Tories, Tactics, Tribalism

Looking in on twitter there seems a lot of anxiety around which is understandable given the fix we have been put in by our politicians. The tribalism which accompanies elections in a first past the post system has been unleashed as the parties and their activists square up to each other. This was always going to be the problem with an election.

The only good thing so far is that the Tories who are currently running their party into the gutter, are failing to hide their true natures and creating a whirlwind of sleaze and lies around themselves. No matter how hard they try, Johnson and his top snakeoil sales team just can’t help tripping over their own egos. They have driven out some really sensible moderates who would normally be ushered in to try and explain things calmly to the nation and gloss over the various faux pas of their colleagues. But now we just glaze over when they send someone in to double down on their nonsense because it’s always an over confident self serving ERG rep.

Those of us who remember the Tory sleaze debacle in the 90s will remember that once these dropped balls start, they keep bouncing back in their faces. But as awful as these people and their offering are, we do well not to be complacent. There will be many Brexit weary voters who will be wooed by the lies of getting the B word done. So if, like me, you put stopping Brexit above any other political consideration, this is where we must concentrate.

Keep calling,out the deal, keep calling out the false promises, keep the pressure on. It does us no good to get embroiled in arguments with other remainers and distracts us from our best weapon, the failure of May, Johnson and their cabinets. They lost every vote virtually because they failed to persuade parliament to support them. That’s not because there was something wrong with parliament, it’s because their Brexit policy was a complete failure. For 3.5 years they failed. Theresa May failed to keep her majority by calling an election. She then failed to persuade Johnson and the people who became his ministers or support her Brexit.

Johnson took over and lost nearly every vote. Again he failed to get the support of Parliament and his own colleagues. We need to keep revisiting their failures and their broken promises and yes their cheating. Don’t let it go. Keep talking about it.

As for tactical voting I am all in favour of it. But we must stop getting distracted or angry because parties are campaigning. It’s going to happen and some of it will feel stupid or counter productive. But we have little control over that and only so much energy so let’s try and put it to positive initiatives. We aren’t going to be able to force parties to do everything we want them to do in terms of decisions about who to stand down, and we aren’t going to be able to persuade their most tribal supporters to vote for someone else. Let’s just accept that and concentrate on the people we can persuade.

On the vexed issue of Labour and their Brexit fudge, I have been thinking this through and have an idea. Assuming you want to vote tactically and your best hope for a remain MP in your constituency is a Labour candidate, but you are nervous about a repeat of the 80% rubbish, I suggest that you do the following.

a. Ask them directly if they will honour the promise of a Peoples Vote in all circumstances and

b. If they satisfy you with that answer, put in writing to them that your are supporting them in your constituency because they are promising a Peoples Vote with a remain option and your vote must never be counted by anybody as a pro Brexit vote in any way shape or form. This will keep their minds focused.

The most important thing you can do is talk to friends and family , signpost them to the different Tactical Voting sites if they are unsure what to do and want brexit to go away or end. Bear in mind as polling is done in the campaign, some of the key seats may change in terms of recommendation.

Support your local Pro EU group. We are all doing voter registration drives. If you can help us tap into younger voters too we really need your input.

If you want to campaign and door knock for remain candidates please volunteer. Again local pro EU groups are being given information on who to contact for anybody who wants to campaign for remain candidates. There are key marginals where the pro remain individual with the best chance of winning needs extra pairs of hands. If your pro remain MP is relatively secure maybe you can help in a neighbouring marginal constituency.

But please, if you are outside the tribal bubble like me, don’t waste your time being drawn into arguments with party activists, they aren’t going to be persuaded. Make the case for tactical voting and people can agree or not. Remember if we manage to get a remain parliament and deny Johnson the majority he craves to run rampant with right wing policies and a damaging Brexit which threatens our families and livelihoods, we will all need to work together in a referendum.

Within my own local group in Chester which contains some passionate activists for different parties and also passionate activists who only campaign to stop brexit and not for parties, we are very conscious that we need to come out of the other side of this general election not only intact and together but we need to retain our biggest strength in a referendum, we do not have any party affiliations and we can talk to anybody and it is imperative that stays that way.

Letter from the EU No 1

Dear Friends,

This is our 7th day since we set off from Chester for some new experiences around the EU27 whilst we have the flexibility and chance to do so. Other Half (from hereon in known as OH) bought a motorhome and persuaded me to go out of my comfort zone and set off travelling in a very cramped space for a while. We must work on the move, but we can still do this for now. As you know I have been campaigning for a Peoples Vote and to remain in the EU and was reluctant to commit to this, but I am running out of energy and thought some inspiring distractions might be just the thing to revive my strength. OH insisted I name the motorhome, I think he thought, like a cute dog or pig or something, I would be more attached to it if it had a name, so I christened our 15-year-old Rapido motorhome Eric. We lived on a smallholding for twenty years and had various forays with livestock and anything we named always became a pet and lived until their old age in total splendour under our care.

We wanted to leave the UK before the 31st October just in case there were issues if Boris Johnson had got his way either with or without a deal so on Thursday 24th off we went. I think I need to confess to you my foolishness the day before our planned leaving date which nearly derailed the whole thing. I have been trying to learn how to ride a bike. Yes, I know. For reasons which I won’t go into here, I just never got a bike when I was a kid. I have managed my whole life without feeling I missed out but OH encouraged me to give it a go as it would make things easier if we could cycle from campsites to points of interest etc.

Anyway, on the eve of our departure I was trying to cycle to the motorhome and somehow despite going incredibly slowly I braked too hard and managed to fall like a ridiculous sack of potatoes over and to the side head-first.  I still don’t know how I did it, but I looked like an idiot.  As I fell down, I banged my head, broke my new glasses which promptly put a massive gash on my head.  4 hours later I came out of A& E with several stitches above my eye. Favourite Son who is currently away travelling himself, said “Mum, you will do anything to get out of going in a caravan”. OH growled “It’s not a caravan, it’s a luxury Motorhome”.  Do you think motorhomes are a bit metropolitan elite?  The favoured practice of using other facilities wherever you can instead of the toilet in the vehicle reminds me of when I was a little child and lived in a house with an outside toilet.

Somehow, (unlike Boris Johnson as it turns out) we still managed to leave as planned the following morning for Folkestone then the channel tunnel for France albeit with my old glasses perched on my nose.  I had a conversation with a local musician passing by who stopped to admire Eric and immediately gave me lots of useful advice having used many motorhomes when touring.  I think there is a community out there.  The rule of the road seems to be to wave to other motorhomers.  I have never had so many waves since the days when I drove around in an ancient Alfa Romeo Spider, an instant head turner.

I have to say, although it’s only been a week, on the whole living in a small space has been much easier to deal with than I expected.  It’s just like being in a very small hotel room.  We have managed not to completely fall out or trip over each other and there has been only a little tiny bit of hissing and snapping from me.  We realised quickly organisation is everything and I am so bad at the tidiness thing, but you really do have to put things away immediately.  On the nights we are in campsites with facilities we have made use of the washing and power facilities and planned for the nights of wild camping by making sure our devices are charged on route.  If you are ever doing this, a couple of apps are useful, Park4Night where people post good places to stop with reviews and comments and the ACSI app which also gives you discounts in the off season at their campsites if you join.  How did people do this before internet existed?  It almost feels like cheating to be looking every night to find a spot to camp at the following night. 

We had a little mishap with a kerb when leaving the petrol station at one point and poor old Eric has a little scratch at the bottom ofthe door.  If bad news comes in threes, only one more mishap to go, or perhaps I can count the announcement of a general election as number three.

Anyway, here we are on night 7. We have got as far as a beautiful spot called L’Aiguillon-sur-Mer as a stopover on the way to Bordeaux.  The beaches are beautiful here.  My impressions of France so far have been to wonder with awe at the amount of space here. Wide roads and huge fields. We have gone through flat country all the way so far.  We were in a public park with a stunning quadrant of silver birches in rows, which reminded me of my row of silver birches in our old garden we made in Mid Wales now hopefully as tall and strong and being enjoyed by the current owners. 

We have seen quite a lot of wildlife, in particular some stunning birds, a couple of which I have managed to photograph today so I can identify them.  Also, I have been amazed at how much industry there is.  Factories and manufacturing plants, engineering firms and machinery plants galore in virtually every town we go past. We have stayed away from motorways where we can so we can get a true flavour of the landscape and I have been impressed.  The other observation from the towns and cities we have stopped in has been the great care shown for the look of things.  Even supermarkets are carefully designed and arranged with little design touches in the lighting etc.  The public spaces in Nantes where immaculately presented.  I am looking forward to a few days around Bordeaux to explore the area a little as I expect more of the same and hopefully, we can take in some art (and wine) too.

I guess I can’t end this letter without broaching the question of politics back home.  I am still doing my twitter accounts though this first week away, I hope you can forgive me, but I have taken a little step back as a mini holiday.  I was shocked and disappointed that Labour decidedto go for a general election after members of the shadow cabinet stood on thatstage on Saturday 19th October in London and, as my friend described it, kissed our arses.  They promised they would support a referendum, that we inspired them to fight, but here we are instead, worrying about a general election.  I guess that was taken out of our hands and it’s hard not to be angry. 

But as always, we must face things as they are.  There is only one question for me which is important when deciding on tactical voting, well two really.  What is the candidate’s personal pledge on Brexit and how do we keep the pro Brexiters out of the seat?  That’s the most important thing, get the Remain Candidate in, keep the Brexit-at-all-Costs candidate out regardless of party politics.  Some of us may have to hold our noses and set aside our anger and irritation with politicians who promised us support but let us down at the 11th hour.  

At the end of the day we were hampered by 19 labour MPs and umpteen daft Tory MPs absolutely determined to ignore the Remain movement and actual facts.  Well I have news for them, there was a million of us on the streets of London on the 19th of October.  We did that.  We organised that.  We have a nationwide network of seasoned and now very experienced activists, passionate about our cause.  We have been up against it from the start but let’s see what we can achieve with a massive effort to get our vote out, get the young vote registered and out and get Remain or Pro Peoples Vote MPs into the house of commons speaking for the growing remain majority in the UK.  Remember, like my silly bicycle tumble at the start of this trip, when we started this #Remain journey together, we were laughed at.  Nobody is laughing at us now as on this Halloween we celebrate our THIRD Not-Leaving-the-EU Day within the last 12 months.  Happy Not Leaving the EU day everybody. 

Yours

@redalphababe

Where are you? It’s Time to speak out

Where are you business? Why have so many of you remained silent for so long? I saw an article the other day in Marketing Week complaining about politicians using the language of piracy when it comes to business. It was an excellent article and I wholly agree that politicians depicting business people as “buccaneers” are on a completely different planet to the actual Business community. However I departed company with the message later in the article which was rather more optimistic about how it will go after brexit than I am. It was one of those “it will be alright on the night” type calls. Businesses will prevail and adapt etc etc. I however see no benefits to business in this Daft Brexit Bullshit.

The companies who will survive Brexit and rebuild after being made uncompetitive in our closest marketplaces will be those already doing business outside the EU and the ones with deep pockets and good contacts.

One of the greatest benefits of the SM and CU is that we can sell our wares in Manchester or Munich with very little hassle. Yes of course depending on the industry there are hoops to jump but there are always hoops to jump for anything worth having, But I can assure you, the hoops won’t be magically disappearing any time soon and we will end up with even more bureaucracy. For example our business has had to register for VAT in various EU locations because of our business model. This was an absolute pain in the backside and involved extra costs, but we went to the effort of doing so and now we have our agents in place and month to month all our reporting goes smoothly. This is not going to change if we are a third country. We will still have the same vat reporting and taxation requirements as a minimum and if we were to sell into the US for example, there are several tax reporting requirements to deal with. This is on top of the customs regulations we will have to navigate.

No no no, you are dreaming if you think there is going to be a bonfire of red tape or regulation as a third country. It can only increase along with the costs and probably duties.

Our movement of stock around the EU is currently trouble free, its been easy to manage. The standards we need to exceed are the same in the UK as they are in France or Germany, so no extra layers of complexity there. What this regulatory alignment means is that relatively small firms have been able to access European markets. But what is this government doing? It’s adding friction and barriers to our biggest markets before we have anything in place to replace the resulting reduction in turnover and profit. It is absolutely crazy and can only lead to many companies getting smaller and less competitive in the short and medium term. Rebuilding after a knock takes a long time.

I don’t know why politicians think all this is a jolly idea, but in business if you aren’t growing you are probably shrinking and to reduce our competitiveness in a market of 500 million people on our doorstep is frankly the maddest thing any government has ever done to the UK.

I am tired of MPs bizplaining I am tired of people who have never sold so much as a paperclip to their gran telling me it will be fine. It will not be fine. It will be horrible, truly horrible. Jobs will go up and down the country, businesses will move or close either voluntarily or because they are no longer viable. All this is already happening in drips, a slow ebb which will gradually turn into a steady stream, then a torrent.

If you are a person who believes in preserving independent business and the small business sector, why are you not up in arms? Brexit can only damage these sectors. What we will see is small business swallowed up by a smaller and smaller number of large corporations. The business environment will favour even bigger and even more corporate organisations. The bigger you are, the deeper pockets you have, the more likely you will survive the Brexit disaster which will completely get in the way of SME and small and micro business opportunities.

After the 2008 crash, a niche we were in which had enabled strong growth for several years because it was too small for the big boys to bother with suddenly caught their eye as they scrabbled around to protect their falling revenues and profit elsewhere. Pretty soon our niche was broken for everyone. Margins were trashed, some of our same size competitors driven out by big companies. We had to move on and find new ways to recover margin. After Brexit the same will happen on a bigger scale to many companies around the country. Knock on effects on local companies will become apparent. Smaller players will close the door or sell up if they can. I can see even more family farms, for example, going into large corporations. The independents will be forced out and we will see even greater domination by big business.

For those of us who have spent our working lives fighting to keep our independent businesses in the game, healthy and growing, the mass vandalism coming our way of the small business sector by the Brexit Glitterati is going to be the saddest thing to see!

So where are you? March with us on the 19th October in London. It could be our last chance to send the message we need to test if this is really what we want?

@redalphababe
#peoplesvote #peoplesvotemarch #stopbrexit #smallbusiness #smallbiz #business

Parliament is for the 66 Million

There has been much anger and recrimination this week in the world of politics and the use of inflammatory language came under the spotlight during Boris Johnson’s deeply divisive speech to the House of Commons. His constant use of the word surrender and terms such as traitor bandied about by his ERG MPs and the Brexit/Tory press echoes the kind of language used in death threats to MPs around the country, MPs who either support a peoples vote or have voted against the government. Even MPs such as Antoinette Sandbach have had death threats and abuse simply for opposing a no-deal Brexit having voted for Theresa May’s Deal on every occasion.

Let’s just get rid of the “both sides argument”. It’s absolute nonsense. Only a few months ago Anna Soubry was harassed by a group of men who surrounded and followed her shouting at her. She was prevented from speaking at a rally recently because of threats.

There have been several incidents where street campaigners for the #PeoplesVote and pro EU movement have been verbally and physically abused. 2 personal friends of mine alone have had to endure such incidents and we have seen various other cases caught on camera. Pro EU group SODEM, have campaigned outside the House of Commons for 2 years but it has only been since just before Christmas when far right groups started to appear in small but vocal numbers when we have seen these kinds of incidents against MPs and even journalists start to ramp up.

This group of men and women also, having fashioned themselves with little self-awareness on the french Gilet Jaune movement, were filming themselves having a go at people, getting in their faces, trying to provoke, then using those videos to raise money for themselves, winding up a small group of people vulnerable to their messages into parting with hard cash and using all those terms, traitor, nazi, etc for that end. This all echoes the language used by a man who did in fact murder an MP because he didn’t like what she had to say. No wonder MPs now have panic buttons in their houses.

However, thankfully, all these acts are committed by a very small number of people who are in effect massive anti-democrats despite their protestations to the contrary. The overwhelming majority of people coming to our street stalls are on the whole polite and respectful even when they disagree passionately with us. They recognise we are exercising our democratic right to campaign for something we want to change.

The biggest irony is these other anonymous cowards who throw bricks through windows or write poison pen letters are angry because MPs are doing the very job we pay them to do. The people are not 17.4 million people who put a cross against a binary option in what was, legally speaking, just an opinion poll in 2016. This is a complete nonsense and I am extremely tired of the use of this number to try and silence us. It will not. The people are #66Million and the job of Parliament is to scrutinise and approve, or not, legislation which is in the best interest of the 66 million. ALL the people regardless of what or who they voted for. Their interests are protected by their MPs who are chosen to listen and research the evidence and understand it and vote accordingly, not to to be their delegates.

Something else undermines the 17 million argument. In 2017 the public saw fit to remove the Conservative majority. This was an indication that they did not approve wholeheartedly of Theresa May’s approach and red lines. If they had they would have returned a Tory majority wouldn’t they? Yet we ended up even more confused about what the will of the people was, not less. But Theresa May pressed on regardless and here we are with a multiple of people claiming they know what the will of the people is. Who knows what people voted for, it changes with every day which passes if you listen to the ERG and the Poison Pens all of whom love to move those goal posts.

So what can we cling to? We can rely on our democracy which allows groups like those of us in the Remain Movement to campaign peacefully to make the arguments that are at the core of our unity. We campaign for what we believe is in the interests of 66 million but we do so by following the rules, by making the arguments that make sense, by using evidence, by lobbying our representatives. We campaign in good faith and peace and yes in passion too but never in violence.

But there is something else we must cling to. We must continue to support our parliament in trying to find the best route which is in the interests of the entire population. We must stop dividing the people and most importantly, politicians must stop dividing the people and we must encourage them to this end. Their job is to put the good of their entire constituency foremost in their decision making process.

There are many, many MPs who are now doing their jobs properly. They are scrutinising the executive, an executive who now wants to overstep its authority in order to bully them into following it’s will – not the people’s will, the ERG will. Yes parliament voted against May’s deal but this is because considering everything, they deemed the deal was not right. Even the ERG voted against it. This is not a parliament blocking brexit, this is a parliament doing it’s job. If what the executive is trying to do threatens the well-being of their constituents their responsibility is to stop this, not enable it, and it doesn’t matter what their constituents voted for or whether they voted at all in 2016.

If the executive are unable to offer an acceptable brexit route, that means the executive’s solution is poor, below par, substandard. Politicians should be able to carry out parliamentary business in light of this without fear of danger so they can serve us all. They should also be able to do that without commentators like Brendan O’Neill appearing on a BBC news programme inciting riots for Brexit. They should be able to do that without being pursued down the street by threatening men representing Leave means Leave. Even as I write this, the radio plays the voice of men talking up the idea of rioting by people who voted leave. This has no bearing on the reality around the country. Remain events attract 100s of 1000s of attendees with no trouble and no arrests. Leave rallies attract a few thousand at most, often only a few hundred, and the only violence has been seen from a tiny proportion of men and women of violence in their fringe groups. The country cannot be held to ransom by this tiny group of extremists. Likewise we as campaigners should be able to work using the rules and all democratic means in the interests of 66 million, which is the abiding emotion that binds us and drives us, without fear of abuse.

If MPs, whose full time job it is to study and understand the detail of proposed legislation cannot actually agree which version of Brexit is in the interests of their constituents after 3 years, this begs the question “Is there a brexit which is good for their constituents?” If they still can’t agree on that, they must be allowed to determine a path or mechanism which will resolve that question, taking into account the best interests of the entire population, preferably and unfortunately a referendum. On the other hand if we allow MPs to be bullied or frightened into voting or supporting a particular piece of legislation by government which will damage their constituents and the country, that will be the day democracy dies.

The people are #66million.

A Life in Business, Tomb Raider and Brexit – Revisited

I wrote this in August 2018. Not a great deal has changed. We are still in the EU and long may it continue. For many people it is already too late. businesses have moved. $1 trillion is leaving Britain because of Brexit. I personally know good people who have already lost their jobs and are struggling to get work in the supply chains for the automotive industry. I know people who have sold up or retired because they just can’t face the coming storms. I wrote this to give you some understanding of what it is like to run a small business and updated some information on the numbers of businesses in the UK from the Governments statistics. It’s interesting to note that numbers HAVE dropped since 2017.

I sometimes think a life in business is like playing Tomb Raider.  It’s a strange analogy, I know.  Having spent more hours than I should have sneaking onto my son’s computer in the noughties there are some similarities so bear with me whilst I try to explain my logic.

When you start, the first couple of levels seem easy.  You are well signposted, there are plenty of instructions, there’s lots of information available to guide you and give you some clues about which direction to explore in.  You can, if you have been cautious, afford a few false starts before you have fully committed yourself heart and soul into the game ahead.  Most importantly, you get a huge buzz out of every problem you solve and feel happy as you work your way up, around and through and over all the obstacles towards your goal.

It’s not long before you get on to the harder levels.  There are fewer pointers here. You have an idea of where you want to go but in the words of Oasis, “all the roads we have to walk are winding, and all the lights that lead us there are blinding “.   Every new level brings with it unfamiliar territory. The problems are harder to solve, the obstacles trickier. There are sabre toothed tigers and baddies with pistols around the corner threatening to end your game. Along the way you acquire new skills and weapons.  You make mistakes you lose a life you try again having learned from your mistakes.  But here is where the analogy departs for a while because suddenly your business is your life, it has become  almost your entire life and now you are immersed the consequences of the decisions you must make are very real.   

I am not an academic or an expert or an economist.  All I can offer are my personal thoughts having been a co-director of a small business for 20 years.  In fact, I have been involved in small businesses since I left university in the late 80s.  During all those years we have seen many things. I have experienced dealing with bailiffs at the door and conversely been in the fortunate position of being able to help when others were at a similar low point. There have been times when we had to sell everything we could to help us through cash flow squeezes or borrowed heavily on credit cards to make month end and times when making money was easy and we have been able to happily reinvest in the business to expand and move it forward.  We have had the privilege of building a team of people who do their best for us every day. We have been able to borrow to invest and taken many risks and chances, always calculated but sometimes dicey even so.  Some paid off some did not.  This is life. We make decisions, some are right, some are wrong, some work out, some not so much.  Just as in a computer game though, we only have so many business lives.  Unlike Lara, we can’t reboot and replay the game once all our chances have gone. 

Here is the thing I have learned.  However stable a business is, nearly all companies are really only 3 to 6 months away from annihilation.  From time to time paperwork will cross my desk from a liquidator winding up a customer or supplier and I always notice the same thing.  The implosion after the crisis point is pretty dramatic and rapid.  

There are several reasons why a crisis can occur.  Bang – a change in government policy.  Slap – a loss of an important contract. Biff  – the most profitable product is now out of fashion.  Punch – a miscalculation of stock.  Crash – a sudden dramatic move in currency exchange rates. Kick – a rise in interest rates when over-borrowed.  Zap – a stupid misjudgement on an expansion plan.  

This is not an exhaustive list but any of these things can happen to any SME with fatal consequences for their business.  The liquidators move in.  Suppliers switch to self-protect mode.  All the value everyone thought was there ebbs away and dissipates like Lara’s energy bar, as the customer base drifts off to competitors, stock is marked down, customers find reasons not to pay their outstanding bills and the accountants and bankers who make their living out of the dead bones of SMEs take their cut.  Long standing contacts distance themselves uncomfortably, embarrassed to admit a superstitious fear that failure could be catching.   I look at the updates from these liquidators and I shake my head with sorrow as it could be any of us.  I doubt I am the only one who sees it this way. 

So you see, the life of a small business is  fragile.  We plan, we build reserves, we look at the prevailing conditions, the things out of our control, and we try to make sensible decisions, we hedge against our vulnerabilities where we can, we look for opportunities to get ahead and hope they pay off.  Here is where I come around in a roundabout way to Brexit.  The fragility of SMEs means we are heading for some extremely difficult times with Brexit looming. Remember my list of potential obstacles?  Well for a proportion of the 5.7million SMEs and even some of the large businesses, Brexit, any flavour of Brexit on the menu, will mete out a number of those blows simultaneously.  The companies affected won’t so much be rolling with the punches as knocked unconscious before they have had a chance to even buy gloves.  We could do some contingency planning, we are doing what we can, but when there is a finite amount of time and resource and personnel we need to know roughly what we are planning for otherwise we may as well just buy a lottery ticket.  

If you voted Leave, you – yes I do mean each and every one of you –  have helped to put my business in harm’s way, but not just mine.  A great many SMEs will face existential challenges because of a direct effect on their EU sales, disruption in the supply chain, an increase in their input costs or less directly because of a downturn, which will most definitely come, leading to cuts in their customers spending in the short to medium term.  2 years on and I still have not seen a convincing reason which explains why we are voluntarily following this insane path.  There is no benefit to me and mine, my staff or my business and after asking the question multiple times, nobody credible has ever been able to cite a specific example of a benefit to my business or my life.

My partner and I are both from working class backgrounds, we started out with no contacts and no capital but lots of bravado.  Over the years we have adapted, diversified  and changed our business model to suit changing business environments.  We have battled and fought and sought the tenacity we needed to keep ourselves in the game.  We have reinvested our profits, taken chances, learned from our errors, some of them bad ones.  Some days I look at the uncertainties ahead and the idea of giving up, selling what we can and going away somewhere regardless of the consequences crosses my mind for a moment.  But I know we are not quitters and we will fight on, one problem at a time, one obstacle at a time.  

For many in business however, Brexit might just become like one of the nightmarish corridors in Tomb Raider Level 20 with the jets of fire, a sword of Damocles and a giant boulder rolling behind. There will be too many obstacles coming together in too short a time to negotiate successfully and no amount of stockpiled medi-packs will get us through to the next level.  Don’t be surprised if some players decide to just quietly turn the computer off and take up yoga.

Bland Men Toxic Lies

I wrote this as one of the speeches to be delivered today by my friends at the Chester for Europe demo today 7th September 2019.

I watched some footage today of a bland faced politician being confronted by an angry French woman.  With tears in her eyes and defiance in her heart, she explained to him exactly why she stood with a stop Brexit banner with her British friends.  She has been in the UK for 21 years, longer than she lived in France.  Her husband is British, as are her children. 

The Bland Faced Man tried to present his Brexit as a difference of opinion, like you would discuss what you think about porridge or boiled eggs.  The woman let rip and demonstrated the passion felt by every single person who has been adversely affected by that vote on June 23rd 2016. 

5 million people denied a vote on their very futures remain unsure what will happen to them.  Settled status means nothing certain and there is no protective legislation so a no-deal offers them nothing.  The British in the EU likewise have little to go on beyond unilateral guarantees made in individual member states.

A friend of mine and her husband moved into her daughters spare room this week thanks to a job loss directly linked to Brexit.  Her husband is struggling to find a new job, as an EU27 citizen combined with his area of expertise, Brexit is having an ongoing effect on his employment prospects. My friend said “I know I should be grateful I have somewhere to go but right now all I feel is anger and distress” The poor woman even feels guilty at feeling her justified and righteous anger.

I saw a man on twitter share his distress, the Coroner had confirmed worry about brexit was one of the factors in his EU27 citizens wife’s suicide. 

Imagine that? Imagine having to live with that?

Politicians have created a divide.  In our Families, in our communities, in our country.  For what? What is so good about a future outside the EU? 3 years of asking this have never yet yielded a satisfactory answer from the bland men who sold us their lies in 2016. It’s unforgivable what they have done to our great nation.

And meanwhile, what of our cross border families? These people are YOUR friends, your colleagues, your neighbours, your own families.  Our government cares not a jot about them.  These people with no voice are OUR responsibility, Brexit has diminished their status from being less than equal and this is wrong.  They have stood by our sides for all these years contributing to our communities.  It’s now time for us to stand side by side with them.  

Stop Brexit,

Equal Lives No Longer

This week has been full of turmoil. Boris Johnson and his special adviser, the unelected Dominic Cummings have engaged in a war of attrition against Johnson’s own party and summarily chucked out 21 MPs for voting against their plan.

They have pretended that the British Government is busy negotiating some kind of deal whilst the EU have confirmed that in fact nothing new has been put to them at all, in fact I don’t think anything has been put to them at all. As per the last 3 years the Tory government seeks only to negotiate with its own party and by extension the Brexit Party, in this, May and Johnson are the same though Johnson remarkably has been somewhat less successful having now fired his majority. There is something deliciously absurdly brexity about that particular act of foot shooting isn’t there?

As campaigners, we in the Remain Grassroots have been busy fighting the spectre of no deal. We must continue to do that. Although Parliament has successfully flexed its sovereignty muscles and pushed through the Benn Bill, there are still many holes in the road that we can fall through. It’s not inconceivable with a certain chain of events we could be back to facing another cliff edge. It all depends on the order of play.

Ideally we need Brexit to be settled first before we go into any multi issue general election. After all, if we are to have a general election just about brexit why not just have a referendum specifically addressing it? If we do go into a general election with Brexit as the central question we cannot stop debunking no-deal in the starkest and toughest way. So this aspect of our work, informing of the calamity of no-deal must be kept up regardless of the Benn Bill unless and until we know we are truly safe from it.

Having said all that on strategy, I have been reminded too, this week, of all the core reasons I started to campaign and they have not changed. I hate to quote Theresa but let me be clear, let there be no confusion. I reject all types of Brexit. The opportunity for bringing remainers along to a compromise passed 2 years ago. There has been no respect shown from Leave proponents for the lives and realities that people face. If within the first few weeks, months even, some attempt had been made to firstly immediately secure the rights of EU27 in the UK and British in Europe and secondly create a cross party commission to investigate and thrash out a workable approach which got broad agreement , our remain movement would never really have grown, Thats on the May Government and the No-dealers.

To turn the oft quoted phrase thrown at Remain back to the fence sitters and deal makers. We are where we are. You didn’t manage that, you did not successfully get parliamentary agreement on any deal. Three and a half years on and we are no closer to defining Brexit beyond the catastrophe of no-deal. We have wasted billions on fridges and lorry parks and ferry companies, we have neglected the domestic agenda and still nobody can better the terms of our current EU membership in any way whatsoever. Remember they said it would be better. Not worse.

But the contradictions of Brexit aside, the real cost of the last 3 years has been entirely emotional. Let’s start with the 5 million excluded from a referendum, the result of which was to impact their lives in the most personal and egregious way. As the promises on their security made pre referendum by the Leave campaigners who now sit in government where shredded on the floor of the House of Commons, their initial bafflement and mild concern has turned into fear and fury blistering fury and rightly so. They have been insulted and demonised and discriminated against. The settled status scheme is throwing out stupid decisions to people who have been here for decades. We see fresh new insane stories of filing cabinets full of ancient paperwork demanded so people can finally feel secure. I feel extremely worried of there being a scandal similar to windrush perpetrated on our EU27 friends. The hostile environment in the Home office is still alive and kicking as our friends from outside the EU will attest.

More fundamentally than the procedures imposed though, the enactment of the referendum result reduced the status of the 3 million. As EU members we are all equals under UK law. We were the same. The Leave voted turned EU27 citizens into people who are NO LONGER EQUAL. Their rights have been removed. They or their parents came here exercising treaty rights or came before that with indefinite leave to remain. They have now been told they must justify their presence in the UK. Their history by our sides in the UK has been downgraded in importance. Imagine having to justify your life?

The British in Europe face similar problems. In a way their issues are even worse because the removal of FOM also removes their right to move easily from their current residence to another EU27 country. For some this is already creating business and or employment problems. Whilst some individual governments have laid down laws to protect their British residents, others are looking to confirm reciprocal arrangements and cannot guarantee what will happen without a deal.

So many British are not clear exactly on their continuing rights to healthcare arrangements, pensions, exporting of benefits etc Nothing is certain. But again at the core the argument for me is that these rights have been removed by the British Government against their will. They are now less than equal to their neighbours in their country of residence. The EU can no longer protect them.

Remember in the early days the EU proposed in a document protections for the 5 million with reciprocity but the British refused to sign up to this and preferred to use their lives as chips in their political gaming.

What of the rest of us? Yes, we too are being stripped of rights to work and study and move around freely on the journey our lives may take us. Of course we will be able to try and jump through the immigration hoops that will be imposed on us instead of Free movement but we will be a third country. That means less experimentation, less access to opportunity. Why would an EU company hire a Brit as a member of a third country and mess about with visas and work permits when they are getting qualified applicants for the same job from 26 other countries. The best of the best (and the rich) will always get opportunities but the rest will just have another barrier to get over keeping them from their desired future.

Aha, but what about opportunity elsewhere in the world, I hear you ask. Well I don’t know about you but I haven’t exactly seen any countries coming along offering free movement to the British people in the last 3 years. You would think we would remember that.

We have stripped ourselves of rights and freedoms we previously had, it doesn’t matter if some individuals never exercised or benefited from those rights. I have never been arrested but I wouldn’t want to strip people of their right to a fair trial on the basis I never benefited from that. The point is I might one day, or my family or my friends or my children or my grandchildren. The Leave Vote has diminished our rights and so diminished the individual.

Which finally brings me to some of the minority of Labour people who still think there is something feasible about some kind of Brexit. What are you doing? You are supporting a policy which removes rights. This seems to me something totally alien to your movement? When did you stop supporting progressive enhancement of rights and start supporting removing rights? Get off the fence!

Brexit has divided families, communities neighbours at the deepest emotional level. Loss of rights and the real life consequences of that is felt so deeply by so many people that the anger and determination continues to build every day. This week we have seen the pressure that can be brought to bear with teamwork to stop no-deal. Forget fantasy deals. We are where we are, the public is moving to remain, the time for unicorns whether blue or red has passed. Imagine what can be done when our oppositions parties unite to fight the wrongs of 2016 and take the right steps to stop Brexit.