The spectre of a “May’s Deal” or “No Deal” referendum

After this afternoon’s debacle in the Commons, I’m certain that the Prime Minister is trying to run the clock down towards March 29th 2019 so that MPs will have to eventually vote for her deal or risk crashing out of the EU with no deal at all. At the same time I think she’s trying to engineer a personal backstop of a new referendum, should her continuing attempts to blackmail MPs not work. However, I’m convinced that should a Theresa May inspired referendum happen, it would be of the ludicrously high-stakes “my deal or crash out with no deal” kind.

I don’t know how I’d vote in such a referendum. Actively voting for “no deal” is easy to rule out. I want politicians to stop wasting time on Europe, and focus on mending the rifts in our society, tackling poverty and promoting opportunity for all. I’d quite like my cancer drugs, food and power supplies to carry on uninterrupted next year. I want my 33+ years of pension savings to be worth something in retirement.

But to willingly vote for her xenophobic deal which ends free movement and reduces the life chances of everyone in the UK? I think – maybe – I’d prefer to spoil my ballot paper. I can’t decide at the moment if that would be the principled thing to do – or merely stupid. It’s a decision I never want to be forced to make.

A year ago (almost to the day) I wrote:

Kicking the can down the road
The Brexit can is still being kicked. We are all in it together. It’s about to go over the cliff edge with us to our collective doom.

Unless, of course, sane MPs on all sides of the house show some backbone and start to work together. They need either to cancel Brexit by withdrawing our article 50 notification, or ask the electorate to take that decision for them.

As we’re a parliamentary democracy, the first course of action should be the preferred one.

Brexit withdrawal agreement: I called it wrong

Last night I started to write a post arguing that the Tories would fall in behind the withdrawal agreement that Rabb and May had negotiated. I became too tired to finish it and didn’t hit publish. This morning, looking at the utter chaos the strong and stable May government is in, I’m rather glad that I didn’t.

I believed that the withdrawal agreement would get through the Commons, due to the flakiness demonstrated in the past by the pro-remain Tory “rebels”, the love of power in the rest of the party, combined with abstentions and pro-Brexit votes from the utter shambles that claims to be the official opposition.

I convinced myself that many of the Brexit ultras would fall in behind the Prime Minister. Once out of the EU – even if it was Brexit in name only – it would be easier for them to chip away at the agreement over time and get what they wanted than go through a no-deal exit. My justification for this reasoning were the reports that Michael Gove had backed the deal in cabinet. Compared to many of the other Brexiters in the Conservative party, he looks like a genius. When Gove does something like that, he’s usually playing out some kind of clever strategy. After all, a no-deal will so damage the country the Tories would be unlikely to see power again in a generation.

But what do I know? Nothing at all, by the looks of it. The green crayon brigade seem firmly in control of the fate of the Conservative party – and the country – this morning. If you weren’t preparing for a no-deal Brexit already, now is the time to start. (While continuing to argue for remaining in the EU, naturally.)

Green crayons
Green crayons as (probably) used by Brexit-supporting Conservative ministers when writing their resignation letters

Derby would now vote to remain in the EU

I missed Channel 4’s “Brexit: What the Nation Really Thinks” last night. However, the headline was that by an eight percentage point margin, Britain would now prefer to remain in the EU. Jonathan Calder noted yesterday evening that a number of areas in the East Midlands would now vote to remain. My home city of Derby is one of them.

The Boy and the Ram, Wilfred Dudeney, 1963
The Boy and the Ram, Wilfred Dudeney, 1963.

In the June 2016 referendum, 57.22% of those voting in Derby said that they wanted to leave the EU. Survation’s data for Channel 4 now suggests that only a minority – 49.8% – are comfortable with that choice. This represents a 7.42 percentage point change in favour of remaining in the EU – the equivalent of around 1 in 8 voters switching from leave to remain.

The other cities in the East Midlands have seen even larger movements in opinion. Leicester is ever more firmly in the remain camp by 10.59 percentage points. Nottingham (10.77% change) and Lincoln (9.41% change), like Derby, have switched from leave to remain.

Of course, this is all moot unless our MPs choose to act on new information about the public mood. You can politely encourage your MP to do so by writing to them at the House of Commons. Alternatively, you may want to customise Open Britain’s latest email template.

Transplant +45: Gentle exercise

Since I last wrote on T+30 I’ve continued to make progress. I’m still tired much of the time and if sleeping was an Olympic sport I’d be a certainty for the gold medal. However, it feels as if some kind of normality might not be that far away.

Physical exercise

This is the easiest to measure. Since T+30:

  • I no longer need my walking stick.
  • I’ve managed to drive both the Alfa and the 7 a couple of times, although not very far.
  • I spent a couple of hours at the Donington museum.
  • I’ve walked around the woods on Oakwood (several times), Kedleston Hall and yesterday spent some time walking around the gardens at Chatsworth (when I wasn’t eating cake, naturally). My daily step count has gone up from around 1,500 to averaging 5,000 or so. Yesterday I exceeded 8,000 for the first time in two months. My resting pulse has continued to come down (73 today), although it’s still a little above my mid-sixties norm.
Chatsworth - the view from the grotto
Chatsworth – the view from the grotto

Mental exercise

This is a little harder to measure, but since T+30:

  • I’ve built a surveillance camera for the driveway. This was motivated by the possibly paranoid belief I hold that an intruder tried to get into the house the first night I was home from hospital. It consists of a Raspberry Pi 3B+ inside a custom case, running MotionEye on Raspbian. (I originally tried MotionEyeOS, but it proved to be unstable). So far the only intruder its spotted is a spider.

Transplant -4: Ranty Saturday

Yesterday afternoon I was rejoined at my bedside by grey Eeyore. Quite rightly, Jane decided he was a little too unhygienic to be in here at first. He’s now been through a full wash and tumble dry, so although he smells beautiful, he’s understandably a little ranty today. Even though the nurses love him.

Ranty grey Eeyore
Ranty grey Eeyore

His mood has rubbed off on me a little this morning. It’s not nine thirty yet and I’ve already had two good rants. The first was while I was chatting to my bed makers. Nothing to do with this hospital however! I was reminded of the time I was visited on the ward in Derby by a member of their trust board. I was more than happy to speak to her, until I realised that she simply seemed to be on a fishing expedition for complaints. Let me record now, that at both Derby and Nottingham, my treatment has been exemplary and the staff, at all levels, are amazing. The only time I’ve felt secondary is when being interviewed by that Derby trust board member. I wish I’d have taken it further at the time to be honest.

So that was my first rant. My second is on twitter, so you can follow the thread if you’d like to read it. Warning – contains NHS Brexit ranting, but if you would like to re-tweet it for me it would make me very happy!

In chemo news, I’ve just finished my third bag of cytarabine. I’m about to start bags three and four of etoposide. I’m still “functional” and putting on weight. 92.5kg this morning, although that’s probably mostly due to all the liquids that I’m having pumped into me. My appetite is still OK, but it’s more of a struggle to eat than it was a couple of days ago.

I’m wearing my happy socks (thank you to the Doyles! ) – maybe I will become less ranty as Saturday progresses.
Happy socks

Brilliant Mistake

Elvis Costello

I’m listening to King of America, Elvis Costello’s 1986 album, while receiving my fourth and final dose of Cytarabine for this chemo cycle. Unlike the over-produced and rather directionless ‘Goodbye Cruel World’,  this album still works for me 32 years on as the songs and production remain coherent for the whole hour.

The first track is ‘Brilliant Mistake’, and the first verse seems to resonate when listened to against the backdrop of Trump and Brexit. I hope fervently that in a couple of years these brilliant mistakes will have been consigned to the dustbin of history. But if not, well, a few listens to ‘Suit of Lights’, also on this album, will probably make me feel a little better.

Brilliant Mistake – Declan MacManus

He thought he was the King of America

Where they pour coca-cola just like vintage wine

Now I try hard not to become hysterical

But I’m not sure if I’m laughing or crying

I wish that I could push a button

And talk in the past and not the present tense

And watch this hurting feeling disappear

Like it was common sense

It was a fine idea at the time (*)

Now it’s a brilliant mistake

 

(*) I was obviously never convinced that Trump or Brexit were fine ideas, but understand why many people thought they were. Hopefully change is coming …

 

Poll: 73% say ‘Brexit dividend’ is a lie

A poll conducted on Monday 18th June 2018 found that 73% of those asked said the claim of a ‘Brexit dividend’ was a lie. 11% of respondents said that there would be a Brexit dividend, with the remaining 16% undecided. The sample size was 1,003, with a margin of error +/-3% (*).

 

A fake graph to demonstrate confirmation bias
A fake graph to demonstrate confirmation bias

If you’ve read this far, your initial reaction to this ‘poll’ is likely to have been determined by your existing beliefs about Brexit. If you oppose Brexit, you were probably more likely to have seen this as further evidence that your view is right. If you support Brexit you probably haven’t even read this far, but will have dismissed or ignored this article on the basis of the headline itself.

A psychological explanation often offered for this effect is confirmation bias (Darley and Gross, 1983). Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek evidence to confirm your existing beliefs rather than look for evidence that might counter them. Regardless of the actual truth of the information, finding support for your beliefs boosts your confidence in them. Crucially, this makes it less likely that people holding these beliefs will alter them.

Many people on the pro-EU side of the debate are placing a lot of faith in calling for a ‘people’s vote’ on the final EU exit deal. They express confidence (often citing the way that opinion has subsequently changed on the Iraq War pursued by the Blair government) that people won’t be fooled again.

I remain unconvinced that the outcome of any such referendum would be different.

Although opinion pollsters YouGov claim there has been a slight drift towards people thinking that the decision to leave the EU is a bad one, the difference is nothing like as pronounced as the shift over the Iraq War.

There’s also another important difference compared with the Iraq War – Brexit is a current issue. On both sides of the argument, people still have a lot of psychological capital invested in their beliefs. Much of the shift in opinion over the Iraq War seems to have happened afterwards, when it was seen to be both a disaster and with a premise based on a lie.

The challenge for those of us who want no truck with Brexit is to overcome the confirmation bias of the leavers. If I was well enough to attend, I’d be at the march in London on the 23rd June. But no matter how large and well organised it is, it’s unlikely to have much impact in shifting opinion.

What’s needed as well are emotional, media attention-grabbing demonstrations of the benefits of remaining in the EU. The equivalent of the Farage/Rees-Mogg fish throwing incident, if you will.

 

 

(*) For the avoidance of doubt, these figures are completely made up. Sorry. (But that doesn’t mean they bear no resemblance to the truth and that the Brexit dividend isn’t a lie, naturally).

 

Update 18th June – 2200: Sky News has published a genuine poll in the last few minutes that does indeed indicate that the majority of those asked say the ‘Brexit dividend’ claim is a lie.

 

References

Darley, J.M. & Gross, P.H. (1983). A hypothesis-confirming bias in labelling effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 20-33.

Vince Cable’s lifelong learning commission – a missed opportunity?

An under-reported part of Vince Cable’s first conference speech as Leader of the Liberal Democrats was his announcement of an independent commission on lifelong learning. Being a lifelong learning geek, this announcement thrilled me far more than anything else he said that day. Lifelong learning has shamefully been political tumbleweed for far too long. It’s not a topic that the Conservatives or Labour have seriously engaged with over the last decade or more. It’s to Vince’s great credit that he’s the first national party leader to take lifelong learning seriously in the modern era.

Embed from Getty Images

It’s been a long wait since last Autumn’s speech, but yesterday the TES revealed the twelve-strong commission. They are:

  • Chair: Rajay Naik – Chief Executive of Keypath Education
  • David Barrett – Associate director of fair access and participation, Office for Students
  • Stuart Croft – Vice chancellor of the University of Warwick
  • Stephen Evans – Chief Executive of the Learning and Work Institute
  • David Hughes – Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges
  • Simon Hughes – External adviser to the Open University (and former Lib Dem MP)
  • Shakira Martin –  The current president of the National Union of Students
  • Polly Mackenzie – Director at Demos (and former Lib Dem SpAD)
  • Ruth Silver – President of the Further Education Trust for Leadership
  • Ruth Spellman – Chief Executive / General Secretary of the WEA
  • Matthew Taylor – Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Arts
  • John Widdowson – The principal of New College Durham

I have no doubt that they will do their job to the best of their abilities, but I can’t help but feel incredibly disheartened and annoyed at the lack of balance on this commission.

With due respect to the NUS president, there’s not a single member who represents the “consumers” of lifelong learning opportunities. There’s also no-one who directly represents the needs of industry. Concerningly, the representatives of the educational providers and regulators are all (very) senior managers. I do wonder precisely how much time they will have to devote to this task. A sprinkling of talent from elsewhere in the education hierarchy would have been a very good thing indeed.

In my view these omissions are a huge missed opportunity. Without effective challenge, the commission is in real danger of delivering something bland, seen primarily through the eyes of education providers. While I trust that evidence will be taken from lifelong learners and industry, it’s not the same as having these voices directly shaping the commission’s recommendations.

Hopefully, it’s not too late to address these flaws. There are lots of talented people who understand what it’s like to be a lifelong learner, juggling the demands of family and career to ensure their skills stay up to date. There are people who understand what it’s like to be an employer and how difficult it can be to persuade people to take up learning opportunities.

I’d volunteer, but I probably won’t get a call now that I’ve written this!

But please Vince, address these issues. Otherwise you won’t get the radical proposals that you’re looking for, or what lifelong learners need.

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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.