Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

Post “The Day” Reflections

Ok, I think it’s a disaster and I am livid at what I see as the way both campaigns – but particularly Leave’s – were run. (Remain was inept, but Leave at times seemed deliberately devious.) If I had been active in the campaign I would also be feeling sore.
But the deed is done and we have to accept the result even if we can’t respect it. But there are a number of issues that bear closer examination.

  1. The Quality of The Campaign
  2. Labour
    • Its leadership
    • Its support
  3. Conservatives
    • Their support
    • Their leadership
  4. Countries
    • Scotland
    • Ireland
    • England & Wales
  5. What next

The Quality of The Campaign

It is said that one of the benefits of a referendum is that you “give the people a voice” and take the decision out of the hands of the scoundrels known as the metropolitan elite.

The trouble is the campaigns were led by the metropolitan elite and commented on by the metropolitan elite – and they are scoundrels. So the people may “have spoken”; but with whose voice?

It was not an edifying campaign.

Remain concentrated to the exclusion of almost anything else on probably well founded fears (dismissed as “Project Fear”). They missed no opportunity to lay it on thick; leaving was a very bad idea. Unfortunately there was little about why staying was a good idea.

Mainstream Leave (when not telling porkies) seemed to spend most of their time dismissing everything Remain said and dismissing the endless stream of experts and foreign leaders who spoke out against the UK leaving the EU. “Experts” have taken a hammering. Meanwhile Fringe Leave (who it appeared are not just “fruit cakes”) indulged in less savoury tactics (Project Hate).

The problem is unlike General Elections – when a party that lies to you can be punished at the next general election – Referenda are “accountability free”.

  • Remain said there would be economic turmoil if we vote Leave.
    • Leave – apparently almost as a reflex re-action – dismissed this as scaremongering and part of Project Fear – everything would be alright.
    • There is economic turmoil; too late we have voted.
  • Remain said if we voted to leave there would have to be a £30billion emergency budget of cuts and tax rises to stabilise the economy
    • Leave dismissed this as scaremongering – a “punishment budget” – as if other budgets to protect the economy (that they voted for) have not punished the less well off
    • The economically dry Tories in the Leave campaign said they would not support the budget (which seems to go against a key tenet of dry Tories – the strength of the economy comes before everything)
    • Labour (from both sides) said they would vote against such a budget.
    • So if there was a prolonged run on the economy, there would be no majority in Parliament to take action, but it would be too late, we would have voted.
  • Remain warned that the worst result would be a narrow vote to Leave over-all, but a substantial vote to Remain in Scotland, and that this could re-open the question of Scottish Independence.
    • Leave – apparently almost as a reflex re-action – dismissed this as scaremongering and part of Project Fear – everything would be alright.
    • The Scottish Government is today (Saturday) “taking steps to ‘protect’ Scottish EU interests“; too late we have voted.

Leave said that we sent £350M a week to the EU and it could be spent on the NHS (and apparently on other things at the same time – agricultural support, science support, regional development, etc.). This figure was widely discredited – but it stayed on the bus – and the BBC seemed to have the bus in the background of any “on the road” interview thereby giving credibility to the lie. No matter; it was repeated enough to become “fact”. (So much for BBC Bias in favour of Remain.)

IDS on the money for the NHS: “I never said that.”

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If we are to have further referenda – see later – we must ensure that they are not so personally poisonous and that there is some shared regard for the truth. Without that you create division. And we are divided.

Some welcome any exercise involving “the people voting” as a celebration of democracy in action. I don’t celebrate this campaign and I’m not convinced that people (possibly only a minority) being seriously misled into “voting” in one particular way is a good example of democracy.

Some of the “vox pops” on Friday have revealed some terrifying reasons for voting – usually Leave, but sometimes Remain. I don’t think General Elections are this bad – certainly a blue on blue choice is unusual; other discriminating factors have to come to the fore.

Labour

Its leadership

Corbyn is getting a lot of criticism particularly in two areas

  • His participation in the campaign
  • His 7/10 support for the EU

In terms of participation he was probably on to a loser. The Scottish Labour party is acutely aware of the dangers of aligning itself in a referendum campaign with the Conservative Party. (The Lib Dems have had a similar experience!).

So does he stand alongside Cameron and Osborne – hated by most Labour members, or does he try to make a distinct argument for EU membership? The broadcast media have to be balanced, so it seemed that if Boris said something, Cameron had to appear “for balance” – alternative voices were squeezed out – making it look like a blue on blue argument. Certainly the share of voice of non-Conservative Remain campaigners was lower than for the Leave Campaign which (Farage excepted!) deployed its non-Conservative voices (such as Hoey and Stuart) with care and skill. Farage being a loose-cannon could blast his way into the news schedules; I don’t think that would have been an appropriate strategy for the Labour Leader.

His luke-warm support for the EU was at least authentic – and probably reflected how the majority of Remain inclined voters felt. Boris was initially also lukewarm and undecided about which side to support – but an injection of personal ambition and self-belief turned him into a rabid Brexitteer. Was that authentic – or does authenticity not matter? If you can fake sincerity you have got it made – particularly in politics.

Are we in the sort of politics which is so binary that we expect our politicians to be rabidly and dogmatically totally in favour of or totally against any proposition? If any issue deserved a serious approach acknowledging shades of opinion, surely a complex issue such as membership of the European Union is it.

He has never had the support of most of “his” MPs – that is the problem of realignments just after a general election. His problems are exacerbated by the fact that MPs are more influential than the members. That is a problem with the structure of the Labour Party; it’s disabling, but whilst it gives the MPs some control, they are not going to change it.

Labour’s support

Bluntly Labour’s supporters did not vote Remain in line with the Labour leadership – but in rock solid Labour seats they turned out in greater numbers than at General Elections. There are so many possible reasons for this!

  • Lack of appreciation of Labour’s position – which is not just a function of the leader
  • Contamination of any message that did get through because of association with the hated Cameron and Osborne
  • Farage not coming across as a privileged former city broker but as a bit of a geezer with whom you would have a drink
  • Boris not appearing as an opportunist and parody of everything wrong with Cameron but as a colourful “personality” with jokes
  • Leave adopting Red as its colour whilst Cameron chose Blue for Remain – I mean!
  • Disconnection on migration – a chasm exploited by Farage
  • Votes in “safe seats” actually mattering for once – so people used their vote!
  • Total frustration at our political system and how it ill-serves the less well off

So the temptation to give Cameron and Osborne a kicking was too great. And for those who realised, did it matter if Labour got a kicking as well – it’s not as if they are blameless for the mess that our politics has been for the last few decades. But this is a protest vote that cannot be reversed at the next opportunity – there won’t be a next opportunity.

Conservatives

Their Support

The Conservatives were probably the most divided party. The Conservative party itself tried to declare itself “neutral”. But to some Conservatives “leaving the EU” matters viscerally and is possibly more important than party. Irrespective of central office, on the ground many were ready and spoiling for the fight.

How this situation arose is possibly not important, but the division has festered for decades and that has proved crucial to how we got to today’s national situation. Cameron tried appeasement. The Labour Party split over the issue in the early 1980’s – and suffered electorally. Labour eventually resolved the issue – at least within the Parliamentary party with Euro phobics and sceptics being a very small minority.

Despite the apparent depth of the split in the party, polling may eventually show what proportion of Conservative support voted Leave*– we may be surprised how high the proportion was. The government Remain campaign knew it had to appeal across traditional cross-party lines. The “conservative” Leave campaign could concentrate on a few traditional conservative “dog whistle” policies – the sort that also appeal to disenchanted blue-collar workers. These are the sort of appeal-points that got Thatcher elected.

Conservative leadership

To call a referendum and then see your case crumble before you is a massive miscalculation usually only made by the politically inept.

But Cameron is a politician with massive (misplaced) self-belief. In that respect he is similar to Thatcher and Blair – and we know where misplaced self-belief took them. Boris Johnson is from the same mould.

Cameron’s massive ego meant that he honestly believed that he was not just right but had the widespread political credibility necessary to persuade huge numbers of non-conservatives to support “his position”. And nobody stopped him! It’s car-crash politics. We have sleep-walked into this position.

He also allowed the referendum to be framed by the quality of his renegotiation – this was always a flawed strategy; the Euro-septics in his party were never going to be satisfied by any concession he got out of the EU.

And the Conservatives are quite capable of repeating the cycle of electing a delusional leader, being lead where he (or she) thinks best before finding themselves in a political cul-de-sac, whereupon the leader will resign or be consumed by the party!

However, the Conservatives now face a variation on the Labour Problem. The parliamentary party (which is – narrowly – pro-Remain) has to nominate at least two candidates to put in front of the membership which is almost certainly pro-Leave.

Cameron has found it practically impossible to manage his party – in or out of Parliament. If the party in the country were to elect a pro-Leave leader (and hence Prime Minister) – which would be appropriate to lead an Article 50 negotiation, that leader would be leading a parliamentary Party that was (until Thursday) narrowly committed to the Remain camp. Now where have we seen that situation before?

it is unlikely that a General Election would resolve this unless there were an unimaginable number of de-selections (in both the Labour and Conservative Parties) to purge those who do not support the leader.

Countries

Scotland

During the Independence Referendum Campaign a few years the “No” camp made much of the difficulties in retaining EU membership should the Scots vote for independence. “To secure your continuing EU membership you must vote ‘no'”. And they did.

Now the UK as a whole has voted 52:48 to Leave the EU – but Scotland voted 62:38 to Remain.

If Scotland at the first Independence Referendum had voted overwhelmingly to stay within the United Kingdom and continuing EU membership had not been an issue there might be no problem. It might be possible to argue that just as the inhabitants of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (who voted Remain) cannot argue for independence to preserve their EU membership, neither can the inhabitants of Scotland.

That becomes a tough argument to make when:

  • Scotland has a distinct “National” identity
  • It recently voted by a clear but by no means overwhelming majority of 55:45 to stay in the UK
  • At the 2015 UK General Election it almost swept the board with 50% of the vote
  • The SNP Scottish Government was recently re-elected by a margin significantly greater than the margin won by the Conservatives at the last UK General Election

It is inconceivable that the Scottish Government does not do anything to ‘protect’ Scottish EU interests. But it is very hard to see how they can do that within the UK as it exits the EU.

No doubt polls will ask the question “is the break-up of the United Kingdom a price worth paying for Brexit?”. I suspect a large minority will say “yes, if the Scots don’t like it they can …, England does not need Scotland, England can stand on its own two feet”.

Meanwhile one can’t help wondering how Her Majesty greeted her Prime Minister on the day after the Referendum. With a new threat to the unity of her kingdom, I doubt she was “purring”. On the other hand I don’t think she would have been hissing and scratching; if she was, I would have paid for tickets!

Ireland

The Irish situation is more difficult and in many ways more predictable. However it did not feature much and I somehow fear that to many in England it does not matter as long as we don’t have bombs in England any more. The view is that “The “troubles” are so “yesterday” and have been put to bed; a new outbreak is inconceivable.

But Northern Ireland voted to remain 56:44 – not as clear-cut as the Scottish result, but it is made more difficult that in some respects the vote was along sectarian lines. Therein lies the difficulty but also the explanation of the problem.

The resolution of the Troubles has made the border a very soft border and has drawn the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom closer together (and EU membership has not just helped fund significant projects, but brought about an Irish “closer union”). This seems to have reduced the divisions (or at least the friction) between unionists and nationalist (small “u” and small “n”). Now the prospects of the border being hardened is resurrecting fears of division. That division could mean a resurgence of terrorism (either “official” or “dissident”) which will only further harden the border.

Solutions are few and either infeasible or unpalatable to a large proportion of the population

  • The default situation: Nationalist just lump it
  • An unlikely solution: Abandon Brexit!
  • Variations on Indian partition
    • Nationalists migrate to the Republic (giving up …)
    • repartition – leaving Antrim, North Down and part of Armagh plus Belfast (with an isolated Nationalist enclave) in a further reduced Northern Ireland
  • The Scottish Solution: an Independent Northern Ireland in the EU
  • The Nationalist Solution: Reunification – as called for by the deputy First Minister

A big issue in Northern Ireland Politics – ever since Irish Independence is the protection of minority interests. In the 1920s the Unionist minority in Ireland was “protected” by partition and the creation of Northern Ireland. It has taken until very recently to resolve the issue of “protecting” the Nationalist minority in Northern Ireland.

If Northern Ireland as part of the UK leaves the EU, the Nationalist minority are going to feel less protected. Repartition will not make the Nationalists minority in Belfast feel at all secure. Reunification will create a resentful Unionist minority in a “united Ireland” – calm heads in Dublin may not welcome this problem.

Leave do not seem to understand history – written in capitals for Northern Ireland, or written in lower case for Scotland. Referenda – as binary mechanisms – create minorities – often substantial ones.

England & Wales

At first glance it might seem strange that the position of England & Wales needs to be discussed. But if (and I fear it is not that big an “if”) Scotland holds a second independence referendum and votes to leave the UK, there are implications for England and Wales.

First, the chances of continuous Conservative Government are massively increased. Continuous government of any one colour is undesirable, but the particular colour of Conservative that is currently rampant is probably distinctly unattractive to most non-Conservatives. Once you strip away the Brexit rhetoric you expose the hard dry small-state uncaring Tories underneath.

Second post-union (UK union), I doubt that such an England could ever be held in the same regard as the former Great Britain that we have known all our lives. We may have had terrible governments put in place and held in place by a dysfunctional electoral system, but together we put up with each others’ foibles and with different national characteristics to create a people that were tolerant and who could moderate the intolerant with a culture that was open, co-operative and compassionate to others. Even if we hold the (UK) union together, that culture has been severely damaged.

Third, The Northern Powerhouse, a concept given lip-service by George Osborne, has probably died with the political career of Osborne’s mate the master strategist.

Fourth, London! It’s different from Scotland, but it’s also very different from the rest of England. It is diverse, outward looking, and internationalist and it voted Remain. Will it take sufficient fright to find a State-identity as economic power starts moving to Frankfurt (or Amsterdam or Paris) and as administration jobs move to the new English-speaking gateway to the EU – Ireland, specifically Dublin?

We might no longer need that third runway. Certainly there is very little point in making that decision now.

What next

Article 50

There seem to be two ways to leave the EU. We could just repeal the European Communities Act and walk away, or we could use the method agreed by treaty – Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

There seems to be general agreement that Article 50 is the way to do it, but very little agreement of how to – it has never really been done before. (Prior to the Lisbon Treaty, Greenland on gaining autonomy from Denmark withdrew from the EU – a process that took more than three years.)

What is becoming clear though is that there are a number of processes that ideally have to run side by side. We will have to negotiate:

  1. With the EU: The uncoupling from EU – which is what Article 50 is about – it has a two year timetable that can only be extended by unanimity
  2. With the EU: Putting in place an EU trade deal
  3. With the EU: New treaties to deal with aspects of an ongoing EU-UK relationship that both sides mutually desire.
  4. With other countries – if mutually desired: Putting in place UK replacements for deals those countries have with the EU
  5. Within the UK: A massive legislative exercise to decide what bits of Euro-legislation that have been incorporated into UK law (such as the laws concerning working time) to keep, which to modify, which to replace and which to trash. According to Leave a huge proportion of our laws have come from the EU and it would cause judicial chaos to just declare them all “repealed” and to only put in place replacements as and when required.
  6. Possibly within the UK: negotiating the break up of the United Kingdom

At the same time the EU is trying to deal with

  • The Greek situation and the associated threat to the Euro,
  • Concluding the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Treaty (TTIP – that will be keeping a lot of American diplomats busy as well – a deal with the EU of 27 is probably more important than a deal with us)
  • Migratory pressures along the Southern border,
  • Russian aggression to the East and
  • On-going discussions with potential candidate countries (principally former Yugoslavian countries and Turkey).

It is probably also a racing certainty the EU will be experiencing other centrifugal pressures. Whilst some might welcome the total disintegration of the EU (“they deserve it”), it is probably not helpful if it happens whilst we are trying to disengage. A disorderly disintegration of our nearest neighbouring trade bloc is probably unhelpful at any time.

A question that is very current is when should Article 50 be invoked and how is it invoked?

There seems to be a mood within the Leave camp that you do not invoke Article 50 until most of the processes involving the EU have been concluded through informal talks; you then invoke Article 50 to formalise everything. This could take years. We have just decided that we don’t like the EU (even with Cameron’s reformed relationship) and we want to leave; so why isn’t Leave anxious to “get on with it” and get us out of this terrible relationship – particularly now that Cameron’s reforms are off the table and won’t be implemented.

The EU does not want a long drawn out distraction; many within the EU would be very happy to see an Article 50 withdrawal swiftly concluded leaving the UK (or what remains of it) outside the EU and approaching it like any other non-member country to agree mutually agreeable deals and treaties. Some argue that the wording of article 50 requires us to promptly invoke it. (It depends on the interpretation of the word “shall” – presumably in multiple languages.)

The founding six have called on us to immediately invoke it. Martin Schultz, president of the European Parliament, has complained that Europe should not be held hostage whilst Britain works out what it wants to do. I can see no reason why “they” should be willing to take part in any “informal talks” whilst we hold back from triggering Article 50. The EU has said to Cameron, “See You Next Tuesday” and will hold talks on Wednesday excluding the UK.

Leave are reported to be “keeping their heads down” – some apparently are in “no hurry” to invoke Article 50 and see the people’s wishes implemented. I presume they have a plan.

One of the big problems with “the Question” in the In/Out Referendum was that it was a false choice:

  • Remain: In a known defined situation
  • Leave: and face an unknown undefined situation

Perhaps the master strategist (retired) thought that this would play into his hands just as Project Fear (Lite) had worked so effectively in the First Scottish Independence Referendum. Well it did not and creates a problem.

Another Referendum

Meanwhile there is a petition on the Government website calling for a re-run of the referendum. Presumably this is on the usual European grounds that the previous referendum got the “wrong answer”. By Saturday night more that two million had “signed” the petition.

I detest the answer, and the means by which it was obtained, but without a successful legal challenge about some aspect of the Leave Campaign that clearly undermines the result, that answer has to stand.

Politics is currently nasty and toxic; re-running the referendum will not change that. A rerun of say the last four weeks is unlikely to change the answer, some of the English are bloody minded enough to ensure that there is a bigger Leave vote.

Where it would be useful to have another referendum (although I fear it would not be allowed) is on the terms of exit post an Article 50 preferably combined with the terms of new trade deals and treaties. That way we would be voting between two knows.

But it won’t happen; we have embarked on an uncharted course to an uncertain destination. We must travel that course and find where it takes us.

Voting Reform

So how does voting reform get into this discussion?

  1. People recognised that in the Referendum, their vote mattered – and they turned out to vote,
  2. Conversely, they recognise in most elections in most constituencies under First Past the Post, their vote makes no difference
  3. Consequently in the safe seats (i.e. in most of the country) there is a simmering resentment
  4. In most safe seats there is comparatively little political organisation, so getting a message out is difficult
  5. First Past the Post squeezes out dissent; party selection committees matter not electorates and they tend to select mainstream candidates
  6. First Past the Post reduces diversity of opinion
  7. Parliament does not reflect the diversity of opinion within the country – it is unrepresentative of the range of opinion in the country. So dissent and ill feeling festers outside parliament.
  8. A referendum gives the people a chance to discuss “non Mainstream” issues that matter to them – like foreigners (let’s not beat about the bush that is what winds up the Gillian Duffys of England) – and to give the system a damned good kicking. Which side gets the kicking could almost be a matter of chance depending on whether Nigel Farage does or does not publish an inflammatory poster.

With a decent electoral system – like STV (The Single Transferable Vote):

  • Almost every vote matters – typically 80% of votes elect someone compared to the 30-40% currently
  • In a typical four seat constituency any minority which gains just over a fifth of the votes will get representation – and parties with more support get proportionately more
  • Transferability of Votes means that wasted votes and split votes are almost eliminated. If a maverick stands against other party candidates, they will get elected if they gets the support from the electorate; if they don’t, their support will be transferred to each voter’s next preference – thereby “sealing the split” before any damage is done.
  • This means that power is put in the hands of the electorate, not the selectorate (the party selection committees). Party officials find it hard to understand that this is a “good thing”.
  • Significant minorities get elected and get heard in a representative parliament. Again, despite what some party officials say, this is a “good thing”
  • If the county has a xenophobic minority, it is probably best that its voice is heard early in parliament, rather than left to fester unchallenged. Another “good thing”.
  • Because “safe seats” are eliminated, most multi-member constituencies have the potential to elect a member from the leading parties, so most parties will organise everywhere rather than in their safe seats and the few marginals. Yet another “good thing”.

Unfortunately our old elitist parties prefer to keep power to themselves and their selection committees – accepting that they will have to take it in turns to hold majority power on a minority vote. Safe seats are “very efficient” in term of cost of returning an MP. Likewise they find it convenient to suppress dissent in their own parties and deny representation to minorities outside their parties. Getting the occasional kicking is considered a price worth paying.

The two old elitist parties (“elitist” because they try to keep power to themselves) are both revealed as creaking coalitions clinging together to stop First Past the Post ripping them to shreds.

With STV each party could offer the voters a variety of flavours of Labour and Conservative candidates and let the voters choose. Or they could be honest and split into separate parties, knowing that provided they remained reasonably civil towards their former colleagues, they could expect to gain on second and subsequent preference votes.

So yes, electoral reform is very relevant to what happened on Thursday 23 June 2016.

Meanwhile in other news:

UK Credit Rating

The UK has had its credit rating outlook cut to “negative” by the ratings agency Moody’s after the country voted to leave the EU.

Moody’s said the result would herald “a prolonged period of uncertainty”. …

Moody’s said the referendum result would have “negative implications for the country’s medium-term growth outlook”, and it lowered the UK’s long-term issuer and debt ratings to “negative” from “stable”.
Moody’s cut UK’s credit outlook to ‘negative’

Border Controls : taking responsibility & control

Xavier Bertrand, the president of Hauts-de-France region where Calais is located, said: “The English wanted to take back their freedom: they must take back their border.”

The French authorities had warned before the referendum that a vote for leaving the EU could see a camp with thousands of migrants being moved from Calais to British soil.
France’s Calais seeks border deal changes

Financial Services

London’s financial firms risk losing unrestricted access to the European Union, according to eurozone leaders. …

Many of London’s big financial institutions, which employ tens of thousands of UK staff, trade unhindered across the EU under rights known as “passporting”. …

The head of France’s central bank also warned that London’s banks would lose their “financial passport”.

“It would be a bit paradoxical to leave the EU and apply all EU rules, but that is one solution if Britain wants to keep access to the single market,” said Francois Villeroy de Galhau, who is also a member of the European Central Bank’s governing body.

Following the Leave vote, London’s banks have begun to look at shifting some operations outside of the UK. Several European cities have long-wanted to attract business away from London. …

But Leave supporters said London would remain Europe’s financial centre, and that “passporting” would be part of the negotiations. [So that’s OK then – the “dismiss” strategy just makes problems go away] ..

“London is a key indispensible financial centre, and there’s nothing like it including New York. What concerns me is that the focus is going to shift to other areas of economic union; Frankfurt, Paris, or what have you,” Mr Greenspan said.

US bank Morgan Stanley said on Friday it would “adapt accordingly” to a UK exit from the EU, after reports it could move up to 2,000 of its London-based staff to Dublin or Frankfurt. [This has not yet been diss’d by Leave]
City firms may lose ‘prized’ EU access, say eurozone leaders

EU Commission

The UK’s European Commissioner [for Financial Services] Lord Hill is to stand down, saying “what is done cannot be undone” after the UK voted to leave the European Union. …

A close ally of Prime Minister David Cameron, Lord Hill had argued for the UK to remain in the EU.

He will be replaced by Latvian politician Valdis Dombrovskis, currently European Commissioner for the euro.
UK’s EU commissioner Lord Hill to resign

European Citizenship

The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs has also said there has been “an increase in queries in respect of entitlements to Irish passports”.

Earlier, Google said there had been a dramatic spike in searches for Irish passport applications.

The overwhelming majority of the searches came from Northern Ireland.

In a statement, the Post Office in Northern Ireland said: “We have seen an unusually high number of people in Northern Ireland seeking Irish passport applications, though we do not have exact numbers or a breakdown by branch.”
BBC Northern Ireland Website, 24 June 2016 | Post Office in NI reports ‘unusually high number of people’ seeking Irish passports

Commemoration of the Somme 1st July 2016

At 7:28am the UK will hold a national two minute silence to mark the moment the first wave of soldiers went over the top in one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War. It will follow the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery firing guns from Parliament Square for 100 seconds and a reading in Westminster Abbey. Whistles will be blown to mark the end of the two minute silence after the 7:30am chimes of Big Ben.

The Battle of the Somme resulted in over one million casualties on all sides throughout the 141 day battle. On 1 July a series of commemorative events will be held in France, London and Manchester during which the nation will remember those who lost their lives and loved ones on the French battlefields.
UK Government Website, 24 June 2016 | UK to observe silence to mark 100 years since the Battle of the Somme

No mention in this that the Somme was a co-operative offensive launched partly to help take the pressure off our allies, the French. Logistically we could not support them with more troops at Verdun, but we could prevent further German troops attacking Verdun.

Could be difficult for any dignitary going to France.

By the end of the centenary commemorations, 11 November 2018, we might have left a Union forged out of the desire to prevent similar bloodbaths. Within the EU there has never been armed inter-nation conflict, there has been openness and an attempt to accept the “other”. But we, who sacrificed so much, are no longer prepared to work to sustain such a project. My grandfather would be spinning in his grave – if he had one.

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