Conversations (4)

Many thanks Caroline --

One point of at least partial agreement.  You write that,  "before the vote, very few people kicked up a fuss about having it. Cameron, Corbyn, and Sturgeon presumably thought the British people would vote to remain, so they allowed it to go ahead."

Of course, many people did kick up a fuss.  Many pro-Remain politicians and experts signaled loudly and clearly the dangers of populist adventurism at the polling stations, given the incalculable consequences of Brexit.  You're right of course that party leaders ignored those warnings, though certainly not motivated by the country's best interests.  Cameron wanted to unify the Tory Party and Sturgeon was only ever eying independence.  As for Corbyn, would he even know how to manage the budget of your local Frisbee team? 

Also -- only partial agreement on your view about a second referendum.  First, from a legal standpoint, let's be clear.  There is absolutely no way any government can foreclose future legislation simply by tossing around brochures with the inscription "This is your last chance, folks!".   Indeed what is even meant by "generation"?  Does the present "generation" end, say, at 4:36 am on Christmas 2028?  Or 5:28 pm on St George's Day 2043?  Only in British politics could so many people take such a gesture to be anything more than empty rhetoric.  If final and definitive law could be made simply by the government in power passing around leaflets -- phrased in such open-ended terms -- Her Majesty's Stationery Office would be busy indeed.  There is no such thing as irreversible legislation, except maybe in North Korea. 

However, if your real point is about PR, namely, that the public would simply resent it -- "Keep voting until you deliver the result we want" -- then, yes, that's a plausible and a weighty objection.  I'm tempted to propose a Referendum About Having Another Referendum, simply to punish everyone for their stupidity.  

You and I do probably agree, then, on the most important point.  Ultimately, this all remains in Parliament's hands, including what I believe could be a wholly compelling and wholly dignified withdrawal of the Article 50 declaration.  That's why I continue to insist on the democratic illegitimacy of the referendum.  That point needs to be repeated as often as necessary, so that if Parliament does face an overriding case against exiting, then perhaps it can change course with greater confidence of the electorate.

Yours with trust eternal in the forces of boringly sober moderation,

Hi Eric,

A second referendum is absolutely not an option, ever since both Cameron and the opposition supported the government's leaflets to every household in Britain that stated the "The EU referendum is a once in a generation decision". It was clear that Cameron would enforce the decision and put an end to the debate. It just so happened that the decision didn't go his way. The Tories and Labour were happy to insist that this was our only chance to get out of the EU, and for democracy to say "Ok, now the deliberation stops!" if it had been a win for remain.

There must come a point when politicians make decisions on our behalf. A referendum was not necessarily the best option; as we all know, referendum reduce complex and intricate decisions down to the tick of a box. But before the vote, very few people kicked up a fuss about having it. Cameron, Corbyn, and Sturgeon presumably thought the British people would vote to remain, so they allowed it to go ahead.

Cameron's arrogance meant that he thought he could send a few propaganda leaflets out and that everyone would believe him and vote to remain. They saw through it, and voted with their heads and their hearts, not through fear of the great unknown. Yes, no one knew what would happen if we voted leave, but similarly, no one knew what would happen if we voted to stay. Merkel would have had our heads on the block before Cameron could even utter his victory speech. If the referendum was indeed a "once in a generation decision" that the EU knew we wouldn't have again, they would take us for every penny we are worth. Deep down, many leave voters knew that not only did they not like the ties to Brussels as it stood, but not one remain campaigner could say what kind of deal we would get had we stayed, and that's what sent them to the polling booths ticking leave.

The bottom line of a referendum is, there are no simple or clear solutions to a simplistic question. What May has done, is what she feels is best for her country. And if that's to call a snap election, to make the best success of Brexit that she can, then that's the best thing for the country at the moment. Of course, she is also strengthening her party in the process; taking advantage of the opposition's disorganisation and lack of unity. But Brexit is not only affected by what goes on in Brussels, but also by what goes on in the UK. The Times recently claimed that more Britons trust May to sort out the NHS than Corbyn. She is also a firm believer in bringing back Grammar Schools. This election is not only about the legal ties to the EU, but it is about taking Britain back to where the electorate wants it to be. Free education for bright yet poor pupils, a better health service that is for the working people of Britain, and freedom from the shackles of Brussels.

If that means democracy, then I'm all for it.

Jo, the point you made about raising awareness and action on political and public level is an interesting one. However, I am of the view that there is enough awareness about energy poverty, but perhaps majority of the concerned people choose to ignore it. Different initiatives have been set up at national, regional and international level but the problem of energy poverty keeps escalating mostly because it is the poor people who are largely affected especially those in rural areas.

The challenge of energy poverty is actually a complex one considering the fact that we have to address the issues of accessibility, reliability and affordability. Efforts to address the issue of accessibility and perhaps reliability can be envisaged regionally through the development of regional power grids and establishment of regional power pools- but there is still a big challenge with regard to the issue of affordability given the fact that majority of the people in rural areas will not afford modern energy like electricity since most of them rely on less than 3 dollars a day. So, even if modern energy is accessible and reliable, if the majority of people mostly in rural areas can not afford it, then they will opt for cheap energy such as biomass fuel-and this will definitely escalate deforestation (and of course climate change comes into play here)

I would suggest that the global community especially those international organisations such as UN and World Bank, take some steps to address the challenge differently. There is a need to re-define the problem of energy poverty and all the strategies that have been used previously, because clearly the challenge of energy poverty keeps escalating in Sub-Saharan Africa despite all the efforts and initiatives we have been seeing globally. The global community also tends to duplicate initiatives instead of discussing how the challenge can be tackled differently.

Affordable energy is or should be a basic right for all people. As I mentioned before it is also a matter of justice. If it is not guaranteed we risk social uprisings as energy is a facilitator for other fundamental needs like lightning, heat and a decent level of comfort.

We definitely must raise the awareness and action on political and public level. Compared to environmental problems like global warming and ozone depletion, the social dimension of energy poverty is even more visible. This might help to stress the urgency of the matter.

Regarding Russia's drive to end the sanctions and at the same time claiming that they have no effect, it is clear Russia is caught up in its own propaganda. If the sanctions have no effect then who cares? Yet they do have an effect, and quite a big one.

According to data, more than half of Russia's population is now living below Russia's official poverty level and the economy is in very bad shape. The environment around Putin is angry because they accumulated billions and now they can't spend. The circle is becoming smaller and smaller, as a result of which Putin's paranoia is increasing by the day. Yet the message is that the sanctions have no effect. He could not say otherwise: to acknowledge would mean to acknowledge defeat.

One thing to keep in mind though is the particular Russian trait of survivalism: even under the most dire circumstances they are able to continue, survive, accept and swallow. So in that sense, the sanctions did not bring the country to its knees, for sure. But from a political and moral point of view, giving them up would be the worst possible scenario and would expand the life-span of Putin's regime considerably. Patience is the key here, but patience is what most Western European politicians don't have.

I think one of the big problems is that Putin c.s. are very effectively using Soviet propaganda methods by creating the impression that Russia is encircled with enemies ("fascists") and has the right to defend itself. By doing so it denies a number of very fundamental issues that are too complex for a wider public that wants simple answers.

First of all, it was the USSR that helped build the German army in the 1920s; it was the USSR that concluded the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact with Nazi-Germany; the republics that suffered most from the Nazi invasion were Belarus and Ukraine, not Russia. And then a sad fact is that Russia currently has the largest fascist movement on the European continent, has a government and leader that is quite fascist in its ways of operating and is currently the biggest threat to world peace. So I think a prolongation of sections is logical, but knowing Western politicians I also know they won't maintain this forever and Putin is just counting on this.

As soon as Trump is in power the whole political constellation in the world is going to shift, and with the US gone (e.g. because Trump will be bogged down by scandals at home) Europe will have a hard time standing up to a dictator who has no norms or values whatsoever - has, as Simon Baron-Cohen puts it, no or negative empathy.

I would like also to thank you for the interesting debate.

As regards lifting visa requirements for Russians, there is no political will to achieve this result.


I think there will be a majority of votes in the EP for visa liberalisation for Ukrainian and Georgian citizens.  Regretfully, most inhabitants of these countries will not be able to visit Europe for purely financial reasons. It is not enough to facilitate the visa regime - the living standards in Georgia and Ukraine shall be made high enough to permit ordinary people to travel in Europe.