Gammons, remoaners and everyone else

Immediately after Theresa May took power following the referendum she had a brief window of opportunity to unite the country behind a common course of action. Given the narrowness of the victory for the ‘leave’ side, a leader who genuinely had the interests of the country at heart would have aimed for the greatest possible degree of consensus.

Instead, she was weak – pathetically weak – and decided to ignore the 48.1% who had voted ‘remain’ – which, of course, included her. But her decision-making turned out to be far worse than weakness. The appalling tone in which political debate is currently conducted is due in large part to her disgusting ‘citizens of nowhere’ speech. I hope that she regrets her choices, but I’m not convinced that she does.

Her catastrophic miscalculations during the process of leaving the EU (Davis, Johnson and Fox! ECJ red lines! early election! no customs union! no to the EEA! no plan!) and in particular, her choice of words, have led directly to the country’s current difficulties.

Once a genie is out of a bottle it is difficult to see how it will ever go back in. It helps no-one to demonise the ‘other’ as a gammon or a remoaner or anything else. What’s required now is a way of reconciling differences, so that the minimum possible damage to the people of the UK results from the Brexit nightmare. You don’t reconcile different groups to each other by hurling insults. More importantly, there’s another group to consider (certainly the majority) – everyone else. They certainly won’t be won over by such childish name-calling.

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Politics in the UK needs to become less of a zero-sum game, and adopt structures that encourage consensus and power sharing. Electoral reform is therefore an essential prerequisite for a post-Brexit society, not a nice to have.

The country will need to find a new common cause – a positive one, rather than harking back to the dark days of Empire – to enable the current divisions to start to be repaired. No number of royal weddings or appeals to a mythical bulldog spirit will deliver this.

However, my fear that it is now far too late to have any reasonable chance of finding a way out of the mess the country is in for a generation or more. Many people I know view the inevitable economic and cultural damage that Brexit is causing as being sunk cost, but the damage will be lasting. Public discourse has been seemingly poisoned beyond repair. If there is to be a realignment of politicians across parties, it will come too late to save us by next March. And a realignment will never happen if all we do is insult each other. Political differences are the life-blood of a healthy democracy, but they need to be expressed constructively.

People of goodwill must work together to defeat the intolerance that has descended on our country. Delivering such an outcome would be a truly patriotic cause worth supporting.

Pauline Latham MP on the impact of leaving Euratom and the EMA

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently wrote to Pauline Latham, MP for Mid-Derbyshire, to ask about the impact of leaving Euratom and the EMA on lymphoma patients (*).

My first question was:

I understand that your government intends to withdraw from Euratom as part of our exit from the European Union. Could you advise me what the impact of this decision will be on the availability of medical radioisotopes used in the treatment of my condition, for example, during a PET/CT scan.

The substantive response to this question came in the 5th paragraph of her letter to me.

I do not believe that leaving Euratom will have any adverse effect on the supply of medical radio-isotopes. Contrary to what has been in some reports, medical radio-isotopes are not classed as special fissile material and are not subject to nuclear safeguards. Therefore, the UK’s ability to import medical isotopes from Europe and the rest of the world will not be affected.

This is a clear response – albeit one that is at odds with independent fact checkers fullfact.org, who state that this belief

[…] isn’t certain, and will depend on what future arrangements are negotiated. The UK may find it harder to guarantee a supply after leaving.

That my MP is happy to be held accountable for any interruption in supply of medical radioisotopes caused by an exit from Euratom and the EU is therefore commendable.

My second question was:

Furthermore, I also understand that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has decided to relocate from London and that as part of our exit from the European Union, alternative arrangements to approve medicines will need to be made. Could you reassure me that plans have been enacted to ensure that approvals will not be disrupted after our exit, and that there will be no additional waiting time for new treatments to be approved compared to citizens of the other 27 European Union countries?

Her response to this concern was rather less clear-cut.

The UK is fully committed to continuing the close working relationship with our European partners, and as part of the negotiations the Government will discuss with the EU and Member States how best to continue cooperation in the field of medicines regulation (including with the European Medicines Agency).

 

Our aim is to ensure that patients in the UK and across the EU continue to be able to access the best and most innovative medicines, and be assured that their safety is protected through the strongest regulatory framework and sharing of data.

We’re 13 months away from our EU exit. Hope is not a strategy. There’s no obvious plan here as far as I can work out and her answer worries me a lot. Especially when you hear Leslie Galloway, the chair of the Ethical Medicines Industry Group, talk about the issue. He provides a cogent argument that the consequences of leaving the EU will be that new medicines will be delayed by up to two years. For mantle cell lymphoma patients, such a delay could be the literal difference between life and death.

 

I start my first cycle of chemotherapy on Thursday. Many people currently seem to think that Brexit is purely about what kind of trade deals we can strike. It quite clearly isn’t. We need to remember that, and make sure that our MPs remain accountable for all of their decisions on this matter.

 

 

(*) A copy of my letter is available here and the reply is here.

March 1st: chemotherapy cycle one

The PET/CT scan results came back on 14th February. The comparison with November was startling. It means I’ll be having my first cycle of six chemotherapy sessions on March 1st. Before then I’ll be going back for a talk with one of the specialist nurses to go through the process once more. I’m also due to go back in to see the consultant to sign the consent forms for treatment. Then, a couple of days later, I’ll be punting off into the unknown. A heady cocktail of Cyclophosphamide, Doxorubicin, Vincristine and Prednisolone will be used. In later treatment cycles these will be joined by Rituximab. On the even-numbered cycles I’ll be having high dose Cytarabine, which means a hospital stay of a few days. I’ve never been hospitalised before.

When I heard the news, my overriding emotion was one of … excitement. Which quickly felt wrong, but as I’m new to all of this perhaps it was excusable. Being on watch and wait for nearly four years has been great. I’ve been able to do lots of things that I otherwise wouldn’t have done, but it has sometimes been difficult to cope with the waiting. Moving on to a phase where I’ll actually be doing something to address the lymphoma rather than waiting for it to get worse did, initially, seem exciting.

I’m anticipating that it will seem rather less exciting once the side effects of treatment kick in. Perhaps in much the same way that some people who voted to leave the EU are finding the prospect of blue passports exciting now, but will eventually come to realise that our time in the EU was infinitely preferable. (And didn’t actually stop us from having a blue, pink, green or polka dot patterned passport either).

Carrying on in a political vein, I’ve recently written to my MP. I’ve asked her what her government is doing to mitigate the impact of leaving Euratom for patients who, like me, rely on medical radioisotopes for diagnostics.

I’ve also asked her what her government is doing to mitigate the impact of leaving the EMA when it comes to the approval of new lymphoma treatments. As there’s no cure for MCL at present, but it appears that one may be on the horizon, delays in approvals of even a few months could be fatal. I’ve promised to publish her response here should she choose to make one, as it should be of interest to anyone in a similar position.

Lord Digby Jones is right – we should never give in to bullies

I find myself intrigued by Lord Digby Jones’ recent tweet.

Lord Digby Jones tweet 11-02-2018Grammatical errors aside, if we have such a strong negotiating position with the EU, as Lord Jones believed would be the case before the referendum, then no amount of talking down by supposed ‘enemies within’ should matter. That he now thinks that it does matter suggests he may have been wrong about the strength of the UK’s position. Now, call me naive if you wish, but I find it unlikely that a distinguished Lord would have deliberately lied to us. The only alternative explanation is that he was skillfully conned by the leave campaign. He doesn’t need to apologise for that – many good people including my MP were seduced by their siren call. There’s no disgrace in being wrong, provided that you attempt to repair any damage you may have inadvertently caused through your misjudgment.

If enough people who, like Lord Jones, were duped by the leave campaign tell their MPs that they’ve changed their minds, then there is still just enough time to put things right. An exit from Brexit is possible. After all, as David Davis once pointed out, if a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy.

I do, however, want to agree with Lord Jones on one specific matter. We should never give in to bullies. For example, people who use the term “Remoaner” in an attempt to belittle their opponents and shut down democratic debate.

So perhaps, on balance, Lord Jones would like to apologise after all.

Thank Trump or tackle homelessness this Christmas?

I received two Christmas messages from political campaigners yesterday. The first was from a right-wing US website. I have no idea how I ended up on their mailing list. I’ve tried to unsubscribe many times without success. Their endless stream of nonsense is now fed directly into my junk email folder.

The Christmas mailing asked me to thank Donald Trump for fulfilling 150 campaign promises by choosing one of “… six beautiful digital cards you can personalize and send to the president without cost … to counteract the constant attacks on his policies, his character and his dedication to putting America’s interests first.”

The second message came from Vince Cable. In it he asked us to do something to support a local charity tackling homelessness this Christmas. In Derby, the Padley Group have helped people with a range of issues including homelessness, debt and destitution, drugs, alcohol, mental health issues, physical disabilities, learning disabilities, severe autism and long-term unemployment since 1985. It’s challenging to maintain services when £250,000 in local and central government grants have been removed.

However, they’re trying hard to attract new supporters to their Padley 4000 scheme which you can subscribe to for £2 a month – less than the price of a cup of coffee. They’ve asked their existing supporters to publicise the scheme this Christmas. If you are local to Derby, please think about joining it. There are also opportunities to volunteer if you’d prefer to donate your time.

 

A Happy Christmas and peaceful new year to you all.

The consequences of kicking the can down the road

Kicking the can down the road is sometimes a useful tactic for avoiding short-term political pain, but often results in significant long-term damage. If a politician can kick a particular can far enough away, they may avoid personal damage for poor decisions, laziness and lies. Instead it’s the people in the can that’s being kicked who suffer. I’m fairly certain that’s the strategy of the current government when it comes to finalising the exit process from the European Union. When it proves to be the national disaster everyone with any foresight predicted that it would be, the culprits will be long gone from office. No doubt they’ll manage to scrape the odd book deal or two from the wreckage. As for the rest of us, we need to make whatever contingency plans we can.

The EU exit can appears to have been successfully kicked away for a few more months. However, one that’s been kicked down the road by politicians of all parties for the last decade or so and has largely been forgotten about has been found hiding in the long grass by the National Audit Office (NAO). Their report into the higher education market makes grim reading and not only because of the seemingly unstoppable trend towards the marketisation of HE. Nick Hillman, the director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), remarked that “There is a world of difference between buying a tin of beans and making the right decision about higher education“. Quite.

Far and away the biggest losers from the last decade of funding changes in HE in England have been part-time, mature students. The charts in the NAO report show the scale of the disaster for this group of learners since 2011, but in truth, the damage to this group had already started under the previous Labour government with the withdrawal of funding for equivalent and lower qualifications.

Since 2010/11, the number of part-time students has fallen dramatically, both in real terms and as a proportion of learners:

Figure 4

Part-time enrolments for undergraduate study in England have declined markedly since 2010/11.

… with mature, part-time undergraduates feeling the brunt of these changes, through policies that have created an especially hostile environment for this group.

Figure 14 - Mature students

Mature and part-time undergraduate student entrants in England 2011-2016.

Peter Horrocks, the Open University vice-chancellor tweeted this morning that the fall in part-time mature learners had mostly hit “… the career learners who need new skills”, adding “This is an own goal for government’s aims on productivity and social mobility.”

He’s right, of course. This is a can that the government needs to stop kicking. Proper policy and investment in lifelong learning will be essential if the UK – inside or outside of the EU – is to thrive in future.

Ask the government to re-open the Dubs scheme

In an idle moment this evening I was browsing through the forgotten petitions on the last few pages of the parliamentary site. In among all of the authoritarian, dangerous, nationalist and sundry other nonsense (for example, “Make people pass a politics test before they can vote”, “Ban cyclists from the road and allow them on the pavement” and “Make Northumberland Scottish land”) I came across a remarkably well drafted petition with (at the time of writing) only 28 signatures.

Re-open the DUbs scheme petitionThis petition seems worthwhile signing to me and I hope that it reaches the first page very soon.

The author of the petition is a Tim Farron. I think I may have heard this name somewhere before …

The time has come: What next for (the) Liberal Democrats?

I’m writing these thoughts during the last few hours of the general election, but won’t hit publish until just before the polls close at 10pm. I’m then going to bed, hoping that June 9th will bring at least some crumbs of comfort from a Liberal Democrats perspective. Net gains would be nice!

What has astonished me most about the campaign has been the sheer dreadfulness of Theresa May. I always suspected she was a dud, but everything that’s happened suggests she’s far worse than that. I think her weaknesses must have astonished many Conservatives too. While it was too late to change election addresses and candidate billboards (at least in Mid Derbyshire), it’s been noticeable that the ‘standing with’ and ‘strong and stable’ brands have become ever less prominent as the weeks have gone by. One can only wonder what would have happened if she’d undergone the journalistic scrutiny that the other party leaders have. Regardless of the result, I doubt strongly she’ll still be their party leader at the 2022 election.

Labour have had a good general election campaign. They’ve been helped by the collapse of Theresa May’s credibility and authority. Although they look certain to increase their vote share from last time, I wonder how this will actually translate into seats gained.

There were glimmers of hope at the start of the general election campaign for the Liberal Democrats. Exceeding 100,000 members is no mean achievement. I remember Tim Farron talking about this goal during the leadership hustings in 2015 and I genuinely thought that this wasn’t achievable in the short-term. As with so many of my political predictions, I was wrong. The manifesto is great – human, fair, evidence-based, rational  and costed. As the IFS pointed out, if enacted it would provide the best economic outcome for the poorest 50% of society, and by some margin. I’m really proud to be in the same party as the people who put this together.

However, our air war simply hasn’t worked – for whatever reasons. Vote-share looks as if it will be close to the 8% result in 2015. The otherwise welcome collapse of UKIP may sadly mean some lost seats. I sincerely hope that the ground war in our key seats has worked well this time and that my pessimism is unfounded.

I’ve no idea which pollsters will be proved right or wrong. I’ve been intrigued by the new YouGov model. If the trend back towards two party politics in most of the country has continued as expected, then I suspect models based on uniform national swing (UNS) will be more accurate. If there’s been a massive uptake in tactical voting, with young and non-voters turning out for the first time, then YouGov may be the real winners in this particular battle.

So, to my prediction, written a few hours before the polls closed. I think we’ll see a Conservative majority – probably around the 50-60 seat mark. (This implies that I think UNS models will be better than YouGov’s new one). Sadly, I suspect that this would put my party at the lower end of the YouGov 95% confidence interval of 5ish to 20ish seats. Possibly even below it. I really hope that I’m wrong about this and that I look totally foolish tomorrow morning. Regardless, I’d like to add my thanks to all of our candidates and their teams. You become and stay a Liberal Democrat through conviction, not because of a desire for an easy political life. I appreciate all that you do, especially as I am currently unable to do much myself.

Britain under a Tory or Labour government will be unrecognisable in 2022 as the privations of Brexit really start to bite. People that I love will suffer, so you can perhaps understand, a little, why I’m still incandescent with rage with the Brexiteers and their late converts in May and Corbyn. However, I’m no longer confident that the perpetrators of this national catastrophe will ever be properly punished by the electorate. It will be very simple for authoritarian politicians to try to shift the blame onto external causes. But I’m glad that our party remains on what I believe to be the right side of this argument, regardless of whether it is eventually an electorally successful position.

Somewhere in the attic I have a copy of Paddy Ashdown’s 1989 book “Citizens’ Britain”. If I remember correctly, he paints two opposing pictures of how the UK could be in the early 2000s. One is of an optimistic, open, tolerant and united Britain and the other is of a closed, insular, mean and unequal country. Citadel Britain. Up until June 24th last year, I genuinely thought that Citizens’ Britain would eventually be closer to reality. Now, I’m utterly convinced that we’re in the dystopia of Citadel Britain and see no obvious way out. I told you earlier that my political predictions are usually rubbish.

So now only one question remains for me. What next for those of us who want to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, balancing the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity?

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