The EU Referendum Debate; Insults and Bluster Hides Dangerous Policy Vacuums

In early March I was delighted to host a guest blog post on the subject of the EU Referendum debate by Alison Rowland. In her piece, Alison pointed out that even then the debate was being framed around the issue of sovereignty without any real content or substance to the argument. Two months later and, if anything, the level of debate has reached new depths of depressing inanity and danger in its level of superficiality. There has been no advance on the problem highlighted by Alison where people seeking answers and guidance on fundamental issues are met with politicians throwing around comments on Hitler, engaging in power games and trading personal insults.

Both sides are guilty of this approach. For the Brexiters the very autocratic power they claim to be wielded by Brussels also operates in the UK – an unaccountable monarchy system, the Privy Council and Royal Prerogative for a start. It appears they want power for the few with little accountability or control over the exercise of that power by citizens. We need to know the nature of this supposed recovery of sovereignty, how it is to be exercised and for whose benefit.  Furthermore we are presented with no plans for filling the gaps in workers’ rights, LGBT rights etc.

Listening to the Remain campaign is similarly infuriating.   Depending on the European Union for rights presents an equal danger. The argument that we are dependant on a benign EU for protection of citizens is not something with which we should be comfortable. What if we are entering an era where the EU is a far less benign force (as indicated by the TTIP negotiations and an autocratic Central Bank arrangement)? Furthermore, it seems that the Remain camp are not allowing for the possibility of the EU falling apart whether or not we stay; a distinct possibility with the strains of the refugee and financial crises If the rights are important let us enact them in the UK independently of the EU. To an establishment which has boasted about the Magna Carta it is incredible that we cannot set up these protections for ourselves.

For both sides there is appalling lack of planning and timetable for reform. We ask the questions but get the same stock answers seemingly culled from the playbook of Brexit and Bremain with no real thought of what is being said. I spent last Saturday at the wonderful Levellers Day in Burford (my post here) and wonder what the Levellers and other parties to the great mid-17th Century debates would make of the current superficial approach to the development of our rights. Maybe the epithet that we get the politicians we deserve is correct after all!

Levellers Day; Radical Politics, Sunshine & Extreme Morris Dancing!

Levellers plaque

The sun always shines on Levellers Day. Look, I am as big a fan as anyone of Tom Paine’s The Age of Reason, but I have empirical evidence! Just in case you are new to my blog and require a little orientation as to the 17th Century Leveller movement, the Levellers Day site briefly explains what it is all about. For more details you can download a book from this site and I covered some aspects of the events of 1649 and their relevance to today in a recent blog post.

For me the day always starts with a lovely drive down from the Midlands along the Fosse Way and through the Cotswolds to Burford. I was delighted to be a ceremonial pikeman again this year so following a quick chat to my fellow Republicans it was away to the main tent to don my repro Civil War uniform.  Walking down to the Church from the Recreation field is always an amusing experience with smiles mixed with some bemused looks from tourists who are unaware of the significance of the day.

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At the Church I meet up with my fellow Pikeman and Pikewoman to a welcome from the Sea Green Singers who open the proceedings splendidly with songs about the fight for tolerance and civil liberties covering over three centuries! Predictably, I loved their one about William Cobbett trying to repatriate Tom Paine’s bones (Cobbett was a truly fascinating character – learn a little more here).The address by Reverend Mark Chapman was as thought provoking and inclusive as always, managing to nail the common ground between people of many faiths and no faiths. This is followed by the laying of commemorative posies, a minute silence and a prayer from the Reverend.

Then we form up for the start of the procession – everyone is friendly, relaxed and in good spirits while we wait for the road to be closed. Once again we are marching up the hill all the way to the Recreation Ground.  With my fellow Pikeman, along with Rev Chapman and the Levellers Day banner bearers we closely follow the leading Morris dancers and marvel as they manage to keep going up the long drag. Extreme Morris Dancing for sure!

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At the ground, a huge variety of groups are represented; Communists, Socialists, NHS supporters, Veterans for Peace, Trade Unions, the Woodcraft Folk to name but a few.  This year the Republic stall was even more popular than last year and I forewent the debate to help persuade more folk of the need to end inherited privilege.  This year the theme was (Un) Civil Liberties covering free speech and human rights. Friends tell me the debate was well up to the usual standard and I expected nothing less from the speakers involved! You cannot possibly agree with everyone and that is partly the point! But there is no doubt that the enthusiasm and commitment of others who have a passion for a different form of society, however they conceive it, is wonderful. There is an energy you can draw from this to recharge batteries for the campaigns in the year ahead. I am always grateful to Trish and her colleagues for the immense amount of work put into the day. A gorgeous time is finished off for me with a lovely drive back along the Fosse Way.

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The inspiration from the day will last for a long time and it has already sparked fresh ideas and plans from the Republic Birmingham crew! If you’ve not experienced Levellers Day do come along to Burford next year. Its on the 20th May – put it in your calendar.

British Bill of Rights or ECHR, Value & Protect Your Rights

On Monday evening I listened to a radio news report about the Washington gunman. During the piece two American women were interviewed during which they stated that they were in the city on a tour of national institutions including the Supreme Court. It was a powerful reminder of how many Americans value their rights under the constitution. Now, despite not being a fan of the US Constitution, I wondered just how many Britons people were aware of their rights and how much value they place on them. This is in the context of a disingenuous UK Government who eternally seem to promise a British Bill of Rights ‘by next Thursday’! The fact that the government itself places such a low priority the reformulation of our rights calls into doubt their motives in government.

It was in the summer of 2013 during the Abu Qatada saga that the government considered a plan to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). During that incident and through the subsequent discussion on repealing the implementation of the ECHR in the UK, the Human Rights Act (HRA), it was often forgotten that the rights it asserts protects all of us: black, white, gay, straight..etc. Take an example from my personal experience. The fact that I advocate abolition of the monarchy in writing is clearly protected by the HRA as established in the 2003 Judicial Review brought by Alana Rusbridger and the Guardian newspaper. Although I value my right to freedom of expression very highly, but it is still relevant to consider the problems with enshrining human rights in an International Convention backed by a Court.

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