Spare Us The Claptrap!

Boris Johnson has got his Brexit Withdrawal Agreement in place inside two months, something his predecessor in failure only managed in two years. But is it his own deal? Well no, not exactly.

The agreement with the EU that he is asking Parliament to ratify shows very little difference from May’s doomed attempt. Only fifteen core pages have been renegotiated, along with the political non-binding declaration. Eleven pages have been jettisoned. That’s out of nearly six hundred pages! I’m just wondering why negotiators have had to fly back and forward to Brussels when they could have just exchanged texts!

In reality Mop-Top Johnson, who looks as statesman-like as Onslow from Keeping Up Appearances, hasn’t really negotiated a full deal at all, he’s just tinkered around the edges with a pair of nail scissors. Those edges, he’s hoping, will encourage enough MP’s to vote the agreement through.

I suspect he’s on a hiding to nothing. 

The DUP have already said they won’t vote for the agreement. Jeremy Corbyn, the Brexiteer in sheep’s clothing, is saying Labour won’t back it. With Jo Swinson’s, Conservative-lite, Liberal Democrats advocating remain come what may, alongside the Greens and the SNP, Johnson hasn’t got a cat in hells chance of winning the vote this coming Saturday.

But as we know by now, Brexit voters will shout from every rooftop that the referendum should be honoured whatever the costs, this tawdry story is going to run and run.

The fact I don’t believe he’ll get it through a Parliament elected after the 2016 referendum, for me, has never been in doubt, but he’ll try anyway. Johnson and his staunch Brexit cabinet will blame everyone under the sun but themselves for the situation the country is in if it is voted down. Chief among them the EU, remain voting MP’s, Remoaner-voices-off. He may even stoop to blaming the Chief Mouser in residence, Larry, if everything goes pear-shaped.

With the passing of the Benn Act, which was introduced to avoid a no deal Brexit and Johnson’s ultra-commitment to leave on the 31 October the two sides are polls apart, and they don’t appear to be getting any closer.

I myself have a view on Brexit, which I try not to push too much here on APGrozdanovic, but it’s imperative that the two sides find a way to come together for the good of the country. To say we have to Get Brexit Done, or to pummel the airwaves with the only way to move forward is a People’s Vote is misreading the mood of the nation.

A recent YouGov poll of polls shows an increased backing for remain, but the country will still be fractured after Brexit is done or not.

What we need is statesmen/women who will move this country forward together, for the benefit of everyone. This has proved elusive for the past two incumbents of 10 Downing Street. And as I have argued before, it’s time for radical thinking. And these politicians have proved time and again that they can’t change their spots. We have to move on, forward, together. If that means an election, give us one. If it means a People’s Vote, give us one. But above all, spare us all this claptrap that the referendum of 2016 unleashed.

This post was originally written & uploaded: 18 Oct 2019

From the Archives: Election 2015

This year’s election is like no other, that’s for sure. With all the competing party’s on top of the traditional two plus one, voters are finding it hard to settle on a clear favourite. The polls are matching the two main party’s at neck and neck consistently. Whilst, the EU bashing UKIP and independent dreaming SNP garner favour in unprecedented numbers. The poor Liberals, traditionally the protest party of choice, have plummeted in popularity during their stint in government.

What has gone wrong for the Tory’s and Labour is hard to establish in this modern electoral nightmare. But one thing is for certain, politics is not that simple anymore.

Austerity has blown consensus out of the water. People who were attached to the old order in politics now look for scapegoats all over the place. For the nationalists it’s Westminster. For UKIP it’s Europe and the influx of migrants. The electorate are not placated by data showing more people working than ever, or wage’s growing for the first time since the downturn. They simply want something different.

Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, blames Cameron and austerity. She keeps banging on about wanting a deal with Labour to lock the Tory’s out of Downing Street. A deal most Scots would relish. But that does nothing for Labour. Accepting a deal in public before the election would simply throw Labour out of Scottish politics too. They would become as irrelevant north of the border as the Conservative party has since Thatcher’s days.

Sturgeon’s priority is to grab as much power as she can, and as quickly as she can, in Westminster. This will enable her to force a new referendum through on independence. It’s important to remember, Sturgeon’s whole raison d’être is the break-up the Union. Her strength north of the border, if the polls are to be believed, will be total after the election. And that divorce will be irresistible if she gets anywhere near the levers of power in London.

The nationalists in Wales are also banking on division too. Leanne Wood has performed well in the debates on TV. Unlike the SNP, Plaid Cymru’s foothold isn’t as comprehensive, but in this era of change, who knows what can happen. Her direct approach to the people of Wales was effective and measured. While I haven’t read the Welsh press, I expect her performances to have gone down well in the Principality.

While Sturgeon and Wood are wedded to independence, UKIP are intent on a breakaway of a different type. Extrication from the EU is in their blood. Total and complete withdrawal from Brussels is Farage’s aim. (I find this unusual coming from a man that has been paid handsomely by the EU for some time.) All the country’s problems appear to be solvable by withdrawing from the EU and introducing an Australian-style points system for entry into the country. I sometimes wonder if his next proposal will be to build a giant wall around the country to stop foreign people coming in.

His brand of popularism is definitely resonating with the public though. Polls for the election are putting them ahead of the Liberal Democrats. Their two MP’s, Carswell & Reckless, both Tory defectors may be added to on May 7. If they are, and they get enough support, Farage may be the man who hands Cameron the keys to Number 10 for another 5 years.

The Liberal Democrats are polling at extremely low figures, vying with UKIP and the Greens. It’s proving to be hard for Nick Clegg to retain any authority after jumping into bed with the Tory’s 5 years ago, and propping Cameron up in the first coalition government in many years. His ditching of a flagship policy like tuition fees hurt him badly. He has never really recovered. There are even murmurs about him losing his seat at the election. Polls come and go. We’ll have to wait on that one.

Labour are struggling to take a lead over the unpopular Tory’s. The memory of the crash still hangs heavily over them from 2008. Brown’s government left a hefty deficit after the necessary bail out of the banks. But there is a new man at the helm and despite popular fights against the press, energy companies and others, Miliband struggles to make a mark. His performances have been good in the televised debates. He will have only gained from the added exposure. Unlike the Tory’s, they’re not setting a date on eventual debt eradication, preferring to reduce it slower and where they can. They have definitely learned from Cameron’s bold intention in 2010 that was never achievable.

Where Labour have failed is to instil in the public mind that it was the banks that caused the crash. Yes, they were in power, and yes, the rules in the banking system were lax. But at the time even the Tory party were insisting on even less restrictive measures.

Cameron’s tenure in Downing Street is one of missed opportunities – unashamedly championing the rich, or in modern parlance, the Wealth Creators. He promised no top down reorganisation of the NHS but did it. He promised to get rid of the deficit. He hasn’t. He promised fairness while cutting taxes for the wealthy and imposing the Bedroom Tax on the poor. He didn’t learn the lessons from Blair on Iraq when he wanted to tackle al Assad in Syria with Obama.

His legacy appears to be a low wage economy. Division between the haves and have-nots. Decimated public services. An increasingly privatised NHS and uncertainty in the jobs market with issues such as zero-hour contracts.

On 7 May the electorate, those that are registered to vote, or can be bothered to, will choose the next government. Many don’t vote at all and that’s the fault of both the electorate and the politicians. People should be engaged in the electoral process and it’s important that politicians give people something to vote for. 

For keen observers it will be an interesting time. For a lot of others, it will be business as usual.

This article was originally published in May 2015

Radical Thinking

It’s now 3 years since the country voted to exit the European Union. Two Prime Ministers – and counting – and we still inhabit the Brexit wasteland. Remaining in, but endlessly sat in the departure lounge. 

And what of the two sides?

There seems to be no coming together of the Remain and Leave side of the Brexit argument. In fact, most people, and this is only anecdotal, have simply dug their heels in. They are either Remain (not Remain and Evolve) or Leave (at all costs). 

No fan of Theresa May, I think we can all agree she wrecked any chance of a Brexit compromise with her Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union. (Did you read all 500+ pages of the agreement? No? Neither did I!) She satisfied neither side of the Brexit divide. Her whole Premiership will be seen by historians as a complete and utter failure to bring Parliament and the people together.

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Leader, seen by many as a Remainer, although I don’t know why, has completely failed to take his party with him on Brexit as well. His policy of constructive ambiguity, whatever that was, has seen the Fourth Estate portray him sitting on a splintered fence leaning towards Remain. I’ve never seen it that way. In all circumstances, Corbyn has re-iterated that the result of the referendum should be honoured. I ask myself, how can that be a Remain position? Where people get confused, and right-wing pundits bellow it from the rooftops, is that he doesn’t advocate a Tory hard Brexit. And to them, that equals Remain. They somehow miss the point that he continually says he will negotiate a better deal if he becomes Prime Minister. Those are not the words of a Remainer. However, he will support a second referendum on what he sees as a bad deal put forward by any Tory government. But that does not make him a supporter of Remain.

Alternatively, we have Farage shouting down BBC microphone’s at every opportunity like some demented Shakespearean tragi-character threatening the wrath of the people if he doesn’t get the Brexit HE wants. Every time the megaphone agitator appears on TV I can’t help thinking, ‘O for another series of classic Spitting Image’. I suspect he’d be sat in Trumps breast pocket while in the other would be ‘Mop-Top’ Johnson, the likely new Tory leader and PM.

And on the other side of the Brexit chasm we have the Liberal Democrats – Conservatives-Lite in another dictionary – fighting for the pro-Remain votes with the Green Party led, inexplicably, by two people. Not forgetting the SNP up there in Scotland. Agitating for an IndyRef2 if they don’t get a People’s Vote to Remain.

Common ground in British politics has been burnt at the Brexit stake.

Whilst here at APGrozdanovic we try to be impartial, it is sometimes hard to pull off that particular trick, of arguing for both sides in such a divisive matter. But here goes, I have readers of all persuasions…

It’s high time for radical thinking. 

The country needs our political representatives to speak for us and act in our best interests. Not for their own narrow interest group within a party. 

Brexit voters conveniently forget what we were promised during and after the ballot. Note the ambiguity of the £350m we could spend on our NHS emblazoned over a big red bus. John Redwood saying on 17 July 2016, that ‘Getting out of the EU can be quick and easy.’ Or Michael Gove pronouncing on the 1 June 2016 that, ‘We can easily conclude a new settlement with the EU…’ These and other things have proved to be pie-in-the-sky.

On the Remain side, although they lost the referendum, I still don’t think they are putting the case forward well enough for people to re-imagine a world where a new ballot can relieve citizen’s doubts about the EU and the advantages of staying in. The political soundbite ‘Project Fear’ still resonates, no matter how many reports show Brexit impacting on the economy and jobs. For their argument to prevail, they have to step up to the plate and explain better the reason for staying.

In my fictional book, Stalag Britain, about a Brexit that goes catastrophically wrong, I wrote about job losses in various areas and shortages in the health service. The rise of racism. Governments failing. This wasn’t hard for me to imagine and include in my story, so why is it so difficult for others?

I think the time has come to think beyond Brexiteers & Remainers. It’s now an opportunity for a new Prime Minister to be radical. And I don’t mean to raise the flag for one side or the other. Whether it be ‘Mop-Top’ Johnson or ‘Entrepreneur’ Hunt who becomes the next PM, they have to jettison the idea of Brexit on 31 October, pause Article 50, and form a government of national unity. One where people of all sides of the political spectrum, including voters, can work out where we want to go as a country. That may end up in Brexit. It may not. But at least we will have clarity and agreement on the road we are travelling. We have to remember that the future is not ours, it’s our children’s and grandchildren’s. It’s our duty to leave them a prosperous future of opportunity, where doors are open in friendship and not closed because we have cut our nose off to spite our face.

I raise a glass in Hope…

This post was originally written & uploaded: 22 July 2019

Time For Change

Since Harold Wilson voluntarily resigned as Labour Prime Minister in 1976, we have had three, and soon to be four leaders of this country who have been forced to throw in the towel.

Margaret Thatcher was toppled in 1990 by her own party due to problems that included the Poll Tax and Europe. Tony Blair’s Labour party had had their fill of their most effective leader after ten years in 2007, replacing him with the Iron Chancellor, Gordon Brown. David Cameron had to resign in 2016 after his ill-fated sojourn into settling the European question for a generation.

And now we have Cameron’s successor, Theresa May, promising to step down as Prime Minister because she has been unable to satisfy the thirst of Brexiteers within her own toxic party. They are now predictably plotting to replace her.

What these leaders all have in common is that they weren’t replaced at the ballot box, but by their own party, who had become exasperated and disillusioned with them. In todays world, where politicians of every persuasion rabbit on about respecting votes at the ballot box, this archaic form of replacing an unpopular leader has now become unacceptable.

Post Brexit referendum, where sovereignty and accountability were heralded as reasons to leave the EU, the British public must have the final say on who resides in Downing Street. It isn’t good enough anymore to allow a cabal of MPs, and party members, to choose who governs this country in our name. 

If people want effective democracy in this country, then things have to change. The fixed-term parliamentary act has to be amended. Whilst this was a good addition to democracy, it failed to anticipate that leaders could be jettisoned at any time by their own party. Who in turn could retain power by nominating their own leader and thus Prime Minister without recourse to the electorate.

It’s self-evident our system of government needs an overhaul. If Prime Ministers are to be accountable to voters, then they have to be voted in by the electorate. We may need to move to another system of government all together, perhaps a Presidential format, where voters know who they are getting for a fixed period. Or, simply, a tweak to the present format. Say, if a party wants to sack its leader, then a fresh election is triggered within a short period with their new leader in place.

If the electorate continually accepts that a small group of party members and MP’s can decide this country’s leader, then the public will get what it deserves. And quite honestly it has, for in each case listed above, the Prime Minister has been replaced by an increasingly unpopular successor. 

In the modern world, democratic accountability is essential. It’s now time for change.

This post was originally written and uploaded: 19 May 2019

Prague Visit

With medieval streets, Art Nouveau masterpieces and Baroque squares, Prague is a city to behold. The absolute joy of walking around corner after corner and being faced by yet more architectural beauty is amazing. In no other city that I’ve visited has this happened.

From the Old Town Square to the Gothic Charles Bridge, to Jewish Prague and Prague Castle, to Wenceslas Square to St Vitus’s Cathedral, you just marvel at the history and splendour of a city that is becoming more and more popular.

Prague’s distinct areas include, Staré Mêsto, Josefov and Northern Staré Mêsto and Prague Castle & Hradêany, Malá Strana and Nové Mêsto. There are more, but we just visited those.

In Staré Mêsto (The Old Town), you’ll find such delights as the Astronomical Clock. Dating back to the 15thCentury, the clock not only tells the time, it displays the movement of the sun and moon through the signs of the zodiac and the planets around the earth. Get there on the hour and you’ll be accompanied by many others watching the distinctive way it marks the event.

A group of people sitting on the side of a building

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The Municipal House is a prominent Art Nouveau building decorated with figures on all sides. It is an impressive sight. And close by is the Powder Gate, an entrance to the city that dates back to 1475

In the Josefov and Northern Staré Mêsto area, Jewish history is very prominent with its synagogues and museums. It’s quite a sobering experience to visit the synagogues and to be faced with the brutality inflicted on the population by the Nazis. To see the names of the people written on walls of remembrance and to read of their suffering is a reminder that we cannot and must not forget what has happened to the Jewish community through time. The small cemetery is a place for quiet contemplation with grave stones struggling to stand upright, with the horrors to which the city has witnessed, clearly on their shoulders.

If you wish to visit the synagogues and museums (which include the Jewish Museum, Pinkas Synagogue and Spanish Synagogue, to mention just a few) in the area, you can purchase reasonably priced tickets to get in all of them.

Spanish Synagogue

If you cross the river using the impressive Gothic Charles Bridge, you’ll reach Malá Strana. Here you will find the beautiful Baroque Church of St. Nicholas and the Palace Gardens. For John Lennon/Beatles fans there is the graffiti-covered wall that people regularly paint over. The Kafka Museum is a must for fans of literature. It tells the story of the city and one of its most famous sons.

On the same side of the river is Prague Castle, which dates back to the 9thCentury, and is quite extraordinary. It covers a substantial area. The Gothic St. Vitus’s Cathedral, which can be seen for miles around, is the centre piece. If you’re fit and able, a climb up the tower, which gives breath-taking views, is a must. A castle visit also includes museums and places to eat and drink, so you can have a rest during your visit – which we did, partaking in Hot Mulled Wine and Apple Strudel.

Going back over the river to Nové Mêsto (New Town) you’ll find the National Museum at the top of Wenceslas Square, an impressive area with shops and restaurants. 

The Baroque Cathedral of St. Cyril and St. Methodius is of historical significance because the parachutists who assassinated the Nazi governor, Reinhard Heydrich, hid in the crypt. You’ll find a memorial to them in the crypt itself as well as their story. Their valour in the face of Nazi occupation cannot be underestimated.

Traditional Czech food includes Roasted Pork and Goulash. I can attest to both being excellent. Also, Apple Strudel on the Dessert Menu is popular, and it was with us.

Czech beer never fails. Don’t be put off by the Dark Beer which, despite its appearance, isn’t like British Stout. It’s much lighter. Other traditional lighter Czech beers are excellent too.

In general, English is widely spoken, so ordering food and drink isn’t a problem. But with narrow streets and cobbled, uneven paving, getting around could be difficult for the disabled.

We visited in late March, for four nights. The weather wasn’t great. It was cool with mostly grey skies. We were lucky, no rain fell while we were there.

We stayed at the Mamaison Hotel, Riverside, Prague. Our transport and accommodation were arranged by Heather Reynolds of Travel Counsellors.

I suppose the success of a City Break rests on whether you would visit again. I can say without a doubt, we’d definitely visit Prague again.

Corbyn, The Brexit Enabler

People who believe that Jeremy Corbyn is the sticking point in a Brexit deal miss the point completely. Corbyn is a brexiteer who just happens to go round wearing a woolly hat. He seems to believe that we can have all the benefits of being a member of the EU but without having to carry a membership card. We only have to go back to the referendum when he refused to join the official remain camp to understand his real position.

Today’s letter to Theresa May, from Corbyn, has finally put to bed any notion that he wants Britain to stay in the EU. Afterall, he has said on many occasions that he respects the result of the referendum of 2016. The fact that his party carries the option of a People’s Vote when all else has failed means nothing to Corbyn. He will do his utmost to stop Labour supporting a new referendum.

If May wants his support, though, she must acquiesce to his demands in various areas. He and the rest of the Labour leadership know that to follow his demands, May would be risking the break-up of her own party. (And as we all know, Brexit has always been about keeping the Tory party together.) Close alignment with the customs union and rights and protections are not in the hard-brexiteer handbook, though, so she’d be backing it at her peril. Even though the EU has received the suggestions favourably.

But as mischievous as Corbyn can be in posting his suggestions to May, the real fight is in the Tory party. With the support of her own party and the DUP, May can push her Brexit plan through. If she can convince them of the merits of her deal then there is no need for Corbyn’s support. His place in the Brexit history books would be as a mere footnote.

The problem that May deals with daily is keeping her Tory party together. Now, we find, Corbyn is risking the break-up of his party with his constant enablement of the Brexit cause. Regardless of the form Brexit comes in, and whether you like it or not, he is supporting it with every bone in his body and proves it with his support for the outcome of the referendum and todays demands.

Owen Smith, the Labour MP for Pontypridd, has said he is considering his position in the party following Corbyn’s exercise in oiling the Brexit wheels. More are certain to follow his lead and think carefully whether they want to sit on the same benches as him in Parliament.

Brexit is a political chasm that can’t be closed. And we have the two weakest leaders this country has probably ever had facing each other at the Dispatch Box. With the severity of the issues at hand, both parties and this country deserve better.

Whether you believe in Brexit or not, don’t for one minute think that Jeremy Corbyn will stop it. He is an enabler, despite what his party wants or the press tell you.

Remainers shouldn’t look to Corbyn for help. His back was turned the moment the referendum was called. If you want a People’s Vote look elsewhere. If you want Brexit, he can’t do much worse than May.

7 Feb 2019

Time For Labour To Stand Up

Brexit, in all shapes and sizes, looks to be a complete dog’s dinner. It’s hard to look at it any other way.

While we have a government led by the ineffectual Teresa May, leaving the European Union with a good deal looks about as distant a prospect as man landing on Mars.

Since taking over the Tory leadership she has misfired at every turn. She called an early general election (despite fixed term parliaments being a Coalition success) and lost a Commons working majority. She then effectively handed control of Brexit policy to the DUP and the right-wing Brexiteers in her party (not to mention noises off, Farage). And since then she has limped from one Brexit crisis to another. 

How humiliating must it have been to have Brexit Secretary, Davis and the blonde mop and dinner party raconteur, Johnson, resign over her Chequers deal. And then have it effectively thrown in the incinerator by European negotiator, Michel Barnier

The vision of Brexit by its champions is one of nirvana. The It’ll Be Alright on The Night Brigade never seem to deliver a coherent picture of life outside the European Union. Yes, they point to better trading deals with countries like the USA. But do we really want to be standing alone in a trade deal with someone like Trump in the White House, slapping tariffs on anything that takes his fancy? By pulling the drawbridge up on Europe, our biggest free trading partner, does that make Britain great again? It’s a big question. 

And it’s an even bigger question when time and again reality bites and warnings are delivered as to the what will happen if a cliff-edge no deal wins the day.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (who work towards eradicating poverty in the UK) say families will continue to struggle regardless of a Brexit deal.

In a survey conducted by Odgers Berndtson of a hundred UK business leaders over 50% wanted to stop Brexit altogether.

Jaguar’s boss warns of high job losses with a bad Brexit deal.

Honda’s European boss says the company would lose tens of millions of pounds.

These are obviously selected clips from what the hard Brexiteers would call Project Fear, but when you consider recent polls by Yougov showing public opinion is drifting away from Brexit, things begin to look different. Do people still think that this is the future they want for Britain? Maybe it isn’t.

In a Yougov survey of 2,700 members of Unite, Unison and GMB it showed a clear majority for staying in the EU. This is just over two years since the narrow victory for Vote Leave. 

Times change.

It’s time for Labour to stand up and be counted.

We now have a convincing majority of Labour members who want their party to opt for the so-called People’s Vote. The enthusiasm for this is now charging forward apace.

With all this evidence – business, Union and public opinion – shouting from the rooftops that they want a new vote now the reality of Brexit is knocking at their door, it is incumbent on Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party to be the trusted opposition to a catastrophic hard-Tory Brexit. 

By changing their policy and supporting a People’s Vote (and writing it in their manifesto), Labour will give people a real choice at the ballot box. Because Brexit is the only game in town. Get that right and you can begin to move on and work towards a better health service, a world class education system and quality employment. The things this government and Brexit has derailed.

This article was originally published on 22 September 2018