Saturday, 19 January 2019

Should Parliament decide, or "the people"?

Dear  Member of Parliament,
     It is not my position — “that it should be the people, not the politicians, who decide on Brexit.”  After the fateful referendum of June 2016, it did seem for a while that the only way to overturn a plebiscite, might be another plebiscite; that the only way to stop Brexit might be to ask "the people” again, in the hope that some had changed their minds. It is a shallow piece of nonsense to pretend that it would be “disrespectful" to ask a second time; flattering rather. But (I think) it was a mistake  in the first place, and it would be a risky gamble to ask the people to vote again on the same question – 'in' or 'out'. But there are other questions.
    If there were to be another referendum, I am beginning to think that my favoured question would be something like: “Should the question of Britain remaining in (or leaving) the European Union be decided by Parliament, or by Referendum?”  I would hope that some voters might have concluded that there is necessary information that they lack; and a responsibility that they are unprepared for. 
    I do believe in (representative) democracy —  as the least bad form of government, and on matters of morality; but not on matters of fact.  I would not try to determine the population of France or the GDP of Germany by asking the electorate.  The butler Stevens, in Ishiguro’s “Remains of the Day”, was asked by a sneering house guest if it was his opinion that Britain should raise or lower bank rate; he wisely answered that it was not his place to have an opinion on that matter. Nor would it be my place to decide that; the best we can do is to elect an honest banker.
    I thought John Major spoke well this morning (19th Jan) on BBC radio 4, advocating a series of ‘free’ votes in the House of Commons.

   Yours sincerely, Ian West
(Middleton Cheney, South Northamptonshire)

Monday, 14 January 2019

The Role of the Speaker

To the Editor of the Telegraph, 
Dear Sir,

One of your letter-writers* yesterday (i.e. 10th Jan) wished that Speaker Bercow had followed Speaker Lenthall who, in 1642, replied to King Charles I:
May it please your majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as this house is pleased to direct me whose servant I am here; and humbly beg your majesty's pardon that I cannot give any other answer than this to what your majesty is pleased to demand of me.
But they surely missed the point: that Bercow was indeed following Lenthall, in using his initiative to follow the will of the House (not that of the Monarch or his Government).

Yours sincerely, Ian West
(* And doubtless several of your readers were equally indignant.)

Monday, 7 January 2019

Another Public Meeting on Brexit?

Another Public Meeting on Brexit?

Dear Tommy Gilchrist,

    Thank you (and Andrea Leadsom) for inviting me to attend your public meeting on 25th Jan. I would have come, but once again travelling abroad prevents me; I fly that morning. 

    Two years ago, I joined Varoufakis and advocated a Norway-style arrangement that would cost, but might last 10 years while we sorted things out. I still advocate that. 

    The next best option might be a second referendum, though there are arguments against.  Of the various sound reasons for avoiding (if possible) a second referendum (what of the cost? should we ask the public their views when they do not even know how the EU parliament is elected, nor its function? what if it has a different result on a smaller turnout?  what is the question? what about having a third, and a forth?), reaching from the sensible to the ludicrous, the one argument that is unacceptably illogical is to say that it is an offence against democracy and an insult to the public to ignore the first referendum. It IS democracy to have another referendum. We have all-but established that the public was both ill-informed and mis-informed at the 2016 referendum, and electoral rules were broken. Two years is a long time. Anyway, the 2016 was itself the second referendum on this topic. 

    The ‘May deal’ seems worse than the above two options. (The Irish problem is geometrically insoluble — a border between UK and EU, but not between Eire/NI/GB). And to sidle up to Europe for frictionless trade but with no say in the rules seems semi-daft. 

    The handling of this affair (both the enthusiastic widening of Europe, and the subsequent ill-informed panic) shows up the British Parliamentary system as weak. The Labour Party has spent 2 years manoeuvring to overthrow Tory austerity; they are neither united, nor interested in Brexit. There has still not been a debate in Parliament on the issues involved. Why? Fear of the result? And anyway, Parliament is not representative. 

    Yours sincerely, Cawstein
9 Thenford Road, Middleton Cheney,

Monday, 10 December 2018

Approaching Strangers

When I approach a songbird in the hedgerow it seem to think: "Shall I sing my usual from the top or skip the odd verse?"

The wary kestrel on the wire thinks "Here comes trouble, but he is not going to get me for sure."

In such circumstances a dog looks at your face; a cat at your feet. A sheep squats briefly, then moves away a few paces and looks at you with alternate eyes. Bullocks run over for a closer look and a sniff, each daring its chums.

Humans can resemble any of these.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Contempt of Parliament

To the Editor of the Times (London),

Dear Sir,
   The Queen has indeed charged her ministers (and not the House of Commons) with the task of formulating policy and managing the day to day running of the country. But the Queen, though the monarch, is not the sovereign; the sovereign is Parliament.
   This status and hierarchy was established in the Civil War of 1642 — 1649. In some countries these battles for supremacy have to be fought every few few decades by successive generations. (See, for example, France.)  In England we have been spared such traumatic struggles by simply remembering the Civil War and its outcome. Let us continue to remember.
   Yours sincerely, Ian West

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

The New Referendum Question

A Second Referendum is Not Undemocratic

(But what is the Question?)

To resist a second referendum shows a Brexit-inclined insecurity and a willingness to exit the European Union AGAINST the will of the majority. 

"Respecting" the result of the June 2016 referendum does not rule out a second referendum. Were it indeed the current will of the majority to exit the European Union, a second referendum would surely confirm that. But there are many reasons why people could have changed their mind. And this new, better informed, opinion has as much right to be "respected" as the first opinion.

However, there are problems about holding a second referendum, in addition to the cost. One problem, raised by Paul Embery (twitter @PaulEmbery) arises if the second result is 'Remain' but on a smaller turnout than the first. 

Another is the question of the validity of Government by Referenda. Are referenda more than merely advisory; a straw poll for the government? Should we not revert to Parliamentary Democracy?

If we do have a second referendum on Brexit, should it be before or after a General Election? And what should be the question? Perhaps it needs to be in two parts. E.g.:
1. Knowing what you do today, should Britain LEAVE the European Union or REMAIN? (Indicate your preference with a cross X in the appropriate box.)

2. In the event of a clear (5%) majority of leave votes over remain votes in this referendum, would you ACCEPT the government's proposal or REJECT it, and thus force a General Election.  (Indicate your preference with a cross X in the appropriate box.) 

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Racists and Racism

Racists and Racism
     Jeremy Corbyn is said to have wanted to add the following rider to the Labour Party’s adoption of the IHRA definition of ‘antisemitism’: it should not be considered antisemitic to describe, Israel, its policies or the circumstances around its foundation as racist because of their discriminatory impact, or to support another settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict”.
    I have been trying to think of a way in which Jeremy Corbyn could possibly be regarded as other than perfectly correct to say that the policies, and manner of founding, of Israel was racist. But, even if his statement was correct [ref.1], it may have been ‘wrong’ to say it. It may even have been anti-semitic to spell out the rider; though there is often a case to be made for telling your friends unpleasant and hurtful truths. 
    Both semitism and anti-semitism are racist. On the 19th of July this year Israel’s Knesset passed a law [ref.2] that itself declared Israel to be a racist state: “the national home of the Jewish people”.  But racism is not necessarily bad. (Who could take offence if I say “Ethiopians and Kenyans make outstanding marathon runners.”?) However, racism does represent a certain type of loose thinking that allows generalizations, which can be productive as well as dangerous.  
    Corbyn may have been wrong in thinking this was the right time to raise a pedantic, linguistic or philosophical point. But what about the political point? The State of Israel exist. There comes a time when the past seems beyond the reach of the law. In the various courts of world opinion (legal and lay), judgements are still pending on the actions of the Egyptians in 1948 and 1967, of Israel in 1982 against Lebanon, 2014 against Gaza, and in 2018, in the Knesset. 
    It is hard to draw a clear line between the living issues and the dead. Perhaps an issue is ‘dead’ when less than half the population remembers it. On this basis Israel exists, but perhaps it should be helped back towards democracy and the rescinding of its law of 19th July 2018. Sometime one has to be hurtful to be kind.

[1]  The online Oxford dictionaries give two meanings for the word ‘racism’:
i.  Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior.
ii.  The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. )

[2]  Among the 11 provisions of the new law, it describes Israel as "the national home of the Jewish people" and says the right to exercise national self-determination there is "unique to the Jewish people".