Anna Soubry has started her campaign inauspiciously, with a tweet that is flatly untrue. She said that Greg Marshall had been imposed on Broxtowe Labour over me. As I said here (and I’m sure she’s read), I withdrew my application, because on reflection I felt that Greg would make a better candidate, not least as he’s much more on top of local affairs than I am now. What’s more, I recommended his selection to the party.
So I politely tweeted back to Anna asking her to correct her tweet. As far as I know, she hasn’t, and is presumably relying on social media to keep passing on fake news. LibDem David Watts crafted his version a little more indirectly, saying: “The Labour party chose not to reselect Nick Palmer” – this is true, but only in the silly sense that they didn’t reselect me because I wasn’t seeking reselection. Duh.
People would respect politics more if we simply said what we stood for instead of wasting time with this sort of innuendo. So let me take my own advice. Liberated from the task of chasing votes, I’d like in the coming weeks to discuss some national issues which will come up during the campaign. What I want to do is discuss them as objectively as possible and help assess what we think of the different parties’ stance.
First, Brexit. There are two incontrovertible facts. We have voted to leave. And we have no real idea how the negotiations will turn out.
My starting point is that although I voted Remain and I think we will come to feel that Brexit was a mistake, we need to make an honest effort to make it work – democracy requires nothing less. Equally, if it clearly isn’t working out and most Leave voters change their minds, then it’s not undemocratic to foresee thinking again.
So the sequence needs to be this:
- During the coming election, parties need to state clearly what their priorities are for the negotiations, and how they will let Parliament respond to the outcome.
- After the election, whoever is elected needs to negotiate honestly and in good faith on that basis, making compromises with the lesser priorities as needed to reach a deal.
- If a deal is reached, it needs to be put to Parliament. If MPs approve it, we’re out. If they don’t, then the Government needs to go back and try to renegotiate the issues that worried MPs most.
3A. If the renegotiation fails, then MPs need to go back to the voters to ask if they still want to leave in view of the failure.
3B. If the renegotiation succeeds and Parliament now approves, we’re out.
- If a deal is NOT reached, then 3A applies, except that there is no longer an option to “accept the bad deal”.
The party positions at present are:
The Conservatives are giving priority to restricting immigration. They are tacitly accepting that we will have restricted access to the Single Market, and seem open to a compromise on the money to be paid to the EU to cover our past commitments.
Labour are giving priority to Single Market access and employment rights. They recognise that some compromise on immigration may be needed,.
The LibDems want a fresh referendum, regardless of the negotiations, essentially to ask voters “Are you sure?”
UKIP reject any deal that involves compromising on immigration or paying significant money to the EU.
Unsurprisingly, I prefer the Labour position here. I know that Greg Marshall agrees although I know that he extends his “red lines” to include rights for EU nationals & expats, workers’ rights and strong environmental protections. He certainly doesn’t support Teresa May’s apparent drive for a low wage, corporate tax haven for big business.
“It is important our liberal democracy is upheld and this is a primary factor. Our citizens via the referendum said we should leave the EU. Theresa May expects Britain to leave while paying nothing, and she expects the talks to remain secret, most possibly to hide the financial objectives of the City of London although Europe’s response highlights these expectations as illusory. Labour’s position is clear: it would not walk away without a deal. Specifically, Brexit negotiations need to reinforce single market membership matching today’s benefits”.
There isn’t any doubt at all that restricting Single Market access will do serious damage to our economy – we can’t hamper trade with all 27 of our immediate neighbours without consequences. I think that the temptation for a Conservative government to take the chance to water down employment rights must be resisted.
I don’t think that simply asking voters to think again before the negotiations would be either democratic or sensible. But should we be willing to reconsider Brexit if it all goes pear-shaped? Yes – just like a General Election, a democratic decision must be respected but not treated as final and forever – as the economist Paul Samuelson said, “When events change, I may change my mind. What do you do?” A decision to leave regardless of whether it looks disastrous would not be democratic but pig-headed. In that situation, voters should be asked if they still want to leave.
The political problem is that if the Conservatives get a huge majority than we will indeed leave regardless of the outcome, without any fresh chance for voters to assess the situation. Even pro-Remain MPs like Anna Soubry have turned out to fold or abstain in the interest of party loyalty when it comes to actual votes in Parliament. When you come to vote, it’s worth considering if you really want to vote Conservative and help create that unthinking huge majority?