The People’s Vote and Brexit

The People’s Vote is a movement to revoke article 50 and to stop the Brexit clock running.

It is a movement to give the people of Britain the opportunity vote in an informed way on the question of whether to leave the European Union.

I have come to dislike the word Brexit. It is a contraction of the word British and the word exit, meaning exit from the European Union. The word reminds me of a breakfast cereal. The word is onomatopoeic.

Brexit is hard and brittle and snaps easily.

Serious business at the Peoples Vote march, London, 23 March 2019

Serious business at the Peoples Vote march, London, 23 March 2019

I voted Remain in the referendum in 2016. I did so because I thought that this country needed Continental Europe to continue to widen its cultural attitudes.

I thought that being part of Europe might help to bring an end to the social stratification and class divisions that go right through the heart of Britain.

I still do.

People putting signs on the Houses of Parliament railings asking for a revocation of Article 50 and for there to be a second referendum

People putting signs on the Houses of Parliament railings asking for a revocation of Article 50 and for there to be a second referendum

We have a proud tradition in literature and music of breaking into the fortress that is the English class system.

But the class system is run with a rod of iron, and it has hung on grimly for hundreds of years. Who gets into Parliament; who forms the Government? Which school did they go to? That narrow band of brothers governs everything.

So I voted Remain as a way to continue to chip away at those class divisions and show them for what they are.

I didn’t choose Remain because of the warnings over the economy. I could have, and that would be reason enough, and I truly do not know how Britain could survive or prosper outside Europe.

Yet while the economic predictions are dire, ten years from now the situation could be reversed.

It is possible and maybe even likely, given British history. We have a proud tradition in inventiveness, resourcefulness.

But on present evidence the economic outlook outside Europe is bad. But still, it was because of the breach with culture that I voted as I did.

Since then I have been thinking. I have been wondering what those influential politicians in the Conservative party are thinking when they want us out of Europe.

We have attacked them for being out of touch and out of time – for pushing for a return to Britain as a proud colonial power, something that Britain was but cannot be any more.

Can they be so stupid? Can it be as simple as that they are deluded?

Is there something else? Is it the security issue? Do they know something about the risks of being bound within Europe? Is there a risk of Britain being dragged into something because of a Russian expansion westward?

Do they see the future as westward looking, towards the USA?

Do they want to return Britain to serfdom, with them at the head of the table?

And what of Labour under its present leader? He seems to want to be out of Europe at almost any economic cost, provided he can get his party into power.

I can see that, the plan to dismantle the banks, nationalise essential services, and divide up the windfall to create a fairer society.

But what a risk – a risk that his party will not come to power, and that all he will have done is facilitate misery.

Sign at the Peoples Vote March 23 March 2019 'Corbyn, This isn't something we could forgive'.

Sign at the Peoples Vote March 23 March 2019 ‘Corbyn, This isn’t something we could forgive’.

I don’t know the answer, but a million or more people marching to simply be there and be counted should count for something.

It should count for something and not be simply swept aside by a Prime Minister who keeps repeating that the people have spoken.

It’s like a woman drowning and dragging down the life raft and insisting it will save her.

Crowd gathering in London for the Peoples Vote march on 23rd March 2019

Crowd gathering in London for the Peoples Vote march on 23rd March 2019

Historic Newspapers

I just read an article on Simplenote about writing posts for WordPress.

Simplenote is a note-taking app made by Automattic, which is the company that owns the community version of WordPress.

The article says that if I write in Simplenote using Markdown to format the post, then I can paste the text into WordPress and it will preserve all the formatting and just ‘work’.

So that is what I am doing here.

I am pretty sure I wrote about Simplenote at some time in the past, and I’ll add a note about that below this sentence when I get to it and before I paste into WordPress.

I did write about Simplenote

Yes, I did – in 2013 where I also described how to use Markdown to format text.

But I am also writing about historic newspapers

Today has been an historic day for the British Parliament, according to just about every news outlet you read or listen to.

The Government lost the vote on its key proposal for how the UK is to leave the European Union.

It lost by such a huge margin that commentators are referring back to a vote in 1924 for a comparison.

But what does it mean? What is the next stage?

Is Brexit dead or will there be some wrangling in the corridors that will get it back on course?

We wait with a sense of hope and dread. (In case you don’t know where I stand on this, I want Britain to stay in the EU.)

Today’s newspapers might be historic.

They might be historic in more ways than one. Read on…

Guardian newspaper showing MPs in the voting corridor

Look at the cover of the Guardian. It shows the MPs filing down the corridor to register their NO vote.

No one photographs down there. No press photographers photograph down there.

But MPs themselves broke with tradition last night and photographed themselves in the corridor.

The Speaker Of The House

A couple of days ago the speaker of the House allowed an amendment to a motion. He broke with tradition in doing that. His justification was that the House (the House Of Commons) is paramount, and no executive branch (the Government and the Cabinet) has the power over it or to stop it.

The courts are bound by previous decisions. That is why they go to extraordinary lengths sometimes to distinguish one case from another when they want wiggle room to decide differently than they did before.

It is also why the courts make decisions by inches. They make pronouncements of principle as tightly drawn as possible to give them room to wiggle later on.

Parliament is different.

When the Speaker of the House broke with tradition about amendments, he was reestablishing a basic principle, that the House will not fetter itself.

What that means is that if the House votes for X at a certain point in time, it is always free to vote against X later. It will not be bound by its previous decisions.

That principle might be very important in the days to come.

The English Revolution Of 1640

I have copied this more or less word for word from where I wrote it first on No More Pencils. I have Gutenberg active on No More Pencils, like it is here. I went into the ‘admin’ there and copied the text and plonked it in here. And all the formatting is preserved. Pretty neat. The only thing I have to want to change is the origin of the photo of the bust of Charles II. It is being pulled from No More Pencils and I want to put it here in the media library.

I have just read The English Revolution 1640by Christopher Hill. It is available to read online, and that is how I read most of it before I bought the book secondhand. It’s a slim book that shouldn’t cost you more than £3.00.

My particular interest now today is to understand the reasoning and motivation of those in positions of power who favour a hard Brexit or indeed any Brexit. So I start with English history.

In A Nutshell

In a nutshell, the book argues that the monarchy, the landed gentry, the church, the big capitalists, the little capitalists, the merchants, the peasantry, the urban masses, the army – all had their positions to protect and advance, and their shifting allegiances in a changing world.

Capitalists were making money overseas and as pirates on the high seas. Those who bought land following the destruction of the churches under Henry VIII wanted rack rents from their tenants.

They weren’t interested in the feudal relationships that had kept the feudal landlords living like lords and they denied tenants their feudal copyhold entitlement to remain on the land.

Capitalists wanted workers. Tenants weren’t safe from being evicted from their land or unable to pay rack rents and were moving away to the towns to work in capitalist ventures.

The towns were bound by guilds that prevented the opening up of competition. Acts of Parliament prohibited those less well off from entering guilds – Parliament being the King’s parliament made of the King’s friends.

But things were changing, the makeup of Parliament was changing. And the capitalists had other means to circumvent the King.

They established ventures outside the towns, free of the restrictions.

Prices rose, and the feudal order collapsed because it was too expensive to maintain.

Meanwhile, attitudes changed because the Church was no longer the favoured or only route for disseminating truth and propaganda.

Civil War

The result was civil war, the establishment of a republic, and eventually a change in the relationship of a changed parliament that brought back the monarchy stripped back to do its bidding.

What didn’t happen? The mass of the population were not able to take power. They tried but they failed.

What I learned

What can I take from reading the book?

I learned that every group was bound together by self interest; that groups changed their composition as outside forces changed them; that groups formed allegiances with former enemies; that it was always a struggle for ascendancy and someone else’s expense.

Beyond that, that economic changes and the march of history rarely favour those trying to stop change.

I think the look in the face of Charles II in this c.1678 terracotta bust attributed to John Bushnell says it all. He was brought back on condition that he knew his place and kept out of politics.

bust of Charles II looking worried

At the beginning of this article I said that my particular interest now today is to try to understand the reasoning and motivation of those in positions of power who favour a hard Brexit or indeed any Brexit. What make-up of this country do they want to bring about? 

A Longish Quote

In that context, here is a longish quote from near the end of The English Revolution 1640.

Ever since then orthodox historians have done their utmost to stress the “continuity” of English history, to minimise the revolutionary breaks, to pretend that the “interregnum” (the word itself shows what they are trying to do) was an unfortunate accident, that in 1660 we returned to the old Constitution normally developing, that 1688 merely corrected the aberrations of a deranged King. Whereas, in fact, the period 1640-60 saw the destruction of one kind of state and the introduction of a new political structure within which capitalism could freely develop. For tactical reasons, the ruling class in 1660 pretended that they were merely restoring the old forms of the Constitution. But they intended by that restoration to give sanctity and social stamp to a new social order. The important thing is that the social order was new and would not have been won without revolution.

There is a worry from the hard Left and from the hard Right.