Saturday, 26 November 2016

Castro, Trump, Brexit and Liberalism

The original version of this post can be found on my Facebook Page. This version has been expanded to incorporate my response to a comment on the post, and one or two musings elsewhere.

Much has been written about the rise of the populist right lately. With the advent of Brexit, and the election of Trump, the left is being challenged in ways it hasn't been for decades, and certainly not in the era of post-war politics.

For some, the answer is to retreat further to the left: the left of class war, the left of opposition-ism, the left of intellectual purity. So we have the spectacle of a Leader of the Opposition paying tribute to a dictator who ruled for 40 years.

I've jokingly said on the past that the reason that Corbyn's opposition is so lackadaisical is because in the societies he admires dissent isn't allowed. It's not, however, a laughing matter to have a Leader of the Opposition that lauds a leader of a state where no opposition is allowed, and not acknowledge the fact that he's speaking from a position of political luxury that Castro never extended to his critics.

Or we see people comparing the stability of Cuba with a cycle of crises attributed to capitalism. "Look at their health service!" is something I've seen a few times in relation to Castro. But this isn't about the relative merits of capitalism and communism/marxism - it's about the tendency of extreme left and right to totalitarianism, and - in the UK - of parts of the left and right to authoritarianism. Capitalism has its flaws - as do democratic systems - and Cuba and North Korea are, largely stable on a civic level. But if the price of stability in a society is to be supportive of the repression of dissent, then count me out.

For others the response to the right is to talk of a "progressive" alliance: although to me this falls down on a) differing definitions of "progressive" and b) practicalities. (I wouldn't rule out a joint-ticket committing to a short parliament to implement electoral reform - but that is complicated by Labour's approach to Brexit, and their innate tribalism*.)

Today's news on the death of Fidel Castro reinforces where, for me, the fault-line of politics really lies: between liberalism and authoritarianism, open societies and closed ones, internationalism vs isolationism and freedom of speech vs the routine imprisonment of dissenters. It matters not if threats to liberal ideals come from the right or the left.

If, a fortnight ago, you were spitting feathers at the Daily Mail's "Enemies of the People" headline, or suggestions from prominent UKIP members that the government should have more control of the judiciary, and you are now acting as an apologist Castro and Cuba, then you need to take a long hard look at yourself - and the Amnesty International summary of the situation in Cuba. (Click here for the full report.)

I know the world is complex, and Cuba may be far from the worst offender. But an offender it is. I'm happy to criticise America's record on human rights: both within CIA rendition programmes and it's use of the death penalty amongst many other things. There are also many things I am concerned about here in the UK - not least the recent passing of the Investigatory Powers Bill, with the acquiescence of Labour.

In addition, it's notable that in the Amnesty report both the UK and US have longer entries than that for Cuba. But that, of course, is not least because much of the information that Amnesty report on is freely available in those countries... whereas Cuba hasn't allowed AI access in over two and a half decades.

The job of Liberals is to shine a light on authoritarianism in whatever manifestation it presents itself. And to remind people that the answers to our problems have never been met by those at the extremes where left and right meet totalitarianism.

Where that aligns with others on the left - and right - we should work together for a better future. Where it doesn't, we must take a stand.

Ultimately, though, my point is that Human Rights abuses of the left are no different from those of the right. If you're on the receiving end of state-sponsored torture or human rights abuses, or your freedoms are restricted in some other way, I doubt you care much for the ideological purity of the perpetrator, whether fascist of communist. So I will call out those who have a tendency of some to turn a blind eye to atrocities committed in the name of their favoured ideology. The right did it with Pinochet, the left now with Castro.

* Labour's tribalism is alive and well in Richmond Park where their candidate seems to have forgotten that the defending MP - the so-called "Independent" Zac Goldsmith - is the primary opposition.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

What I think Lib Dem MPs should do on invoking Article 50.

Over recent years, my blogging has become quite limited. Parallel to this, my political thoughts have been increasing expressed on Facebook - either through status updates shared with friends, or in discussions on various pages, profiles and groups.

A couple of months ago, I set up my own *public* Facebook Page as an halfway house between full-on blogging and those ad-hoc debate contributions. You can find that page here, and the latest entry below.

To my mind there are two main aspects to the decision:

The "Respecting the Will of the People" argument.

Whether we like it or not, the nuance* of the fact that the referendum was advisory, or that MPs are representatives not delegates, is lost on people. Further, one** of the reasons many people voted "Leave" was to kick out against a system that they perceive doesn't represent them whether in Europe, Westminster or their local Town Hall.

Set against this, is the fact that all Lib Dem MPs were elected on a manifesto that proclaimed our commitment to the EU, and that we were active campaigners for "Remain" in both our own right and as part of Stronger IN***.

If a Commons vote were *just* on Article 50, then I would be comfortable with MPs splitting between abstaining and voting against, depending on their own view of the weight to be given to the referendum result, either nationally or in their own constituency.

But the vote will not be context-less. Whether or not it any motion put to MPs expressly refers to the terms of negotiation, there are likely to be indications from government as to what outcome they are seeking. Which brings us to...

The "what type of Brexit is it to be" argument.

The referendum result was only clear in delivering a "Leave" result but this was as a result of a coalition of people voting Leave for many different reasons - "Hard Brexit" would have been unlikely to command the same majority. It is this that makes this second argument over how to proceed so key.

Post referendum, the party laid out a list of "key issues for negotiation" as part of a post-referendum policy which also called for parliament to have a vote on Article 50.****

I took this - and still do - to be a list of our red-lines***** in consenting to any negotiation. As a result, I would expect us to vote against triggering Article 50 if these points have not been positively addressed: something which seems unlikely at present.

I started this piece expecting it to be more ambivalent than it turns out. As things stand, though, I can't see how our MPs can't vote against given that the government seems bent on hard Brexit.

But there is a balance to this that, to me, transcends a simple cry of "we must represent the 48% unequivocally" and which makes our position difficult to "sell" in the meantime. To be honest, I'm not sure how we square the circle without being left open to misrepresentation by the right wing press on the one hand, and the harder fringes of the 48 on the other.

I suppose the position above could be outlined as: "We respect the result of the referendum although we continue to believe that leaving the EU would be bad for Britain. Should the government pursue an agenda of hard Brexit, we will vote against this. If it brings forward proposals that satisfy our red lines, we will give them the benefit of the doubt subject to any agreement being put to the people in a referendum including an option to stay in the EU. In any such referendum we will campaign for staying in."

It's not the catchiest soundbite ever...

P.S. If Article 50 is blocked by Parliament (or, at least, the House of Lords) and a snap election results, then I believe we should fight the election on an express commitment to vote against Article 50 in the new Parliament, regardless of the negotiation terms proposed.

*I appreciate this is cold hard legal fact but to many it's incidental to "we had a vote on this"
** There were, of course, many reasons people voted "Leave" including those who just genuinely took a different view of things.
*** Of which the least said, the better, for now...
***** I hope we stick to this list better than we did over our demands on the vote on airstrikes on ISIS in Syria...