How we ourselves could sort out Brexit

ON Friday, TCW’s Caroline ffiske suggested a very good way for voters to sort out Brexit ourselves. I have been thinking that in this electronic age voters should consult each other and organise the tactical voting. Caroline ffiske proposed a very good way of doing this, suggesting that John Longworth could run a focal point for voters. What about a clever IT lady?

I don’t mind who runs this as long as he or she and the staff are all scrupulously honest. They will have to draw up a list of candidates for the whole country and inform the voters in each constituency which candidates support a clean-break Brexit.

The Brexit Party is new and most have no experience of Parliament. That could be improved by the ERG as a group agreeing to work with Brexit Party MPs in Parliament. I’m thinking on the lines of the buddy system where one MP guides another as to how things are done in Parliament. (The Paras and SAS use it and it works.)

The next general election will indeed be the People’s vote. Far better another general election than Tony Blair and Merkel taking over our Parliament (already done, so too late to stop ) and then over-ruling the 2016 vote (their next move) by telling Bercow to set up a vote for another referendum. I can’t think of anything more insulting to those of us who voted Leave in 2016, nor anything more dangerous for democracy, law and order. Why should the voters accept the results of general elections? Just watch: Corbyn will delay and delay the vote on an election. He can say that it’s quite normal for those in power to reject the voters’ will. And he will be right. Thanks Tony and Peter Mandelson and Mutti Merkel.

There’s not much time to get organised, but more than you think.

The voting patterns in this Parliament tell us all we need to know about the present sheep flocks of MPs. Very few of them deserve our trust let alone our votes.

I think the Conservative Party is going to be holed below the waterline. Labour will be slaughtered but don’t believe the Cummings propaganda, the Brexit Party will benefit from a lot of angry Labour voters while the rump of New Labour will vote Liberal.

The next Parliament – after an election – should get rid of the Fixed Term Act. It was written by the Liberals to keep themselves in office. I fear the Lords needs a complete overhaul!

Dave’s bleatings all over the front pages simply confirm the voters’ view that the political establishment and their pals think we’re still in the nineteenth century. Changing the way we govern ourselves is a longer job but I see the direction in which we should travel all around me every day.

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Beset by weasels, Boris of Toad Hall

WATCHING the self-regarding histrionics of Speaker Bercow at the recent prorogation of Parliament and infantile Remainer MPs dressing up as heroes, I was particularly struck by one clip of the event. At one point a group of Labour MPs sang the words ‘We’ll keep the Red Flag flying here’. The spectacle of this quasi-communist anthem being sung in the upholstered and sombre surroundings of the House of Commons led me, irresistibly, to a comparison. Some will, of course, insist that The Red Flag is Socialist rather than Communist. It is, though, after all, the anthem of the Korean People’s Army and was here sung against the backdrop of a party led by the Marxist-Leninist Jeremy Corbyn who is currently threatening state confiscation of property should he get into power.

The Scots author, Kenneth Grahame, was once held up and shot at three times in the Bank of England, where he worked as a clerk, by an unhinged Left-wing protester, later styled by the press as a ‘Socialist Lunatic’, who had demanded to see the Governor of the Bank. Grahame was later to imagine and commit to the page, in The Wind in the Willows, the scenes in which the Wild Wooders, a disreputable rabble made up of weasels, stoats and ferrets, take over Toad Hall, reduce the interior to chaos and feast on Toad’s provender. It was not hard to see this in allegorical terms as the invasion of an aristocratic home by a mob of socialist workers making free with the blueblood’s cigars and champagne. Toad and his friends, Ratty (modelled on Grahame’s literary friend Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch), Mole and Badger devise a plot for retaking Toad Hall by attacking, armed to the teeth, via a secret tunnel. The assault is a valiant success and the Wild Wooders are driven out.

It suddenly struck me that Boris Johnson is Toad. English in his attitudes to the core, bluff, amiable, jovial, comical and radiating confidence (to the point of arrogance in Toad’s case) and bravado, there he was (in spirit at least as he may have left the chamber by that point), at bay and surrounded by rioting Remainers, many of them with socialist sympathies. The weasels and stoats were running all over the green leather and the chamber and country were on the verge of a socialist-communist takeover. Only Boris stood in their way. He, the cabinet and Dominic Cummings were and are desperately trying to find the secret strategic tunnel that will enable him to retake the chamber, free himself from the legal stranglehold he appears to be in and assume the rights an executive should have.

Then an earlier image in the story struck me – the one of Toad moping in prison where he was consigned for stealing and recklessly driving a car. It has been gleefully mooted by his enemies that, should Boris openly refuse to comply with the requirements of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No.6) Bill, he, too, could be imprisoned. They think it’s where ‘dictator’ Boris belongs. The Spectator and Observer journalist Nick Cohen recently told us that Boris and his team should be treated just as one would treat a ‘crime gang.’

Many Remainers and many on the Left are riddled with self-loathing. They hate their Englishness, the post-imperialist legacy of guilt it bestows on them and their whiteness, and regularly and abjectly apologise for them in order to signal their humility. Establishment and Old Etonian Boris, ever quoting Kipling and Churchill, unashamedly embraces these things and, Toad-like, unapologetically loves what he is. What better opportunity than the one he offers, in his person, for us to take all the things we loathe in ourselves, expel them, and deposit them on Boris where they can be punished as a sin-offering or holocaust? Once this dynamic is set up, the floodgates are open as permission is given for all types of revilement and opprobrium to be heaped upon him as he is immolated in his cell. In him our English sins are expiated in a quasi-religious frenzy. Absolutely anything he says or does is seen as further evidence of his debasement. Quoting from the Nigel Molesworth books of another typically English author, Geoffrey Willans, Johnson scrawled on a memo that his old rival, David Cameron, was a ‘girly swot’. This gentle, humorous and almost affectionate appellation was pounced upon and adduced in further evidence of his utter depravity. No holds are barred, it seems, and all our hatred can now be safely channelled in this one direction leaving us purified and without sin.

The weasels and stoats are triumphantly running riot in Parliament, Boris’s hands are tied and he seems to look out at us disconsolately through the bars of a prison cell. In this predicament he sometimes seems to waver and the longstanding doubts as to whether he wants to go the whole hog with Brexit are resurfacing. For now, though, let’s put our faith in him and let’s hope he finds that tunnel, casts off his bonds and makes a triumphant return to the chamber.

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If Boris won’t create a Leave alliance, the grass roots must

LIKE many Leave supporters I have confidently awaited an electoral pact between the Brexit Party and the Conservatives. The stakes could not be higher. In recent by-elections we saw Peterborough and Brecon & Radnorshire go to Labour and the Lib Dems, despite the combined votes for the Conservatives and the Brexit Party being more in both cases.

The following is obvious to most Brexiteers. A tactical combination of the votes of Conservative and Brexit Party supporters in a forthcoming general election would result in a Conservative Government, perhaps with a Brexit Party complement, and the best – if not only – chance of leaving the EU. But if we are outmanoeuvred by an alliance of Labour, the Lib Dems and Conservative Remain supporters, we will end up with a Labour government and some version of either revoking Article 50 altogether or holding a second referendum.

You’d think the Conservative leadership would want to avoid the latter at all costs. Yet following Nigel Farage’s offer of a pact in a front-page advertisement in Wednesday’s Daily Express and a full-page ad in the Sun, the Conservative Party has confirmed that there will be no co-operation between the two parties.

According to the Times yesterday: ‘Allies of the prime minister attacked Nigel Farage yesterday and said that he should never be allowed “anywhere near government”.’ Adding insult to injury: ‘A senior Conservative source added that Mr Farage was not a “fit and proper” person’. The newspaper then quoted a spokesman for the prime minister saying: ‘The PM will not be doing a deal with Nigel Farage.’ 

So there we have it. To describe someone as not a fit and proper person is odious in the extreme. The great Conservative philosopher Edmund Burke said: ‘Manners are of more importance than laws. Upon them in a great measure, the laws depend. The law touches us but here and there, and now and then. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarise or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in. They give their whole form and colour to our lives. According to their quality, they aid morals, they supply them, or they totally destroy them’.

Manners have been in short supply in the public realm in recent years and with the emergence of social media we see ever more polarising rhetoric. The worst of this comes in the form of ‘peak othering’ of other people – there are some baddies on the other side and if we can get rid of them, all will be well. For some reason or other, many Liberals who think of themselves as having good hearts are perfectly happy to engage in peak othering of Conservatives. Some Conservatives seem to think they will win Liberal hearts by joining in.

It is the role of Conservatives everywhere to remember their Burke and, most of all, to remember their manners. Boris needs to be pushed out of the door of No 10 (by Nanny if necessary) and told to apologise quickly and publicly to Nigel Farage for these odious words that are currently circulating, seemingly condoned by the Conservative Party.

Now, as to the rejection of an electoral pact. It is almost impossible to find words. You can only assume that Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson are also stuck in the Westminster and Remainer bubble they complain of. They are seemingly unaware of the overwhelming backing among supporters of both parties for a pact. A YouGov survey found 60 per cent of Tory voters and 70 per cent of Brexit Party backers were keen on the idea. 

In the same way they seem unaware that the vast majority of Leave voters couldn’t care less about this or that smear on Nigel Farage, any more than they did about those on Boris. Rather, what they see is a Brexit Party, whether in its selection of candidates, its policy pronouncements to date or its social media presence, that hasn’t put a foot wrong in terms of being anything other than a tolerant, broad-based and, as far as I can make out, social conservative party – which is committed to taking us out of the EU.

I am a card-carrying member of the Conservative Party. I am also a signed-up supporter of the Brexit Party. As Nigel Farage has said, right now we all need to put country before any specific narrow party allegiance.

So now, in my view, two things need to happen. Obviously the best thing would be for the Conservatives to buck up and to agree to some kind of formal or informal alliance. But short of that:

First, the Brexit Party should stick to its course of maximising the chances of Brexit actually happening. If this involves giving the Conservatives a clear run at some seats, so be it. The Brexit Party’s edifying behaviour, in sharp contrast to that of the Conservatives, will be noted.

Secondly, irrespective of the above, Leavers need to organise for themselves. Toby Young argued in the Spectator last week that a grass-roots bottom-up alliance between Brexit Party and Conservative Party supporters could save Brexit: ‘To make this work, supporters of both parties would have to trust the organisation advising them on which way to vote’. But what and where is this ‘advising organisation’?

It matters because there are Leave voters who say they won’t bother to vote again. Only those who have been relentlessly on the campaign trail know how much the doorstep matters, perhaps never so much in our history as now. Without an organisation (maybe Leave Means Leave run by the admirable and highly competent John Longworth would step up to the plate?) that mobilises Leavers as a campaigning force to go back out and make the case for Brexit – for using their vote, if necessary, tactically – door by door by door across the country, the prospect is bleak.

Organisers and foot-soldiers and information; understanding which seats are winnable for Leave, and who is best placed to win them; an ‘app’ whereby campaigners can enter their postcodes to find the nearest constituency in which they could be usefully deployed, along with necessary contact and organisation details – all this is urgently required. Country before party is the message, democracy and respecting the democratic voice of the British people above all else.

Saving Brexit depends on it.

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May’s secret, scandalous surrender of our defence

ONE of the aspects of Brexit which has received little scrutiny is defence. This is understandable as we have long been assured by our political leaders that the EU Army is a myth and that the UK’s defence (such as it is) is based upon our membership of NATO. However it appears that this might not be the case, as revealed by Lord James of Blackheath in the House of Lords on Friday 6 September.

His revelation was based on a briefing given at the Royal United Services Institute by Lieutenant General Jonathon Riley on Monday 2 September, reported in The Conservative Woman here and here.  You may find an article on Veterans for Britain helpful too.

It transpires that as part of her negotiation in the worst deal in history Theresa May was prepared to hand control of our armed forces to the EU.

That’s right. Sir Alan Duncan MP, working for Boris Johnson who was then Foreign Secretary, signed up to this on 19 November 2018. So Boris knows about it too. And yet he thinks he can tweak May’s deal to get it through the House of Commons.

Two Prime Ministers agreed a deal that removes control of the British Armed Forces from the Queen, acting through Parliament, and neither has mentioned it. And no one picked it up, until Lord James mentioned it on Monday as the House of Lords rushed through the Bill to prevent no-deal – no doubt feeling pressurised by the Remain morons chanting ‘stop the coup’ in Parliament Square. The reality is that those who oppose Brexit have almost pulled off a feat that must be close to treason.

The problem lies with a thing called the European Defence Agency (EDA) and its Permanently Structured Co-operation, snappily known as PESCO. Read all about it here. Its purpose is ‘to jointly develop a coherent full spectrum force package and make the capabilities available to Member States for national and multinational (EU CSDP, NATO, UN, etc.) missions and operations’.

In effect this means producing a standing, unified force capable of everything from peacekeeping to full-on high intensity armoured warfare. Note also that, unlike NATO, PESCO is not limited to mutual defence. To my reading, it requires the member states of PESCO to submit their defence policy to the EU apparatchik running the EDA for review and approval.

At the moment the UK is part of the EDA, but not PESCO. However, the Political Declaration that accompanies the Maybot’s thrice-failed Withdrawal Agreement states in paragraph 104 that the UK agrees ‘to enable to the extent possible under the conditions of Union law . . . the United Kingdom’s collaboration in projects in the framework of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), where invited to participate on an exceptional basis by the Council of the European Union in PESCO format’.

Note that the UK agreement is triggered by an invitation from the Council of the European Union. There is a rider earlier in the paragraph that both the UK and EU should preserve ‘their respective strategic autonomy and freedom of action’ but that is trumped by an invitation from the European Council. (And of course the EDA and PESCO work under EU Law).

There may be problems in enforcing British fishing grounds against other EU member states if the Royal Navy is tasked by PESCO to protect EU trawlers against angry British ones.

There might also be some trouble with the individual members of the Armed Forces, who having sworn to ‘be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will, as in duty bound, honestly and faithfully defend Her Majesty, Her Heirs and Successors, in Person, Crown and Dignity’ might be unwilling to replace that with a similar undertaking to Brussels, as Lord James pointed out. 

Did all those MPs who voted for May’s Withdrawal Agreement, which of course includes our current Prime Minister (who voted for it at the third attempt), actually read it? If they had they would also realise that it was all set up by the Lisbon Treaty and that we’re in it unless we get out by 31 October, which is no doubt why the Remainers want an extension.

It’s not just Boris’s career at stake, it’s the ability of this country to protect its interests. We need to leave, and we need to leave by Halloween.

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What next for Brexit? You vote!

THIS is your chance to reckon the political odds. With Boris ‘snookered’ by the Remainers, as the Telegraph’s Sherelle Jacobs puts it, and the near-certainty there’s to be no election before October 31, what are the chances of our leaving the EU on any terms by that date?

Could Boris – if he hasn’t resigned by then – still pull a rabbit out of the EU hat and if he can, will the Commons accept a WA rehash? Could we still leave with a no-deal?

MPs might think that they have stymied a no-deal exit once and for all, but it is not really in their hands. What are the chances that Boris’s request for an extension – should he surrender and make it – be agreed by the EU? Will Macron say enough is enough, good riddance to bad rubbish, refuse to agree to an extension as he has threatened previously, and prevail with the rest of the EU?

These are all factors to consider in your prediction about our country’s future as of October 31.

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We want out!

THE public want to be out of the EU by October 31 by a very substantial margin, a poll published today reveals, showing how totally out of tune Parliament is with the public.

The ComRes poll in the Telegraph finds:

Most people believe that 2016 referendum result should be respected ‘irrespective of how I voted’ (54 per cent agree, 25 per cent disagree);
Of those who voted Remain in 2016, more than a third (35 per cent) said they wanted Brexit to be delivered;
Asked whether Brexit should be postponed until January 31, 2020, almost half (49 per cent) disagreed compared with 29 per cent who agreed;
By 43 per cent to 32 per cent, those surveyed agreed that if the EU refuses to make any more concessions, the UK should leave the EU without a deal on October 31;
When asked if it was ‘fundamentally undemocratic’ for some MPs to try to prevent the UK from leaving the EU in light of the Government’s promise to implement the referendum result, 50 per cent agreed and 26 per cent disagreed.

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Breaking news: Tory majority down to 0

PHILIP Lee, Conservative MP for Bracknell, has defected to the Liberal Democrats ahead of the showdown between Boris Johnson and Tory rebels over Brexit.

This means the Prime Minister no longer has a working majority in the Commons.

Mr Lee said the government was ‘pursuing a damaging Brexit in unprincipled ways’.

See here for more.

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Boris’s Brexit Election needs the Brexit Party

OVER the past fortnight, the prospective date for a General Election has been a moveable feast.

Until then, the expectation was that an ostensibly anti-No Deal – in reality a Stop Brexit – vote of no confidence in PM Boris Johnson’s government would be tabled, either by Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour alone, or in conjunction with the other parts of the loose Remain-Alliance, as soon as the Commons returned from recess, and that, if lost, Johnson would immediately seek to dissolve the current Parliament and call a General Election for mid-October.

That plan folded when allies of Corbyn privately admitted that he did not have the numbers required to bring down the Government, prospective support from Continuity-Remainer Tory rebels collapsed, and Corbyn was persuaded to adopt the legislative route instead. This had the effect of moving the anticipated date out of early or even mid-November, i.e. after Britain is due to have left the EU.

However, Johnson’s decision to prorogue Parliament for a further few sitting days beyond its normal party conference season prorogation – which, despite all the theatrical, confected Remainer outrage and bloviating hyperbole, was neither unprecedented, nor a ‘coup’ – has had the effect of goading not only the Remain-Alliance with its risible, wholly hypocritical and constitutionally illegitimate alternative ‘People’s Parliament’, but also the Tory-Remainer rebels, led by Hammond and Gauke, to accelerate and intensify their legislative guerilla campaign.

The result is the proposed European Union (Withdrawal) (No 6) Bill 2019, which in effect forces Johnson to beg the EU for an Article 50 extension, and accept whatever duration of extension the EU deigns to stipulate.

The drafters of the Bill protest that they have included a parliamentary veto over a long EU extension: but they have also said, in advance of the Bill’s publication, that the veto cannot and will not be used, because Parliament cannot and will not allow No Deal under any circumstances. The Bill, therefore, in effect hands the EU control over the Government, Parliament, Brexit, and by inference whether British democracy itself still exists.

The number of Tory-Remainer rebels pledging to support the Bill and vote against the government is already confirmed at ten and will possibly rise to 20 or 25, meaning that a Government defeat looks increasing likely.

In response, Johnson has already insisted that there are no circumstances in which he would seek a delay, so that, according to sources within Number Ten, in the event of a Commons defeat Johnson will dissolve Parliament and call a snap General Election for 14 October, which would in itself require the support of two-thirds of MP under the terms of the Fixed-Terms Parliament Act.

Crucially, that date would be in advance of the next European Council meeting, scheduled for 17-18 October. This does not augur well for the proper, clean-break Brexit that Johnson has given the impression – but not much tangible evidence – of both favouring and working towards since becoming Prime Minister.

If he gets a fresh mandate on, say, 14 October, then he can use that European Council meeting, and the last two weeks prior to 31 October, to stitch up a new Brexit deal – which I believe he wants, much more than he’s been prepared to admit, and much, much more than he wants a No-Deal, clean-break Brexit – for the narrow personal and tribal objectives of securing his own legacy and keeping the Tory party together.

Any such deal would be not much different to May’s, except possibly for the Northern Ireland backstop. Johnson has already dropped a hint, at the end of August, that that he might seek changes to the backstop, but could leave the rest of the Withdrawal Agreement intact. It would still have all the vassal-statehood disadvantages and disasters which have been so eloquently warned about by, among others, Professor David CollinsBriefings For Brexit’s Caroline Bell, and Lawyers For Britain’s Martin Howe.

But in my view, Johnson doesn’t care. I’m convinced he just wants something he can push across the finishing line in Parliament. He has hitherto delivered nothing much more than bluster, despite his insistence at the Biarritz G7 that ‘the Withdrawal Agreement is dead’. But his next sentence specifically referenced that pronouncement to Parliament, suggesting he could mean ‘dead’ only in the narrow political sense that the House of Commons would not pass it in its present form. That patently did not, and still does not, exclude it re-emerging to a greater or lesser extent in different form.

Cynical I may be, but I will believe that May’s execrable (non)-‘Withdrawal’ Agreement and integral Political Declaration are ‘dead’ only when either they are replaced by an acceptable Free Trade Agreement along the lines of a Canada++, or failing that, when we exit on a WTO-reversion No-Deal.

Moreover, a No-Deal, Clean-Break, Real-Brexit would be far more likely to be the catalyst for the sorely-needed upending of our entire political system: which, in my view, for all his bluster, Johnson doesn’t want. Politically, he is invested in our current, democratically-deficient settlement in which the two main parties have largely rigged the system to ensure their own advantage and perpetuation, and he has no desire to see it changed to something more genuinely pluralist and robustly participatory.

Which brings us to the role of the Brexit Party in the coming election, and why it will potentially be vital.

It’s rare for me to disagree with the Daily Telegraph’s Allister Heath, whether on economics or politics – the public realm has far too few small-state, low-tax, free-market, sound-money Hayekians – but on his hypothesis that it’s time for the Brexit Party to shut up shop because the battle has been won, I believe he’s wrong.

Firstly, it treats TBP as a one-issue party, which it isn’t, because it’s about more than Brexit, which it correctly sees must not only happen if we’re any kind of democracy at all, but must also be not merely an end in itself but also that catalyst for changing the way we do politics which I suspect Johnson does not especially want.

Secondly, in the light of the preceding paragraphs, and as former Leave Means Leave head and now Brexit Party MEP John Longworth emphasised on these pages only a day or two ago, the dangers of a new Brexit betrayal are very real. If, as it looks, we may be heading for merely a largely cosmetic re-packaging and re-branding of May’s deal as something ‘new’, then the role of the Brexit Party in the election in drawing attention to that fact will be critical.

Thirdly, Heath has been vociferous for several years in (rightly) castigating the ‘Conservative’ Party in numerous policy areas other than Brexit: its pandering to leftist Social-Justice-Warrior obsessions and to those who would curb free speech; its disastrous energy policies and gullibility on the Green agenda; its neo-Keynesian monetary and fiscal policies, and its excess regulation, spending and taxing. But without the more or less permanent threat of a Brexit Party snapping at its heels to keep it on the straight and narrow, the still overwhelmingly Fabian-Blairite Tory Party would be back to its bad old ways in no time at all. They are not to be trusted.

As political scientist Matthew Goodwin points out, the Conservative defection rate to the Brexit Party has slumped from 37 per cent before Johnson became Prime Minister, through 25 per cent when he entered Downing Street, to a mere 16 per cent as at 31 August. It’s presumably on this re-defection pattern that Johnson and Dominic Cummings believe they can secure a Leave majority for the Tories with a snap election.

But that surely also pre-supposes that, to compensate for losing Remainer votes in the South to the LibDems or a Remain Alliance, the Tories can capture enough working-class Leave votes in the Midlands and the North repelled by Labour’s coming-out as an unabashed Remain Party. That is something of a gamble, to put it mildly, because the Tory brand, rightly or wrongly, is still toxic in many of those areas. The Brexit Party would be far better placed to bring those votes under the Leave banner, which is why the Tories should not close the door to the Brexit Party’s overtures for a tactical alliance.

The resignation of Ruth Davidson as Tory leader in Scotland ought to support that hypothesis still further. Her departure potentially weakens the Tories in Scotland, which must put at least half, if not all, of their seats in Scotland – without which they wouldn’t have been able to form a Government in 2017 at all, even with the support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party – at risk, especially as Scotland hates Johnson anyway. Which in turn means that Johnson could end up needing support from, or even that Leave tactical alliance with, the Brexit Party even more to secure more seats in England.

It’s a risky strategy. As Matthew Goodwin set out yesterday, it could all go wrong for the Tories and Johnson: his problem is that things are starting to work against him and for Farage, and will do so even more if he’s forced by Parliament to scrap No-Deal and gives the appearance of settling for a Remain-Lite, Brexit-In-Name-Only because that’s the very most that the majority-Remainer, anti-Brexit Parliament would approve.

Johnson should swallow his pride, make temporary accommodation with the Brexit Party, and enter into that tactical alliance. To win this coming election, and deliver the Brexit 17.4million voted for, both he and the Tories need it.

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Are we watching a monumental act of treachery?

IT IS likely that Dominic Cummings’s playbook is running to plan. There is a media frenzy and indignation on both sides of the Brexit divide with respect to the behaviour of the protagonists in this very English civil war. While each argues about who is most unconstitutional (my view naturally being that Remainers have behaved appallingly by setting Parliament against the people), the new Olly Robbins, now called David Frost, is busily negotiating in Brussels to re-hash Theresa May’s supposedly ‘dead parrot’ agreement. Meanwhile the furore is keeping attention away from what appears to be a monumental act of treachery.

I say ‘appears to be’ because that is the word on the Tory grapevine. Nobody else will write this at present, not even true Leavers, either because they are afraid of being blamed if it all goes horribly wrong, or because they are afraid of losing out on their honours if all goes to plan: the power of patronage within the British establishment is something to behold.

Frost and Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay (interestingly with some erroneous help from Andrew Neil’s researchers) seem to have persuaded PM Johnson that a GATT 24 approach is a non-starter, quite wrongly, but then Boris never was one for the fine print! When Johnson was appointed PM, I encouraged him to visit the WTO in Geneva first rather than trekking to Brussels, Berlin or Paris, for two reasons. One was symbolic, to send a powerful message to the EU. The second was to receive information in person on GATT 24 and how the WTO could assist, as indeed I did last January when I spent a day with their most senior people on this very topic. Clearly Mr Johnson’s new Sir Humphrey and Remain-leaning Ministers want to keep him away from Geneva.

In fairness GATT 24 does require two to tango and therefore it depends on the EU being a willing partner. The government may have calculated, given the short time available, that starting with what we already have is the best way of reaching a conclusion or, at least, showing willing. But therein lies a fallacy: the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) and Political Declaration (PD) would require such radical change as to be unrecognisable. GATT 24 provides a blank sheet. Which is the easier starting point? I think the latter.

For genuine, committed Leavers, people who recognise what liberty looks like and will settle for nothing less, this is all very frustrating. The proroguing of Parliament may have been justified and constitutional, but for what purpose? Certainly it will be a wasted action if it leads to BRINO and the worst deal in the history of our island nation, the sort of treaty thrust upon nations defeated in war.

We should recall that many in the current Cabinet referred to the WA and PD as a treaty that would place the UK in ‘vassalage’, a veritable ‘colony’ of the EU. These voices included Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg. It wasn’t the backstop that led to this conclusion, but the WA and PD. The backstop made it impossible ever to leave the EU, while the substantive treaty makes it merely unlikely that we would ever be able to leave. However the WA and PD, variously, give control or force upon us a commitment to a direction of travel in respect of EU defence structures, EU finance structures, control over our spending and competitiveness via state aid rules, ultimate jurisdiction of the ECJ in many areas, continued adherence to the single market (SM) and customs union (CU) particularly during a transition period of at least two years when we will have no say in how this plays out. It is BRINO writ large. It is not Brexit.

Once again, many right-thinking Conservative MPs are keeping quiet because they want to give Johnson the benefit of the doubt and want to preserve the party. We should not forget that only two of the current Cabinet voted against the WA and PD third time around; the rest voted for it even with the backstop included!

This state of affairs has all the hallmarks of a charade. Believe me, I would be delighted to be proved wrong.

To add to the angst of true Brexiteers, the Remainer camp are desperately trying everything they can to frustrate any move by the government towards Brexit. We now have the spectacle of the Leader of the Opposition volunteering to lead street protests against a government ostensibly trying to deliver what two-thirds of UK constituencies and three-quarters of England and Wakes constituencies voted for in a referendum granted to the people by Parliament.

This is the same Jeremy Corbyn who, in March 2016, was the first person to congratulate me on my speech supporting leaving the EU which led to my resigning as head of the British Chambers of Commerce, the same Jeremy Corbyn who has consistently campaigned against the power of the EU and who fought the last election on a manifesto committed to respecting the will of the people as expressed in the referendum. In other words, yet another politician lacking in principles and agog at the prospect of power.

What makes this even more tragic is that Labour have continuously campaigned using the slogan ‘For the many, not the few’ and yet insist on maintaining membership of the CU. This in turn means the maintenance of the common external tariff charged by the EU on food and consumer goods. This tax is extremely regressive, affecting the poorest the most and protecting fat cat, monopolistic multinationals and continental land-owners. What a joke: socialists supporting a policy affecting the whole population which is so patently for the few and not the many, just as Corbyn used to say about the EU, before he became in thrall to power. Many communist and fascist regimes and dictators throughout history have claimed that the end justifies the means. They still are today, but really, sadly, it’s all about power.

What is to be done? In this divided polity, persuasion seems to have lost its potency. The only thing Parliamentarians seem to recognise is their own impending demise. The only thing likely to persuade Conservative and Labour MPs to deliver the mandate they gave to the people is the potential that they will be wiped out at the next election if they do not. It is in this context that the Brexit Party has a crucial role to play.

Should the referendum not be respected, I detect that the Brexit Party has the resolve to eliminate swathes of the current government and the Labour Party at a future election, however long they have to wait to do this. Of course, many MPs will be calculating, or at least hoping, that Brexit fatigue has set in and that the electorate will be simply relieved it is all over, whatever the outcome, and especially if the outcome can be dressed up as Brexit. With ample electoral bribery from the government, a positive attitude from the PM and a repackaged deal said to be Brexit, enough voters will be won over. Job done.

They may be right, but as they say in Yorkshire, ‘You can put as much lipstick as you like on a pig, but it is still a pig’. It is equally possible that enough voters will recognise what has happened and will care enough to be furious. Enough to eliminate Labour MPs in the north and to remove large numbers of Conservatives across the country. The Brexit Party may not win many of these Parliamentary seats but they may win enough votes to unseat the incumbent, and the Brexit Party are, I think, sufficiently committed to do this whatever the consequences.

Before the government proceed to deliver a BRINO, before Labour decide to wreck, I would urge them to think on this: it may be that many of them will no longer be in Parliament in the future and this is likely to be the last political decision they take.

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Is this the liberals’ Armageddon?

SHHHH . . . don’t tell them, but in fighting the prorogation of Parliament British liberalism is about the make the greatest, most unforced error since its rise to hegemony began more than fifty years ago. By deciding to die in a ditch to defend ‘Parliamentary sovereignty’ – by which they mean EU sovereignty – over our affairs, they will end both, and with it their grip on British politics.

To understand why, it is worth recounting how liberalism became such a completely dominating force in Western politics over the past half century. It started, of course, in the 1960s, the ‘boomer’ generation which idealistically surfed the sexual revolution and the age of mass prosperity. Growing in power as it came of age, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the communications revolution allowed it to become truly international or ‘globalist’ in nature. Its hegemony was due not to a conspiracy hatched in the brain of Antonio Gramsci or Davos Man, but rather the simple, organic consequence of highly connected liberal elites who gradually came to realise that they had more in common with their counterparts in other countries than the majority of their own countrymen. A natural consequence was that liberalism became progressively anti-democratic, as nationally based democratic institutions could not represent the new ‘global’ demos that the elites increasingly felt they belonged to.

In short, liberalism found expression via a cultural network of powerful people, and liberal ideas triumphed because they could be propagated through it. The great strengths of networks are that they allow decentralised agency, variability of scale and no single point of failure. As such, they are vastly more powerful than organised conspiracies, which are brittle, scale poorly and require a high degree of centralised control. If, say, you were a highly connected liberal representing some pressure group or charity, you could hope to implement your goals through many different routes. Perhaps you know someone on the relevant NGO who could quietly give policy a nudge in the right direction. Alternatively, you could lobby Parliament to change the law. If the current governing interests were hostile, you could hope to circumvent them via your contacts in the EU. Sympathetic media chums could frame the desired narratives. As you beavered away, thousands of other independent actors would be creating similar initiatives. At least some would bear fruit.

Exit from the EU therefore looked like proving a grievous blow to British liberalism, but not an existential one. Except for the DUP, liberals retain very powerful presences in all political parties and completely dominate the quango state. On the international stage there was still the United Nations, which even before Brexit was replacing the crippled and declining EU as the nexus for globalist initiatives such as its sinister migration pact. To cap it all, they even have a Brexit leader who agreed with most of their agenda: when he became Prime Minister, Boris Johnson telegraphed that albeit sans the EU, the liberal settlement would remain intact. He was offering a Henry VIII-style Reformation. For social conservatives, Brexit under Boris threatened to be: ‘Meet the new boss, same as the old boss’.

Faced with this final opportunity of a tactical retreat, more subtle liberal leadership would draw in their horns, pretend to surrender, lie low for a time and await further opportunity. Instead, they have doubled down on the same militant tactics they have used since the referendum result, using their networks to launch blatant conspiracies against Brexit, insulting leavers and becoming ever more stridently hostile to democracy.

Why fight so hard? Perhaps in some cases it is personal venality or strongly felt European identity. However, the major reason is that liberalism has become a high-status faith – and a fundamentalist one at that. Where once it was flexible, now it is rigid; where once it exuded the oily charm of Metropolitan Man, now it’s aggressive and in-yer-face; where once its tenets seemed vaguely connected to reality, now much of its policy portfolio is rarefied, elitist madness. No better illustration of its quasi-religious fervour is the recent grotesque spectacle of rich international figures flying to a conference on global warming in private jets, using carbon offsets rather in the same way that the rich once bought papal indulgences for the forgiveness of sin. 

By throwing all their forces into their doomed attempts to stop Brexit, British liberals, especially those within Parliament, are doing terminal damage to both their and its reputation, destroying an institution that they themselves still largely control. The great weakness of liberalism is that its adherents are in a permanent minority. Their actions have all but assured that a far more populist version of democracy will replace our clapped-out ‘unrepresentative shamocracy’, and their hegemony will, at long last, be over.

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Yes, there would be some losers from No Deal. We can easily afford to compensate them

This article is as relevant today as when it first appeared – and it’s a good reminder to the government in their no-deal preparations as to which industries they may need to focus their attentions on. It was first published on January 23, 2019.

IN A recent note for The Conservative Woman I criticised business lobbying groups, not least the Chemicals Industries Association, for their needlessly pessimistic utterances about a No Deal Brexit. Instead of exaggerating the difficulties they would face trading with the EU under the WTO’s tried and tested rules, they should be embracing the future. Fifty-five per cent of our export trade is basically conducted under such rules already. Rather than ‘crashing out’ and/or ‘falling off a cliff’, it would be more of a ‘leap into the familiar’.

There are two factors in our favour if there is a No Deal Brexit. Firstly, there should be no need for painful discussions over the EU’s recognition of our product standards because we are completely compliant already. Given this compliance, WTO rules state quite clearly that the EU cannot discriminate against our exports to them. Even if the WTO’s rules on non-discrimination did not exist, the EU would have been cutting off its nose to spite its face if it discriminated. The UK would surely have retaliated and, given the EU’s huge visible trade surplus with us (£95billion in 2018), their exporters would have had more to lose than ours. Commercial realities, surely, would have prevailed and this tit-for-tat would never have arisen.

Secondly, the EU’s average import tariffs (relating to the Common External Tariff) which EU importers would have to pay on UK goods exports into the bloc would be low. (There are no tariffs on services.) Therefore, the potential damage to our exporters’ price-competitiveness would be, on the whole, containable. One very useful exercise on these tariffs was undertaken by the think tank Civitas in October 2016, which used 2015 data, but average tariffs are unlikely to have changed significantly since then. They concluded that the weighted tariff rate UK exporters would face was just 4.5 per cent, which should not, in aggregate, significantly undermine competitiveness. Sterling has depreciated against the euro by about 10 per cent since the 2016 referendum, more than offsetting the effects of the average tariffs, and by as much as 20 per cent since November 2015, when the currency was clearly overvalued.

There would, however, be relative winners and relative losers. As chart 1 shows, the average tariff may be 4.5 per cent but some industries would not face tariffs as high as this. The rate for chemicals is just 3.5 per cent (inorganic and organic weighted together), whilst the rate for mineral oil and gas is just over 1 per cent. In addition, rates are very low across a wide range of other manufactures and even zero for pharmaceuticals.

However, there are losers. Indeed that is why I always favoured a Canada-style free trade agreement on Brexit. But this is not on offer and, given the deeply flawed Withdrawal Agreement, trading under WTO terms is clearly preferable.

Two arguably marginal cases are vehicles (excluding rail, including motor vehicles) and clothing and footwear, where there is clearly some EU protectionism. The specific tariff rate for cars is 10 per cent. Moreover, vehicle exports to the EU, at £15.4billion, are significant, whilst clothing and footwear exports were £2.5billion (2015 data). Of course, the weaker currency, mentioned above, would mitigate the potential loss of price-competitiveness of these exporting industries. But, putting that aside, these industries could be helped if need be, within WTO rules. They could be offered, for example, financial help with R&D, marketing efforts, training budgets and reducing taxes.

There are, moreover, some clear losers. Chart 1 shows UK meat exports (including beef and sheep-meat) would face an average tariff rate of nearly 38 per cent, whilst dairy products would face a rate of over 39 per cent, reflecting the EU’s highly protected agricultural sector. Exports of these products are relatively modest. They were £1.0billion and £0.8billion respectively in 2015, about 0.1 per cent of GDP, though they were over 15 per cent of total agricultural output (£11.2billion in 2015). The price-competitiveness of these UK products in EU markets would be undermined and UK producers would probably need to switch to other, less protectionist overseas markets as well as diverting to the domestic market. Assuming the Government would wish to maintain a domestic agricultural sector for environmental and/or food security reasons, transitional help could, indeed should, be forthcoming to facilitate adjustment. Financial support should be easily affordable given the size of the industry. Agriculture (with fisheries and forestry) accounts for just 0.65 per cent of GDP.

As can also be seen from chart 1 sugars and sugar confectionery and tobacco are also heavily protected EU industries, though UK exports to the EU are relatively modest. They were £0.3billion and £0.2billion respectively in 2015.

Chart 1 Calculated average tariff rates (%) for selected UK exports to the EU, if facing the EU’s import tariffs

Source: Justin Protts, ‘Potential post-Brexit tariff costs for UK-EU trade’, Civitas, October 2016, calculations using 2015 data.

So far I have just considered the impact of the EU’s import tariffs on UK exports, which, in the absence of a deal of sorts, are unavoidable.

When it comes to UK imports, however, the situation is very different. The Government has agreed, possibly as a temporary measure, to adopt the EU’s tariffs on Brexit, which is perfectly understandable. But, after a No Deal Brexit, outside the Customs Union, there would be scope to cut these significantly, unilaterally. If our tariffs were changed, they would, of course, have to apply to all imports and not just to those from the EU, under the non-discriminatory Most Favoured Nation (MFN) clause of the WTO. In the absence of preferential trade agreements, if tariffs are cut for one trading partner they must be cut for all.

Assuming EU-replicated tariffs, the average global import tariff rates of various product groups in post-Brexit Britain, would, however, not be identical to the average tariff rates imposed on post-Brexit UK exports to the EU, as calculated by Civitas (above). There would be compositional effects. But, having said that, they are unlikely to be dramatically different either.

Our EU-replicated average import tariffs on agricultural produce would still be around 40 per cent for meat and dairy products and on clothing and footwear would still be around 10 per cent. Car imports would still be subject to a 10 per cent tariff (moreover, car manufacturers would still have to pay duty on their imported components). After Brexit these tariffs could be cut, reducing the price of imports and giving a considerable boost to consumers’ real incomes. Moreover, the boost could be progressive as lower-income groups tend to spend a greater proportion of their money on food than higher-income groups.

These benefits for consumers would, however, have to be balanced by the potential competitiveness problems for domestic producers, especially farmers. Further financial compensation should be forthcoming, if need be.

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Glad, confident morning for Britain’s battling Brexiteers? Er, not quite

SUDDENLY Brexit has become possible, coo the newspapers; and suddenly, this Brexiteer’s heart stops for the umpteenth time during this national crisis.

For what they are saying has now suddenly become possible is not Brexit – which Britain’s new prime minister, Boris Johnson, has been intoning like a stuck record will happen on October 31 even with no deal – but Brexit with a withdrawal deal with the EU.

And that’s because the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has given Boris Johnson thirty days to come up with an alternative to the Irish backstop, which Johnson says is eminently doable. Which is where the heart stops. Because that may signal another imminent version of Brexit-in-name-only.

Regular readers of this blog will know that from the start I have been sceptical of Johnson’s intention of delivering a clean Break with the EU, ‘do or die’. 

That’s because, despite his bellicose rhetoric hammering home that if necessary he will take the UK out of the EU without a withdrawal deal, he has also said throughout that he is confident of striking a new deal. Most alarmingly, he has consistently identified the Irish backstop as the only obstacle to Mrs May’s previous deal. And indeed, the supposed ray of hope after Thursday’s meeting with Mrs Merkel concerns only the possibility of reaching an agreement on the backstop issue.

But the backstop isn’t the only obstacle at all. It is certainly the most intolerable, since it would trap the UK in the clutches of the EU through a customs union with no possibility of unilateral withdrawal. But the rest of the May deal was also unacceptable, as it would also have left the UK in thrall to the EU through its Political Declaration.

As the lawyers Martin Howe QC, Sir Richard Aikens and Thomas Grant have argued in their pamphlet, Avoiding the Trap, the Political Declaration – which is legally binding – would leave the UK subject to European laws and rulings by the European Court of Justice in perpetuity. They write:

‘Even in the wholly unlikely event that the EU were to agree to remove the whole backstop Protocol from the WA, the rest of the WA would still contain serious constraints on the UK and little or nothing of value. For example: (a) Its “long tail” jurisdiction would lead to UK companies being subjected to State aid or competition proceedings for many years after the UK had left the EU and after the transition period; (b) It contains an obscure clause on “geographical indications” which would severely disrupt future trade negotiations with other countries.’

So in the still unlikely event that the backstop was neutralised as an issue, would Johnson agree as a quid pro quo to terms which would leave the UK somehow remaining tied to the EU, and try to pass that off as Brexit?

These concerns were articulated in the Telegraph by Nigel Farage, who became alarmed by what Johnson did and didn’t say in his four-page letter to EU Council President Donald Tusk. 

Farage wrote: ‘In his letter, Johnson says securing a “deal” is his “highest priority”. Rather than leaving the EU on October 31, it looks as though Johnson wants Britain to enter into a transition period on that day. This, for him, is his “highest priority” . . . Johnson implies that if the backstop was removed in its current form, the Withdrawal Agreement would pass through the House of Commons with his support . . .

‘Now that the EU sees the real Boris Johnson, it might just agree to a reworking of the Withdrawal Agreement. Tellingly, in Donald Tusk’s response, he says that the backstop must stay in place “unless and until” an alternative is found.

‘This is so far the softest language I have heard from Brussels. If Johnson and the EU were able to produce a new Withdrawal Agreement, it is not yet certain that Parliament would pass this as amended. But if it did pass, it would be the very worst form of Brexit for everybody – BRINO (Brexit In Name Only). It would lead to years of acrimony with the EU . . .

‘I truly hope that Johnson’s letter to Tusk is just part of him being seen to go through the motions, while really wanting a clean-break Brexit on October 31. I would cheer from the rooftops louder than anybody if he secured Britain’s independence. But when I read his letter, and Tusk’s response, my first sense was one of fear that a great stitch-up may be coming. That feeling has not gone away.’

In Thursday’s Telegraph, such concerns have been pooh-poohed by Allister Heath.

Farage, he writes, was merely trying to keep up the pressure on Johnson.

‘But whether Europe’s nomenklatura climbs down or not, at some point soon, perhaps in a few weeks’ time, even the most cynical will have to concede that Boris is planning to deliver the clean Brexit he has promised . . .

‘To those Brexiteers who disagree, I ask this: look at the facts. I still cannot believe just how pro-Brexit this government actually is. It is breathtaking. Johnson/Cummings are the real thing, as are Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and all the other Brexiteers in positions of power. Sajid Javid is preparing a Budget that will blow the socks off the economy and will be the most important since Nigel Lawson’s 1986 masterpiece. The no-deal preparations are substantial and sincere.

‘Johnson’s letter to Donald Tusk contained two central points. The first is that the PM rejects the backstop, the most pathetic, preposterous treaty clause any British government has ever proposed signing.

‘The second, equally powerful, has been overlooked. We will not merely be leaving the single market and customs union but will be setting our own laws and taxes. It’s worth quoting Johnson at length: “Although we will remain committed to world-class environment, product and labour standards, the laws and regulations to deliver them will potentially diverge from those of the EU. That is the point of our exit and our ability to enable this is central to our future democracy” . . .

‘Boris’s letter is incompatible with the political declaration . . . It is therefore absurd in the extreme to depict Johnson as Theresa May 2.0, as some deluded commentators have begun to. Such an “analysis” is entirely devoid of understanding.’

Powerful arguments indeed. And yes, it’s hard to believe that Johnson would attempt a stitch-up, given all he has said about the fatal damage that would be inflicted upon the Conservative party if Brexit isn’t delivered on October 31.

And yet, and yet . . . if you believe that the EU will never climb down sufficiently to agree a withdrawal deal that doesn’t somehow cripple UK independence, then what kind of deal could Johnson pull off that avoids being a Brexit sleight-of-hand? Why does his letter to Tusk focus on the backstop alone as the impediment to a deal rather than mentioning the Political Declaration too?

Maybe the belligerent hostility of the French president Emmanuel Macron will prove the saving of British independence. Or maybe Boris Johnson actually means what he has been trumpeting for the past few weeks about ‘do or die’.

But I won’t trust that the UK will really escape the EU’s clutches until a clean, unequivocal Brexit has happened.

This article first appeared on on August 22, 2019, and is republished by kind permission. 

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She’s right, actually – Brexit is masculine v feminine

IT’S called the silly season for a reason: much merriment has ensued since Caroline Lucas put forward her idea of an all-female Cabinet to stop a no-deal Brexit. Starved of news and their outrage fix in the dog days of August, the commentariat and Twitter took it hook, line and sinker. I particularly enjoyed the replies of some female Brexiteers, who condemned the proposal in ways no man would dare to do today:

Of course, Lucas is no fool and knew precisely what she was doing: come September the news ‘grid’ will be dominated by the government and opposition as Brexit ramps up, and this was an ideal opportunity for a small party to get itself heard while news was slow. In causing such controversy, she has increased her chances of being approached for comment spots once the Brexit debate begins again in earnest. She also knows that, however much it was condemned as insane on the national stage, her proposal would probably go down well amongst her wacky core voters in Brighton Pavilion – useful if a general election is coming.

It goes without saying that her proposal is crazy, completely utterly batsh*t crazy, and as I stated above I strongly doubt it was meant seriously. However, she is more right than she knows. Brexit is not, of course, a straight-out war between the sexes; whatever nonsense she claims, women took prominent positions on both sides of the Brexit debate before and after the referendum. However, Brexit can be interpreted as a rebellion of a culturally still masculine majority against the effete, feminised culture of the elites. The endeavour involves the masculine qualities of risk-taking, courage and problem-solving – virtues which have been largely excised from today’s society in favour of nannying and banning. Lucas’s own green agenda is of course the acme of it all: eschewing all logic in favour of lunatic virtue-signalling.

Just look at the characters on both sides of the Brexit debate. Yes, there are many exceptions, but on the Brexit side the men are by and large men, the women, such as the sainted Kate Hoey, direct and combative. Now look at the Remain side: it contains all the metrosexualised men of the world: the Cleggs, the Camerons, the Mandelsons, the Osbornes. The women, in contrast, contain all the neurotic ‘screaming banshees’: the Allens, the Soubrys, the Lucases and the rest.

Perhaps subconsciously Lucas realised all this: if Brexit is a triumph, it will discredit not just the members of our elite but the entire cultural framework they have operated under for so long. They won’t give up without a serious fight, of course, but it is just possible that come November 1, a cultural reformation may be truly under way.

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