perhaps self-funding via the verification fees, the benefits significant, and because the EdX platform is global, it helps sell the UK as a major centre of learning, up with if not ahead of the game. In case anyone is tempted by the suggestion, no, we should not set up our own platform. Why reinvent wheels and a major plank of the EdX approach is that it is a truly global collaboration not under the control of one country. Whilst our Government shouldn’t control the platform, it can oblige participation.

This ties in with current policy to give everyone a Personal Education and Skills Account to help them pay for education and training in later life – at least £3,000 three times over the course of their adult life, from age 25. That £3,000 times three would go an awful long way in validation and certification fees using EdX.

In the meantime I would encourage all to look at what is available from current EdX partners and take advantage of some of the best free education in the world.

Lib Dems Promise to Add £85 Billion of National Debt

That and £15 billion in extra taxes. £100 billion over 5 years to tackle the effects of climate change and protecting the environment. That’s an extra £1300 in national debt for every man, woman, and child in the UK. Tackling climate change is a laudable policy. Bankrupting the country and indebting future generations in a futile attempt to reverse it is anything but laudable. It is reckless.

The UK cannot, on its own, influence climate change. We can prepare, we can lead, we can mitigate within our borders, we can’t stop it as we don’t control the globe. There is plenty that can be done for a fraction of that money. You can spend £1 billion on reversing deforestation of the Amazon. You can change building regulations to make all future buildings zero carbon. You can invest in renewable energy technology and electric vehicle development – affordable conversion kits for all cars, vans and trucks. You can cancel HS2 and spend the cash on local public transport improvements. You can put VAT on meat to cut demand for farting cows. I could go on and on. But it doesn’t add up to £100 billion over 5 years.

This borrow and spent recklessness, wiping out every single benefit of debt reduction austerity we’ve been suffering for 10 years, makes it very difficult for me. I couldn’t stand on a doorstep and try and explain this degree of irresponsibility to a potential voter. It is almost as if we have returned to the days of making up fantasy policies justified by the knowledge that we’d never get anywhere near having the power to implement them. We can promise fairy dust powered flying carpets to solve congestion problems to get a few votes. But this is serious. We could, like in 2010, actually hold the balance of power and be held to account for failing to implement absolutely crackpot ideas. And in 2015 we were severely punished for that kind of failure.

I despair, I really do.

Added: 17/11/2019

I have received a response to the above post. It reads:

You don’t seem to understand what the National Debt is. The Government is essentially a huge bank. On the one hand it creates the currency by spending money into the economy. On the other it takes in savings in that currency and in the process creates a so-called National Debt. So if you buy £100 of Premium bonds you are adding to the National Debt.

So its not something our children and grandchildren would ever pay off. It is their asset.

The government spends money into the economy and gets some of it back in taxes. But it can’t get back more than it has created in the first place. The difference is the deficit. That’s quite normal.

If the Government always ran a surplus then it would, in theory pay off the National Debt after a time. But a surplus takes money out of the economy. When it paid of the ND there would be none left and we would be reduced to a barter economy.

Firstly, thank you for taking the time to respond; it is appreciated. I’m not an economist, but there again neither are 99.99% of ordinary voters. So I make no apologies if I have used incorrect terminology. If you borrow £85 billion through bonds then you create a debt of £85 billion that someone someday will need to pay back. Comparing a Government with a bank doesn’t work in my opinion. This Lib Dem proposal involves borrowing £85 billion. In the absence of information to the contrary this will involve lenders – individuals, countries, banks, institutions. The asset belongs to the lenders, not to the nation. It will need to be paid back by the debtors, the nation. It is a national debt even if it isn’t The National Debt. If I am misrepresenting how £85 billion will be found to fund this policy then the fault lies with how the policy is communicated because I suspect 99.99% of voters interpret the announcement in exactly the same way as I have. If it’s too complicated to explain to 99.99% of voters then drop it because others will tell them what it means and you won’t like their explanation.

Corbyn is also using the same cost neutral argument to explain how mass nationalisation costs nothing. If I take out a loan to buy a house for £200,000 on a 100% mortgage (they did exist once), technically I have a debt for £200,000 and an asset worth £200,000. But the asset is only mine when I’ve paid off the debt. Until then the asset really belongs to the lender. And the lender will want interest so I will actually pay £400,000 for my house. If I don’t look after the house and spend more money on maintenance and repairs it might lose value so maybe I pay £400,000 for a house that then gets sold for £100,000 or falls down and it costs me more money to clear the rubble. You could also argue that since I could make do with a £100,000 flat (I do live in the North), I’ve borrowed and spent £100,000 plus interest and maintenance more than I actually needed to. I’ve gone short on essentials and worked longer hours to make those repayments when it wasn’t actually necessary. The idea that you can buy things through borrowing and it costs nothing is absolute nonsense, arguments to fool the fools. That applies to Corbyn and also to Lib Dem excesses.

I would also add that if I borrow £10,000 to plant 5,000 trees with no intention of harvesting them ever for their wood, it isn’t a realisable asset and I haven’t increased the land value. It’s just nice to look at and good for carbon capture. I don’t mind any Government promising to borrow and spend £500,000,000 to plant 250,000,000 trees, great. Just don’t pretend it won’t really cost anything.

Labour: Free Steak Bakes for All

I shouldn’t watch Question Time. I always end up yelling at idiot politicians spouting nonsense and/or not answering the questions asked. Tonight the victim of my rant was Alex Phillips of the Brexit Party (not the Green Party MEP of the same name) as she attempted to address a question on the NHS. The Brexit Party doesn’t appear to have a Health Policy or any other policy other than Brexit and they can’t make their own minds up about what that is it seems.

That aside, Labour today pledged free broadband for everyone. Yesterday it was a 4 day working week whilst being paid for 5. Tomorrow, I am assured, it will be a free Steak Bake and Cup Cake for everyone, paid for by nationalising Greggs. I’m sure that a future Labour Government will find a place for Nicolás Maduro as an economic advisor should the people of Venezuela ever achieve democracy. And yet I might vote (tactically) for them. And the reason is that 75% of Labour MPs are not far left loonies and will act as a brake on their “leadership”.

And then we come to the Tories. Under their stewardship hospital waiting times in England are the worst since records began. It is an incredibly damning position for any Government to find itself in, especially during an election campaign. People are literally dying and it is Government policy to blame. Brexit, discouraging medics from other EU states from coming here, makes matters worse. But I don’t see the Opposition capitalising on this breathtakingly incompetent performance as they should be.

Instead Labour’s 32 hour week policy, and confusion about what that really means, would also do immense harm to NHS productivity. Welsh Labour and the SNP are not doing great things themselves on their devolved NHS performance. Which leaves the Lib Dems. Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Luciana Berger said the Tories had a “shameful” record according to the BBC. Berger is our Health spokesperson? When did that happen? She only defected in September. However, 1p on income tax to pay for additional spending is at least honest and quite easy to understand.

To my mind it is a complete mess. I don’t trust the Tories with the NHS. Their semi-privatisation and internal market have clearly failed. Labour has confused thinking – a 16% fall in hours = a 16% fall in productivity, basic maths. The Lib Dems at least have an honest funding approach but I have no real confidence that someone who served most of her political life as a Labour MP is now a true Liberal Democrat.

On health alone, hard Brexit aside, my vote is… drum roll… spoilt ballot. A pox on all your houses. But if I had to choose, at gunpoint, it would be the Lib Dem approach as long as Berger is closely shadowed by someone with more than 2 months of party membership. But here’s a suggestion… stop reforming the NHS every couple of years; give it some stability and consistency. I know it is so tempting for a politician to tinker but don’t, just don’t. Leave it alone and let the professionals run it at arm’s length from the politicians.

Time Up Labour

Labour’s 32 hour week proposal is amongst their most dangerous policies. Currently full-time employees work on average 37.3 hours a week. This proposal would reduce productivity by over 16%. The economists can grind that number to determine the reduction in GDP and profitability but I think we can guarantee that it won’t be a positive outcome.

The proposal will also create significant gaps in essential services – healthcare, policing, fire fighting. It is hard enough right now to access healthcare due to staff and skills shortages, let alone if their hours are cut.

The Labour suggestion is that this change would be phased in over 10 years. That isn’t really a consolation other than giving big businesses a fairly long lead time to pack their bags and leave the UK for more sensible, more productive, and more profitable locations. They haven’t got far to go – Ireland is close by.

The country could not afford to pay pensions at 60/65 and it is now rising to 67, an additional 11,500 hours for women, 3,300 for men. For younger workers retiring at 68, add a further 1,600 hours to that. So we all have to work longer to pay for our retirement. It’s a policy backed by all the main parties. McDonnell is now saying we can take off 10,000 hours by working 4 day weeks throughout our working life. What was the point of that? He can’t add up, clearly, and that’s pretty dangerous for a Chancellor.

There is an interesting article on Lib Dem Voice at the moment where Eddie Sammon makes a case in favour by using voluntary tax breaks for employers. It’s a better approach but some of the comments are not quite as supportive. I particularly chime with what has it got to do with the Government what hours I work. Preventing exploitation is the Government’s job so progressively reducing the maximum working week from 48 to 45 hours, and including all NHS workers, is a good idea. For environmental reasons, working your average 37.3 hours over 4 days instead of 5 makes sense and a lot of people already do that. Neither require a 16% reduction on the average working week.

If I may quote Eddie’s final line: “I still believe that GDP growth is desirable, but as Jacinda Ardern and Jo Swinson have said, a country’s prosperity cannot be judged on economic growth figures alone.” I completely agree with the latter sentiment although I am not convinced GDP growth is that desirable in a stable and wealthy economy as it sucks up natural resources in creating ever more growth. What we should be looking at is distributing GDP somewhat fairer than we currently do.

Tory Brexit Failures

I’m sick of Tory politicians blaming others for their abject failure to deliver Brexit. It is true that most Labour and Tory MPs signed up to Article 50 and stood on manifestos committing them to respect the results of the 2016 Referendum. However, bearing in mind that Brexit is not a binary issue, Labour did not commit to supporting a Tory interpretation of Leave into which they had zero input.

Had Theresa May been a collaborative leader, keen to find a consensus, we would now be in Transition, outside the EU, and negotiating trade deals everywhere. But she chose to design her own Withdrawal Agreement and blueprint for the future, adding red lines that no-one confirmed in a public vote. She reluctantly, at a very late date, decided to have talks with Labour but refused to budge on anything of significance – phoney talks for appearance sakes.

The sensible approach would have been an all-party constitutional convention to work through all the options and come up with a proposal that could be supported by an overwhelming majority of MPs, accepting that to Lib Dems, the SNP, and some others, any form of Leave would be unsupportable; nothing you can do about that. The Tories were not sensible though. They have tried to force through a hardcore Brexit that did not have a popular or parliamentary mandate and, thanks to Speaker Bercow, didn’t get away with it. Now they are keen to blame others for failing to back their narrow and dangerous extremism, including the latest Johnson wheeze to put a Customs border down the Irish Sea.

All Opposition candidates have a duty to counter these Tory excuses and point out their lack of collaboration and consultation with a broad spectrum of viewpoints is a direct cause of their failure to deliver a Brexit that a majority of people and MPs could support. They are the authors of their own misfortune and you cannot trust them any longer.

Cummings and Goings

I kind of stopped posting for a while as most things I wanted to say were quickly overtaken by events. I didn’t expect Johnson to comply with the Benn Act even though he sent the letter, unsigned. I didn’t expect a Conservative and Unionist Party deal that put a Customs border down the Irish Sea. I didn’t expect Labour to go along with a General Election when sitting 16 points behind in some polls. I didn’t expect my local Independent MP to say he was going to stand again but then I definitely hadn’t expected him, as a former Labour Remainer, to be trooping through division after division with the Tories. Few of my thoughts on how things would pan out have been accurate and I suspect that I am far from alone in that. All this is the work of weasel Cummings, puppeteer. Even at this point I confess I have zero idea what his game plan might be. One thing is for sure though, he is still trying to pull all of our collective strings. Even if Labour storm to victory something in the back of my mind would tell me it was part of a Cummings strategy for World domination starting in 2024.

I will, at this point make a couple more predictions. I predict our own leader won’t be PM on December 13th. I predict Johnson will retain his own seat. I hope these predictions are as accurate as my previous ones. Beyond that I couldn’t even begin to guess what the weeks ahead will bring.

There are some politicians I will be sad to see go. Amber Rudd, for a Tory, was actually a pretty good Home Secretary, and although I did question her integrity when she joined the Johnson Cabinet, she eventually did the right thing. Ken Clarke, probably the only Tory who I would have voted for as PM. A man of principle and honour, and a bloody good Chancellor. Speaker Bercow. Hours of entertainment who stood up for Parliament against a dictatorial minority extremist Executive. Joe Johnson, the decent brother. Those were all Tories but the good ones (they do – or did – exist). Then there is Vince Cable, whose biggest mistake was, I think, not to stand for Leader when he was in his prime. He would have been a better Deputy PM than Clegg and maybe we would still be on 50+ seats. But he has brought us back from oblivion. On the Labour side I don’t recognise many of the names of retirees. But on both sides I do see an significant number of women MPs bowing out due to the vitriol and hate that is routinely dispensed to MPs in general and women MPs in particular. I hope they are replaced and some decide to return at a later date when times have changed.

And so to the Election and who to vote for. I reside in Bury South, with Ivan Lewis as my local MP. In 1997 I was involved in the Labour campaign. Indirectly I helped Lewis to his first victory. By 2010 Labour was a shambles led by probably the worst PM in my lifetime, Gordon Brown, and I had returned to the Lib Dem fold. I was none too impressed with Lewis’ expenses tally either. In 2017 I voted tactically and Lewis was once again elected. However, Lewis eventually fell foul of sexual harrassment allegations, was suspended and, eventually, resigned from Labour, mentioning anti-semitism as a cause. I think I might have given him the benefit of the doubt with unproven allegations and a desire not to vote Labour or Tory. Lib Dem voting here is a bit pointless, barely scraping into 4 figures in 2017. Lewis has been acknowledged by Tory councillors and Lib Dem candidates of my aquaintance as a very good consituency MP too. But then for quite a few weeks now he has completely dumped his previous positions and started trooping through the lobbies with Johnson and Co. Was he considering crossing the floor, getting the Tory nomination for Bury South? It certainly looked that way. Lewis does change political horses more frequently than some people change their underwear, so it wouldn’t have surprised me. Opportunist some might say. If I had wanted an MP to vote with the Tories I would have voted for a Tory. Anyway he is standing as an Independent and I now have to work out tactics to defeat both Tory and Independent. I don’t want to put a vote in Corbyn’s bag but it might have to end up that way.

So he doesn’t want to go, and right now I won’t be sad to see him go, but Ivan Lewis has done great work for Bury South in the past according to his political opponents. I wish him all the best but not as my MP. Bye Ivan.

Trump’s Kurdish Betrayal

During his Presidency, Donald Trump has said the most deplorable things, behaved in an unforgivable way, on so many occasions it has become commonplace, normalised. When you see a medical definition of psychopath, Trump meets every symptom. But everything to date pales into insignificance compared to his betrayal of brave Kurdish fighters who have been critical to the containment and near defeat of Islamic State in Syria.

By withdrawing US troops along the Turkey-Syria border, thereby giving the green light to the autocratic Erdogan to launch a direct attack in US, British, and French allies, Trump has shown exactly how treacherous and untrustworthy he really is. Turkey, as a NATO member, is also guilty of acting against the interests of its allies.

Trump has made it clear in his campaign and Presidency that he opposes US military intervention in foreign lands. However the civil war in Syria, had IS managed to consolidate their positions, was not a local issue but one of intense danger for the entire democratic World. Defeating IS, mainly using Kurdish fighters, is a matter of self-defence, not intervention. Having done their job we should all be eternally grateful to the Kurds. Trump, of course, has business interests in Istanbul, and Erdogan has threatened those interests before and caused Trump to dance to his tune. Who knows what was said in their recent phone call but let’s hope someone manages to subpoena the transcript.

We must make it clear to Turkey that they must stop their assault against our Kurdish allies. If they don’t then their membership of NATO should be suspended and trade sanctions applied. Tourists should be advised against travel to Turkey. I would go further and provide practical military support to help defend the Kurds. As to Trump, there’s nothing we can say or do that would have any impact on him. He is certifiable. We must rely on his countrymen to deal with him and this time he seems to have horrified many of his own supporters. Can he get any worse? Probably.

Time to Stop Playing Games

No.10 has let it be known today that a Brexit deal is “essentially impossible” after a call between Johnson and Merkel. We did know that Johnson’s strategy is to make a feeble attempt to look like he is trying to get a deal whilst sabotaging it at the same time. It looks like that game peaked a little early. Frankly, giving the DUP a veto over arrangements every 4 years was never going to fly. This disgrace of a Government and clown of a Prime Minister must stop pretending, stop lying to the electorate.

Merkel and the EU know very well by now that the one thing that will not pass the House of Commons is a Northern Ireland backstop. Tried and failed too many times. The EU and the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (who, incidentally, governs with about a third of the seats in the Dáil Éireann and has little in the way of a mandate himself) must finally accept that Deal or No Deal, Northern Ireland will not stay forever, on its own, in a Customs Union with the EU, and there will need to be Customs formalities, however light touch and away from the border. The EU must realise by now that the Tories have no electoral interest in Northern Ireland other than to keep the DUP on side. If the EU and Irish accept a deal without a backstop then we start talking about the future relationship, which can include a Customs Union. If there is a No Deal then that opportunity disappears. The EU, and especially the Irish, are themselves playing silly games.

It is absolute nonsense to suggest that terrorism will return to Northern Ireland because you set up a lorry park 5 miles from the border and require some trucks to lodge paperwork there whilst others continue to their destination and submit paperwork from their office online. Norway and Switzerland have land boundaries with the EU and are not in a Customs Union with the EU. It works. End of.

I have no real idea what Labour’s game actually is. I don’t think they know. The only thing I really know about Labour is that they need to replace Corbyn, and only a major electoral defeat is likely to shift him. Which is really bad news for those of us desperately keen to see the end of Johnson and his far right rump of a Tory party in power.

And finally, our own dear Leader, still insisting she can’t support a Unity Government led by Corbyn. What, even if she is in the Cabinet in a senior role, and he only has the confidence of the House to do two things: extend Article 50 and call an Election? She would sacrifice the future of the UK over a matter of personality? That too is a disgraceful petty game to play that could backfire very badly. The fact is, that tolerate him or loathe him, Corbyn is the Leader of the Opposition, has 245 seats (226 more than we do), and cannot do anything even vaguely leftish in the 3 to 4 weeks he would temporarily be PM for. So we need to stop with the silly games too.

I’m beginning to wish the SNP would put up candidates in every English and Welsh constituency. They appear to be the only realistic, practical and principled party and leadership at this moment in time. They may be playing games with Scottish Independence but not with Brexit issues.

Bottom line – with only a few weeks to go, Johnson should make his true position clear – he wants a No Deal to scupper the Brexit Party. The Opposition parties need to rally behind Corbyn, holding their noses if they have to, oust Johnson and authorise Corbyn to extend Article 50 and call an Election – no more. The Irish and EU need to understand that they can have a Deal with no Backstop or they can have No Deal with no Backstop. Either way, no Backstop. With a Deal they have another bite of the cherry with the future relationship and a transition period allows more time for practicalities to be ironed out.

There is a real danger for the EU, for Varadkar, for the anti-No Deal forces in the UK including our own Ms Swinson. That is that all the farting around and game playing does not stop Johnson and the No Dealers, we exit and. bar a short period of adaptation, nothing really bad actually happens. Like the Y2K Apocalypse that never was. Many careers will never recover though oddly Corbyn, a known true Eurosceptic, might just survive and prosper.

The Johnson “Plan”

Today Johnson presented a brief outline of his fantastic plan for a withdrawal agreement. It doesn’t appear to have gone down very well with anyone on the Opposition benches and our European friends don’t seem very enthusiastic either. I can’t say I’m impressed. I’ll be honest about my own position: I would like to be in the EEA / Single Market, outside the Customs Union. Norway. Second best, Remain though stop the silly Project Fear fibs and exaggerations. No point in a Turkey-style Customs Union as a Free Trade agreement is a lot more flexible. No Deal / WTO is not an idea I’d like to contemplate.

I’d make a couple of points though.

Firstly This “deal” isn’t actually a deal. Never has been. It is a divorce settlement designed to allow both parties to talk about a real deal whilst maintaining the status quo in a transition period. The transition period could go on for as long as it take to negotiate a free trade agreement. I never really saw anything really wrong with May’s Withdrawal Agreement. My only real objection was that May did not consult or collaborate, and that is wrong and undemocratic. If Johnson’s proposal is genuine (and that is a big “if”) then again I don’t really see much wrong with it. We can still then negotiate the softest of Brexits after a General Election results in his disposal.

Secondly, Norway is outside the Customs Union, Switzerland is outside the Customs Union. Both have free trade agreements but both must employ Customs formalities. It isn’t a problem in real life. You don’t see civil unrest breaking out on the Norway – Sweden border because there are some light touch border controls. You don’t see food rotting in trucks. Remain Project Fear is off and running again and undermining legitimate reasons to stay close to the EU. And the EU are playing that hand too. The Good Friday Agreement is a red herring – read it, look at Johnson’s proposal, find something specific in the documents that indicates they are incompatible. I haven’t found anything myself. People making the noises either haven’t read the GFA and are believing others. And the others have read the GFA and are making things up that aren’t there. With the Common Travel Area in force on the island of Ireland, so only commercial traffic is actually inconvenienced, there is no reason why the UK – EU borders can’t work like our friends in Norway and Switzerland make it work.

Johnson wants a No Deal for daft reasons I couldn’t even guess at. Call his bluff and accept this proposal. Have the General Election with no broken promises hanging over heads. Then negotiate a proven route to prosperity whilst trading (mostly) freely with the EU and doing trade deals of our own elsewhere, i.e. outside the Customs Union but inside the Single Market like Norway, Switzerland, Iceland.

What is the alternative? We all know Johnson has a cunning plan to use a loophole in the Benn Act. I’ve found one, there are probably others. We will be out on 31st October on his terms. Is that what Corbyn and our own leadership actually want? Teach Brexiteers a hard lesson maybe? I’m beginning to wonder.

Pension Age

Today a group of women lost their case in the High Court over whether the rise in the pension age to 67 by 2018 is unfair because they were not given enough time to make adjustments to cope with years without a state pension. The court found that the change corrects historic discrimination against men and isn’t unfair.

I have no sympathy whatsoever with the case being made. As a man I have always been astonished that men were expected to work 5 years more than women for their state pension. This situation is even more unfair when you take into account that women live longer to men, and therefore, on average, draw their pension not just for 5 years more, but more than 8 years at an additional cost of over £53,000 compared to men. The change means they will only get a bit over 3 years extra pension compared to me. That’s fair.

I saw the claimants being interviewed on the news channels, saying they have been robbed. This is absolute nonsense. They claim they are being forced to work longer when they have paid in for 45 years. What, forced to work as long as men have had to work and pay in? What’s their point?

Pension ages were not always different. When introduced it was 70 for both men and women and only 25% lived long enough to collect. In 1925 the age reduced to 65. In 1940 the age for women to retire reduced to 60 so most couples could retire at the same time – presumably based on women being 5 years younger than their husbands. Society has changed so much in the last 80 years but the pension age gap lagged behind for far too long.

When I started work at 16, as a civil servant, retirement was mandatory at 60. I could expect to receive my pension for 10 years. My female colleagues would get 16 years. That was my expectation for most of my working life. Now I know I will have to work to 67. That’s life. We are all living much longer. Even retiring at 67 I will now get 12 years of pension, and my female counterparts will still get 16 years. What this group seems to want is 23 years of pension for women approaching 60. Who is going to pay for that? Largely younger people struggling to raise kids and pay mortgages. It’s not on.

Frankly the equalisation of the pension age was, in my opinion, staggered over far too long a period. It is a correction that should have been made decades ago. For all its faults we have a benefits system designed to be a safety net for those who have not yet reached retirement but who cannot work for health reasons. That is the right mechanism, not the prolonged continuation of a gross inequality. I’m happy to pay taxes to help out people genuinely in need who have fallen on hard times through not fault of their own, not so happy to subsidise people of my own generation who just want to put their feet up for 23 years.

I’m feeling a little less “liberal” today it seems. I’m not feeling tolerant of these frankly selfish children of the 50’s and 60’s. Sorry. As to our party’s commitment that these women are “properly compensated for the failure of government to properly notify them of changes to the state pension age”, I cannot support it under any circumstances. They were properly notified. Equalisation has been on the cards since 1995. This was correction of a long-standing inequality and we did the right thing in 2011 when speeding up the timetable.

Scam Calls – Call to Action

I’ve had two scam calls already today. One on the land line, one on my mobile. The first one said I had a problem with my Sky box and it was out of warranty. I haven’t had Sky for a number of years, at which point he very rudely hung up without saying thanks and goodbye. The second one told me I had been in a car accident. It must have given me, what’s it called, thingamy, ah yes I remember, amnesia, as I don’t remember that accident although I do have a bruise on my leg I can’t explain. I asked the woman if she was a robot and she immediately put me through to a foreign call centre agent (judging by the broken English) who hung up when I queried his authenticity. I might play the game a bit longer next time just to see what exactly they are trying to steal from me.

Make no mistake, attempting to defraud people is a serious criminal offence under Section 2 of the Fraud Act 2006, which can carry up to an 8 year sentence under sentencing guidelines. It is a serious criminal offence I have been the victim of twice today. Scale that up and you get to over 5 billion offences in the UK per annum very quickly. Yet the official position is to look like they are taking it seriously but actually do virtually nothing to stop it. If you had 5 billion attempted burglaries or street robberies then heaven and earth would be moved to take out the offenders.

Both calls used normal UK geographical numbers. One in Bodmin, one a London number. At one time I would have been angry at BT for allowing use of UK phone numbers for this purpose. You should need to be a legitimate business or resident to get a phone number. But unfortunately most of the time these are foreign calls using technology to spoof non-existent UK numbers. I am guessing they can also spoof bank and official numbers too, so you think it is a legitimate caller when it certainly isn’t. I am not the scammers’ target – they won’t get me all the while I have all my marbles, though one day I might lose them. They are trying to find elderly and/or vulnerable people to persuade to hand over bank and card details for financial frauds, or personal information to enable identity theft. When it happens the victims are quite often labelled as stupid or ignorant, at best naive. There is no sympathy, and usually no redress. Local police forces certainly won’t be interested.

Ofcom say they are trying to find solutions. I would say they are not trying hard enough. Calls originating abroad are entering the UK telephone network bearing UK caller IDs. Use technology to stop the calls before they get onto our telephone infrastructure. If the mobile companies are clever enough to tell me what number is calling, they are clever enough to know whether that number is a real number or not in service and stop it. If anyone is using legitimate UK numbers for fraud, then we should be enforcing the law by fining and jailing the directors, managers and call agents, and also fining the supplier of the number a hefty amount for facilitating fraud by failing to carry out due diligence on who they are providing services to.

I’ve no doubt that countering scam calls isn’t as easy as flicking a switch and 10 minutes later there are no more scam calls. It won’t be cheap, it won’t be easy, but it must be dealt with. You can use carrots – Government funding for technical solutions, specialist national policing units, paying overseas Governments the money to track down and prosecute and then incarcerate the call centre owners and agents. According to today’s Chancellor we are awash with spare cash at the moment so money shouldn’t be a problem. And you can use sticks – make the telephone companies pay for fraud that occurs because their systems did not block the call before it reached their customer. Sticks might encourage the very rapid development and implementation of technical solutions to solve the problem. Or maybe both carrots and sticks. We should also start handing out the top end of the sentencing range more often. For offences of trying to defraud less than £12,500 you can get a Community Order. Hardly a deterrent but that’s a post for another day.

Alan Paton’s definition of “Liberalism” encompassed a commitment to the rule of law. As Liberal Democrats it doesn’t mean we should be soft on criminals to the detriment of victims. Justice should deter, by ensuring that the odds of being caught and punished are raised much higher, and punish, as well as rehabilitate, the offender so they do not re-offend. Currently we don’t even bother trying to catch the perpetrators of 5 billion serious crimes annually, and even if they do get caught they often do 80 hours of unpaid work and that’s it. So a suggestion for the Liberal Democrats is to begin to throw off the perception that we are soft on crime, soft on the causes of crime and start to show we are on the side of victims rather than poor lost sheep that make 100 phone calls a day trying to steal pensions and life savings.

A Plea to Jo Swinson

The press are now reporting another method by which Joker Johnson can bypass the Benn Act legally. I have my own theory but others are speculating he may declare a National Emergency and invoke powers under Tony Blair’s Civil Contingencies Act 2004.

I would also draw people’s attention to the current Private Eye issue and the article headed “ ‘No deal’ army. The navy and RAF are on call too! ” and evidence presented that when Johnson pulls his No Deal and Exit dirty trick, the military are preparing to take over councils and the Government will rule by decree.

There is only one way of avoiding this and that is a No Confidence vote followed by installation of a caretaker Government. It must be done quickly and we must put aside reservations about Corbyn, hold our noses, and accept him under strict conditions. If No Deal Brexit goes through because we did not remove Johnson when we had the chance, the Lib Dems will carry much, if not all, of the blame if the cause was our leader having a personality issue with Corbyn.

£10 Minimum Wage

Labour have promised a £10 minimum wage for everyone, including under 18s. If you believe the ranting comments of the righteous right readership of the Express, this would signal the end of life as we know it, replaced by a totalitarian regime akin to North Korea. But this is a policy that should be universally advocated, across party lines.

For Labour it’s a bread and butter matter of social justice for the proletariat. The Lib Dems have a century or more of campaigning for social justice too and when in power last were responsible for the substantial increases in income tax thresholds. But even the very much right of centre Tories seem to have embraced a relatively high minimum wage and tax thresholds.

When the Minimum Wage was first introduced there were a lot of mainly Tory voices adamant that it would result in massive job losses. I’ve no doubt that the extra labour costs did result in some people becoming unemployed. But overall, the fears were unfounded. It will be a similar situation when a £10 / hour level is set. Hospitality, care, and retail sectors will be most affected and consumer prices will probably need to increase. That is the main background argument against higher minimum wage level and, in isolation, it has some merit.

However, the likely reason why Tory Chancellors have embraced it is that if someone in full-time employment still cannot afford the basic necessities of life then the State steps in and uses tax income to pay benefits to plug the gap. Companies that pay decent wages, and their employees, effectively subsidise other companies who pay the bare minimum they can get away with. Companies that pay decent wages also benefit from greater staff loyalty, higher productivity, and better retention rates, leading to lower costs and/or higher profits.

A £10 Minimum Wage, or National Living Wage as it is now formally called, is the right thing to do both morally and economically. Some prices might rise but would be countered by a reduction in the tax take needed to support low paid workers. As for the businesses that will lose their wage subsidies, I have very little sympathy.

To me it’s an open and shut case but although the Greens also want £10, and the Tories are committed to 60% of median earnings, the Lib Dems want an independent review to consult on how to set a “genuine living wage”. Clear as mud, kicking the can down the road, call it what you will, what we actually need is a simple, easily understood message.

Corbyn For PM!

I could never vote for Jeremy Corbyn. I would prefer Ken Clarke or Harriet Harman as Caretaker Prime Minister. But at the end of the day, Corbyn does not have the Parliamentary numbers to implement any Labour policies if appointed as a Caretaker Prime Minister. He could only do as the alliance of Opposition parties and Independents instruct – extend Article 50, call an election. I would expect an interim Cabinet to consist of representatives of all the Opposition forces and for no tails to be wagging any dogs.

I can, therefore, see exactly where Nicola Sturgeon is coming from when she now sounds willing to accept Corbyn as the caretaker. It doesn’t make a jot of difference who the person occupying the PM’s office is as long as they deliver on the will of Parliament and then submit themselves to the will of the electorate via an election. Corbyn, like or loathe him, is the legitimate leader of the second largest party in the Commons and, by virtue of being Leader of the Opposition, the only real choice as an alternative to Johnson via the FTPA route.

I wish, therefore, that our party would now follow Sturgeon’s lead. Nominally at least we will still need to fill all the Cabinet posts and our leader, Jo Swinson, is entitled to a senior post. Home Secretary perhaps. I don’t think now is the time to throw tantrums about the Labour Leader. What do we really want right this instant? What do the TIGs and Independents or whatever they call themselves today really want this instant? What do the Independent Tories and the Nationalists really want this instant? It is all the same thing – extension of Article 50. What does it matter whether Corbyn is the vehicle for that? Or anyone in favour of a Deal and an extension? Or Larry the Cat for that matter.

Threats to MPs

There are a number of very disturbing headlines circulating that report that Dominic Cummings, advisor to Johnson, said, in response to disgusting attacks on our elected representatives MPs will stop getting threats and abuse if they “respect” the EU referendum result.

None of the reports use quotation marks that I can see so I assume these headlines are a precis or intepretation of words that are a direct quotation: “If you are a bunch of politicians and say that we swear we are going to respect the result of a democratic vote, and then after you lose you say, we don’t want to respect that vote, what do you expect to happen?”

I know what I expect to happen. I expect criticism with civility. I do not expect death threats. I expect the Prime Minister, his Government and his advisors who speak on his behalf, to lead by example and avoid aggressive dog-whistle rhetoric. I do not expect the effective Chief of Staff of No.10 to issue what amounts to threatening statements towards MPs.

There is a difference between the headline summaries and a verbatim quote of what Cummings seems to have actually said. If the headlines are correct then it is possibly the most disgusting and disgraceful statement ever to have come from an official source in my lifetime. It kind of suggests that someone is in control of, organising the threats and abuse, and if that person gets their way then they will call the dogs off. If the threats and abuse are not being coordinated how can Cummings possibly know that they will cease once the UK leaves the EU. Which also begs the question as to who is coordinating the threats and abuse. Maybe it isn’t coordination; perhaps it is encouragement or merely tolerance of abhorrent behaviour. There is a temptation to wonder whether “fake news” is involved in the reporting, except that the same headlines and conclusions appear in the far right popularist press as are reported in the more liberal media.

If the quote attributed to Cummings is a better reflection of his views, is that any better? Cummings actually undermines his own opinions. He apparently said both Leave and Remain campaigners have faced ‘serious threats’ of violence, which he said should be taken seriously. Well if implementing Leave solves the problem then Leave campaigners wouldn’t be the victims of the threats and abuse. Beyond that, no, as representative of the Government he should be condemning threatening behaviour, making it clear that it is illegal and the police will pursue those responsible, and saying that the expectation of the Government and civilised society is that differences are reconciled by discussion not by threats.

Cummings, as the architect of the current bear-baiting atmosphere in Parliament, must be relieved of all public responsibilities. I would personally like to see an investigation into whether any of his pronouncements amount to encouraging crime under the Serious Crime Act 2007.

Cummings aside, the inflammatory language of the Prime Minister and his Ministers is beyond the pale. If I have a criticism of Speaker Bercow at the moment, it is that he permits this language in the House of Commons on the grounds that it is not disorderly. Mr Speaker Bercow, you can leave a legacy by establishing a new precedent that members will not use inflammatory and uncivil language towards one another. How can “liar” be banned when “betrayer” is permitted.

I tried to think back over 50 years of being interested in politics and politicians. Enoch Powell and his Rivers of Blood speech was the only instance of such extreme inflammatory language I could think of. And Powell was dismissed from the Shadow Cabinet as a result. Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron, May – all have made cutting remarks about opponents, and have struggled at times to retain their temper, but none would ever stoop anywhere near as low as Johnson has this week, egged on by Cummings, and backed by this week’s lead apologist “Not So” Cleverley. Johnson has demeaned his office and is not fit to remain in his post. Even Amber Rudd, until very recently a close Johnson ally and personal friend, has turned on him and her conclusion is damning. In fact, if Rudd is right, then the police also need to be investigating Johnson for potentially encouraging the commission of a crime.

One last thing to remember in this affair. Whilst the abuse is real and the threats must be taken seriously, the perpetrators form a minute, almost imperceptible, proportion of the people of this country, even people angry at the lack of movement towards leaving the EU. The vast majority of people of all views are decent and would never dream of issuing threats or shouting abuse. Even 1 in 10,000 is 1 too many and these extremists must be prosecuted and jailed. But we are not on the verge of civil war or the collapse of society.

Battered Democracy

I was intrigued by an article on Lib Dem Voice penned by William Wallace entitled “How do we renew our battered democracy“. Wallace is a member of the House of Lords and I have said previously that the House of Lords is an affront to democracy. Liberal Democrats should not be legitimising it by nominating or accepting peerages. It’s just wrong.

I am, therefore, always wary of articles by “Lords”, especially if the title of the article refers to democracy. I was pleased to see a brief endorsement for an elected Upper Chamber. I also noted a strong case for wider constitutional change. However, reference to Parliament taking back control when Parliament includes appointed legislators, many of them failed candidates and retired MPs in need of a pension top-up, and many others, all male, still there by virtue of nothing more than accident of birth, doesn’t convince me. I was also disappointed not to see advocacy for a proper written Constitution that would have negated the need to the Supreme Court to rule on Prime Ministerial abuse of prerogative.

Don’t get me wrong, there are have been some highly respected and politically successful peers that I would happily have voted for as Senators. Shirley Williams and Paddy Ashdown amongst them. I don’t think either needed to use their titles to signal their significance to British politics, but even so I don’t think they should have accepted the peerages. Notably, in this respect, Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron and May have all got an entitlement to a peerage but to date remain commoners. The SNP doesn’t have any peers as they have a long-term opposition to the Lords – it is a principled position and I congratulate them.

If the Liberal Democrats want to make a meaningful statement in respect of constitutional change they can start by renouncing all peerages and refusing more. We can then challenge Labour to do likewise. Force the debate – the House of Lords could not survive if boycotted by all parties except the Tories. Until that happens, I will still find pronouncements on democracy by “Lords”, to have more than a slight whiff of hypocrisy and not in keeping with the Democrats element of our party name. You cannot effectively oppose gravy train politics when you are an active and willing passenger on that train.

In conclusion, to answer Mr Wallace’s question, we can start by occupying a moral high ground in relation to our claim to be defenders of Parliamentary democracy. Stop participating in activities that undermine democracy and hand in your coronet. I don’t think you can renew battered democracy when you are still holding part of the battering ram.

Leave Only Referendum

I think the Tories have missed a trick, and am quite surprised this wasn’t Johnson’s plan to solve the EU Exit conundrum.

Tories and Labour both stood on a manifesto promise to respect the Leave verdict. As we all know, the problem with that is that no-one knows what kind of Leave people voted for, and the range of options is vast. This fundamental flaw in the Referendum should have been addressed at the time by asking a second question: if the outcome of the first question is Leave, what sort of Leave do you want?

May could have corrected that oversight to solve her problems. But, as we all know, May was incapable of collaboration with anyone other than her own ego. Still, it isn’t too late even now.

I propose a second referendum but one that gives Leave options only. It should include at least the Norway/Iceland model, a comprehensive free trade deal only, and no deal. Maybe Corbyn’s Turkey-style Customs Union. There could be others. Preferential voting to arrive at a solution. Personally I’d give the vote to 16 year olds as they are old enough to marry and pay taxes. There’s also a case for mandatory voting but you can abstain (it’s a positive decision rather than apathy).

The proposal kills No Deal as this could never get 50% of the voting preferences. It respects the first referendum so difficult for Tory and Labour MPs to reject. It overcomes the inability of (any) Parliament to guess what the 52% voted for and deliver that. It starts to heal rifts as the outcome will be a compromise most people can live with, even if not enthusiastically. It’s the only solution that results in a clear statement of what “the People” actually want.

Sadly, serious proposals for a second referendum all include a Remain option. Believe me, if Remain got a small majority in a second referendum this wouldn’t end the debate. Brexiteers would probably get more militant rather than fade away. Such referenda solve nothing. A General Election will not produce a Parliament that can guess the intent of the 52% any more than the current set of MPs, though hopefully Rees Mogg and Johnson will personally be ousted by their electorates.

Solving The Johnson Riddle

I keep seeing Johnson repeating the mantra that he will comply with The European Union (Withdrawal) (No.2) Act 2019 but will still leave the EU on 31st October even without a deal. And then he smiles the smile of a Baldrick with a cunning plan. This seems to cause puzzlement amongst politicians as it appears contradictory.

There are 650 MPs, many of them ruthless, many of them lawyers, all of them supposedly clever. If I can work out the riddle, surely most MPs have worked it out too but don’t want to say so just in case it’s not the same cunning plan and they give him another idea. He may already have done a backroom deal with Orban to veto an extension request.

So you have to read the Act. It’s online and it’s a quick read. There is a massive hole in it that I spotted in seconds, re-read several times and was still there. The PM has to write the letter. The PM has to accept the extension offered, that runs from 11pm on 31 October. The PM can terminate the extension early if they get an agreement before 31 January 2020.

Johnson sends the letter and accepts an extension. But at 11:01pm on 31st October he can terminate the extension agreement early. Nothing in the Act prevents early termination without Parliamentary consent.

At this point all hell breaks loose but it’s too late, Johnson has kept his promise, and it’s near impossible to reverse out of. Why didn’t anyone spot this and close it off? The Government cannot terminate the extension period early without Parliamentary consent. There, it’s not hard.

The only way to be sure of avoiding the cunning plan is to hold the No Confidence vote and install a temporary caretaker PM.