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If you wanted to set up a new political Party to oppose democracy, what would you call it?

Back in the early 1900s the temperance movement tried setting up a political party, the Scottish Prohibition Party. They didn’t call it the Alcohol Party, because alcohol was the very thing they were trying to oppose.

The Labour Party was called the Labour Party because [back then it at least professed] it supported workers. They didn’t call themselves the Upper Class Toffs Party.

The Conservative and Unionist Party wanted to conserve things, oppose radicalism and generally support the Union. They didn’t call themselves the Dismantle and Disintegrate Party.

UKIP, set up to fight for our Independence, wasn’t called the ‘British Subservience Party’. No, independence is our middle name! We stand for exactly what it says on the tin.

Only in George Orwell’s 1984 would things be named as the exact opposite of what they’re trying to achieve. Orwell explained it as follows:

“The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from ordinary hypocrisy: they are deliberate exercises in doublethink.”

Powerful stuff. When Big Brother wanted to pull the wool over people’s eyes he called things the opposite of what they actually were. It’s the nature of propaganda to do so.

James Chapman is setting up a new Party, with the intention of subverting democracy and overturning Brexit. Remember, Brexit is the epitome of British democracy: never in the history of this United Kingdom have more people voted for anything than voted for Brexit.

So, if you wanted to set up a new political party to oppose democracy, what would you call it?

Think for a moment…

The Democrats!

I kid you not. He is actually naming his Party after the very thing he’s campaigning against. Orwell would be spinning in his grave: he intended 1984 as a warning, not as an instruction manual.

 

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Statement on the UKIP leadership election

I have given considerable thought to the UKIP Leadership election in recent weeks, and indeed I strongly considered not supporting any candidate at all.

My criteria for making my own personal decision are simple – I will choose the strongest available candidate subject to three conditions. I cannot back:

a) Any candidate who is likely to cause embarrassment to the Party in the media, however unfairly: at this critical stage with our Party’s survival at stake we simply cannot afford to have a future leader who will be overshadowed by baggage.

b) Any candidate who overly fixates on a single non-Brexit issue (depending on perspective there are between 2 and 5 different ‘single issues’) almost to the exclusion of all else.

c) Any candidate whose values and principles don’t align with the UKIP that I joined and was proud to represent. I believe fundamentally in low taxes, more democracy, less state interference, toughness on crime and a fair, robust, colour-blind immigration system designed to end the oversupply of unskilled workers but welcoming those who can genuinely help to make the UK a better place.

From the field of candidates, by process of elimination I am left therefore with two choices: Ben Walker and Marion Mason. (Arguably Henry Bolton but I know far too little about him)

By pure coincidence – and it is coincidence – they are also the only two candidates who have gone out of their way to contact me and ask for my support. Neither of them has got involved in the vicious negative campaigning which has sadly started to infest our Party in recent years.

Both of them have backgrounds in helping people, in very different ways – Ben Walker in the Royal Navy, and Marion Mason in the NHS.

Politically I am broadly aligned with both of them.

Of the two, Ben Walker is the more powerful communicator. He has engaged people with his campaign, organised events and worked hard touring the country to speak to branches and members. He has the requisite determination to believe that he can turn this Party around.

If push comes to shove, which of the two would I rather see represent the Party in a televised debate? Who would be more likely to enthuse and motivate people to join us?

On balance, I have therefore decided that I’ll be voting for Ben Walker in the UKIP leadership election. I don’t agree with him on everything, and I have made that clear to him in private (I don’t agree with banning halal meat for example).

As a candidate, I think he shares my assessment of the situation and accepts what I’ve been saying repeatedly since the election: that we are in last-chance saloon; that the Party needs to change dramatically if it is to survive in any meaningful form.

We’ve seen leadership candidates use phrases like ‘professionalising the Party’, ‘changing the Party Constitution’, ‘reforming the internal structures’ and ‘engaging with the membership’ before. All of them need to happen, and quickly.

Finally, we can’t afford to keep shooting ourselves in the foot as we have been doing for far too long. As far as I can tell, Ben Walker would be immune from attack in the media because he hasn’t said anything stupid in public (or indeed, privately, as far as I know). That is worth a lot. It means we might be able to focus on a positive message rather than firefighting.

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I don’t normally do this but I’m going on a rant

I went to university at the age of 15, hold a Masters Degree in Mathematics and proudly campaigned to Leave. I don’t normally do this, but I’m going on a rant. I’m sick of this elitist drivel that comes from continuity Remainers intent on disparaging everyone who disagrees with them.

This notion that if only more people went to university we’d have voted to Remain is pretentious nonsense from those who think that working class people should crawl back into their slums, crack open a high-strength battery-acid-taste cider, play Jeremy Kyle on loud, and bow down to their intellectual superiors who hold a piece of paper saying that they have a degree.

Because that’s what their stereotypical bilge would imply, and it’s every bit as bigoted as they try to imply anyone who disagrees with the concept of a ‘safe space’ must be.

Even if their results are accurate, they say less about Leave voters and more about a modern liberal-left university education system which often indoctrinates rather than encouraging free thought and a wealth of ideas, popular and unpopular, conventional or radical, pro- or anti-Brexit.

How many of our young people are being failed by a system which pushes them into the wrong courses at university and a spiral of debt, getting a degree only to find there aren’t enough graduate-level jobs to go around? It’s time to fix our broken university system, not incessantly whine about democracy in action.

 

 

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Support Sunderland’s industry with Spartans’ steadfast spirit

It seems we’ve been here so many times before: another scare story about the threat of Nissan leaving the UK and jobs being lost in Sunderland post-Brexit. This time, it’s all about the proposed trade deal between European Union and Japan. The argument is basically as follows: If the EU and Japan were to conclude a trade deal before the UK has one with Japan, it would put the UK at a competitive disadvantage and drive Nissan out of the UK.

 

I’m reminded of Philip of Macedon, who famously sent a message to Sparta: “You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.” The Spartans replied with a single word: “If.” If our government is to make a success of Brexit, then it needs a bit of the old Spartan spirit. It needs to stop focusing on excuses, and develop a single-minded determination to achieve the best that it possibly can for Britain.Claim: If the EU negotiates a trade deal with Japan before the UK does, then it’ll be bad for British businesses. Quite probably so. How about, then, a solution? Let’s get on and make absolutely sure that we get there first.

 

The European Union claims that under Article 4(3) of the Treaty on European Union, we can’t do it. That gives us a duty of ‘sincere co-operation’ with the European Union whilst we’re members of it. It’s a great argument with just one small flaw: it’s utter baloney. My apologies for getting technical for a moment,  but whatever ‘sincere co-operation’ means, it cuts both ways. The EU isn’t ‘sincerely co-operating’ with us if they deliberately try to make it harder for us to succeed post-Brexit. They’re not meeting their obligations to their neighbours (ie. us) under Article 8 of the Lisbon Treaty either. And ‘sincere co-operation’ is poorly defined: it couldn’t possibly take precedence over better-defined parts of the Treaty on European Union – like for example Article 21(2)(e) which speaks of “progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade”. A European Union telling us we can’t talk to other countries about the progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade is a European Union ignoring its own rules, which to be honest is one of the main reasons we’re leaving in the first place. The European Union is supposed to respect the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994, of which Article 24(4) says that a Customs Union is to facilitate trade and not “to raise barriers to the trade of other contracting parties with such territories”. Which is precisely what the EU is doing – not because of the UK, but because they’re making it harder for Japan to negotiate a free trade deal with us by putting barriers in their way.

 

So the British government needs to get on with it, rather than playing into the EU’s hands. We know the EU takes a decade or more, on average, to negotiate trade deals (and if the EU suddenly develops uncharacteristic speed and negotiates the deal before Brexit, grandfathering arrangements will then apply to the UK). It’s a hugely bureaucratic process – not least because they need to get 28 countries to all agree a common negotiating position to be able to start negotiations with the other side. At every stage those 28 countries need to accept the deal, and any concessions made will disproportionately harm certain countries.  But we can do better than a decade. If our government has the bottle, we can get there first. If the Philippines can negotiate a deal with EFTA in just one year, surely the UK can negotiate deals quickly too.

 

What’s needed is the political will to make it happen. And that, with this Conservative government, is the biggest weakness in the whole Brexit process. Get Brexit right, and the benefits will be pretty much instant. Get it wrong, and it could take years. Courage seems to be in short supply at present: our government needs to develop a backbone – not just for the sake of workers in Sunderland, but for the many jobs that could be created if only it lost its self of self-deprecation and remembered that we’re a world leader in research, intelligence, science and technology, that we speak a global language and that we’re one of the world’s largest economies.

 

We’re an attractive catch for any nation to trade with; it’s high time we started acting like it.

 

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Believing four contradictory things before Brexit

After Theresa May’s bungled election miscalculation and continued Conservative infighting with members of the cabinet actively briefing against one another, you’d be mistaken for thinking Mr Corbyn’s position is looking healthier than ever. However figures released from a poll of Labour party members expose the disjoint on Brexit between membership and leadership and the growing dislocation from their traditional support base. It’s not just Rebecca Long Bailey literally claiming that Labour wants to “have our cake and eat it”, but that Labour MEPs are openly criticising Brexit and trying to reverse it, whilst their Party leadership supports it.

The scale of the gap between Labour’s leadership and their own members is shown in research from the Party Members Project:

  • 49% of members think there should “definitely” be a vote on the final Brexit deal, with a further 29.4% answering “more yes than no” to the question, and only 8.8% definitely opposing it.
  • 66% of members think Britain should definitely stay in the single market with a further 20.7% saying “more yes than no” to the question. Only 4.2% of Labour members said they definitely believed Britain should leave the grouping.
  • There were similar levels of support on the customs union with 63.1% saying Britain should definitely stay within the group, 22.2% leaning towards the same position, and only 2.4% saying the UK should definitely leave it.
  • Of those members polled 87% voted said they remain in the 2016 referendum.

There is then a second disconnect, between the working-class Labour vote – particularly in the North – and the views of the Labour Party’s membership, so it’s totally unsurprising that there’s some muddled thinking going on as Labour try to please all of the people all of the time. As the White Queen said to Alice, “sometimes I’ve managed to believe six impossible things before breakfast”. That’s okay for a fairy tale, but not so good for a Labour Party intent on simultaneously believing four contradictory things before Brexit.

The 2017 Labour Manifesto Brexit position had promised to try to retain the benefits of the single market and the customs union but the leadership was clear: the UK could not remain in the Single Market and Freedom of movement would end. Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary said “As it currently stands membership of the single market is incompatible with our clarity about the fact that freedom of movement rules have to change…freedom of movement will have to end”. Likewise John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, admitted staying in the single market would be seen by voters as “not respecting” the referendum vote.

Even since the election we’ve seen nearly 50 Labour MPs snubbing the Party whip and the sacking of three Shadow Cabinet members – in a Shadow Cabinet which has seen more reshuffles than a magician practicing his latest illusion. Could the current appearance of stability, of Corbyn’s belated honeymoon, be merely a passing ‘eye of the storm’ with future turmoil close on the horizon? Jeremy Corbyn currently enjoys the paradoxical position of the most favourable leadership ratings of his career, whilst holding crucial policies that only 2-4% of his membership support.

Part of Labour’s success on June 8th was generated by its sometimes ambiguous stance on Brexit. Pro-EU MPs warn Mr Corbyn’s “studied ambiguity” is unsustainable with amendments on the repeal bill likely to solidify the party stance in one way or another. Professor Tim Bale (of the Party Members Project) said Labour would eventually be forced to “show its true colours on this – and it can either go with the membership and probably the feeling of most MPs, or it can carry on with what is effectively a hard Brexit”.

With Theresa May’s authority repeatedly being called into question, rebellious Labour MPs are only likely to be emboldened in the knowledge that their arguments on issues like the single market have overwhelming support from the membership. Mr Corbyn on Monday night told Labour MPs he wants to actively engage with the party’s 560,000 members this summer. With time running out on ambiguous stances perhaps Mr Corbyn’s summer ‘homework’ is deciding which half of his voters he’s going to disappoint.

More than ever, we need to be vigilant. If the Labour Party were to move against Brexit, that could be an even bigger threat to the process than the Conservatives’ recent sell-out on immigration. I find myself in an odd position: I despise almost everything that Corbyn stands for including his fantasy economics (and Labour’s dishonesty over students has just been brought into sharp focus), but in terms of Brexit any other Labour leader would be far worse.

 

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Five US Republicans and one Democrat sit down to dinner with a UKIP MEP…

It sounds like the start of a joke, but actually I learned a lot speaking to people from all corners of the United States on holiday last week. The conversation was as good as the steak, and the portions of both truly American. I answered a few questions about Brexit; as is usual with Americans they were shocked at the sheer scale of what Remainians euphemistically call ‘pooling of sovereignty’.

Most instinctively supported Brexit; one asked why I consider the EU federation any different to the US federation of states. The USA was built as a nation, formed as a nation already with a single language, currency, history, geography and legal system. It has been a nation for centuries, and yet to keep it that way required the bloodiest civil war in history in the 1860s. The EU lacks these advantages and was created as an artificial political construct against the will of the people. Fundamentally, the USA is a nation: the nebulous concept of Europe isn’t. But it was a good question, a searching question, the kind of question an intelligent outsider would ask of a British Leave supporter.

I turned the tables, asking their opinion on Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump. Trump, the most unpopular candidate in American political history, is still just about in the race because he’s facing Hillary Clinton, the second-most unpopular candidate in American political history. Hyperbole? Perhaps not.

Let’s just say I’m not surprised that nobody had a positive opinion of either candidate. The Democrat and four of the five Republicans couldn’t support either candidate. Hillary Clinton was perceived as mired in controversy, part of a political dynasty, dishonest and self-centred.

Nigel Farage’s point that he wouldn’t ‘vote for Hillary Clinton if she paid me’ hit the nail on the head. Just because I dislike Trump, I’m under zero illusions about the appalling Hillary Clinton. From her time as First Lady to allegations of a cover-up of the terrorist attack at Benghazi, from the Clinton Foundation scandal to the misuse of a private email address for official State communications, Hillary Clinton has been mired in controversy for years.

As for Donald Trump, well, the list of complaints is too long but ultimately they were terrified of a man so temperamental and utterly inexperienced in anything remotely relevant to the White House having his finger on the nuclear button.

The three couples didn’t know each other, had come from different states, yet five of the six had made the decision to vote for a third-party candidate, libertarian Gary Johnson, in the Presidential election. A plague, they implied, upon both their houses. All of the six were substantially older than me, white and relatively affluent. I’d expected the majority to be Republicans. Yet like the various other Americans I had been chatting to for the last week, not one was a fan of Donald Trump.

Both Trump and Clinton have historically appalling polling numbers. Both are hugely disliked by the electorate as a whole; it all comes down to who voters see as the lesser of two evils. I suspect it’ll be another Clinton in the White House if no further scandal emerges about the emails.

The Republicans have scored a huge own goal. They didn’t have to pick Trump in the primaries. Around this night’s table I suspect amongst the Republicans there were two Rubio, one Kasich, one Carson and one Cruz supporter; all shared my frustration that the straight-talking Chris Christie had failed to live up to his potential and become mired in controversy. The one name which had universal positive approval was Marco Rubio. The Democrat also seemed delighted at the thought: she too would have voted for Rubio above Clinton in a heartbeat. Rubio could have delivered the White House without much fuss (the one argument validly leveled against Rubio is that he’s not tough enough on immigration, though the issue is different there. America’s population density is 85 people per square mile – ours is 679. But then, Trump has recently softened his stance on immigration too.). Yet with Trump at the top of the Presidential ticket, Rubio will have to work pretty hard just to hold his own seat in the swing state of Florida.

If any of them had fallen for Trump’s campaign at first, excusing his divisiveness as though it were just UKIP-style telling-it-like-it-is, they certainly weren’t admitting it. They now all hated him. However bad Trump might be, they all (bar the Democrat, who seemed to hate both equally) agreed Clinton would be worse. The Democrat would have reserved a special place in hell for the pair of them.

My own recollection of Donald Trump, the first time I realised I dislike the man intensely, was long before any of the current controversy. Two true American heroes, medical professionals who had gone to West Africa and found themselves in the midst of a terrible outbreak of Ebola, working day and night to save lives, themselves contracted the disease. The US government flew them home under the strictest quarantine and the pioneering treatment they received was life-saving. Heroes deserve the best.

What did Trump do? He made public pronouncements condemning the decision. Ignoring medical evidence, he whipped up a frenzy of fear, telling the US government to let their citizens die overseas, making false threats that it could lead to a huge outbreak in the USA. It was obvious arrant nonsense, and if Trump didn’t know anything about it he should have kept his mouth shut. That day, well before Trump announced he’d run for President, I realised what the man was like.

I’ve noticed that different people mention a complete spectrum of reasons to dislike him, given his rich and colourful comments of late. Some had liked Trump at first, his blunt and direct style. But it wasn’t long before they started to feel that he was out of his depth, and the crucial question ‘do you want Trump to be the one with the finger on the nuclear button?’ would seem problematic for his campaign.

If anyone can make sense of Trump’s statements on the minimum wage, where he seems to be simultaneously in favour of raising it and not raising it, of a federal raise and of states making their own decisions, then they’re highly charitable. That’s not surprising. Trump used to advocate one of the most hard-left policies possible:  proposing that the State should confiscate money from the richest in society.  It’s borderline Communism and a complete anathema to UKIP’s belief in the free market.

I just don’t get how some UKIP members will excuse Trump anything, just because he’s straight-talking. Whether straight-talking is good or bad depends upon the message! If the message is wrong, or ineptly delivered, it doesn’t matter how plainly you say it. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’d heard a Trump apologist tell me that I’ve ‘fallen for the mainstream media attacks’ on Trump. No; I disliked him before all that. And those who say so are actually rather patronising: I don’t agree with them, therefore in their view I must have fallen for the media. They never consider that, in fact, I might have made up my own mind.

The man who’s called some women “fat pigs, slobs, dogs and disgusting animals” and then when questioned insulted the interviewer saying that she had “blood coming out of her eyes” and “blood coming out of her wherever”. He later made the somewhat hard to believe claim that he wasn’t referring to menstruation. He’s repeatedly criticised a judge in a legal case where he’s the defendant, publicly attacked John McCain over his military service (McCain was captured fighting for America), and made rather odd comments about his own daughter (“if Ivanka weren’t my daughter perhaps I’d be dating her”). His ‘second amendment’ comments appear to threaten his opponent with assassination. I’m barely scratching the surface and I’ve avoided the ‘usual’ Trump controversies – his ‘rapists’ comments about Mexicans, accusations of bigotry and anti-Semitism: I’ll simply say that a skilled or adept candidate might be able to make their points without providing huge ammunition to their opponents. Comparisons of Trump’s buffoonery to Nigel Farage are an insult to Nigel; a far better comparison would be between Trump and Nick Griffin.

But however bad he is, many Americans will vote Trump to stop Clinton. That’s understandable, but we could also be about to see the biggest vote for a third party candidate for a generation in the USA. In exasperation the dinner table was independently turning to third-party candidates, and no wonder. If there is one thing uniting America politically, it’s that the country seems to share a common exasperation at the quality of candidates on show in November. On the Democrat side, Clinton’s challenger was Bernie Sanders – a far-left candidate who actually believes in something. He is not Presidential in any way. Such is the dislike of Clinton that he proved to be a thorn in her side for months on end during the primaries. Far better Democrat candidates declined to even stand.

I find myself wondering what I would do if I were in their shoes. I couldn’t possibly stomach voting for the odious Hillary Clinton, even to stop Trump. Could I vote for Trump to stop Clinton? I doubt that too. Perhaps I would join the growing ranks of those in the USA who intend to vote for a third-party candidate. Gary Johnson isn’t being squashed in the polls like most third-party candidates at this stage, and no wonder given the appalling choices proffered by the traditional parties.

If, as seems likely, the next US President is Hillary Clinton, many round that table will rue the day they didn’t choose Marco Rubio in the primaries. If my experience is anything to go by, there are plenty already regretting precisely that.

 

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The values that we reflect as a nation in the Olympic Games are the values which we should embody on a daily basis

Success in life is earned, not given. What you achieve depends upon your innate ability, effort and industry, dedication and desire to succeed These statements should be inalienable truths, and yet sadly all too often they are not. For many, the fascination of the Olympic Games is that it provides precisely such a level playing feel. With one rags-to-riches, homelessness-to-gold triumphant story after another, all that matters at the most basic level is to run faster, jump higher, throw further or pedal more furiously than the rest. An athlete who does not dedicate their life to their sport does not deserve and will not receive a gold medal.

On a national level, Team GB – through Lottery funding and dedication – achieved the second-best results of any country on the planet. Our 1% of the world’s population achieved 9% of the world’s gold medals. Success was earned not just through the hard work of our athletes, but the ability to build a team around them. The European Parliament’s Twitter account, however, simply added up the individual medals for each of the EU’s 28 countries and made the fantastical claim that the European Union had the best results on earth. Yes, if you add up 28 countries’ results they beat any single country; it’s as unsurprising as the Pope’s Catholicism or what bears get up to in the woods. Whilst Team GB worked for their achievement, Team European Union Spin attempted to leach off someone else’s.

Mo Farah’s double Olympic triumph was again iconic. Having fallen to the floor in the 10,000 metres, it never seemed in any doubt to me that once he’d got up he would win the race. His backstory is pretty impressive too: coming to the UK at the age of 8 after a tumultuous time in Somalia, he barely spoke a word of English. Some vile bigots took to Twitter to condemn UKIP supporters for cheering on Mo Farah. As though UKIP were an anti-migrant party, when indeed Nigel Farage was the first leader of a major political party to call for the UK to take some refugees from Syria!

Here’s the challenge though: the values that we reflect as a nation in the Olympic Games are the values which we should embody on a daily basis. Those same values should underpin our education system, expecting our children to learn, to overcome adversity rather than retreat into ‘safe spaces’ if something causes the merest scintilla of offence We should be training the next generation of leaders not a generation of precious snowflakes, and it’s no wonder that we have astronomically high levels of depression and anxiety amongst teenagers when we create unrealistic expectations of how protected they should be, and how easy life ought to be: real life doesn’t match up. As inspiration, we need look no further than the forthcoming Paralympic Games where we will see those who do not allow adversity, disability, or often personal tragedy, to get in the way of that determination which is the very spirit embodied by the ancient Greeks so long ago.

As a nation we should strive for excellence in everything that we achieve. When it comes to immigration, people shouldn’t get a free pass to come here just because they happen to hold a passport from any of 27 other EU countries; those who we allow to come to the UK should be those who will strive to make our country a better place. My wife and I were sitting at dinner with an American couple last week. The lady had come from Canada originally, but was proud to be American. She didn’t describe herself as Canadian-American or anything else; she had become American through choice and would always see herself as American. Irrespective of nationality, ethnicity, race, gender, skin colour or anything else, that’s what we should expect from those who come to live and work in the UK too. We should celebrate success, praise the self-made entrepreneur who makes millions and generates jobs and tax revenue for the Exchequer – not be envious of their wealth. We should celebrate our scientists as much as our athletes, but neither should we stigmatise a vocational route: after all, we’re a region of manufacturers, a region which builds things and a region which should be the engine-room of the British economy.

The day after the Olympics had finished, I headed off to a town called Rendsburg. I play a board game called Stratego. Not having picked up a board for a year, I rushed across Germany to play for the Great Britain team at World Team Championships. The team was short of players and wouldn’t have been able to compete if I didn’t make it, so I thought I’d give it my best shot. Sadly we didn’t manage to come away with a medal, but my personal consolation was getting my best ever result, a draw against a two-time World Champion.

If we want to get a medal next year in Greece, I’d best take my own advice and put some work in!

My Column – Let me try to beat Project Fear at their own game

Project Fear tells us that life in post-EU Britain will be terrible in their dystopian, cleverly constructed worst-case scenarios for Brexit.

The ‘Remain’ campaigners even rely upon the suggestion that we know what life is like inside the European Union . Better, they imply, the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

They fake a virtue out of the current EU disasters, shrugging their shoulders with an ‘Ah well, at least it’s a known problem’.

No one ever really discusses the real risks involved with staying in the EU, however. I try to be measured and balanced in what I write, but today – as a one-off – let me play them at their own game. What might happen if we vote to remain in the EU?

Just days after the referendum, even Cameron’s so-called ‘deal’ is under threat. It was never legally binding in the first place. A couple of weeks after that, the Greek financial crisis rears its head once more as their EU-imposed austerity is unsustainable. There’s another round of talks over Greece exiting the euro.

Because Greece left it so long to exit, the cost of Grexit has risen enormously. This time there is no fudge and Greece eventually crashes out. The economies of the southern European nations take a massive hit; their investors fear they could be next. It has an impact across Europe, putting our economic recovery in jeopardy.

The migrant crisis continues apace, with moves to make sure the UK takes in more asylum claimants.

The EU doesn’t take into account the fact that we’re pretty much already the most densely populated country in Europe and our infrastructure struggles to cope with the influx.

Amongst the 100,000-plus people who come to the UK there are just a few who are bad apples. Something like the mass sexual assaults in Cologne happens here too. There’s an organised Isis terror cell of just 25 people, but it’s enough to carry out a couple of atrocities in the UK on a scale of that seen in Brussels and France.

Back in the EU corridors of power, Commissioner Moscovici eventually gets his way. We have to put VAT on children’s clothes, medicine and food – hitting kids, the sick and the poor hardest. We get a Financial Transaction Tax which makes our financial services uncompetitive. Jobs leak from the City to Switzerland or America. That costs us tens of billions of pounds in tax revenue; your taxes rise to pay for it. Other EU nations shrug their shoulders; only the UK is so heavily reliant on financial services.

The Dublin II rules on immigration and asylum are repealed, leading to another mass movement of people to Britain. It is only a few years before Turkey joins the European Union, giving it a land border with Syria and unlimited movement of people to the UK.

Our heavy industry continues to decline and eventually gives up the ghost due in large part to astronomical energy prices caused by EU policy, and EU state aid rules.

The pollution is exported to India and China, increasing global CO2 emissions. Our healthcare system is opened up to private competition through large US corporations after the TTIP deal is signed, and we soon see US companies taking the British government to court whenever they dislike our policies.

The moves towards an EU Army step up a gear. Angela Merkel once famously said Cameron would only get his EU ‘deal’ if he dropped opposition to an EU army. It turns out that was his secret deal for getting his pot of stew during the negotiations. With the UK’s military capacity declining, we lose our seat on the UN Security Council. We’re replaced by an EU seat and our influence declines.

More and more businesses go bust thanks to EU red tape. By 2020 we’re begging for another referendum, another chance to leave, but nobody in the political class is prepared to give us another chance to regain our freedom. We’re trapped.

Will everything mentioned in this article actually happen if we vote to stay in the European Union? I can’t say, but it’s far more credible than the nonsense threats being made by the ‘Remain’ camp.

This article was originally published in The Journal.  You can view it online here.

My Column – The New GCSE Mathematics Syllabus: What’s Wrong

From 2017, the new GCSE Mathematics syllabus will be examined. There’s much to admire about the principle – more problem solving, a little more rigour for the strongest candidates, and because of the importance of Maths it will be given extra weighting in school league tables from now on (specifically it is now double weighted in Progress 8). The new system, though, simply exchanges one set of flaws for a different set. It’s yet another example of overcompensation; where the 1997-2010 Labour governments went wrong in one direction, the current Conservative government seems intent on going wrong in the opposite direction. Every time, teachers must get used to a massive change in the subject they teach. That’s why in my view, small incremental change is better than sudden transformation – but once again, sudden transformation is what we’ll have.

So what’s wrong with the current changes? To understand the problem, it’s first necessary to understand the nature of examination candidates and what our education system should seek to achieve. In my experience from teaching Mathematics, there are three distinct categories:

1. Those students who have the capacity to continue their study to A level and possibly beyond.

I’m referring here broadly to candidates who will obtain an A or A* at GCSE, or possibly those at the top end of a B grade.

For them, a GCSE examination needs to be challenging and intellectually rigorous. It needs a high level of problem-solving and for concepts like mathematical proof to be understood. The purpose of a GCSE syllabus for them is to lay a foundation; it should provide a platform for higher future study. There are a huge number of jobs which will require these skills, particularly given the highly technological nature of our modern economy.

2. Those students who will not have the level of abstract mathematical ability required to consider higher concepts.

I refer here, perhaps, to those who currently are expected to obtain grades E, F or G at GCSE. Their mathematical requirements in later life are likely to be functional in nature. What should we be teaching them?

I want to see them develop their numerical skills. When will they ever use a quadratic equation in later life, or even linear algebra for that matter? Instead, wouldn’t it be better for them to be competent with percentages, to come out with an understanding of how interest rates work and the skills needed to know whether you’re being offered a good or bad deal by a credit card company? Shouldn’t they have a good basic mental arithmetic, particularly given that many will end up doing jobs in the retail sector, and the ability to estimate so that they can broadly spot when an amount is a long way away from what it should be? How about the ability to compare different deals and offers, calculating percentage discounts? Or calculation of areas (imagine a decorator or landscape gardener needing to work out how much carpet or paving to buy in order to quote for a job)? These skills are taught already, but I would rather see a much higher level of competence in these rather than teaching unnecessarily complex algebra which will be of no use to them in later life.

3. Those students who fall somewhere between the two categories above. In my experience somewhere between half and two-thirds of all students are here.

It’s important to teach mathematical concepts; I can think of many B or C grade candidates who I’ve taught who have found need of their mathematical ability in later life. They may have had to work very hard at Maths at school, often asking the question ‘when will I ever need to know this after I leave school?’. They may be right of course, but equally they may be wrong. Nor can you ever know which part of the syllabus is important. There’s still an importance in focusing on the functional parts of the syllabus, but algebra and trigonometry are also important as part of developing a skill set which could prove to be useful in later life.

Back to the GCSE syllabus, some fifteen years ago it was split into three tiers: Higher, Intermediate and Foundation. It was broadly aimed at the three groups I’ve identified. The system was flawed, but aimed at the correct people. When the Intermediate tier was abolished, Foundation became more difficult and Higher easier, ensuring that the new examination and syllabus really didn’t suit the vast majority of candidates.

Fast-forward to today, and the Gove reforms are coming in. He correctly recognises that more rigour is required to test the top candidates. Maths will now be graded on a 9-point scale with the bottom of a grade 4 being the equivalent of the bottom of a C grade and the bottom of a 7 being the bottom of an A. The Higher tier will become more challenging, as will the Foundation tier – which will have a top grade equivalent to a low B. There is a ‘Functional Skills’ mathematics course, but its status is being taken away. Schools will try to put everyone through the new GCSE, because it’s in their best league table interests to do so. There’s even less incentive now for the functional course. That may be indicated by the AQA June 2015 examination entries; just 1974 students attempted the Level 2 examination, with a pass rate of just 38.6% – indicating that nationally, just 762 people gained that qualification with the country’s largest examination board. Take away its status, and even fewer people will attempt it. The level 1 course had 2079 entries, for comparison.

The annoying thing is how easy it would be to tweak the new system to meet the needs of all candidates. Keep the new Higher course, relabel the new Foundation as Intermediate. Revamp and soup up the Level 2 certificate in ‘Functional Skills’ mathematics, add a greater emphasis on percentages and estimation (for example), rebrand it as a new Foundation Level GCSE with a maximum grade D or possibly C in today’s grades, and then at least the system would actually reflect what it’s supposed to. The various entry-level qualifications (and possibly the Level 1 certificate) could be kept in pretty much their current form for anyone who would struggle to sit any GCSE examination.

With these straightforward amendments, the system would not be perfect – but it would be far better than the system which the government is introducing. There would be an appropriate, challenging examination available for every student. We would have a system which would be robust enough not to require constant structural change, and the residual problems could be dealt with through minor tweaks to the syllabus.

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post website.  You can view it here.

My Column – The coming months are about project fear versus project hope!

Three weeks ago, I spoke at a public meeting to around a thousand people in Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre.

I’ve spoken alongside Nigel Farage many times before around the country, but what has been truly inspirational recently is the way that campaigners for Brexit, spanning all political divides, have been able to come together. Brendan Chilton, secretary of Labour Leave, agreed to speak as Kate Hoey MP was unavailable – and he wowed the audience. There were Conservatives, Trade Unionists and an even more politically varied audience. The UKIP members I spoke to afterwards were delighted by the Labour speakers. A Green Party member came up to me afterwards for a chat, as did many others – including a lovely couple who had been Labour for decades but couldn’t abide their Party campaigning to stay in the European Union.

I’ve never seen such agreement between people of different political parties. Nigel Farage maybe mentioned immigration a little more than the Trade Unionists did, whilst the Labour speaker mentioned it more than I did. But the focus of the message of freedom from the European Union was the same.

The whole event reminded me of the national campaign in miniature. There’s an incredible degree of togetherness and camaraderie across party political divides. It’s about so much more than ‘UKIP wants to leave the European Union’. The RMT and Aslef trade unions, over 140 Conservative MPs, a Green Party peer, a number of Labour MPs, the old Liberal Party, the DUP and TUV in Northern Ireland, a former Lib Dem MP, the Director-General of the British Chamber of Commerce suspended for daring to back Brexit, the founder of the SDP, entrepreneurs like James Dyson, businesses like Tate & Lyle, JCB, Legal & General and the manager of the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund. There’s top economists, Nobel prize-winning scientists, founders/co-founders of Superdrug, Littlewoods, Moonpig, Wetherspoons, the boss of Lloyds, the CEO of Next and many more.

The ‘IN’ campaign make much of security, but a former head of Interpol described Schengen as ‘like a sign welcoming terrorists to Europe’. There’s a former head of counter-terrorism at New Scotland Yard, a former Commander of the SAS, an ex-Major General of the Royal Marines, and even one of the names on the pro-EU document supposedly signed by Army chiefs at Downing Street’s request turns out to actually back Brexit.

Whilst the American President is publicly campaigning for the UK to stay in the European Union (I wonder if he’d accept a pan-American union where the USA had to subsidise smaller nations, where the USA didn’t have the power to write its own laws, where ‘gas’ prices more than doubled overnight, where they had to accept unlimited immigration from Mexico and where they had to ask other countries’ permission to set their own foreign policy), his political opponents – who may well be in power come November – take a very different view. Switzerland has just dropped its application to join the EU by a huge majority, with the MP sponsoring the bill saying that they are ‘calling Switzerland Britzerland’ in solidarity with the British people wanting to join them in freedom from the European Union. Like Iceland’s recent overtures, it seems that the European countries outside the EU want to show us that the grass can really be greener on the other side.

Those campaigning to stay in the European Union would have you believe that big business, science, economists, the military, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the Trade Unions and half of the Conservative Party are pitted against UKIP and the other half of the Conservative Party.

It’s not working, partly because it’s untrue and partly because people no longer care for being bounced into things by the political establishment. So, they turn to Project Fear instead: before the derby they were claiming that the Premier League would suffer if we left the EU (really? Non-EU footballers ply their trade here – why can Lithuanian footballers come here no questions asked whilst Brazilians have a tough entry system?). They claim we’d be worse off (actually we’d save our membership fee AND rebuild industries like fishing that have been decimated by the EU). They claim we would still have to allow unlimited immigration after Brexit (odd, then, that Liechtenstein doesn’t).

That’s why I say the coming months are about fear versus hope: the conjuring tricks of those trying to terrify us into voting to Remain versus the hope of a prosperous self-governing nation if we Leave.

 

This article was originally published in The Journal.  You can view it online here.