Here, in no particular order, are just some reasons why I’m voting to #Remain 

1. Free movement of people: I like that I could study, work, live and retire anywhere in the EU without the need for visas and other paperwork. I like that I can get free health care while travelling in the EU, I like that I don’t have to pay duty on beer, wine and gin etc. And I like that from next year, I also won’t have to pay roaming charges on my mobile.

2. The economy: I haven’t heard a single independent economist say we would be better off outside of the EU. 

3. Sovereignty: Well there has certainly been a load of misinformation about this. You’d think everything we say or do was controlled by Brussels. Boris, Gove, IDS and Farage should perhaps check Wikipedia. The UK has kept its sovereignty over monetary policy, education, the NHS, welfare, defence (although it shares sovereignty in NATO), and border security (we never signed the Schengen Agreement). However, as an EU member the UK considers it beneficial to pool with other EU member states, its sovereignty on issues such as trade, employment rights, environmental protection, consumer protection and food standards. 

4. The people in the Leave campaign: Almost entirely made up of hard right Tory politicians, their post Brexit utopia of a well-funded NHS is just not credible. They are not about to go on a public spending spree if we leave the EU because: (a) they won’t have the money – EU costs less than 1% of total public expenditure, (b) the economy will suffer (so again, no money), and (c) They are most certainly not socialists. Indeed, they are neoliberal conservatives who voted for public spending cuts, privatisation and austerity as a member of, or in support of, the current government.

5. Fear for the future: If we vote to leave it will be seen as a victory for the hard right. Farage and his followers will say their anti-immigrant stance has been legitimised; and it will pave the way for a more intolerant society. Pressure on infrastructure is not the fault of immigration, but years of failure by successive governments – Tory and New Labour – to build affordable houses, properly fund public services, and empower communities and civil society to act for the common good.

6. We live in an increasingly connected and inter-dependent world, with common problems from which we can find shared solutions. Going it alone is surely a big risk. Even Norway, often held up as an example of a non-EU country, recognises the need for cooperation since it pays into the EEA to access the single market, and in return accepts the social and economic rules including free movement of people.

(Note: For the avoidance of doubt, any similarity above with anything Cameron has said on the referendum is just a coincidence, as I’m definitely not a Tory).


Actually, free movement of people is good for us

Immigration has been the Leave campaign’s trump card. But how much of this is caused by misleading and confusing campaigning? 

They say we will regain control of our borders with Brexit. But a quick check will show we never lost them. Free movement of people hasn’t meant the end of border control. Indeed, Britain never joined the Schengen system that provides for passport free travel in Europe. As such, the only open border we have is with the Republic of Ireland, who themselves never joined Schengen.

Yet the fact remains, free movement of people within the EU is good for us. It enables us to recruit people with vital skills. It enables our scientists to co-operate closely and conduct research with colleagues in other countries. It makes it much easier for our students to live and study in major European cities. It means we can see European football stars playing in the Premier League. 

In fact, some 1.8 million Brits study, work, live and retire in other EU countries, making us a major beneficiary of free movement. Indeed, I could move to Spain pretty much as easily as a Spanish citizen moves from Seville to Madrid. I can get a job, benefit from their excellent and free health care system, open a bank account and even seek office in Spanish local elections. And I haven’t even mentioned the better weather!

The leavers point to housing shortages, hospital waiting lists, poor public transport and large class sizes to support their argument. Yes these are problems, and of course in some communities where there has been a rapid growth in population, then the numbers of people have put pressure on the local infrastructure. No one denies this.

But how we deal with this is a matter of policy. These problems have been around for years; and are happening all over the country, not just in the areas where immigration has been highest. In government, the leading leavers – Gove and his other Tory friends – haven’t been particularly bothered about social housing, hospitals and schools. Like those before it, the current government has the ability to properly fund education, improve public services; and build affordable homes. It just lacks the political will to do so, preferring instead cuts, privatisation and austerity.

Another Brexit argument is that migrants are taking other people’s jobs. Yet job vacancies are at a record high; and unemployment levels are at their lowest. Indeed, the Brexiteers conveniently ignore the fact that our NHS for example, needs migrant workers to fill vacancies for doctors, nurses and other skilled roles.

Let’s just think it through. We’ve been part of Europe for absolutely years. Free movement of people is nothing new; and studies show that the Europeans who live, work, and study here, put more into the economy than they take out. Indeed, net EU immigration was 180,000 in 2015. That’s the same as adding just one more person to a group of 500. Now I don’t know about you, but without counting, I couldn’t tell the difference between 500 people or 501.

Nor should we kid ourselves that shortcomings in our infrastructure would be solved with the money saved from leaving the EU. Firstly, the cost of EU membership is much less than 1% of total public expenditure. But the Leave campaigners – Johnson, Gove, IDS, Redwood – are all neoliberal ideologists. Their track record is for cuts and privatisation. Put another way, does anyone seriously believe there will be a public spending bonanza led by the right wing of the Tory party?

Of course in the event of Brexit, there will still be a compelling economic case to continue accessing the single market via the European Economic Area – Norway is often used as an example. If the UK stays in the single market, we will still have to pay to belong, we will still be bound by almost all the EU regulations, but we will have little say in how things are run. The real irony though, from the Leave perspective, is that by signing up to the single market, then we will also have to accept free movement of people. So are the Brexiteers misleading those minded to vote Leave, or just burying their heads in the sand?

Extra spending on the NHS following Brexit just isn’t believable

It’s been a while since I last posted anything on my blog, largely due to a long-standing health issue that has meant five operations in three years, with two behind me already this year. So I have seen at first hand the finer workings of our National Health Service; and I believe very strongly that it is something worth fighting for. But that is an issue for another blog post…

However, our NHS has been the subject of a somewhat wild claim in the ongoing referendum campaign. Of course seeing the two sides of the Tory party beating the crap out of each other is an interesting side story; and I wonder how they hope to build bridges afterwards. But to get their voices heard the main protagonists seem to prefer the headline catching sound bite over reasoned argument.

So it was the other day when Gove suggested that the NHS would be a £100 million a week better off if we left the European Union. If Gove was a socialist I might be more inclined to believe him. But really? The cost of EU membership is less than 1% of total UK government spending. So the money saved from Brexit would not go far when divided up between the many calls on the public purse.

But more significantly, Gove comes from a party of government that has been quietly privatising the health service. What’s more, he and his fellow conservatives have been responsible for some serious cuts in public expenditure, inflicting upon the more vulnerable in our society a deliberate policy of austerity. So if a post Brexit government, presumably led by Boris Johnson, had money to spare, do we honestly believe they would spend it on public services?

Of course not. If anything a more likely beneficiary would be the rich elite in the form of tax cuts, presumably so that the wealth trickles down to the rest of us. Seriously though, Gove’s ‘leave’ group of very right-wing politicians, assuming they took control of the Conservative party, would – Brexit aside – make little difference to how the country was already being run.

So back to the NHS: When I woke up in recovery after my last operation, it was clear that the staff were stretched. In between the doses of  Tramadol I did ask about this, and was told that they needed at least one extra person. This example may be just anecdotal, but I don’t believe Brexit would solve NHS funding problems. Indeed, after Brexit what would be the impact on staffing if EU nationals were no longer able to get jobs in the NHS? If Brexit was followed by a recession due to a falling pound and other economic problems, what would happen to the current funding of our health service? Gove and his mates don’t seem to have any answers; but them spending extra on the NHS just isn’t believable. 

If ever there was a time to back our NHS, it is now #JuniorDoctorsStrike #NHSBill

The current dispute with junior doctors is much more than a fight over pay and conditions. The very future of our national health service is at stake. I say this because as others have already made clear, the seven day working that the Tories want to see would leave even more of our NHS open to privatisation.

Already £billions worth of contracts have been awarded to the private sector to run all kinds of different services. But with no routine surgery at weekends, the present set up is a less attractive prospect to the profiteers. Put another way, the likes of American private health companies would no doubt prefer to see planned operations provide a profit over seven days rather than five.

Of course what the Tories are doing, although alarming, is not exactly surprising. Privately run health care is just an example of their ideological approach to public services; and marketisation was of course a key aspect of the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Then consider also the impact of financial pressures imposed by central government.

Yet in response, what the Labour Party is doing, or rather not doing, is of grave concern. On the NHS more than any other issue, Labour has been on safe ground. We love our NHS, and we trust Labour to look after it. So apologies if I’ve missed it, but why isn’t the party adding their voice to that of the Greens, and giving unequivocal support to the junior doctors? Why isn’t it giving its total support to the NHS reinstatement bill tabled by Caroline Lucas MP. Why isn’t it shouting from every street corner about the damage the Tories are doing? Why are they not making the future of our NHS the central plank in their fight-back against the Tories? 

The circumstances surely warrant a robust defence from Labour.

Working in our health service takes a special type of person. But the professionalism and commitment of staff has sadly been rewarded with pay freezes and attacks on their pensions. Now we are seeing a campaign against junior doctors played out in the media, and a threat to the bursaries of student nurses. Meanwhile the profiteers remain poised to grab ever more contracts for clinical services.

I’ve had need of our national health service quite a lot in the last few years. From my local GP surgery, to the operating theatre, to the urgent care centre at a local hospital, I have benefitted from the professional care and dedication of the staff: and the fact that the service is, for now at least, free at the point of use. The thought that one day it could be gone is frankly shocking. 

So if ever there was a time to back the staff, and back the National Health Service, it is now. 

A blow for opposite sex civil partnerships, but this will only strengthen our resolve

Today’s ruling against civil partnerships for opposite sex couples is a real blow, but I can’t help thinking it will only serve to strengthen the campaign for a change in the law. 

Last week Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan argued at the High Court that the Civil Partnership Act 2004, which restricts civil partnerships to same-sex couples, is incompatible with Article 14 (read with Article 8) of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, this morning Mrs. Justice Andrews ruled that the difference does not fall within the ambit of Article 8, and even if it did, then maintaining the difference is justified.

As a couple very much wanting to see Rebecca and Charles succeed, my partner and I are extremely disappointed. We have been together for 24 years, and have no desire to marry. We don’t want the social expectations and traditions that for us at least, come with a marriage. However, we would like to see proper legal recognition of our relationship. It isn’t exactly a big ask. 

Indeed, I don’t really see what the government’s problem is. There is the rather weak argument that a civil partnership might undermine the institution of marriage. But those of us seeking this change are not going to get married anyway so that argument is surely nonsense. 

Put another way, why should the law afford us as a couple fewer legal rights than those who choose to marry? It doesn’t make sense and it isn’t fair.

According to the Equal Civil Partnerships campaign there are 2.9 million opposite sex couples in this country. In this modern society surely all of us, regardless of our sexual orientation, should be allowed to choose what sort of recognition, if any, we want for our relationships. 

We would choose a civil partnership, but the government is stopping us from doing this. So I hope that this ruling gives the campaign further impetus. I hope many more people sign the petition, write to their MP, and give support to those at the forefront of the campaign. Fortunately, there is cross party support for change, so please don’t give up on this important equality issue.

how exactly do we tell the fighters from the civilians?

So within an hour of the Commons vote British jets were launched to drop bombs on an oil field in Syria….

Amid all the whooping and cheering after the result last night, it’s clear wiser counsel was ignored. Indeed, many questions remain unanswered.
What for example will be achieved by Britain flying these missions? Will British bombers make any significant difference? How long will the bombing last? What evidence is there that such action will make us safer? More specifically, what is the end game? Will it need ground troops. If so, where will they come from? How long would a ground campaign last? What about the likely impact on, and reaction from, the current regime in Syria and those groups fighting against it?

Also, how do we find the targets? How exactly do we tell the fighters from the civilians? What number of civilian deaths will our government consider acceptable?
And what about the alternatives? Can we not stop the flow of money and weapons? Can we cut their supply routes? What about blocking their oil trade (rather than bombing it)? What about countering their social media campaign? What about sanctions, what about diplomacy? 

It seems to me that one of the motivators for bombing is that “we’ve been asked to help” but is that in itself sufficient grounds for bombing?
Frankly I am amazed that supposedly intelligent men and women could commit to military action without any clear strategy. Surely they should have learned the lessons from our involvement in Iraq?  Above all though, how can those MPs who voted for bombs ever be certain, in the absence of any reliable evidence, that the human cost will be worthwhile. Its time for some answers.

if the tories wanted workers to have a fairer share, then they wouldn’t undermine trade unions

Osborne really is a nasty little man. He has that annoying habit of winding me up, simply by opening his mouth.

He said today that he still wants to press ahead with cuts to tax credits. No surprise there, but his justification was just poppycock.

First he blames unelected Labour and Lib Dem peers for the government’s defeat in the Lords, completely missing the point that all those Lords are unelected.

Then he bleats on about the government’s mandate to push through his tax credit cuts, conveniently ignoring the fact that two thirds of those who went to the polls in May didn’t actually vote Tory.

Next he says, rather smugly, that he wants a low tax, low welfare, high wage society. All very well, but if he and Cameron really wanted ordinary people to have a fairer share of our country’s wealth, they would encourage trade unions and collective bargaining. Instead, everything the Tories have done since the days of Thatcher has undermined effective union organisation. And they’re not finished yet.

Sadly, this government is only six months old. Just imagine life with another four and a half years of Osborne speak, let alone Osborne policy….