The 2016 County Championship goes down to the last day.

Robert Henderson

To Lords for the  fourth day of the Middlesex vs Yorkshire match to decide where the  County Championship went  with both these counties and Somerset all starting day as possible winners.,

The crowd grew throughout the day. The Grandstand, the lower tier of Compton Stand and the unfinished Warner stand were closed,   but the rest for the ground open for spectators.  By the end of the match the crowd must have been at least 10,000 and could well have been a few thousand more because the open stands and the pavilion were all heavily tenanted – Lords has a capacity of 28,000. The most heartening thing about the crowd was the large number of  people under the age of thirty.

Until lunch the game proceeded as a contest with Gubbins and Malan clearing the deficit and giving Middlesex a small lead. Only one wicket fell in the session, although Malan was dropped in the fifties. The first 40 minutes or so after Lunch produced less than 20 runs. All rather mystifying. Had Middlesex pressed the accelerator during that time and continued to press it for another hour or so they would have been able to set Yorkshire a reachable  but demanding total without any connivance between the sides. Instead  there was a  nasty bout of  joke bowling to set a target of 240 in 40 overs. Frankly, this left something of a bad taste in the mouth and Somerset have reason to feel aggrieved.

Notwithstanding the bad taste it left  it was interesting to see how intentional very poor and very slow bowling often produces wickets when a slog is on even where   professional batsmen are involved.  The scoring rate certain accelerated rapidly but three Middlesex wickets of competent batsmen went in a handful of overs.  Nonetheless it was an unedifying spectacle.

240 runs in 40 overs might sound highly gettable these days, but there is a huge difference between chasing such a total in a limited overs format where bowlers can only bowl 8 overs (in a 40 over match) and fielding restrictions exist and chasing 240 at six and over  in a first class match where no such restrictions  exist. Middlesex used just four bowlers – Finn, Murtagh, Roland-Jones and Rayner – an attack which be an improvement on  a number of Tests sides today.  (I have long been an advocate of removing the restriction on the number of overs a bowler can bowl in 50 over cricket because it makes for a much more natural game).

The Middlesex captain Franklin kept a fine balance between attack and containment. He  had two slips for the first 19 overs and kept one slip afterwards until the end of the match. He set a field which was one or two slips, a third man, a deep backward square leg and a ring of fielders in front of the wicket on both sides of the pitch  no more than 35 yards from the bat.  This worked  splendidly because batsmen had to worry about drives edging to the slips and even when they middled  drives they  very often   resulted in a dot ball or at most a single.

David Willey,  promoted to number 3, showed the difference between coming in in an ODI or T20 and smacking bowlers around and batting against a field with close catchers and bowlers allowed to bowl as many overs as they want. He left after 21 balls having scored only 11 despite a good deal very energetic attempted strokeplay.   He simply lacked the technique to force  the game against good bowlers  bowling with close catchers.

The one Yorkshire batsman who managed to come to terms with the demands of the run chase was Tim Bresnan. Wonder of wonders, he still has an absolutely orthodox stance, a great rarity these days when most players have adopted stances which involve one or more of these horrors: squatting, leaning forward, waving the bats around, holding  the bat high in the air and  standing nearly upright.  As a consequence he looked the most complete and secure player of any batsman on either side. Not only did he have an orthodox stance he made the highest Yorkshire score (55) playing entirely orthodox strokes yet had  by far the highest rate of scoring in the innings.

The Middlesex bowlers simply refused to let t Yorkshire get away. Roland-Jones bowled as he always does when I have seen him  (and I have seen him bowl dozens of times) at a lively pace and, most importantly, there were very few balls which the batsmen could leave.  That England have never given him a chance is bewildering.

At the end of the game – which Roland-Jones completed with a hat-trick spread over two overs – I felt that Yorkshire should in fairness to Somerset have tried to shut up shop for a draw when they were seven wickets down needing over sixty off six overs and with no batsman of any stature or indeed real hitting power left. They could have had no rational expectation of reaching the total and wickets 8 and 9 went to wild heaves. The 10th wicket – that of Sidebottom – was simply him being beaten by a ball too good for him.

Despite it being the fourth day the pitch was benign. Had the match been played out normally it would have been a draw. That would have made six draws from the seven CC games Middlesex have played at Lords this year. That is all down to placid pitches. Not good for the game

The County Championship has been a great advert for first class cricket this year and it makes the ECB’s seeming determination to greatly reduce its place in the English cricket calendar all the more infuriating.   No one in a powerful position within the ECB seems to value the Championship for itself.. The day after Middlesex had won the 2016 Championship the ECB’s director of cricket, the ex-England captain Andrew Strauss gave an interview to Radio 5 in which he described the value of County Cricket as being little if any more than a means of producing England cricketers.  This ignores the great history behind county cricket and the fact  that much very attractive and often gripping cricket is being played in the four-day game.  There is good reason to believe that the Championship  could really thrive if an attempt was made to promote it, something which has never been done with any intensity or for most of the time at all.   My detailed ideas for promoting the Championship  can be found here.

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The British success at the Rio Olympics should be no surprise

Robert Henderson

UK’s success in the Rio Olympics  where they came second in the medal table (and second in the Paralympics medal count) has resulted in  a monumental gnashing of teeth by  the politically correct ranging from  squealing expressions of distaste  at the success  – the journalist Simon Jenkins excelled himself  by  accusing  the BBC of bringing “Rio close to a British National party awayday” –  and claims that it was all down to “money doping”, an excuse   the totalitarian state  that is China  clutched at as well.

Clearly money is necessary but it is not a sufficient condition for the level of  success that  UK has enjoyed not only at this Olympics but increasingly since the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta when  UK won  fifteen medals with only one being gold.   The  failure of other large wealthy Western countries such as France and Germany to come near to matching British success in Rio and the London Olympics demonstrates  emphatically that money alone will not provide a really healthy bag of medals.   Moreover, countries such as the rising power of  China and Russia with its hangover from the good old bad old days of Soviet state training, gender manipulation  and drug use take the Olympics very seriously yet  failed to outstrip  UK in Rio.

The “money doping” argument has several other weaknesses. When looking at  either the amount of money spent on financing Olympic  competitors or the size of per capita GDP it should  be borne in mind that money has widely differing  purchasing  values in different countries because of the hugely varying cost of living throughout the world. £10,000 in UK may not go very far but £10,000 in a place such India it will be significant sum. It is also true that quite a few Olympic competitors from  poorer countries including China  train in richer countries, often on sporting scholarships or with sponsorship from their government..

Nor is it true that medals are very easy  to win for  richer countries  because there is limited competition. Plenty  of the richer countries compete  and states  which are relatively  poor such as China provide stiff opposition in many events.   In addition, poor countries can provide serious competition by concentrating  their resources on one or two sports, for example,  Jamaica with sprinting and Kenya with distance running.

Of course the numbers of competitors does vary from sport to sport, but that does not mean the medals are easier to win. I doubt whether   the gold medal winner in the triathlon Alastair Brownlee  had to show any less physical endeavour both before and during the Olympics than, for example, distance runners like Mo Farah.  The fact that 54 countries won a gold medal and 78 countries a medal  of some sort is a solid pointer to competition being generally strong.

The spread of medals over the various Olympic disciples is also a pointer to the general strength of  the sporting prowess of a nation. UK won medals  for  Cycling track, Rowing, Athletics, Gymnastics, Equestrian, Sailing, Swimming, Diving, Triathlon, Taekwondo, Canoe slalom, Canoe sprint, Boxing,  Field hockey, Golf, Tennis, Rugby sevens, Trampoline, Shooting, Judo, Badminton, Cycling road.  Gold medals were won in fifteen different sports. This was a wider spread than any other nation.

There is also the number of competitors each country sent  to put into the mix. The UK took one of the larger contingents (366),  but  the USA had the largest team (550), followed by Brazil (464), Germany (420), Australia (418) China (398) and France (393). All but the USA came below UK in the medals list.

If money is only a necessary but not sufficient condition for Olympic success what  else contributed  to UK rise to second place in the RIO medal table?  Wise use of sports funding raised through the British  national  lottery played its part. This has been spread widely (22 separate Olympic disciplines provided British medals at Rio)  but not indiscriminately, with sports which did not cut the mustard finding their funding cut.   Only the USA with medals in 25 different disciplines exceeded the UK’s 22.

Perhaps a more efficient anti-doping regime has also had an effect because UK has a pretty good record  when it comes to drug use  while Russia were not at full strength because of their  institutionalised drugging of athletes and won a third less medals than they did at London in 2012.   However,  even  if all Russian competitors had been allowed to compete  their  effect would probably not have taken second place  from UK because Russia won only 19 gold medals compared to UK’s 27  (so there was a good deal of ground to make up) and any additional competition from a full strength Russian side would have been as likely to impinge on China as on UK.

The roots of  the UK’s success at the RIO Olympics can be found in England where a sporting culture has long been deeply embedded. The ancient nature of this sporting culture can be seen in the creation of a proto Olympics in England, The  Cotswald Games,  in 1612. Many of the most widely played sports and games have their origins in England –  cricket, association  football ,  rugby union, rugby league,  lawn tennis, table tennis – and in the case of many others  England or UK took a leading role in establishing the rules of a sport and putting it on an international level.

It is not only in participation in sport which shows  the UK’s sporting culture.  Spectators turn out in huge numbers to watch both in the UK  and abroad.  Football attendances in England are huge even for the divisions below the Premiership and the England cricket team  effectively carries its own crowd around to such far flung places as  Australia, the West Indies and the Subcontinent.

The UK’s love of sport is also seen vicariously  in the fact that those countries which have their ultimate origins in the British Isles also score high on the sporting front. The USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand all came in the first twenty in the Rio medals table.

Why did the UK  struggle for medals before the lottery money come along?  It needs to be remembered that competitors were amateurs  before the late 1980s.   The amateur ideal was immensely strong in UK, especially in England.  Shamateurism  did exist in some sports such as cricket and rugby union, but those running Olympic sports in UK were generally very tough on competitors making any money out of their sport. Much of the rest of the world, especially the Soviet Bloc,  were not so fussy and there were many competitors who were in reality full time sports men and women.  When the amateur status was abolished for the Olympics the playing field became if not level much less tilted against countries such as UK.

Then there are drugs. Of course UK is not without its drugs cheats but overall it is one of the cleanest drug free  countries with as rigorous testing regime as any.  In recent times drug testing has become smarter and  World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has been increasingly effective through the  testing for drugs in  urine samples from years ago.  Rather like DNA samples attached to crimes the retention of urine samples give the possibility  of someone being caught long after the offence was committed. The attitude towards state sponsored drug use also hardened. Wada  recommended a  ban of  all Russian competitors  from the Rio Olympic Games. This was not accepted by the Olympic authorities,  but substantial numbers of Russian competitors were barred. It is a foundation on which the stamping out of illegal drug use in sport can build.

What lottery funding has done is release the untapped sporting potential in  UK.  As the funding will continue and the Rio Olympics have shown that the London Olympics was not just a home Olympics flash in the pan there is very reason to believe that  British success at the Olympics  will continue. Other nations will doubtless attempt to up their game but the British have a precious base in the natural sporting culture of the country.  That is not something which can be manufactured either by the propaganda and directed activity of dictatorships like China or  overt attempts at linking sport to patriotism in states which have some real claim to be democratic and free societies.

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The danger the County Championship is in and how to save it

Robert Henderson

The most plausible explanation for the ECB’s systematic marginalisation of the County Championship is that it is a deliberate plan to reduce the competition to a state where it can either be abolished or at least left in a form that  would be unrecognisable as the County Championship, probably with either the abolition of counties and the creation of  teams based on regions  or city franchises or a Championship  with a severe reduction in the number of first class counties and a much reduced programme.  However, whether intentional or not the marginalisation is proceeding as follows:

First, the Championship was s divided into two divisions. This produced the idea in the public mind  that the standard of the divisions is vastly different even though there is solid evidence that as yet there is no great difference, for example, both Nottinghamshire  (2005/6) and Lancashire  (2011/12)have   won Division 1  one year and been relegated the next.

Second, the CC games were  concertinaed into the beginning and the end of the season leaving a swathe of weeks at the height of the summer with little or no first class cricket.

Third, the number of games has been  reduced over the past 25 years, from  17  in 1993 when all matches became four days  to 14 from the  2017 season.

Fourth, from  2017 the first division is to be  reduced to eight teams and the second division  increased to ten.  This makes the second division seem even less on a par with the first division  and continues to prepare the ground for a massive reduction in counties at the FC level or regional teams. That there are  eight teams in the first division may well be significant because eight is the oft  cited figure for a new  T20 competition.

Fifth, there is no settled pattern to the Championship season  anymore with games starting on Sunday, Monday,, Tuesday, Wednesday,  Saturday.

Sixth, many games could start of Saturday and finish on Tuesday. Having two out of four days outside the working week is surely a no-brainer. Yet at the end of this season we find that four out of the last five  CC groups of games are not scheduled to have any weekend play and the fifth only has scheduled play at the weekend only on the fourth day.

Seventh, no attempt is made to ensure that Bank Holidays have plenty of Championship  games.

Eight, next to no  ECB money is spent promoting the County Championship.

What should be done to promote the Championship?

  1. Abolish the two divisions of the Championship and revert to one division with all the 18 first class counties playing 17 matches a year. Teams would play nine games at home one year and eight games the next. This would greatly simplify the fixture list and allow supporters of a county to see all counties playing at home every two years.
  2. Make the T20 county competition a league. Each county would play 17 games (19 if they got to finals day). There could still be a finals day featuring the top four sides in the league.
  3. Institute a predictable fixture list. This would  consist of seventeenth rounds of a four day county match preceded by a T20 league game played against the same opponents.  The T20 game would be played on Friday evening and the four day match Saturday to Tuesday.  This would greatly reduce the travelling which counties currently have to undertake.
  4. In compiling the fixture list every attempt should be made to ensure that in any round of Championship and T20 League games the games are spread throughout the country so that if a county is not playing at home there is an opportunity for a supporter to either go to an away match of their county or watch another team close to home.
  5. The Championship season should start during the first week in May and end in the middle of September. This would allow 140 days on which cricket could be played. That is 20 weeks . Only 17 of those would be needed for Championship and T20 League. Hence, a 50 Over  competition could be fitted in and a proper schedule for touring sides accommodated.  If necessary, a week could be added at the beginning and end of the season making 22 weeks  in which to play .  This distribution of matches  would  ensure Championship cricket was available throughout the season and   do away with having a disproportionate number of matches  played in April and May as is now the case. This would provide regular Championship cricket for the spectator and encourage the  playing of spinners.
  6. Strive to have a minimum boundary of 70  yards. This will not always be possible but the bringing in of boundaries would end.  This will both encourage spinners and  minimise to some extent the  gross hitting advantage given by modern bats.
  7. Allow counties to prepare pitches as they choose. The interference of inspectors armed with possible points deductions has resulted in bland pitches which particularly hinder spinners.  Before pitch inspectors county cricketers would face a very wide variety of pitches and became better players, both bowlers and batsmen, as they  greatly increased their technical competence.
  8. Actively promote Championship cricket . They could do this variously , viz:

–  As a T20 match would  be attached to a 4 day match the two can be promoted as a package.

– Do more using digital media such as twitter.

–  Get a computer game featuring Championship cricket off the ground.

– Set up a website for schoolboy cricketers,  a feature of which would be provision to allow individual schoolboys to post details of their own school or club and their performances.

– Make a few experimental forays with television adverts to see if these are a paying proposition.

– Allow  spectators attending England matches of all sorts (Tests, ODIs and T20s) to enter  free of charge  any  Championship match for one day. Entry would be effected by presenting the stub of their England ticket  at the gate  (There would be minimal extra administrative cost.) As there were 784,000 paying spectators at home England matches in  the 2015 season it would not be  unreasonable to expect an increase in Championship spectators of 200,000, but the figures could well be considerably more. Although not paying to get in such spectators  would be likely to spend a significant amount ion food, drink and in  the county shop. Moreover  having seen a day’s cricket for free  quite a few might well come back as paying spectators.

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Lord Palmerston sums up all that Brexit is about

Lord Palmerston:  “I hold with respect to alliances, that England is a Power sufficiently strong, sufficiently powerful, to steer her own course, and not to tie herself as an unnecessary appendage to the policy of any other Government. I hold that the real policy of England—apart from questions which involve her own particular interests, political or commercial—is to be the champion of justice and right; pursuing that course with moderation and prudence, not becoming the Quixote of the world, but giving the weight of her moral sanction and support wherever she thinks that justice is, and wherever she thinks that wrong has been done…I say that it is a narrow policy to suppose that this country or that is to be marked out as the eternal ally or the perpetual enemy of England. We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow… And if I might be allowed to express in one sentence the principle which I think ought to guide an English Minister, I would adopt the expression of Canning, and say that with every British Minister the interests of England ought to be the shibboleth of his policy.”

  • Speech to the House of Commons (1 March 1848).
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Don’t be fooled: EU enthusiast Theresa May is intent on subverting Brexit

Robert Henderson

In office for less than 48 hours,  Theresa May   showed her true colours and intentions for Brexit when she made the remarkable promise that Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty will not be activated until there is agreement between Westminster and the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.   This has the effect of delaying  the UK’s departure indefinitely. In a separate statement  SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon  has supported this idea.  May has also  visited Wales and said she wanted the Welsh government to be “’involved and engaged’ in Brexit negotiations.”

The fact that May’s first act after choosing a cabinet was to go running off to Scotland  to meet the  SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon before embracing  the patently absurd idea that both Scotland’s  wishes to remain in the EU and the majority UK wish to leave  the EU  could be reconciled shows this was planned before she became PM . Her visit to Wales, doubtless to be followed by one to Northern Ireland, reinforced the suspicion, if it needed reinforcing, that she is intent on sabotaging Brexit.

There is plenty of other  evidence of May’s duplicitous  intentions . At her first cabinet meeting she  said “we will not allow the country to be defined by Brexit”.  This is nonsensical if May is committed to Brexit.  Regaining sovereignty is what Brexit is about and sovereignty defines what a country is.

What is May’s motivation for this behaviour? Like a majority of Tory MPs  she does not want to leave the EU and is intent on finding a way of subverting  Brexit.  She can do this in two ways:

(1) May will  use the excuse of accommodating  the wishes of Scotland and, Wales and NI to   delay the UK’s exit as long as possible in the hope that  unforeseen events, for example,    the UK economy goes into  prolonged recession,   will  give her an excuse to hold another  referendum.

(2) May will agree terms with the EU which stitch us back into the EU with things such as free movement and she will justify  such an agreement  on the grounds that Scotland and NI and possibly Wales will not agree to anything less.

All of this would go against what the British voted for on 23rd June.  You might say neither this government nor Parliament  would tolerate such a rejection of popular will.  The problem is that despite the clear majority to leave  most MPs, including Tory MP s,  wish to remain inside the EU and two thirds of May’s cabinet are remainers.  The House of Lords is also solidly for remaining in the EU.  In principle Parliament could accept whatever deal is reached with the EU. If  it is several years down the line, as it almost certainly will be if Article 50 is activated,  this could mean that the voters will have been exhausted and confused by the whole process and fail to protest  effectively enough to prevent the stitch up happening.

There is also the possibility that May could distract or  “buy” the acquiescence of Tory Brexiteers  to a sell-out of the Brexit vote by giving them some red meat such as increasing defence spending and the permitting of new grammar schools.

But even if the British voter is outraged by such a betrayal  what exactly could they do to stop it happening?  At the next general  they could vote against any MP who voted to accept what might be called a Quisling agreement.  But who exactly  could they vote for? Ukip is the obvious party and there is now  a real opportunity for it to gain a serious Commons presence. But it is unlikely to form a government in the near future because history shows it takes a great deal to shift voters en masse to a new party and even in the event of Ukip potentially  holding the balance of power in a hung parliament,   if a coalition of Labour and the Tories was formed  UKip  would be left out on a limb.

It is true that May has appointed three leading Breiteers   to posts which will either directly or indirectly impinge on the Brexit negotiations. David Davis (Minister for Brexit) ,  Boris Johnson (Foreign Secretary), and  Liam Fox  (Minister for Trade Deals) to her cabinet .   Davis and Fox are long term Brexiters; Johnson is a Johnny come lately Brexiteer whose steadfastness on the issue is highly questionable.     But whatever they wish to do  these three will  probably be no  more than window dressing.

May has given Johnson a deputy  Alan Duncan who is a remainer and a close associate of May and has been known to refer to Johnson as ‘Silvio Borisconi’ .  Fox cannot agree any trade deals until the UK has left the EU and  David Davis is already at odds with May over her promise that Article 50 will not be activated until the devolved home countries have agreed to the terms of the deal agreed with the EU.

David Davis wants article 50  to be activated by the end of the year  while May has left the date uncertain because of her promise to Scotland, Wales and Norther Ireland to agree what is to be sought from the EU before entering negotiations . This puts her directly at odds with Davis and probably Liam Fox and Johnson. There is also dissention in cabinet over when Article 50 will be activated.

Another sign  of May’s insincerity can be  found in her appointment of  Amber Rudd as home secretary. Immigration is issue which won matters most to the public. It is what won the election for the leave side. Yet May’s Home Secretary is soft on immigration . In addition, Rudd and Boris Johnson have suggested  that there should be no net immigration target since it cannot be met. Unless Brexit permits full sovereign control of our borders it will not be Brexit as the voters understood it.

With all this going against a clean and honest Brexit it is not too difficult to imagine Davis resigning or  being sacked long before the negotiations with the EU are concluded. Fox could follow him out. Johnson is such a slippery individual anything is possible including a Pauline conversion to EU membership.  It is possible that the negotiations could end up in the hands of remainers.

I am against using Article 50 because it allows the EU to control matters and leaves  the UK as an EU member for at least two years after  the Article is activated, but  Davis,   Johnson, and  Fox are all signed up to its use so at present  it seems   unlikely that an alternative  way of leaving  will be used.  However, it is possible that could change once the public realises that for several years the UK would not be able to control EU immigration and that EU directives including new ones have to be followed.  The only thing which can be said for Article 50 is that it in theory means there is no going back. Once activated the UK is irrevocably on the way out. Of course the EU has a record of breaking laws when it suits them it is not out of the question that  a combination of EU power brokers and Europhile MPs could simply cancel the UK activation of Article 50 and leave the UK in the EU.

There are two possible alternative means of leaving the EU .  Clause 62 of  the Vienna Convention on Treaties  might allow a much quicker departure (3 months) on the grounds of a fundamental and unforeseeable change of circumstances  but only if all the member states of the EU agree to it . I suspect that would end  either in denying the UK to depart because on the grounds of such a change of circumstances  or embroiling the UK in some form of long-winded arbitration.

The other option would be for  Parliament to  do what long term campaigner for the UK to leave the EU Lord Stoddart has proposed, namely, repeal of the 1972 European Communities Act  and amendments to start the ball rolling. I would support this  followed by legislation to  both assert the Sovereignty of Parliament (not strictly needed but a belt and braces approach is just as well bearing in mind our Europhile judges) and  give a certain legal status to existing EU inspired UK law which can then be kept, amended or repealed as Parliament decides.

The future is more than ordinarily uncertain but one thing is certain. We  know  May’s  “Brexit means Brexit” is in all probability  a  bouncing political cheque which she cynically issued knowing it would not be honoured.












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After the EU referendum

The battle has been won but not the war

Robert Henderson

The Europhiles threw a great deal at the EU referendum campaign.  There was the shameless   use of government resources especially those of the Treasury to propagandise for the Remain side. The governor of the Bank of England  enthusiastically supported the remain side.  EU panjandrums directed  dire threats  of what the EU would do to  Britain. A gigantic cast of the “great and the good” from finance, trade, industry, the media and politics (drawn from both Britain and abroad ) were daily paraded in front of the public like ancient  oracles forecasting  unalloyed disaster if Britain voted to leave the EU.  Leading Tories in the Remain camp cast aspersions on the character of those supporting Leave –  David Cameron even claimed that voting leave was immoral. Accusations of racism  were routinely levelled  against any leave supporter with a public voice  who addressed  the subject of immigration and the leave voters were labelled as xenophobes, bigots and racists.   Most contemptibly when the Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered   Remain supporters, including  MPs, attempted by implication or direct accusation to link the killing with the Leave side’s position on immigration.  So desperate were  the government  and Remain politicians generally  to ensure a vote to remain  that when the government web site which allowed people to register for a vote crashed two hours before the deadline  for registering,  Parliament did not hesitate to extend the deadline the next day  (by 24 hours not two) in the belief that it would mean many more young voters (who generally favoured remaining in the EU) would vote.

It says much for the strength of character of  the British that they refused to be cowed by this onslaught of propaganda and threats.  The Remain camp started with Project Lie, moved to Project Fear and ended with Project Slander as their accusations of racism became ever more shrill as polling day approached.  None of it worked.  Their  prophecies of doom were so frequent and so overblown that their hysterical warnings  ended up looking like caricatures produced by the Leave  side .  The only thing which stopped the Leave campaign’s momentum was the death of Jo Cox which stopped campaigning for three days just as the polls were consistently  showing increasing support for Leave.  This break in momentum probably cost Leave several percentage points in the final poll as for a few days the polls swung back towards Remain.

There was also a strong tendency for the Remainers  to patronise the leavers by implying or saying directly that only a bigoted blockhead who did not know better could vote to leave.   Nowhere was this mentality  shown  more strongly than over the subject of immigration.  The Remainers’  favoured tactics were simply to ignore the issue or, if forced to address it, to chant the mantras such as  “Immigrants have brought so much to our country” or  “Immigrants do the jobs which Britons won’t do”  or “The shortage of housing, school places and GPs  etc  is not down to immigration but the failure of government to provide the money to build more houses, schools  and GPs etc”.  As immigration was the issue  which troubled voters most  and especially troubled the white working class,  this was madness on the part of the Remain campaign. Clearly nothing has been learnt by the politically correct from Gordon Brown’s abuse of a working class  English pensioner Gillian Duffy  during the 2010  General Election when she complained  about the effects of mass immigration and Brown  was caught describing her as a bigot.

But it was not only the Remainers who wanted to  ignore or explain away the problems mass immigration brings. Many on the Leave side were just as squeamish when it came to immigration.  If it had not been for Nigel Farage having the courage to keep banging the immigration drum in all probability the referendum would have been lost.  The question of regaining sovereignty was a very strong and positive message, but on its own it is doubtful if it would have gained sufficient traction to lead to a win. What made it really  potent was when it was allied to controlling our own borders and stemming immigration.   The least politically sophisticated person could readily understand the message.

The battle but not the war is won

Gratifying as the referendum result is,  it was only  the first battle in the war to recover Britain’s sovereignty.

As things stand we are still subject to EU law until either we leave without an  agreement with the EU or fight our way through the provisions of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, something which would almost certainly take two years from its activation and which could be extended indefinitely in principle with the agreement of the European Parliament.  It is even conceivable that new members could be enrolled before Britain’s departure who would then have a say in what the terms for Britain would be. That is just one of the drawbacks to using Article 50. There are others which mean that  Article 50 is a poisoned chalice and should be avoided.   Let me quote it in full as it is short:

  1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
  2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.
  3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.
  4. For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it.

A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

  1. If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49.

Before I get to the practical difficulties of using Article 50 let me stamp on an idea floating within the disgruntled Europhile camp  that Britain could remain in the EU if no agreement was reached on the terms of leaving. This is not so.  Paragraph 3 of the Article runs” The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.”  If there is no agreement and no extension of the negotiating time, Britain would simply leave and EU laws would cease to have effect.

The   drawbacks to using Article 50 are extensive.  To begin with it allows the EU to set the agenda and the pace of the negotiations. Until an agreement is reached or the leaving state simply leaves after two years of fruitless negotiation, Britain would  remain subject to   EU law. This  would mean, amongst other things, that Britain would have to continue to pay the £8  billion odd   to the EU that  they keep and the £6 bn odd  which the EU takes from us and then returns it to Britain with instructions  on how it is to be spent, Britain could not negotiate any treaties with countries outside of the EU and  British businesses would have to continue to implement EU imposed standards in areas such  as the  workplace  for example, the   hours worked. It would logically also mean that Britain was subject to any new EU laws passed during the negotiating period, for example, the EU might push through a transaction tax which would be utterly against Britain’s wishes.  Most importantly Britain would have to continue accept  migrants from the rest of the EU and probably other territories which  have free movement with the EU such as Norway or Switzerland .  Moreover,  the idea that Britain  would be leaving the EU  after two years  could provoke a massive upsurge in EU migration to these shores.

Europhile MPs

The other problem is the nature of Britain’s MPs. Most are Europhiles, as are a majority of the House of Lords. In principle the result of the referendum could be ignored – it is merely advisory not legally binding – by the Europhile majority in Parliament. That should  be politically impossible but there would be ample opportunity for the Europhiles to subvert the wishes of the British public more stealthily  by extending the length of time for  negotiation or by making agreements with the EU which would  stitch Britain back into the EU, for example, making immigration from the EU very easy.

If an agreement  which firmly attaches Britain to the EU once again is concluded one of two things could happen: either Parliament could accept in on a vote or a further referendum be held on the terms of the agreement with all the bullying associated with the EU when the public of a member makes the “wrong” choice the first time around.  The first would be overtly undemocratic and the second covertly undemocratic.

An alternative to an agreement between British politicians and EU politicians would be for  a major  party to campaign at a general election  for Britain to  withdraw from the leaving process and by doing so to remain in the EU. Whether  such a cancellation of Britain’s withdrawal would be legal is debatable, especially if Article 50 is activated because there is no procedure in the Article  for cancelling the article’s activation.  However, legal or not, the rest of the EU might be willing to accept the cancellation because this is really  about politics not law.

None of this is fanciful because there have already been suggestions from MPs, the most prominent being David Lammy of Labour , an ex-cabinet minister, has suggested that the Commons refuse to accept the result of the referendum   and Tim Farron, the leader of the LibDems has committed his party to standing on a platform to get Britain back into the EU.  There is also a petition on the government web site which is already in the millions demanding that the referendum result be deemed invalid (there is some doubt over the authenticity of large numbers of the signatures).

The next general election.

The question of when the next General Election is to be held looms over the post-referendum political world.    It could be soon, although because of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act two thirds of the House of Commons would have to pass a motion permitting an election less than five years after the last General Election. As this Tory government has a working  majority of only sixteen such a motion would need  to be supported by Labour. Whether that would suit Labour at present is extremely  dubious because the present chaos within the Party would almost certainly lose them many seats. But the other parties, including the Tories,  would probably  have many MPs against an early general election because there is a good chance that they could be punished by the voters either because they were for or against being  a member in the EU.  There are also many MPs with small majorities who would not welcome an election  because an MP with a small majority is always vulnerable to defeat. With nearly 4 years of this Parliament to run such MPs might well vote against an early election.  More generally, having run a general election campaign little more than a year ago parties may be short of money to run another.

If  there was sufficient support for an early election there would be  a halfway plausible  reason for having one. As  Cameron has resigned and a new Tory PM  is to be appointed by the Autumn,   a new election could represented as giving the new Tory regime electoral legitimacy.   But   it would be a rather weak argument because there is no  recent precedent for  governments calling a general election when prime ministers  are changed during the course of a Parliament. It did not happen when Gordon Brown took over from Blair, Major  succeeded  Thatcher  or when  Callaghan replaced Wilson. It would also be wholly exceptional for a general election to be called  so early in a Parliament (this one runs until 2020) for the purpose of validating a new PM.   Alternatively, a new General Election might be called because if defections, resignations or death   robbed the   Tory Party of a majority at some time in this Parliament..

But if an early election is not  called it is not inconceivable that the negotiation period could stretch deep into this Parliament or even past the 2020 date prescribed by the Fixed Term Parliaments  Act.  Implausible? Well, the first two years are almost certainly  accounted for if Article 50 is activated and it would not be that difficult to envisage Europhile British politicians colluding with EU politicians to string the matter out in the hope that time would change the political atmosphere in Britain sufficiently  to allow another referendum on whether Britain should leave the EU to be held and won by the Europhile side.

Other possibilities  would be  the election of a government comprised of one or more parties which  stood on a platform of  accepting  a  draft agreement  on offer from the EU  which would effectively  re-make Britain a member of the EU or of Britain withdrawing its application to leave  or  Britain re-applying to join the EU after leaving  it.

Because parties would have campaigned at an election for such policies any of these options could be implemented without a referendum.

What should happen?

Britain should not activate Article 50. Instead the  1972 Communities Act (the Act which gave legal force to  Britain’s membership of what became the EU)  should be repealed .  That would make the British Parliament sovereign again. Just to make sure there is no legal confusion  it would probably be advisable to enact a British sovereignty act to ensure that British judges cannot attempt to subvert Parliament’s intentions.  If  the Europhile majority in Commons refused to do this there would be a most serious constitutional crisis, the sort of crisis over which civil wars  are fought.  I doubt whether the Commons would risk that.  At  best such behaviour might well fracture parties and would sour the relationship between the electors and politicians for a long time.

The House of Lords is more problematical. They could  delay any legislation for around two years before the Parliament Act could  be used to force the legislation through. That would be a very dangerous path to go down for the Lords because it would probably result in their abolition. However, many peers might consider that a price worth paying and quite a few  both inside and outside of the Lords might see it as a solution to the anomaly of an unelected chamber  within the British political system.

Having repealed the 1972 Act and put any other necessary legislation  on the Statute Book, Britain would then be in the position of any other country outside the EU. They would negotiate with the EU on an equal basis without the EU controlling the agenda.  If the EU refuses to play ball Britain should simply trade under the WTO rules and conclude trade treaties as and when they are available and  advantageous to Britain.   Would the EU be obstructive?  I doubt it because  (1)  they have a massive trade surplus with the  Britain, (2) Britain is a partner in many  a pan-Europe enterprise ( for example, Airbus,  the European Space Agency) ,  (3) Britain is a very useful partner to have on the world stage because of her senior position in many international  bodies  (permanent member of the security council,  important member of the IMF, World Bank, Nato, G7, G20), (4) there are many  more  people from the other EU states in Britain  than there are Britons in the other EU countries and (5) the Republic of Ireland would be ruined if any serious protectionist measures aimed at Britain were enacted by the EU.  Most WTO tariffs  are low but where they are more substantial such as those attached to cars (around 10%) the odds are that the EU would rapidly make adjustments to those WTO tariffs  because they export so many cars to the UK.  The idea that nothing can be done quickly in terms of deciding the level of tariffs or their absence is obvious nonsense if  both sides want an agreement.

Britain’s negotiators, whether politicians or public servants, must be willing to play hardball. What is all too often not mentioned when tariffs being imposed by the EU  are discussed is that  Britain can impose reciprocal tariffs which would (1) bring in substantial amounts of tax and (2)  result in more British production going to the domestic British market.  The argument that Britain’s export  trade to the EU represent s  a much larger part of the British GDP than the other  EU states’ exports to the UK and consequently the EU would  not be damaged as much as the UK through a tariff war  does not hold water . This is because British exports to the EU are not spread uniformly throughout  the EU or  throughout individual members states’ economies.  Hence, the impact of  putting up barriers  to British exports would be very damaging to particular industries and areas  of EU member states. Think of the blow it would send to the German motor industry.

The repealing of the 1972 Act and what flows from it would have the great advantage of simplicity and above all speed.  Delay is the enemy of   those who want the wishes of the British people as expressed in the referendum to be honoured and the servant of those who wish to prevent Britain truly leaving the EU.  The longer the delay the more opportunity for fudge  and manipulation  by those with power.   Do not be misled by  politicians like Boris Johnson who led the Leave campaign and who will almost certainly  be at or near  the head of the government . Their embracing of the  Leave campaign  does not mean they will deal honestly with the British who voted to leave because they thought  that Britain would become truly sovereign again and above all be able  to control immigration.

Already there have been  British politicians who supported leaving the EU  who are saying that immigration will not be massively changed. For example,  Daniel Hannon a Conservative MEP and prominent Leave campaigner   told presenter Evan Davis on the BBC’s Newsnight programme: “Frankly, if people watching think that they have voted and there is now going to be zero immigration from the EU, they are going to be disappointed.” and admitted that  the price for remaining in a common market with the EU would be free movement of labour.  Boris Johnson himself has written a piece in the Telegraph saying that access to the single market would be available to the  UK after Brexit. That implies he would accept free movement of Labour for it is doubtful that EU would grant free access without mobility of Labour.

It is also noteworthy that the  line on immigration most pushed by Leave campaigners during the referendum campaign was not that immigration would be reduced dramatically  per se, but that an Australian-style points system would be introduced. If such a system was used  without a cap on numbers coming each year,   immigration could soar. Imagine that 100,000 foreign  nurses  a year meet the criteria for nurses in the UK  and want to come to Britain,  a points-system without restrictions on numbers would potentially allow all  100,000 to come in.

One thing is certain amongst the current political upheaval in Britain, the Europhiles (who can come in Eurosceptic clothing)  will not lie down and accept the verdict of the referendum.  Those who want Britain to be an a sovereign state again must be ever vigilant as to what is being done by politicians both  here in Britain and abroad. There is a real danger of the Leave victory being stolen from us.


Posted in Immigration, Nationhood, Politics, World influence | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Film review – Brexit: the movie

Director  and narrator Martin Durkin

Running time 71 minutes

As an instrument   to rally the leave vote  Brexit: the movie is severely flawed.  It starts promisingly by stressing the loss of sovereignty , the lack of democracy in the EU and the corrupt greed of its servants (my favourite abuse was a shopping mall for EU politicians and bureaucrats only – eat your heart out Soviet Union) and the ways in which  Brussels spends British taxpayers money and sabotages industries such as fishing.  Then  it all begins to go sour.

The film’s audience should have been the British electorate  as a whole.  That means making a film which appeals to all who might vote to leave using arguments which are not nakedly  politically  ideological. Sadly, that is precisely what has not  happened here because Brexit the movie  has as   director and narrator Martin Durkin, a card carrying disciple of the neo-liberal creed. Here are a couple of snatches from his website:

Capitalism is the free exchange of services voluntarily rendered and received. It is a relationship between people, characterized by freedom. Adding ‘global’ merely indicates that governments have been less than successful at hindering the free exchange of people’s services across national boundaries.


Well it’s time to think the unthinkable again, and to privatise the biggest State monopoly of all … the monopoly which is so ubiquitous it usually goes unnoticed, but which has impoverished us more than any other and is the cause of the current world banking and financial crisis.  It is time to privatise money.

Unsurprisingly Durkin has filled the film with people who with varying degrees of fervour share his ideological beliefs. These include John Redwood,  James Delingpole, Janet Daley, Matt Ridley, Mark Littlewood,  Daniel Hannon, Patrick Minford, Melanie Phillips Simon Heffer, Michael Howard and  Douglas Carswell , all supporting the leave side but doing so in a way which would alienate those who have not bought into the free market free trade ideology. The only people interviewed in the film who were from the left of the political spectrum are Labour’s biggest donor John Wells and Labour MPs  Kate Hoey and Steve Baker.

There is also a hefty segment of the film  (20.50 minutes – 30 minutes)  devoted to a risibly false  description of Britain’s economic history from the beginnings of the industrial revolution to the  position of Britain in the 1970s.  In it Durkin claims that the nineteenth century was a time of a very unregulated British economy, both domestically and  with regard to international trade, which allowed Britain to grow and flourish wondrously .  In fact, the first century and half or so of the Industrial Revolution  up to around 1860 was conducted under what was known as the Old Colonial System,   a very  wide-ranging form of protectionism. In addition, the nineteenth century saw the introduction of many Acts which regulated the employment of children and the conditions of work for employees in general and  for much of the century  the century  magistrates had much wider powers than they do today such as setting the price of basic foodstuffs and wages and enforcing apprenticeships.

Durkin then goes on to praise Britain’s continued economic expansion up until the Great War which he ascribes to Britain’s rejection of protectionism. The problem with this is that   Britain’s adherence to the nearest any country have ever gone  to free trade – the situation  is complicated by Britain’s huge Empire –  between 1860 and 1914 is a period of comparative industrial decline  with highly protectionist countries such as the USA and Germany making massive advances.

Next, Durkin paints a picture of a Britain regulated half to death in the Great War, regulation which often  continued into the peacetime inter-war years before a further dose of war in 1939  brought with it even more state control. Finally, the period of 1945 to the coming of Thatcher is represented as a time of a British economy over-regulated and protected economy falling headlong  into an abyss of uncompetitive economic failure before  Thatcher rescued the country.

The reality is that Britain came out of the Great Depression faster than any other large economy, aided by a mixture of removal from the Gold Bullion Standard, Keynsian pump priming and re-armament, all of these being state measures.  As for the period 1945 until the oil shock of 1973,   British economic growth was higher than it has been  overall in the forty years  since.

Even if the film had given a truthful account of Britain’s economic history over the past few centuries  there would have been a problem. Having speaker after speaker putting forward the laissez faire  position, saying that Britain would be so much more prosperous if they could trade more with the rest of the world by  having much less regulation, being open to unrestricted foreign investment   and, most devastatingly,  that it  would allow people to be recruited from around the world rather than just the EU or EEA (with the implication that it is racist to privilege Europeans over people from Africa and Asia) is not  the way  to win people to the leave side.

The legacy of Thatcher  is problematic.  Revered by true believers in  the neo-liberal  credo she is hated by many  more for there  are still millions in the country who detest what she stood for and  for whom people spouting the same kind of rhetoric she used in support of Brexit  is  a  turn off. To them can be  added  many others who instinctively feel that globalisation is wrong and threatening and talk of economics in which human beings are treated as pawns deeply repulsive.

There is also a  truly  astonishing  omission in the film. At the most modest assessment immigration is one of the major concerns of  British electors  (and probably the greatest concern  when the fear of being called a racist if one opposes immigration is factored in), yet the film avoids the subject. There is a point  towards the end of the film (go in at  61 minutes) when it briefly  looks as though it might be raised when the commentary poses the question “Ah, what if the  EU proposes a trade deal which forces upon us open borders and other stuff  we don’t like?   But that leads to no discussion  about immigration,  merely the  statement of  the pedantically  true claim that Britain  does not have to sign a treaty if its terms are not acceptable. This of course begs the question of who will decide what is acceptable. There a has been no suggestion that there are any lines in the sand which will not be crossed in negotiations with the EU and there is no promise of a second referendum after terms have been negotiated with the EU or, indeed,  with any other part of the world. Consequently,   electors can have no confidence those who conduct  negotiations will not give away vital things such as control of our borders.

As immigration is such a core part of  what  British voters worry about most ,both in the EU context and immigration generally,  it is difficult to come up with a an explanation for this startling omission  which  is not pejorative. It can only have been done for one of two reasons:  either the maker of the film  did not want the issue addressed or many of those appearing in the film  would  not have appeared if the  immigration drum had been beaten.  In view of both Durkin’s ideological position and the general tenor of the film,  the most plausible reason is that Durkin did not want the subject discussed because the idea of free movement of labour is a central part of the neo-liberal  ideology. He will see labour as simply a factor of production along with land and capital. Durkin  even managed to include interviews conducted in Switzerland (go in at 52 minutes )which  painted the country as a land of milk and honey without  mentioning that the Swiss had a citizen initiated referendum on restricting immigration in 2014 and are pushing for another.

The point at issue is not whether neo-liberalism is a good or a bad thing,  but the fact that an argument for leaving the EU which is primarily based on the ideology is bound to alienate many who do not think kindly of the EU, but who do not share the neo-liberal’s enthusiasm for an  unregulated or under-regulated  economy   and  a commitment to globalism, which frequently means  jobs are either off-shored or taken by immigrants who undercut wages and place a great strain on public services. This in practice results in mass immigration , which apart from competition for jobs, houses  and services,   fundamentally alters the  nature of the areas of  Britain in  which  immigrants settle and,  in the longer term, the  nature of Britain itself .

The excessive  concentration on economic matters is itself a major flaw, because  most of the electorate  will  variously not be able to understand , be bored by the detail  and turn off or  simply disregard the claims made as being  by their  nature  unknowable in reality. The difficulty of incomprehension and boredom is  compounded by there being  far  too many talking heads, often  speaking for a matter of seconds at a time.  I also found the use of Monty Python-style graphics irritatingly shallow and  a sequence lampooning European workers compared with the Chinese downright silly (go in at  37 minutes).

What the film should have done was rest  the arguments for leaving on the question of  sovereignty.  That is what this vote is all about: do you want Britain to be a sovereign nation ? Everything flows from the question of sovereignty : can we control our borders?; can we make our own laws?  Once sovereignty is seen as the only real question, then what we may or may not do after regaining our sovereignty is in our hands. If the British people wish to have a  more regulated market they can vote for it. If they want a neo-liberal economy they can vote for it. The point is that at present we cannot vote for either . As I mentioned in my introduction the sovereignty issue is raised many times in the film.  The problem is that it was so often  tied into the idea of free trade and unregulated markets that the sovereignty message raises the question in many minds of what will those with power – who overwhelmingly have bought into globalism and neo-liberal economics –  do with sovereignty rather than the value of sovereignty itself.

Will the film help the leave cause? I think it is the toss of a coin whether it will persuade more people to vote leave than or alienate more with  its neo-liberal message.



Posted in Film reviews | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments