Anyone else feeling slightly sick about the Brexit talks?

Anyone else feeling slightly sick about the Brexit talks?

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With our future in the balance, let’s hope that Brexit Means Brexit means something. Or at least that top Tories have more of a handle on this than appearances suggest, says Emma Bartley

As a Remainer / Remoaner / saboteuse / previously well-adjusted individual who has scarcely been able to pick up a newspaper for the past 12 months without screaming “WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON, BRITAIN?”, I’m not entirely sure how I want the Brexit negotiations to go.

The vengeful part of me would like to see the Brexiteers fail miserably, just so the 48% can paint the words WE TOLD YOU SO on a rocket and shoot them into space.

The part that likes to think that there are some grown-ups, somewhere, in charge would love for the EU negotiators to show our Brexit policy for the nonsense it is. Like, “Eet says ere zat Le Bregsit means Le Bregsit. And Borees Johnson, e want un open Bregsit. Are you sure you didn’t just put zis sroo Google Translate? It mean nozzing!” (This is of course a dreadfully racist bit of stereotyping but at some point you’ve got to get on board with the national mood.)

Then the part of me that still loves my country is hoping it won’t be that bad. Because we are at a critical point in our history and it feels as if a lot of our future prosperity depends on these negotiations. Whatever “no deal is better than a bad deal” actually means, presumably most sensible Britons can agree that neither option sounds marvellous if it lumbers us with barriers to trade, significant restrictions on the movement of people, a huge financial obligation with none of the benefits of EU membership, etc, etc.

That part of me is still hoping that a different Theresa May, Boris Johnson and David Davis will turn up today from the ones whom we saw on the Brexit and general election campaign trails – the May who spoke so effectively about fairness when she was first made Prime Minister; the BoJo who speaks five languages and is pro-immigration; the David Davis who is so committed to human rights that he resigned over counter-terrorism measures. Or at least that there are some grown-ups in charge, somewhere (probably in the Civil Service).

Assuming Brexit goes ahead – and it’s unimaginable that anyone currently in charge will have the balls to tell The British Public In Their Wisdom that Brexit is not going ahead, however bad things start to look – we will need to reach a compromise with the EU.

Ideally for Remainers, that compromise would involve membership of the single market and guaranteed rights for EU citizens living here, and UK citizens living in Europe. More realistically, it’d be nice if Team May can cut a deal that doesn’t necessitate the City of London upping sticks to Frankfurt and the rest of us having only carefully rationed tinned food to eat.

Ironically, given that Taking Back Control was really high on the list of reasons people voted for Brexit, much will now depend on the EU negotiators. Will they send their grownups, who realise that we’re a pretty big trading partner and allowing us to chew our own arm off isn’t a great idea in the long run, or their vengeful children, who’ll quite happily watch us bleed to death just to show how much cleverer they are? As they probably don’t say in Brussels, regardez this space.

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Five ways to style out a political apology

Five ways to style out a political apology

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After Theresa May’s well-received “soz” to the 1922 committee of MPs, we look at how politicians from Clinton to Cameron said sorry

1. The “Oops” – Theresa May on the snap election
After seven weeks bleating some of the stupidest campaign slogans yet to insult the British people (we’re looking at you, magical money tree), Theresa May made a surprisingly good speech to her fellow MPs. “I got us into this mess and I’ll get us out of it,” she promised – to loud cheers from a group who still hate her, but realised just in time that they hate Boris Johnson more.

 

2. The non-apology apology – Tony Blair
Is Tony Blair sorry about the Iraq war? He’s sorry that he planned it badly: “For all of this, I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you can ever know or believe.” But he still reckons getting rid of Saddam was a thumping good idea. “What I cannot and will not do is say we took the wrong decision.”

 

3. The too little, too late – Nick Clegg
Spotting that an entire generation of young people were quite pissed off with him after voting Liberal Democrat as a protest vote about university tuition fees – only for the Liberal Democrats to triple university tuition fees – the former Deputy Prime Minister tried a little charm. “When you’ve made a mistake, you should apologise,” he said. “But most importantly you’ve got to learn from your mistakes.” Which is why he probably won’t be doing any more video apologies after a heavily indebted student autotuned the clip.
4. The confessional – Bill Clinton
Caught out for shagging an intern and lying about it in 1998, the US President (those were the days) told a breakfast meeting of religious leaders that he had sinned, asking for forgiveness and speaking of repentance and even wanging in the Bible for good measure. While still managing, on account of his resting smirk face, to look like a massive shagger who would do it all again given half the chance.

 

5. The “Sorry that somebody else screwed up” – David Cameron
Our most apologetic Prime Minister to date made a sort of hobby of apologising for stuff his predecessors had screwed up, from Bloody Sunday to Hillsborough to the Amritsar massacre. But when he called a referendum on EU membership and lost, leaving a legacy of political chaos and economic uncertainty? “I wish I had won … I am sad about that,” he reflected, before skipping off into the private sector to charge six-figure sums for talking about it.
Where it all went wrong for Theresa May

Where it all went wrong for Theresa May

VOTESBYWOMEN_V35The PM never really showed up for her campaign, says Emma Bartley. Let’s not make the same mistake as her

“Who the actual f&%* are we supposed to vote for?” was the title of the first post on this blog, the day after the election was announced. When the results came in this morning, the question was more: “Who the actual f^&% is in power?”

Perhaps there’s a line to be drawn between the two. For centrists like me – nervous of hard Brexits and hardcore Socialists – it was hard to back either of the two biggest parties. Theresa May might argue that she tried to talk to the centre… but unfortunately she forgot to show up for her own campaign.

Lots of people are talking about how Jeremy Corbyn has confounded his critics by coming in a strong second place to the Conservatives. There’s some truth in this, in that he’s energised and excited many Labour voters, and brought more young people to the polls. I like him more than I did at the start of the campaign, because he’s stood up for unpopular ideas like immigration, and his snarling, angry side seems to have gone.

Really, though, this was May’s election to lose, and everybody knows it. The great irony is that she and her team seemed to feel that by playing a defensive game, she could hold on to her huge 15-point lead from the start of the campaign. And so she’s spent the past five weeks at stage-managed events, avoiding hostile interviews and – perhaps fatally – dodging the TV debates.

Perhaps she thought that the support of the rightwing press would guarantee her victory, but in practice it turned out to be an own goal. Attacks on Corbyn allowed him to claim (like Trump before him) that he was the victim of a hostile media. Meanwhile, their overblown praise left her struggling to meet expectations – “At last, a PM who’s not afraid to be honest with you!” breathed the Mail, just a day or two before May backed away from the dementia tax in an attack of nerves.

The British don’t like being told what to do, and we don’t like being taken for granted. Just 12 months after they accused the “liberal elite” of doing both these things, Theresa May and the Tories have fallen victim to the same rebellious sentiment that is dragging us out of the EU.

Today, I expected to be winding this blog up. I started it in part to overcome my own shyness in talking about political issues, because I’d realised that in failing to challenge the surest, angriest people, I’d allowed my country to be taken over by beliefs and assumptions that I found abhorrent. I didn’t expect to rebalance the national conversation by adding more female voices, but I had to try.

What’s next for Britain? What the f^&% is going on with us? Honestly, I’m not sure anybody knows. But given that Theresa May has finally shown up to form a government, the rest of us had better stay engaged with what’s going on. Because it we’ve learnt anything from the past year of massive political upheaval, it’s that if you don’t speak up for what you believe in, you’ll be crushed.

12 things we’ve learnt so far from the snap election

12 things we’ve learnt so far from the snap election

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Iain Duncan Smith likes a bit of Eminem, Tories shop at Sainsbury’s and working-class people are allowed into Costa coffee: here’s what the campaign has told us three weeks in

1 Tim Farron had a poster of Margaret Thatcher on his wall as a teenager
“I had all kinds of weird icons I was into,” he told ITV. And we thought our dog-eared Smash Hits! Posters of Jason Donovan were embarrassing.

2 Iain Duncan Smith is the Conservatives’ answer to Eminem
“You’re choking now / Everybody’s joking now / And the clock’s run out,” he rapped on the sofa of Good Morning Britain, quoting the lyrics to Lose Yourself to a bemused Piers Morgan, Susanna Reid and Chuka Umunna.

3 Sainsbury’s were really on to something with their Bag for Life messaging

 

4 Diane Abbott + maths = *explosion*
Anyone who’s ever spent their maths lesson staring out of the window and then been called on by the teacher for an answer can surely empathise with how Diane Abbott felt when she had to explain Labour’s weird promise for 10,000 new police officers. Or discuss the party’s losses in the local elections:

Abbott: “I think the net losses are about 50.”
Interviewer: “They’re 125.”
Abbott: “Well the last time I looked we had net losses of 100.”

5 Tories are still promising to reduce net immigration to the tens of thousands
Despite hints they might drop the target, which has so far proved unworkable. The most recent figure is 273,000 and in case you thought Brexit would make an impact, around 164,000 of those people came from outside the EU.

6 Working-class people are allowed into Costa coffee
(Maybe they prefer it to Starbucks because, unlike Labour’s Dawn Butler, they know it pays its taxes.)

7 Ed Miliband is quite funny when he’s not in charge of anything

 

8 Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell still think people just need to get to know them
Meanwhile people who do know them, such as the new Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, hide when they see them coming.

9 UKIP have got some kind of issue with bee keepers. 

10 Ruth Davidson is #goals
Nicola Sturgeon, unruly dogs, crap policies like the rape clause… nothing fazes the Scottish Conservative leader (although she really doesn’t seem keen on this big fish).

11 The Lib Dems are committed to a second referendum on Brexit
Also called for by the Green Party and the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon.

12 Progressives are working together… haphazardly
The Lib Dems giving the Greens’ co-leader Caroline Lucas a clear run in Brighton Pavilion, while the Greens are standing aside in various seats for Labour and the Women’s Equality Party leaders Sophie Walker. And Labour has expelled three members for a “plot” with the Lib Dems and Greens to allow the National Health Action Party candidate, Dr Louise Irvine, the best chance of defeating Jeremy Hunt in South West Surrey. The Progressive Alliance has advice on who to vote for to unseat “the regressive right” near you.

The US is repealing Obamacare. Don’t let the UK be next

The US is repealing Obamacare. Don’t let the UK be next

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Take it from an American, says Ashley Lane. If the Conservatives continue to dismantle the NHS, millions will end up in healthcare poverty

When I was ten days old, something staggeringly rare happened to my mother: she became quadriplegic (unable to move her arms and legs) overnight. Doctors found an AVM (arteriovenous malformation) in her spinal cord; she had basically had a stroke in her spine. The cause of AVM is unknown, but there was some suggestion that the symptoms had been brought on by the trauma of giving birth.

After surgery and treatment, Mum regained movement in her arms but is still paralysed from under her arms down. As a result, she found it increasingly difficult to work. Eventually she was forced to leave her career, which because we lived in America meant losing the health benefits that came with her job. This left her alone to navigate immensely complex, and expensive, healthcare alternatives.

Sometimes the doctors she needed to see were covered by her Health Maintenance Organization (HMO). When they were not, and this was not an uncommon occurrence, she was faced with paying out of pocket. Specialised and essential services like physiotherapy, which ran at about $150 per session, were not part of the plan. Not to mention the $6,000 or more co-pay for larger supplies, like wheelchairs, or hospital stays that can cost as much as $2,800 – both, once again, out of pocket. Prescriptions, covered by the Medicare programme, were equally as hit and miss. Some would cost $1.75. Others, $60. Even as a child I understood the toll this constant battle took on her, both financially and emotionally.

My mother is fortunate, though. She has had, and continues to have, the incredible support of my family – and as a result avoided destitution. Unfortunately, not everyone in America is as lucky. According to a shocking 2016 Census report, more than 11.2 million Americans are in poverty because of out-of-pocket medical bills. That situation is only going to get worse as the Trump administration begins to overturn Obamacare.

When I eventually moved to England in 2008, I was astonished to find the kind of medical safety net that the NHS offered people like my mother. The same medications for which she would be charged upwards of $50 back at home were roughly £7 in the UK, or free if she were to qualify. Likewise, her sessions with the physiotherapist and trips to A&E after an accident or an illness wouldn’t have cost her a dime (or indeed a penny).

Nearly ten years later the same organisation is almost unrecognisable thanks to gradual financial cuts made by the Government in what looks like a bid to drive the country towards a privatised health system. Though being admitted to A&E remains free for now and prescriptions are still a set price (now £8.60), there is a shortage of staff, resulting in longer wait times for appointments, and what the Royal College of Nursing told the BBC was a “woeful lack of training” among nurses.

“Nurses should be [paid] a salary from the first day of their training and they should have a clear career structure with fair renumeration,” Lydia Walton, a nurse practitioner from North Lincolnshire tells me. “Nurses are the core of the NHS and their strength should be maintained and harvested.”

To cover the shortfall, NHS trusts bring in agency workers, at a cost of billions. “These agencies are making vast amounts of money. Really, the biggest challenge for the NHS is to radically get rid of its internal market and stop contracting services from providers who are interested in profit,” says Walton.

And things are getting worse. It’s been revealed that NHS spending, per person, for the 2018-19 fiscal year would decrease by 0.6 per cent in real terms. That will mean even fewer trained staff. It’s a recipe for disaster, especially for people like my mum, since the social care system (which administers the Personal Independence Payment that determines whether a person qualifies for a wheelchair or modified vehicle, among other things) is also underfunded.

When Theresa May announced in April that she would hold a snap election, many viewed this as a vote about Brexit. But this election should be equally about the NHS. The system is under clear threat and there’s nowhere near enough coverage of the issues. For voters, it’s a prime opportunity to push out the people behind the pernicious decisions that could eventually drive the UK healthcare system into privatisation.

As an American, I’ve found watching the dismantling of Obamacare deeply painful. Now that I’m married to a Brit, I feel horrified to see the UK sleepwalking towards a similar privatised system, with all the inequality that entails. Just think about what it must have been like for my mother to be unable to hold her newborn baby. Now think about having to deal with that AND finding the money for a raft of unexpected medical bills.

The Conservatives can’t be allowed to privatise British healthcare, or situations like hers (and worse) will become a reality here too.

Ashley Lane is a freelance journalist, formerly of The National newspaper in the UAE

Keep religion out of the UK election

Keep religion out of the UK election

VOTESBYWOMEN_V8Tim Farron has been hounded over his private religious beliefs; Theresa May seems to do well out of hers. Wouldn’t it be better, asks Eleanor Marriott, to agree that we ‘don’t do God’?

Alastair Campbell, the former Downing Street press secretary, has strong religious beliefs: he strongly believes that religion should stay out of politics. In 2003, when Tony Blair was being quizzed about his Christianity in an interview, Campbell famously stated: “We don’t do God.”

Tim Farron may well have wished that he’d had a Campbell in the shadows pressing the mute button when he “came out” as a devout Christian. The Liberal Democrat leader seems reluctant to hide his beliefs, but doesn’t want them to be seen as influencing his policies. Yet since the election has been called, his religion has become his Achilles heel, with interviewers repeatedly asking about his religious views on homosexuality and forcing him to deny that he thought that homosexuality or homosexual sex was a sin.

In response, the comedian David Baddiel tweeted that Farron was a “fundamentalist Christian homophobe”. Farron had always seemed pretty moderate to me, so I looked up his parliamentary voting record on gay rights: six votes for; one against and three abstentions.

Given the Lib Dems’ pro-equality stance, it would look better on paper if Farron had consistently voted in favour of gay rights, but six times out of ten doesn’t seem like the hallmark of a homophobe. He has since stated that he regretted abstaining on the equal marriage bill, explaining that he did so because of a detail he didn’t agree with and not because he was against it in principle. I’m sure he is wishing he could turn the clock back on all those votes now, however, because it appears that no matter what he does or says – such as being the only main leader to speak out against gay torture camps in Chechnya – the homophobic label won’t seem to come unstuck.

For me there is a more pressing concern: the way Baddiel and others have lumped “homophobe” together with “fundamentalist Christian”, as if one relates to the other. For the record I’m not religious myself, but it’s unsettling that somebody’s personal beliefs have to be dragged out before everyone for analysis and presented as a badge of shame.

Farron’s refusal to say whether he believed gay sex was a sin has been described as “abhorrent” by certain indignant MPs. If he had blocked every attempt to give homosexuals more rights, issued a statement saying that gay sex was a sin or stated in his manifesto that gay rights will be reversed – well yes, that would be abhorrent. But is it really so monstrous to refuse to get drawn into a discussion about religion? Does it not sound like the kind of question more suited to the Spanish inquisition than a 21st-century TV interview?

And let’s not forget, the ink had barely dried on Baddiel’s righteous indignation over the Labour Party’s failure to have punished Ken Livingstone enough for being anti-Semitic before his Farron tweet started doing the rounds. It seems somewhat hypocritical to call for blood one minute because someone has incited hatred towards a religious group, and the next minute brand someone else a “fundamentalist Christian homophobe”.

Perhaps this crude kind of stereotype won’t wash with the electorate. Last year, when Zac Goldsmith’s mayoral campaign used Sadiq Khan’s Muslim faith to suggest that (among other things) he sympathised with extremists, Londoners refused to take the bait. Khan became mayor and Goldsmith became about as popular as a UKIP supporter at a Remain rally.

Yet there does seem to be an odd willingness among the British people – those on the sidelines as well as politicians and journalists – to decide that they know what a person’s Christianity means. To take another example, if I had a penny for every time that someone refers to Theresa May as being a vicar’s daughter I would personally be able to fund the NHS without any need to “take back control” from the EU.

Fortunately for the Prime Minister, she is seen to represent the safe and respectable side of religion. She didn’t have a religious awakening; she is a good, old-fashioned Church of England worshipper, which makes her about as English as strawberry jam. Not for nothing is the Church of England often referred to as “the Tory Party at prayer”.

Compared with this, Farron has a relatively ordinary background, from which the presumption seems to follow that if he chooses to be a Christian, let alone a devout one, there must be something wrong with him. And besides, he’s in the wrong party for that sort of thing.

Is this strictly fair? I for one don’t care that Tim Farron is a devout Christian any more than I care that Theresa May is a vicar’s daughter. I didn’t care in the last election that Ed Miliband was the son of a Jewish refugee, and if Jeremy Corbyn is an atheist that’s fine too. Of course your religious beliefs or upbringing may help to shape you as a politician but, so long as you are open about what your policies are and stick to those policies, there are more important things to worry about.

Let’s stop bothering the godly and stick to the issues that matter – whether it’s the EU, taxes, the NHS or a party’s policy on marijuana that concerns you. Or if you must launch a personal attack based on religion, then at least be fair and damn everyone, not just those without the benefit of inherited faith.

Eleanor Marriott is a London-based writer and photographer. She has a website and blog at www.anenchantedeye.com

Who the actual eff are we meant to vote for on June 8?

Who the actual eff are we meant to vote for on June 8?

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Seriously – who? The more we learn about the people who are hoping to lead our country, the more we struggle to come up with a sensible answer. Let’s take a look at the shortlist.

1 Train Toilet Man

First up is Jeremy Corbyn, who was recently photographed in a train toilet. Walking around holding a banana has ended the political careers of better men than Corbyn, but he’s willing to dress up like some 1930s propaganda vision of a Soviet worker and hang out in a slow-closing Pendolino bog in full view of the AP photographer.

This picture shows such poor judgment that we don’t even need to bother getting into Labour’s vicious in-fighting, or the feasibility of a National Education Service.

2 Breggsit Means Breggsit Lady

We respected Theresa May for the speech she gave when she took over as Prime Minister, recognising that people had voted for change. More alarming is when she decides she knows what the referendum result means. Unless we missed a load of small print about kicking out all the nasty immigrants, bringing back hanging and turning our passports aquamarine, the British people TICKED A BOX so don’t tell us MPs are “subverting the will of the people” if they question how you’re doing it.

3 “I’m Not Saying Whether I Think Gays Are Sinners” Man

The Liberal Democrats should have a real shot at this election, as the only party that’s consistently challenged a hard Brexit. Unfortunately, you can count the number of MPs they have right now on your fingers – a thin field that has given them a pretty religious leader who won’t deny he thinks homosexuality is a sin. (He says he’s “passionate about equality” and LGBT rights, but it’s going to be hard to look a gay friend in the eye and say “Yah I’m wearing this Lib Dem badge cos Tim Farron believes you deserve equal rights UNTIL you burn in Hell”.)

4 The Fringes

As a moderate these days you may find yourself gravitating to what used to be called the fringes. Obviously apart from UKIP, a group of people so filled with hate they can’t even get along with each other. The SNP might be a nice vote if you can get it, but they’ve never convincingly explained how they’ll pay for all the stuff they plan to give away once they break up the UK. The Green Party are starting to look smart and professional; it’s just that you suspect this is only by comparison. The Women’s Equality Party are a decent protest vote but they don’t have policies on everything. Who else? Are the Monster Raving Loonies still about? Larry the cat?

Anybody…?

Here’s the thing: the centre ground is disappearing. If you quite like foreigners, feel sorry for poor people and have no special desire to overthrow the rich, you don’t have anyone to vote for. If you think that politicians are only human and don’t expect them magically to solve every problem, nobody is speaking to you.

Less than a century since women were given the vote in the UK, though, NOT voting is unthinkable. That’s why Votes By Women has decided to spend the next 50 days looking carefully at the options from a female point of view. This is not about the tampon tax; it’s about a space to explore political issues when political commentators are overwhelmingly male, and women who express an opinion are far more likely to be trolled for it.

We may not be experts, but in an age when everyone seems certain, there’s a value to asking questions. Starting with: what the f*** do we do now, Britain?