Vote for Labour Values in the European Election

Vote for Labour Values in the European Election

This is the full transcript of John’s hustings speech in Reading on Monday 20 May 2019. It followed a presentation from the moderator on opinion polling for the European Elections. The event was organised by Berkshire in Europe. 


Thank you chair, I take it you want me to use this infernal thing for the purposes of broadcast. Yeah ok, I tend to be a bit loud with a microphone so I’ll try not to be.

Ok first of all, thanks for that introduction. It’s always nice to come back to Reading University where I served as a member of the council of this institution for 11 years. It also great to see so many liberal democrats in Reading here we haven’t seen so many liberal democrats in Reading since they went coalition with the Tories on Reading borough council. That lasted 12 months. And they now have, is it one councillor? Something like that. Anyway, never mind.

I’m going to talk first of all about the values and the manifesto that the party of European Socialists, the Socialist and Democrats group, the second largest group in the European parliament and the Labour party are standing on in this election because we may be there for five minute, we may be there until the 31st of October. I take personal offence to that by the way, as it’s my birthday. We may be there until the end of 2020 or we may be there for the next five years so I think you need to consider the values of the candidates, you need to consider the values of the parties when you vote in this election. And you don’t want to mess with anything tactical with the D’hondt system because frankly it does not work.

Anyway, first of all tax justice. Tax justice is the most important question of the age. It’s one that can only be addressed through the European Parliament. It is absolutely key to the future because one of the factors that created Brexit in the first place is the feeling of the guy who comes to fix your plumbing and works as a self-employed businessman and can’t avoid paying corporation tax. That he is paying more corporation tax potentially in a year than Amazon, of Facebook or someone like that who can move themselves between jurisdictions. It is absolutely key that that is tackled, because we need a new settlement between people, corporations and government, that was wrecked in this country in the 1980s by Margaret Thatcher and has never been truly redressed.

The second most urgent problem and by far the most urgent problem for the whole planet is climate action. The greens are sincere about this. Absolutely we work with them in the parliament, but it is the work of one of the second largest groups that pulls the centre of the parliament towards climate action. And we want to move towards a zero carbon economy by 2050.

The third question I think you need to be looking at is a question of data and automation because that is going to affect the future of the economy and everything that is done in it. And I hope that the European parliament is ahead of the game on this but generally legislators aren’t, they are usually running to catch up. And unless we get to grips with that we’ll continue a situation where the next industrial revolution, the next major technological change will do exactly the same as all those other technological changes, they will make a few people massively wealthy and they will diminish the prospects of many others at the bottom end of the scale. So that needs to be just also.

And finally we need to manage migration, and by that I mean, I don’t mean migration within the European Union. I mean migration to the European Union. Because that’s going to be driven by climate change too and potentially by conflict. And we either have that in an organised and legal way, or we continue with migration crises. And that’s something we have to get to grips with together.

Catherine, (Bearder MEP) where were we on the 23rd of March? (She says, “I don’t know, Strasbourg”) No, we were both on Eurostar on the way to the peoples vote march, the third peoples vote march. And this is what I mean about elections potentially shattering alliances. And you need to consider this also. Because if you want to make a statement about ‘Brexit is bad’, then you know, vote with your heart. vote for the Liberal Democrats of whatever.

Because the fact is if you want to stop Brexit, then you need to think about it seriously, and you need to vote with your values. Because the fact of the matter is, there are 203 members of the Labour party in the House of Commons who have already voted for a public vote. There are 15 MEPs from the Labour party standing at this election who are in favour of a public vote. There is 88% of the Labour party membership that’s in favour of the public vote. And you know those graphs, that he showed earlier. if you cast Labour as a Brexit party (it isn’t) you will have a Brexit majority the day after these elections and I suggest that Vince Cable and Catherine are going to be wriggling around to try to explain that. When the fact of the matter is, you would not even be having these elections if it wasn’t for the work of the Socialists and Democrats with the parliament. Because I’ll tell you something else, the leader of the ALDE group in the parliament wants Britain out. And he said so, and I can find the quotes for you if you really want me to but he said it at the Brussels plenary round about the 4th of April. So I suggest that you bear it in mind when you vote, that you vote for what you believe in. that you vote for the policies that you believe in, and the change that you want to see in the European union to make it a European union for people as well as a European Union for profit.

Thanks for listening.

Vote Labour on 23 May.

Posted by John Howarth
Guest Blog: Cathy Shutt: Vote for a New Green Deal

Guest Blog: Cathy Shutt: Vote for a New Green Deal

Cathy Shutt, Labour’s No 2 Candidate in South East England writes:

One of the main reasons I am putting myself forward as a Labour MEP candidate for the South East region is to ensure funding proposals for the European New Green Deal reach the top of the European Commission’s legislative agenda.

Thanks to the remarkable Greta Thunberg and the Extinction Rebellion there is growing awareness of the threats posed by our climate emergency.  This is particularly relevant for the South East Region. We are vulnerable to sea level rise, drought and ecological damage resulting from climate change as well as the region’s economic success. Our international transport links, high level of manufacturing and economic activity have put huge pressure on housing and natural resources. The physics is undeniable; if we want our children to prosper, we need to lead by example and reduce our carbon emissions fast.

Over the past three years I have been part of an informal network interested in economics, politics and the climate emergency. We live in different places and come from different backgrounds. One is a professor of biology in the day and climate science junkie at night. Another is an engineer and renewables expert based in Brussels who worked for the UK electricity grid before it was privatised.

Thanks to our conversations, I’ve learned a few things regarding the practicalities of a transition to a zero emissions economy and the structural change this will involve.  I’ve also gained insights into the political interests that have made it difficult to galvanise support thus far.

The Green New Deal and addressing climate change is a massive project and one of the reasons we need to remain in Europe.  We can’t undertake the transformation required alone. On the one hand itrequires huge change to our global finance systems to stop the current practice of banks investing in fossil fuels.  On the other, it means changes to energy systems and the ways we heat our homes, power our industry and the types of transport we use to get about.

Change on this scale will have both benefits and costs. Renovating 250 million private dwellings in Europe, for example, is going to create vast numbers of jobs and enhance well-being.  These renovations will be expensive and cost about 5 trillion euros.  Overall, it is estimated that the European New Green Deal will take approximately 500 billion euros a year for up to 30 years.Relying on private finance is risky, therefore much of this money needs to come in the form of cheappublic finance from the European Investment Bank.

MEPs across the European Parliament will need to be politically savvy and cooperate to overcome vested interests to get this investment agreed and make the New Green Deal that will create hundreds of thousands of jobs a reality.  Much of the knowledge about climate change and renewable energy solutions has been around for a while.  But corporate lobbying by those who gain from austerity politics and investment in fossil fuels has made politicians slow to act.

I’m just the woman for the job.  I’m used to networking and speaking truth to power. If elected I look forward to working with other European MEPs across the Parliament to advocate for money that is needed to implement ideas outlined in the New Green Deal. Moreover, the added value of a Labour MEP making this case is that it aligns so well with Labour’s plans for a green industrial revolution outlined in our European Election manifesto and Labour’s proposals for Bringing Energy Home. Part of my job would involve redirecting EU investment back to support Labour’s green industrial revolution that aims to address societal divisions created by the Tory and Lib Dem coalition’s austerity policies. When successful this will make the UK the first country outside Scandinavia tomeet our climate obligations and contribute to making Europe the first carbon free continent in the world.

Posted by John Howarth
Don’t Buy the LibDem Lie

Don’t Buy the LibDem Lie

LibDems promise what they can’t deliver – again

It’s nothing new for the LibDems to make promises they can’t deliver. Remember tuition fees with all those sincere pledges signed by Nick Clegg and his chums?

Well they are at it again.

Their false promise is that voting LibDem in the European Elections will stop Brexit.

The lie behind this claim is that Labour is a Brexit Party – despite 85% of Labour members and the bulk of Labour voters favouring remaining in the European Union. Labour MPs, along with other parties that take the same view, have voted down Theresa May’s Brexit deal three times– because it is bad for jobs, bad for citizens’ rights, bad for Northern Ireland and not remotely what anyone, leave or remain, voted for. Labour also voted to block a ‘no deal’ exit and the Labour whips have twice instructed Labour MPs, during the House of Commons ‘indicative votes’ on alternative options for the Brexit process, to vote FOR a public vote on the final Brexit deal crated by the Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson. 203 Labour MPs accordingly voted for a confirmatory referendum. The LibDem have 11 MPs.

The Lead Labour candidates in every nation and region at these European Elections support a public vote on the final Brexit deal.

So it is a FACT that Labour in Parliament and Labour in the European Parliament support taking the Brexit settlement back to the people. Yet the LibDems, with their 11 MPs and a single MEP, claim to be “the biggest remain party”. This is so untrue it could be written on the side of a big red bus. Even if we ignore Labour for a moment, the Scottish National Party, with its 35 MPs and many more members than the LibDems, might reasonably feel aggrieved too.

But let’s park the big lie and come back to the false promise.

How exactly are the LibDems, with their 11 MPs, going to “stop Brexit”?

  • By wearing a nice jumper?
  • By waving yellow flags?
  • By almost saying something?
  • By jumping up and down a bit?

Well? Come on! Tell us!

You see I’m not doubting for a minute that the LibDems sincerely want Britain to remain in the EU. But they know very well they can’t achieve this without the support of the biggest opposition party where decisions will actually be made – i.e. Labour at Westminster. The fact is there is no public vote on Brexit without Labour support.

  • Labour has taken part in talks with the Government over what alternatives there may be that limit the damage of Brexit. That’s the right thing to do as a responsible opposition. The LibDems think they can say what they like because they will never be called to account.
  • Labour has stated it wants to bring the country together – well, who can deny that needs to happen? How was it helping when the LibDems called immediately for a second vote - in fact it made things much worse.
  • Labour has also stated, by its conference policy and its European Election manifesto that a Brexit deal should go back to the people. If and when it does this it is the country’s interest that the vote is between a less damaging option and remaining in the EU.

Make no mistake, what the LibDems are about here is naked party advantage. It has nothing to do with stopping Brexit and everything to do with reviving their party left in ruins by broken promises and five years of coalition with the Conservatives.


And in the European Parliament?

It is also worth mentioning that the Liberals in the European Parliament are prone to the same big talk and false promises of their British counterparts. The leader of the ALDE group in which the LibDems sit is a man called Guy Verhofstadt. This is the man who said he favoured British people being able to apply for individual European citizenship. Given that he has loads of experience, what with being a former Belgian Prime Minister, he knows very well that this is just not possible under the EU treaties. So why did he float it? Judging by my inbox there are plenty of people who believed it. Another Liberal another false promise – spotting a pattern here.

In fact Mr Verhofstadt has become far too fond of his monthly spats with Nigel Fararge, which generate plenty of heat but no light whatsoever. Mr Verhofstadt recently stated that he hoped Nigel Farage won the European election and it has become increasingly clear that he and a number of his ‘liberal’ colleagues would prefer Britain gone.

So be clear at this election – voting LibDem might be making a statement but it won’t alter the facts – there is no public vote on Brexit without Labour supporting it and voting against Labour makes it less likely Labour will do so.

So don’t buy the LidDem lie.

Posted by John Howarth
Climate and extinction crisis: urgent steps

Climate and extinction crisis: urgent steps

Last week MPs endorsed a Labour motion to declare a formal climate and environment emergency, making the UK parliament the first in the world to do so.  The Welsh and Scottish governments have both already declared a climate emergency, along with dozens of towns and cities, including Milton Keynes, Oxford, Reading, Brighton & Hove, Hastings and Oxfordshire - all Labour led or influenced.

The motion follows ten days of marches and protests by the group Extinction Rebellion, an international movement committed to bringing issues such as climate change to the fore. It also comes a matter of weeks after I listened as Greta Thunberg - Swedish school-striking climate activist and figurehead for a growing climate movement - urged MEPs to take emergency action to prevent a sixth mass extinction and days before the release of an alarming UN report that details just how rapidly that mass extinction is progressing.

This motion is a vital step in recognising the urgent need to take radical action to combat the climate crisis. The science behind the UN report and thousands of others is clear: humanity and life on Earth now face a direct existential threat, and unless we take decisive action, future generations will face utter catastrophe.

The UK is not immune to the devastating effects of climate change, and nor is South East England. Warmer summers brought on by climate change greatly increase the risk of cardiovascular or respiratory-related deaths, which scientists predict will cause more deaths in London and South East England than the rest of the country. In addition to increased average temperatures, we also face heavy rainfall and flooding, rising sea levels and more dramatic coastal erosion, as well as wildfires, droughts and extreme weather events. And as tends to be the way with these things, it is the poorest and most vulnerable in society that will suffer. Less well off communities in the UK will experience the worst effects of climate change as they are least able to bear the costs of damage to their homes and communities, or deal with food insecurity and rising living costs.

But sounding determined about climate change is one thing; taking decisive action is another. This is clearly demonstrated by the thoroughly ineffectual approach taken by the Conservatives, who in 2015 banned onshore wind projects and scrapped warm homes standards, in 2016 scrapped subsidies for solar energy, in 2017 sold off the Green Investment Bank, in 2018 forced fracking on local communities, and in 2019 refused to meet the climate strikers. Labour’s motion demonstrates that not only is it committed to tackling the climate crisis, but that it is the only party capable of securing a majority in Westminster that is.

Tackling climate change is often sold as an issue that requires individual action, where individual changes made to the way we all live can solve the problem. What we need instead is collective action that forces corporations (including the 100 companies that are responsible for 70 percent of emissions) to make fundamental changes to curb their environmental impact.

The EU provides us with the multi-government platform to effect that change to a crisis that doesn’t recognise borders. I have been directly involved with promoting a number of measures that are central to the next seven year EU budget framework, in particular the inclusion for the first time of ‘just transition’ funding to help communities adjust to a low carbon economy and to increase the proportion of funding directed to climate action.

At a national level, the climate crisis needs to be seen as Labour’s most significant challenge in government. We must increase our ambitions under the Climate Change Act in order to achieve net zero emissions before 2050, and I will continue to push for massive investment to make the UK a world leader in renewable energy; to significantly boost the electric car project and introduce the required energy infrastructure and more electric car hubs; greatly to increase the number of sustainable homes built and for the modification of existing ones; to embark on large-scale reforestation and rewilding programmes; and to make our nation’s food system more secure and sustainable.

Posted by John Howarth
A Labour vote: against this Tory Brexit and for a different Europe

A Labour vote: against this Tory Brexit and for a different Europe

Europe is at a crossroads. The certainties of the post-Cold War era were shaken by 9/11 and its aftermath and blown away by the 2008 financial crash and the decade of depression that followed. The roots of Brexit and the rise of new right populism are inherently linked to these events. The response of European social democracy has been well intentioned but slow and overly traditional, frequently relying on institutions that themselves have failed to adapt to circumstance.

Europe’s progressive forces have led the political development of the continent at important points and must learn to do so again. This does not require simply numbers in the European Parliament - though they help - it requires leading ideas that can command consensus, building movements that embody European ideals in today’s context and have the capacity not just to win arguments but to achieve consensus and pull the centre back toward the left. The creation of a new settlement of inclusion for the many.

While in some respects it may seem that progressive forces in Europe are historically weak, everything is relative. The centre right is also struggling. The lack of nuance in the response to the financial crash and Eurozone crisis, while ticking fiscal boxes and delivering the confidence of markets, trashed confidence in the social market model and left behind far too many people. Now the centre right struggles with the consequences and, while they might reject conservative nationalism and alt-right populism in theory their lack of answers too often leads to acquiescence. So the task, as ever, is shifting the consensus - not just back to where it was, but to a new post-populist settlement.

Owning the agenda and enabling solutions informed by progressive and socialist ideas requires the ability to address the great challenges of climate, freedom, technological transformation, the nature of work and education, fair taxation and sustaining peace and development in a destabilised international order. Europe frequently finds itself at crossroads - it’s a big continent with a lot of crossroads, but the breadth of challenges and the dark political backdrop should convince us of the critical importance of this juncture. In each of these areas there are seeds of hope in new thinking and the open-minded approach that recognises that neither the economic nor political dogmas of the twentieth century are fit for the age in which we live.

Socialist and progressive thinking brings a lot to the mix, but central and essential is a recognition that left to their own devices markets, as well as producing great innovations, produce great inequalities. The European Union remains the only real and partially successful attempt to address the inadequacies of the nation state and enhance its successes. Far from being the enemy of the nation state the EU, reformed and revitalised, can be the protector of national identity, the enhancer of national and regional culture and the guarantor of both the power of governance and of individual liberty. The potential role of the EU in calling to account transnational commercial interests and charting courses for progress on supra-national challenges remains self-evident. If it didn’t exist it would have to be invented.

Nonetheless, radical reform - institutional, political and budgetary is essential if the EU is to survive, prosper and regain the confidence of public and polity. While perceptions of democratic deficit are dated to some degree, the EU has much further to go. To overcome those perceptions the Union needs both to establish effective dialogue with its citizenry and further empower its elected politicians. Leaders fitted with tin ears fail to understand that pragmatism in a crisis is the best protector of progress while flexibility, scrutiny and responsiveness are not words that lend themselves to the governance of the Union - they need to be. Ensuring the accountability of the Commission through effective democratic scrutiny an essential first step both to regaining public confidence and delivering better evidence-based policy making.

One set of elections will not bring about the solution to these issues but they should be part of that road. The electoral programme of the Socialists and Democrats provides a vision of economic progress in which communities can see the prospect of ‘just transition’ - assistance and investment in moving to a post-carbon society rather than market abandonment. It offers a route where the priority for climate action and responsible environmental stewardship is based not merely on pious appeals to changing individual behaviour but on pragmatic but concerted governmental and social intervention to create the flow with which people can go. The new social democratic politics seeks to lead a reality that leaves behind the notion of leaving people behind. That will require an economic justice built on the understanding that inclusive digital societies must abandon old notions of an education that ‘ends’ and embrace a notion of education that ‘is’ and in turn, hard as it may be, rebuilds a value system where knowledge is ‘good’, is encouraged and is, yes, rewarded. Alongside this sits that old but ever more relevant adage best ironically summed up in the language of the time by that ultimate pragmatist, Harold Wilson - “The Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing”. Socialists have struggled through their history with the balance of the individual and collective, most frequently in the balance between the power of the state and the freedom of the individual. It has tarnished the brand and ruined the perceptions of the left for generations. A decisive break from that past is crucial to the relevance of progressive ideas in the future for the notion of the individual subsuming their interests to that of the collective will never again fly - any progressive vision has to encompass the enhancement and protection of freedom. Continuing progress on the long road to gender equality, to the liberation of personal identity, the celebration of diversity and cultural freedoms all contribute to a world where the individual can be what they want to be, where discrimination and racism is once again unacceptable and where a set of modern values of citizenship and responsibility can be fostered.

So, assuming these elections to the European Parliament go ahead, a Labour vote is a vote not just against the incompetence and failure of this damaging Tory Brexit, but is also a vote for a different Europe. A Europe that uses its power to ensure that multinational corporations can no longer within impunity duck and dive to avoid paying fair taxes when ordinary people have no choice. A Europe where the tech giants are not allowed to exploit their monopoly power to manipulate data, violate the privacy of citizens, rip-off consumers online and exploit creative workers for mega-profits. A Europe where we can mobilise resources to combat climate change, where we can continue down the long road toward genuine gender equality and a Europe where the long battle to defend peace and democracy can be won.

A Labour vote is also a vote for a Europe that is a powerful, progressive voice on the world stage, a counter weight to Trump and Putin, using our collective strength to aid development, promote environmental responsibility and to stand with those who defend democracy and human rights.

It’s a new battle in an old fight - the good fight for peace, jobs and freedom - let’s go out and win it.

John Howarth MEP
12 April 2019.

Posted by John Howarth
Why does the U.K. have to have European Parliamentary Elections?

Why does the U.K. have to have European Parliamentary Elections?

It seems odd to many that nearly three years after a referendum that voted to leave the EU the U.K. is on the point of holding elections for the European Parliament. Of course the U.K. would not need those elections at all if it had managed to leave the EU on the timescale envisaged by the Government. That the U.K. hasn’t is entirely down to the Government.

So why does the U.K. need to have MEPs in place for what could be a very short period?

Under the international treaties (agreements) between the member states that are the rules of the EU, member states must have MEPs elected by their people and to the countries share of the votes in the Council - the two bodies that make EU law. So no election, MEPs, no membership.

Why does this matter? Could the U.K. just not send MEPs?

If the U.K. didn’t sent MEPs but was still a member state the decisions of the European Parliament made without U.K. MEPs could be legally challenged. The EU is a ‘rules based organisation’. The Union must follow the legal process.

Why could the U.K. not just make a special arrangement?

This is theoretically possible, however everyone else would have to agree to a special ‘protocol’ - an addition to the treaty that would allow the U.K. to make appointments. Approving such an agreement would taking time. MEPs cannot serve in national and the European Parliament, so who could be legitimately appointed?

What if the U.K. started Elections and called them off as it then left the EU?

This would be a problem because the elections would leave U.K. citizens in the EU27 would be entitled to vote in the 27 Member States, some may have voted, calling into question the legality of the elections. Similarly, EU citizens who voted or expected to vote in the U.K. would have been denied a vote in their home country. So for the U.K. to commence elections and not to conclude the process could be seen to be deliberately disruptive. Anyway, doesn't the Prime Minister understand we are quite enough of a laughing stock as it is?

What if the U.K. took part in the elections and the MEPs didn’t take their seats?

Less of a problem if a little odd, as well as being another sure way to wind up the EU27. In any case, the one point at which the U.K. must have MEPs in the Parliament is if and when the treaty governing the UK’s exit is ratified, otherwise the treaty is invalid so the terms of the UK’s exit could be legally questioned.

Why was President Macron so wound up about all this?

It wasn’t just him. The seats in the Parliament had been reorganised for the elections without the U.K. so that some member states got a few more MEPs - including France. It is more than a little inconvenient to revert to the old distribution.

Surely Theresa May understands this?

You might think so. I couldn’t possibly comment.

Posted by John Howarth
Gains for professional drivers in mobility package

Gains for professional drivers in mobility package

Three legislative reports, known together as ‘the mobility package’ have been making painfully slow progress through the European Parliament in the later period of this legislature. The package finally and somewhat unexpectedly was approved by the Parliament meeting in Brussels on 4 April.

Opposition to the mobility package came from several different sources - those on the right who felt it imposed too many obligations on haulier businesses, those in Eastern Europe with concerns about the impact on drivers operating away from their home country and a group of people who didn’t feel the package was going far enough. Add to this mix a Rapporteur (each of the report has a different one - so that’s a lot of people involved) who proved unable or unwilling to move the negotiations on.

It’s worth a little diversion here (excuse the pun) because this is a good illustration (for those who are interested) of how things are done in the European Parliament. The Rapporteur is an MEP appointed by the responsible Committee to lead the process on a report. They draft the response of the Committee to the draft laws tabled by the European Commission (the civil service). The Rapporteur will draft amendments or develop the text of the report which will be voted upon by their Committee along with those tabled by the shadow Rapporteurs appointed by the other political groups (rapporteurships are allocated to the different political groups in the Parliament according to their size). The Rapporteur and the shadows will ususally on a significant report try to negotiate compromise positions likely to gain majority approval - though this doesn’t always happen nor succeed. One further complication is that on many reports more than on Committee has a say on a piece of legislation. For example here the Transport Committee was the lead Committee on the Mobility Package but the Employment Committee was also involved as the report came into its competence. In this case each committee has a Rapporteur - they do not always agree as they may have different politics or come at the issue from a different perspective. Where there are many different views and perspectives it can be very complicated to get a result. You might wonder why the Parliament has such a complex process - well the world is a complicated place and if you are going to get leislation that works you need a process that takes account of that.

This latest Mobility Package was seeking to address a number of problems: rest breaks, safety provisions and ‘work-life balance’ for professional drivers; competition issues within the industry; and migratory ‘undercutting’ that has produced distortions in the market. Long distance driving is one area where the requirement to do things at a European level is obvious and where the effect of drivers from the U.K., Brexit or not, is equally so. The ability to implement and police such legislation did not exist until tachographs because sufficiently smart to record geo-positioning of vehicles, thus tracking in which member states a vehicle was operating at any time is now practical.

This ability to police legislation is essential. The problem of professional drivers being ‘posted’ to other member states where they work internally for wages much lower than their local counterparts is frequently exploitative, disruptive of family life, causes distortion of local markets and resentment from the local workforce. The package seeks to limit this practice (know for some reason as cabotage) within limits that restore work-life balance and broadly require the same pay for the same work in the same place.

In the end the mobility package was approved despite a rearguard that involved the repeated tabling of many hundreds of amendments and procedural attempts to kill the legislation through repeated postponement. In the end, however, a majority was established and Socialists and Democrats found a compromise with other groups that delivered the key elements the transport unions had sought but which protected haulier businesses and therefore jobs. It may be difficult, it is necessarily complex but it is undeniably important that if the EU is to mean anything to working people then it must be able to address issues like those in the mobility package.

Posted by John Howarth
Put it to the People March – a moment of significance

Put it to the People March – a moment of significance

Estimates of the Put it to the People march on Saturday vary, with between one and two million people taking to London’s streets to protest ever so politely that Brexit has failed, Parliament is gridlocked and thus the question should return to the people from whence it came.

Over the year the organisers of marches in the capital have provided the highest estimate of numbers. This time, as with the last two People’s Vote demonstrations, the police provided a higher estimate, stating officially that around two million people attended, making it officially the biggest protest march the UK has ever seen. Behind that figure there are countless stories of people who felt they simply had to be there despite having been in hospital only a few days before. Good on all of them. Some spent four or five hours going nowhere as the throng struggled to leave Hyde Park, others, overwhelmed by the volume of people, drifted into spill over marches down The Mall and through the surrounding side streets and stopping in the unforecast sunshine to picnic in one park or other. Many heard no speeches but nonetheless felt their point was well made, especially by the now five million and rising ‘Revoke’ petition.

Much of the media comment was entirely predicable, though even some hostile journalists had to recognise the scale of the event and, more remarkably how each of the three ‘historically large’ marches for a final say have grown larger amid the usual stuff seeking to undermine the numbers. One particular comment did catch my eye, that of Sarah Vine who, I’m told, is a columnist of some kind (not one I bother with). Her contention on this occasion, that the march was a ‘mob’ who would have “lynched” any leave voters who dared to show their faces, is so hopelessly wrong. For what it’s worth at Hyde Park I saw a man walking through the demonstration on his own with a placard bearing a ‘better off out’ message. As my knee was hurting (it does that these days) I sat on a bench and watched him for around twenty minutes while he was just being ignored. Talking to some police officers it was clear that their extra preparation for the day ahead amounted to nothing more than buying extra rounds of sandwiches. The whole thing was entirely genteel and an exhibition of the real British values of reasonableness. Elsewhere things are not so relaxed. The implied and not so implied threats from assorted Brexiteers of ‘other means’ should the failure that is Brexit be again put to the test are intended to alarm. Unfortunately with some who should know better this stuff has an effect - but it can and must be resisted.

Sceptical as I and many others are about what protests such as this achieve, let’s be in no doubt that this was a moment of significance. The immediate effect on the national catastrophe facing the UK remains to be seen. It may be that the Government ploughs on despite all the evidence that calls into doubt the whole process and In particular the claim that Brexit is still somehow ‘the will of the people’ It may be that the UK leaves the EU, but political movements of this size don’t simply melt away; if ignored the resentment merely grows.

The demonstration prior to the second Gulf War that was surpassed in numbers at the weekend was an indication, at a time when option polls showed the public in support of removing Saddam by force, that the action would prove fatally divisive. Brexit, already socially toxic, is not just going away any time soon.


Above: John joins Oxford for Europe at the London demonstration on Saturday 23 March 2019

Posted by John Howarth
Brexit: Theresa May – done but dangerous

Brexit: Theresa May – done but dangerous

Politicians at some time in their careers pass a point of no return. It happens in many different levels in many different ways but the consequences are the same for everyone - you’re done. For those in the highest office it can happen in a very public, very brutal way. This week is almost certainly one such time. 

Theresa May is done - for the remainder of her time in office she’s a dead Prime Minister walking. At whatever point the Brexit fantasy that has dragged the country into its greatest humiliation since the loss of the American colonies under Lord North is finally over, then the Conservative Party will lead Mrs May off to her seat in the House of Lords. This week was a new low. A Prime Minister on national television blaming Parliament for the nation’s plight, attempting to set the people against their MPs - including her own. In what world does that kind of nonesense win people over? What kind of advisor gives that kind of advice? What kind of person wants the top job but won’t own the responsibility?

We shouldn’t be surprised. We’ve seen it before. There was a General Election, with a manifesto and everything, a shoo in for the Tories - but it all fell apart, Mrs May fell apart and proved not to be up to leading. In the aftermath she sacked her advisors - who may have been culpable, but to hide behind your staff, in business or in politics is a low and cowardly act. Mrs May was allowed to get away with such appalling behaviour because nobody else seriously wanted the poison chalice and, even had they, the Conservative Party just didn’t want another leadership contest. 

So we stumble through crisis after crisis to arrive at this week when the blame game that started some time back bubbles to some kind of climax and the Prime Minister decides that the buck doesn’t stop with her.

So just to remind ourselves:

  • The Prime Minister signs off the Government’s approach to leaving the EU Brexit devised by a close circle in Number 10. 
  • The Prime Minister tells us ‘Brexit mean Brexit’ - a searingly stupid slogan.
  • The Prime Minister declares Article 50, though it there is no plan - the signature on the letter is the Prime Minister’s.
  • The Prime Minister calls a General Election with a double digit poll lead.
  • The Prime Minister loses the plot and her majority with it.
  • The Prime Minister, despite the indecisive election, presses ahead with a ‘hard Brexit’ approach setting out ‘red lines’ that conflict with other objectives, particularly on trade.
  • The Prime Minister say the UK will leave the Euratom treaty - but hasn’t thought it through.
  • The Prime Minister declares ‘citizens of the world’ are ‘citizens of nowhere’ - further alienating people who see themselves as European.
  • The Prime Minister says it would be a mistake to disclose the UK’s position. Negotiations start - for many months the EU27 asks ‘what does Britain want?’
  • The Prime Minister fights a court case over Parliamentary sovereignty and loses.
  • The Prime Minister nonetheless refuses to involve Parliament in oversight of the negotiations.
  • The Prime Minister eventually gets an agreement in December - she delays the vote for a month.
  • The Prime Minister loses the vote by 230.
  • The Prime Minister ignores Parliament and brings back the same plan.
  • The Prime Minister says she won’t play for time.
  • The Prime Minister delays the vote for two months.
  • The Prime Minister fails to get any changes to the deal.
  • The Prime Minister loses the vote by 149.
  • The Prime Minister delays again.
  • The Prime Minister says it’s not her fault.

Spot the common words in the above sentences. My case rests.

Theresa May bought herself a degree of respect from the public for ‘sticking to the task’, of appearing to be the constant while Ministers resigned around her. However, it has become very clear indeed that Mrs May stopped is more concerned with how things look for her than what is in the best interests of the country. Nothing could make this clearer than that trantrum of a speech on Wednesday evening. 

And here’s the problem. How can Mrs May fail to know that she is the walking dead? Surely she cannot believe her time is not up. The Conservatives will not fight the General Election that will come if and when Britain finally leaves the EU with Mrs May in charge. She has nothing to lose. People with nothing to lose are frequently damaging to those around them. Politicians with nothing to lose often take others down with them. A Prime Minister with nothing to lose - you certainly don’t want one of them on the lose, no sir-ree.

Theresa May is now centrally concerned about her legacy, for what she will be remembered. She has divided the country, dissembled, repeatedly lied about her intentions and has proved incapable of the task. She casts herself as Margaret Thatcher but the comparison is absurd - like her or loathe her (and I’m firmly in the latter camp) she was definitely a leader. Theresa May is anything but. 

History will judge her harshly a public inquiry may well do so too.

Posted by John Howarth
An Industry Vision for a Renewed Europe

An Industry Vision for a Renewed Europe

Transformative technology, markets and society

Contribution to a debate of the European Forum for Manufacturing - 6 March 2019 

We are told, and it happens to be true, that we stand at a time of vast technological change that will transform human lives in a future beyond our imaginations. It is true because it has always been true - at any time in the past 300 years we could have said much the same thing with confidence. The industrial and technological revolutions have been a time of permanent and most frequently accelerating revolution. And while war has from time to time slowed down development it has also been the dark catalyst of technological progress.
The question is not whether humanity chooses digital transformation but how we can learn from previous transformations in the sure and certain knowledge that the likely pattern is one that we have seen before. It is just another change: every technological leap has produced vast swathes of wealth but with greatly unequal distribution and unequal markets prove unsustainable; every process automation has removed turgid tasks from the workplace but has also removed human skills from processes.
Technology always drives change faster than legislators and social policy makers can regulate the parameters and consequences. We know that the greatest innovations will drive markets in particular directions. The challenges are: how do we retain sustainability, how do we ensure that markets retain humanity, how do we ensure that people genuinely benefit from these great leaps forward.
Robotics and automation have overwhelmingly replaced tasks that required low to no skills but as robotic automation becomes more sophisticated tasks requiring greater dexterity have been replaced. Artificial intelligence, most fundamentally, introduces decision making to automation. Decision making applies certain criteria to processes - and they can be quite complex, considering intricate conditionalities and building in judgements that can be seen as protecting the individual consumer as well as the provider corporation. Experience of the pseudo-judicial functions of public administration would, however, suggest that some judgements and not best handled by binary systems because in the end they are not always binary.
So assuming we acknowledge as policy makers both the productive bonus of automation and its dystopian tendencies and how these deliver change in a market economy we can being to provide answers to the direction in which society needs to travel for the social element of our economy to deliver societies at ease with themselves.

The ability to engage in a digital world

The real danger is of a digital world in which substantial minorities within otherwise wealthy societies are excluded from the productive economy. This divide is not about class, background or income in the first instance but about the education and skills that enable individuals to engage. An economy that is fully able to take advantage of the wealth creating opportunities of the digital world will rely as never before on a technologically literate workforce. Likewise, our public sphere, depending as it does for its legitimacy on participation and democratic engagement, requires a broadly based, representative, digitally enabled population. Both require different thinking on the outputs of education. The nature of the evolving economy will require an education and skills system that thinks (metaphorically) in terms of maintenance as well as manufacture. We need no longer to think of re-skilling for transition on an industry-by-industry basis but in terms of constant and ongoing skills development across the workforce. This should become a central element in EU and Member State funding of programmes for ‘Just Transition’ during the 2021-27 MFF and beyond.

Algorithms are not neutral

Few, after the Cambridge Analytica affair would contend that an algorithm can never reflect bias. However the industry that produces algorithms - and therefore develops core aspects of artificial intelligence - leans heavily toward a particular type. The technologist caricatured in popular culture only chimes comedically because they are true to the experiences of the audience. The software engineering sector was white, male, middle class, college educated and overwhelmingly 25-40 years of age. This is less true than it once was, or at least the first of those, however the point is this. If algorithms reflect the societal biases of their authors then they will produce outcomes that reflect those biases. Data sets with inbuilt bias will also produce skewed outcomes. In the automation of HR/recruitment, student applications and insurance processing the implications are obvious, though even in mechanical automation there is early research to suggest that being treat equally by the machine cannot be taken for granted. Further research will be needed to determine if the early suggestion that a black woman is more likely to be involved in a collision with a driverless vehicle than a white man (according to a study by the Georgia Institute of Technology). These fears may prove to be false - but how will we know unless outcomes are critically examined and unless access to the data being used by automated processes is available to independent researchers?

Where the greatest gains will lie

The more productive wealth generation will take place in the areas of technology that make possible the things that before were impossible or limited by the physical and political world. They will create the next billionaires and produce the next social exclusions. It will happen because these areas are always the most difficult for legislators to keep up - and some may prove to be out of political reach. Blockchain technology is receiving all sorts of attention for exactly this reason. This is not to say that the automation of existing processes will not be productive, just not exponentially so.

What does this mean?

Digitisation is happening. It cannot, should not and will not be stopped or regulated out of existence because markets will find a way. Luddism doesn’t work - it will only increase the digital divide. Just as the challenge of China cannot be successfully addressed by protectionism but only by Europe becoming an effective inward investor and stakeholder in Chinese domestic, international and digital markets so digitisation will only become socially inclusive by social and public actors working with digital innovators.
The long term success of Europe’s digital/AI economy requires the broadest possible section of consumers who can afford to buy the products of that economy. It requires an economy producing products to meet the needs of a diverse society. It requires a digital economy not confined to a monoculture, even a monoculture of the majority but which enhances cultural diversity and harnesses that diversity to create better products for more sustainable markets.

John Howarth MEP

Posted by John Howarth