If Theresa May’s Brexit were on the ballot paper, I’d have voted Remain

Brexit
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When I left the Conservative Party four years ago and joined UKIP, I always envisaged returning to being a Tory voter (if not a member) after the EU referendum had been delivered – which, let’s face it, is the main reason why people voted for UKIP and why that Party is now on a slippery slope to oblivion.

EU Referendum duly delivered, I left UKIP and began to keep an eye on the direction of Theresa May’s new government to see whether the damage done by David Cameron to the Conservative Party I had joined would be undone. Despite some promising words at the start of her reign, unelected Queen May is now bent on pursuing Brexit at any cost in the hopes of reuniting her party and proving that, whilst a remainer, she is committed to delivering the will of the people – while the wedge between leave and remain voters is gradually creating a deeper divide across the country.

What irks me, irritates me, angers me even, more than anything else this government without a mandate is doing, is the continued insistence on playing political poker with people’s lives. On 23 June 2016, the British people voted for a departure from the EU – but not a destination. The choice voters made was to leave the EU, narrowly outnumbering those who wanted to remain in the EU, but they were not consulted on what that would actually look like. In a referendum campaign filled with so many contradictions and plagued by misdirection, it was impossible to know, from the perspective of either side, what Brexit would look like.

Like 17 million other Brits, I voted Leave on 23 June 2016. Like many (though, admittedly, not all) I did not vote against immigration, as the Britain I want to live in is an open Britain. Like many (though, admittedly, not all) I did not vote against non-Brits, as the Britain I want to live in is a tolerant Britain. Like many (though, admittedly, not all) I did not vote to stick two fingers up to the establishment, as the Britain I want to live in is a united Britain, not one in which an “us v them” mentality defines discourse.

I voted to leave the EU because I have spent the majority of my life campaigning against an organisation which seems bent on subverting nation state democracy in the pursuit of a federal European superstate; an organisation which has almost single-handedly crippled several Mediterranean economies through a failed pan-European currency; and an organisation which seeks to apply a single standard upon a continent of half a billion people of vastly different histories and cultures. I voted to leave the EU because of a lifelong ideological opposition to the EU and, like 17 million other Brits, I voted to leave without knowing what leaving looked like. It was, I admit, a risk, but one I eventually took after much agonising consideration – and, eight months on, here’s the new headline:

If I had known on 23 June that voting “Leave” would result in Theresa May’s vision of Brexit, then, despite my deep and long-held opposition to the EU, I would have voted “Remain”!

Does that mean that I regret voting to leave? No. Categorically not. What I regret is that the terms of our departure are being decided upon by a government with no electoral mandate beyond leaving the EU. And what I regret, perhaps more than anything, is that this unelected government is now playing games with 3 million people’s lives. And yes, that includes the woman who will later this year (on 8 July, in fact) become my wife.

It has often been said that the UK leaving the EU is like a long and unhappy marriage finally coming to a divorce. However, before the divorce can be finalised, the two parties need to decide what their lives will look like after the legal separation – and that involves negotiation and compromise. What angers me is the way the government is so casually placing so much stress and uncertainty on 3 million people who not only did not vote for this government, but also did not get a voted on whether their country of residence would be leaving the EU at all.

The government’s approach to EU citizens living in the UK is not dissimilar to that of a bitter parent arguing over custody of the children, particularly in the context of extracting as much “compromise” from the other party as possible. It makes for a compelling emotional argument but, ultimately, the children become mere pawns in their parents’ violent game of chess while their best interests are continually ignored by the warring parties. In their “love” for their children, those parties end up doing more damage in the long-term.

This government is effectively saying to EU citizens “we care about you so much, but actually not enough to guarantee your right to remain living here”.

As for my family, the situation is complicated enough without Queen May tearing it down the middle before it’s even begun. My bride-to-be is unable to move to the UK until we get married (for reasons I will not go into here) and, like the open-minded optimist I am, I assumed that, as the UK must continue to respect its treaty obligations for free movement of people until the date we actually leave the EU, the government would not be so cold-hearted as to remove the right to live here of anyone who had made the UK their home before that date. Silly me! It seems the government is more concerned with the Faragist scare-tactic that half of eastern Europe will move here in the next two years than with taking a pragmatic (dare I say, human) approach to the workers this country needs to survive.

Now, I don’t blame Queen May for my family situation but I will squarely and firmly blame her if my wife and I are ever forced to live in separate countries because of her own heartless immigration policy. And if that situation ever occurs then I swear, as long as there is blood pumping through my body, that I will never vote Conservative again. Ever! And, yes, you can quote me on that.

In the meantime, Queen May needs to stop playing politics with people’s lives and provide some certainty to the 3 million people currently worrying whether they will still have a home in two years’ time. As Sarah Ludford, the Lords Shadow Minister for Exiting the European Union, said:

EU citizens need to be given clarity on where they stand … It would be shameful if the Government were to leave them in limbo, lining them up as bargaining chips in the forthcoming negotiations.

Until then, I cannot help but wonder whether my decision to vote Leave was perhaps the worst decision I will ever make in my life…

Jeremy Corbyn protests against his own decision

Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health
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I don’t very often write posts attacking the Labour leadership – not because I don’t believe the many ludicrous policies of Corbyn & Co need to be opposed, but because the Parliamentary Labour Party (and many grassroots activists) seem to be doing a competent enough job of opposing the opposition themselves.

In this instance, though, given my ongoing campaign for equal status for mental health services, I will make an exception. Mr Corbyn was once also a vocal advocate of improvements to the way mental health problems are addressed. In February 2015, he told Parliament:

All of us can go through depression; all of us can go through those experiences. Every single one of us in this Chamber knows people who have gone through it, and has visited people who have been in institutions and have fully recovered and gone back to work and continued their normal life. I dream of the day when this country becomes as accepting of these problems as some Scandinavian countries are, where one Prime Minister was given six months off in order to recover from depression, rather than being hounded out of office as would have happened on so many other occasions.

We need greater and more effective assessment of the needs of mental health services across London, because there is still a stigma in some areas. Some communities and families are more able to come forward than others. We need to create an atmosphere in which people understand that we can all experience stress and that we all need help at some time in our lives, and the NHS must and should be there to provide that help when it is needed.

It was, therefore, pleasing to see Mr Corbyn appoint a Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health in his first cabinet last September. However, the role was short-lived, with the portfolio being scrapped following the swathes of resignations in July.

That didn’t stop the newly (re-)elected leader from protesting against the decision to ditch the post at the Labour Party conference today.

Posing with campaigners for mental health, Mr Corbyn held a sign calling for the reintroduction of the Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health.

The post he created himself and then abolished himself!

I’ll just leave that brazen act of hypocrisy to sink in…

Source: Jason Groves

If you value your sanity, never bank with BBVA

BBVA office
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Last Sunday, I officially became a customer of Spanish super-bank BBVA. Many people will have heard of them, if not while realising that they are a bank, because they sponsor the top league in Spanish football (named, funnily enough, the Liga BBVA).

I would mention, before explaining exactly why this particular bank is about as useful as an inflatable dartboard, that I did not become a BBVA customer by choice. Until Sunday my Spanish banking services were provided by CatalunyaCaixa, an organisation which came highly recommended and with which I have never experienced any issues in the twelve months my account had been open.

On 8 September, however, my bank closed and the process of merging with BBVA began, with CX customers allegedly able to access their new accounts from 11 September. Now, I have a new account number (which no one has thought to advise me of) but I am supposed to be able to log in to BBVA’s online banking with the same login details as my CX online account. Yet when I tried online (and again on the app), the banking equivalent of Gandalf popped up on my screen and informed me (in three different languages): “you shall not pass!”.

The helpful suggestion from this not-so-great Gandalf was to try the “forgot your password” link, even though I clearly knew my CX login details – and had used them many times over the past year. However, where the wizard shall point, the mortal shall go, so off went I entering my username to reset my password – only to be informed my username was “incorrect”. Now I really knew they were taking the piss, so, as is traditional in the digital age, I took to Twitter to vent my frustration:

Now, I appreciated that BBVA’s Twitter support was primarily in Spanish (with some Catalan answers), so I approached them – in my imperfect Spanish – looking for some help. The conversation was not entirely productive:

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The inaccurate reporting of Medway councillors’ allowances

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Every year, each local authority is required to collate and publish allowances and expenses claimed by their elected members.

Councillors are entitled to a basic allowance to perform their duties, with additional allowances payable to those who hold special responsibilities (Leader of the Council, Cabinet Portfolio Holder, Mayor, etc.) in recognition of the additional work involved.

All members are also entitled to claim for travel and subsistence, although this usually excludes items such as stationery and phone calls, which are factored in to the basic allowance.

At the end of the council’s financial year, the authority must calculate how much each councillor claimed (if anything) and produce a basic report with a simple breakdown.

Medway Council’s financial year runs from 1 April to 31 March, and allowances are usually published within four months, with the latest being the 2013/2014 report, which was published in August 2014:

Year Date of Publication
2014/15 July 2015
2013/14 August 2014
2012/13 May 2013
2011/12 May 2012

However, given we were now in September and no report had yet been published, last week I submitted an FOI request for the information. On Tuesday, the allowances report appeared on the Council website, albeit looking rushed and possibly incomplete. It wasn’t until I got round to examining it in detail that I realised just how poor a report it actually was.

The most striking detail was that the report had rounded all the figures to the nearest pound. It is, in fact, the first time the Council has not included the pence figures where the amount to be declared was not a whole pound.

Members who served for the whole period were given an allowance of £8,783 exactly, but those who left the Council in May 2015 may not have received £992 exactly. Similarly, those who joined at the same time may not have received £7,815 exactly, and Cllr Kelly Tolhurst, who claims she stopped drawing her allowance “since [her] election to Parliament” may not have received £1,464 exactly.

(As an aside, I have worded the last sentence very carefully, as the fact that Cllr Tolhurst’s basic allowance was markedly different to those of members who left the council at the same time she was elected to Parliament suggests that she had stopped drawing her allowance some time after her election – seemingly to the end of May 2015 – and not “since [her] election”. Whilst there is, of course, nothing wrong with claiming the allowance whilst also an MP (most simply don’t out of principle – or, if they do, donate their allowance to good causes within their ward), her entry in the Parliamentary Register of Members’ Financial Interests could, perhaps, be worded so as not to imply that she stopped claiming her allowance immediately on her election to Parliament and, in fact, stopped on a certain date. But, I digress…)

So, rather than having the exact figures of allowances and expenses claimed by Medway councillors, we have a roughly accurate report which looks something like this:

Allowances

Now, like most people, I am not particularly interested in where Cllr Rupert Turpin went that he needed to claim £5 in travel & subsistence expenses, but I am interested enough to want to know whether the journey cost £4.51, £5.49 or £5 exactly.

Indeed, that no reference is made to the fact that the figures have been rounded means that it is unclear what method of rounding has been used (whether only up, only down or both) and whether the figures have been arrived at by rounding the total for each category or each individual item before addition. After all, if two claims were made for £1.51 and £2.51 respectively, then rounding each individual claim would total £5 (i.e. £2 plus £3), whereas only rounding the total of the two raw figures would produce £4 (i.e. £4.02 rounded down).

Readers may think that I am being pedantic, but I would simply ask this question: how is this report “full and complete” if the Council have employed rounding and created ambiguity as to the exact figures involved?

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Proposed Medway Constituency boundary changes published

Constituencies
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The Boundary Commission’s proposals for new parliamentary constituencies, which will be put before MPs in 2018, have been published – and the changes for Medway are largely underwhelming.

In fact, if you live within one of Medway’s 22 wards, the chances of the constituency you live in changing is less than five per cent, with only Lordswood & Capstone moving. However, all three constituencies covering the Medway Towns could see changes, with only Gillingham & Rainham containing exclusively Medway constituents.

Under the Boundary Commission proposals published today, Lordswood & Capstone ward would cease to be a part of Chatham & Aylesford, and instead be represented by Gillingham & Rainham.

Gillingham & Rainham constituency would then consist of nine council wards, rather than the present eight, including Gillingham North, Gillingham South, Hempstead & Wigmore, Lordswood & Capstone, Rainham Central, Rainham North, Rainham South, Twydall and Watling.

The Boundary Commission also propose increasing the size of Rochester & Strood, by adding the Gravesham Borough Council ward of Higham to the present constituency. The Medway Council wards comprising Rochester & Strood are Cuxton & Halling, Peninsula, River, Rochester East, Rochester South & Horsted, Rochester West, Strood North, Strood Rural and Strood South.

The biggest change, though, is reserved for Chatham & Aylesford. Although the only change for Medway residents is the loss of Lordswood & Capstone to Gillingham & Rainham, the constituency has gained four wards from Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council.

The new constituency of Chatham & The Mallings would then include Chatham Central, Luton & Wayfield, Princes Park and Walderslade wards from Medway, and Aylesford North & Walderslade, Aylesford South, Burham & Wouldham, Ditton, East Malling, Kings Hill, Larkfield North, Larkfield South, Snodland East & Ham Hill, Snodland West & Holborough Lakes, Wateringbury and West Malling & Leybourne from Tonbridge & Malling.

Parliamentary constituencies are being redrawn under the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011, with the independent Boundary Commission for England tasked with reducing the number of constituencies in England from 533 to 501. Overall, the number of Members of Parliament in the UK is being reduced from 650 to 600 as a way of cutting the salary, pension, staffing and expenses costs of the House of Commons, while the number of voters in each constituency is being averaged out to 74,769 plus or minus five per cent.

A previous review was carried out under the coalition government, but was vetoed by the Liberal Democrats despite earlier pledging their support in exchange for a referendum on changing the voting system.

At present, the proposals are in the very early stages, and will now open up for consultation with local residents. The Boundary Commission will be holding a public hearing over the proposals at Maidstone’s KCC Council Chambers on 3 and 4 November.

What will be the electoral effect?

All three Medway constituencies were won quite comfortably by the Conservatives in May 2015, so would these changes have made any difference to the results? To find out, I created a projection model for each constituency, which uses both the general and local election results from 2015, to produce comparisons.

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