Monday, 22 October 2018

Marching?

Preface. One of the advantages of being a mere blogger rather than an actual journalist is that you don't have to work to a deadline. Nonetheless, some time that means, having written most of your blog, you can run out of time without consequence. As I did on Sunday when Dr Who and Strictly, followed by a box of Legal Aid accounts to be done, meant my blogging had to be abandoned. So the reportage of this has been lost. But I hope not the underlying argument.

So, start again.

Marching


,On Saturday afternoon I went to Paisley to see St Mirren ultimately defeated 2-1 by Kilmarnock.

We were a bit unlucky but Kilmarnock are a good team so there was no disgrace in defeat. I have nonetheless still enjoyed better afternoons.

But, as I set off to the football, I did wonder if, had I lived in London and my team played there, I would have chosen an alternative Saturday afternoon expedition. Attending the People's Vote demonstration.

And, on reflection, the answer is no.

Now, I should make it clear, that I have no objection in principle to demonstrations. I have been on many, many, over my now sixty years. Most recently in Edinburgh against Trump's visit to Scotland earlier this year. Seldom did I think my presence on such a demonstration, or even the demonstration itself, would make a direct difference. About 10,000 marched beside me in Edinburgh but had it been 100,000 or even 1,000,000, I didn't think for a minute that Trump would react by immediately getting on Air Force One back to Washington D.C. For me, however, it was important to make a personal point.

Any more than I thought the Government of South Africa would ever have reacted to the wonderful "Free Mandela" demonstration in Glasgow on June 12th 1988 (a date of which I can be sure for the poster still hangs in my kitchen) by announcing Mandela's immediate release.

Sometimes you demonstrate because you think it is right to demonstrate. Not just because you know what you are against but also because you know what you are for. And that's where Saturday's event would have failed my test. Not in the former but in the latter.

I have no doubt I would have found, in the vast majority of fellow marchers yesterday, kindred spirits. Nice folk who also grow herbs in their garden, look forward to retiring to Italy or France,  and who currently enjoy nothing more than whatever features on BBC4 at 9pm on Saturday night.

For, like them,. I have believed in the European project all of my life.

In 1975 I went about Paisley fly posting for the Yes campaign, in the company of my father. My first ever experience of fly posting and his last, for he died the following year at an age far younger than I am now. But as a life long Labour man, he taught me that this was a cause greater than Party politics, not least when he introduced Ted Heath as the main speaker at a rally in Paisley Town Hall.

In 1983, I nearly became an MEP by accident. Having been told that it would be "good experience" I sought the nomination as Labour Candidate for Strathclyde West and, to my own surprise, failed to secure it by a handful of votes. Afterwards, Jimmy Allison, the legendary Labour organiser, observed that I had made a brilliant speech. "Most of these people didn't realise that you were in favour of staying in the EEC". He was right about the internal politics of the Labour Party then (and perhaps now again) but I was undoubtedly for staying in. I have always been for staying in.

So why would I have not marched yesterday?

Well, firstly, because it is an impossible demand. We are leaving at the end of March. The impossible demand is not that we have a second vote but that we have it before then. My great comrade Mike Gapes, who I first met in the window between the two historical events referred to above, suggested today on twitter that this this is how it might happen. Technically it might be possible but politically it is incredible. You might as well suggest that Theresa May resign and be replaced as Tory leader by Anna Soubry. That would just as certainly stop Brexit (actually much more certainly than a second vote) but in the real world it is not going to happen.

But, secondly, we should not underestimate the potential political consequence of the referendum result being "ignored". The assumption is that a second vote would produce a different result. I'm by no means convinced of that. It seems to me that the supposed demographic three year on advantage of more young voters (largely remain) being assisted by the....departure....of older voters (predominately leave) is far from being reflected in the polls. But even if that works? Let's be honest, the Brexit vote was about an awful lot more than the technical merits or demerits of belonging to a supranational union. It was a cry of pain by those who feel they are both left behind and, at the same time, ignored. Graft on to that a sense that they have been cheated and more conventional British politics might take a very nasty turn indeed. Think Trump, think Salvini, think Orban. First past the post is a vicious beast, normally used to crush minor Parties but in certain circumstance capable of producing vast swings in outcome once the insurgents gain a critical mass, particularly against a multi-coloured opposition. You need only consider Scotland at the 2015 election to appreciate that.

Brexit, for good or ill (actually entirely for ill) needs to be seen through. But it can be seen through on the least worse terms. And that's where I get annoyed. Not with Corbyn, whose strategy is clearly that the worst possible outcome might somehow lead people to turn to "socialism". Not with Farage or Johnson, whose politics are as appalling as they are obvious. Not even at Mrs May, the rabbit caught in the headlights.

No, the people I am most annoyed at are the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

They,like me, didn't want to leave. But they were in a position to ensure that we left on the least worst terms. Not as a few dots among a crowd of a million but each as one vote in a Parliament of 650.

Some kind of  EFTA deal is clearly the solution. It is not perfect for it does undoubtedly leave us as "rule takers not rule makers". But it does preserve the Customs Union and Single Market. And it leaves us to fight another day. When perhaps the chance to (participate in) making the rules might regain its logical advantage.

The reality is that an offer of that sort has clear majority support in the House of Commons, in the governing (don't forget) Conservative Party and within the EU.

But nobody is making it.

It is time somebody on the Labour benches did.

To say "This is a deal we'd support. It is on offer. Go and get it. And, if you do, forget about worrying about the ERG, or Corbyn's unholy alliance with them, because you will have our support." Every vote, all the way.

No harm to my comrades marching on Saturday, but, insofar as they are Members of Parliament, working out the detail of that offer would have been a much more useful use of their time. I'd have happily gone to London to serve them coffee and mineral water. while they were so engaged.  But for the marching? Not so much.


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