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.