The colour of my passport

The colour of my passport

I’m losing hope on my next passport being burgundy.

The only way the UK will rejoin the European Union he’s when it’s ready to be a good citizen.

It is clear that Labour’s leadership despite the opinion polls, have a view that better terms short of membership can be obtained. Firstly, i don’t think it’s desirable, and secondly, I’m not sure it’s available. All the intelligence suggests that the EU has no interest in replicating the Swiss arrangement and that the single market is indivisible.  

Pretending that the Tory deal has failed due to its design and that all it needs is “grown ups in the room”, a view reinforced by numerous academics attempting to prove how clever they are by designing a new relationship, Is unlikely to succeed.

At the moment EU accession requires a unanimous vote on the EU council; this would mean the UK reacquires its political rights and full access to the subsidy programmes. This is unlikely to happen while we have a big bill poster signposts that we proposed to continue to behave as we did before we left.

It looks as if the people are ready to rejoin, but without leadership and a vigorous explanation that the opt-outs have gone and we need to be good citizens within the union I think it unlikely we will persuade the EU that we are suitable candidates.

The EU would almost certainly require a referendum to show that the government mandates is supported. It’s been said many times, that the EU don’t wish to play okie cokie with us.

It is sad that the elections to the European Parliament will have damaged both programmes for reform of the European Union. The Federalist proposition will have been weakened by the losses to the Greens and ALDE (Liberals) in the EP, and the growth of the ECR, who are campaigning to return competencies to the member states, and the alternative, “Sailing the High Seas”, which I characterise as Prix Fixé as opposed to a-la-carte, will have its support weakened by the French and German results where the sponsoring Governments both lost support.

I am of the view that StHS with it flexibility would be a better target to rejoin than the current EU or the Federalist alternative but rejoining the EU is needed to fix our economy and our democracy. People’s sovereignty requires access to human rights courts, and the UK needs an internal subsidiarity agreement, which I hope implementing the Brown Commission proposals will give us although the Labour manifesto promises  the devolution without the funding and structural reform to embed such devolution. …

National Service, the Tories are not fit custodians of the military

National Service, the Tories are not fit custodians of the military

It’s day four of the 2024 general election. In previous elections, I have written various think pieces about Labour’s offer, its manifesto and made some criticisms of Tory attack lines. I don’t know what I’ll be doing this time, as I have a number of blog articles stuck in production hell, which may have to wait until after the election.

I just wanted to comment on Rishi Sunak’s promise to reintroduce national service. This would seem not to be designed as part of an effective defence strategy as some have argued for (or on Medium). There are others, such as Nadia Whittome and David Osland who have eloquently pointed out the national service is not what young people need, what is needed his decent jobs, free education, an affordable home and a decent standard of living.

One dimension I would like to add, to raise is that the Tories are not fit custodians of the British military, particularly the British Army. Cameron’s cuts slashed NCO wages and the Army is struggling to recruit to fill the current underwhelming cadre plans; the Army is the smallest it’s been since the Napoleonic Wars. It’s not capable of meeting realistic future demands in the defence sphere, asking them to train/supervise unwilling teenagers is just more of the Tories fantasy solutions design.

Antisocial behaviour and youth criminality are complex issues; Tory sloganeering is no help and they have proven they are not suitable custodians of the armed forces. …

Slogans aren’t bullets

Slogans aren’t bullets

Last week, Keir Starmer visited BEA systems at Barrow in Furness, the dockyard that builds and maintains the UK nuclear submarine fleet. He promised that a Labour Government’s support for strategic nuclear weapons was absolute and total. Here are the FT and the NWE Mail, the latter being the local news paper for the area. He said,

“My commitment to NATO and the UK’s nuclear deterrent — maintained on behalf of NATO allies — is unshakeable. Absolute. Total. The changed Labour party that I lead knows that our national security always comes first.”

Sir Keir Starmer

Some right-wing commentators have suggested that this is just cynical electioneering, and the FT article links the proposal to increase spending on defence to 2.5% GDP, to recent statements of admiration by Reeves and Starmer of Margaret Thatcher. The NWE article quotes  Labour’s PPC for the seat  but it  finishes with quotes from Greg Hands, the current Tory defence secretary, showing no matter what a Labour leader says, the Tories will never concede any rhetorical grounds on the issue of defence, despite their appalling record.

The Tory record is indeed appalling and while Labour’s front bench is busy trolling its left wing on the issue of nukes, it is ignoring the massively degraded land forces capability, the army’s recruitment crisis and the very real threats to NATO & the EU from both Russia and a possible Trump led [or even influenced] USA. The Tories record, having cut both budgets, personnel and wages, and inclinations, the endemic Russophile sentiments, make them inappropriate guides to solving these problems. Even for those who think that Margaret Thatcher was robust on defence have forgotten that one of the reasons the Argentines invaded the Falklands was due to perceived hints from the defence cuts announced by her government.

Starmer was criticised by elements of the left arguing that it was morally wrong for a Labour leader to spend more on a nuclear deterrent while refusing to consider lifting the benefit cap placed by the Tories on large families, those with more than two children. To these critics who think it is a choice, I say the problem is austerity and Reeves’s “golden fiscal rules”. i.e. it needn’t be a choice and arguing it is, just allows yourself to be painted as unpatriotic, a fool or a pacifist.

This country needs an effective defence policy, as well as being able to offer everyone a decent standard of living. An effective defence policy requires an understanding of an effective military capability; while security of supply is important, possibly critical, jobs and wages in the arms industry are not a key success indicator. Neither is the expenditure level, which simply becomes a slogan.

Despite Sweden and Finland feeling provoked into joining NATO, it is an organisation on the cusp of crisis. It was designed to defend Western Europe albeit against the Soviet Union and was and is overly reliant on US military force. Today we have to ask whether America’s will is there. Starmer’s eulogies in favour of NATO are designed to embarrass elements of the Labour left. We can see the EU’s response as it crawls towards common European defence strategies, a direction mildly echoed in Labour’s alternative European Union cooperation prospectus.

Paul Mason has been writing on his most recent blog site on the need to refactor the defence policy to increase the capability of the Army, in his article, Land: the MOD’s “burning platform”, he quotes Sir Patrick Sanders, from his controversial IAVC speech in January, as saying,

“Modernisation is non-discretionary, and it is urgent – a burning platform. Its absence is felt in our recruitment numbers. The army’s size always generates headlines, but the real story is about capability and modernisation.”

Sir Patrick Sanders
from flickr “defence images” BY-SA 2016

Mason makes a more deeply evidenced argument in ”You only need tanks if you want to win”, in which he argues that it is necessary to rebalance the military defence capability to restore the British Army’s capability, increase the wages of the Army,  plug the budget shortfall for current plans, and increase British aid to Ukraine. He also, rightly in my opinion, hints that the ambition of 1½ expeditionary divisions is insufficient for today’s security threats. The budget gap has been caused by overspends on the nuclear deterrent. An axiom of defence and security policy should be that, a reduction in conventional capability makes nuclear escalation more likely, and as in the case in the Falklands, deterrent is not always the nuclear threat.

But this is not just an argument about iron and treasure, Britain’s reputation as a military nation has been deeply damaged by the isolation that Brexit has brought, and the failings of its Army in Afghanistan most obviously demonstrated by the final evacuation from Kabul and Dominic Raab’s failure to return from holiday, although the Army had been failing there for several years.

In brutal summary, if Labour wants an effective defence policy; don’t start in Barrow, you need to start in Aldershot! …

No jokes Mr Mandelson!

No jokes Mr Mandelson!

This article in the guardian, entitled, “‘You’ve got to be joking’: Mandelson dismisses prospect of UK rejoining EU” reports a speech by Peter Mandelson to the BCC in which he reinforces the labour leadership’s argument that the UK will not rejoin the European Union. He states the British people would not want to go through another referendum and there is little appetite in in Europe to renegotiate a new accession.

I just ask how hard is it to say “yes”! The problem with Mandelson’s argument, although shared by others is they do not understand, firstly the damage that Brexit has done to our economy and standard of living and thus dismiss or at best trivialise the benefits that joining will realise and secondly all the opt outs from the European Union have gone. The only terms on which we might rejoin are full compliance with the treaties. It will not be a hard negotiation. What would be hard is negotiating piecemeal variations of the FCTA, which is what Labour claim to want.

This means no opt outs from the justice pillar which should never have been negotiated , compliance with the stability and growth pact and Euro membership, full payment of dues i.e no rebate, and if the the Irish agree,  membership of Schengen.

As for the pain of a referendum, it seems he’s changed his mind, or was his support for a people’s vote just a tactic to thwart a Corbyn led Labour Party. I also remind him, we don’t need a referendum, although it might be best; the EU needs confidence that the decision is the popular will of the masses, and the Brexiteers need to know they’ve lost and get over it.


  1. There are problems with the EU’s SGP but since Reeves’ Rules are even tougher than the SGP’s, they shouldn’t be hard for Labour to agree.
  2. We need to agree with the Republic of Ireland because of the Anglo-Irish common travel area; if the UK joins then so must Ireland.

Image Credit: The picture is CC World Economic Forum 2008 BY-NC-SA; this blog is non commercial.  …

On Referenda

On Referenda

I attended UKiCE’s webinar on referendums. It is available on You Tube, or at sli.do and they said in publicising the event, “The tumult that followed 2016 led many politicians and commentators to conclude referendums and UK politics don’t mix. The 2019 Conservative manifesto explicitly pledged not to waste time on more ‘acrimonious referendums’. But are they really off the agenda? Debates in Scotland and Northern Ireland would suggest otherwise. Contention continues to surround state-wide and national votes, whether on Scottish Independence or Net Zero, this panel discusses whether there is still space for referendums and direct democracy in the UK.” This blog article, highlights some contributions and adds some of my thoughts; they’ll be please to know I shall be having a think.

The panel consisted of its Chair: Joelle Grogan, UKICE, Joseph Ward, University of Sheffield,  Matt Qvortrup, of Coventry University and Meg Russell of University College London’s constitutional unit.

Russel’s first contributions criticised the 2016 referendum on the grounds that there was no plan for parliament’s role after the vote. It’s an important part of Ms. Russell’s thinking.

Qvortrup argues that a referendum is an effective people’s veto which I think he thinks is a good thing. He also argues that it may be a useful tool when changing the rules.

Ward argues that the Brexit referendum was repurposed by some. The debate amongst academics and others of good faith is to seek to determine if referendums can play a role in democratic decision making. The 2016 referendum was designed to overrule parliament which it effectively did; this is why Russel’s thinking about the need for a plan and a common understanding of the role of the referendum in making policy and law.

They discussed, particularly in the light of the Irish referendum on abortion, the role that referendums can play in determining both politics i.e. governance, and policy. They argued that the Irish abortion referendum may have been called because of the constitution but was in effect a policy vote. It was noted that referendums are becoming more common at local government level; referendums are required if raising council tax above a certain threshold and required to change the governance model.

The panel considered questions of thresholds and super majorities. It was observed these were the  most frequent reason for referenda to fail in countries other than the UK. Russell in one of her contributions stated that democracy needed more elements from citizens and the citizens assemblies is one way of achieving that. It fascinates me that academia is coming to the conclusion that collective discussion is necessary for effective decision making and yet the trade unions are regulated to prohibit such collective decision making; strike decisions and the election of senior officers and executive committees must now take place using individual postal ballots. These laws were not installed in order to improve the democracy of the unions, but designed to achieve a specific outcome, that have reduced militancy and weakened solidarity.

The question of information and knowledge amongst the electorate was considered, and it was felt that citizens assemblies were potentially an important way to build confidence in the process. A lack of confidence has been exacerbated by the fact that both EU referenda have been called for reasons of party management and not as exercises in democratic consultation.

Qvortrup stated that the election laws for the Brexit referendum had been adhered to, this is not correct. The vote leave campaign over spent hundreds of thousands of pounds in a breach so egregious that the High Court determined if the referendum had not been advisory they would have demanded it be rerun.  Russell reinforced the need for effective regulation of referendums, especially with respect to social media. Those who are seriously addressing the question of secret campaigning and fake news have much to offer.

During the panel, both Ward and Russell made reference 2 the UCL constitution units Independent Commission on Referendums report. The landing page makes reference to a blog article on the constitution units website.

Looking at the UCL CU’s report on referendums, I need to reconsider my views. The report is clearly of the view that referenda can play a role in politics and ask people like me to raise my eyes.

I am of the view that Issues cannot be isolated; there are stories of some Scots voting for the UK to leave the EU because they thought that it would accelerate the support for Scottish Independence.

It is my view that referendums only polarise, and with a large electorate, a close vote will not obtain a loser’s consent; I therefore believe that referendums may need super-majorities, although why should no-change be embedded in this way.

In terms of mediating between sides of a debate, Parliaments can compromise; everyone’s second best might be more supported and thus more democratic than the choice between everyone’s first  .

The panel’s arguments make me think about the role of Citizen’s assemblies, and timing of referenda and assemblies and thus their role in the process.

To conclude, here are two quotes from the UCL CU’s “Report of the Independent Commission on Referendums”

… referendums have an important role to play within the democratic system, but how they interact with other parts of that system is crucial. They must be viewed as co-existing alongside, rather than replacing, representative institutions. They can be useful tools for promoting citizen participation in decision-making, but they are not the only, or necessarily the best, way of doing so.

And

Wherever possible, a referendum should come at the end, not the beginning, of the decision-making process. It should be post-legislative, deciding whether legislation that has already passed through the relevant parliament or assembly should be implemented.

While the UK has what is in effect a unicameral legislature, with no legal checks and balances, elected by first past the post, I think that referendums are not the first question for democratic reformers.

It’s not possible to have a single vote amongst multiple options that is not gameable. i.e. that provides people with the motivation to vote for other than their first preference although in some cases, people have a dislike stronger than their preferences as it seems the Tories are about to find out. People such as this will always have difficulty in expressing their wishes in a voting system. See also Multiple choice voting systems by me, on my wiki.

 …

Data-driven campaigning: how and why do political parties do it?

Data-driven campaigning: how and why do political parties do it?

I attended a lecture last week, it was advertised by its conveners on twitter. The lecture was videoed and I am expecting the video to be posted on Youtube. I’ve made some notes, some about what the lecturers said and some about the thoughts they provoked.  I try to offer some value on this blog, however much of this article is reporting the views of the three lecturers;

The lectures argue there's little to worry about; I disagree and quote the ICO and the DCMS select committee to back up my thoughts. They suggest that Gen-AI is not yet in use and suggest that Fake News does not have much effect. i suggest that Fake News reinforces prejudice and drives out reasoned policy analysis. I conclude that there are common practices that need better regulation. Regulation's weakness is based on powers and accountability in the case of the Electoral Commission, a lack of will in the case of the ICO and a lack of resources and independence in the case of ONS. I hope there’s enough of what I say to be worth the read. Please use the 'Read More' button to view the complete article which is about four pages long ...

National Service, really?

There has been a buzz in the press about the potential need for the UK to reintroduce national service due to the increased threats to UK security on the continent of Europe. Wow this will excite certain trotskyists i.e. those who support workers militias, but this is unlikely to happen for two reasons.

It seems that commentators have forgotten the reason the UK abolished national service is that the army no longer wanted the responsibility and cost of turning unwilling volunteers into effective soldiers and this is an even bigger problem in the Air Force and Navy.

still from “Carry on Sergant”, no copyright assertion found using tineye

Second reason is that this is a problem caused by governments, specifically Tory governments. Cameron’s defence review in 2010 cut all three forces and delayed numerous procurement/re-equipment programmes. We note that Cameron’s 2010 review was so bad, that he had to do another one in 2015. I commented mainly on the nuclear deterrent, but in this article, I argued [and on Medium] that a weak conventional defence makes nuclear escalation more likely and identified significant failings in all three wings of the armed services.

Johnson’s review of 2021 was an attempt to reposition the UK armed forces so better support Johnson’s vison of a post-Brexit global Britain. In shorthand, the Navy won the review with a promise to double the number of non-carrier surface warships over the coming decade. To pay for this the British Army is now the smallest it’s been since Napoleonic time;  beyond the manpower statistics this has been shown as its  ammunition stores are insufficient to enable the UK to be a constant ally to Ukraine.

For the British Army the last thing it needs is the additional work in training unwilling and often ill-educated recruits.

 …

We can do better than supposed sensibleness

We can do better than supposed sensibleness

Martin Wolf, the Chief economics correspondent at the FT, just before Xmas published a piece of clickbait, entitled, "Britain won’t rejoin the EU for decades — if ever", with a tag line, “The sensible approach for the UK is to seek a closer and more co-operative relationship with Brussels”. He starts with an alleged piece of mystic folklore, that one can’t cross the same river twice, which stripped of its source and supposed wisdom of its age is clearly nonsense. Of course, you can cross a river twice and anyone that commutes from Canary Wharf to Westminster does it twice a day.

This rest of this article, overleaf, article looks at what Wolf said, refutes the arguments, exposes the lack of evidence and concludes that it's a failed project and that failure and the prospect of rejoining cannot be suppressed.

Pipe dream or inevitability

Larry Elliot wrote a piece of click bait in the Guardian on why since Britain is not a basket case, it should not rejoin the EU. He also argued that the growing strongman nationalism, and racism amongst some member states is a reason for avoiding the EU.

I wrote a reply which I shortened and offered to the Guardian, and was eventually published on Another Europe’s  web site. I have also posted a copy on my Medium blog, outside the paywall.

I argued that the economy was in a poor state, certainly worse than it might have been and quoted the OBR and my “Remain” article, from this blog, posted in 2016 that the 4% growth underperformance was about where the forecasters had predicted.

I pointed out that his investment successes were selective good news, and only talk about yesterdays driving technology. He like most seem to fail to recognise that we have already missed the boat on renewable energy manufacturing.

I conclude by arguing that the UK is not inoculated from the racism inherent in authoritarian rule. It must be fought not avoided, starting by the repeal of Tories immigration laws.

I really conclude by stating that rejoining the EU is an inevitability not a pipe dream. …