Waiting for a hard Brexit

A photograph I took at a Bruges market illustrates the consequences of hoping for the best from a hard Brexit.

Waiting for a hard Brexit

Fortunately, not everyone is offering Hobson’s choice of a strong and stable rotisserie or one that works for the people. There is a way to escape what less brave politicians want you to believe is certain.

Change Britain's Future

Nick Clegg in his speech at the National Liberal Club yesterday clearly spelt out the consequences of a hard Brexit. It will cost us thousands of pounds each that could be far better spent on the NHS, education and ourselves. We may have voted to leave, but it is essential that we have a say on our ultimate destination. Neither the Conservative or Labour parties want us to have that say.

Liberal Democrats clearly do. They’re arguing for a referendum allowing us to choose what the government manages to negotiate or to remain in the EU. That’s a much better option than arguing about which spit of the rotisserie we prefer.

Is Theresa May reading my blog for policy ideas?

… I think we should be told. Someone in the Prime Minister’s constituency is clearly desperate for policy ideas with substance, rather than the ridiculous “strong and stable” guff she’s been spouting so far. While the Conservatives outrageously claim credit for Liberal Democrat achievements in government (for example, raising the personal tax allowance and same-sex marriage) this idea, I’m certain, will never be a Liberal Democrat policy.

Abolish bank holidays policy

Here’s a link to the (tongue firmly in cheek) post this particular search found.

 

Before the EU single market and the disaster of a hard Brexit

Yesterday an opinion poll suggested that a majority of voters want the UK to remain in the single market. It’s encouraging that the majority take this view, as I’m old enough to remember the difficulties of trading without it.

In the 1980s, before the EU single market, I worked for a UK software company based in Nottingham. One of our partners was the French computer manufacturer,  Bull. We had an agreement with Bull to support our software on their hardware – the SPS9 and SPS7. In a world before high-speed networks, this meant physically having the machines on loan in our offices. A heavily bureaucratic process known as a carnet was required. This meant the machines had to be shipped back to France every year (“for a holiday”, as my director put it) and updated models returned. We were unable to carry out work for our Bull customers while the lengthy process of satisfying customs regulations took place.

One year, the machines were shipped back from France and held at the Port of Dover for inspection. At best, this process took a couple of days, but on this occasion the days turned into a week, and then almost two. Eventually, our shipping agent suggested that I give the customs people a call, as he was making no progress. After getting through to the right office I was met first with hostility, but after turning on the East Midland’s charm, he agreed to look into the problem for me.

The problem was simple – the carnet was in French, and the person in the customs office dealing with my shipment who spoke French was on holiday. They were due back in a couple of days. I sighed, as arguing with customs is a pointless exercise. Two days later after his colleague had returned, the computers were released and returned to Nottingham. However, this delay eventually contributed to the loss of a large contract.

Any Brexit agreement that fails to keep the UK in the single market will lead to a drag on the economy. And let’s not fool ourselves – the type of no agreement, hard Brexit promoted by the extremists in the Conservative and Labour parties will be even more disastrous.The consequences of a hard Brexit will be dire – especially for funding the public services we all rely on like the NHS.

There’s a great opportunity on June 8th to stop this economic vandalism happening. We need to make sure that there are strong voices in the next parliament that will fight for our place in the single market.

The best way to ensure that this happens is to vote for Liberal Democrats.

Choosing your tribe – them and us

“In Ireland you must choose your tribe. Reason has nothing to do with it.” 

 

So wrote J.G. Farrell in his 1970 novel Troubles. While much of what has happened politically in 2016 has felt both tribal and irrational to me, psychology suggests that we don’t even need big issues to persuade us to pick our tribe. Developed at much the same time that Farrell published his novel, Henri Tajfel’s minimal group experiments show how easy – how frighteningly easy – it is for us to do this.

Minimal groups can be formed using arbitrary criteria.  A coin toss can be used to divide people randomly into two groups. A simple task, such as distributing small amounts of money, results in people favouring members of their own group. This happens even when there is no objective difference between group members and the distribution is performed anonymously.

This result led Tajfel with others including John Turner, to develop Social Identity Theory (SIT). SIT can be used as a way of explaining the minimal group results, but more importantly, can perhaps shed light on what happens in everyday life outside of laboratory experiments.

SIT argues that we categorise ourselves and others into different groups. A process of social identification occurs over time, where we decide which groups we identify with. Our decisions on group membership are influenced by others already in a particular group whose attitudes and beliefs we wish to emulate. Finally, our self-esteem is boosted by positive comparisons of our own group against others. It can also be damaged if other groups are held in higher regard by society than ours.

The need to pick our tribe, regardless of how rational or irrational that choice may seem to others, would therefore seem to be an inbuilt characteristic of humanity. Which of the tribes that we belong to is most important to us at any point in time depends on how salient the social identity it embodies becomes. If that identity feels threatened, then we often cling to it even harder.

It would seem to me that the events of the last week demonstrate that the most salient political identity in the UK at the moment is how pro-EU (or anti-EU) we feel. How else would you explain the truly wonderful result for Sarah Olney in the Richmond Park by-election if that was not the case? How else would you explain the willingness of many people to work across traditional party political divides to make sure that we don’t drive our economy off a cliff? Or how else would you explain a large slice of the electorate still voting for the ‘independent’ ex-incumbent anyway?

Long may the country’s new-found passion for the EU continue. I have chosen my tribe and for the first time in some years, I feel rather good about being a member.

My response to the recent Post40Bloggers writing prompt number 104: “Them and Us“.

10,000 steps a day – day 27 – Allestree by-election

Today’s steps were easily achieved as this evening I went out leafleting on behalf of the excellent Liberal Democrat by-election candidate for Allestree, Deena Smith.

Allestree by-electionFor those of you that don’t follow Derby politics closely, the vacancy was caused by the Conservative councillor elected in May being jailed for two months for providing a false address. I think the people of Allestree deserve better than to have their votes taken for granted by the Tory party. The by-election is on Thursday and I hope that the recent success elsewhere in Derbyshire is a good omen in what has been considered a safe Conservative ward.

If you’ve never delivered leaflets before, this is what the activity looks like to a Fitbit tracker.

Delivery WalkI was quite pleased that I didn’t have to backtrack too many times.

 

There are just three days left in my September walk all over cancer, but there’s still time to sponsor me. My donations page is here. Thank you!

Two thoughts following the referendum result – and what to do next

This is a quickly written post as I really need to get on with my dissertation today. However, here are two thoughts about what not to do, and what to do following the EU referendum ‘leave’ result.

First – the what not to do. Don’t sign the petition arguing for a second referendum on the same question immediately. We may not like the result (that’s possibly the biggest understatement I’ve ever made), but a second referendum isn’t the answer. At best it would be a sticking plaster that fails to address the underlying causes of the dissatisfaction that many people feel about their situation. At worst, it looks like sour grapes. In fact, I’m in full agreement with the good Lord Bonkers (a.k.a. Jonathan Calder) on this – referendums on anything are a really bad idea in a parliamentary democracy. Read his piece published before the results were known to understand why.

Secondly – the what to do. With the Conservative and Labour parties ripping apart at the seams, an early General Election seems like a real possibility, even with the fixed-term parliaments act in place. If you think that the UK should remain in (or rejoin) the EU, I hope that you’ll join the Liberal Democrats. Come and work with us to create an optimistic, liberal and positive vision for the future, that addresses the underlying problems in our country with real solutions, not just cheap slogans.

In praise of Baroness Sharp – the Lords debate adult education and lifelong learning

Last week, the House of Lords debated the current state of adult education and lifelong learning. I’ve now taken some time to read through the transcript and I’ve picked out a number of highlights from the excellent contribution made by Baroness Sharp. The debate was also notable for providing a vehicle for the farewell speech of Baroness Williams to be delivered, which was well reported on Liberal Democrat Voice.

That aside, the motion debated (and agreed) was:

That this House takes note of the role of adult education and lifelong learning and the need to develop the skills needed to strengthen the United Kingdom economy.

and was moved by the Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Sharp of Guildford. In opening the debate, she said:

The trends [concerning adult education] are not good at present. Since the introduction of the full-cost £9,000 fee at universities in 2012, while the number of full-time undergraduates has increased, part-time numbers have plummeted by 58%. Today, there are 244,000 fewer part-time students studying at our universities than in 2010-11. This has hit the Open University and Birkbeck hard, but it has also led to course closures elsewhere because part-time courses become unviable. We know from the research undertaken by Universities UK that part-time students are indeed a somewhat mixed bunch, but we also know that a large number of them are mature students, many from disadvantaged homes and often with existing debt and family obligations, which makes them much more wary than their younger counterparts of taking on the debt obligations. Part-time study has been a powerful access tool. For those wishing to retrain and take up a new career, the ELQ rule, which excludes those who already have an equivalent level of qualification from getting grants and loans, has proved a substantial barrier to course take-up.

Yes, we’re definitely a “mixed bunch”! Baroness Sharp made a very pertinent observation about ensuring that the provision of adult education opportunities isn’t solely employer-led, but also considered the needs of individual learners.

I am calling for a more comprehensive skills strategy which addresses helping the over-24s improve their lot if they want to. What happens now if you are made redundant and cannot find an employer who will offer you an apprenticeship? What if you are self-employed, the fastest growing sector in the labour market at present? Who is responsible for training you if you are one of the army of people working as agency staff in one of the many areas in both the public and private sectors where work is now subcontracted out? If you are on a zero-hours contract, who is responsible for your training? There has been much talk about training needing to be demand-led, but demand in this case is always referred to as employer demand. I argue that the individual is an important part of demand.

In concluding, Baroness Sharp made three recommendations:

First and foremost, we need a more comprehensive approach that pulls together adult education and skills. This requires much closer working between colleges, universities, the independent training providers and not just employers but the local authorities and other public sector organisations, such as the NHS and DWP, as partners at a local level.

Secondly, we need to empower the individual to take more control over their own training. … given the risk-aversion shown by many mature students to loans, how about allowing 40 year-olds to draw down a proportion of their pension funds to meet training costs?
Thirdly, we need some incentive for the individual to invest in themselves. It is time, I believe, to look again at the idea of individual learning accounts … At the very least, it would be good to allow the individual to claim tax relief on the money that they invest on bona fides education and training courses.

The response from the government at the end of the debate came from Baroness Evans of Bowes Park. It was interesting that significant chunks of her response focused on pre-21 education, training and the provision of full-time apprenticeships, perhaps showing that despite the encouraging noises being made by her, there is still a failure at the heart of government to understand the needs of part-time, mature adult learners. She did, however, conclude that:

The Government recognise that there is more to be done to ensure that the UK has the skills and flexibility it needs to grow in the global economy and that all people in this country have the skills they need to do what they would like to in life.

… which is encouraging, but fine words butter no parsnips. Until there is a greater focus by government and politicians of all parties on the needs of part-time, mature students and an understanding of the value generated by people treading this path, then the decline in this sector can only continue.

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