Tom Brake interview: “Come a general election, its everything to play for”

The Liberal Democrats have witnessed something of a resurgence since the outcome of the 2016 EU referendum. With a clear policy of opposing Brexit – and now with the election of Jo Swinson – there is a clear feeling that the party is now primed to lead a new liberal movement in the UK.

It’s no wonder that Tom Brake, the Lib Dem Brexit spokesman, is confident that the party could fair well in an upcoming general election, saying that there “is everything to play for” and the idea that “Jo Swinson could be our future prime minister” is a perfectly “rational idea to set out”.

There is no doubting that the Liberal Democrats have grown dramatically in terms of popularity, compared to the 2017 general election. The party witnessed their London vote share increase by 20% in the 2019 European elections- a clear indicator of their anti-Brexit appeal.

According to Mr Brake, Brexit came at a time when the party faced an “existential threat” and enabled it to “clear the decks” by developing a “clear position” that would appeal to a broad “range of voters.”

When asked about the party’s stance on the EU Referendum itself, Mr Brake made reference to what he dubbed a “deliberate attempts” to exclude certain groups from “participation”, which he believes contributed to the narrow margin of victory for Leave.

As well as expressing doubt at the ability of the new prime minister to renegotiate a deal with the EU, the Brexit Spokesman defended Jo Swinson’s decision not to form a pact with the Labour Party, arguing that Jeremy Corbyn “has always been a Eurosceptic”.

The full interview can be found below:

May fails to vote for Northern Ireland same-sex marriage, days after Pride Month

Theresa May was not present during voting to extend the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United Kingdom to Northern Ireland, exactly 4 days after claiming to be a Pride Ally.

The Prime Minister released a tweet on the 6th of July addressing the LGBTQ+ community in the UK, saying: “I will be your ally for the rest of my life.”

However, the Conservative Party’s leader was absent from Parliament for a recent vote on whether to legalize gay marriage and abortion in Northern Ireland.

65 Conservative MPs voted against the legalization policy, including Jacob Rees Mogg and James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities, and Local Government.

8 DUP MPs, out of a total of 10, also voted against the bill and claimed that the vote breached Northern Ireland’s devolution settlement.

All 10 DUP MPs displayed interest in voting against the bill, however two of the Unionist Party’s MPs, Gavin Robinson and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, were enlisted to count MPs votes.

The legislation has put in place the ability for Westminster to legalize same-sex marriage and abortion in Northern Ireland, if Northern Ireland’s devolved parliament isn’t restored by the 21st of October.

While most of the United Kingdom has already had same-sex marriage and abortion legalized, Northern Ireland’s status as a devolved government has meant some control over which legislation was passed for the region.

However, Stormont’s Parliament has been suspended since early 2017, after Northern Ireland’s major Parties, Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party, failed to settle disagreements over who will lead the Parliament.

Northern Ireland currently holds the record for the longest period for a state to lack a sitting government, at over 600 days.

Should the two Political Parties fail to restore the region’s Government by this deadline, there is potential for Westminster to begin providing direct legislative focus on Northern Ireland, which has previously enjoyed some autonomy.

During the debating session for the bill, DUP MP Nigel Dodds said: “[This vote] is seeking to drive a coach and horses through the principle of devolution, overriding the concerns of the people in Northern Ireland.”

However, Conor McGinn, Labour MP for St Helens North, said: “This House has failed LGBT people in Northern Ireland before.”

McGinn added: “Tonight, we have a chance to do the right thing. People in Northern Ireland – and indeed across Britain and Ireland – are watching.”

All standing MPs for every Party except the Conservative Party and the Democratic Unionist Party voted in favour of the bill.

The legislation was the result of several years of campaigning by LGBTQ+ charities, and the efforts of MPs, including Labour MPs Conor McGinn, and Stella Creasy.

Mrs May’s Legacy… or lack of it.

Philip May

Countless pieces have now been written on May and her premiership, some deeply critical and unforgiving, others approaching with deep cynicism.

None that I have seen so far analyse her legacy in its true form, that is Brexit and the normalisation of no-deal. This is peculiar, as time again commentators have warned about the effects of attacks on immigrants, for example, since the EU referendum, hate crime has risen sharply.

The EU referendum campaign was deeply divisive, on sovereignty, democracy and immigration, little was said in the leave campaign about how and on what terms we would leave. Correctly so, for the best strategists know that this would have created more fear and less chance of victory. Rather focus on the issues at hand.

Perhaps the remain campaign could have brought this to the table, pressed on whether no deal was a viable solution. Of course the official campaigns denied all such probability. In stepped May as Conservative party leader and prime minister of the United Kingdom.

Shivering with fright about the stance that the EU had taken and the knives that the ERG held, May introduced language such as No Deal is better than a bad deal. Unsurprisingly, she did not believe in this slogan, and later had to retract.

Crucially though, this normalised the idea of no deal, it was given a podium on national television. Frequently ERG members spouted utter nonsense about its economic benefits. Which is the defining lesson, once again those in high public office have neglected the power they hold, the power to normalise absurd ideas. Austerity was politically unsellable once broken down, who would vote for a lower standard of living, but as soon as you engage in the idea that it is for the public interest, and that we are all in it together it becomes mainstream, normalised.

The power of narrative should not be underestimated, yet it consistently is. It will be to catastrophic effects too, where in years subsequent the left will blame Farage et al. for his role in this mess, we will unlikely focus on Theresa May, for she is in the large part complicit, and some would argue the architect.

I take no pleasure in saying that we will not learn, nor do I want to preach that we should be more careful, because it falls on deaf ears. The country needs evaluation and reflection, it needs its institutions to be reformed, instead our main political parties are for better or worse imploding. May will go down as one of the worst PM’s in British history, correctly so, perhaps though, for the incorrect reasons.

History And The Resilience Of The Cooperative Model

The first cooperative in Italy was established in 1854 in Turin, as part of a wave of liberal reformism. As the movement grew, it split into two branches: the socialist branch that was stronger in the North and more focused on worker and consumer cooperatives, and the Catholic branch that was stronger in the South and more focused on agricultural and financial cooperatives. The movement grew to play a vital role in the Italian economy. For example, in 1919 the biggest port in the country was operated as a worker owned cooperative.Cooperatives, especially those of the socialist tradition, faced suppression by the Fascist regime and were deemed as cesspools of opposition activities. People were imprisoned, properties were destroyed, and central organizations were put under strict control of the dictatorship. 

After the war, cooperatives grew gradually alongside an economic boom that lasted until the 1970s. However, as the rest of the economy started to slow down, cooperatives continued their growth. The share of employment in cooperatives has more than tripled since the 1970s, reaching around 7% in 2018. The model, sometimes branded as old fashioned and suitable mostly for agriculture, turned out to be superior in adapting to the modern economy. 

Below are three facts that demonstrate the resilience of the cooperative business model in Italy:

Social Cooperatives

In the 1980s Italy saw two new type of cooperatives emerge; ones that provided social, health and educational services and ones that created jobs for disadvantaged people, so-called work integration social cooperatives. These two types of so called ‘social cooperatives’ were given a legal framework in 1991. The following decade saw this sector boom, with a five-fold increase in the number of people employed in social cooperatives, reaching 149,000 people in 2001. 

With the aging population and the growing share of employment in the care sector, Italy is spearheading what might be one of the most revolutionary transformations in the labour market – giving ownership of the care providers democratically to those receiving and giving the care. The technological advancement is a trend that makes it harder to employ disabled and low-skilled workers, which is also a question these cooperatives are addressing with great success. Below are two facts about the sector, one for both types of the social cooperatives:

Worker owned cooperatives

Italy has over 25,000 worker owned cooperatives, more than any other country in the world. To put this into perspective, the US only has 650, although the population is more than 5 times that of Italy’s. Two facts below show some of the social benefits that these sort of businesses have, as well as an example of what kind of legislation Italy has in place to support the sector.

Retail cooperatives

The largest retailer in Italy is a cooperative, simply called ‘Coop’. It has been at the forefront of ethical retailing, becoming the first European company to adopt the S A8000 Standard which is the only international standard valid for all sectors that can be certified by an external entity and ensures the ethical behaviour of companies and of the production chain towards workers. It was also the first Italian retailer to introduce FairTrade products. 

Below is an example of a project it has supported to help post-conflict areas in other countries:

Emilio Romagno – The world capital of worker owned cooperatives

Emilio Romagno is an area in Northern Italy that has one of the highest median income in all of Italy and it also ranks on top in various indicators of social well-being. The region also has the highest propensity to export in the country. 

The region also has perhaps the highest ‘social capital’ (a term that refers to intensity of interpersonal relationships, trust, cooperation and reciprocity) in the developed world, according to Robert Putnam, who has coined the term and is the leading researcher on the subject. This was measured by surveys that explored, for example, how often people take part in volunteering activities and how well they know their neighbours.
Around 30% of the GDP of the area is produced by worker cooperatives, making it the most worker cooperative based economy of its size in the world.

The Future

The movement is coming full circle, as its socialist and catholic traditions are gradually joining together.

Only the imagination sets limits to the opportunities of the future, and one of the most brilliant platform cooperatives, FairBnB coop is based in Emilio Romagno. It is a cooperative alternative to Air BnB that seeks to become co-owned by the hosts and guests. Instead of taking a commission that goes to the shareholders, the cooperative will donate to local projects of the members’ choice, such as public gardens or historical conservation. It is a straightforward example of a vision we at Coop Exchange embrace – a sharing economy where the ownership is shared. Air BnB faces opposition by the residents of areas that are very popular on the platform, but a cooperative alternative that would contribute to the betterment of the local area would surely be welcomed more positively. Whereas Air BnB enters an area and operates there until pressure from the public forces politicians to regulate it, Fair BnB will seek to help the public and contribute, not extract, value from the communities it operates in. We warmly recommend everyone to enlist their interest in the cooperative on their website

Emilio Romagno has the potential to become the centre of a great transformation of the start up culture towards crowdfunded, user-owned platform cooperatives. It has the potential to not only be the driving force of lifting Italy out of its economic problems, but also become the center of a distinct European tech sector that can rival that of China and the US.

Why the Eurovision Song Contest will never be apolitical

 

It’s that time of year again where Europe comes together for the Eurovision Song Contest, an annual singing competition which pits the majority of Europe (and Australia) against each other for the title.

Eurovision is supposed to be a non-political event. Under European Broadcasting Union (EBU) broadcasting rules, the Eurovision Song Contest ‘shall in no case be politicized and/or instrumentalized’. European broadcasters have to ensure that ‘No messages promoting any organization, institution, political cause’ can occur throughout the entire competition. Otherwise, the country faces disqualification.

But how realistic is this? Can Eurovision remain apolitical (or, perhaps, has it ever actually been apolitical?).

As you may or may not know, this year’s Eurovision Song Contest has come under close scrutiny. After Israeli artist Netta won the competition in 2018, many have used the event to voice their outrage against the Israeli government and its treatment of Palestinians.

In January, a number of British figures signed a letter which called for the BBC to cancel the coverage of this year’s contest. Signatories included Vivienne Westwood, Maxine Peake and the band Wolf Alice. In response, Stephen Fry and Sharon Osbourne were two figures to respond, signing a letter which reminded that Eurovision was about the “spirit of togetherness” and stressed that a cultural boycott was “not the answer”.

From this, one must question why there is such a fuss over the coverage of a singing competition.

To begin with, the song contest is a staple European event which has run for over 60 years. Whilst its importance in the UK has deteriorated over the years, its popularity with other European countries has continued to grow, and on average, at least one-quarter of Sweden’s population watch the final each year. With great popularity comes great attention – this is an event which has the eyes of millions across not only Europe, but the world.

But most importantly, whilst the show attempts to avoid any mention of party politics, the show itself is a political statement.

Firstly, this is a show which aims to bring countries together. The competition was established to bring together war-torn Europe in the 1950s – this message of ‘togetherness’ features heavily in each annual theme. That, in itself, contradicts EBU rulings because it is a political statement.

The message of ‘togetherness’ has also engulfed not only nationality, but gender, sexuality and race, which is here we see why Israel has come under criticism. Whilst some argue that Israel is the only country in the Middle East to accept homosexuality, others question how it can be an active member of the EBU when it disregards the recognition of Palestinians.

Acceptance of gender and sexuality has also been at the pinnacle of the show’s history. In 1998, Dana International became the first transgender winner, whilst in 2014, Conchita Wurst became the first drag queen to win the competition. Winning the competition usually comprises of a substantial amount of positive press coverage, a song with an inspiring message, and millions of voters – both emulated the political acceptance of the fluidity of gender and sexuality.

But this does not mean that everyone’s at the same stage of the political spectrum. This year, the semi-finals have already seen controversy for the Belarusian broadcasters. During the vote counting of first semi-final, Dana International performed a cover of Bruno Mars’ ‘Just The Way You Are’, which was accompanied by a kiss-cam that featured members of the crowd. There were a number of gay couples featured kissing in the number, to which the Belarusian presenter went on to hope that the number would “finally find some cool couples”.

Of course, to love is something that we should all have a right to across the world. Yet there are many out there who still politically declare that they are against such values.

Secondly, performances do not mention party politics, but they do make political statements. Armenia entered a song in 2015 named “Face the Shadow”. It featured the lyrics “Don’t deny/Ever don’t deny/Listen don’t deny” in reference to the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians to mark its centenary.

This was followed by Ukraine’s winning entry by Jamala in 2016. Named 1944, it was based on the deportation of the Crimean Tartars by Stalin in the 1940s. In fact, Jamala even told The Guardian that the song reminded her of present day Crimea (which was annexed by Russia in 2014). However, the EBU ruled that the song contained no “political speech”.

And last year, winner Netta described her song as “the awakening of female power and social justice”, whilst the French entry emoted the story of a Nigerian refugee as she went into labour on board a rescue ship.

It seems that entries are starting to become more and more explicit with their messaging. It isn’t known if this will mean the EBU will imply stricter rules based on how influential and how impactful Eurovision entries will get, and as populism increases in many parts of Europe, the urge for entries to send counter-protest songs seems ever more likely.

The Eurovision Song Contest is a fantastic spectacle, bringing people of all walks of life together. But, it will never be possible to ensure that the contest is apolitical. With the show’s openly pro-European stance, alongside the increasing number of discrete, subliminal protest entries, it’s hard to see a future edition of Eurovision which doesn’t feature a political controversy.

George Monbiot’s Conversion to Anti-Capitalism is Welcome – But Why is he Against Ecosocialism?

George Monbiot’s piece in The Guardian, titled ‘Dare to declare capitalism dead – before it takes us all down with it’ last week, on the back of his interview on comedian Frankie Boyle’s New World Order, is another step on his journal away from green liberalism.

Monbiot writes:

‘For most of my adult life I’ve railed against “corporate capitalism”, “consumer capitalism” and “crony capitalism”. It took me a long time to see that the problem is not the adjective but the noun.’

Absolutely right, there should be no nuancing of different types of capitalism, in the end it is all the same, a system that favours those with capital, over those who have to sell their labour to survive. It leads inevitably to inequality, which you can see all around you if you care to look.

The starting point for Monbiot’s journey can be found in his 2003 book, ‘The Age of Consent.’ The marketing blurb for the book contains this quote:

“Our task is not to overthrow globalisation, but to capture it, and to use it as a vehicle for humanity’s first global democratic revolution.”

This sounds quite radical but the book goes onto suggest a sort of neo-Keynesian approach, and rather condescendingly dismisses socialism generally in a page and a half, in his book. He makes no mention of ecosocialism at all, although to be fair this theory of political economy but fairly new in 2003. Someone as intelligent Monbiot though, will have noticed ecosocialism, so I was perplexed by this omission.

Leaping forward to 2017, Monbiot wrote in another column for The Guardian, where he mentions a commons based ownership of production and stewardship of the land, and participatory democracy.

The commons is an extremely important concept in ecosocialism, and extends beyond the physical land based commons of old (and some that still exist), into areas like peer to peer data sharing and things like the Firefox web browser. Monbiot does say that commons are a ‘non-capitalist system’ but omits terming this as ecosocialism, which it is. Or to be exact, it is only a prefiguration of ecosocialism, and thus sadly open to abuse whilst the capitalist system survives.

Monbiot again attacks socialism in his latest column thus:

‘Soviet communism had more in common with capitalism than the advocates of either system would care to admit. Both systems are (or were) obsessed with generating economic growth. Both are willing to inflict astonishing levels of harm in pursuit of this and other ends.’

All true, but whereas he was in the past prepared to allow for nuancing of capitalism, his new outlook does not allow for any nuancing of socialism. Ecosocialists use the same criticism of twentieth century socialism as Monbiot, but crucially have an alternative theory, which avoids the mistakes of the USSR and its satellites. It is a plan to save the planet and liberate the people from the drudgery of capitalism.

Monbiot admits he does not know what should replace capitalism, but thrashes around a bit looking for an answer:

‘Part of it is provided by the ecological civilisation proposed by Jeremy Lent, one of the greatest thinkers of our age. Other elements come from Kate Raworth’s doughnut economics and the environmental thinking of Naomi Klein, Amitav Ghosh, Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq, Raj Patel and Bill McKibben.’ All liberal types really.

Of these only Klein and Raworth come close to advocating ecosocialism, but there is the suspicion that these writers, much as I like them, want to avoid replacing capitalism, and are looking for some sort of reformed system, rather than throwing it away and starting again from scratch.

Where is the mention of such great ecosocialist writers Joel Kovel, Michel Lowy, Daniel Tanuro, James O’Connor or Murray Bookchin? Truly radical thinkers who put the likes of Monbiot’s muddled thinking in its place.

So, yes Monbiot’s new change of emphasis is to be welcomed, as he now unequivocally says that the capitalist system is the root cause of our ecological ills, and much else that is undesirable about the system too. It must be replaced, but replaced by a thought out system like ecosocialism. It is the only chance we have and time is running out.  

The EU Referendum: Corruption on a Machiavellian scale

“Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are”

Niccolo Machiavelli – ‘The Prince’

Famine, flood, fire, disease, conquer, and other tribulations are found to be among the fortunes that weaken or destroy a nation. Yet, none of these is as great a threat to maintaining an enduring state as corruption.

Albeit, a less often used concept; corruption appears in many different forms, but always as a foil to virtue and aid to fortune. Certainly, there is a form of unparalleled similarity between the “illegal practices” of the Vote Leave campaign and the Machiavellian thought.

It is fitting to think of the most recent revelations from the Electoral Commission’s investigation into campaigning as characterising Brexit as a force that ignited man’s propensity to vice or perversion.

“Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times”

Niccolo Machiavelli – ‘Republic’

“If politicians think they can walk all over us, then we’re going to march back and tell them they can’t”. This was the rallying cry of Nigel Farage as he signalled the beginning of the ‘Brexit Betrayal March’ in which Leave voters marched close to 300 miles to protest against the government’s failure to deliver Brexit. Yet, in what is undoubtedly a far greater ‘betrayal’ Farage announced that he would not actually be participating in the march.

The sense of false hope evoked by this shock announcement is a fitting metaphor for the lies and deceit that accompanied the referendum campaign: false promises, deception and the ironic dereliction of democracy in an exercise that was supposed to enhance it- allegedly.

But it is not just Farage- the self-appointed phoney ‘representative of the people’ that is at fault. Our own government are complicit in the erosion of UK democracy as we know it. Indeed, underlying the principal issue of the referendum today is not about who ‘won’. Rather, it is the disturbing reality of having to question whether or not a lawful, free and fair vote still remains one of the constitutional requirements of the UK; and whether the end really does justify the means.

The UK’s constitutional requirements include well-established principles which value and seek to preserve the integrity of democracy, including the voting process, as well as lawful decision-making. The right to vote is a fundamental constitutional right. The integrity of the democratic process is one of the common law’s fundamental values which underlie the UK’s constitutional requirements in this case. The principle of legality is a relevant constitutional requirement, in this case, protecting democratic values recognised by the common law and applying principles of constitutionality.

But, facts recently revealed since the Prime Minister exercised her power under Section 1 of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 to notify the EU of the UK’s intention to leave show that the 2016 referendum was significantly vitiated by unlawful misconduct. Of particular concern, the Electoral Commission recently found (to the criminal standard of proof) that offences were committed in breach of the legal framework established by Parliament for the referendum.

Vote Leave, the official designated campaign, was found on a standard of beyond reasonable doubt to have committed serious offences, including joint working between the lead campaigner, Vote Leave and another campaign group BeLeave. BeLeave was found to have spent £675,315.18 with Aggregate IQ under a common plan with Vote Leave. This spending should have been declared by Vote Leave. It means Vote Leave exceeded its legal spending limit of £7 million by £449,079, around 6%.

Leave.EU, a registered participant, failed to include at least £77,380 in its spending return, thereby exceeding its spending limit by more than 10%, being fees paid to the company Better for the Country Limited as its campaign organiser.

There is no reasonable doubt then, in logic or reason, that the illegality perpetrated by various ‘Leave’ campaigns disproportionately influenced the outcome of the referendum. In what was heralded by the then Conservative prime minister, David Cameron, as an opportunity to allow the ‘people to have their say on European Union members, the referendum was tainted by significant breaches, amounting to corrupt and illegal practices in electoral law

With the burden of proof having been sufficiently met, one has to ask: why does the prime minister insist on ‘respecting the result of the referendum’. How can the electorate, who are entitled to vote in a free and fair democratic exercise, be expected to respect an outcome that undermines the rule of law?

The term ‘Machiavellian’ is in common usage today, and is usually applied pejoratively in reference politicians. Such reluctance to give attention to the veracity of said illegalities is troubling. That a prime minister, who is now aware that the referendum result was procured by criminal conduct, still proceeds confidently on the basis that 51% of those who voted and 34% of the electorate were in favour of the UK leaving the EU is objectionable. Indeed, Theresa May has placed herself firmly into a Machiavellian dimension: how Brexit was achieved has been overlooked because the focus has been shifted to what has been achieved, namely, that ‘will of the people’ has prevailed- something she urges should be ‘respected’.

Even though Machiavelli acknowledged that appearances are arguably more important than actions, because “everyone sees what you appear to be,” “few experience what you really are,” in the end “the common people are always impressed by appearances and results”. May’s wilful neglect of evidence of illegality in the Referendum will matter more than any posturing before or after it.

By reason of this conduct, and if we are to hold out any hope of salvaging democracy, it must be recognised that it is wrong for the Prime Minister to treat as binding the result of a referendum which, had it been binding, would be void, the result of which may have been affected thereby. Furthermore, to do so is not lawful or in accordance with the UK’s constitutional requirements. Parliament should not be taken to have disapplied principles of legality and constitutionality in conferring the said power on the Prime Minister.

We might consider, then, how often the losers of war are found to be morally questionable, while the victors are seen as above reproach- the notion that history is written by the victors. Ultimately, Brexit leads us to examine the extent to which we are prepared to overlook the dubious machinations of our politicians if the outcome works in our favour.