#Election2017: If the chat hasn’t moved on…

As the General Election trundles on, my fear is only increasing that once again I’m going to have to watch an all-night programme which would make great drama, but makes me fear for the future of the planet.

I can recall knowing that from the moment I heard David Cameron would be holding an in-out referendum on the European Union that we’d end up voting out (I can recall the exact conversation where I said it, months before, and considered whether I wanted to do something about it) just the same as I didn’t bother staying up for the US election coverage because I was resigned to a Trump victory.

This time it’s different of course: both of those victories, as someone I was expressing my fears to noted, because the ‘oh god no’ results were both right wing and the result I fear this time is staunchly not.

But without wanting to sound like a column from immediately post-Brexit, I’m still not entirely confident we’re working in a left-right world at the moment. Brexit and Trump were both tails of the unattainable, but nice, outcomes.

A vote for Brexit was a vote to have our cake and eat it (according to the polls) and would be simple to do, the reality perhaps not so much. A vote for Trump was a vote to Make America Great Again – and I’d recommend a listen to the Pessimist’s Archive podcast on exactly when the ‘great’ times were for a precis of how realistic that might be.

This time we’ve got two dreamy stories set against one another: a magic money tree of nationalisation and a free owl for everyone, or a dull, strong and stable Brexit which will somehow deliver us into the Utopia Brexiteers imagined when bus liveries were but a twinkle.

What this election should have been about was honest conversations, but it hasn’t been. We’ve continued the great traditions of kicking difficult conversations and decisions down the road while the media have reported more on the management of the election and the polls than on what each of the parties promises to do (or what they’ve done before).

With a conversation that’s not moved on much since 2015, should we be surprised if the result hasn’t either?

It’ll be a First

I’m a South West Trains commuter. Less often than I used to, but still several times a week I head from Alton to London Waterloo on the train that’s named 10th busiest in the UK.

All in all, I’m probably a ‘not-unhappy’ customer.

The journey’s OK, the train is sometimes late, it’s sometimes early and when there’s problems they make us change at Woking.

My ticket is no more expensive than it was when I commuted from Brighton to London, the WiFi only occasionally works, and the seats arrangement on the blue class 450 trains was clearly not designed with the current human form in mind.

Stagecoach have held the franchise since it was privatised many years ago, and they’re pretty confident at making it work how it does. When things go wrong, they say sorry (awfully, usually, but still) and when things don’t they just get on with reminding us from time to time that they operate the UK’s busiest and most congested bit of railway and hope we’re all impressed.

Most of us are, but with that attitude, it’s not unsurprising that the ‘new boy’ bidder First-MTR were more creative with their bid and ended up being picked by the DfT to run the service from soon.

They’ve promised a load of new trains, replacing the bitty non-siemens fleet with a consistent one, and to cut down journey times as well as introducing new journeys.

The bit I’m most excited about is a commitment to introduce part-time season tickets for those of us who don’t go to London every day, and a plan to put power sockets in every single train.

If I’m honest, and I know you’ll want me to be, I’ll be impressed if they manage to pull it all off and keep their ability to get themselves out of bother when one of the ‘newly refurbished’ (30ish year old) plastic pigs they introduce on the Portsmouth line conks out in the middle of the peak.

I don’t want you to get me wrong – I live in the world of promising and delivering myself, and I know how it can go – but the fact they’re already negotiating over changing the start date isn’t a good sign.

You might not have noticed, but Waterloo is having some pretty major work done during August (it’s been planned since before the tender process began) to increase capacity for longer trains, meaning most trains won’t run to Waterloo for the month.

SWT have been warning us all to take the whole of August off for months, but rumour has it the new guys have only just realised that taking over the network half way through that might not be a good idea and – it would seem – the contract at the moment remains unsigned while that gets figured out.

And that wasn’t a problem for anyone until Teresa May ‘snapped’ earlier in the week. Oh well.

A general election was the right decision

Today Teresa May, the ‘unelected’ PM sent to rescue us all from the situation we were never supposed to be in anyway, finally ripped off the plaster and called a general election. We’ll be going to the polls on 8 June.

I can think of plenty of reasons why a general election is a bad decision. Not least that, just like the question ‘should I call a referendum about this?’ has been answered for a generation by the EU referendum, the last two years should have taught our political elite that asking the public things because you’re confident of the answer is a foolish thing to do.

But I can also think of plenty of reasons why it’s a good one; a general election will help to sort out our problems which, whether you agree with the government or not, you must agree need fixing.

We’ve a government operating with a slender majority, a leader it didn’t plan on having and on a manifesto which never considered that we’d actually be leaving the EU; an opposition which doesn’t; and a Scottish government with a (claimed) mandate to break up the Union.

A new Parliament will even allow the chancellor to raise whatever taxes he likes – whether to cope with more self-employment or to deal with the impact of Brexit, because the law Cameron put in place only lasts until the next election.

No doubt all of the parties will be fighting on simplified, hastily-composed manifestos but what will be most interesting to watch, despite the pointlessness of it all, is how Jezza decides to play it. Twitter videos to cultish followers, or a genuine hard-fought and valiant defeat with actual policies which ‘shift the debate’?

Regardless of the time to prepare and the nature of the fight, what’s clear is that as well as potentially giving May the opportunity to get on with Brexit, this is an opportunity for her to add some subtle meat of compromise to the hardened bones she’s spent the last few months building.

The EU referendum settled that we wanted control of immigration, but now’s the chance to define that it means keeping things pretty much the same; we said we wanted to set our own laws and regulation, but hey – we might just want to harmonise them with the EU.

The journalist in me loves an election, the communicator in me loves a campaign and the Remain-er in me loves the chance for the Lib Dems to lead the fightback against the hard brexit so beloved by ‘them’.

But my gosh, I’m glad it’s only a few weeks away.

What’s really damaging democracy?

John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, has said that Teresa May and Phillip Hammond’s refusal to release their tax returns is bad for democracy.

While it’s a nice break from his creation of a silent coup plot linked with the Murdoch newspapers that could never be proved either to exist or not to, it’s another seemingly simple statement which seeks to create a narrative that, on the surface, does make sense.

Democracy is ultimately based on transparency. The electorate gets to look at the facts as they are and make decisions based up on them, or at least that’s something like the theory.

So at least on the surface the argument makes sense. Coupled with the oft-used defence of surveillance that if you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear it’s almost logical.

Politicians releasing their tax returns allows the masses to scrutinise the affairs of the ‘elite’ and check that they’re following the rules. But what are we actually going to gain from seeing these returns?

Some people might get pleasure from looking at someone else’s affairs and that’s their business, but for the rest of us? Given there are only 350,000 or so registered accountants in the UK, probably not much.

The fact is, most of the public don’t know what a tax return should or shouldn’t look like according to the rules – and will, instead, be looking out for things they think are wrong, suspicious or for figures which – if I was feeling particularly cynical I might suggest they were jealous of.

Just look at what Jeremy Corbyn faced when he quietly released his professionally-prepared return last week: a furore that it was wrong.

I don’t know if it was or wasn’t wrong (although Corbyn-Trump has blamed the MSM for the whole thing), and I don’t much care either.

And that’s because thanks to democracy I don’t have to. Democracy means that I have outsourced individual decisions and specifics to my MP, and Parliament has – through the Government – set up a body to look after these kind of issues.

HMRC, as the organisation set up to collect tax and make sure we’re all paying what we should (under law, not arbitrary morals), is far better placed to decide whether people have got their tax returns right or wrong.

I know, as Mr Gove said during the EU referendum campaign, we’re all sick of experts but surely democracy is far healthier if we trust that the law is being applied by the experts, public discourse is on how to change laws and make things fairer, and we’re not relying on everyone applying arbitrary moral decisions on their political opponents’ affairs on Twitter?

Can I have a good Brexit?

Normally I come here to talk to you about how, if I ran the world, everything would be so much better.

In reality, if I was left in charge of the world then there’d probably be major issues in most areas.

The trains would work well (but close when they needed to, of course), there’d be a really good talk radio station and NIMBYism would be a criminal offence if only for the amusement of making people who objected to a prison being built near their home live in one.

Nonetheless, I’d still like to give it a bloody good go for a week or two.

But my normal confidence that I know exactly what to do, when to do it and why it’d make the world a much better place has gone missing on this one.

What exactly should I, as a 27 year old be doing to make a success of Brexit?

Although I don’t think our decision to leave the EU is the right one I’ve come to accept that in two years’ time I will no longer be an EU citizen, we’ll have ‘taken back control’ and, perhaps, lost Scotland on the way.

There’s very little I can do to change the course of our exit from the EU, but it’s started to occur to me that there must be something I can do to make Brexit a success for me.

Based on what’s happened so far it looks like things are about to get more expensive, jobs are probably going to be a bit less ‘certain’ than they have been, and we might find that the country has to have a few more years of austerity than we were expecting.

But what will that mean for me? Or for you, for that matter?

Right now my priorities in work and life are quite simple: climb the ladder. Get increasingly better jobs, learn and develop my skills to allow that, buy a house and get married.

It looks like Brexit could make it easier to buy a house, because uncertainty means prices might fall domestically, but it could also make it more difficult as a weak pound makes investing in UK property more attractive for foreigners. So it’s hard to tell.

There’s not much to go on as to how Brexit will affect my job. A big change to (currently EU) procurement regulations could have me kicked out of it completely, but then so could severe austerity. On the other hand, and if you believe some people, it could give me even more work to do. It’s hard to tell.

Learning and development could go much the same way too. Universities currently rely on lots of EU money, but as the Brexiters were keen to point out – that was just our money anyway. They could end up better off, or worse off – if we prioritise the NHS and farmers instead. It’s really hard to tell.

And it’s much the same for everyone, I think.

Since the referendum, the conversation hasn’t really moved on very far at all – and it’s easy to see why: we’ve not started negotiations, and the ‘wounds’ are still very raw.

But it can’t only be me, as we adjust to our new normal, finding my mind occupying itself with thoughts of what I should be doing to give myself a good Brexit.