Why Brexit?

The vote to leave the European Union opens up the UK to a fair, liberal, and global future, where we trade and cooperate with the entire world. Brexit is an opportunity to create a network of global free trade deals, a fair immigration system, and a more democratic political system.

Let’s be clear, the EU is not some progressive globalised body. It is a protectionist organisation designed to promote intra-European trade at the expense of trade with the other 169 countries of the world. It prevents the UK from conducting free trade deals with growing economies outside the EU, and with our traditional global allies. The Common External Tariff means that European good and services are made to seem cheaper by pricing out other markets.

As a globalist, outward-looking nation, the Brexit vote mandated us to seek to secure free trade deals, not just with the EU27, but with the wider world. We will be able to secure fair trade deals with the growing economies of the world: China, India, Brazil etc.; and with our traditional Commonwealth and Anglosphere allies. If we are to truly be a part of a globalising world then it is also important to have a seat at the top table, which means increasing our influence from simply being 1/28th of a voice in organisations like the WTO.

Brexit also presents us with an opportunity to establish a fairer, more liberal immigration system. If we accept that there has to be some form of upper limit on immigration (whatever number we set that at), then free movement of labour within Europe is inherently illiberal because it reduces the opportunities for people from non-EU nations to come and work in the UK, simply based on the passport that they hold. We should use the opportunity presented by Brexit to ensure that our immigration system is based on the person, not their nationality. It is not just, fair, or liberal to propose a system that requires us to discriminate against people based on their result in life’s first great lottery.

This is a chance to reclaim and strengthen our democracy. Brexit removes the impact of an unelected supranational body on our legislation, and instead returns important competencies to the UK’s legislative system. Increased power for Parliament should see powers that currently exist at national level passed down to regional governments, creating a system where the decisions that affect Southampton get made by a Southampton government that is much more convenient for you to lobby and influence, and by representatives who can be swayed by a much smaller group of people (as they have smaller constituencies).

It also brings an impetus for democratic reform. We have seen people examine the House of Lords with more scrutiny already during the Brexit process, and ask important questions about how much constitutional power the executive and the judiciary should have, and that sort of deliberation can only be a positive thing with regards building a representative and effective democracy, and eradicating further democratic deficits.

Britain can use this opportunity to retake our place on the global stage. A global Britain trading, working, cooperating with our European friends and neighbours and with our global allies. Taking the lead on security cooperation within and outside of Europe. Cooperating on global issues as a whole voice, rather than as a tiny part of one.

Brexit is about ensuring that we create a global Britain, with global free trade, a fair and liberal immigration system, and a better democracy.

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Lessons from 2016

2016 has been a year which has challenged the traditional political consensus. Brexit was delivered against all odds – a victory for all those who had campaigned against the undemocratic nature of the European Union, the unfair system of immigration it created whereby people from 27 countries are prioritised over people from the other 169, and the restrictions on policy choices available to British voters at the ballot box that membership of the EU brings with it. That victory, in spite of the ad hominem insults thrown at Leave voters, should teach valuable lessons on how to conduct a campaign in 2017.

The ultimate difference between the Leave campaign and the Remain campaign was twofold: the Leave campaign was positive and optimistic; and the Remain campaign offered very little by way of emotive arguments. The oft-quoted phrase that summed up the referendum (and perhaps 2016 as a whole) was Michael Gove’s quip: ‘People in this country have had enough of experts’. This is not strictly true, but what is true is that people don’t respond well to simply being told they should support a cause because they should – they want to be given an emotive reason why they should back it.

2016 has shown us the need for political campaigns to make an argument that combines emotive and logical reasoning – it isn’t enough to simply assume that people agree with your positions, you have to persuade them to agree with you. Likewise 2016 proved, once and for all, that negative campaigning is ineffective – particularly if people don’t believe what you are telling them. Merely having the support of an ‘expert’ isn’t sufficient to win you an election, and likewise fear and negativity (the weapons of choice of the Remain campaign and Zac Goldsmith’s mayoral campaign) aren’t as impactful as a positive, optimistic message.

The election of Donald Trump also compounded the argument that governments need to do more to prove they are listening to the will of the people. While Brexit vindicates David Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum on EU membership, as it proves the demand for a referendum was overwhelming more accurately than any opinion poll; Donald Trump is a reflection of an American establishment that has systematically failed to respond to its voters. Barack Obama was elected as a force for change in 2008, and so it was in 2016. Moreover, Trump’s election proved that insulting supporters of your opponents is unlikely to convince them to change their minds.

What does that mean for 2017?

The reactions of many to Brexit and Trump suggests they haven’t learn the primary message of 2016: voters need to be convinced of your position through discussion and debate, however objectively correct you think you may be. Those of us who believe in the value of democracy and tolerance have to work harder than ever to defend them.

2017 will see big electoral chances for Le Pen in France, Wilders in the Netherlands, and Alternative für Deutschland in Germany. Those fighting against them would do well to learn the lessons of 2016: when making the case against a populist demagogue, make it with passion, conviction and logic, and don’t insult those you are seeking to convert.

How the Boundary Changes Will Revitalise British Democracy

The independent boundary review has been a source of controversy in recent months, and yet it seems like a perfectly reasonable idea. Putting aside the specifics of the changes – whether or not you think certain wards would be better in certain constituencies – and looking at them purely objectively, there seem to be far more advantages than downsides to the changes.

Firstly, equalising the size of constituencies seems a perfectly reasonable democratic desire. If we want a democracy that fairly represents its electors then it would make sense for every representative to speak for as similar number of constituents as possible. Accusations that this is unfair because recent changes to the Electoral Register have left people out of the figures are not entirely unfounded, but the simple fact is that the best aggregator of how many electors are in a constituency has to be the number of registered electors at the previous election – this isn’t a perfect figure, but it’s not as if these boundaries couldn’t be altered in future to account for population changes.

In this sense then, the boundary changes will create a more equal representation and thus a fairer and better democracy – unless of course, one believes that the electors of the Isle of Wight should have around 5 times less representation than those of Na h-Eileanan an Iar, or that English electors should have 1.3 times less representation than Welsh electors on average.

If we accept it reasonable to have equal representation for every elector in the country, then the main objection to the concept of the boundary changes must be that reducing the number of MPs from 650 to 600 will adversely affect the quality of representation.

This argument doesn’t seem to stand up to scrutiny, if only because fewer MPs ties in with the increasingly decentralised approach to power being taken by government in recent years. If it follows that fewer MPs leads to further devolution of areas of legislative control to regional centres of power, then we will see an increasingly important local government – able to make a real difference to its constituents. This will have benefits for both local government and local people: local government will have more power to influence policies in the local area and thus will be taken more seriously by voters, bringing more scrutiny, accountability and higher turnouts; while local people will benefit from having a much more personalised system of policy-making, where they can influence their legislators because they are based much closer to them, and where they can enjoy policies that are inherently grounded in local contexts and needs.

Representation will also be improved if the public have more faith in their representatives. One of the biggest concerns people have about MPs is that they simply cost too much. For these people, the boundary changes must surely be a way to reduce the costs associated with government. 50 fewer MPs means 50 fewer MPs’ salaries; 50 fewer teams of MPs’ staff; 50 fewer sets of expenses; 50 fewer offices – the list can go on and on.

With a reduced number of MPs we can see a further decentralisation of powers to local government and a resultant revitalisation of British democracy – where the decisions that affect Southampton get made in Southampton, and important decisions on local policy get made in local areas across the United Kingdom. Boundary changes will lead to a more representative and democratic Britain – a Britain where central government costs less and local government does more, and that can only be a good thing.