How do you feel?

Difficult to put into words but here goes. Let’s be clear, this is NOT a minor political disagreement.  It’s right to be angry on behalf of the people who were deceived.  It’s right protest against the legitimisation of xenophobia.  It’s right to disagree with the referendum result.  If we had just voted to restore the death penalty or instate apartheid, I’d continue to be strongly against it whatever the chance of change.  Especially if that change happened by a vote with a small percentage margin.

Some are feeling helpless and disillusioned but that’s not me. I sit with tempered anger and a seething fury with the dishonesty of the LEAVE campaign.  A lot of the LEAVE campaign leaders are scoundrels and they should not be rewarded for their actions.  There’s also the terrible feeling of – couldn’t we have done more – that’s always there when the clock stops.

Transforming the raw emotions of the last few days into motivation and action is going to happen. It just might take a little more time of pain and grieving.  I haven’t lost the last four decades but may have to reflect of them as a golden era.  A time when grand ambitions could be realised. Yes, I know I have been exceedingly fortunate in life. Being in the right person in the right place at the right time.  That was back in mid-2004 at the interview for a job in Europe.  I then joined a new organisation that was starting up in Cologne in Germany.  For a decade the comradery and sense of common purpose we had was exceptional.  I don’t use that word lightly; it truly was exceptional.

My own experiences of working in a multicultural place is that its complex. When it’s well managed the results are world beating.  Overall the rewards far, far ever outweigh the difficulties or the costs.  I’m not just being selfish and talking about personal rewards.  The whole of our society reaped the benefits of the work that we did and will continue to do so.

Now, with this vote to leave the EU we are stuck in a “No Man’s Land”. There are no solutions in a kind of British mono-culture.  Similarly, and taking note of why people voted the way they did; there is no solution where big business and newspapers owners get to dictate Government policy.

The fight for this referendum may be over but the fight to determine the kind of Britain we want to be has only just begun.

Divided Nation

I’m suffering the tail end of a summer cold. It’s an annoying inconvenience which, at least, thanks to nature has a beginning and an end.  I started to feel less than 100% on Wednesday and Today; Saturday it’s on its way out.  Ironically, this morning was my first NHS health check-up in a while.  That took place in the surgery around the corner.  Basically, I’m happy to say that was a – you’re fine come and see us again in 2021 affair.

That’s my physical health. If only everything was so simple because early Friday morning it felt like I’d been hit by a large truck.  Went to bed on Thursday night in the expectation of waking-up to a predicable radio alarm and the BBC news rattling off the referendum results as; REMAIN win closely followed by LEAVE.  What I got was exactly the opposite.  What I got was a violent hammer blow.  What I got was frankly unbelievable.

What a blind idiot! I’d said; “trust the people” not knowing the naivety of that remark.  I genuinely thought that there was enough collective wisdom out there to mean that the British people would make a good choice.  The vote didn’t worry me.  I never thought we would all have to live with a result that led to Great Britain leaving the EU.  Hell no – together we couldn’t possibly be as crazy as to make that irrational choice.  Everyone would laugh.  Then everyone would panic.  Then a heavy cloud of sadness would fall.

Here we are on these islands in a truly incredible place. The gravity of events hasn’t yet sunk in.  Monumental changes have been set in motion.  I live in a Country that’s as ideologically divided as North and South Korea.  As divided as East and West Germany was in the past.  As divided as the English were in 1642.  Two completely opposing visions of Britain stand facing each other.  Only one has been given the green light to move forward.  I’m sorry to talk in such binary terms but there’s no other way of looking at the lay of the land.  A small three letter word keeps going around in my head – it’s sad.

Next, I’ll pen some words on why this situation is wrong looking at it from a rational, emotional and an ethical perspective.

Final hours

Hours tick away and the drama of the moment is not lost on anyone. Last night, Ruth Davidson, Sadiq Khan and Frances O’Grady held the Leave campaign to account for their fibs during this long referendum campaign.  Every time I hear a broadcast about the referendum, I can think of more reasons to vote REMAIN tomorrow.

I hope that we can get away from the politicians’ habit of constantly repeating a lie until it becomes a perceived “truth”. If anything that’s the real tragedy of this national referendum.  That said, most independent fact checking favours REMAIN facts far more often than LEAVE assertions.

Failing to plan is planning to fail. Those wanting to leave the EU with no plan for Britain are asking for a leap in the dark.  That’s not a wise choice for either the optimist or the pessimist.

I’m fed up with British politicians saying the EU they built is a failure. It’s not.  So many people across the world look upon what Europe has achieved with great admiration.  If Britain chooses to leave the EU, it would not only have an effect inside Britain but also on the rest of the world.

The EU is not perfect. What human institution is perfect?  Our seat at the table means we can shape Europe.  How can we break away and negotiate new deals if we can’t make sound deals next door?

This referendum is a great exercise in democracy. However, let’s not do this too often as it forces divisions between people that will be hard to mend but mend we must.

We need to keep Britain in the driving seat. We must lead, not leave Europe. Vote REMAIN.

Words Matter

There have been so many words uttered during this EU referendum campaign in the UK you would think that anything goes and it hardly matters as the background noise has been so loud. Can the millions of pages of words that have been written or the billions of words spoken change the outcome?  It’s hard to say “yes” or “no” to that simple question.

However, I believe it’s wrong to say that the public debate hasn’t changed much. For one, the debate has become a struggle to capture public attention and that’s produced some ghastly rhetoric.  I guess, that crude language of expression is a sign of our times.  Not only that but the style of presentation often trumps the substance.  Pomposity and bombast put me off but some people love it.  Overall, sadly there has been little truly memorable oratory.

Anyway, I was taught that when you have a complex problem to solve then start by going back to first principles. So, here we go.  The core propositions of both IN and OUT campaigns are predictions.  Predictions that one way means you’ll be better off and the other way means you’ll be worse off.  In my mind, and I’m a rational person, the more trustworthy information you have to support your case the better.  Failing that, I look at the person or group making the prediction and ask myself – do they know the subject?

Having read and listened to a lot in the last 100 days, I can say that; without any shadow of a doubt that the REMAIN campaign has provided the most reliable information. Also, they have the most credible supporters and speakers not just in the UK but worldwide.

I think, it would be extremely foolish to ignore the declaration of the G7 leaders made in Japan in May this year. “A UK exit from the EU would reverse the trend towards greater global trade and investment, and the jobs they create, and is a further serious risk to growth.”

We will all be better off by voting to REMAIN in the EU.

Contradiction

We can have confidence in Britain’s capabilities without having to believe in Gove’s economic miracle. Anyway, there’s a huge contradiction at the heart of the leave campaign’s claim.  They are saying; trust me because all the others are wrong.  A long list of experts says; REMAIN is best option out of the two but Gove says the opposite.

Let’s consider this situation. If all the calculations of the world’s forecasters are all wrong, then major decisions are being poorly made across the globe.  Investments and the spending of Governments are in error.  The inevitable conclusion from this is that chaos and recession are imminent and inevitable.  In such an event, Britain would be impacted regardless of being IN or OUT of the EU.  Whatever happens; “No man is an island”.

However, if the calculations of the worlds forecasters are at least half way right there is a chance of continuing recovery and stability. There’s a chance risk is being managed and that decisions based on those forecasts are sound.  To me this scenario seems by far the most plausible and a better bet.

It’s true we should not choose our vote solely on the basis of what experts say, particularly economists but it would be foolish to ignore their information. You can drive a car by looking out of the window and daydreaming but its far safer to pay attention and glance down at the instruments from time to time.

Britain is already a “progressive beacon” in the world. That position has been reached because we have embraced partnerships and understand how to work with others.  Being in the EU does not stop Britain projecting its influence.  In fact, leaving the EU would be a powerful negative signal to everyone we work with around the globe.

I conclude that the overwhelming case to REMAIN in the EU has not changed in the last weeks.

Optimistic

“Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear”. William E. Gladstone wasn’t half right. Every time I read an article from a Brexiter its about fear and failure.  There seems to be an obsession with both.  Lines like: “voters cowed”, “never get what it wants …”, “Cameron blew his big chance…”, “We don’t need trade deals…”. Generally, they aren’t an optimistic bunch.  They’re rather gloomy and pessimistic but hold a glossy romantic notion of the 1950s.  True there a few like Johnson who might best be described as a dangerous adventurer or buccaneering buffoon but who would want to put our Country in their hands?  Britain was in decline before it joined the EEC so let’s not go back to those days.

Personally, I’m highly optimistic that Britain in the EU will thrive and grow. The evidence of my experience living, working and travelling in Europe makes this a perfectly prudent thing to say.  Today, it’s in the news that the unemployment rate is the lowest since 2005.  The status of the world’s 5th largest economy was achieved whilst part of the EU.  London remains a cosmopolitan global city. There’s a host of reasons to be optimistic.

World beating engineering companies like Rolls Royce want us to stay in the EU. They value the stability that ensures they can make long-term investments in new technology.  British universities not only gain financially from the EU but profit from a collaborative approach. We are a smart nation.

One chance is all we get at this EU referendum. More than anything else the impact will be felt by those who are just leaving school or university.  For the next 40 years, their world will be shaped by the decision that people will make.  Just as my future was shaped by the 1975 vote. Have confidence and Vote Remain.

Best place

Today, Britain is in an exceedingly enviable position when compared to other nations. Our economy is strong.  We are a member of NATO, the Commonwealth and the Security Council of the UN.  In Europe, we have negotiated a position outside the Eurozone but inside the single market.  We maintain our border controls but are free to work, study and live in any EU Member State.  We can veto new Countries joining the EU.  Why then would Britain want to walk away from an enviable position?

The up and coming referendum on EU membership is not a popularity contest. There’s no rubbing of a lamp expecting a genie to pop-out and grant our wishes.  It about cold hard facts concerning what is best for the whole of Britain, now and in the long-term.

Do we trade the advantages listed above for an unknown destination? Is our good fortune so wrapped in pride that we are blind to major risks?  Do we lack confidence in our ability to get our way in Europe?  Yes, these questions are uncomfortable but the outcome of this national referendum may be an unavoidable fork in the road.

I do sense that one aspect of the argument to leave the EU is a lack of confidence in the British people. This in my mind is foolish.  Over the last 40 years, I have met and worked with just as many capable, clever and talented British people as I have from any of the other EU Member States.

The great achievement of the EU is that we are all so much more effective when we are working together, as a team, for a common purpose. We are so lucky to have the opportunity to be able to put together world-class teams across Europe.  This helps us sustain our jobs, industries and wealth in a rapidly changing world.

Throwing our advantages away for little tangible benefit is an incredibly high-risk move.  It’s much better to apply ourselves to making the EU work better rather than to go where no-one knows and to do it without a sound plan.

Positivity

Magnets have two poles – north and south. Electrical charges can be positive or negative.  Batteries have a plus and a minus terminal.  Yes, you can tell that I’m and electrical engineer by training.  However, reducing complex subjects to just two simple choices (IN or OUT) isn’t so easy even if it is necessary. In the forthcoming referendum there will only be two choices.  Well, of course there’s a third way and that’s abstention (or not voting) but this is the worst of all the choices possible.  With such a mammoth decision in front of the British people on 23 June, I hope that as many people as possible have their say in the final result.

This is NOT a normal British election. This is NOT a vote for punishing or rewarding a Government or any of its personalities.  This is NOT reversible.

Although you can only choose to REMAIN or LEAVE the EU, in reality Europe is much more multidimensional. We can talk at length about business, economics, defence, security, social welfare, human rights, democracy or the environment as a few of the subjects on the table.  None of them are trivial.  All of them are important.  Don’t let anyone tell you this is simple.

Remember too that although the referendum is one day in 2016 it’s the impact on decades for Britain that needs to be in your mind. What’s happening this week or this month may not have anything to do with the enduring impact of the vote.  Political personalities come and go like moths.  Britain endures.

Throughout this long national referendum campaign, I have seen both positive and negative campaigning from both side of the critical arguments. If I was to pile up the arguments on a large balancing scale, I think that there’s greater positivity from Vote Remain and less from Vote Leave.

Now, you might say to me: but aren’t you bias is making that assessment? Here’s a reason why that is not so and it’s a simple equation that can make the point.  Vote Remain is positive about the EU.  Vote Leave is negative about the EU.  Both are positive about Britain’s place in the wider world.

So, two positives for REMAIN. Thus, its seems to me that the best long term result for Britain is to REMAIN in the EU.

A day in Egham

036Here’s just a quick reflection on today’s escapade. It was Magna Carta Day in the small Surrey town of Egham.  This is an annual event that has been going since the 1990s.  Last year, at this time, there was the Magna Carta 800th anniversary commemorations.  So, here we are having a fundamental referendum on our relationship with Europe in the 801th year since the signing of the Magna Carta.

One of this Surrey town’s more notable establishments is the Royal Holloway, University of London.  Fortunately, Royal Holloway and its students had stepped in at the last moment and organised a street stall.  Sue and I, and a few of our local Liberal Democrat colleagues joined the Stronger IN stall in the High Street.  This was nicely decked with union jack flags and one big blue European flag.  It was a great to be working with the enthusiastic young students on the stall.

Much literature was given away and the vast majority of people we met as they passed by were pleased to see us. Even a couple of mild mannered leave supporters said they were glad both sides of the referendum debate were represented.

The most rewarding part of the day was talking to the diverse range of undecided voters. In conversation, that’s when the personal touch really does make a big difference.  A few well-chosen words can swing an outcome towards REMAIN. One woman told me her partner was away and he was a signed-up Kipper but she wasn’t going for the leave camp. Oh the beauty of a secret ballot.

Polling speculation that younger people tend to lean towards Vote REMAIN seemed to be borne out by our chats to one and all.  It was evident to me that the more open minded people were the more they valued Britain’s membership of the EU.

I had a discussion with a retired British Airways pilot about the differences between Boeing and AIRBUS aircraft. He had flown Boeing aircraft but commented that his daughter was flying AIRBUS.

I chatted about the Cross of Nails representing reconciliation in Coventry Cathedral to one woman. Briefly talked to a French mathematics student who was enjoying a short stay working in Egham. We compared the problems in France with the problems in Britain.

Not too much xenophobia came our way but one or two people made a point of telling us who they hated. One strange man objected to the union jack flags and European flag being together.

Disappointingly, Runnymede borough’s mayor, who kicked-off the town’s event carefully avoided our stall for the whole day.

One guy wearing a little red leave badge came up to me and started a rant that sounded like he was reading the cover story from the Daily Mail to my face. I smiled with a vaguely disinterested look.  He got bored and went away.  Engagement is not a good idea when someone is so monochrome.

Rain didn’t dampen our spirits.

Overall there was a good positive reception for REMAIN. I’d like to estimate that the overall experience indicated a better than 50/50 outcome is on the cards.  However, in Egham town the older demographic probably favours Vote Leave.

Human Rights

I love the European Union when it protects human rights. There is a good reason why human rights have a “supranational” dimension.  That word meaning a power or influence that goes beyond national boundaries or governments.  That’s because throughout history governments have taken, and continue to take truly appalling actions.  This is not just on random occasions since abuse crops-up time and time again.  Often these actions are driven by the type of right-wing political extremism that we see on the rise again in Europe.  That’s a Europe which includes us.

Now, I know the British argument is often that it could never happen in this Country. However, I’m reminded of the words of the German Pastor Martin Niemöller – “First they came for the…”.  It’s a list which finishes with the line: “Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me”.

It’s striking how polarising the public debate surrounding the EU referendum has become. It’s striking how quickly our world becomes separated into camps of “them” and “us”.  It’s also striking how quickly rational argument can fall away and be replaced by simple name calling.

In its membership, Britain’s role in the EU has been one of promoting human rights. Today, there seems to be a danger that we are rolling back from the leadership we once exercised as an advanced nation.  I believe it remains vitally important that Britain remains inside the EU to uphold human rights.  It’s what we have traditionally done well.  A vote to REMAIN is a vote to lead for the good of us all.