We are joined by Alasdair Stewart, the former Chairman of the Croydon Conservative Federation, as we discuss the media’s reaction to the COVID crisis and in particular their recent treatment of Dominic Cummings.
We also consider the great news about the Nissan plant in Sunderland, Croydon Council’s dire financial position and some recent developments in the 2020 US Presidential campaign.
We then chat with Alasdair about his experiences in politics, his time as the Chairman of the Croydon Conservative Federation and his thoughts on politics in Croydon.
“I’m sure many people in Croydon can remember, the 23% increase in council tax that Croydon Labour had to push through the last time the council’s finances got into this kind of terrible state”
“in Croydon, is that when Labour win control of the council everyone feels they only listen to their voters in the north, that delivered them their seats, and similar complaints are leveled against the Conservatives when they were running the council when they would only focus on the south of the borough. Anything that motives the Elected Mayor to think of the whole borough would be good for local democracy”
and from his interview:
“I’d seen the damage they had done to Scotland, whether it be the Heath Service, with Education or even with the government’s finances and I was quite frankly terrified of the idea of the SNP propping up a Labour administration in Westminster.”
“How disappointing it is when you’re speaking to people and they say how unhappy they are about how the council might be doing things, but then also say they aren’t going to vote”
“local members were not just incredibly positive for Brexit and wanting to leave, but also a proper Brexit”
“One of Croydon’s problems is the fact it is effectively a two party competition. It is incredibly partisan and entirely divided. With the Conservatives in the south primarily, Labour in the north and everyone fights over the centre”
“When they were in power the Conservatives, the Conservative Croydon administration built more council houses than this administration under Labour”
“We need some more voices for the ordinary British person, we know from recent elections the climate change warriors, and the lefty socialists are not representative of the country as a whole…. I would encourage more normal rational people to get involved, have a voice and share their voice”
We have seen further coverage this week of the financial crisis in Croydon Council where:
“The council is facing a £62 million overspend and currently has £440 million worth of debt made up of short term loans.
Given its annual budget this year was £280 million, the overspend represents about one fifth of the council’s total annual spending power.”
As we have covered previously Croydon Council now has 23 staff who earned over £100,000. 16 more that Barnet council which is about the same size and 12 more than Sutton, 3 more than Bromley (which can afford this as it doesn’t have any debt).
But do we get value from these highly paid staff? Do they provide a great service?
As part of the government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis, councils are tasked with paying out grants to local businesses under the ‘Small Business Grants Fund (SBGF) scheme’ and ‘Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Business Grants Fund (RHLGF)’.
We can now measure some of the success of Croydon Council’s high pay bill. The government has published details of the amount of grants paid out against the initial funding, and expected number of payments.
Croydon Council has found itself in the bottom 10% of payments made by number and by amount. Croydon having made only 77% of the payments identified and 71% by amount. This compares to 84% and 80% on average by local authority, with 96 authorities having made over 90% of their identified payments. Maybe they employ 24 people on over £100K?
Croydon ranks 290 out of 314 local authorities as below:
hereditaments that the local authority has identified
grant payments made to hereditaments
Value of payments (£)
% of value of payments
% of number of payments
City of London
Westminster City Council
London Borough of Ealing
London Borough of Croydon
Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council
Corby Borough Council
Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council
Croydon Council is again failing local taxpayers. These provide much needed funding to keep local small businesses going and high streets running. Local companies including Coughlans Bakery, All Bikes, and Old Whitgift Sports Club, have come forward with concerns. In central Croydon this is all the more important at a time the council has failed to secure the regeneration of the town centre via the Westfield development.
You can pay for quality, but questions need to be answered as to how Croydon taxpayers are being forced to pay and are still receiving services in the bottom 10%.
Here we are week 10 of the UK Covid 19, lock-down! We find ourselves as a nation being restructured even as I type. Looking back we can see that social distancing was and is necessary to contain the spread of the virus. It is also clear the Government was too slow in introducing the necessary measures. We have had more deaths per million population than most other countries. Provided we’re sensible though we can now begin to get back to normal.
Looking around us:-
Sweden instituted a more blended strategy: instead of drastically closing all businesses except essential services, most businesses stayed open with social distancing measures in place. The most vulnerable over 70’s and those with underlying conditions protected. As a result, the majority of the population developed herd immunity, they still have a vibrant economy and seem to have survived not much worse than other countries.
Brazil has taken the view it is all a hoax and carried on as normal but they are now the only country with cases and deaths rising. They are very clearly on the wrong path and will have to change tack soon, the sooner the better.
Singapore never had a lock down but did a drastic trace and test policy from the start isolating anyone with the virus and anyone they had contact with. This definitely worked best for sustaining the economy and reducing cases and deaths and really also for maintaining civil liberties unless you happened to be one who either got the virus or had contact with such.
Lessons are being learnt.
Government is able to quickly impose quite drastic laws when there is a danger of a pandemic. It seems this one almost certainly came from Wuhan in China. What we don’t know is whether it was some tragic accident or whether it was actually created deliberately for some reason such as to create the need for totalitarianism and one world Government. At the very least we need to be alert to the possibility.
Certain groups such as BPAS have been opportunistic, using the pandemic as an excuse to introduce DIY abortions which they are lobbying to make a permanent fixture in UK law. Abortion centres were always going to be in a challenging position. Are they an essential service? We would say most certainly not. Faced with just being closed down they fought back and demanded abortion pills be allowed to be taken at home. Government said “no” at first but then caved in unprepared for the onslaught. Sad. But this battle raged all over the world during the virus lockdowns
The push for a one world Government and probably with it a one world religion is now bound to continue in earnest with interestingly people like Tony Blair and Gordon Brown at the forefront of trying to set it up. It is very dangerous for civil liberties.
What about the place of churches?
At the start of this pandemic most churches seemed to willingly give in to being closed down but was it necessary? The application of the Governments’ interpretation of essential activities lacks a holistic approach. I can go along with supermarkets and banks being essential services. This is taking care of our physical and financial needs, but what about our spiritual needs, especially at a potentially very distressing time such as this? If ever there was a necessity for individuals to stay connected to their faith, I think this would most definitely qualify as one of those occasions. Australia took a different approach and deemed houses of worship as essential activities, so churches were able to stay open applying social distancing. Individual States in the USA have made regional decisions on the matter. Of course, it is of no surprise that the more liberal states have taken a very harsh line on church activity and even arrested Pastors for supposedly violating state orders. Whilst States such as Texas have permitted church activity but with some restrictions.
Now it’s time to move on. We believe the process of moving on should have started much earlier. The CPA issued a press release on the 23rd April outlining a sensible strategy for the UK to reopen for business:
As the Coronavirus pandemic calms down in many areas and evidence comes to light the virus is most likely transmitted through the nose CPA calls for immediate action as follows: –
1. Compulsory wearing of masks in all areas where people come into contact with other members of the public like shops and shopping centres and places of work.
2. All shops allowed to re-open but applying social distancing rules.
3. All churches and other religious buildings allowed to re-open applying social distancing rules and reducing the maximum attendance to one third of the normal building capacity.
4. All offices allowed to re-open with everyone working from home where possible and office attendance to apply social distancing and no more than one third of normal capacity allowed inside office buildings.
5. Normal road travel allowed with care to be taken at petrol stations.
6. Social distancing to be applied on all public transport with capacity no more than one third of normal capacity on all buses and trains and flights.
This was only ever meant to be a first step with the next step being a test and tracing regime to be put in place so we can get back to normal. Even now though in retrospect this would have been a good move then for the economy on 23rd April and is unlikely to have altered the downward trend of cases provided people stay alert.
The government’s recent review of the situation is very puzzling to say the least; The diocese of Shrewsbury in a recent tweet put it in a nutshell – you can have an abortion but not a baptism, buy a car, but not a votive candle, go to the supermarket, but not a sanctuary, get a divorce, but not get married and break the law, but not receive absolution. It is time to re-open churches.
We can however through all this welcome the fact that families have spent more time together. We can welcome the fact that many businesses and Government institutions have been forced to adopt a home working model which will more than likely continue. Social media and video conferencing has come into its own, Zoom has become a household name overnight! The commercial properties market will have to become more creative as less commercial space will be required. High streets, already under pressure will look very different with much more residential space. The NHS has shown great resilience, the fallen heroes of which will not be forgotten. It will no doubt learn lessons from the stress it has been under. My greatest hope though is that our nation will return to its spiritual roots, we are a Christian nation and not forget that prayer has made all the difference in this global crisis much of it done on zoom. Long may the prayer continue! The church also is becoming a changed environment for the better.
This has not been the spring we social democrats hoped for. Building a political party is fiendishly difficult at the best of times, but as lockdown drags on, political engagement has become all but impossible for minnows like us.
We need to meet, to bond and to campaign. In the early months of this year we were planning, at very least, to consolidate our 2019 achievements. Regular branch meetings, local election campaigns and a conference in June would have been the building blocks taking us to the next level. Instead we have to look to the future.
On that score there are reasons to feel positive. The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the need for the communitarian values we hold dear. The limitations of a globalism that leaves us over-dependent and under-powered has been acknowledged. The willingness of people to embrace the ‘we’re in this together’ approach has been striking. There is even consensus emerging around the need to avoid future austerity measures that would affect communities least able to absorb them.
Meanwhile, party leader William Clouston has produced proposals for a post-pandemic recovery programme, which is more than can be said for the Labour Party. They recognise that the shadow of Covid-19 will be broad and long and escaping it will be a national endeavour and a multi-generational task. Proposals involve the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) identifying the aggregate excess public debt generated by the pandemic; making sure this debt neither imposes an era of austerity or undermines Britain’s financial credibility, achieved by transferring this debt to a separate UK Covid 2080 Sinking Fund which will pay the debt off over 60 years; and making the income from bonds issued within the fund tax-free for UK citizens.
But is this enough? In 2019, the struggle for Brexit and the hopelessness of the Labour Party were gifts for us. With so much at stake and a general election in the offing, we had purpose and our message was distinctive. Now, with both main parties converging on the middle ground, and the Liberal Democrats beginning their slow journey back to credibility, where do we fit in?
Perhaps ‘fitting in’ is the wrong aim. Rather, we need to define a truly radical centre distinct from the politics of the mainstream. Our New Declaration, written two years ago, went some way towards this, championing family values long abandoned by the Conservatives, and the virtues of patriotism so despised by Labour. Advocating a social democratic nation state in a post-neoliberal world has been a radical stance in recent years, but now we need to go further.
The new normal – whatever it proves to be – will ask this of us. Post-pandemic, society has the opportunity to reconsider its aims and values, but the hyperpartisans will be the least well-equipped to respond. When a paradigm shift is required they will be found wanting. We are not like them. With others from the margins, including Blue Labour and unorthodox greens through to classical liberals and libertarians, we found common cause in Brexit. Post-pandemic, and still under the present electoral system, something similar is going to be needed if we are to have influence.
That outsider status may be key. As I write this, Nigel Farage is again speaking for millions of us as he single-handedly campaigns against the latest wave of illegal immigrants hitting the south coast, the criminals ably supported by both the French and British Border Forces. Millions have viewed his videos yet there is virtually no mainstream media coverage and not a single leading politician has commented. Once again these arbiters of so-called public discourse have been cowed by the race baiters into silence and inaction.
Meanwhile, China prepares to impose a new security law on Hong Kong, further limiting freedoms and silencing Beijing’s opponents. Unfortunately for them, any lingering responsibility (or just concern) we may feel for Hong Kong will have no effect as the UK’s media and political class are wholly preoccupied at the moment pursuing a personal vendetta against the prime minister’s adviser Dominic Cummings. And of course once this ‘story’ is done with, it will be replaced by another equally trivial distraction.
The point is, their agenda is not ours, and the gulf between us grows. That’s why so many of us have been driven online, where free thinking is still mostly permitted. Interested in serious debate, happy to address complexity and nuance, wary of tribalism and even open to the possibility of our minds being changed, we really are a very odd bunch, apparently.
We’re the only ones, it seems, who understand how Trump could be elected or Brexit supported by people other than bigots. We’re often the ones challenging the tyranny of economic growth at all costs. The ones championing free speech and academic rigour. Decrying the idiocy of HS2, resisting the ‘gated institutional narrative’, exploring the ‘meaning crisis’, and laughing at woke’s many absurdities.
The mainstream? It is time we wrestled that mantle away from them, and conventional party politics alone won’t hack it. An open border policy on good ideas is needed, and the creative campaigning and alliances that follow. We won’t agree on everything – thank goodness. Cuddly libertarian Dominic Frisby reminds me of this in his recent tweet, ‘If you still have faith in government and government systems after Corona, Lord help you’. In addition, we will need to avoid the dangerous cranks. But there’s a parallel political universe out there – intelligent, tolerant, progressive even – standing in the wings. How much longer should we wait for our cue?
Home of great beers, amazing Christmas markets, Crystal Palace striker Christian Benteke and sadly the EU, Belgium declared independence in 1830. This followed the Belgian Revolution when the largely Catholic regions of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands split from what we now call Holland and Luxembourg. The Treaty of London (1839) guaranteed the independence and neutrality of Belgium. The so called “scrap of paper” led to the UK entering the first world war when Belgium was invaded. Indeed Belgian resistance largely thwarted the Schlieffen Plan which allowed time for the Allied Powers to mobilise.
Thankfully today the fight for freedom and liberty in Belgium is much more peaceful. We speak with Baudoin Collard of the Parti Libertarien (the Libertarian Party of Belgium).
Baudoin thank-you for the interview and for undertaking this in English.
Could you in a couple of sentences tell our readers about the party?
The ‘Parti Libertarien’ (Libertarian Party in English) is a Belgian party founded in 2012. It is mainly active in the French-speaking part of the country (the Brussels and Walloon regions) as well as in the German-speaking part.
The Parti Libertarien participated in several elections in Belgium, albeit with limited success: in 2014 (federal and regional elections), in 2018 (provincial and communal elections) and 2019 (Federal and regional elections).
In 2015, the PLib (Parti Libertarien) was one of the 12 founding members of the IALP (International Alliance of Libertarian Parties – http://ialp.com/)
What are the main issues in Belgium you campaign on, what gets Libertarians excited?
We stand for a strictly limited government and support laissez-faire capitalism. Our main engagements are the following:
restore Belgian military neutrality;
focus the State on its sovereign functions;
remove all taxes other than VAT;
restore absolute respect for individual, civil and economic freedoms;
abolish all “legal privileges”;
promote private initiatives in the fight against poverty ;
guarantee the free movement of goods and people;
end drug prohibition;
free up and put currencies into competition and
cancel Belgian public debt
For example, we campaigned in the media for the legalization of cannabis, for the abolition of the national biometric ID card, the suppression of government agencies such as the AFSCA (responsible for bureaucratic food-chain regulations)… We also made educational presentations on new topics such as cryptocurrencies. We also campaigned against the expensive purchase of new fighter airplanes.
What’s your party’s view of the EU and the Euro?
We strive for a Europe that Europe protects its individuals against their own governments: a EU that guarantees human rights, that puts an end to protectionism, that defends the freedom of circulation. Alas, for some time now, the EU has turned into an imperial project of technocratic domination.
We do not want a bureaucratic construction imposed from above, no federalism, no new deal, no Eurobonds. European construction must be done from below, through natural exchange and the mutual interests between individuals.
Regarding the monetary policy, we are highly sceptical of the Euro project and we propose instead to free the financial system and to privatize the emission of money with competing entities.
Belgium recently went a year without a government, was it liberating?
For most of the people most of the time, it didn’t really have much impact. First, we still had a (relatively limited) federal government responsible for the day-to-day management. Secondly, Belgium has a complex organisation with multiple layers of governments: federal, regions, communities, provinces and communes.
Every so often we hear about a possible partition of Belgium, what’s your party’s view on this?
Our party has no specific stance regarding a possible partition of Belgium, but we support the right of the people to self-determination. So if the Flander (the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium) wishes to secede, it should be their right and it should be respected. In this case, there will be a need to reach a balanced agreement regarding complex questions such as the status of the Brussels Region and the federal debt…
The UK has now left the EU and is due to finally fully transition out at the end of the year, how does your party and your nation more generally view Brexit?
That being said, our members are generally supportive towards Brexit and the EU is more and more seen as a bureaucratic and centralized entity, increasingly diverging from its original purpose. We at the Plib, are very attached to the principle of subsidiarity.
On the other hand, we fear that by losing British parliamentary representation in the European Parliament, the liberal opposition to the liberticide measures initiated by the European Commission tends to be reduced. Indeed, the positions of MEPs like Syed Kamall and Daniel Hannan have often been a reminder of the value of individual freedoms. They will be greatly missed.
Different countries campaign in elections in different ways, what methods does your party focus on, and do you have any interesting stories from the campaign trail?
In previous elections, we partnered with other associations focused on liberty in order to share the effort and gain more visibility. It is also a nice way to get to know different people and share ideas and experience, even when the others don’t necessarily have the same point of view on some subjects.
What’s your party’s plan for fighting elections and getting the message of liberty out to the electorate?
In the Walloon and Brussels region where we are established, the economic education of the citizens is rather limited and as consequence, a lot people are easily fooled by the promises of populist parties. To give an idea, at the last election in 2019, extremist parties from the far-right and far-left won 30 seats in the parliament, compared to only 5 in the previous elections.
People in general have a limited understanding of economic mechanism and often have a negative view of capitalism, so one of our main mission is to raise awareness of economic realities and the benefits of liberalism for economic development and people well-being.
If you could introduce, repeal or change 3 laws what would they be?
Lastly how do you think your government is handling the Covid-19 crisis, and what would you like to be done to help the eventual economic recovery?
Belgium has suffered the worst casualties (in terms of death per million) to the Covid19 and our government has a big responsibility in this crisis.
First the government was completely unprepared for this epidemic, having notably destroyed a large strategic stock of masks just a few months before the crisis.
Then our health ministry has largely underestimated the gravity of the crisis at the beginning, and refused to take measures to accompany people coming back from affected areas in Italy or cancelling big events to limit the spreading of the virus.
Once it was no longer possible to deny the gravity of the crisis, our government decided to centrally manage all the aspects of the crisis with the help of ‘experts’, and was given special powers by the parliament to do so. The government then restricted the sales of masks and disinfectant to the population but was not able to buy masks on international markets, thus worsening the shortages.
The government also strictly limited and controlled the use of screening tests, thus artificially limiting the supply unnecessarily. Notably, the government insisted for weeks that masks were useless for the general population.
To mitigate the spreading of the virus, the government implemented a strict lockdown that will have a huge economic impact but failed to take effective measures to protect the elderly in nursing homes which were the main victims of the crisis. The government even issued strict instructions to keep the elderly affected by the virus from going to hospitals, consequently, around half of the victims of coronavirus died in nursing homes, not in hospitals.
To facilitate the economic recovery, the government should drastically reduce the taxes for companies and individuals. At the same time, it should cut its spending and engage in structural reforms to reduce the size of the administration, improve its efficiency and greatly simplify all the bureaucracy that is a burden for the citizens.
We discuss the proposed COVID Border Controls, the Brexit Trade Talks & Labour’s flip-flopping along with the upcoming Lib Dem Leadership contest. We then consider Croydon Council’s financial woes and the potential political fallout.
Mike Swadling was interviewed on Sputnik Radio about the Coronavirus lockdown.
Teachers Unions and local councils are putting pressure on the British Government to amend their decision to allow certain schools to re-open in June, amid the ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic. Questions have been asked about whether social distancing could realistically be enforced in areas such as classrooms and playgrounds, and if enough personal protective equipment for teaching staff would be provided.
The Anglo-Portuguese Alliance was sealed in the Treaty of Windsor in 1386, and is the oldest alliance in the world that is still in force. During that time the Portuguese people have struggled with their fight for freedom and only became a democracy after a coup in 1974.
We spoke with Fernando Sobrinho one of the party’s founders. Fernando thank-you for your time, and undertaking this in English.
Could you in a couple of sentences tell our readers about yourself and your party?
My name is Fernando Sobrinho, I am one of the founders of the Association that aims to be the Portuguese libertarian party, Partido Libertário. I was the first president of this Association and was leading it when we were accepted as members of the IALP – International Association of Libertarian parties.
Partido Libertário’s president is now Carlos Novais and we have about 60 members. We have organized a National Meeting every year since 2014 and we invite libertarians from other countries to attend to it. We have had the honour of receiving Daniel Martinez from P-LIB, Spain and JF Nimsgern from Parti Libertarien, France.
Your party is currently in the process of collecting signatures for formal registration. Can you tell us about that process and how is it going?
We are in the process of the legalization of the party, 7.500 signatures are needed, but we are focusing in having more effective members. it does not make sense to establish a party if we do not have enough people willing to speak up for us in multiple forums.
What are the main issues in Portugal you campaign on, what gets Libertarians excited?
As Portugal ranks 15th in the personal freedom Index of CATO and 34th in the Economic Freedom we do most of our work fighting taxation and economic regulation on our country. Our Taxation System is a total nightmare, being very progressive on income and achieving effective tax rates bigger than 50% if one’s household is making more than EUR 40K a year.
What’s your party’s view of the EU and their thoughts on your membership of the Euro?
What we like in European Union is some degree of freedom of trade of goods and services as well as the freedom of capital and people to invest and work wherever pleases you better. What we oppose to is to its numerous entities that are aimed to supervise these natural rights, like the European Council, European Parliament, etc. Their regulating instincts are a threat to the free zone that we would like Europe to be.
Having the EUR as a national currency is a progress compared to having a Escudo that was printed in massive amounts to meet the socialist plans of the governments we have had in Portugal on last 46 years, all kinds of socialism…
The current Government is no different from previous – they keep the trend to increase taxes and have all the fantastic ideas on how to bring us happiness as we go bankrupt.
The UK has now left the EU and is due to finally fully transition out at the end of the year, how does your party view Brexit?
We regret that UK has left the EU but we believe that it can be as positive to UK, as it will be more open to world trade, as to EU, since the loss of revenue that UK was bringing to European budget is now missing. We hope that Brexit will make Euro bureaucrats a little bit more wise on the impact to freedom of their regulations.
If you could introduce, repeal or change 3 laws what would they be?
The 3 major laws Portugal need to change are:
1. Labour Law (minimum salary, impossible to fire workers, labour unions over-protected, collective contracts, etc.)
2. Taxation (Reducing Corporate Taxes to competitive level, decrease progressivity on IRS-Income Tax, and reduce VAT and other consumption taxes).
3. Public Employee Status (Public Employees in Portugal have privileges that are not granted to the general population – reduce workload, bigger salaries for low qualifies people, special Health protection system, etc.)
What do you think of your country’shandling of the Covid-19 crisis, and what would you like to done to help the economic recovery?
The way Portugal handled the Covid-19 crisis was not different from other south countries, like Italy, France or Spain: The measures taken and their timings were basically the same. I guess that the good results achieved, in terms of DPM (Deaths per Million inhabitants) were just pure luck.
The worst, that is, the economic consequences are still to come, especially because the socialist government is willing to step up and do their thing – bring money to the cronies!
We discuss the COVID posturing of various politicians, the TFL Bailout and the developing trade talks with the EU, Japan & the USA. We then have an interview with Jeet Bains, the Conservative Councillor for the Addiscombe East ward in Croydon. Jeet talks about his ward, his recent Parliamentary candidacy in Luton North, housing development in Croydon and how he believes the Tories can win back the Council. He also discusses the opportunities that Brexit can bring for Croydon.
Quotes from Councillor Bains. On the Election and government:
“Jeremy Corbyn for example, he in no way represented a thing called the centre ground”
“there are just certain things the British people will not countenance, for example Marxism. However you dress it up, nobody in Britain is interested in Marxism”
“quietly privately the British people will not put up with that kind of prejudice”
“from the LibDems it was clear you need a credible leader but also someone who is believable. For example Jo Swinson, who kept on calling herself the next Prime Minister, it just wasn’t credible it went beyond laughable”
“local action on the ground, there is no substitute for it. It’s still really, really crucial in elections”
“the public sector, there is a bias towards caution and inaction. That kind of thing at the best of times is not the best way to do things, but in the situation we have today could potentially be lethal”
On Croydon Council:
“contrast that with Labour. They are allowing residential homes to be converted into flats anywhere and everywhere, and not just allowing it they are positively encouraging it”
“if you live on a road there is every chance the house next door to you will be converted into a block of flats. We need to get that message across”
“being clear the existing folk are not monsters. They are very understanding folk who want to accommodate more housing provision, but we can do it in the right way and in a sensitive way”
“Why has Croydon signed-up pretty much unilaterally to a far higher housing target than Bromley and Sutton?”
“it requires imagination, that was point, to simply keep on saying ‘Brexit equals threat, oh my god it’s so awful’. We’ve got to stop that, we’ve got to have, it’s an opportunity, the people have voted for it, it’s happening, stop it with the misery”
Duncan Forsyth was new to political campaigning when he became the Vote Leave campaign lead for Croydon North. Despite low expectations of the leave vote in the area, Croydon North still voted 41.2% Leave. This included surprise results in Selhurst Ward (52.32% Leave) and Bensham Manor Ward (49% Leave). Holding left wing views Duncan was part of a campaign that represented democrats from across the political spectrum. More details of the local campaign and vote can be found here http://croydonconstitutionalists.uk/croydon-leave-campaign/.
Duncan thank-you for your time..
You describe yourself as a Libertarian Marxist. Many people see those as contradictory ideas. What do you think makes them fit well together?
Marx was a libertarian. “The free development of each is the condition for the free development of all” – one of my favourite quotes from Communist Manifesto. Marx was never very clear how he thought his post-capitalist society would work politically, which was undoubtedly a sin of omission, but he did once say that he thought it would operate much like the Paris Commune, which was extremely democratic. Marx’s ideas are often blamed for the monstrous tyrannies that sprung up in the east in the 20th century, but I think this is a bit like blaming Jesus of Nazareth for the Spanish Inquisition. There’s no suggestion of support for totalitarianism in his writings.
What was your personal journey to libertarianism and Marxism and what made you get involved in politics?
I was a fairly stereotypical lefty in my younger days, concluding from history that all advances made by ordinary people were torn from the vice-like grip of elites by popular movements led by left-wing radicals that often went to the tower or the gallows to win the freedoms that we now take for granted.
As I exposed myself to works written by the left’s heroes, like Marx, and its folk devils, like Rand, I came to question the hypocrisy, historical illiteracy, paternalism and petty authoritarianism of today’s bourgeois left, finding it at odds with the ideals and values of left-wing tradition.
I remain a left-winger, albeit one that has essentially given up on the contemporary left. It gave up on progress when it embraced the deeply conservative ideology of radical environmentalism. It gave up on freedom when it embraced state and corporate censorship of speech. And it gave up on democracy when it embraced rule by remote, unaccountable organisations such as the EU.
We are speaking in the time of lockdown for the Covid19 crisis. What do you think of the government’s approach and the balance between health and civil liberties?
I think that the lockdown could be initially justified, despite its obviously huge ramifications for civil liberties. Even libertarians accept the abridgement of freedom in cases where the individual’s actions can harm others. The outbreak is one of a novel virus, and began in China, a state known for its lack of transparency, so very little was known about its lethality. Under such circumstances, it seemed prudent to take precautions at least in the short term until the threat was better understood, particularly as early estimates of the infection fatality rate were much higher than is now thought. Having said that, the police have, predictably, been absolutely ridiculous, almost instantly exceeding the new powers handed to them. The spectacle of the British everyman being threatened with arrest for allowing their children to play in their own front garden forms a timely lesson in the importance for our laws to include strong protections for the individual to prevent arbitrary treatment by the state.
I have over time become increasingly critical of the government’s coronavirus strategy, and now class myself as a lockdown sceptic. It’s become abundantly clear that COVID is nowhere near as dangerous as was feared, it perhaps being not that much more lethal than a bad seasonal flu. Through the very useful counterfactual of Sweden, we can see that the lockdowns have most likely not been that much more effective at preventing transmission than the mostly voluntary social distancing measures being practiced in the Scandinavian country, despite their massively greater costs to liberty and prosperity. The lockdown is extended, seemingly interminably, despite ever increasing evidence that it is counterproductive, so I suspect that policy is now driven primarily not by empiricism, but by public opinion, which I see remains firmly in favour of maintaining the controls.
I will stick my neck out and say that I think that when the final tallies are done, it will turn out that the lockdowns were a greater cause of human death and suffering than the disease. A huge rise in excess death that is not virus related has already been recorded, which is probably down to a fear of infection deterring A&E attendance. And we are storing up much more tragedy for ourselves in future years. New cancer diagnoses have crashed, and suicides will inevitably rise due to unemployment and social isolation.
In the referendum you ran the campaign in Croydon North and were instrumental in the successful canvassing of New Addington. What are your best memories of the campaign?
Nothing quite beat the feeling of waking up early the day after the referendum and discovering that we’d won against the odds. We were always the underdogs, having been opposed by every major political party bar one, pretty much the whole of academia, plus the vast bulk of the legislature, the judiciary, the creative sector and the chattering classes more broadly, so that was a real buzz.
The canvassing of New Addington was a highlight, certainly more rewarding than the campaigning that we did further north in Croydon, where the atmosphere was more hostile, particularly in the closing weeks of the campaign, when the attitude of militant remainers morphed from complacency to blind panic as the polls moved in our favour.
This was the first ground campaign I’d been involved in, so there was a bit of a learning curve and the prospect of knocking on the doors of hundreds of strangers every week seemed quite daunting. It was a breeze after the first few, though, and it turned out to be a pleasure to get to know the burghers of New Addington.
Looking back at the battle for Brexit in Croydon. What do you think worked well and what do you think worked less well?
Circumstances could hardly have been less propitious for the leave ground campaign. As UKIP was the sole political party recommending a leave vote, there was little in the way of existing campaigning organisation or apparatus that we could make use of. Leave activists were also initially split between the multiple organisations competing for the official leave campaign designation. These issues were felt acutely in Croydon North, where there was a lack of experienced hands, and it was left to raw recruits like myself to step up to the plate. It turned out that campaigning is not really a mystical art, and we muddled along OK.
The work we did in Croydon Central probably made the most impact, with ubiquitous large street stalls and the ambitious canvass of New Addington. The latter culminated in a comprehensive get the vote out operation on referendum day that I would say few believed feasible at the start of the campaign. Croydon Central returned a majority leave vote, one of only a few places in London to do so, and I would like to believe that we played a role in that.
If I was to have it over again, I would likely concentrate less resource in the north of the borough. It felt at times like we were achieving little except kicking a hornet’s nest.
We still have the transition period to end, but we have now left the EU. In the journey the country had its foundations shaken, what would you like to see come out of this period of turmoil?
My biggest hope is that Brexit will begin a process of democratic renewal. Democracy has atrophied right across the West in recent decades. Our elites have never been more disconnected from the masses, with turnout at elections, membership of political parties and democratic engagement more generally at historic lows. Increasingly, decisions that affect us all have been taken by unaccountable, actively anti-democratic organisations like the EU.
One of the many inspiring aspects of the referendum was the high turnout. It was the first time this century that it had exceeded 70% in a national election, which shows that the demos will vote if they think that it will make a difference. The moment should be seized to begin a process of reform of all our ossified power structures. The House of Lords should be radically reformed or abolished, the country should become a republic, and most important of all, a Swiss style system of direct democracy should be adopted. I trust the British people to make important decisions far more than I do our crazed ruling classes.
If you could introduce or repeal 3 laws (other than for Brexit) what would they be?
The laws that impinge upon freedom of expression would be the top of my list to repeal, and all legislation that abridges the freedom of the press. Freedom of speech is the most important freedom that humans have, because it is the freedom from which all other freedoms stem.
Thatcher’s anti-union and anti-strike laws would be the next to go. The right of workers to organise, associate freely and to withdraw their labour should be absolute.
A shake-up of the planning laws would follow. The passing of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 and the subsequent creation of the green belts has caused massive damage to the social fabric of this country. The cost of housing has skyrocketed due to the difficulty of getting planning permission to build new residences in places where people want to live, leading to a whole generation of young people being priced out of home ownership, and with it the feeling that they have a stake in the orderly running of society.
Any other thoughts you want to leave us with?
In the midst of this virus crisis, we should be cognisant of the europhile attempt to exploit the situation to extend the implementation period, ostensibly to give us more time to negotiate a trade deal before the date that we become no longer subject to EU law. If early indications prove accurate we face economic calamity unlike any experienced since the 1930s. We will need all levers of government available to us to brace against the oncoming storm. We’d be fighting with one arm tied behind our back if we were still bound by EU law.