10 Resons why the People’s Vote movement failed

10 Resons why the People’s Vote movement failed

In many respects the People’s Vote movement was a remarkable achievement. The campaign in the UK to reverse Brexit through a second referendum became the biggest pro-European movement in any member state by a country mile. It mobilised a couple of million people on the streets of London over four demonstrations - without doubt among the largest ever seen, with millions more persuaded to back petitions or to send emails to MPs. Little before or since mobilised so many into political campaigning, it was mostly very pleasant too, yet in the end it failed.

Here are ten reasons why, stating with the three most important:

  1. Failing to recognise the result in 2016

Too many people were far too quick to call for a second vote after the 2016 debacle. In doing so they undermined their own ability to hold the promises of the leave campaign accountable and prepare the ground for the call to vote again.

  1. People just didn’t want another one

There is an inherent sense of fairness among many people in the UK. Part of that is the notion of accepting the result of the match, the race or the referee’s decision. Actually people who follow sport dispute the result all the time - but just know there is little that can be done about it. However it was more than that. The referendum had been rancorous and divisive, vitriolic and nasty. Many decent people, including many who voted to remain, just didn’t want all that again. Others, including key leading politicians, doubted the wisdom and consequences of a second vote. While many felt cheated by the 2016 vote, the peoples’ vote campaign failed to convince enough that it was worth going through it all again...

  1. Fear of the same result

... especially if the result may well be the same. And though the Peoples’ Vote tried to present itself as open minded, in reality was it was about stopping Brexit and everybody knew it. Though the polls showed a moderate but consistent shift toward a remain majority and the demographic trend had killed off the ‘leave’ majority by February 2018, there was just not enough evidence that the outcome would be different or sufficiently decisive to be worth taking the risk of backing another vote.

An inability to change minds

These are the three most important reasons, but why did the Peoples’ Vote fail to change minds in sufficient numbers? Four factors here:

  1. No leaders

Back when the ill-starred, badly branded, ineffectual, self-aggrandising ‘British Influence’ organisation was established to make the argument for EU membership, Ken Clarke and Peter Mandleson were wheeled out as front people. I observed in my newspaper column at the time that credible and committed to the cause though they were, Ken Clarke was even then very old and had failed more than once to become Conservative leader whilst Peter Mandleson (who I personally admire as a communicator) was a former EU Commissioner and never exactly Mr Popular with the wider public. Along came the remain campaign proper which opted for a businessman who rapidly disappeared in a cloud of mediocrity never to re-emerge. Nothing had been learned - no leader(s) meant no personality, no personality meant less media time, meant no leadership. Nothing to identify with. Certainly not for those for whom the charms of David Cameron remained a mystery.

  1. No recognisable strategy

Not only was it never clear who was in charge, it was entirely unclear where the campaign was going and by when it would do whatever might be next. Some of the campaign decisions were inexplicable and despite great success that got noticed there was a consistent failure to anticipate the approach of the Brexiteers and how their arguments might be countered. While we were arguing for the second referendum Farage and his friends were fighting it. There may have been a plan, but it wasn’t transparent and it certainly wasn’t clear how minds would be changed.

  1. Cranks and flags

In many ways the Peoples’ Vote movement was both pro-European and quinticentially English - eccentric and, well, harmless. However it all had the feeling of a very large choir preaching to itself. Having no especially defined imagery, the images of EU Flag waving, hat wearing, face painting were loved by the converted. These ‘remain ultras’ seemed to have no idea how the the symbolism of their European identity was regarded as foreign and threatening to many who see themselves as patriotic and proud to be British. To be fair, many running Peoples’ Vote and the other ‘remain’/second referendum campaigns would acknowledge this but had no idea how to brand it. It was symptomatic of twains not destined to meet and exactly what the Brexiteers wanted.

  1. Defending the EU Status Quo

The core of the Peoples’ Vote movement were ‘believers’ - people who felt the EU was of itself a ‘good thing’, rather than makers of a pragmatic, patriotic case for UK involvement to serve the best interests of UK people and to bring about change. Whatever the intent the movement came across, especially given the imagery, as defending the EU ‘warts and all’. Not only that, the EU was ‘better than Britain’. The need to re-butt lies and Eurosceptic propaganda kept pro-EU campaigns on the back foot. Again exactly what the Brexiteers wanted.

Politics as usual

But despite all this the People’s Vote movement came very close to achieving a Parliamentary majority for a second vote. By February 2019, the Government’s Brexit strategy was in tatters. Brinkmanship took the process close to the 29 March deadline and the largest demonstration took place in London. Then out politicians failed the movement:

  1. The EP elections

Nobody had expected the European Parliament elections to take place and nobody had prepared for them - except Nigel Farage. Elections have a way of shattering coalitions. The desire for party political advantage pulled apart the defacto remain alliance that had emerged. That division destroyed the potential to defeat Nigel Farage and thereby sealed the fate of the second referendum - despite results that told a different story.

  1. Labour

The failure to defeat the deeply unpopular Nigel Farage was ultimately Labour’s failure. I have written on this elsewhere. However this was not Labour’s only failure. Opposing HM Government’s flagship policy can only be carried out effectively by HM’s Loyal Opposition. Labour failed so frequently throughout the process that in the end it was not surprising that it missed the opportunity to get the nation, the political centre and its own leadership off the hook by backing the Kyle-Wilson amendment giving conditional approval to Mrs May’s Withdrawal agreement but making it subject to a second referendum. Labour was, as always, Labourist. Self-defeatingly tribal in its policy evolution and actions, deluding itself that the election of a Labour Government could somehow resolve Brexit around a less damaging deal despite all evidence to the contrary.

  1. Liberal Democrat’s (and the SNP)

The Liberal Democrats drove the final nails into the coffin. Peddling the dubious notion that a vote for them alone in the European Parliament elections could ‘stop Brexit’ when the decision resided as Westminster was fundamentally dishonest. Their successful use of the Peoples Vote machinery to make give partisan ‘tactical’ voting indications in a PR election guaranteed to unseat remain supporting Labour MEPs. This undermined the remain case within Labour and eliminated the chance of knocking Nigel Farage out of first place. It was a massive tactical error which in the end did the LibDems no good.

Even more baffling, having done rather well with a simple message, the LibDems moved to a complicated and implausible message around the democratically unsustainable policy of ‘revoke’. The approach lost support and undermined the notion of taking the issue back to the people.

However the ultimate crime perpetrated by the Liberal Democrats was gifting Boris Johnson the election he always wanted just on the point when the option of removing the Govenment had not been pursued. Their belief that they could win 100 seats was always a fantasy. It denied the logic of both first past the post and their history as a protest vote. At a European election ‘stop Breixt’ was a neat protest - at a general election it prompted the question ‘how’?

The SNP also deserves a mention. They too gifted Mr Johnson his election. They too put their party interest before the national interest. Though at least in their case it is not a nation they believe in and their expectation of gaining seats and votes turned out to be correct. It was pretty cynical stuff, but the clue is in the name - independence is the priority.

Heroic failure

Though politicians failed the people’s vote movement it isn’t the whole story. The movement failed to convince the public. MPs simply did not have the evidence that sufficient minds had changed to take the risk of backing another referendum. The judgement of MPs was in some cases flawed or gutless or both, but in others it was heroic. MPs who deserted their long-held pro-EU views to fit the pro-Brexit result in their constituency got no credit for it - in many cases they did less well than those who argued for what they believed in. Phil Wilson, Anna Turley and their like-minded colleagues left Westminster with their self-respect intact.

Posted by John Howarth
Labour’s choice: visible change or terminal decline

Labour’s choice: visible change or terminal decline

After its worst result since 1935, Labour has only one chance to get back into the zone where it could dislodge the Conservatives from power in 2024.

Yes, 2024 – it’s a truly depressing thought, but that’s when we are looking at the chance of winning an election (1). In the meantime those who need a Labour Government most will suffer the most.

On Thursday night as the exit poll (those things the cultists tell us we are not meant to believe) accurately set out the horror that was to follow, the proprietor of the Momentum company and Labour NEC member, Jon Lansman, said:

“Democracy gives power to people, “Winning” is the small bit that matters to political elites who want to keep power themselves.”

For Mr Lansman, a wealthy individual, taking a 30 year view of “winning” is probably fine, but for many of us “winning” is the big bit that enables Labour to deliver for the people it seeks to represent.

The greatest betrayal of all, the most objectively right wing act for a party that seeks social justice, is to lose and so remain powerless to deliver. This is why every Labour Prime Minister will be objectively further to the left than Bennites like Mr Lansman – because they did what was needed to win and deliver for people. If Labour consistently fails to deliver the people who need a plausible alternative will look elsewhere and Labour will shrink toward irrelevance.

So only one chance to realign ourselves with realistically seeking power. Elections are only partly about policy. Perhaps they should be entirely, but they are not. They are also about fitness to govern, economic competence and the quality of leadership – especially the potential Prime Minister on offer.

One chance. Labour can not go into an election with a leader so manifestly despised by so much of the electorate as was Jeremy Corbyn. In some respects it doesn’t even matter why Mr Corbyn was despised – but anyone who knocked on any doors at all knows all to well that this was the case – even if they choose to deny the reality publicly. But failures in politics are rarely individual, Mr Corbyn’s colleagues in the shadow cabinet knew very well how much of a drag on the party their leader was. It was clear at the European Elections that the game was up for Mr Corbyn, his credibility destroyed by successive defeats in local and European polls and fatally undermined by the antisemitism affair. At that point the comrades in grey should have made clear that a dignified exit would be his best service to Labour’s electoral prospects. I did not call for Mr Corbyn’s removal because, coming from me, it would have served no purpose – only those close to him could have dealt with the problem from Islington North. By indulging continued failed the Bennite leadership failed their duty to the party the country and the people who’s interests they claim to serve. Now there are those who would say that Jeremy Corbyn was unfairly treated by the media. I agree – he was – but it isn’t as if we didn’t know the nature of most of the media. It isn’t as if every Labour leader is not demonised by two papers in particular and the rest frequently. Deal with it or lose – but to deal with it the raw material has to be plausible. Jeremy Corbyn was not.

Fitness to govern amounts to many things. Divided parties rarely win – but in 2019 both the main parties appeared divided. However Conservative messaging was far superior. Their central, most plausible if dishonest message, “get Brexit done”, chimed with most of those who voted leave and to many who were simply so tired of the whole thing they were prepared to vote against their instincts in the hope that it would go away. Labour by contrast had started in the wrong place on Brexit, shifting position uncomfortably and ending up a perfectly reasonable but largely unpresentable policy. Brexit was and will probably remain for some time the greatest issue of the day. It is simple not possible for the Leader of the Opposition not to express a clear view on such a crucial question. Clarity from leaders is everything.

Those who attempt to pin the blame on Labour’s support for a second vote are wrong. Lack of clarity and shape shifting was the problem. Labour damaged itself on Brexit over years not weeks. Without ambivalent leadership and the resulting confusion of the Labour vote at the referendum Brexit probably would never have happened in the first place. The imposed whip in favour of Theresa May’s premature declaration of Article 50 sold the pass when an abstention would have made sense, the wording of the 2017 manifesto and the lack of strategy in holding the Government to account made things worse. By the time we got to a second vote Labour was no longer trying to persuade, it was simple seen as driven there by fear of the Liberal Democrats.

It should have been clear from the start. A leadership of known ‘lexiteers’ who professed a member-led party faced an overwhelmingly pro-European membership. It was never possible to unite Labour around ‘leaving’ – two out of three of Labour voters, most MPs and MEPs and four out of five members simple wouldn’t allow it. The fudge proved unsustainable and was respected by neither leavers nor remainers in the country. The view that Labour’s leader did not believe in the party’s position further undermined any notion of trust. His unwillingness during the campaign to express a view was the final blow. (2)

Fitness to govern also requires a plausible programme for Government, that demonstrates economic competence. Labour’s manifesto did anything but. Ruinously fiscally irresponsible and politically undeliverable without a very large majority, it lacked any notion that the economy even matters;  that wealth must be created before it can be distributed. There was no recognition of the role of business nor what a Labour government would do to ensure firms could prosper and deliver the taxation that we should rightly expect of them. Instead the notion seemed to be that the economy would be driven by state intervention. That has simply never worked. Neither were there priorities – everything seemed to be ‘free’ and everything seemed be a priority in a programme that would have been ambitious over three terms of Government let alone one. Taken one by one many of the policies may have been popular (though some clearly less so) however as a programme for government it was absurd and not worthy of trust.

The election should have been entirely winnable (3). Boris Johnson was widely understood to be a proven liar, the Conservatives were divided, their own programme was also fiscally irresponsible and based on promises not believed, they had failed on their management of Brexit. However Labour was thought to be worse and the leader of the opposition less even less trusted than the proven liar.

So we have one chance to put it right. It involves a visible willingness to change, electing a plausible leader, a coherent programme that establishes economic credibility, ensuring the government is held to account in a way that has not been the case, that every election is taken seriously and what is necessary to win is done.

The alternative is a continuation of Corbynism without Corbyn and the terminal decline of Labour.

John Howarth MEP

(1) December 2024 assumes a five year Parliament – but it’s a pretty good bet that the Johnson Government will scrap the Fixed Term Parliament Act, giving back to the PM the choice of election date – I’d expect a poll in May or June 2024 at the very latest.
(2) The progression of Labour’s shambles on Brexit is abridged here – there is a lot more to say.
(3) The election actually should never have taken place.

Posted by John Howarth
Johnson’s between rock and a hard place on NHS and trade

Johnson’s between rock and a hard place on NHS and trade

You can't trust the Tories with the NHS

Boris Johnson has painted himself into a corner between the spectre of NHS privatisation and Brexit’s 'sunlit uplands' of a potential UK-US trade deal.

Here's the conundrum. When it comes to it the public simply won't wear 'selling the NHS'. However, the US, whatever has been said, will definitely expect “everything on the table” in trade negotiations. Trump put it out there and his backtracking has no value – it's the insurance, health business and pharma lobbyists who will hold sway in the real world. Boris Johnson keeping his promises to the British people (a stretch, I know) means we'll end up with the limited deal with the US we have now – while losing the high value one we have as EU members. But if he abandons his pledges then he might win a 'meaningful deal' with the US – but one which will still insist on degraded standards for agri-products and a free-for-all pop at the NHS for big pharma et al. There would be public uproar. Either case is a no-win for the UK and will be a drop in the bucket against the value of the trade deal we have now as EU members.

Boris Johnson doesn't mind breaking promises (or downright lying) as we all know and he couldn’t care less what the voters think once the election is over. Held hostage in the middle of this dispiriting scenario is our National Health Service. The slide towards privatisation has been moving steadily forward. You can read about it here  . Anyone who thinks there will be no renewed design on the future of the NHS under a Tory administration is deluded.

The self-serving, right-wing crowd who populated Johnson's Cabinet until the election are at the front of the charge to secure NHS privatisation. Raab, Patel, Truss, Kwarteng - all have their grasping fingers round its neck. See here in their own words. Their 147-page publication “After The Coalition” said the “current monolith” of the NHS should be “broken up”, adding:

“Hospitals should be given their independence ... New non-profit and private operators should be allowed into the service, and, indeed should compete on price.”

It added: “Across the world, countries with more competition, such as Germany and Switzerland, tend to be more efficient. Two-thirds of German hospitals are run privately or not-for-profit.”

In fact the NHS has suffered from lowered state spending, fewer hospital beds, and fewer doctors and nurses than other European countries according to a report from the London School of Economics and Harvard School of Public Health.

Raab’s righteous protestations of innocence since the document came to light should persuade people further they cannot trust these Tories. These are the ones that will be up there on the front bench if we don't stop them, and our National Health Service and the public will pay a severe price.

They have to be stopped. Get the word out. You can't trust the Tories.

Posted by John Howarth
Ten reasons why the Johnson ‘deal’ is even worse than Theresa May’s

Ten reasons why the Johnson ‘deal’ is even worse than Theresa May’s

The Brexit settlement which now forms part of the Conservative’s General Election programme is substantially the same agreement negotiated by Theresa May’s administration. The few changes agreed with the EU27, however, make this version of the deal substantially worse for the great majority of people in the UK.

Here are ten reasons why:

  1. It prolongs the risk of a ‘no deal’ situation. After a short transition period to the end of 2020 the UK faces another cliff edge and the spectre of a ‘no deal exit’ after 2020.
  2. The UK would be outside the customs union with no prospect of any form of new arrangements in which manufacturing and other cross border production can easily take place.
  3. The commitment to a ‘level playing field’ on matters such as rights at work is curtailed at the end of the transition making way for the possibility of the deregulated, low wage, low tax, low standards future that will accelerate the ‘race to the bottom’.
  4. The ambition to take part in EU programmes is even more limited, raising questions over future involvement in Erasmus+ and Creative Europe to name just two well established programmes.
  5. The UK will be even further outside the regulatory framework of the Single Market with no prospect of taking part in a single market for service – financial or otherwise. Services make up the bulk of UK exports.
  6. The UK has a large trade surplus with the EU27 in services which far outweighs the trade deficit for goods.
  7. The agreement drives apart the nations of the UK, with Northern Ireland effectively remaining in the EU without representation while Mr Johnson lies about the reality of the intended customs border in the Irish Sea.
  8. There is no improvement in the situation of EU citizens in the UK nor, shamefully, in that of UK citizens in the EU whose interests have been effectively abandoned.
  9. It makes the UK less safe. As things stand not only will the UK be outside the European Arrest Warrant and locked out of Europol and security databases, British defence industries will lose access to European markets.
  10. It is still a disaster for the NHS. A more distant relationship will make matters such a mutual recognition of qualifications much harder to resolve. It will NOT ‘Get Brexit Done’. Quite the reverse. It will simply be the beginning of a long and difficult process of the next phase of negotiations. In those negotiations the will be at a massive disadvantage and the position of the EU27 considerably stronger. The UK would no longer have a seat at the table nor any MEPs to make the UK’s case.

For all these reasons and many more, Labour was right to oppose the new agreement and argue that the decision should be returned to the people.

Posted by John Howarth
Labour pledges compensation for WASPIs

Labour pledges compensation for WASPIs

Millions of women saw their retirement plans shattered when they found out - belatedly – a change in state pension law had robbed them of up to six years' income, John writes.

Labour's pledge to settle an 'historical debt of honour' by compensating them has been welcomed by the many who had received little or no notice of the changes which brought retirement age for women into line with men.

How unlike the response from the arch-deceiver himself. In July, Boris Johnson assured those who'd lost out he would tackle pension inequality “with fresh vigour and new eyes.” By November he'd gone blind. In the BBC's Question Time debate he 'sympathised' but couldn’t see how he could 'magic up the money'.

Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaigners say their members are telling them they could not believe their retirement age had increased by four, five or six years and they did not know about it.

They add with no other source of income (until the 1990s many women weren’t allowed to join company pension schemes many are in poor health) securing work is proving impossible for and zero contract hours or Job Seekers’ Allowance are the only alternatives for many.

Let's remember, billions of pounds have been 'spaffed' up the wall over Brexit. But there's little Tory consideration for women who have borne the brunt of inequality in their pockets and on their health historically.

Women who owing to the gender pay gap earn on average hundreds of thousands of pounds less than men over a lifetime.

Who are usually the carers of our world, often supporting sick parents and, as grandparents, sometimes also providing childcare for their grandchildren at the same time. And who save the Exchequer billions for taking on that carer role.

They were easy targets. Some have lost tens of thousands of pounds. Compensation will go some way to redressing the wrongs.

Posted by John Howarth
Eliminating violence against women – 25 November

Eliminating violence against women – 25 November

Monday marked the anniversary of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.  Reclaim the Night marches were held around the UK on Saturday – and Marble Arch in London was illuminated in bright orange to mark the day. Profile and awareness raising is so important and marking these days with events and acts of solidarity helps. But concerted action by government is the only thing that will affect any real change.

The World Health Organisation says that as many as one in three women globally will experience violence of a physical or sexual nature in their lifetime. In the UK funding for women’s services has fallen by 50%. Local Authority spending on refuges for victims fell from 31m in 2010 to £23m in 2017.

Conversely levels of sexual violence, domestic violence and femicides has risen by 23-25 per cent a year since the Brexit vote and police-recorded sex offences rose 25%.

And the decline in funding won’t improve if Brexit happens. Cuts to grants and EU initiatives will, obviously, cease. Leading charities such as Women’s Aid warn services are already operating on a shoe strong and others cite an inability to cope with the overwhelming demand and of being forced to turn away.

Last month my colleague Rosie Duffield, who is currently seeking re-election to Parliament delivered a moving speech in which she described the impact and experience of domestic violence; revealing her very personal story. The Domestic Abuse Bill provides a legal definition for all forms of domestic abuse for the first time including financial and controlling, manipulative and other forms of non-physical behaviour. It would place a legal duty on councils to offer secure homes to those fleeing violence.

However, the Bill which was transitioning through Parliament when the election was called, is lost a as result of the election being called. Regardless, a delay in the legislation being implemented successfully will likely continue even if it does pass successfully through Parliament if the infrastructure, and investment in services which will support the legislation is required.

Similarly, The Istanbul Convention has yet to be ratified by the British Government. Labour has pledged to sign the international convention which sets a standard of care and support for domestic abuse victims. The treaty is a historic international effort which has been in place since 2011. The UK Government has signed the convention but not ratified it. It is one of only seven EU member states not to do so.

Failure to ratify the convention is illustrative of a government which is neither progressive or prepared to invest in this area of social inequality or willing to address the very real and significant problem of domestic violence. Meanwhile the Labour manifesto pledges to appoint a Commissioner for Violence Against Women and Girls and promises to establish a national refuge fund to ensure financial stability for rape crisis centres and to hold an independent review into reasons for alarmingly low rape prosecution rates. It’s only efforts like this which will make any significant impact.


Posted by John Howarth
Conservative disinformation and fake news

Conservative disinformation and fake news

The war to win the attention of the voters in this election is being fought in the world of digital black ops.

In one well-publicised foray, the Twitter account of the Conservative campaign headquarters press office was rebranded ‘factcheckUK’ during the ITV leaders debate (19 Nov) in a cynical bid to deceive people. The account declared Johnson the winner of the face-off with Jeremy Corbyn after tweeting pro-Tory 'wins' and dubbing them Fact. The popular term for this deception is ‘fake news'.

It's not the only stunt the Tories have pulled. They've edited videos of Keir Starmer and Jess Phillips to distort the truth and even built a false Labour manifesto site to promote disinformation. The misleading digital campaign is said to be the work of two 'young guns' - New Zealanders who are not yet out of their 20s but are credited with helping to re-elect the Liberal party in Australia in May.

One would hope their efforts would backfire but it seems not. Twitter simply issued a promise to  take  “decisive corrective action” if the Conservatives pulled a similar stunt again. But, as I wrote in a letter which The Guardian published, an abuse of this scale, whereby party propaganda is presented as fact, is a serious breach of both the spirit and letter of the law.

To purport to be a politically neutral fact-checking service using a fake Twitter handle at the very moment the Prime Minister is answering questions on integrity indicates an astonishing lack of political judgment. The Foreign Secretary's response on BBC Breakfast Show  last week  (20 Nov) that 'no-one gives a toss' indicates just how much scorn the Tory party have for both the concerns of the people of this country and the rule of law. The Twitter stunt was a deliberate attempt by the national campaign HQ of a political party to mislead the public and a clear breach of electoral law.

I wrote to the regulatory body the Electoral Commission to remind them the action clearly breaches section 143 of the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000 and asked they seek an assurance from the Tory Party they would not repeat their behaviour. The Commission's letter in reply, though swift, was disappointing in that they did not acknowledge the legal breach. They called on all parties to support campaigning transparency  and asked UK Governments to progress legislation in line with a report they submitted last year.

Not surprisingly I've had no reply at all from James Cleverly, chairman of the Tory Party, after asking him to institute an inquiry into the incident, particularly into who sanctioned this deception. The Tories don't care if they are found out and their leader, when confronted on TV, mumbles and mutters about not understanding the Twittersphere.

Just proves once again you just can't trust Johnson or his henchmen.


Posted by John Howarth
LibDem election strategy flops

LibDem election strategy flops

While at the time of writing the outcome of the 2019 General Election remains in doubt one thing is already clear: the Liberal Democrat strategy for the election is a catastrophic failure.

It is worth remembering that the main reason we are having this election in December is that the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalists thought they spotted an opportunity to strengthen their representation and forward their own agenda. True that there would have been an election soon enough, but there was a strong argument that seeking to resolve Brexit and deliver a referendum on the withdrawal agreement before the 2017 Parliament was dissolved would have been a better course to resolving Brexit. Whether the SNP strategy will succeed is hard to predict but it seems the Liberal Democrat plans have come a cropper.

There are three reasons for this failure:


Carried away on their limited success in the European Elections in May, the LibDems sought to position themselves as the most pro-European of the UK political parties. Having carried out a leadership election to replace the retiring Vince Cable, they had chosen the little-known Scottish MP, Jo Swinson, as their leader. At their conference in September they backed a policy of ‘cancelling Brexit’ by revoking Article 50 after a general election. The policy meant that the LibDems broke the unity that had built up across pro-remain politicians around the proposition that any Brexit deal, being at odds with many of the promises made by ‘leave’ advocates during the 2016 referendum, should be put back to the people. This policy had been regarded as democratically unsustainable by Cable, but was backed by Swinson as a continuation of the ‘clear message’ of ‘stopping Brexit’ peddled in the European Elections that had won a 19% share - 3.3 million votes. The ‘revoke’ position was patently all about winning LibDem votes and nothing to do with the practicalities of ‘stopping Brexit’ while the election is clearly about more than Brexit - however some might wish otherwise.


The second reason; the ludicrous claim made by Ms Swinson that she was likely to become the next Prime Minister. The Liberal Party and their LidDem successors have made similar claims from time to time and every time it has failed to come about - it’s a claim that, under the UK’s manifestly unfair first past the post system, is utterly ridiculous. Rolling it out did damage in several ways. Ms Swinson made herself look silly; the policy itself was further undermined as it was contingent on a LibDem majority that just wasn’t happening; and the LibDems looked to be putting party before country. This was all underlined in the far-fetched pre-election talk of ‘caretaker governments’ when Ms Swinson’s refused to countenance even a temporary administration led by the Leader of the Opposition, acting as a timely reminder of her own role as a junior minister in propping up the Cameron government in its first term.


Finally, whatever the failings of LibDem strategy, the elements of which have either been promoted or endorsed by their leader, Ms Swinson also appears to be unpopular with much of the electorate. To get into a long discussion Ms Swinson’s persona would be subjective and unfair. Besides the reasons behind her failures are political. While little succeeds like success, the LibDems recent successes have not really been hers. The judgement behind policy changes and their presentation certainly were. Her assertions have been seen as implausible, opportunist and partisan; at odds with the notion of the LibDems as a somehow ‘non party political’ (while this is something those in politics have always found at odds with reality, it was undeniably an inexplicable element of their wider appeal as ‘not the other two’). Her presentation has been flawed and on policy, shallow. Combined with the manifest dissembling behind the LibDem presentation of ‘selective’ figures and dubious polls all too painfully exposed by a media for which she was ill prepared, Ms Swinson was fatally undermined even before her unconvincing indications on the options in a hung Parliament.

These errors of judgement don’t inspire confidence. One has to conclude from this that the LibDems haven’t learned very much from their time in government nor from what happened next. They have exposed the LibDems for what they are and are likely to remain - a mid-term protest vote.

Posted by John Howarth
How rights at work are best protected

How rights at work are best protected

Much of the debate on the left around rights at work, how they were won and how they are best protected and the role of the EU has been dangerously lacking in any real world analysis. Talking of a conflict between the role of the EU and that of the Labour movement in the UK simply a false dichotomy. However, I’m in little doubt that defending rights at work is easier in the context of the UK retaining its membership of the European Union.

Rights at work were not ‘gifted’ to people in the UK by the European Union. Nobody serious has ever suggested that were the case. These rights were hard fought for through many different struggles in workplaces and in wider society but they finally came about through positive legislation by Government’s in Parliament - significantly, but not entirely, Labour Governments elected to do so.

It is equally true to say that rights won in other European Union member states were also won in this way: progressive change argued for by the wider movement and legislated by Social Democratic governments or by winning a broader consensus for social change. The European Union was largely incidental to much of this process until in the context of its broadening role and the creation of the single market ‘level playing field’ socialists and democrats with other progressive forces organised to ensure the ‘level playing field’ also applied to rights at work. The result of that successful co-operation was a consensus to legislate rights at work into the protocols of the Maastricht Treaty. In fact you can trace the Conservative anti-European ideological shift to the reactionary response to these victories. The John Major Government, which now seems like a period of centre right moderation, negotiated opt-outs from the Maastricht Social Protocol based on their objections to protections to the rights of employees at work.

In a recurring and self-defeating lapse of memory it is rarely highlighted that the UK’s opting in to the Maastricht Social Protocol came about as a direct result of the landslide victory achieved by Labour under Tony Blair in 1997. It was never ‘forced on the UK’ by the EU. The signing the protocol was one of the first acts of the Labour government, carried out in the first week after the election. It was the first real advance in rights at work since the 1970s.

The Conservatives, with a few exceptions, from their election in 2010 would have loved to trash the rights of people at work and in some areas they succeeded. They were prevented from doing so on a wholesale basis by the practical internationalism of socialists and democrats working with the unions that had written the protection of rights into the binding international treaties that constitute the European Union. The protection of the treaties made for the best protection we had. It did, however, renew the zeal of many in the Conservative Party who wished to accelerate the race to the bottom in an ‘offshore’ Britain.

Progress for working people and the winning of rights, collective and individual protections is the stuff of practical politics and depends of winning and defending legislative gains through every mechanism available. It is also for some the stuff of romantic illusions. The Labour movement, despite sacrifice and heroism, singularly failed to defend the rights of working people against the prolonged assault of state Thatcherism. In 2019 the Labour movement is historically weak. Most strikes and industrial actions fail. In the modern economy battles will be even harder to win.

Recognising this reality is fundamental otherwise repeated defeats are the probable future.

There is a plain and simple fact. Without elected socialist government and legislated rights it is down to one simple question: without the protection of the European Union treaties do you trust Boris Johnson?

Posted by John Howarth
Thomas Cook : Call for UK to Help staff through EU fund

Thomas Cook : Call for UK to Help staff through EU fund

The European Parliament has adopted a resolution which calls on its 'civil service', the European Commission, to devise comprehensive legislation that would guarantee workers' and consumer rights and avoids tens of thousands of travellers being left stranded.

John is also calling on the UK Secretary of State to apply for EU funding which would help UK staff affected by the tour operator's insolvency in retraining and job-finding.

He told the European Parliament today (Thursday, October 24):

“The collapse of Thomas Cook has had a serious effect on consumers, employees and businesses across Europe. Across South-East England an estimated 21,000 customers are waiting for refunds for their trips, protected by ATOL and EU legislation.”

In his constituency, he said, was Gatwick, the UK’s largest charter airport, and the biggest employer in and around Crawley. More than 500 jobs at the airport were dependent on Thomas Cook.

The resolution highlighted the possibilities provided by the Globalisation Adjustment Fund to assist people who have lost their jobs.

The UK Government should make use of this facility to offer training and assistance to those seeking new jobs. I am writing to the Secretary of State to urge them to do so at the earliest opportunity.”

The resolution was supported by the Socialists and Democrats Groups of which John is a member.

The group's spokeswoman on the internal market Christel Schaldemose said: 

“The bankruptcy of Thomas Cook is, unfortunately, not an isolated incident. We need a coherent and comprehensive approach, which protects all consumers equally. Why does a passenger who booked a whole travel package receive compensation and is repatriated while a traveller who only booked a flight is left behind? Our priority now is ensuring that none of the affected travellers is left without compensation and workers receive their earned wages and pension benefits.

She added: “The financial incapacity of a company the size of Thomas Cook affects self-employed individuals and SMEs, as well as providers of services and goods. They need to be supported as well. It is crucial that the consequences of this bankruptcy are contained."

Posted by John Howarth