Are BETRAYAL, SURRENDER and HUMBUG appropriate words to use in Parliament?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson used the words BETRAYAL, SURRENDER and HUMBUG in Parliament following the cancellation of prorogation. The proprietary of using such words I would contend, are in the first instance, dependent on the context used, rather than upon the sensitivities of those on the receiving end of such words. To establish context I will first quote definitions, then look at the context in which they were applied. 

BETRAYAL 

From the Cambridge Dictionary

An act of betraying someone or something, or the fact of someone or something being betrayed

Point 1 of the European Union Referendum Act 2015 states

The referendum

(1)A referendum is to be held on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union.

(2)The Secretary of State must, by regulations, appoint the day on which the referendum is to be held.

(3)The day appointed under subsection (2)

(a)must be no later than 31 December 2017,

(b)must not be 5 May 2016, and

(c)must not be 4 May 2017.

(4)The question that is to appear on the ballot papers is—

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

(5)The alternative answers to that question that are to appear on the ballot papers are—

Remain a member of the European Union

Leave the European Union.

(6)In Wales, there must also appear on the ballot papers—

(a)the following Welsh version of the question—

A ddylai’r Deyrnas Unedig aros yn aelod o’r Undeb Ewropeaidd neu adael yr Undeb Ewropeaidd?, and

(b)the following Welsh versions of the alternative answers—

Aros yn aelod o’r Undeb Ewropeaidd

Gadael yr Undeb Ewropeaidd.

The Referendum was for the eligible voters to decide by a simple majority vote on whether to Leave or Remain in the EU. I do not get any impression that the Referendum was merely advisory on Parliament. Nor I can see no meaning in the question that implies leaving the EU is contingent on getting a withdrawal agreement with the EU. It is a simple question of in or out, to be decided by the referendum.  Further, I aware in recent memory of Parliament failing to be abide by the results of referenda, even when it goes against the will of a majority. Nor can most political parties claim that they did not vote for the referendum. The vote on the Second Reading of the Bill was 544 to 53, with the 53 opposed coming from the SNP. 

This is further enforced in a biased pamphlet, the government posted to every household. The pamphlet started.

An important decision for the UK

On Thursday, 23 June there will be a referendum. It’s your opportunity to decide if the UK remains in the European Union (EU).

There is nothing advisory implied in that statement, nor does it imply leaving would only be in any way partial.

The conclusion was

A once in a generation decision

The referendum on Thursday, 23 June is your chance to decide if we should remain in or leave the European Union.

The government believes it is in the best interests of the UK to remain in the EU.

This is the way to protect jobs, provide security, and strengthen the UK’s economy for every family in this country – a clear path into the future, in contrast to the uncertainty of leaving.

This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide.

The heading clearly implies that there will be no second referendum to clarify the decision. The last sentence is a statement from the Conservative government of the time. However, in the campaign I was aware of the either Labour or the Lib Dems coming out and saying that they would not respect a vote to leave. Finally, is a letter I recieved dated 08.04.16 from Britain Stronger in Europe, who a few days later become the official Remain campaign. 

The first sentance states

On the 23rd June, you will get to vote in the EU Referendum, and decide whether Britain remains in or leaves the Europe.

Although confusing the EU grouping with the continent, it is quite clear that the remain campaign recognized at the time that it was up to the voters to decide.

So when over three years after the British people voted to leave the EU, parliament trying to block leaving the EU is not a “betrayal”? This cannot ne directed at the Scots Nats, but can be directed at some in the Conservative Party, the Lib Dems, the Labour Party and numerous MPs who have left the their parties in the last year.

SURRENDER

This word has a number of meanings at Free Dictionary

1. To relinquish possession or control of (something) to another because of demand or compulsion: surrendered the city to the enemy. See Synonyms at relinquish.

2. To give up in favor of another, especially voluntarily: surrendered her chair to her grandmother.

3. To give up or abandon: surrender all hope.

4. To give over or resign (oneself) to something, as to an emotion: surrendered himself to grief.

5. Law To effectuate a surrender of.

“Surrender” refers to the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019, sponsored by Hilary Benn PC. This Act will forces the Prime Minister to request extension of the withdrawal period until a withdrawal agreement has been agreed. It thus surrenders ability of the Executive to negotiate fair terms with the European Union as there is no ability to depart without an agreement. By so doing, the EU could impose onerous terms, denying any form of genuine independence for the UK from European Union. It thus gives the ability of the EU to send a very clear message to other nations who might consider leaving the club. Further it encourages the EU Council to break with the “plain aim” of Article 50 (3) of the two year withdrawal period, and any subsequent mutually agreed extension, of the “promotion of stability and certainty in the EU“. Further, it compels the executive to surrender its powers to achieve aims for which it has a constitutional mandate, to a legislature which has gained no mandate for its actions. Indeed, parliament has twice refused to call a general election to gain a mandate to, in substance, reverse the result of the EU Referendum.

Humbug

From the Mirriam Webster dictionary, the noun is defined as

1a: something designed to deceive and mislead Their claims are humbug. b: a willfully false, deceptive, or insincere person He’s just an old humbug. denounced as humbugs the playwrights who magnify the difficulties of their craft— Times Literary Supplement

2: an attitude or spirit of pretense and deception in all his humbug, in all his malice and hollowness— Mary Lindsay

3: NONSENSEDRIVELacademic humbug

4 Britisha hard usually peppermint-flavored candy

The use of the word “humbug” was used by the Prime Minister in response a emotional outburst from Paula Sherriff MP. The full exchange is below.

The claimed prejorative language referred to is in relation to the Benn Act included “betrayal” and “surrender“. As outlined above, these can be viewed by those who voted to leave as accurate terms to describe that has been happening in the House of Commons. In this context it is not prejorative (i.e. having a disparaging, derogatory, or belittling effect or force). In this context, the honourable member for Dewsbury’s comments can be perceived as insincere or deceitful. Given that around 57% voted to Leave in Dewsbury, and the town has a history of racial intolerance, it is not surprising. However, that is not to condone the vicious threats that have been made against MPs, including against Ms Sherriff. Instead there are strategies to minimize the impacts.

Strategies to minimize prejorative language or hate speech

I have some suggestions to minimize and diffuse the increasingly bad feeling in this country towards parliament, along with the increasingly polarized views. My concern is that this once great country is heading towards a quasi dictatorship, with fundamental questions of direction and ideology being put beyond democratic decision-making.

First, in terms of what is allowable in terms of speech, try to gain some objective standards. For instance, whilst Paula Sherriff objects to the word “betrayal” from the Prime Minister in relation to the biggest constitutional crisis in this country for decades she herself has used the word in relation to more trivial issues. The hard left in general, and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell in particular, have long used language that encourages highly predjudiced, even hatred, towards opponents.

Second is to substantiate one’s claims based on the real world, not on mass hearsay. Then be prepared to defend these claims, showing them superior against the alternatives. There is a long tradition of this principle in English Common Law with trial by jury. The onus there is on the prosecution to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt, with the defence able to challenge the allegations made. This is overseen by a judge, who tries to ensure a fair hearing to both sides, and will take a very dim view of any attempt to undermine that fairness. In this respect I do not believe that a case can be made for a no-deal Brexit being catastrophic disaster. Rather there are risks of transitional issues, which a competent government should be able to mostly mitigate by sound policy. Further a no-deal Brexit can open up new opportunities, which a government with vision and optimism can either exploit, or stand back and let entrpreneurs expolit them,

Third, is for MPs to respect the mandate that they were elected on. On most issues it is expected that MPs should employ some pragmatism. But where there is a complete about-face on the central issue of their political careers,there is a responsibility for those politicians to seek a new mandate. Distrust in the democratic process will only be increased if politicians do an about-face and spurn the opportunity to seek a new mandate. Severely marginalizing a great mass of the people is a sure way to get civil unrest and calls for authoritarian government.

Kevin Marshall

Plan B Environmental Activists deservedly lose High Court battle over Carbon Target

Breaking News

From Belfast Telegraph & itv.com and Science Matters (my bold)

Lawyers for the charity previously argued the Government should have, in light of the current scientific consensus, gone further than its original target of reducing carbon levels by 2050 to 80% of those present in 1990.

They said the decision not to amend the 2050 target put the UK in breach of its international obligations under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and was influenced by the Government’s belief that a “more ambitious target was not feasible”.

At a hearing on July 4, Jonathan Crow QC told the court: “The Secretary of State’s belief that he needs to have regard to what is feasible, rather than what is necessary, betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the scheme of the 2008 Act and must be quashed.

“All of the individual claimants are deeply concerned about climate change.”

The barrister argued the Secretary of State’s “continuing refusal” to amend the 2050 target means the UK is playing “Russian roulette with two bullets, instead of one”.

But, refusing permission for a full hearing, Mr Justice Supperstone said Plan B Earth’s arguments were based on an “incorrect interpretation” of the Paris Agreement.

He said: “In my view the Secretary of State was plainly entitled … to refuse to change the 2050 target at the present time.

In a previous post I wrote that

Taking court action to compel Governments to enforce the Paris Climate Agreement is against the real spirit of that Agreement. Controlling global GHG emissions consistent with 2°C, or 1.5°C is only an aspiration, made unachievable by allowing developing countries to decide for themselves when to start reducing their emissions. ……. Governments wanting to both be players on the world stage and serve their countries give the appearance of taking action of controlling emissions, whilst in substance doing very little. This is the real spirit of the Paris Climate Agreement. To take court action to compel a change of policy action in the name of that Agreement should be struck off on that basis.

Now I would not claim Mr Justice Supperstone supports my particular interpretation of the Paris Agreement as an exercise in political maneuvering allowing Governments to appear to be one thing, whilst doing another. But we are both agreed that “Plan B Earth’s arguments were based on an “incorrect interpretation” of the Paris Agreement.

The UNFCCC PDF of the Paris Agreement is here to check. Then check against my previous post, which argues that if the Government acted in the true spirit of the Paris Agreement, it would suspend the costly Climate Change Act 2008 and put efforts into being seen to be doing something about climate change. Why

  • China was praised for joining the emissions party by proposing to stop increasing emissions by 2030.
  • Very few of the INDC emissions will make real large cuts in emissions.
  • The aggregate forecast impact of all the INDC submissions, if fully enacted, will see global  emissions slightly higher than today in 2030, when according to the UNEP emissions GAP report 2017 for 1.5°C warming target they need to be 30% lower in just 12 years time. Paris Agreement Article 4.1 states something that is empirically incompatible with that aim.

In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2, Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties,

  • The Paris Agreement allows “developing” countries to keep on increasing their emissions. With about two-thirds of global emissions (and over 80% of the global population), 30% emissions cuts may not be achieved even if all the developed countries cut emissions to zero in 12 years.
  • Nowhere does the Paris Agreement recognize the many countries who rely on fossil fuels for a large part of their national income, for instance in the Middle East and Russia. Cutting emissions to near zero by mid-century would impoverish them within a generation. Yet, with the developing countries also relying on cheap fossil fuels to promote high levels of economic growth for political stability and to meeting the expectations of their people (e.g. Pakistan, Indonesia, India, Turkey) most of the world can carry on for decades whilst some enlightened Governments in the West damage the economic futures of their countries for appearances sake. Activists trying to dictate Government policy through the Courts in a supposedly democratic country ain’t going to change their minds.

Plan B have responded to the judgement. I find this statement interesting.

Tim Crosland, Director of Plan B and former government lawyer, said: ‘We are surprised and disappointed by this ruling and will be lodging an appeal.

‘We consider it clear and widely accepted that the current carbon target is not compatible with the Paris Agreement. Neither the government nor the Committee on Climate Change suggested during our correspondence with them prior to the claim that the target was compatible.

Indeed, it was only in January of this year that the Committee published a report accepting that the Paris Agreement was ‘likely to require’ a more ambitious 2050 target

What I find interesting is that only point that a lawyer has for contradicting Mr Justice Supperstone’s statement that “Plan B Earth’s arguments were based on an “incorrect interpretation” of the Paris Agreement” is with reference to a report by the Committee on Climate Change. From the CCC website

The Committee on Climate Change (the CCC) is an independent, statutory body established under the Climate Change Act 2008.

Our purpose is to advise the UK Government and Devolved Administrations on emissions targets and report to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change.

The Committee is set up for partisan aims and, from its’s latest report, appears to be quite zealous in fulfilling those aims. Even as a secondary source (to a document which is easy to read) it should be tainted. But, I would suggest that to really understand the aims of the Paris Agreement you need to read the original and put it in the context of the global empirical and political realities. From my experience, the climate enlightened will keep on arguing for ever, and get pretty affronted when anyone tries to confront their blinkered perspectives.

Kevin Marshall

Are the Proposed Boundary Changes Designed to hurt the Labour Party?

Yesterday the proposed new boundaries for England and Wales were published by the Boundary Commission. Nationally the total number of constituencies will be reduced from 650 to 600, still leaving Britain with one of the largest number of representatives of any democratic parliament. In England the reduction is from 533 to 501 and in Wales from 40 to 29. The UK Polling Report website reports

The changes in England and Wales result in the Conservatives losing 10 seats, Labour losing 28 seats, the Liberal Democrats losing 4 and the Greens losing Brighton Pavilion (though notional calculations like these risk underestimating the performance of parties with isolated pockets of support like the Greens and Lib Dems, so it may not hit them as hard as these suggest).

The Guardian Reports under the banner Boundary changes are designed to hurt us at next election, says Labour MP

Jon Ashworth, the shadow Cabinet Office minister leading the process for Labour, said the party was convinced the proposals were motivated by party politics.

The Manchester Evening News carries this comment

Jonathan Reynolds, Labour MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, accused the Conservatives of ‘old-fashioned gerrymandering’.
I will contest these proposals, because I believe they are a naked attempt to increase the electoral prospects of the Conservative Party at the expense of coherent parliamentary representation,” he said.

This are quite a serious claim to make, particularly as the Boundary Commission clearly states

The Boundary Commission for England is the independent and impartial body that is considering where the boundaries of the new constituencies should be. We must report to Parliament in September 2018.
In doing so, we have to ensure that every new constituency has roughly the same number of electors: no fewer than 71,031 and no more than 78,507. While proposing a set of boundaries which are fairer and more equal, the Commission will also try to reflect geographic factors and local ties. The Commission will also look at the boundaries of existing constituencies and local government patterns in redrawing the map of parliamentary constituency boundaries across England.
In undertaking the 2018 Review, we rely heavily on evidence from the public about their local area. Though we have to work within the tight electorate thresholds outlined above, we seek to recommend constituency boundaries that reflect local areas as much as we can. You can find more detailed guidance in our Guide to the 2018 Review.

I thought I would look at the figures myself to see whether the Boundary Commission has done a fair job overall, or has basically lied, providing a deliberately partisan result, that the UK Polling Report has been complicit in supporting.
For previous posts I downloaded the results of the May 2015 General Election by constituency. I then spilt the results into the regions of England and Wales.
Figure 1 shows the average size of constituency by Region and Party. Spk is the Speaker of the House of Commons.

On average the Conservative held constituencies had 3815 more voters in than Labour held ones. But there are large regional differences. Figure 2 shows the number of constituencies by region and political party.

In the South East and South West, where Labour have larger average constituency sizes they have very few seats. In these regions, the regional average seat size is greater than the England and Wales average, so there will be proportionately less seat reductions. The Conservatives, with the vast majority of seats in these regions do not lose from a reduction in the national total and a more equitable distribution. In the East Midlands, West Midlands and Yorkshire and The Humber, Labour are well represented, but have smaller average seat sizes than the Conservatives. In the North West and in Wales Labour are well represented, the average seat sizes in Labour seats are similar to Conservative seats, but the regional average seat sizes are smaller than the England and Wales average. Smaller average seat sizes in these regions will hit Labour harder than the Conservatives due to Labour’s higher representation.
The only exception to the England and Wales picture is London. The region has larger than average constituencies at present, the average constituency size of Labour constituencies is bigger than Conservative constituencies and over 60% of the 73 constituencies are Labour held. But still the region and Labour lose seats, though proportionately less than elsewhere.
The effect of the revisions in shown in the average seat size. In Figure 3 with less seats the average seat size increases, but in some regions by far more than others, resulting in much less regional variation from the proposed boundary changes.

Figure 4 emphasizes the more even distribution of seat size. Currently, the variation of average constituency by region from England and Wales average is between -14740 (Wales) and +4517 (South East). Under the proposals, the variation is between -1160 (East Midlands) and + 2135 (London). https://manicbeancounter.files.wordpress.com/2016/09/fig4variationewave.jpg

In London’s case it could be argued for another two constituencies, but this is hardly significant. Also, given that London MPs spend their week far nearer to their constituents than any other region, an extra 2-3% of people to represent is hardly a burden.
Finally I have done my own estimated impact on Labour, Conservative and Green seats based on changes in regional seat average sizes in Figure 5. If though I do not include the Lib-Dems, the results are very similar to UK Polling Report. The much more even (and therefore fairer) distribution of seats, along with a modest reduction in the total, disadvantages the Labour Party far more than the Conservatives, despite having two-thirds of the seats.

The Labour Party MPs who are doubting the independence of the Boundary Commission should apologize. The evidence is clearly against them.

Kevin Marshall