Opinion

This page contains some of the opinions I have shared on Facebook

April 12th 2019

A friend has suggested that I am rather enjoying this – throwing out inflammatory Brexit posts and then watching the Leavers and Remainers tear into each other.
Another warned that I could make a lot of enemies this way.
In fact, what I have been doing is educating myself – not on the pros and cons of Brexit but on why people hold the views they do.
This is not something the Government is doing. Instead Mrs May is searching for a compromise which will enable her to say she has made good on her promise to “Deliver Brexit” – as if it is an eBay parcel containing something the children have ordered which the grown-ups know will turn out to be both shoddy and overpriced … and when it does arrive, the children will complain anyway because it looks nothing like the picture on the website.
But there is one consensus: Most people on both sides seem to agree that May’s Deal is worse than the one we have already and doesn’t really mean Leaving at all.
Yet still our Prime Minister won’t let it go. You can’t blame her. She did promise to be Strong and Stable…
So I have used this Facebook debate to try and establish why people are so keen to leave – and however you dress it up, it seems to come down to this: They don’t trust the European Union. They believe the EU is run by a corrupt and self-serving elite bent on telling us what to do.
Rather as we view our own politicians, in other words…
The fact is that politicians are the new whipping boys – just like bankers and estate agents before them. But I have never met a politician – from parish council to cabinet level – who did not go into it without the purest of motives.
Oh, a few of them might get corrupted along the way just like you find bent policemen and the occasional dentist doing unnecessary fillings to pay off gambling debts – and of course, the most extraordinary spectacle of all was journalists castigating MPs for fiddling their expenses – and all without a single reference to pots and kettles…
Honestly, who would go into politics for the money – you can make a lot more (and get away with a lot more) in virtually any branch of the private sector.
So what makes the European politicians so different? According to the leavers who have argued so vociferously on this forum, it all comes down to power: The EU will always want more power. Little by little, treaty by treaty, they have sucked the power away from Britain, robbing us of our sovereignty and, in the process, they have started to build a European superstate with totalitarian powers to impose its laws on us, tell us who can come and go, how powerful our vacuum cleaners may be and yes, they are on their way to creating a Euro-army so that German officers can give orders to British squaddies.
It all sounded so very worrying that I went to my Facebook friend John F Wallis. He is astonishingly well-informed, having studied the EU for 30 years (and built up a healthy dislike for it in the process). Here was my question: “If the EU is planning to turn Europe as a totalitarian superstate, why couldn’t we just veto it if we didn’t like it?”
He explained that the trend had been to erode veto powers each time the EU has expanded and if this trend continues, it will be replaced by something called Qualified Majority Voting and national governments would end up with little more power than local councils. Also, he identified a tendency for heads of national governments to cede power to Brussels while they were in office and then, on their retirement, land plum Euro-jobs with fat salaries – what a surprise!
But then, he is a dyed-in-the-wool Leaver.
Try looking at the same situation from the Remain point of view: The European decision-making process involves 28 delegates sitting round an enormous table. The rule is that any one of them can veto the decision of the other 27 – that is what President Macron threatened to do if the others didn’t agree to a shorter Brexit deadline.
He didn’t veto it, of course. Instead, the 27 delegates worked things out between them – even if it did take them until two O’clock in the morning. That’s what is supposed to happen. It means that each of the 28 countries agrees to have its influence reduced by a factor of 27:1 – and they think that’s worth it in order to have their global clout increased by a factor of 27:1.
So everything is now down to a question of whether you trust the other 27 people round the table. Remainers, of course, don’t have a problem with this: The fact that the other 27 are all foreigners doesn’t matter. Remainers like foreigners. Also, the fact that they are all former politicians and presidents and what-not makes perfect sense to the Remain camp. If you want someone to represent your country at the heart of the biggest political project in history, wouldn’t you like them to have some political experience? And, if they’re representing the entire country (and sitting up until 2.00 a.m. because somebody wants to be awkward) shouldn’t they get paid over the odds for it? Considerably over the odds – after all, they have already made it to the top of their national greasy pole and we do want them to be immune to bribery…
Ah, I can hear the Leave camp already honing their resentment against The Elite.
That’s OK by me. I don’t want to be part of the elite. I don’t want to have to sit up until two in the morning listening to Theresa May.
(In fact, why am I sitting up at 10.30 p.m. in a Club Med hotel in La Plagne while my 16-year-old son is up in the room revising for his GSE’S while I write this with one finger on my phone?)
Good Question. Here’s the answer:

Image may contain: 1 person, sky, cloud, crowd and outdoor
 
March 25th 2019
 
Is it wrong to take pleasure in seeing your Facebook friends at each other’s throats?
Is it even more delicious when they argue over a casual opinion that you just happened to toss out there in an idle moment?
Following my announcement that I was going on Saturday’s Put it to The People march, I have enjoyed the fallout immensely. 
But at the same time, it has been startling to witness the passions aroused. Maybe they have been exacerbated by the thought that this week, one of the options to be put before Parliament will be a second referendum. On past form, MPs will reject it – after all, it would be a very serious blow to democracy if our elected representatives chose to ignore The Will of The People – or at least of the 17.4million who won the first referendum.
The trouble is that there seemed to be an awful lot of those Leavers joining the queue shuffling from Park Lane to Parliament Square. They were quite open about it: They realised they had bought a pack of lies. Turning up to swell the crowd to a million was the least they could do.
Of course, the Leave camp have dismissed this by crowing: “Where were the other 16.4million?”
Alright, say the Remainers: “Five million have signed the online petition to Revoke Article 50.”
“Ah,” the Leavers come right back, “That was hijacked by Russian bots.”
Hold on, why would Russia spend all that money getting a Leave result and then try and sabotage it? Anyway, having signed the petition myself, I found that I had to respond to a verification email before I was counted which, apparently, makes the whole process very hard work for a bot, even a Russian one.
But still the Leavers fought their corner: All through Sunday while I painted the boat and listened to the whole shabby saga being dissected on The World This Weekend, the two sides slugged it out.
This is what it must have been like watching gladiators in the Colosseum. By Sunday evening, there were only five still standing – although Steve Leather(Brexit) was taking on two at once (but then he is the thriller writer by appointment to the SAS). Meanwhile that vociferous Brexiteer Eric Frederick Manning had made the mistake of setting about Kim Willsher, Foreign Correspondent not only for the Guardian but also The Observer and the Los Angeles Times.
This second exchange contained fewer insults. Also, Kim has spent a lifetime rooting out the truth and it was fascinating to see her dismantle every one of Eric’s classic Brexit arguments (London Stock Exchange moving to Frankfurt, UK forced to give up the pound…)
But in the end, all her carefully attributed evidence counted for nothing because in the game of Brexit Top Trumps, truth does not beat emotion.
And you cannot find any better source of emotion than plucky little England standing alone against the Nazi menace. Look at any pro-Brexit rhetoric and you will see the reference in pride of place.
There is absolutely nothing the Remainer can do about this: To suggest that 80 years on, it is not a valid argument is just plain unpatriotic. What would those fallen heroes say about their grandchildren being told what to do by the Germans?
In the last rounds of the Willsher-Manning bout, Eric warned that once Messrs Junker and Barnier have established their EU army, any dissent on the streets of London will be quashed by Brussels sending in the National Guard – the inference being jackbooted EU stormtroopers in coal scuttle helmets goose-stepping up Whitehall.
I think Kim realised you cannot counter this sort of thing with any kind of logic so, politely, she thanked her opponent for their civil exchange and signed off.
He’s still going, though – now onto the price of sugar…
In other words, arguing with each other changes nothing. Yet this week Parliament is likely to agree to some sort of Brexit just so they can “deliver Brexit” as if it was something the children had bought on eBay.
Well if it is, now the children want to send it back because what’s in the parcel looks nothing like the picture on the website – but unfortunately, the seller has clicked “No Returns”. 
Time for a lecture on being careful what you bid for. Yes, it is sad but there’s a lesson for you…
Even Lord Heseltine thinks it’s sad. Yes, Tarzan, once the golden-haired glamour-boy of the Commons, so passionate about democracy that he snatched the mace from the Speaker’s table and swung it above his head – even he thinks it’s sad.
In fact, if you want to indulge yourself, he told Channel 4 News how he felt about it: “Sad that my generation betrayed the young generation. Sad that we denied Britain’s historic role at the centre of Europe. Sad that we stood down from out position as one of the leading countries of our sort in the world. We gave up power. I can’t understand that.”
It’s a moving interview. You can look it up on YouTube. It’s had 50,000 views – not enough to make any difference, of course. Even those five million signatures aren’t enough. “Go and get 17.5million,” say the Brexiteers.
But hold on, there’s a thought: Things have changed a lot since 2016. It has taken 30 months but now nobody really believes the NHS is going to get £350million a week or that immigration will stop overnight – and anyway, people are feeling much better about immigrants now.
This last piece of the puzzle clicked into place just ten days ago when the world discovered true compassion and leadership watching the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern deal with her crisis.
So how would it be if The People really did take control? I’m not talking about yellow vests and petrol bombs – just getting that petition past 17.4million. That really would prove that the nation now realises it was sold a pup – and the Will of the People is to take advantage of the eBay appeals procedure…
This is actually doable: If every one of those five million people who took the trouble to sign the petition were to persuade three friends to do the same – why, that would be 20million!
They would need to do it fast – before the MPs start on their “indicative votes” or – heaven forbid – any “meaningful votes”.
In fact, if you signed the petition, it would be best if you contacted your three friends right now.
And don’t forget to tell them that when they’ve added their signature, they should find three friends of their own who have yet to sign it as well – just to make sure…
Here it is: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/241584
When the system has frozen, you need to reboot.
 
March 21st 2019

Wish me luck, two weeks short of my 70th birthday I am about to do something I have never done before. 
I am going on a demonstration.
Actually, that is not as scary as it sounds. I know all about demonstrations. In my days as a newspaper reporter, I used to go on them almost weekly – including the ones with riot shields in the gutter and police horses charging the crowd.
But this time I’m going to be a participant. One of the hundreds of thousands of people who feel they just can’t stand by and see our country do the most stupid thing in its history. I am going to march to Westminster on Saturday to call for a People’s Vote.
Now, I know that a lot of people are going to say we had a people’s vote. It was called The Referendum and The People voted to leave. I understand completely. I very nearly voted Leave, myself. I loved the idea of “Taking Back Control”, I hated the “Faceless Bureaucrats” – and wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to send £350million to Brussels every week?
In the end, I voted Remain because I asked my children for their opinion, reasoning that it had more to do with them than it did with me. If you mention Churchill to that generation, their first thought is the gravel-voiced dog on the insurance advert. They are not filled with horror at the idea of foreigners telling us what to do. We’ve got politicians telling us what to do already. What’s the difference?
(In fact, given the way the Westminster lot are behaving, the European Parliament seems a model of good sense).
But there’s more to it than that. We have done exactly what America did when electing Donald Trump. We have allowed our hearts to overrule our heads. Remember Michael Gove saying: “The British people have had enough of experts”?
Aaron Banks, who bankrolled the Leave campaign, admitted: “Facts don’t work” when it comes to influencing voters.
What they did, very cleverly, very effectively and with the help of Cambridge Analytica and a lot of Russian money, was to appeal directly to voters’ emotions.
I know. I spent long hours late at night looking at videos on YouTube: We had seen off the Spanish Armada, the Kaiser, The Nazis… we were the fifth largest economy in the world…we taught those foreigners everything from parliamentary democracy to cricket…who says we can’t make it on our own…
And what happened? Pretty much what happened in the USA: Four million people who had never cast a vote in their lives suddenly felt galvanised into finding their way to the polling station for the first time – streams of new voters demanding to know why they couldn’t use their own biro to make their mark, why they had to put a cross instead of a tick, why the ballot box didn’t look like the one on the telly…
These were the people, in their fifties, sixties and older, who had never taken the slightest interest in politics who were now going to decide the future for their children and grandchildren – and all without the faintest idea of what that might involve.
Because it was all going to be so easy: We would make trade deals all over the world – but nobody mentioned that would mean accepting American food standards and drug prices. Nobody even thought about the Irish border. But when you do think about it, how can you have two different customs regimes and two different immigration policies right next to each other without a border? It just doesn’t make sense…
Which means, inevitably, that the “Backstop” will endure forever. Why do you think M. Barnier is so adamant on that point. He’s no fool.
Of course, things might have been different if we had spent the past two-and-a-half years getting ourselves organised for a hard Brexit and then, at the last minute, agreed to meet a delegation from Brussels coming cap-in-hand to beg us to stay and offering all the concessions they now so confidently reject.
I have no doubt that some of my Facebook friends will shout me down (Harvey Mann, are you there?) but in every case, they will justify their argument with nothing more than gut-feeling and national pride. They may cite one or two obscure academics or business-owners who say we will thrive on our own. But the overwhelming body of knowledgeable opinion – not just here but around the world – is that this is the most idiotic act of self-mutilation imaginable.
If the opinion polls are to be believed, a great proportion of those people who voted Leave on an emotional high now feel ashamed and depressed and, out of sheer self-preservation, have decided to stop thinking about it altogether.
Certainly, there are a vociferous few who will go and buy yellow waistcoats from B&Q and take to the streets with a lot of noise and the occasional petrol bomb. But judging by the numbers on the Leave Means Leave march, we can probably live with that – certainly, it seems preferable to the IRA digging up their Semtex again.
Maybe it is too late. Maybe the last 30 months of stupidity piled on stupidity have now set in motion a universally-detested future which has achieved its own, unstoppable, momentum.
But I don’t think I could live with myself if I didn’t give up one Saturday and the train fare to Liverpool Street to say: “Hold on, this is just stupid…”
Why not join me? Park Lane to Westminster, Saturday, March 23rd 12noon. 
The system is broken. We need to reboot.