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.

Fire the Attorney General

The behaviour today in Parliament of our Attorney General, Geoffrey “Comb Over” Cox, was nothing short of disgraceful and regardless of whether you can make mud stick to Johnson, he must go. The background, of course is the unlawful prorogation of Parliament, as determined by the 11 most distinguished judges and legal minds in the UK, not by a narrow majority, but by an 11-0 landslide. His record as an MP demonstrates he puts the nasty back into the Nasty Party.

When it comes to providing legal advice to the Prime Minister, one of three things must have happened. Firstly, Johnson may not have asked for legal advice on the lawfulness or otherwise of proroging Parliament. In which case Cox should do the honorable thing and resign. Secondly, Johnson may have asked for legal advice on the lawfulness or otherwise of proroging Parliament, was given the correct advice, and ignored it. In which case Cox should do the honorable thing and resign. Thirdly, Johnson may have asked for legal advice on the lawfulness or otherwise of proroging Parliament, was given incorrect advice, and followed it. In which case Cox should be sacked.

The judgment (no “e” after “g” in a legal judgment) of the Supreme Court found that a Prime Minister cannot prorogue Parliament. The first question was whether the Prime Minister’s action had the effect of frustrating or preventing the constitutional role of Parliament in holding the Government to account. The Court found it did. The next question is whether there is a reasonable justification for taking action which had such an extreme effect upon the fundamentals of our democracy. The Court found there was no justification. The conclusion was

“It is impossible for us to conclude, on the evidence which has been put before us, that there was any reason – let alone a good reason – to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament for five weeks… We cannot speculate, in the absence of further evidence, upon what such reasons might have been. It follows that the decision was unlawful.”

EU Exit is immaterial. The ruling applies to any PM attempting to prorogue Parliament for a lengthy period without reasonable justification and therefore denying Parliament the right to hold the Government to account. It protects our democracy from dictatorships, especially those with no Parliamentary or popular mandate.

The Attorney General’s position today was aggressive, reluctantly saying he respected the Court’s judgment whilst saying he disagreed with it and being highly disrespectful to fellow MPs on the Opposition benches. Johnson’s line was similar; disagreeing with the ruling but “respecting” it. This approach undermines the independent Judiciary, and is entirely inappropriate. It is also signalling support for a right of a Government to rule by decree without democratic Parliamentary oversight. That has to be wrong in anyone’s book and, therefore, not surprising that 11 out of 11 Judges found it unlawful.

The position of Attorney General provides the PM with a shield if he asks legal advice and follows it. He can claim good faith in the event it all goes wrong. But someone has to pay for what amounts to giving unlawful advice to the Queen, resulting in her Order in Council being declared null and void. If the PM has a shield, however flimsy, the Attorney General must go. If we assume the PM acted in good faith, no matter how great a leap of faith that is, then Cox has put him in an unforgivable position with his unlawful counsel. Maybe there are no other lawyers willing to take up the position, That might explain why he is still in post.

Saving Private Firms

I have just been watching coverage of the Labour conference and the bizarre suggestion from the Shadow Chancellor and some activists that the Government should have stepped in to save Thomas Cook. They argue that it was once a nationalised company, although this was only because it was a subsidiary of a subsidiary of railway companies that were nationalised, not because the Attlee Government thought a publicly owned travel agent was a great idea. They also mention the rescue of banks but the economic and social impact of allowing several major banking groups to collapse is of an entirely different scale to allowing a travel agency to go bust.

When it comes to Thomas Cook customers, none will lose money. The Atol guarantee protects those with bookings and currently on holiday. The Government has agreed to repatriate those on flight-only deals at no charge to them, and those with flight only bookings can claim off card companies.

But there are 9,000 employees in the UK that will now be unemployed. The collapse of their employer with no warnings will undoubtedly cause hardship for many before they secure other work. It would be wrong not to show compassion for those workers although propping up their failed paymasters is not necessarily going to provide the security they need.

There are lots of reasons why companies fail but they generally divide into mismanagement of some kind, or a major realignment of the market that the company was unable to adapt to. An example of the former would be the demise of Barings Bank; an example of the latter would be Blockbuster video rental following the trend to online movie streaming. Thomas Cook have adapted to the Internet age and online booking but still had a large and expensive high street network of travel agencies. But they had huge debts and were unable to renegotiate their loans. That’s mismanagement. So in the case of Thomas Cook it looks like a bit of both.

Whilst there are always peaks and troughs when it comes to holiday bookings, the millions of Thomas Cook customers are not going to stay at home for the rest of their lives. They will move their business to competitors, some established, some that see the loss of Thomas Cook as an opportunity to step into the market with a new offering. If it takes 9,000 people to deal with Thomas Cook’s customer base then 9,000 new jobs will be created in those competitors, and industry-experienced staff will be at a premium.

Firms going bust, even ones with the historical pedigree of Thomas Cook, but also many long-established retailers, is not always a bad thing beyond the immediate chaos that surrounds closure. Companies get fat, they get arrogant, they borrow too much, they employ mercenary Directors interested in their own enrichment rather than being deeply and personally invested in the company. They become inefficient and eventually become unprofitable when competing with newcomers. The weaknesses are often most obvious in recessions when demand falters and funding becomes tighter. Taking these basket cases into public ownership cannot possibly solve these issues. They either need radical new management, e.g. a takeover by a leaner, more innovative competitor, or to close down and allow the business to migrate to better run competitors.

There are exceptions – private companies in monopoly positions such as rail operating companies, and businesses where failure impacts on national security and defence, or where overwhelming economic and social damage would result.

What is very worrying is that John McDonnell clearly does not understand the basics of business. He does not understand that the demise of Thomas Cook will result in their business migrating to better run competitors. Would he be fit for purpose as a future Chancellor. I quite like listening to McDonnell; some things he says I agree with. But his response to the Thomas Cook collapse is very worrying. Would a Labour government nationalise every lame duck bloated and inefficient business that goes bust?

It is right that Government should ensure that employees of companies that fail are treated with compassion, are promptly compensated for arrears of wages, redundancy, holiday pay and so on (they are), and given help to find alternative training or employment. It is wrong for the Government to take ownership of failing companies where there is not a monopoly public interest and effectively subsidise the bad against the interests of new and innovative competitors.

Private Schools

Press reports about Labour policy towards private education seem to be a bit confused.

According to the BBC, which I hope is being objective, there is a motion that calls for funds and properties held by private schools to be “redistributed democratically and fairly” to other schools. They go on to report “the shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said “tax loopholes” that benefit private schools would be scrapped by a Labour government in its first budget.”

There is quite a big leap between the two. Closure and redistribution of assets is a bit like dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th Century. Undoubtedly in the 21st Century it would be illegal to appropriate privately owned property and redistribute it. It is a vote-losing nonsense that Labour opponents would have a field day with. What next? Private hospitals? It opens up nationalisation without compensation to every conceivable private activity. If people want to send their kids to private schools then so what? And frankly they still will, only those schools will be in Northern France, Belgium, the Channel Islands, Isle of Man, Ireland. It may well be the same schools, stripped of assets and moved offshore. It is a very silly motion almost impossible to implement, appealing to a very narrow extreme left-wing audience.

But what of the tax loopholes? Actually, we all know that public (private) schools are not really charities these days, regardless of their origins. They are fee-generating businesses catering mostly for the wealthy with the odd bone thrown towards their founding principles. They should no longer be afforded charitable status, their fees should be subject to VAT regardless of the views of Tory MPs, their income should be taxed as any business would be, and their premises should be subject to full business rates. I see no credible opposition to such measures other than the views of the wealthy vested interests. I suspect the move would be a popular one. Even Gove and Hammond have questioned the continued charitable treatment. The vast bulk of the population should not effectively be subsidising private education by affording it preferential tax treatment.

Genuine charitable schools should be given an option to convert to Free School status. You would also need to deal with the need for some boarding places to cater for children from remote island communities or where their parents are working overseas on official business. But these exceptions are minor compared to the main principle.

In my view the Lib Dems should be adopting the tax loophole closure proposals into official party policy whilst pointing out the futile and impractical, probably illegal, nature of the asset appropriation motion.

Free Trade Isn’t Fair Trade

One of the big benefits of Brexit, we are told, is that we will be able to do our own trade deals with countries around the world. Presumably tariff-free trade deals. The opposite of free trade being protectionism, for which Donald Trump is being widely denigrated.

But is life that simple? Free Trade Good, Protectionism Bad?

Obviously it isn’t. Tariffs exist to protect domestic markets against unfair competition resulting from lower material and labour costs in other countries. It also prevents “dumping” where a country will sell goods at lower than cost in order to destroy competitors and thereafter dominate that market. On the other hand the protectionism embodied by the Corn Laws in the 19th Century caused untold hardship, including death through starvation and undoubtedly worsened the impact of the potato famine in Ireland. So there has to be balance. Tariffs to protect against dumping and unfair competition but no tariffs where demand is higher than supply or the tariffs protect inefficiency or exist for the purposes of profiteering by vested interests.

Free trade amongst countries that are roughly in the same ballpark when it comes to economic and industrial development is usually a positive thing. We buy your Volkswagens, you buy our Minis. We buy your Mercs, you buy our Jags. So the free trade between the wealthier EU countries is generally beneficial for all. Rapid expansion of the EU into less affluent parts of Eastern Europe is not so good for either side of the equation. It was an opportunity to move manufacturing production to less expensive labour markets whilst also giving unfettered access to fragile and developing economies. Enabling exploitation.

Free trade in goods and materials between countries with a huge gulf in economic development can be a big mistake although can be mutually beneficial when targeted. Does the UK want a free trade deal with China that covers cars and steel? I’d say absolutely not as this would decimate what we have left of those industries. Indeed we should be levelling the playing field to rebuild those industries.

There is another use of trade tariffs that Trump has championed but which is actually a powerful tool for good in International Relations. That is the imposition of tariffs, or cessation of free trade for political rather than economic reasons. The use of trade to influence behaviour. The most obvious manifestation of this is where sanctions are involved, complete prohibition of trade. Undoubtedly this does damage the country being sanctioned but more often than not it is the ordinary citizens who suffer rather than the priviledged leaders. They may even use the sanctions to demonise the foreign powers imposing them. However, there is a more subtle application. As an example EU free trade with Mercosur countries is currently frozen pending Brazilian action to stop the destruction of the Amazon. Outside the EU we can do ethical trade deals such as free trade in bananas only where the producer respects all human rights. For example, Costa Rica generally scores highly on LGBT rights where most Commonwealth Caribbean countries do not. It also rates higher than Italy and Malta where corruption is concerned. Should we not reward good behaviours via favourable trading terms for tropical fruit? I think we should.

If you do not get the balance correct, then the forces of popularist right wing politics can exploit the outcome. Most people in the UK are genuinely puzzled at support for Trump policies in the USA. Or they interpret it as pure racism and all the other ‘isms. However, Trump latched onto the despair of many Americans living in towns once affluent, or at least surviving, based on local industries that have now closed down with production outsourced to China, Vietnam, Laos, India, Mexico, where labour costs are cheaper. Detroit in 1950 had a population of 1.8 million. In 1990 it was still over 1 million. Today it is estimated at 670,000 people. Trump promised to reverse industrial decline through renegotiating the trade deals that have led to cheap imports, and tens of millions voted for that. It’s an attractive message although near impossible to deliver on within a 4 year term. What is a little odd is that Trump is a global capitalist so his anti-free trade stance is at odds with his personal interests. In the UK our right wing politicians are under too much influence from their funding donors, and their friends in the financial centres, to promote that path, but it is perfectly possible that Corbyn and his Momentum acolytes would take up protectionist popularism, and find an underclass skimmed off from Brexit Party/UKIP supporters willing to vote for it, especially if our EU Exit goes badly wrong.

In conclusion, free trade in all circumstances is not a good thing. It is good when it fills gaps in domestic supply chains, good when it delivers materials and manufactured products we don’t ourselves produce, good to encourage positive behaviours, and good where it encourages higher quality and greater efficiency and productivity due to fair competition. It is bad when it destroys otherwise efficient and profitable domestic industries, bad where it removes domestic capability in critical areas of national security, bad where it encourages and rewards poor social and environmental behaviours, and bad when it leads to extremist protectionism when the balance is wrong.

Ban Palm Oil

Life isn’t just about EU Exit. As Lib Dems we must also develop sensible and practical green credentials. Some are very difficult and costly. Others are a lot easier and proven to be practical.

Palm oil, an industry that involves destruction of huge swathes of rainforest, falls into the easy category.

A while back Iceland (the supermarket) pledged to remove palm oil from own brand products. Putting aside some tricks to cover up a few failures, they largely succeeded. It can be done.

I would, therefore, propose a complete ban on products containing palm oil to take effect 12 months from passing the legislation. It is true that the measure will add to production costs but Iceland managed without raising prices noticeably so others can follow suit.

An alternative to a ban, which is quicker than legislation in the event we leave the EU Customs Union and can set our own tariffs, is to levy punitive Customs duties on palm oil and products containing it. In other words, price it out of use.

Lib Leavers

According to YouGov, about a third of Lib Dem supporters, those who normally vote Lib Dem, voted Leave in the 2016 EU Referendum. It’s a fair bet that most were thinking along the lines of Norway at the time. Odd that Ed Davey forgot that figure on Question Time this week. It’s in my head, it must be in his, inconvenient though it might be.

Once upon a time I was strongly pro-EU. I have a degree that includes EU Law, and European Political Cooperation. Right up to 2016, with reservations, I would still have been firmly in the Remain camp. My movement over to the softest of exits began when Cameron went to Brussels for some concessions and came back with zero. But really doubts had been developing for a while.

The UK’s approach to free movement of people is completely different to most other EU countries. If you want to move to Italy you need to support yourself and your dependents, including healthcare and housing. After 3 months you need to register and prove your means or off you go. Here we seem to be more generous if the EU migrant has worked here. It’s a myth they can get benefits if you’ve never worked here. Generosity and myths combined and made the UK a major destination for inbound migration from the rest of the EU. This level of net migration was unsustainable – inadequate infrastructure, insufficient housing, limited space to expand cities and towns. Not to mention downward pressure on wages as a result of an often highly educated but cheap labour influx. The causes were an unforeseen consequence of too rapid Eastward expansion coupled with over-generosity.

The CFP and CAP (Common Fisheries and Agriculture Policies) are also a major negative for the UK, although our Government have been noticeably silent about how they sold out British fishermen. Like Norway and Iceland we must have control over our resources.

Remain does not solve these fundamentals. So I was wavering. Then I saw Project Fear unfold in Lib Dem strategy discussions. Truth, the moral high ground, had little to do with that strategy. I recall reading a briefing for doorsteps where virtually every point could be refuted in seconds. No way could I lie through my teeth to family, friends, and neighbours as suggested. And if it needed lies to Remain, would Leave be that bad. Well No Deal Leave would be that bad, but the Norway / Iceland model coupled with adoption of stricter free movement rules and maybe an emergency brake to sort out infrastructure and housing issues, would be my strong preference.

So we are in 2019. Fellow Lib Dems (well the few that went to Conference) have decided to alienate the third of supporters who want a Leave deal. Tories and the current Farage Fellowship have forgotten Deal promises. Second referendum suggestions are all binary and are unlikely to arrive at the compromise we actually need. If I am given a choice of Norway/Iceland or Remain, my vote will not be Remain. No Deal or Remain would probably see me vote Remain with a heavy heart but we all know that won’t shut up Brexiteers for a nanosecond.

We’re Not Picky…

Am I the only one concerned about blindly accepting MPs into the Lib Dems whose voting records hardly mark them out as liberal.

Take Phillip Lee. His voting record shows he has generally voted against laws to promote equality and human rights, has consistently voted against the UK remaining in the EU, has an appalling record on welfare and benefits, is in favour of increased university tuition fees, and doesn’t support proportional representation. On the other hand, on his opposition to No Deal he effectively lost his ability to fight the next General Election as the Tory he really is.

Take Sam Gyimah. His voting record is a no better than Mr Lee’s and shows he has generally voted against laws to promote equality and human rights, has consistently voted against the UK remaining in the EU, has an appalling record on welfare and benefits, is in favour of increased university tuition fees, and doesn’t support proportional representation. On the other hand, on his opposition to No Deal he effectively lost his ability to fight the next General Election as the Tory he really is. Only 3 months ago he was attempting to become Conservative Party Leader, and today he is a loyal Lib Dem. Really?

Take Sarah Wollaston. Her voting record is pretty much mainstream Tory with the exception of her views on leaving the EU without a deal.

Conversely, Umunna, Berger, and Angela Smith, the Labour converts, all have pretty liberal voting records, to the left of centre and not inconsistent with current Lib Dem policies.

So what is the game when it comes to the three Tory “converts”. Did they have a Road to Damascus style conversion to all things liberal and Lib Dem, or maybe they have been living a lie for many many years and didn’t have the integrity to go with their true beliefs until the Tory rug was pulled from beneath them. Or maybe it is opportunism. They were all in trouble with not being able to stand under a blue banner come the next election and have effectively sought sanctuary in the Lib Dems. It is near impossible to get elected in the UK without either a party machine or a mass movement behind you. You need door knockers and leaflet distributors. If your current doorknockers are not available, find some elsewhere. I know, cynical, and not the generosity of spirit I aim for.

If re-elected on the back of the often brilliantly effective targeting of Lib Dem resources at winnable seats, and assuming at some point the Tories come to their senses and lurch towards the centre, as they have done a few time in the past, what are the odds that Lee, Gyimah, and Wollaston will happily cross the floor again. High I’d say.

We seem to be accepting these MPs into the party for their short term embarrassment potential rather than for their commitment to liberalism. We should have said no, but if you stand as an Independent Conservative on an anti-Johnson manifesto then we won’t campaign against you.

Lib Dem Brexit Blunder

Today a small non-representative and self-selecting section of the Liberal Democrat Party that have the time and resources to attend Conference made what I believe to be a big mistake.

This is the pledge to cancel Brexit rather than back a second referendum.

According to YouGov, back in 2016 32% of Lib Dem supporters voted for Leave. I found myself supporting Leave following decisions to pursue a Project Fear policy containing misleading statements (lies) on a par with the Leave campaign. Like many other centrist Leave supporters, my own preference would have been for a Norway-style future relationship, inside the Single Market, inside a Free Trade agreement on most commodities but outside the CFP and CAP, and free to pursue independent trade deals. I would also have liked us to implement free movement of people as other EU members do – self-supporting and time limited unless you are contributing. Essentially the have your cake and eat it solution I thought we had been promised.

I dare say that, along with many other centrist Leave supporters, this would still be my preference if I were to be given a vote in a second referendum that allowed my to rank preferences. I would not be voting, first preference, for Remain as we were. Thus it makes it impossible for me to vote Lib Dem at the next General Election. It will be Labour to get that second referendum. What about the third of supporters in the same boat? I guess they will have the same thoughts and the Lib Dems could be throwing millions of potential votes at Labour or even towards the full-blooded Leave parties.

This policy does not bring the country together.; It is highly divisive. If, by some miracle, the Lib Dems had a majority after the next Election, you would still have 45%+ Brexit supporters who will not be putting down their placards, but will be ramping up the heat.

As Patrick Maxwell points out in LD Voice voters who ardently want to revoke Article 50 are already going to vote Lib Dem. This new policy is not going to attract, and may put off, moderate Tories and Labour voters who might otherwise come over.

A General Election is not going to resolve Brexit. A second referendum that repeats the binary nature of the first is also doomed to result in Groundhog Day. What we need is a genuine compromise. A solution that recognises the circumstances that resulted in the first Leave vote and addresses them, and protects the jobs and investments of those reliant on the EU for their livelihoods. This is what the Lib Dems should be promoting, not a policy that would inevitably worsen current divides not heal them.