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As we pick up the pieces: 9 thoughts on Brexit

Like many, I’ve struggled to come to terms with the result of Thursday’s vote.

But as we try and pick up the pieces and make sense of the situation, here are some thoughts on Brexit:

1. No one on the left knows how to react, because almost no one saw this coming. Almost all the polls predicted a Remain win. All the betting companies predicted a Remain win. Every party – including UKIP – predicted a Remain win. The ramifications aren’t yet clear, but they are of course huge, and fairly terrifying.

2. This was a vote both against the ‘establishment’, and against immigration. It was a protest vote, and one with huge consequences, a ‘working class revolt’. Many who backed Brexit are said to already be regretting their decision – after doing it to feel some semblance power in a politics that feels distant, undemocratic and elite-driven. This is a result of alienation.

3. There is a gaping generational divide that was made clear on Thursday. The Remain side probably would have won had Cameron agreed to letting 16 and 17 year olds vote. He rejected it to his own demise. And 75% of 18-24 year olds say they backed staying in the EU, compared to just 39% of over 65s.

The sad fact is this: the baby boomers took the Millennials out of Europe – despite the latter being the main ones to face the consequences. However, far fewer 18-24 year olds actually voted than older people – meaning we partly have ourselves to blame. The Remain side did themselves no favours (see the cringe-inducing ‘Votin’ push and the total lack of youth issues discussed in the referendum), but regardless: Britain’s generations are at war with each other.

4. The Greens should back re-joining the EU at the earliest opportunity. The Liberal Democrats have already pledged this. Many feel like the referendum result was won on the back of an extremely poor debate – and one arguably based on false pledges on the Leave side – both on cutting immigration and investing in the National Health Service (Leave claimed Brexit would put £350m per week into the NHS). Those pledges have already been back-tracked upon.

Nearly three million people – almost a tenth of the number who voted – have signed a petition calling for a re-run of the referendum. So re-joining the EU would be a vote winner for the Greens. With a leadership election currently going on, this will no doubt be raised.

5. At risk of stating the obvious, British politics is now in turmoil – if it wasn’t before. Cameron has resigned and we are facing a Conservative leadership contest – one which will be led by the pro-Brexit, right-wing of the party. The next two years will be full of tortuous negotiations. And the Labour Party are facing their own leadership election, with around half of the Shadow Cabinet expected to resign this weekend over Corbyn’s alleged lukewarm support for the EU and lack of campaigning during the referendum. Many believe it was Corbyn who lost the referendum – as someone perceived to be a long-term Eurosceptic. And he is now facing a very serious leadership challenge.

So while Britain is locked in a constitutional crisis – not least given the fact that Scotland, Northern Ireland and London all voted to remain in the EU – the main parties face their own internal crises, and struggle to come to terms with the ramifications for Britain’s place in the world, and their own visions for the future.

6. Another Union is breaking apart. Scotland and Northern Ireland are drifting away. Both voted strongly – by around two thirds to one – to stay in the EU. The UK is divided, and it appears we face (again) the prospect of the breakup of these nations.

Nicola Sturgeon pledge for a second independence referendum has already met strong support, support that is likely to be far higher than last time. Polls are already showing a significant chance of a pro-independence victory (although polls are arguably no longer to be trusted after Thursday’s vote…).

Either way, the consequences of Thursday’s vote are immense when it comes to the future constitutional state of the UK as a unit. And while Irish unification appears off the cards for the time being in NI, tensions are rising there too.

7. English (and Welsh) politics is moving to the right. The Brexit win has vindicated UKIP — who are not going anywhere, contrary to some expectations. With the Conservatives also moving to the right, the ‘centre ground’ has shifted. It is highly likely that many of the hard-won rights won through the EU will be torn apart — including many elements of the social chapter and key environmental protections and business regulations.

But Thursday’s vote has made me realise something depressing: England is actually rapidly becoming a conservative nation. This was a right-wing populist vote, led by reactionary forces and which will benefit and embolden reactionary forces. How does the left respond?

8. The left is, understandably, in a state of mourning. It will take time, but we have to to rebuild and recover. This is a defeat that is felt deeply and has knocked the left for potentially years to come back – but we have to start trying to now. And to get some ideological clarity in a deeply confusing post-Brexit context.

With Labour in turmoil (not least following Hilary Benn’s sacking), it is left to other movements and parties to begin the fight-back to the rightward shift that we will now likely see. And we must work with the social movements likeAnother Europe Is Possible, which campaigned for a progressive Remain vote, to do this. The left is in a poor place to fight the attacks on workers’ rights and environmental protections — but it is in our hands, and we have to get back on our feet and redouble our efforts as soon as possible.

9. We are still European. It’s vital progressive movements across Europe continue to keep their arms open to the UK. We have to keep working together cross-borders.

Of course, it will be much harder without the EU, but we have to try – the crises we face are international. But as a progressive movement, we must deal with them internationally, despite this huge setback: we are still stronger together, and have to keep working as such.

For now, we are lost and saddened. But we will do all we can to ensure the solidarity we had through the EU isn’t completely lost. We have to.  

Thousands across the world say ‘We Will Fight for Love’ after Cox murder

Thousands of people around the world have paid tribute to Labour MP Jo Cox, who was murdered yesterday outside her constituency surgery.

Over 150,000 people have now signed an online statement by Avaaz called ‘Jo Cox: We Will Fight For Love’, with messages of heartfelt thanks, sadness and compassion.

Later today, Jo’s friend’s and family launched a fundraising drive for three charities ‘close to her heart’, the Royal Voluntary Service, HOPE Not Hate, and the White Helmets (volunteer search and rescue workers in Syria). It has raised over £30,000 of its £50,000 target in just three hours.

Meanwhile online activism group 38 Degrees have launched a ‘Thank Your MP’ action, with thousands writing to their MPs after Cox’ killing to appreciate the work they do to help their constituents and their areas, while the group are also collecting hundreds of comments online to create a card of condolence.

The statement aims to counteract the hate that was shown yesterday with messages of hope, and is filled with comments from almost every country – including around a third from outside the UK.

Here are some of the tributes:

The Avaaz statement says:

‘Jo Cox was a mother, a campaigner, an MP, an advocate for the voiceless and those in poverty, and a passionate fighter for people and principles. She was also a friend to many in the Avaaz team.

‘Jo was passionately campaigning for Britain to stay in Europe. Not just because it was smart, or advantageous. Because she spent her life caring for Syrians, and Africans. She was a beautiful light of love for all people, for humanity. The man who took her life, stabbing her and shooting her over and over, screamed “Britain First”. Her life was taken by a kind of hate and selfishness that she devoted her time on this earth to fighting.

‘How would she want us to honour her? By coming together, sharing love for each other, and picking up the banner for love, for a truly Great Britain, that is great enough to love immigrants, and all people in our one human family.’

EU campaigning has been suspended until Saturday, while some MPs such as Rachel Reeves have temporarily closed their constituency offices. Flags are being flown at half-mast across the UK. British politicians have been paying tribute to Jo Cox.

The Avaaz statement, which has been shared over 7,000 times, also draws attention to the statement from Cox’ husband, Brendan, yesterday:

‘Today is the beginning of a new chapter in our lives. More difficult, more painful, less joyful, less full of love. I and Jo’s friends and family are going to work every moment of our lives to love and nurture our kids and to fight against the hate that killed Jo.

‘Jo believed in a better world and she fought for it every day of her life with an energy, and a zest for life that would exhaust most people.

‘She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous.’

‘Jo would have no regrets about her life, she lived every day of it to the full.’

Tonight there are vigils in in honour of the MP in Parliament Square in London at 7.30pm (details on this Facebook page), in Edinburgh for 6.30pm, in Manchester at 7pm, and at similar times in Birmingham, Glasgow, Brighton, and Cardiff.

Short-changing voters: Why the cuts to opposition funding are wrong

This week the government will formally announce final plans to slash public funding for opposition parties in Parliament.

According to the Independent today, the formula for calculating how the money is given to parties with fewer than six MPs will be ‘reworked’ – in other words, their money will be disproportionately cut.  It’s an incredibly backwards step.

UKIP received nearly four million votes last year, but ended up with only one MP. The Greens received over a million votes and likewise ended up with just one MP. Slashing their funding is an affront to those millions of voters who were not fairly represented.

Currently, Short money – allocated in large part on the basis of number of votes rather than just seats – partially compensates for our woefully disproportionate voting system. Making it less proportional is hugely regressive given that we are now a pluralistic, multi-party democracy, with a need for a strong and diverse opposition.

Polling for us by BMG Research at the end of last year showed that 57% of the public think a publicly-funded political system would be fairer than the big-donor dominated one we have now. And this cut will do nothing to improve people’s perceptions of politics being stitched-up by the big parties.

Short money is designed to level the playing field and ensure that opposition parties can hold the government of the day to account, so this cut could be deeply damaging for accountability. Indeed, an OECD report recently released shows that Britain already has one of the lowest proportions of public funding for parties among developed countries, spending just a tenth of the European average.

The whole party funding system is a complete mess as it is, but this measure risks making it worse. By reducing public money from the mix, this cut risks making parties even more reliant on big donors – with all the potential for corruption that entails.

Until we see a cap on donations and a lower spending limit, taking away public money from opposition parties will just make things worse.

Let’s hope the government think again and stand up for the millions whose voices were ignored last May.

Citizens want a say on devolution

My article for LocalGov.co.uk

This month saw two ‘Citizens’ Assemblies’ come to an end – the finale of a ground-breaking UK-wide project to engage the public in the devolution debate. And one thing that kept coming up was that citizens want a say over the plans to hand councils more powers.

Residents from Southampton, Portsmouth, the Isle of Wight and surrounding areas took part in first ever ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ on local democracy and devolution deals, running in tandem with one in Sheffield.

In Southampton, citizens strongly endorsed the idea that any new devolved body should cover the Hampshire and the Isle of Wight area, with the integration of health and social care seen as the top priority. In Yorkshire, participants voted for a strong, Yorkshire-wide Assembly, with public involvement in the devolution process.

While participants in Southampton were evenly split on whether they support the devolution proposal currently being negotiated with government, they wanted far greater public involvement in the Hampshire devolution deal being proposed. Most said they wanted to stay involved in the process – something that echoed in Sheffield. Clearly, people think it’s time to ‘democratise devolution’.

How did it work? Over two weekends of discussion and voting, nearly 30 participants were drawn from a broadly representative sample – from the Solent region for Assembly South and South Yorkshire for Assembly North – in response to an invitation by polling company YouGov. They reached their conclusions through a deep process of engagement with the details of different potential devolution arrangements.

‘Assembly South’ was only the second such event in the world to include both citizens and politicians as participants in the process, after the Republic of Ireland, with five local councillors participating alongside the citizens for the four days.

In both Assemblies, the participants were given unique access to national and local experts to aid them in reaching their own conclusions on how their areas should be governed in this new phase of devolution. The project has been closely followed by local councils across the region.

Last weekend saw local politicians and other experts giving evidence to the Assembly, including Cllr Roy Perry, leader of Hampshire County Council, and the project is being backed by Alan Whitehead, MP for Southampton Test, who attended the Assembly on Sunday and called it ‘really important and significant’.

The Assemblies come in response to the sweeping constitutional changes currently facing the UK, a year on from the Scottish referendum and with key questions of devolution, English Votes for English Laws and the EU referendum currently high up the agenda.

At their core, what the Citizens’ Assemblies have shown is that when given a chance to have a say, people jump at the opportunity. They have challenged the myth that people are disengaged from politics – people are more than capable of grappling with complex questions about the way we are governed, and politicians across the UK should sit up and take note.

There is a real potential for a new way of doing things – that instead of devolution being a stitch-up between local and national politicians, we can have engagement from citizens to bring new insights and new ideas into the debate.

For more information visit http://citizensassembly.co.uk.

Josiah Mortimer is communications officer at the Electoral Reform Society

Devolution for Wales is good, but where next for the UK?

David Cameron and Nick Clegg were in Wales this morning, announcing further powers to be devolved to the Assembly.

The UK Government is proposing to devolve control over elections to the National Assembly which would see AMs handed power to:

  • Change the voting system for Assembly and local elections
  • Introduce votes at 16 for Assembly and local elections
  • Increase the number of AMs to cope with extra powers devolved since 1999
  • Rename the National Assembly the ‘Welsh Parliament’

Such changes are clearly good news for Wales, bringing power closer to Welsh citizens and paving the way for policies which the Electoral Reform Society (who I work for) has long supported.

Several ERS recommendations have been adopted. Firstly, any change to the ‘rules of the game’ will require the support of at least two-thirds of Assembly Members. This makes sure that these powers require cross-party consensus and that major changes are not used for partisan self-interest.

There are also changes to governance. The Welsh devolution settlement will move to a “Reserved Powers” model, as is the case in Scotland and Northern Ireland, meaning the Welsh Government will have powers over everything except for what it is explicitly stated that it cannot do. This makes it clearer for voters to know who is in charge of what policy area, and makes for clearer and better governance.

But today’s move – including the fact that the government hasn’t been able to offer a comprehensive set of powers – raises again the need for a serious debate over the constitutional future of the UK. We need to decide where power lies, how we democratise our nations and what shape Britain will take in the years ahead.

It’s a debate that needs to be led by citizens – not politicians making back-room deals and delivering powers in dribs and drabs. After the Scottish independence referendum and with more devolution on the cards for Wales, it’s important for the whole of the UK – including particularly those in England – to have their say on our democratic future.

How do we have such a discussion? We need a UK-wide, citizen-led Constitutional Convention to give people the power to decide our country’s future, rather than Britain arbitrarily drifting from change to change without democratic debate.

Where the UK goes next as a union of nations is as yet unclear. A Constitutional Convention would give us all the chance to discuss where power should lie.

So, a good day for Wales. But where next?

Reposted from my blog for the Electoral Reform Society

Let’s make this the last ever ‘lottery election’

First published on Left Foot Forward

British politics is now truly a multi-party phenomenon.

In May, the SNP could win over 50 seats, potentially overtaking the Liberal Democrats, while UKIP and the Greens together currently have the support of over a fifth of the UK population. The era of everyone voting for the two main parties is long gone.

But what happens when this is combined with a worn-out electoral system like First Past the Post?

The answer is: chaos. May 2015 could be what the Electoral Reform Society is calling a ‘lottery election’ – where your vote is worth about as much as a lottery ticket.

The ERS asked polling expert Professor John Curtice from the University of Strathclyde to look at some of the possible post-May scenarios: he found that it could all depend on relatively small swings of the vote affecting the whole outcome of the election.

Take one example. Despite the surge of the SNP to double-digit leads over Labour, small swings in the vote and its geographical spread mean they could either end up with a handful of seats or dozens (see graph). A neck-and-neck Labour/SNP result would leave the nationalists with fewer than 20 seats to Labour’s near-40, while a ten-point SNP lead would almost completely reverse that result.

Scottish_Lottery_InfoG

When the Greens and UKIP are thrown into the mix, the result becomes even more unpredictable. What is likely, however, is that both parties will be disappointed, with UKIP potentially failing to build on their two by-election victories even with an expected 13 per cent of the national vote. At the same time the Greens – though likely to retain Brighton Pavilion – could fail to make any gains even with the 8 per cent they are currently polling.

Yet the Lib Dem vote could to some extent determine the election, with their support hitting the Conservatives harder than Labour. To illustrate this, a Lib Dem vote of 10 per cent would mean the Conservatives need a seven-point lead for a majority. But a Lib Dem result of 15 per cent would raise that to a full ten points (see graph).

ThatThreeway_Lottery_InfoG’s what happens when you try to squeeze six or seven-party politics into a two-party voting system. All the parties are affected by the lottery election one way or another, and while some may got lucky, others are going to be sorely disappointed.

Is this any way to determine the make-up of the next House of Commons? What can we do to make it fairer?

What we need above all is an electoral system that reflects how diverse British politics has become. One positive result of the May election might be that debates around electoral reform come back on the agenda. Perhaps we could even make 2015 the last lottery election.

Read ‘The Lottery Election’ here.

Open letter to the VC of the University of York

Shocking to see the university I graduated from engaging in old-school union busting, threatening staff of 100% pay cuts for engaging in action short of a strike. Let’s hope they reverse this disgraceful position.
Please sign and share the statement below.

University of Leeds UCU - Blog

The following letter was sent today to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of York, who yesterday threatened to stop paying their staff if they participated in legitimate industrial action. If you agree with the sentiment of the letter, please do sign the petition below the letter text.

The form will show you the total number of respondents when you complete it. We’ve had so many responses, that we are uploading the petition responses manually (in part, to allow us to monitor for inappropriate comments). We’re placing them online in this posting.  (last updated 7pm, Saturday 1 November – 440 signatures)

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