For honesty about mental health, try 2am

At the time of writing it’s 2am, sometime during Mental Health Awareness Week, and nobody understands me. I see the world differently to most people; if you want, you can stick a label on it and call it Aspergers. Some people don’t like labels, and others don’t like that particular label; for me it’s merely a convenient shorthand. I’m writing this article not from some desire to have a rant, but to help people understand the silent struggles people face with mental health on a daily basis, or at least to explain different perspectives for seeing the world. (Being in politics doesn’t make anything any easier; I receive unsolicited hostile and abusive messages on an almost-daily basis. It is what it is; I often respond, and engage – one person recently went from calling me every name under the sun to thinking I should be Prime Minister. He’s wrong about that, too, but it’s more affirming.)

This afternoon I was at the gym, keeping fit and keeping the 4 stone I’ve lost well and truly off. My personal trainer, a former champion boxer, made me fire jabs, hooks and uppercuts into the pads. My foot movement needs work. Mainly, I just don’t ‘relax’ enough whilst training. Relaxing doesn’t come naturally to me. Later, he decides to showcase my mathematical skills to another client. He asks me 79×82. Caught off guard, it takes me too many seconds to fire back 6478. The thought process comes naturally to me, in a way it wouldn’t to most people. I know 79×81 must be one less than 80×80, so that must be 6399. I add another 79 in my head to get to 6478. A brief check on a calculator shows I’m correct. That’s the good part, the ability to calculate, to concentrate, to work incredibly fast on things that others would find more difficult. There’s an enormous flip side. Every time I meet a new person, or have a new social situation that most people would take in their stride, it exhausts me in the way that a Maths exam would exhaust most people.

These mental health issues are all around us; my trainer has his own struggles with depression but they don’t define him. Awareness is often just the understanding that, in any group of people, there are different perspectives, genuinely different reactions and ways of seeing the world. This evening I was out for a steak with a dozen or so people, some new. That’s when the hard work started: an unfamiliar environment, some unfamiliar people, and a table large enough that there’s no simple social ‘rule’ to tell me when to talk to the people to my left, to my right, and opposite me. I think I did okay, but I can’t be certain. One new person at the table was from Spain; I exchanged a couple of minutes’ conversation in Spanish before switching back to English: did I get the balance right, being welcoming without excluding others at the table from conversation for too long? No time to think about that, as conversation and food orders continued: such questions fell to the back of my mind, but they always come back later. At 2am. Sooner or later, I have to ‘process’ these questions.

I chatted to someone who had an interview booked in on local radio; knowing the presenter, I gave a little advice. It seemed sensible, but I volunteered the information without being asked: that, too, gets processed in the early hours of the morning. I wouldn’t sleep otherwise. Throughout the evening it’s more of the same: standard banter amongst same-sex company, questions of when to speak and when to remain silent, trying to decide whether to utter every pun or joke that comes into my head. Each decision has its own ‘action replay’ in my mind hours later. Did I speak too much, or too little, tonight? Perhaps every other person at the table would know the answer to that question; to me, it’s a puzzle.

When I was teaching, simple affirming phrases (which can sound patronising if you’re not very careful) like ‘that’s okay’ could be very useful: nothing’s wrong, no unwritten social etiquette has been ignored, and the student can relax about whatever’s just happened.

It’s just a different way of looking at the world. Earlier this week, someone abruptly told me that I don’t ‘suffer’ with Aspergers. There are positives and negatives, that’s true, but the negatives have a habit of closing in at 2am. Even that word is now controversial; it’s a precise enough label but it’s still a label. Frankly, semantics bothers me less. Who I am matters far more.

I wouldn’t change what I’ve done today: whether it’s going to the gym or socialising, I have to keep stretching myself. Mental health issues are about that: wherever possible, not giving in to the overwhelming urges to stay at home or to eschew social situations. Struggles both visible and invisible; some days, it’s enough to just stay on the pitch.


Who’s really letting Brexit down?

I’m going to apologise in advance for the length of this post, but it’s worth deconstructing this article in some detail. I’m writing about an article written by a Professor of Organisation Studies at the University of London. It’s somewhat instructive because it encapsuates how Remainers are currently thinking, and arguing.

I reproduce the article, by Christopher Grey, in full here in quotes – together with responses throughout.

During the Referendum, Brexiters offered a political message which took a traditional and familiar form: if you vote for us then various (supposedly) good consequences will follow.

Response: That’s not necessarily unfair in and of itself, but Remainers offered a political message in equally familiar form: if you don’t vote for us, then various (supposedly) disastrous consequences will follow.

It is easy to imagine what they would be saying now if any of these were evident; if companies were announcing new investments because of (not despite) Brexit; if foreign direct investment were booming in anticipation of Brexit, rather than tanking; if countries, especially Commonwealth countries, were champing at the bit to make new trade deals with Britain; if ‘German car companies’ had ‘within minutes of the vote’ to leave demanded a fantastic ‘cake and eat it’ deal and if the EU had rolled over to give it; if the Irish border was unaffected, as Brexiters had claimed it would be; or, even, if the negotiations were proceeding as smoothly and easily as they had promised.

Response: This is a rather negative perspective. Compare the Treasury projections with reality: we were told by Remain that by now, we’d have 500,000-820,000 job losses. Actually there are a record number of people in employment. We were told that GDP would fall; it has consistently risen. We were told that house prices would fall; they’ve consistently risen. Claims of the end of Western political civilisation as we know it, or threats of World War 3,  have been proven – as should have been evident at the time – to be arrant nonsense.

But of course none of those things has happened and so, since winning the Referendum, the Brexiters’ message has changed in a very fundamental way. The new message takes several but each has the same dialectical structure: to decouple the vote to leave the EU from the consequences of leaving the EU.

Response: But of course, none of the Remain predictions has happened and so, since losing the Referendum, the Remainers’ message has changed in a very fundamental way. The new message takes various forms, but each suggest that the Brexit vote should be overturned.

It’s too late now

The first, and simplest, form is that the vote has now been held and so we must just live with the consequences. In that narrative, all debate and discussion ended with the Referendum. Remainers must get over it, leavers must be happy whatever happens. It’s a position exemplified by a recent tweet from the pro-Brexit journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer in response to being sent data about foreign direct investment since Brexit: “Mate, I really don’t care. This question was asked and answered two years ago. Move on with your life”.

Response: This is a total misrepresentation. My position (and, incidentally, the position of many Remainers who now accept the referendum result) is that the Brexit vote was the once-in-a-lifetime decision which Cameron and others said it was. Debate and discussion should continue, but it should now focus around a different question: Whether you like or dislike the referendum result, how can we best make it work for the UK?

Simple as it is, it’s also naïve. Politics doesn’t work like that, as Brexiters should appreciate not least since on the night before the 2016 Referendum Nigel Farage declared otherwise and, on the night after the 1975 Referendum, so did Enoch Powell. In this if in nothing else Enoch, to coin a nasty little phrase, was right.

Response: Trying to associate Brexit with Enoch Powell through ‘guilt by association’: a clever technique of divide and conquer. But it’s also misleading: the notion that an issue isn’t dead, as in 1975, and that it will be fought in future, is very different from refusing to accept a referendum result and agitating against it from the first few days.

Not only does politics not work like that in general, but it especially does not work like that in this case because, much as Brexiters dislike it, winning the vote was just the first and easiest part of a process which, in one way or another, will last for years. Hence they make a second claim.

Response: It is indeed a process; Remainers should be participating in that process rather than trying to undermine it.

It’s not up to us

The second version is a denial of responsibility, with the central idea being that leave voters and their leaders have done their part simply by delivering the vote to leave. It is up to the politicians and the experts to now make it happen. This, too, is misguided. As I have written elsewhere, their victory was in many ways a disaster for Brexiters in that it meant that they are now responsible for whatever happens. Not just responsible, but uniquely responsible. They were warned over and over again of the consequences and insisted that these warnings were not just wrong but malevolent, self-interested fearmongering. So, now, they and they alone, own the consequences. Remainers have absolutely no responsibility to try to ‘make Brexit work’ or to ‘get behind Brexit’ (whatever those things would mean in practice).

Response: If Leavers were actually in power, responsible for delivering Brexit, then there might be a point here. But they’re not – now, Leavers are being expected to carry the can for every mistake made by a Prime Minister who supported Remain, who replaced a Prime Minister who supported Remain. The Leader of the Opposition supported Remain, as did the Leaders of the third and fourth parties at Westminster. It’s Remainers who are delivering Brexit.

Why claim Remainers have no responsibility? Every Remainer who said during the referendum campaign that they’d accept the result should be accepting the result. David Cameron said that if the British people wanted Brexit, then we’d have Brexit.

From Prime Minister’s Questions – “If the British people vote to leave the European Union, will the Prime Minister resign, yes or no?”

David Cameron – “No.”

Pretty clear that he was going to stay on to deliver Brexit, but he didn’t. Instead, he plunged the Conservative Party into chaos.

It hasn’t been done properly

That denial of responsibility feeds into the third emerging Brexiter narrative. It is that there was nothing wrong with the decision, but that the way it is being delivered by the government is what is causing the problems.

Response: Instead, Professor Grey prefers the alternate suggestion that Leavers must be responsible for a Remain-led government’s delivery.

This is evident in, for example, Daniel Hannan’s recent attempt to deflect blame for the policy he advocated for so many decades. It has many variants, from the outright mad (‘we should just have walked away the day after’) to the more sophisticated complaints about specific decisions, such as the timing of the Article 50 notification. It is fair comment that the government have approached Brexit in an inept way, making what the respected (and by no means anti-) Brexit commentator David Allen Green of the Financial Times has called numerous ‘unforced errors’.

Response: At last, some common ground – the government have approached Brexit in an inept way.

Nevertheless, there are two obvious objections. First, that no one – not least the Leave campaigners – has ever specified a way of undertaking Brexit which does not damage the UK, whether economically, politically or strategically.

Response: This redefines ‘which does not damage the UK’. If I gain £10 but lose £4, then overall I’ve gained £6. What we should be looking at is the net impact of Brexit; maximising positives and minimising negatives. There’s a current focus on trying to replicate achievements.

Second, that every mis-step the government have made has been as a result of pressure from, and has been cheered on by, the Brexit Ultras. That includes the dogmatic ‘red lines’ laid down by the government, the premature triggering of Article 50, and, for that matter, the subsequent calling of a General Election to ‘crush the saboteurs’.

Response: This is nonsense. Notice the author’s logical fallacy of ‘poisoning the wells’, labelling those who disagree as ‘Brexit Ultras’, which serves only to mask the problems with his argument.

The Remain government failed to prepare for Brexit pre-referendum, arrogantly assuming there would be a Remain vote. Then, on June 24th, the Prime Minister resigned. The new Prime Minister failed to devote sufficient resources to Brexit. The United Kingdom, on triggering Article 50, accepted the EU’s uncoupling of the financial settlement from any trade deal. It accepted the EU’s definition of ‘sincere co-operation’ without demur. It conceded from the outset partnerships in all of the UK’s areas of strength, without seeking anything in return from the EU’s. None of these blunders were supported by most Leave campaigners.

This narrative is a familiar one in business, where any and every failed management fad is defended by its advocates on the grounds that all would have been well but for ‘inadequate implementation’. It’s equally familiar in far Left politics, where each failed attempt to implement communism is explained away by saying that it wasn’t ‘proper’ communism.

But in this case it goes further, and links back to the second narrative, in that Brexiters continue to claim victimhood at the hands of the elite, refusing to accept that having won the Referendum and having a government now pursuing what they voted for, they are the elite, and they are the ones implementing Brexit.

Response: If the original premise were true, this would be fair comment. But it wasn’t, so it isn’t.

A fair criticism of Communism though…but see what the author’s doing? Having compared Brexiteers to Enoch Powell, he’s now turned to comparing them to Communists. A subtle way, perhaps, of trying to imply that those who disagree with him must be extremists? 

It’s the Remainers’ fault

The fourth excuse is that all would have been well but for Remainers who are accused, variously, of sabotage, treachery and of talking Brexit down. Often, it’s a variant of the paranoid idea about the elite – meaning the Civil Service, Judiciary, BBC, CBI, IoD, House of Lords but not, mysteriously, the ex-public schoolboys, millionaires and hedge funds that support Brexit. Sometimes it’s the entire 48% of voters who didn’t back Brexit.

Response: There’s a certain chip on the shoulder here. Interesting, isn’t it, that Remain was supported – financially – by top bankers and the political establishment. The millionaires who supported Brexit? Sure, you can mention them all you want – but what about the billionaires who backed Remain? Everyone from Richard Branson to George Soros, from Goldman Sachs to Citigroup or JP Morgan. If you don’t like language such as ‘sabotage’ then fair enough, but in certain situations it’s fair – for example:

1. British Remainers voting against the UK position and in favour of the EU’s, in the European Parliament.

2. Those who constantly talk down Britain’s prospects of negotiating any movement from the European Union, and say that either publicly or to the European Union’s institutions themselves. That hardly makes it more likely to gain concessions in negotiation.

There are daily examples of this claim, but taking just one, that of Leave means Leave co-Chair John Longworth in August 2017, is instructive. The usual suspects are named, in this case for their “pretence” that Britain must pay a “divorce bill” (i.e. settle its outstanding commitments to the EU). But, of course, it wasn’t a Remainer pretence, and four months later the payment was agreed.

Response: The ‘divorce bill’ lacked legal basis. The UK could legally (but not morally) have walked away without paying a penny. The UK made substantial concessions; I don’t necessarily oppose the making of concessions when something tangible is obtained in return. The concern was that the payment was agreed without equivalent concessions on the other side. I gave evidence to a House of Lords Select Committee on this in some detail.

The more general issue is that, if Brexit were the self-evidently great idea its proponents claim, it would hardly matter what Remainers did or said. For that matter, within minutes of the vote, before Remainers had had time to engage in any of their nefarious sabotage, Sterling suffered a catastrophic collapse (which in any other circumstances would have led to a political crisis) as the currency markets priced in their prediction of what Brexit would mean.

Response: Before the referendum I predicted the drop in sterling, and also its subsequent recovery. Interestingly that recovery is ignored in the article. I also predicted that this would have a positive impact on manufacturing.

But this article does something else: it moves the goalposts from ‘on balance, Brexit is a good idea’, the referendum outcome, to ‘Brexit is so self-evidently obvious from every possible angle that there is nothing to debate’. Having done so, it expects every Leaver to defend the latter. It’s a nice bait-and-switch, but the same tactics could be applied – with devastating effect – to Remain.

It’s the EU’s fault

The fifth narrative is possibly the most dominant of the post-Referendum excuses made by Brexiters. It is that the problem was not with the decision to leave, and not solely (or even primarily) with the British government or with Remainers, but with the EU who have decided to ‘punish’ Britain for leaving. Such claims are invariably nonsense since they ascribe to the EU the consequences of having left the EU (and, in this sense, are another denial of responsibility). To take just the most current of numerous examples, Brexiters claim that the border controls, especially in Ireland, are something being threatened by the EU rather than being ineluctable, legal consequences of leaving the single market and any customs union.

Response: There is objectively an element of this; I’ve seen it for myself. I sat in the Conference of Presidents meeting, with the leaders of the big political groups from the European Parliament, on the morning of June 24th. The hostility towards the UK for daring to vote Leave was palpable. They were crowing about the drop in sterling, delighting in that temporary blip. The ‘punishment’ narrative has something to it, because there is a fear amongst EU members that a successful Brexit could lead to other countries following suit, but actually I don’t think that’s the main issue. The bigger issue is that the UK’s negotiation has been pathetically poor. That’s the feedback I get from the EU side of negotiations: they expected the UK to be far more professional than they are.

There are many things that could be said about this punishment narrative (see here), but the core difficulty with it for Brexiters is that they repeatedly promised that Britain held ‘all the cards’ and that ‘the EU needs us far more than we need them’. If that was right, then no punishment would have been possible. If it was wrong, then the vote did indeed have consequences embedded within it, consequences which were concealed from voters by the Leave campaign.

Response: Leave campaigners rather expected the government would play the cards that it holds, rather than discarding them. The concern about ‘punishment’ is that the EU is acting not in accordance with its own self-interest, out of protectionist fears.

Did Leave underestimated the negativity from the EU side? Possibly – and that’s the closest thing to fair criticism in this article so far. But if Leave did underestimate that, then two things follow:

1. The EU is, unexpectedly, ignoring Article 8 of the TFEU which requires them to use a spirit of neighbourliness and co-operation.

2. A Union which seeks to punish those who leave is more akin to a protectionist racket; such a punishment would actually be an argument for getting out of there.

It’s not about practical consequences, it’s about philosophical principles

Alongside these five narratives – and perhaps in recognition of their paucity – some Brexiters run a sixth. Here, the attempt is to claim that those who voted leave did so on the basis of a commitment to ‘sovereignty’ in the abstract. So consequences don’t matter, since this was a purely philosophical vote. I can (just about) imagine that this might be true for a few leave voters, though I would argue that they are wrong, but it clearly wasn’t what was proposed to the British people by the Leave campaign, which instead made arguments about immigration and NHS funding, and made claims that leaving would be easy precisely because they knew that if voters thought otherwise then would be disadvantageous to their cause. A pure sovereignty argument would not have needed to make such claims.

Response: Sovereignty was one factor in the Brexit vote. Negotiating our own trade deals with third countries was another; immigration was another; regaining control of the membership fee was another; ending the jurisdiction of EU courts was still another.

I don’t think anyone reasonably expected there would be no bumps in the road, but it’s somewhat disingenuous to attack Leave’s honesty here whilst Remain’s doom-and-gloom ‘Project Fear’ took negative campaigning to a new level never before seen in British politics.

As the practical consequences of leaving the EU mount up, and can no longer be dismissed as Project Fear, what Brexiters are trying to do is to counter the argument that ‘no one voted to be poorer’. This is the real meaning of the claim that the vote was about the principle of sovereignty and not practical consequences since, of course, if it was about principles it can be claimed that leave voters accepted that it meant they would get poorer. And it’s probably true that some did. But it certainly isn’t true of the majority of leave voters, even as regards immigration. Yet not only do Brexiters deny this, but some even claim that impoverishment and hardship will be desirable, in some way creating a national renewal by returning to the ‘Dunkirk spirit’. But, again, there are good reasons why this was not put on the side of the Leave campaign bus: almost no one would have voted for it.

Response: See above; the practical consequences have so far actually been the reverse of the Remain predictions. Therefore, we’ve been offered new predictions which we’re also expected to treat as gospel.

Personally, I’ve always expected there’d be a certain ‘adjustment period’ – that the full benefits of Brexit would take a couple of years longer to be fully realised.

But this notion that Brexit will leave everyone poorer, overall, is based upon further Treasury projections. The problem? That previous Treasury projections predicted economic chaos by now which hasn’t happened. The same methodology will doubtless lead to the same errors. Such projections risk becoming ‘the boy who cried wolf’.

Why does this matter?

Precisely because the vote to leave the EU was the beginning of a process – the process of Brexit – rather than the end of something, the way that Brexiters are now attempting to decouple the vote from its consequences is crucial.

Response: It was indeed the beginning of a process, a process which should (see above) be approached in good faith.

Brexiters are trying to use the Referendum vote, close as it was, to mandate as the ‘Will of the People’ anything that they say it means. This is most obviously true in terms of the ‘Global Britain’ agenda of free trade deals around the world. There is much that could be said about that (how does exiting the FTAs that the EU has help it? how does leaving the single market help it?) but, those things aside, how does the Referendum mandate it? For, given that in some, perhaps large, part it was a nativist and protectionist vote it mandates the precise opposite.

Response: Leave were consistently clear about this throughout the referendum campaign. The argument ‘how does exiting existing FTAs to negotiate our own bespoke ones instead help the UK’ was a standard Remain argument during the referendum. The mandate here is clear; it’s sophistry to suggest otherwise.

In this sense, there is a massive political fraud underway at the moment, and, actually, it isn’t remain voters who are primarily its victims but leave voters. They are being told that their concerns about immigration and globalization are going to be ignored. I happen to think that their concerns about immigration were misplaced and their concerns about globalization irrelevant to the Brexit debate. But I am not so dishonest as to pretend that the vote was not about those things, whereas many Brexiters are.

Response: The vote was certainly, for many voters, about immigration. Globalisation, though? As a Leave campaigner, I don’t think I uttered that word once during the campaign – and I don’t recall others doing so.

Thus the day after the Referendum Daniel Hannan said that the Leave campaign “never said there was going to be some radical decline” in immigration, and last March David Davis said that immigration might even rise. Both pretend that all that matters to voters is that Britain decides its own immigration policy – that all they care about is ‘sovereignty’ – rather than actual numbers. As for globalization and free trade, it’s notable that just about every Brexiter now talks as if having an independent trade policy were the main rationale of Brexit. That was mentioned during the Referendum, but it certainly wasn’t presented as the central argument for Brexit – whereas immigration was – and it certainly wasn’t explained that such a trade policy will entail the relaxation of immigration controls.

Response: Hannan and Davis have been quoted out of context here; the criticism of their comments is justifiable to an extent but overblown. The independent trade policy was a key plank of the referendum campaign, but not the only one.

That is only one aspect of the even greater dishonesty of Brexiters. What they are really trying to argue is that the vote mandates them to do anything they want. That is an even bigger, and even more dubious, proposition than that the Referendum vote set in stone the ‘will of the people’ with respect to EU membership. Precisely because leaving the EU has such far-reaching ramifications not just for economics but for geo-politics, it can be claimed that anything done post-Brexit is mandated by the Referendum result.

So this is where Brexiters are now. All the pre-Referendum swagger has gone, all the promises made have evaporated. In their place are a series of absurd and indefensible arguments. But it is important to understand that these arguments, even if they are often run together, contain two fundamentally different claims. One is that whatever happens now is not the fault of Brexiters. The other is that Brexiters have been given a blank cheque to do whatever they now want to do. These claims are linked in that both treat 23 June 2016 as a frozen moment, denoting either the end of their responsibility for the consequences or the beginning of their freedom to define the consequences. Whilst different, they are linked in their boundless dishonesty, since neither claim was entertained, let alone endorsed, by the Referendum.

Response: a) Leavers aren’t arguing that they can do ‘anything they want’. This is creating a straw man.

b) If the 2016 referendum had existed in a vacuum, arguing against a set-in-stone ‘will of the people’ might make sense. But there has been a General Election since the Brexit referendum; these issues were debated. The Conservatives and (in effect) Labour proposed leaving the Single Market and Customs Union. There is now an additional democratic mandate for Brexit.

c) Even if this were really a concern, what would the appropriate recourse be? Not a referendum to attempt to overturn the referendum result, surely: that’s the one certainty in this, how people voted in 2016. A referendum, say, between a deal-Brexit and a no-deal Brexit might help to clarify matters – but that’s not what the Remainers are arguing for. They accuse Leavers of wanting a blank cheque, but they don’t propose writing in the cheque; they propose tearing it up altogether.

But they are also linked in another – probably more important – way. They are profoundly unrealistic. For politics did not stop on 23 June 2016. On the contrary, it began a period of political dislocation that will last for many years, perhaps decades, to come. Brexiters seemed to imagine that by winning the vote that would be an end to it. It’s already obvious that this is not so. If Brexit does go ahead, the Brexiters will, rightly, be held responsible for every consequence that flows from it. That is the significance of the narratives they are already putting forward to deny that the vote had consequences: it’s not simply that they don’t want to take the blame, it’s that they don’t want to take the responsibility.

Response: Why is it obvious that this is not so? Because people like the author of this article are not prepared to accept the referendum result. It’s unprecedented really in British politics: nobody is still suggesting AV, after it was defeated in a referendum – electoral reform may be on the table in general, and rightly so, but not AV. After the 1975 referendum, nobody tried to sabotage the Common Market – but they did campaign against further treaties which went beyond what was agreed in that referendum. Extra powers for Scotland and Wales were approved in referendums; both sides accepted the result. Even the Scottish independence referendum led to the SNP taking independence off the table for a while.

The ultimate truth about Brexit is that through a series of accidents a protest movement with wholly unrealistic and disastrous policies unexpectedly and unwillingly became a government set upon delivering them. The Brexiters are now running away from the consequences as fast as they can. The tragedy for our country is that, in one way or another, we are stuck with having to deal with them.

Response: Once again, we have this suggestion that the government is somehow run by hardline Leavers. It is not: the Prime Minister and Chancellor are both Remainers. Until the other week, so was the Home Secretary. Only one of the four great offices of State has been consistently been held by a Leaver. The suggestion of a government run by hardline Leavers doesn’t become true just because the article’s author repeats it over and over again.

Why am I now an Independent? I’m not prepared to excuse the cesspit of Party politics

An American Marine, in Vietnam and seeing for himself the unspeakable brutality of the actions he was required to participate in, baulked at what he had just done in the first few days. “This is war. This is what we do”, he was told. Slowly, gradually, perhaps almost imperceptibly, he came to see it as normal – to believe it. The actions of the Americans in Vietnam, the actions of the North Vietnamese forces, were nothing substantially different from previous wars: what had changed, perhaps, was the reporting of it. War had always been brutal, but never in that way had it been beamed back into people’s homes and seen on their television screens. Yet that extra glare of publicity perhaps did one thing. The use of napalm against civilian targets is now banned, as is US use of Agent Orange. War, however unspeakably cruel it will always be, is perhaps less so than before.

Politics, of course, does not match such levels of barbarity. Nothing could. For all the negative stereotypes around politics, for every cynical viewpoint expressed by a non-voter that ‘they’re all the same’, ‘they’re all in it for themselves’, ‘they’re as bad as each other’, ‘they care only about getting votes’ or ‘all they do is attack each other’, I always used to argue fervently against it. We can change things, and it doesn’t have to be like this. The nastiness, leaking, briefing and counter-briefing, attacking opponents for the sake of political point-scoring, Machiavellian plotting, seeking to generate and exploit scandal, deliberate twisting of words out of context, and all the toxicity associated with modern politics could be beaten.

Then, and I keep trying to pinpoint when, something changed. Soundbite politics had been around for a while already, but now the negatives took over. Perhaps it was the mass use of social media, opening it up for all to see. A Twitter-based assault on someone’s integrity in 140 characters (as was then) could not be proven wrong without a detailed response. It could come at any time of day or night, retweeted by thousands before the victim was even aware. A lie, it is said, can be half way around the world whilst the truth is still putting on its boots. Never was that more apt than when describing social media.

Or perhaps it was the election of Donald Trump – which left the Right feeling they could say anything they wanted, however offensive, ‘because Donald Trump could get away with it’, and which sent the Left into an existential paroxysm of anger, vented at anyone who got in their way. Maybe it was Jeremy Corbyn’s takeover of the Labour Party, leading to Momentum and a ‘newer, kinder politics’ which was ‘kinder’ only in the sense that the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984 was responsible for lies. Could it have been the reaction to the Brexit referendum, where instead of working together to make it work, many on the losing side of the referendum threw a tantrum – and then many on the winning side responded by throwing their own tantrum straight back at them?

Most likely it was gradual, a combination of all of the above. Right now, the harsh reality is that there exists no political party of any substance worthy of a vote. Politics has become dominated by ‘whataboutery’ (mention a scandal about one party and instead of answering, it will direct you to a similar scandal about its opponents which it considers to be worse), fake news (inventing statistics, or treating proven-false predictions as gospel) and tribalism (to the point that some politicians will refuse to make friends with people of different political views, perpetuating an echo chamber and promoting misunderstandings).

Even deciding which Party is the ‘least bad’ has become difficult. Democracy, the ballot box, must always remain important: it’s what we fought those wars in the first place to defend. It’s why my great uncle died hours after being rescued, a PoW forced to work on the Burma railway, why my grandfather never slept after the horrors of World War 2 and why my great-grandfather fought in every major battle on the Western Front in World War 1. So we mustn’t drift into not voting; even a spoilt ballot would be better than that. And maybe, just maybe, the added spotlight on the wrongs of politics will – as it did with the evils of war – lead over decades to a change, to people not getting away with what they did before. But if you ask me why I’m now an Independent, it’s very simple. I’m not prepared to excuse the cesspit of Party politics. I’m not going to use the puerile defence that “This is politics. This is what we do.”

Orkambi could help thousands of people who suffer from cystic fibrosis and it must be available on the NHS

I have been greatly affected by the plight of one of my constituents, who has a child recently diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. It is a debilitating and life threatening genetic disease which affects approximately 1 in 2500 babies born in the UK each year.  Having a child is a blessing and a wonderful, life-affirming event; no-one expects their baby to be born with a lifelong illness and the news that such a diagnosis can bring is devastating and can be very stressful.

 Those with cystic fibrosis have thick mucus secretions which can clog their lungs, making a sufferer prone to breathing difficulties, lung infections and eventually, severe lung damage. They may also have digestive and growth problems. Those who suffer with cystic fibrosis face regular doctor appointments to monitor their condition and sometimes they will even require treatment in hospital. Sadly they must also consume a multitude of medications (tablets, liquids and inhalers) every day. They must also do physiotherapy exercises which helps to loosen any mucus and makes breathing easier.

Sadly, to date, there is no cure for this disease and the life expectancy for a person with cystic fibrosis is just 36 – 47 years old, with the main cause of death being restricted lung function. That statistic hit me quite personally; I’m 37 years old. When I was a child, I met and spent time with other children of my age who suffered from cystic fibrosis; knowing that I’m within that life expectancy was quite a sobering thought.

But medical research advances all the time. A new drug called Orkambi has been developed and has passed testing in the USA. The trial of this drug has had astonishing results. It does not help all sufferers, just those with a specific genetic mutation – roughly half of all sufferers. For those it helps, it is proven to slow down the decline of lung function by up to 42%. The Cystic Fibrosis Trust has conducted a study which shows that some 2834 people in the UK could benefit from this new drug. Other new medications are in the process of clinical trials.

So what’s the problem? Sadly, it’s the age-old story: Orkambi is an expensive drug and it is not currently available on the NHS. This excuse, however, is unacceptable. Even the National Institute for Clinical Excellence admits that it is ‘clinically effective and important for managing cystic fibrosis’, whilst refusing to fund it. As a consequence medications such as Orkambi are not available to sufferers and in turn they are denied a longer and more comfortable life.

Politicians may clash when it comes issues regarding the NHS. Indeed, it is often because of political interference just as much as due to underfunding that the NHS has found itself in difficult times: constant restructuring, new management, new contracts, to name but a few. Many times in the past I have argued that the NHS needs to prioritise the patient and spend taxpayers’ money more effectively, and to stop wasting precious funds on private finance initiatives.

I would like to highlight the amazing work done by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, and their Stopping The Clock campaign. A petition to make Orkambi available on the NHS has quietly attracted over 100,000 signatures and will be debated in Parliament on March 19th. Can public pressure actually make a difference? I’d like to think so.

If the murder, enslavement, torture, beating, execution and imprisonment of Christians worldwide is ever to stop, then a necessary first step is that we must be aware of it.

Last week I had a meeting with Open Doors, a charity which works with Christians worldwide who face persecution for their beliefs. It was, to say the least, an eye-opener for me. I was aware that Christians in various countries around the world are being persecuted for their beliefs. Indeed, I’ve tried to raise some of those cases to the best of my ability with the (limited) power that a Member of the European Parliament actually has (less than you might think, the EU system being designed to keep power in the hands of the unelected). When something is happening, but not right on your doorstep, it’s easy to miss something very serious.

I should point out that Christians are not the only religious group that is persecuted: talking about the persecution of Christians does not preclude the existence of persecution of other groups (and indeed, I also speak out about those matters) In the 2017 reporting period, around 1,200 Christians were killed for their faith. By the 2018 reporting period, the number had grown to 3,000. These figures do not reflect the true situation, because there are many killings that cannot be included. If a Christian is killed for their faith in North Korea, how do we find out about it? Instances across the world may not be reported, for a variety of reasons. The figures I’ve given may just be the tip of the iceberg: more than 200 million Christians face ‘high’ levels of persecution because of their faith.

In North Korea, children are urged to ‘report’ their parents if they suspect them of being Christians; those who do are unlikely to ever see their family again. Afghanistan, perhaps unsurprisingly after the events of recent years, is almost as bad – with anyone converting to Christianity facing a death sentence for ‘apostasy’. Open Doors also claims that Hindu nationalism in India has “embedded the culture of impunity for those who persecute Christians”. With so much hatred in the world, in some cases persecution is the result of a consistent blind eye being turned by authorities to crimes against those of a faith ‘different’ to the majority. It is not organised by a government, but through inaction they permit such things to continue.

In that meeting, one of the people delivering a presentation sat for most of the meeting with her head in her hands, looking downwards and averting her eyes from the rest of the room. She was terrified of being photographed, fearing that she would be unable to continue her work with Christians overseas if she were recognised. I knew of such things in the past, of course: Christians who smuggled Bibles into the old Soviet Union, fearing beatings or being sent to a remote gulag in Siberia from which they might never return. That the same could be the case today, relating to a country I would not have expected (and which I won’t name here), says so much. That’s what is most shocking: beyond the figures and statistics, beyond the stories of lives changed, destroyed or ended by persecution: today – in the 21st century – persecution of Christians (and possibly other religions but I don’t have the figures for this) is increasing rather than decreasing. We feel we live in a civilised world, one in which basic truths of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ actually mean something. Four years ago, North Korea was the only country where ‘extreme’ persecution of Christians was commonplace. Today, 11 countries meet that description.

Those 11 countries don’t share much in common: in practice, if not constitutionally, they are atheist, Islamic, and Hindu, but they do share one thing: a mindset of exclusivity. To me, it’s a poignant reminder of what loving your nation, or religious beliefs, should be all about. I am a Christian myself, but I don’t hate atheists or Muslims. I care about the persecution of Christians, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about persecution of Yazidis or the Rohingya for example. I love my country, but I don’t hate anybody else’s. I’m proudly pro-Brexit, but if you disagree, we should do so amicably. And as a Northerner, I don’t hate Southerners. That kind of yah-boo dislike of the ‘other side’ should be confined to the football pitch where it belongs, where people can yell at the referee and the opposition to their hearts’ content without any actual harm being done to anyone.

If the murder, enslavement, torture, beating, execution and imprisonment of Christians worldwide is ever to stop, then a necessary first step is that we must be aware of it.

Theresa May has put herself in the worst negotiating position in history

It’s reported that Theresa May has agreed to pay the European Union €45-€55 billion as a ‘divorce bill’ when we leave the European Union. To put it into perspective, that’s around £1,000 for every adult in the UK.

I desperately want Britain to leave the EU. It’s not just about the economic benefits that we could reap if we were to do it properly, but also about regaining our freedom to make our own laws, having full control of our borders, abandoning failed EU policies in agriculture & fisheries, and rejecting any form of EU Army (I wonder whether Nick Clegg is now going to apologise for claiming that was a fantasy, like he had to apologise over tuition fees?).

If we were to leave the European Union with no deal, the World Bank claims our trade with the EU could drop by 2%. That’s 2% of 12.6% of our GDP, or potentially 0.25% of our national income. We currently spend 0.7% on overseas aid alone. Even if the overly-gloomy World Bank prediction were true (and it isn’t), the 0.25% drop could be offset by no longer paying our EU membership fee (gross 1%, and net 0.4%, of our national income). It would be mitigated by an uptick in the 70%+ or so of our economy that is internal – British businesses trading with each other would no longer have to be subject to clunky EU legislation. It would be mitigated by an uptick in our trade with the rest of the world once we regain our ability to sign trade deals (a less spineless government would be opening negotiations right now, ready to sign on Brexit Day and steal a match on the EU), which is already slightly more than our trade with the European Union.

That ‘no deal’ prospect isn’t what UKIP wants. It’s not even what Labour or Conservatives want. It’s not what the European Union wants, it’s not what business wants – and certainly not what the German car industry wants. Nobody wants a ‘no-deal’ scenario. What we do want, however, is the final deal to be better than a no-deal scenario. Protecting that 0.25% of GDP is worthwhile, laudable even, but not absolutely paramount.

But for all of her talk that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’, she’s agreed to hand over £1,000 of your money just to open talks. That money comes with no guarantee of anything tangible in return. That strikes me as the worst negotiating position in history. May started out holding most of the aces: as net importers from the EU, a ‘no-deal’ scenario would mean more money coming to the UK exchequer in tariffs than going to the EU. The UK’s global place in academia, research, security and intelligence should be another ace. The ability to walk away without paying a penny, leaving the EU budget over-subscribed if we give them nothing? Another ace.

Instead, the EU has been allowed to dictate the pace. In any negotiation, you have to come to the table confidently as equals. You have to be prepared to walk away, temporarily or permanently. Want the best deal on a new car? Try walking towards the showroom’s exit door and the impossible suddenly becomes possible.

Theresa May has been bullied, allowing the EU to set out the process for withdrawal and present the British government with a series of hoops to jump through. Instead of resisting, May has complied just like a seal jumping through a hoop. Instead of playing her high cards, using them as leverage to obtain what the UK wants from the EU, she’s meekly surrendered every single one of them. She’s not been helped, admittedly, by a Labour Party that has consistently been little more than a mouthpiece for the European Union’s negotiating position. It’s almost as though they want negotiations to go badly to give them an excuse to criticise the government. Oppositions should oppose, of course, but they shouldn’t conspire against the interests of the British people.

Theresa May has just undertook the biggest sellout of British taxpayers in my lifetime, goaded into it by those who haven’t fully got to grips with the referendum result. Some of them would still, even now, have us remain in the European Union despite the way they’ve treated us. In any divorce, surely, if your ex-partner becomes nastier, that isn’t a good sign to suggest that you ought to get back together. Brexit: right decision, appalling negotiation from the Tories.

With the European Union, even when you win the battle you’re still losing the war

I’m writing this with an oddly surreal sense that something is fundamentally wrong with the universe. Okay that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but something happened today that is a historical first.

As a UKIP member of the European Parliament, I’ve actually managed to get one (technically three along similar lines) of my amendments to the EU budget passed by the Parliament. Things like this aren’t supposed to happen: having previously submitted many hundreds of proposals to save taxpayers’ money, I’ve always watched them voted down by huge majorities.

When I was a young teenager I was taken on a school exchange visit to Northern Spain. Part of the visit included going to a bullfight, and I won’t ever forget either the stench of blood mixed with sand on a hot summer day or the cheering of the crowd at an animal’s suffering.

Even if you consider bullfighting to be acceptable (and I certainly don’t), this is not what our taxes should be going towards.

I’ve been pushing my opposition to the use of EU money (and, therefore, your taxes) to subsidise bullfighting for the past three years. The last time the issue came up, the European Parliament complained about the practice – only to be told by the European Commission that EU regulations didn’t allow the Commission to do anything about it.

As it seemed like the issue had been quietly dropped, I had another go. I drafted an amendment suggesting that as the Commission are responsible for drafting EU Regulations, they might do well to actually fix the offending Regulation rather than adopt a ‘not me, guv’ approach.

I did all the usual things – a quiet word here and there with those who might support me, and I emailed my entire Committee to ask for their support. When the vote was lost in Committee, I thought that was likely to be the final result – but together with some Italian colleagues, we persuaded others in my Group to allow us to retable the amendments to the full Parliament.

We won, making it the first ever UKIP amendment to the EU Budget to be passed by the European Parliament. It honestly came as a bit of a surprise, because I thought we’d need the Committee’s backing to get the vote through the Parliament.

I would now be busy with a self-congratulatory slap on the back, if it weren’t for two things. Firstly, the Commission may again try to weasel their way out of dealing with the problem. Secondly – and far more importantly – I tabled over 300 other amendments on different subjects with the aim of saving taxpayers’ money, and from the EU’s perspective they really should be preparing for the hole in their budget that Brexit will cause. Others were calling for more transparency about the activities of the unelected European Commission. Those other amendments were all rejected out of hand, though surprisingly one demanding transparency failed by just thirty votes – one win, one near-miss, and hundreds of losses.

I find it incredibly frustrating that as a UKIP MEP, I’m often accused of doing nothing or not trying to minimise the problems caused by the EU: the reality couldn’t be further from the truth, it’s just that we’re usually outvoted by those who want (and most of them admit it) a United States of Europe.

Many people used to claim that the EU can be reformed. At one time they would have cited this one victory as evidence that reform is possible, but the EU’s intransigence over Brexit negotiations must surely now show what a pipe dream that was.

A victory is still encouraging, even when every victory is accompanied by over a hundred defeats. But with the European Union, even when you win the battle you’re still losing the war. Roll on Brexit!

My Column – £350 milion per week for Brexit? The lowdown

Discuss Brexit, and I’ll bet you a euro to a cent that sooner or later someone will mention Vote Leave’s bus which claimed post-Brexit we’d have an extra £350 million per week which could be spent on our NHS. Boris Johnson has repeated the phrase again, and reignited the whole row. Thanks a million, Boris. Or three hundred and fifty million, I suppose. I’m pro-Brexit, naturally, but I don’t have a dog in the fight defending Vote Leave: I always put the figure in context as a gross one, and explained that the rebate and EU funding should be taken off. And to be fair to Vote Leave, they did put that figure into context elsewhere in their spending plans – but they weren’t as widely circulated.

The Vote Leave figure is widely criticised (and up to a point, rightly so) – but I recall George Osborne’s predictions (23/05/16) that a vote for Brexit would lower GDP and cost 800,000 jobs by 2018. In fact, GDP has grown and unemployment is at its lowest level since 1975. When it comes to lies told in the referendum campaign, Remain certainly have a few whoppers of their own. The EU Council President said Brexit could end ‘Western political civilisation’ and David Cameron threatened that Brexit could lead to war in Europe. When continuity Remainers criticise the £350 million per week figure, they develop an instant selective amnesia: Biblical phrases about hypocrisy, and taking the plank out of your own eye before complaining about the speck in someone else’s, spring to mind.

But what actually is the truth over £350 million per week? The picture fluctuates from year to year, with changes to each economy, the EU budget, and exchange rates. No figure will ever be perfect. The latest accurate data available is the Pink Book 2016 produced by the Office of National Statistics; the most impeccable source because it looks at what’s actually been paid in the past, not estimates or projections in the future. It puts the EU contribution for the previous year at £19.593 billion (gross), which is roughly £376 million per week.

Out of that, though, the UK gets the famous ‘rebate’ (technically, Fontainebleau abatement) won by Thatcher: a recognition that the way the EU budget is calculated leaves the UK out of pocket. Our £4.913 billion rebate comes to around £94 million per week. Think of that as being instant cashback. Leave the EU, and we can’t spend that money because we lose the cashback.

Out of that, the EU gives us some of our own money back in ‘EU funding’. We’ve paid for it; indeed, some £9.24 billion is shown as credited to the UK’s account (but nearly £5 billion of that is the rebate we’ve already accounted for).

We’re almost done, I promise! The EU does, however, give some money directly to UK businesses et al – bypassing the UK account altogether. So, cross-referencing with the Commission’s own figures and applying the average pound-euro exchange rate from 2015, we get a figure of about £102 million per week for EU money coming back to the UK.

So take a deep breath, and the picture for 2015 is actually very simple: we paid £376 million a week, which became £282 million a week after cashback. After all the ‘benefits’ of EU funding, there was £180 million left. Personally, I’d have preferred Vote Leave to just stick £180 million per week on the side of the bus. It wouldn’t have altered the referendum result in the slightest, and we wouldn’t be still having this discussion 15 months after the referendum. But what’s done is done; as the tart-tongued Lady Olenna Tyrell famously said in Game of Thrones “Once the cow’s been milked, there’s no squirting the milk back up her udder so here we are”.

There’s a sting in the tail though. Whilst I’d have preferred a figure of £180 million per week, the £282 million per week ‘post-cashback’ figure is easily defended if put into context. And the Office for Budget Responsibility projects that figure will rise to £335 million per week by the end of this Parliament.

Would I have made the same claim as Vote Leave, in the same way? Would I have repeated it, as Boris Johnson did? No. Is it absolutely 100% watertight? No.

But on a dishonesty scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is honest Abe’s ‘I cannot tell a lie’ and 10 is David Cameron’s threat that Brexit could lead to war, I’d rate the Boris Johnson claim as somewhere around a 3.

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.


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.