Westminster is the Problem

Neville Chamberlin in 1938 on his way to meet Hitler in Munich

After the results of the local, and now the European elections, it should be increasingly obvious to the subjects, and the still EU citizens of the United Kingdom, that the Westminster two party state is the problem. It is a system sustained by a media that is largely owned by right wing tax exiles and a state broadcaster that allows the news agenda to be set by the print media and is not as independent as it should be due to the constant threat to the licence fee from the minority governments created by the Westminster system.

As a result of this it is far too easy for basic untruths or misleading statements to become regarded as facts by most or at least a large minority. The most infamous recent example is the £350m on the side of that bus, which thankfully is not one that now needs to be debunked. But the most damaging of the last decade is the claim that the financial crises was caused by over-spending on public services by the last Labour government. The result of this has meant that the crises has been paid for by an ideological shrinking of the state and by average wages still being below 2009 levels as bankers pay has increased by 9.3%.

Below are some of the more recent examples.

1. The 17.4 million votes in favour of leaving the EU was the biggest in British political history

To say that the 17.4 million is the biggest vote ever is not much more accurate the £350m per week claim. It is the same as the government saying that the NHS funding is at a record high by only using funding in cash terms rather than real terms or that all humans reached a record age this year because they are a year older than last year.

37% of the registered electorate voted for Brexit in 2016, but in 1951 40% of the registered electorate voted for the Labour party when they lost an election, despite getting the most votes, which also highlights the perversity of the Westminster system. The number of votes in 2016 is higher simply because there is a lot more voters than in 1951.

Also, as a proportion of voters, the vote to stay in the Common Market in 1975 was far higher with 67% of the votes cast. More examples can be found  at fulfact.org

2. Over 80% of voters in the 2017 election voted for parties committed to delivering on the result of the referendum.

The 2017 Labour party manifesto is clear in stating that the party "accepts the referendum result and a Labour government will put the national interest first" and that they will "seek to unite the country around a Brexit deal that works for every community in Britain" along with "fresh negotiating priorities that have a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union."

This is quite clearly a policy of wanting a soft Brexit and trying to unite the country. And the best way to unite the country would be to put their proposals back to the people. By negotiating a deal to leave the EU they would be accepting and respecting the result of the 2016 referendum, despite its now proven flaws. Offering a vote on a deal would not negate that acceptance and would increase the democratic legitimacy of any deal if it was voted for.

But the best way to now properly resolve Brexit would  be a vote that gives people not just a binary choice, but allows for the options that respect the complexity of the decision regarding remaining in the EU and or the Customs Union and the Single Market.

It would also need to be held with a ban on paid for digital political advertising and with no government sponsored, and tax payer funded, "information" leaflets. It also ought to be held after all non UK EU citizens with a right to settled status have had enough time to have it confirmed and are given the right to vote in all UK elections.

3. A Remainer Parliament is obstructing The Will of the People and democracy.

The House of Commons is not out of step with the will of the people to leave the EU, it is more like the people and MPs are as confused and as divided as each other.  Support for a no deal outcome is at only around 25% of the public and among MPs. A majority of MPs may well have voted remain but, in order to respect the will of the people a majority would now vote in the commons to leave the EU, if they could vote on a sensible deal, whereas polls now suggest that the will of the people would be to remain.

4. David Lammy MP called the members of the European Research Group (ERG) Nazis.

Mr Lammy made a speech where he said "We will not appease the ERG" and then referenced how Churchill did not want to appease Hitler and how Nelson Mandela did not give in to apartheid.

In a BBC interview with Mr Lammy, Andrew Marr interpreted this as compering the ERG to the Nazis and White Supremacists, but Mr Lammy hit back to say "I would say that that wasn’t strong enough. In 1938 there were allies who hatched a plan for Hitler to annex part of Czechoslovakia, and Churchill said no, and he stood alone”.

Again he is referring to appeasement and that his previous comments did not go far enough, because although Churchill did oppose appeasement, Hitler was appeased by the Tory government and even openly supported by the same strain in the party and some of the  media that are now, or were, the main cheerleaders for Brexit. Here is The Daily Mail from 1934:

David Keys, the Archaeological correspondent for The Independent, has done some brilliant digging up on the parallels and connections between Brexiteers and Appeasers and on the failings of the opposition with this article 

In the article he states that "significant pre-war pro-appeasement Tory politicians such as Derek Walker Smith (MP for East Hertfordshire until 1983), Robert Turton (MP for Thirsk and Malton until 1974) and Somerset de Chair (who first entered parliament in 1935, and whose son-in-law is the arch Leave advocate Jacob Rees-Mogg) became notable post-war proto-Eurosceptics."

Mr Rees-Mogg is of course the leader of the ERG and he hit back at Mr Lammy by saying that he is "foolish and unbalanced". Bringing up appeasement does seem to be a sore point with Brexiteers and does tend to bring out such a reaction, no doubt because deep down they know it is true.

Of course there are multiple examples of Brexiteers directly comparing the EU to the Nazi regime or implying that it is the EU that is now being appeased rather than Hitler.

A recent example is a review of Tim Bouverie's Appeasing Hitler by Simon Heffer in The Daily Telegraph with the headline "Mein F├╝hrer, that's just not cricket". With the tag line that "Believing Hitler was a good sport was Chamberlain's greatest mistake". And this is the extraordinary opening paragraph:

"Reading a book about appeasement as Britain attempts to extricate itself from the European Union is like being in an echo chamber. As in 1938, the country is divided between those who wish to accept an idea of the unfailing goodwill of continental rivals, and those who do not trust them an inch. One difference is that, right up until the time of his resignation, Neville Chamberlain had a few supporters. Another difference from today is that, in the end, we stood up for ourselves."

Over in an alternative universe there are very different takes on this book by both  Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer and by David Aaronovitch in The Times

Britain has a long and proud tradition of standing up to despotism in Europe, but it is something that the Conservative party in government has now failed at spectacularly on two occasions since the 1930s and in both cases the Labour party has opposed them, but in a muddled and inconsistent way.

However, when Neville Chamberlin tried to engineer fellow-appeaser Lord Halifax as his successor, it was the Labour party that insisted that Winston Churchill took charge of the War Coalition and we can only now hope that there will be a little bit of history repeating - to quote Dame Shirley Bassey and the Propellerheads.

Another case of a little bit of history repeating is the position of the Liberal party with the position of the Liberal Democrats today. From 1935 - 1945 the Liberal Party was led by Archibald Sinclair 

On his Wikipedia page his party is described as "marginalized as the third party on the fringe and with few distinct domestic policies...and with the separate Liberal Nationals offering competition amongst Liberal-inclined voters"  And that Sinclair "fought to make the Liberals once more a relevant force in British politics, taking up the issues of opposition to the continental dictatorships and working closely with Churchill, who was then unpopular and generally shunned by his Conservative Party."

And then during the War he became Secretary of State for Air and his first task was to work with the RAF in planning the Battle of Britain. One must presume he did a pretty good job. The great British public did not reward him for his efforts however, as in 1945 he came third in his seat in the General Election.

The comparisons with the 1930s can be striking, but can also be a bit overcooked as the stakes today are hopefully not as high. The problem today is that it is hard to see who could be our Churchill, Attlee and Sinclair.

5. The Local Elections were a disaster for the Labour Party

Back in 2017 the performance of the Labour Party in the May local elections were generally described as a disaster and then the media were taken by surprise by the Corbyn surge. But in reality they were not a disaster and showed that they could do a lot better in a General Election than the polls suggested, although not quite as well as they ended up doing.

The seats contested in 2017 were last contested in 2013 and here is a progressive/reactionary comparison of  the projected national vote share:

Tories 25% UKIP 22% = 47%
Labour 29% Lib Dem 14% = 43%

Tories 38% UKIP 5% = 43%
Labour: 27% Lib Dem 18% = 45%

These elections were held in 35 mostly English rural authorities and so not exactly fertile ground for Labour and yet their vote held up pretty well, only losing a bit of support to the Lib Dems. The big change is obviously the collapse of UKIP to the benefit of the Tories, but overall there was also a shift in favour of the progressive parties and to Independents, which did give some hope for the General Election.

The 2019 English local elections did include some metropolitan areas, but were mostly held where the Tories are traditionally strong and the last time they were contested was in 2015 on the day of the general election which was a very good day for the Tories.

The projected national vote shares were:

Tories 35% UKIP 13% = 48%
Labour 29% Lib Dem 11% = 40%

With a significant remaining 12% going to "others" mostly the Greens and Independents

Tories 28% = 28%
Labour  28% Lib Dem 19% = 47%

With a much more significant 25% going to "others" including the now much diminished UKIP, but mostly Independents and a strong performance from the Greens.

This time there was a bigger shift towards progressive and Independent candidates and the Labour vote held up again, with the Lib Dems gaining 7 of their extra 8% from the Tories and they and the Greens performing well in both leave and remain areas.

Despite this John Humphrys and Norman Smith on BBC Radio 4's Today programme seemed determined to paint the result as equally disastrous for Labour as for the Tories and spout the, no doubt No 10 inspired, conclusion that it showed the need for the two parties to get on with doing a deal on Brexit.

The Westminster mindset meant that the main focus was on seats and Labour had lost over 80 seats but as above shows they only received 1% less in the projected national vote share. Thankfully, Radio 4 did have some "balance" in the form of Prof John Curtice and one of their own reporters who responded to Humphrys saying that maybe it was  not so bad for the Tories by responding that actually it was a disaster.

They were defending a high point from 2015, but from the percentages above and with a loss of  1330 seats it is hard to say it was not disastrous. However, they still won more seats than Labour and the Lib Dems combined and this is quite remarkable considering the circumstances.

6. The Brexit Party Won the European Election 

As expected the highly misleading news headline from the BBC was that The Brexit Party "won" the election as spun by Tory Brexiteers as well as the Brexit Party. On the Today programme on the morning of the results Brexiteers claimed that 85% voted for Brexit in the 2017 election and that the Labour manifesto was committed to delivering Brexit without any "balance" from the presenter and yet when the Lib Dem voting Lord Heseltine suggested that the results showed that Remain would now win a referendum "balance" was applied.

In reality the Brexit Party has not done quite as well as the final polls suggested and the Tories have done even worse.  Ipsos MORI and YouGov ended up being the nearest to the result, though they were both a bit out on their Brexit Party predictions.

The first YouGov EU Election Poll on 10-11 April had these results:

Tories 16%,  Brexit Party 15%, UKIP 14% = 45%
Labour 24%, Green 10% Lib Dem 8%, Change UK 7%, SNP/PC 6%  =  55%

And the actual results look set to be:

Tories 9%,  Brexit Party 32%, UKIP 3% = 44%
Labour 14%, Green 12%, Lib Dem 20%, Change UK 3%, SNP/PC 5%  =  54%

This shows that the Pro- Brexit parties did not increase their share of the vote throughout the campaign. There was in fact a shift to pro-EU parties across all regions and nations in the UK, with only 4 regions or nations in the UK, The East, East Midlands,West Midlands and the North East, with Pro-Brexit majorities.

And in 2014 the EU Election results were:

Tories 23%,  UKIP 27%, BNP and other anti EU 3% = 53%
Labour 24%, Green 8%, Lib Dem 7%, SNP/PC 3%  =  43%

This shows that there has been a big swing towards pro-EU parties and that, unlike in 2014, the UK has elected more Pro-EU MEPs than Anti-EU.

The Brexit Party may have won more votes than any other party, but these elections are a loss for Brexit.

As what really counts is the percentage of remain and soft Brexit votes against the no deal or hard Brexit votes and these results reflect the lead Remain currently has in polls and should convince Labour to stop sitting on the fence, but also show that the Westminster system is broken and not fit for purpose. After the blip of the 2017 election it looks as though the long term trend away from the two parties is very much back on track.

Is this the beginning of the end for the Two Party State?

The one thing you can agree with Nigel Farage about is that the two party state is broken and that the big issue is not just  Brexit, but also democracy. But he would no doubt be happy to just displace the Tories as one of the two parties in the two party state. And the threat to real democracy comes from him and his followers, along with  his Populists and or Neo-Fascist friends around the globe.

The Westminster system increasingly allows our representatives to fail at what should be their main duty as an MP, by appeasing their constituents irrational fears and prejudices rather than representing their best interests. This is where democracy is failing rather than respecting the will the people from a binary vote on one day 3 years ago after a campaign so corrupted that it was a failure as a democratic process. But the first failure of  democracy was the way in which a government with minority support, but a parliamentary majority due to the semi-democratic Westminster system, was able to hold a binary vote on such a complicated issue in the first place.

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