Wednesday, 30 January 2019

May unites her party, for now

Two weeks ago Theresa May suffered the worst defeat of any government in British parliamentary history. Her Withdrawal Agreement was resoundingly rejected by parliament. Yet last night she brought the draft deal back to parliament and with the help of an amendment, which called for the so called Backstop to be removed, managed to turn her defeat into a victory. The result means that she now has to return to the European Union and request substantive changes to the draft and return to parliament in a further two weeks.

Theresa May also won other victories in parliament last night. The amendments to her motion, from Dominic Grieve and Yvette Cooper, that sought to enable parliament to take control over the executive on this issue were defeated. The amendment that had called for a so called People's Vote wasn't even tabled, as it supporters knew they could not win. And only the ineffective Spelman amendment, which expressed the view that a no deal exit should be avoided, was passed.

In the space of two weeks, without anything changing, May has managed to move from defeat, a resultant no confidence vote and the potential downfall of her government, to being able to command a majority and appearing to be in command of events.

This change of fortune is, however, more apparent than real. The change demanded by the parliamentary vote is unlikely to find much favour in the European Union. Indeed, within minutes of the votes, Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, made it plain that the European Union would not consider changing the draft agreement. This position was echoed by the European Commission and by the capitals of Paris and Dublin. It was also underlined by the Brexit Steering Group of the European Parliament.

So Theresa May has managed to gain another two weeks' breathing space. But this is merely kicking the proverbial can down the road. Yet it is a road that suits her, for the clocking is ticking, and as we move ever closer to the 29th of March, the panic and hysteria of all those who wish to avoid leaving without a deal grows ever more intense, as the passing of the Spelman amendment showed. A cynic might say that May is attempting to use the threat of leaving without a deal (the legal default position) in order to force the European Union to compromise and to force parliament to vote for her deal.

Commentators in the corporate media immediately interpreted the votes in the House of Commons as making leaving the European Union without a deal as less likely. However, the Confederation of British Industry this morning advised its members to step up preparations for a no deal outcome. And this assessment seems much more realistic. It is unlikely that the European Union will provide May with the concessions she needs to get the deal through parliament. It is equally unlikely that May will pivot towards a so called softer Brexit (ie, leaving in name only), as it would destroy her party's ability to govern. The only other alternatives require either an extension to article 50 (which would require the unanimous consent of the other 27 member states) or its revocation: either of which would result in civil war in her party.

Theresa May is confronted by an insoluble puzzle. There simply isn't anything she can do that will be acceptable to both the European Union and to a majority in the House of Commons without destroying her own government. This has been obvious ever since her Chequers proposal, and her strategy ever since has been to delay and run down the clock: a strategy that inevitably leads to the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without having agreed a deal.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Historic defeat for May and the Withdrawal Agreement

Last night the government suffered an unprecedented defeat. Theresa May's withdrawal agreement with the European Union was voted down by a majority of two hundred and thirty. The size of the defeat would have brought down any previous government. Yet without even a moment's reflection, Theresa May made it clear that she intended to carry on.

Theresa May has proved to be a remarkably resilient prime minister. Again and again, she has brushed aside events that would have brought down any other prime minister and government. Only last month, brushed off a vote of no confidence in a her leadership of the party. Whilst it is true that technically she had won the vote, she only did so because of the convention that all members of the government have to vote for the leader. A similar result had famously brought down Margaret Thatcher.

Whilst May brushed off the biggest defeat in history as though it were nothing more than a minor set back, it is not the end of her troubles. Later today she faces a vote of no confidence in her government. Downing Street and the corporate media are all pushing the line that she will win the vote. The basis for this judgement is the assumption that her own party will vote for her (in preference to the fear of Jeremy Corbyn, who they affect to see as a dangerous Marxist) and the DUP will (albeit somewhat ironically) vote for her because her withdrawal agreement has been defeated, removing their fear of the Irish Protocol.

The prediction that May will win the confidence vote may well be correct (although it would only require a handful of abstentions in her party to bring her down). Yet it is bizarre that a government that cannot command a majority in the House of Commons and cannot get its flagship policies through the House can struggle on from one crisis to another as though nothing of significance has happened. Worse still, it seems obvious that the government does not have the creative capacity to think of any way of leaving the European Union that could command a majority in the House.

This impasse means that the legal default position - that the United Kingdom leaves the European Union on 29th March without a deal - is the most likely scenario. This is especially ironic, as of all the possible options, it is the one that has the least support in parliament. Yet, it is probably the only way this weak government can still implement the decision of the 2016 referendum.

Leaving without a deal is, of course, precisely the worst possible outcome in the view of the elites, both in this country and in the European Union. Thus, the hysteria and panic are ramping up. There are constantly reiterated assertions that parliament must not allow a no deal. There are constant demands that the government must rule out no deal. There are constant demands that there must be a people's vote. There is an air of unreality to all these shrill demands. The corporate journalists, the pundits and the politicians making them generally do so without any indication of what they would involve.

The call to re-run the referendum, for instance, is made without any apparent recognition that it would require the government to initiate it, or that it would take six months or so to organise, or even what the question on the ballot paper would be (although they obviously want remain). Similarly, those demanding that parliament rule out a no deal do not seem to appreciate that parliament does not have the capacity to do so, as it would require the government to bring forward the necessary legislation. And those who demand that the government rule out no deal do not seem to understand that the government was elected on a manifesto that promised to implement the result of the referendum and that they are therefore demanding that the Tory party commits political suicide. Indeed, the only way to prevent the country leaving without a deal would be for the remainers to capture the executive.

According to Sky News sixty-one percent of people think the country is in crisis. Frankly, I doubt it: but answers depend on how you ask the question. However, what I do not doubt is that the political elite is in crisis. It is a crisis of its own making. Parliament delegated the decision as to whether to leave the European Union to the people, fully expecting the decision to be  remain. The people decided otherwise, and ever since, the political elite have been grappling with the insoluble problem of how to appear to leave whilst actually remaining. There simply is no solution to this problem, and as the March deadline draws ever closer, the panic and hysteria rise ever higher.

It is an open question how far their desperation will drive them. The Speaker of the House, John Bercow, has already shown that he is not above overthrowing the constitution. Doubtless others in parliament will be tempted down the same path. Indeed, there has already been mutterings of using an all party backbench committee to capture control of the executive, which would be a truly revolutionary move.

The clash between direct democracy and representative democracy set in train by the result of the referendum is testing the constitution to the limit. Should the political elite fail to implement the result of the referendum even greater tests may follow.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Do they even listen to themselves?

Anna Soubry, a member of parliament famous for emotively insulting Leavers, was called a Nazi by some people outside the House of Commons on Monday. The political media elite, of course, immediately denounced the insult as unacceptable. However, they were not content to leave it at that and have talked themselves into a hypocritical hysteria.

John Bercow, the Speaker of the House, demanding that everyone use moderate language and conduct debate and the expression of differences of opinion in a respectful manner, denounced protesters as fascists. He also took the opportunity to write to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to demand that policing practices in parliament and its environs be changed. This was a clear attempt to use his public office to interfere with the operational independence of the police. A fact that was apparently lost upon both him and the House of Commons.

Government ministers have also chimed in, calling the people who insulted Ms Soubry morons and thugs. Again with the caveat that everyone should use moderate and respectful language.

In the wake of this political moral panic, where members of parliament, such as Stepehen Doughty, are darkly referring to the murders of Jo Cox and Police Constable Keith Palmer, to attacks on public service personnel, to racist and misogynistic attacks especially on the Internet, the corporate media are demanding the police do something, regardless of the law.

The Metropolitan Police were forced by this chorus of moral indignation to issue a statement. They said that they took the matter very seriously and were investigating to see if any crimes had been committed. To see the absurdity of this, one only has to reflect on the fact that daily the Metropolitan Police fail to investigate known actual crimes because they apparently lack the resources. However, they can devote both investigative and preventative resources to the problem of people using mean words.

As one listens to all this, one has to wonder if they even listen to themselves. Whilst demanding that everyone uses moderate, respectful language, they use the most inflammatory language and demonise people who are guilty of nothing more than exercising their fundamental human right to freedom of expression. This is the path to censorship and totalitarianism.

Indeed, the censorship has already begun. One of the people who called Soubry a Nazi, James Goddard, has had his Facebook and Paypal accounts deleted. The corporate media are casually referring to him as far right, as though the label somehow proves he is not entitled to an opinion. And this is, of course, by now the standard operating procedure of the neoliberal globalists. Dissent that cannot be ignored is firstly demonised and if that does not succeed, it is censored.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Obesity is a disease, claim health experts

The Royal College of Physicians has called for obesity to be classified as a disease. This is yet another example of the health industry's attempts to medicalise everything. It is equally yet another example of the elite's desire to make words mean whatever they want them to mean.

The Royal College of Physicians' rationale for classifying obesity as a disease is based on the idea that it has a genetic basis. This is, of course, true. All human conditions have a genetic basis: they would not exist if there was no genetic basis. If you did not have the genetic basis for breathing, you would not be able to breathe - and so on. There is a genetic basis to all life, and to all the forms it takes both in terms of species and in terms of individuals. Claiming that something has a genetic basis says nothing. To assert that obesity has a genetic basis is nothing more that a sciency sounding tautology.

In 1980 ten percent of the British adults were obese. Today, the figure is thirty percent. The increase is not due to some (mysterious) change in the genetic make up of the British people. It is due entirely to changes in behaviour. The rise in obesity is directly correlated with changes in diet and decreasing levels of physical activity. The fact is that we live in an obesogenic environment. Work is far less physically demanding than it used to be. Travel is much more likely to be a non-phyiscal activity. Much leisure time is spent watching screens. Foods are cheap and plentiful. Corporations spend billions marketing foods that are high in calories and low in nutritional value. People consume calories that they do not use and those unnecessary calories are converted into fat: a process that inevitably over time leads to over-weight and ultimately obesity.

To describe this process as a disease is to seriously abuse the language. This abuse of the language runs the risk of encouraging people to think that the condition is not a result on their behaviour, but an unfortunate affliction over which they have no control. It denies agency and disempowers people. The desire to classify obesity as a disease is doubtless well meaning, but it is dishonest, false and risks making the problem worse by inculcating a sense of fatalism in people who are obese or at risk of becoming obese.

The problem of the rise in the prevalence of obesity is not a medical problem. It is a social problem. It stems from the way society is organised. As such, the solution is not to medicalise obesity, but to introduce social policies that promote a healthier lifestyle by removing, or at least reducing, the obesogenic aspects of the environment.