Where Have We Been

I watched the excellent hustings for the upcoming EU elections organised by my local pro EU group Chester for Europe in conjunction with Weaver Vale for EU and Eddisbury for EU. It was very interesting and I will probably write and tweet about the detail but as I watched I was dumbfounded to find the most thought provoking and powerful point for me came from the Conservative candidate taking part Sajjad Karim. The panel were asked what question they would pose in the hustings and he had interpreted it as a question to the audience and he said “Where have you been?”. He was of course, referring to the low turnout and lack of interest in the elections of previous years where he and the other pro EU candidates had to face rooms full of angry faragist/ukip/far right types. The anti EU crowd had been whipped up by their leaders who had spotted the public disinterest and saw the MEP route as a neat way to win political power because Westminster politics was not proving easy to conquer for their second rate politicians.

So where were we? Why did we leave a massive vacuum ready to be filled by these wannabe despots who’s tools of the trade are generating hate and anger in their followers. Farage knew what he was selling when he stood in front off that hateful poster – a nod and a wink to the racist tendencies of his target customers. He knew the groundwork had been laid already by the years of headlines and insane stories about Brussels and immigrants and refugees. The language had been carefully cultivated for so long. Gravy trains, being “ruled” by Eurocrats, regulation being “forced” on us, immigrants coming here versus expats going there, stories about bendy bananas, floor cleaner motors and lightbulbs.

Even austerity played into their hands. The worldwide financial crisis in 2008, a complex set of events, triggered across the Atlantic was boiled down and dressed up purely as frivolous overspend by the outgoing Labour government. Do you remember, we were told there were hard choices to make and we were all in it together? Suddenly there was major concern whipped up about the amount of money spent by benefits claimants. Newspaper headlines bore this perception out, printing stories about benefits cheats with lots of children, getting huge houses and spending all day being driven around in taxis whilst smoking. On TV we were subjected to poverty porn. The people inclined to the right could be outraged at the perceived fecklessness and the people inclined to the left could be outraged at the outrage of those at the right. Complex pictures of individual stories were boiled down once again into a simple binary judgement.

Some of these TV programs showed the unfortunate victims of bad housing policies by government angrily spitting at the camera about how foreigners were treated better than “our people”. A view not really challenged by the program makers directly, they would probably say it wasn’t that kind of programme. But new documentaries appeared depicting Eastern Europeans exercising their treaty rights to freedom of movement in a negative and stereotypical light mainly. Newspaper headlines pilloried Eastern Europeans and covered the refugee crisis in 2015 in the most inhuman way and crucially conflating the two issues.

The conditions were perfect. The scene was set. The shit was rolling downhill nicely. Politicians blamed the the tax paying public, who blamed the low paid public and then in the final scene before the referendum all of them blamed the weakest group, the UK residents with no vote, no political voice, working hard, paying their taxes but with no political representation.

Not only were conditions perfect for the referendum, but there was no more time to lose for the wreckers. Within another generation the majority of voters would be younger people more likely to be pro EU, being an EU citizen was as natural to them as breathing, something they took for granted. This generation don’t get their news from the tabloid papers. Thanks to work done by Labour in the 90s and noughties, they are more likely to have gone to college, so unaffected by the tabloid hate of the EU and having been educated in a more diverse environment they are far more likely to enjoy, approve of and stick with their EU citizenship.

All this time it’s true though, we were absent, we were shockingly ignorant of the in-depth workings of the EU. We took our rights for granted. We thought good sense would prevail. But with a good dose of lawbreaking and cheating along the way Leave stoked the fire of division and spoke to the dark side of people’s natures where they take no care to examine nuance and want to accept simple explanations because that’s easier than thinking or because their lives are pretty miserable anyway so they have little to lose. The architects got this toxic brexit and its associated chaos and hate filled disruption of vital Parliamentary work on things to improve the lives of the people over the line.

At the moment all I am hearing is politicians of all parties telling us it’s the fault of those of us with liberal values that we are where we are. When the ugly discussions about immigration started if we tried to point out the illogical and sometimes immoral position of those spouting anti immigration views we are told we should address peoples “legitimate views” time and again. We had years of the cries “we can’t talk about immigration” when we talked about nothing but. Are the politicians right? Was it my fault when it is they who have refused to tell people the truth? Should I have challenged every single little bit of casual racism or poverty bashing or EU bashing in my life? Well I think there is something in that and I will put my hand up to my share of responsibility on this point. Frankly though we don’t want to go around in our lives having arguments with strangers we meet who are spouting rubbish – thats what twitter is for, but we can influence those around us to grow up with responsible views stemming from critical thinking, in particular our children and families. I am proud to say I have played my part in that kind of intervention at least.

Taking our EU membership for granted is also something that i put my hand up to. Lack of proper engagement at previous EU elections for example, not informing myself more thoroughly was all a huge mistake and when I came to campaign in the 2016 referendum I could have been more effective if I had known even a fraction of what I know now. All this is on me and whether you shoulder a share of that responsibility yourselves is for you to decide.

At the same time let’s not get carried away with the gaslighting that seems to have become the way politicians deal with everything nowadays. The biggest fattest failure is that of those who we actually pay to sit in Westminster, those who represent us and make the legislation that has led us to where we are now. Sajjad Karim was right to ask the question “where were you” but actually the question should have been directed to his own party and the other parties in Westminster who have indulged and appeased the extreme right and used the EU as a convenient body to blame for their own policy failures. Even local authorities and local politicians have used the “it ain’t us guv its the EU innit” time and again. The phrase health and safety gone mad was seized on so local politicians could shrug their shoulders instead of explaining honestly and precisely why certain things are done or decided.

Where were these politicians with their clear explanations of what was being done in the name of country in the EU. I do not blame our excellent committed hard working European MEPs for a moment. They have been used and abused and ignored by their own parties particularly since 2010. I have no idea why they are even loyal to the big two parties. Because Westminster does not want to talk about the excellent work the EU does, or put it another way, the excellent work WE do with our partners in the EU, the press therefore aren’t interested.

The only party which ever puts their MEPs up on our screens is the Farage Circus, old UKIP and his latest creation, an empty hole of nothing but slogans and negativity. Even the BNP were given a platform on Question Time a few years ago. If our pro EU MEPs are not appearing on Newsnight or the 6 o’clock news regularly then why on earth would the public develop any interest in what is going on in Brussels. It becomes a black box to them, only vaguely aware that it does important stuff that affects us in the background. So when the great British public was asked to pronounce judgement on it, they only had 40 years of EU hate, negative or no coverage and no meaningful information or knowledge about what the EU is or how it works or what our MEPs do or why our right to Freedom of Movement, for example, is a terrific privilege for all of us as individuals .

If we fail to stop brexit, we are being told it will be our fault for not voting for this party or that party or splitting the vote or whatever. But you know we are doing our very best to turn back against 20 years of negative programming and powerful forces. If we fail to stop brexit it won’t be because I didn’t vote for Labour or Tory or Greens or Lib Dem or Change UK MEPS. It will be because parties and parliamentary politicians have failed us consistently in the last two years and its time they stopped blaming voters who didn’t vote leave or will not vote leave in a #finalsay referendum and looked at themselves in the mirror. What can Remain Politicians do to stop brexit? Well they can put their party aside for now and fight for a #peoplesvote and if their party won’t fight for that then they should be prepared to work with other remain parties and find a strategy which will help us. Stop blaming us and start helping us. I see the chances are diminishing of that so we are left with tactical voting in the EU elections. It’s the only thing we as Remainers can do to make sure our vote is not counted as one for a brexit party.

My parting note connected to this is on Labour. I am sorry to single them out but why are they messing about? Brexit fans will vote for the Brexit party. Why are Labour courting their vote. Remove the qualification from a confirmatory vote and Labour will find a world of delight opens up in the polls as those remainers normally inclined to vote for them heave a sigh of relief and put their x by their party on the ballot paper. Why are they producing ads and videos about bobbies on the beat for EU elections, WTAF is that all about? Labour are not trusted at the moment in remain circles given the size of the flipping table and all the options labour refuse to remove off it once and for all and they will keep bumping along with abysmal polling numbers until they earn remain trust.

Politicians, put your houses in order. We may well have to accept some responsibility for being absent in years gone by, for being passive or blind, but believe me we are paying attention now, we are present and we will bring about political change in the future so you can never divide people like this again.

Freedom of Movement – Brexit is Personal

Flying to London to Protect our rights to Freedom of Movement. 

My partner and I changed our lives completely by chance a couple of years ago after I broke my leg very badly whilst at our holiday apartment in Cyprus. I was able to get the operation I needed using my EHIC, it was a long recovery and we decided to stay there for a few weeks whilst I was wearing a cast as a ground floor apartment was easier to manage than home.  We run our own small business which we started with a credit card with a small limit and a computer on a kitchen table and have run it for more than 20 years and we found we were able to manage the office and staff for a while remotely.  This winter we had already decided to spend some months here again after downsizing in the UK and we use technology to constantly stay in touch with our team back home and to work from our flat.  

Our business sells into the EU27 as well as the UK, employs people, generates lots of tax revenue and VAT for the HMRC and the single market and customs union allowed us to diversify and protect jobs and growth post 2008, a difficult time which could easily have otherwise resulted in our closing down the business as our original marketplaces were being damaged by the credit crunch and its subsequent knock on effects.  I am of Spanish origin and one of my brothers lives in Mallorca.   Our European Citizenship is extremely cherished for all those reasons.  

We have used our rights to Freedom of Movement to change the way we manage our lives.  I know lots of other people who have used their Freedom of Movement to extend their business in the EU or take interesting job opportunities for a couple of years.  One of my members of staff decided a few years ago to just leave the UK and go to the Canary Islands.  She took a job in a bar and has lived there since, and she is very happy.  She wanted to explore something different for a while.  Her original idea was to go to Australia but she didn’t have the points to do that, but the EU gives us a huge diverse territory to explore, whether it’s a temporary plan or a permanent one, no matter who we are or where we come from or how much money we have in the bank.   Rich people always have freedom of movement because they can buy it. Our EU citizenship gives us all rights to broader horizons regardless of who we are or what we have. 

That’s why despite being overseas currently I have arranged to fly to London for the weekend and join my friends from Chester for Europe on the march on Saturday.  The entire Brexit debacle is a shambles and Parliament will be watching us.  They must know that there are politically engaged voters who are looking at their decisions with anger and dismay and want to make their voices heard.  There was a line in an old TV program that sticks in my head, I don’t know who said it originally, but it is true.  “Decisions are made by those that show up”.   Well that’s why I am going fly 2000 miles to show up on Saturday.

@redalphababe

Righting the Wronged!

Over the last two years I have had many conversations with good people who are at the front of the queue for the Big Brexit Chaos Bonanza.  Their stories are all different.  They are young, old, married, single, parents, grandparents.  They are nurses, musicians, warehouse operatives, civil servants, cleaners, carers, students.  They live across the UK and the EU.  They like literature, popular culture, sport, cooking, eating, watching the Proms, Strictly and the GBBO.  They like burgers and the theatre and pop music.  They run businesses, they work for someone else, they hold down 2 jobs, they travel across the continent as consultants or as tradespeople or as carers. 
Here is what they all have in common.  They were deliberately denied a say on a question which affects their lives and their status.  #the5million.  I don’t think many of us thought too hard about that.  Even now there is recognisable shock when my friend Nicky tells people how she was not allowed to vote because she has lived outside the UK for more than 15 years.  They are even more shocked when she points out that losing our EU citizenship, for her, will result in losing a right to vote for an MEP in the Netherlands and she may even lose her right to vote in her local elections.  She will have no political voice at all. 
At the same time 16-17 year olds were also denied a say, young people who were perfectly grown up enough to have an opinion of their own are the ones who will live with the consequences of this referendum outcome for the longest time. Incidentally these are the same kids we are all relying on to pay for our pensions and old age care.  I hope you were all careful what you wished for when you decided where to put that cross on the ballot paper.
Brextremists are very fond of saying it is undemocratic to campaign to stop Brexit because it was the “greatest democratic exercise in the history of the UK”.  Well I have news for you – your democratic exercise was pretty stinky as democratic exercises go.  It was flawed in a multitude of ways. Not only did leave campaigns (yes plural) cheat, not only was there lying and empty promises by them but fundamentally a huge group of people who would be affected by the decision were ignored as if they did not matter, as if they were objects to sort out later whether to keep or throw away, only measurable in pounds and euros and usefulness to those with British passports. 
Brexiters, you deliberately stopped all EU27 citizens in the UK, regardless of how long they have been members of our communities up and down the country, from having a voice. the people immediately affected by the outcome were ignored.   You stopped British citizens in the EU and elsewhere who had been overseas for more than 15 years from voting and many of the ballot papers to those who qualified did not arrive.   You stopped 16-17year olds from having a voice even though you deemed Scottish youth to be capable of casting a vote only a year before in the indyref.  You tried to tell them they would be okay – everything will work out, of course you don’t want them to leave, of course they would be protected.  At best you guessed, at worst you blatantly lied about your intentions.  The fact remains you have kept these people in limbo for 2 years and overnight millions will have a different status and will have to “register” to go back to their home that they never moved out of.  Millions across the EU have been given no guidance or support by the British government and are relying on the countries of their residence to help them secure their status.  What did Mrs May say when asked in the house of commons?  “I hope they’ll be okay”.  If this does not pull you up short on this subject I don’t know what will.
This Brexit is nauseating enough.  The economic consequences over the short and medium and long term are ridiculously damaging and in themselves should ensure a rejection by a sensible parliament of Brexit – yes, I know we are way short of a sensible parliament.  But the disenfranchisement of so many of our friends, our families, our neighbours underpins my greatest disgust, fills my head with anger and determination to fight. 
On Saturday I will be marching for a Peoples Vote, for an opportunity for a new vote to examine all the consequences we now know will result from the so-called work the government have been doing for 2 years.  A new vote requires a new franchise.  I will be arguing that not only should we have the opportunity to examine the deal, not only should we be able to keep remain as an option, but there is no doubt in my head the franchise should include the voices of the #5million and the 16-17 year olds who will carry the biggest burden of Brexit.
It will be an opportunity for us to Right all the Wrongs of June 2016 and we must fight for all of that.  
#brexitispersonal
#finalsayforall
@redalphababe

The #5million – a Poem

Dealt a blow
Injured by your Indifference
See our hurt and anger
Even families sought to damage lives
None of us did anything wrong
Free us from this madness
Rid us of anxiety
All our plans made long ago
Now drenched in the toxicity of your mistake
Cowards refuse to look us in the eye
Haters profit from our discomfort
Is this what you voted for?
Senseless direction to be followed
Eyes closed
Damaged Lives

by @redalphababe

Painting Brexit By Numbers

A Handy Guide
Zero, cero, zéro, null, nada, zip, zilch.  This is the number of plans that the Brexit designers and implementors had before the referendum, after and even now with only 229 days to Brexit day at the time of writing.  40 years of thinking and they came up with … ONE BIG FAT ZERO.  There was and is no plan.  Chequers agreement was the “almost” plan, a dead hatchling – it was a plan they all agreed to but none of them wanted and was full of things they knew the EU can’t actually agree to.

ONE hour is the amount of time MPs are allowed to view the secret Brexit Impact assessment document entitled EU Exit Analysis — Cross Whitehall Briefing, dated January 2018 which sets out the cost of Brexit under different scenarios. There is great security around the document, MPs are not allowed to take any electronic devices in.  Part of it was leaked early this year and here are the much-publicised numbers for the regional assessments.  

DROP IN GDP
REGION
EEA MEMBERSHIP
FREE TRADE AGREEMENT
WTO (NO DEAL)
London
<1%
5.0%
8.0%
South West
1.0%
2.0%
5.0%
Yorkshire/Humber
1.5%
4.5%
7.0%
South East
1.5%
5.0%
7.0%
East of England
1.5%
5.0%
8.0%
East Midlands
1.5%
5.0%
8.0%
Scotland
2.5%
6.0%
9.0%
Wales
1.5%
5.0%
9.0%
North West
2.5%
8.0%
12.0%
Northern Ireland
2.5%
8.0%
12.0%
West Midlands
2.5%
8.0%
13.0%
North East
3.5%
11.0%
16.0%
As the sharp-eyed without Brexit Beer Goggles amongst us can see, the regions which voted most heavily to leave are amongst the ones with most to lose under all scenarios, the regions in fact who have had the greatest benefit from EU funding and EU membership.  I wonder will those regions be helped in our glorious new isolated world?  Well Tory track record on helping regions is not great as any of us who lived through the 80s will attest.  I will just leave that thought dangling. 

TWO.  That’s the number of days it took for Leave promises to start melting away, like an ill thought out unicorn shaped ice sculpture at a fancy Mediterranean wedding that doesn’t even make it to the speeches in one piece. For many of us, its continuous dribbles and drips of absurdity have created a kind of hideous Chinese Water Torture we wake to every morning.  It’s also the number of years it has taken for the “sunny uplands” to have been abandoned and instead an enticing era of “adequate food” has been conjured up for our delectation.  Even Leave proponents now admit Brexit will cause us damage.  A certain Mr Rees Mogg even surmised in an interview it could take 50 years of pain to get to his great vision of nirvana.

FIVE WAS Britain’s rank in the list of the world’s largest economies.    Phillip Hammond confirmed a slide to 6 in his budget speech November 2017.  As confirmed recently by Mark Carney of the bank of England we have moved from being the fastest growing economy pre referendum in the G7 to the slowest.  The best estimate is that the prospect of Brexit especially the version of it favoured by the ERG fanatics has knocked 2% off what our growth rate would have been without Brexit.
Our recovery after the 2008 banking crisis was painfully slow thanks to a government strategy that concentrated too much on cutting costs, encouragement of investment in property which does not create jobs and not enough on growth strategies and investing in job creating industries.  Brexit knocked us back just at the point we in the business community had painstakingly pushed that elusive ball of growth back up to the top of the hill – and we haven’t even left yet.

TWENTY TWO is the number of months since Mr Fox tried to emulate his animal namesakes and cunningly declared we would use our EU27 citizens as negotiating fodder.  There are many more questions than there are answers.  Some have already voted with their feet to end uncertainty and taken up opportunities in the EU27.  A German friend who has now decided to take UK naturalisation to secure emotional and actual investment here, told me he was very angry.  He could have looked to America or Canada for bigger opportunities in his field but FOM fortunately brought him to us. By voting leave you told these talented young Europeans we don’t want them and we don’t like them. Spare me your cries of “but I didn’t mean those kinds of immigrants”.  One day they are our equals the next day they will have to ask permission to remain in their homes.  No wonder the NHS reports chronic unprecedented staff shortages and difficulty in replacing those leaving. 

The British in the EU have even less information.  What will happen with their access to healthcare, pensions, voting rights, the right to move back to the UK with non-British or non-EU spouses or children or parents? What about the right to move to another EU country in the 27, will they be landlocked?  Will their UK qualifications in their respective fields be valid in the country they are in? Will being outside the single market for services and the digital single market have consequences on their cross EU work?  Tell me how people can make significant plans for their family lives if there is a big dark wall of mystery surrounding their rights and status? Answers on a postcard please.

FIFTY EIGHT is the number of Sector Analysis reports that David Davies claimed had been prepared.  I just couldn’t resist reminding you all of this bizarre and mendacious display from our prominent politicians.  At first, it was a big secret, for Brexit Department eyes only.  After some pressure in December 2017 Mr. Davies finally admitted they were a figment of his department’s imagination.  Mr Davies stopped short of blaming the dog for shredding his homework.  In these bizarre times, it seems that just ignoring being caught out in a whopping big lie is effective in getting away with it.  But why should I be surprised? Are these not the same people who came up with the genius scheme of painting lies and false promises on the side of a bus?

ONE HUNDRED is the number of constituencies who voted Leave and have now switched their support to Remain in a recent comprehensive analysis of polling data by Focaldata.   Most other leave voting areas have now narrowed the gap. 

ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND are the minimumestimates of the crowd at the March for the People’s Vote in June.  It is thought the numbers were much greater than that but regardless,  I was proud to be there in the sea of blue and gold stars, a swell of people determined to bring common sense back to our lives and put an end to this bizarre act of national self harm. 

FOUR HUNDRED AND FORTY NINE THOUSAND AND SEVENTY NINE POUNDS was the overspend found by the Electoral Commission to have been committed by Vote Leave.  Vote Leave broke the Law and has been fined and BeLeave also broke the law and Darren Grimes has been fined accordingly for his part.  The overspend would have bought a lot of clicks on Facebook in the last two weeks of their campaign which is when they spent a large amount of budget.  The DCMS Select Committee published the Facebook ads placed on Facebook by the Leave campaigns through AIQ in the EU referendum. 45% of them were spreading an anti immigration message.   The ads are a mix of scurrilous dog whistles, lies and distortions.  Some of them do not even have the campaign’s branding so people wouldn’t have known who was serving the ad or indeed that it was an ad.  

Most of us remainers didn’t see the majority of those ads because they were carefully targeted to get a certain portion of the vote out or to collect accounts who would be good targets for such propaganda.  Additionally, it turns out the campaigning by Vote Leave continued during the days after the murder of Jo Cox by a far right supporting man, when all campaigning was supposed to be suspended as a mark of respect.

This whole murky world surrounding Vote Leave, Be Leave and other campaigns, relationships with Cambridge Analytica, links to Russia etc calls into question the validity of the final result given the slim margin.  The excellent and heroic Carole Cadwalladr has chipped away at this illegal activity for 2 years bringing us the truth little by little.  I would recommend a review of her extensive writing on this complex subject.

SIX HUNDRED AND SEVEN THOUSAND AND NINETY TWO is the number of people who have signed the Independent petition for a final say as of writing.  You can watch the new signatures ticking in. The petition was only started on the 24th July. 

THREE MILLION & ONE POINT THREE MILLION.  These people all come at the top of my list of Brexit concerns having  people close to my heart in both situations.  None of the 3 million EU27 citizens were given a vote and many Brits living in the EU were also disenfranchised.  If you voted leave YOU have affected the lives of these people. They have been left in limbo for 2 years with little idea of how their lives will be affected.  Worse still they have been unashamedly used as leverage in negotiations by British politicians. Dehumanisation of foreign born people has been a strong feature of the last few years.  Scandalous Vote Leave facebook ads were targeted at people most likely to respond to anti foreign sentiment.  Politicians have spoken about FOM and immigrants as if foreigners a problem and never an asset.  Tabloid headlines smeared  and sneered at fellow EU citizens for years.  An incredibly shocking extension to this is the apparent abandonment of any feeling for the plight of British citizens stuck in a state of uncertainty.  “Why should we care, they moved abroad.   It’s nothing to do with us” I hear.  It seems along with voting leave, people voted to banish empathy from their hearts.
SIXTEEN MILLION ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY ONE THOUSAND, TWO HUNDRED AND FORTY TWO  people voted to Remain
SEVENTEEN MILLION FOUR HUNDRED AND TEN SEVEN HUNDRED AND FORTY TWO  people voted to Leave
THIRTEEN MILLION registered voters did not vote at all
I know how you feel my friends,  but we can’t avoid these numbers, we have to look at them squarely in the face.  Leavers, you are right, you won we lost.  So why are you still so angry and confused?  If it makes you happy then why are you so mad?  Why do you hurl abuse at those who would hold you to account for your referendum promises and the law of the land and why do you tell judges and parliamentarians they are traitors?  Is it because you know how intrinsically weak the numbers are, how fragile the margin is?    Only 37.4% of registered voters voted to leave the EU.  What did they vote for?  It’s all so mysterious like an Agatha Christie novel – so many motives for bringing a disaster to the door of the UK.  Some say they want to crash out without the single market or the customs union, some want the EEA, EEA plus or minus or Canada whatever, some just wanted to give Cameron and London a good old-fashioned kick in the nuts.  Some believed that £350 million more pounds would be sent to the NHS every week because a big red bus said so.  Many wanted rid of foreigners.  Yes, they did, don’t argue, in bigger numbers than we would like.  Leavers, that is something you have to face up to and look squarely in the eye.  That’s on you, not us. 

Numbers are essential for our everyday decision making in our little business so I am used to following them.   It’s clear to me the Leave margin is fragile and that the British public opinion is moving towards the view we should take the time to think again.  Is leaving the EU really such a good idea given what we have now learned?  

Really?  Here is a handy checklist of questions. 
You want to be poorer?
You want to make your neighbours poorer?
 
You want to send all your EU doctors and nurses away because they feel unwanted?
 
You want to get rid of the consumer and market protections that EU membership brings just as they battle against price fixing and cartels on our behalf and focus on finding cooperative solutions for aggressive tax management by global companies.
 
You want your children to miss out on the fantastic opportunities FOM gives them for their lives, their education, their jobs?
 
You want to limit your own chances for a little travel or a spell living abroad later in life in one of 28 countries where you can access healthcare and your pension and all the other reciprocal benefits we enjoy as EU citizens?
 
You want your region to lose its EU regional funding?
 
Is this what you want?

If your answer is yes, I don’t believe you.  

Democracy is not a snapshot of the will of the people in a particular moment.  It’s not a single answer to a simple question about a  complex 40 year relationship with our trading partners and friends to be interpreted as a decision cast in stone when the evidence shows what a bad decision it is.   If that were true women would not have the vote.  Hell, if that were true, not even working class middle aged white men would have the vote.


@redalphababe  #brexit #peoplesvote #stopbrexit #finalsayforall #eureferendum

A Life in Business, Tomb Raider and Brexit

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. 
 

Summary of stats on business numbers from Briefing paper number 06152,
28 December 2017 Business Statistics, House of Commons Library



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.  

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Brexits Fable

A Cautionary Tale 
England was a great and strong leader. She always ran at the front of the pack.  She had lots of friends across the globe. She was a trendsetter in many industries and fields.  Her people were admired and lauded in the main.  She was not without fault of course.  Some felt she could be difficult and prickly and arrogant, but this was nearly always overlooked and forgiven and sometimes her awkwardness was seen as a good thing in making EU a better-balanced team and stronger overall.
However, for many years England had a little Demon of Untruths sitting on her shoulder whispering into her ear whenever things weren’t going so well. When her people were dissatisfied with her performance the demon would whisper “It’s your suit of #EUFabric that the EU makes you wear as part of her team that is holding you back.  Make your own suit of fabric forged from your glorious past.  You need a suit made of pieces of English History, Ration books, Iron, Steel, coal and unlocked back doors all sewn together with threads of gold.  Shoes made of gold encrusted with diamonds, fish and chips and blue passports.  The world will see you for the great jewel you are and fall at your feet. You do not need EU to be great you are great.  You are better than all the rest.” 
In the main England was sensible and wise and was rather partial to a continental breakfast sometimes and for many, many years ignored the silly Demon of Untruths but gradually its poison seeped into the newspaper front pages, social media and onto the tv screens and a kind of hysteria overtook some of England’s people who became scared that the Demon of Untruths was right, and that the EU had secretly and deliberately taken something away from them just to troll them.  
England had a little drink with her oldest friends Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland.  Wales said, “well I know I always complain about London holding me back and EU has given me lots of money to try and help my poorer people and my farming industry depends on EU giving it subsidy but even so, I will go with you on this rather marvellous suit idea.”  Scotland and Northern Ireland looked at the other 2 as if they had gone insane.  Scotland said “This is a bizarre idea.  The suit you are suggesting can only hold you back and it will hold me back.  EUFabric suits have made us strong members of a team and we look after each other.  EU has her faults but as part of her team she helps us in ways too numerous to count and we can continue to improve the way she works if we are on the inside.”
Northern Ireland said “Hang on, as a team member wearing the EUFabric suit I have been able to run side by side with my southern friend on this little piece of ground we share and forge new friendships and relationships since the Good Friday Agreement. Wearing your proposed suit will slow me down and jeopardise my relationship with them.”
Despite the wise counsel and warnings from NI and Scotland, England and Wales were swayed by the seductive Demon of Untruths who persuaded them that the people would be happier if England built a brand new team suit to run in and so she set about making it.
It took 3 years and all England and Wales and Scotland and Northern Ireland’s spare money and time but finally 6 suits were forged.  A grand suit for England, 3 slightly less grand for Wales Scotland and NI and 2 SecondClassSuits for the #the3Million and #BritsintheEU. They glistened in the sunshine and England looked proudly at the chainmail like suits made from the GloriousPast and the 4 original friends set off on the road to GlobalPower that the demon had promised they could find.  England jogged along the path, Wales, NI, Scotland, #the3Million and #BritsintheEU by her side but soon the others were starting to flag.  The suits were heavy and hot and encumbered their progress without the smart EU protections helping them along the trickiest bits of path and steepest hills.  England grew impatient with them and barked at them to keep up.  
Scotland grew weary of England’s bossiness and was exhausted from the silly suit.  She said “Enough is enough, I am going to speak to my people.  Perhaps they are ready for a new chapter not following your stupid ideas, England and maybe we can get back in good books with EU”.  With that Scotland stalked off to examine their options.
NI and Wales were also struggling.  The suits were far too heavy for their little economies and they frequently had to stop for breath.  They said, “England this is really the worst idea you have ever had. You will have to go ahead, and we will try and catch you up”
 #The3Million was keeping up with England so far although she was looking a bit upset but they ran side by side for a while chatting about old times.  England suddenly noticed #The3Million was not wearing the rather smart SecondClassSuit she had made so lovingly for her (it was an Android version of course).
#The3Million said “England I love you dearly.  I love your culture and your music and your art and your people.  Some of my people have lived with you for less than a year and some for many, many years.  But you have ignored my advice and my opinions, and you have told me I am no longer, as I once thought, your partner, your friend, your neighbour, your equal, working together for your success.  Your success was my success for all these years, but it seems this feeling was not reciprocated even though you led me to believe it was.  You don’t want me to have a say in how the England team is shaped so it is with great regret I must carry on my life quest without you.  The suit you have chosen is heavy and slow and holds me back.  I choose the lightweight and nimble EUFabric suit to continue my race”
As England watched her old friend race on she felt some sadness. For a moment she tried to recall what had been so bad about Eastern European plasterers or Spanish Nurses.  She couldn’t quite remember why they annoyed her so, but the Demon of Untruths whispered reassuringly into her ear and she continued on with a little shrug.
 #BritsintheEU was still there by her side in her SecondClassSuit but England was taken aback with the frosty look she was getting.  “But what on earth is the matter my old friend?”. 
 #BritsintheEU replied “England I love you dearly, but you have made a huge mistake and you have ignored my opinion in the matter.  You did not even ask some of my people.  You have now turned my people into 2nd class citizens by making them wear this SecondClassSuit and unlike #The3million, my people find it more difficult to make a change so that I can carry on wearing the #EUFabric.  You have plunged me into a situation where I am neither one thing or the other when once we were all proudly equal to EU”
#BritsintheEU started to struggle more and more in her heavy SecondClassSuit and soon she was left behind by England who now found herself totally alone. 
England slowed down a little, beads of sweat appeared on her brow.  The suit was heavy and hot and not quite so shiny anymore.  Out of a side road EU appeared.  She was looking fresh and beautiful in her lightweight suit of EUFabric developed and sewn together with 60 years of cooperation, friendship, consensus and peace.  She gave England a huge hug when she saw her.  England was rather taken aback with the demonstration of affection but was secretly quite pleased despite the Demon of Untruths jumping up and down with rage at this ostentatious display of European charm and affection.  
England said to EU, “where are you going.  Slow down.  Perhaps I could come with you?  What are you working on? Is it something exciting and new?”  EU looked tearfully at England and replied “England, I love you and your oldest partners dearly.  For 40 years we have run along this road together always in roughly the same direction and together we have chosen our paths and become stronger and fitter and been able to ride the bumps in the road with the help of each other.  My people love your culture and your language and your art and your people but as your friend I must tell you the truth.  You rejected my EUFabric Suit for one of your own. I must now continue without you, working in the interest of those who continue to wear my team colours.  But you have chosen a heavy suit holding you back, anchoring you to a past that never existed except in the imagination of your Demon of Untruths.  We will continue to find ways to work together for sure but it will never be the same again and it is down to my team to decide the direction now without your wise input.  This causes me great sadness, but you have chosen to wear a suit that is too heavy to run in and you must travel at the speed it dictates.  If you do not want me then I am not going to wait for you”
As EU sprinted off down a new road that magically appeared, England wondered sadly what had been so bad about sharing the top table with EU for all those years and those lovely little Danish pastries they served with the coffee were divine.  
The Demon of Untruths whispered, “Don’t worry we always have the commonwealth”. 
Right on cue, Commonwealth appeared in all her glory.    She was looking strong and magnificent in her lightweight suit designed to look forward into a modern world.  The old friends ran side by side for a while.  England said to Commonwealth “We need to forge a closer working relationship together and run together more often.  I could design you a wonderful new suit that would complement mine.  We could get back to be the wonderful team we used to be”. 
Commonwealth looked sadly at England and said “My dear old friend, I love you I really do. My people love your people and I will continue to work in many ways with you.   But recently you have not been very kind to my children and grandchildren.  You asked them to come and help you be stronger and successful. They did that but then you withdrew your protection and support when they were no longer useful to you.  You have made yourself a very heavy and cumbersome suit to wear which you thought would be magnificent, but it will hold you back and you will have to live with the consequences.   I cannot let you hold me back when there are new opportunities and alliances for my people elsewhere to explore. Our paths will cross, and we will run together for spells, but I cannot fill the hole you have made rejecting EU’s suit”. 
England looked at the back of the sprinting Commonwealth with tears in her eyes and felt very alone.  Why was she being deserted by her old allies?  For that matter why had she left her oldest partners behind struggling in suits which were too heavy for them?  
The Demon of Untruths whispered, “Don’t worry there are plenty more where they come from”.  
Japan crossed England’s path and said to her “We can work together still but business is business and some of my industry is now running side by side with EU since you no longer wear her suit.  Her strength and speed and power help protect our people, I am sorry I have had to change my relationship with you.  We were once so close.”
China appeared next.  “Hello England, I love you and your people but regretfully I too must make some changes so that some of my industry can run directly side by side with EU for our relationship to continue smoothly.  I am sorry you have been slowed down by your choice of clothing and we have much to do together still of course but it won’t be the same as it once was”
Finally, along came TrumpsAmerica.  The Demon of Untruths jumped up and down with glee. “This is the one we have been waiting for.  Our dream of the Special Relationship which will make us the envy of the world.  Sod all the others, we don’t need them.  TrumpsAmerica did not at first recognise England in her fine new clothes.  “That’s a very shiny suit. It would look good on my lift attendant in my golden lift.   Anyway, let’s talk.” 
England said “Run with me TrumpsAmerica.  Together we will be great again and rule the world.  I have ditched EU.  I was sick of the flimsy suits she made me wear. It’s always been you in my heart anyway.  Let’s you and I be together”
TrumpsAmerica looked England up and down saying “I am sorry your suit can only hold me back and I don’t want or need hangers on.  It is far too heavy for the road to Global Power.  But I can do some good business deals with you.  That NHS you have, sell it to me and that will lighten your load – I would be interested.  All those sick people.  I could broker an excellent deal with my drug companies and health providers.  They would run by your side quite happily.  Anything else you want to sell?  What about the meat you eat.  My chicken is excellent”
England thanked TrumpsAmerica for her suggestions of business deals and told her she would give it some thought.  As she ran along the road exhausted and weighed down by her Suit of the Past doing a deal here and there – one with Lichtenstein, one with Easter Island, a little deal with Albania, a couple of little deals on scones to Australia, she couldn’t help but think about the old days when she ran at the front of the pack and when people looked to her for leadership and she wondered how she had lost so much good will and friendship in so short a time.  The Demon of Untruths laughed and laughed and laughed.
The end.