Voting Remain in spite of the campaign

I was in the middle of writing this when the news about Jo Cox’s shooting broke.The official campaigns haven’t re-started yet. One can hope for a kinder politics, but will the leopards change their spots? 

Way back in February, Question Time was due to be filmed locally to me in Poole.  It was just after the referendum date had been set which was clearly going to dominate the decision, so as part of the application process, you had to say whether you would vote in or out.
Do you want to leave this site

My answer was finely balanced.  There were good reasons to vote in, but then again there were good reasons to vote out.  However my sister in law is from Spain. This would always outweigh every other factor, so when I spoke to the researcher who was dealing with audience participation, I told her I would almost certainly be voting Remain.  (Last year, I even discussed writing for the pro-EU side in the campaign.)

Now, I will be voting Remain in spite of the campaign.

I don’t want to be associated with them, because their campaign exemplifies the worst type of politics, a factor I’m sure has contributed to Remain’s poor showing in the polls.

The thing is, many of the tactics used are surprisingly similar to the tactics used by politicians to push HS2 through – the personal attacks, the dodgy statistics and the ‘independent’ reports published by organisations with a vested interest.

These tactics were almost certainly not invented for HS2. But like most people most of the time, I wasn’t taking a detailed look at campaigns for or against specific issues, so I didn’t notice them.  However with so many people with a vote on the EU referendum, and no clear party line to adhere to, ordinary people are taking a lot of notice of the Remain campaign’s tactics, and they don’t like them.

I’m not saying of course, that the Leave campaign is a model of perfect civility and pleasantness, but then my alternative to voting Remain was always going to be abstain.  I wasn’t going to be out campaigning for them anyway: I wasn’t going to try and persuade people to vote Leave.

The whole of David Cameron’s strategy seemed to be backfiring, with trust in David Cameron himself plummeting in a matter of months as the Remain campaign he is leading gets nastier.

You have the so called independent reports which when you dig a little deeper are from people who are funded, directly or indirectly, from the EU.

You have the personal attacks on the politicians. And anyone who might vote for Brexit is also vilified, by association with the worst villain of the day.

Oh and the threats of war, pestilence and the fall of Western civilisation (thank you Donald Tusk) if we vote for Brexit – nothing unbelievable there.

(On the unbelievable end, the BBC didn’t immediately start covering a recent HS2 story, because their correspondent couldn’t believe the figures for HS2 were so bad. They were.)

There has been no vision from the Remain campaign.

Or at least, there is no vision of what staying in the EU could be like if they win.  There is a vision from Leave who are perhaps overboard on promising a land of milk and honey – you may not believe they can deliver, but the vision is there.  The only vision from Remain is the fire and brimstone they claim would result from a Brexit vote, with Osborne’s vindictive emergency budget a prime example.

When politicians campaign like this on individual policies which they are determined to get through regardless of the merits, it often passes unnoticed by all but a few.  But this is just the same on a bigger scale – and with a lot more people looking at it simultaneously.

It’s possible Remain would have won, even without the shooting on Thursday.  It’s possible that dreadful event has made enough difference to enough undecided voters.  However much of the Remain campaign has been so unpleasant no wonder it has been losing ground.

There might have been a case to make for the EU: perhaps the idea of British skepticsm being needed in the heart of Europe, or perhaps that the sweep of history is towards closer ties.  Nobody has made the case.

I’m voting Remain in spite of the campaign, not because of it.

HS2 Vacancy Ahead? – Chair of the Board

This is the article I wrote for Stop HS2, but it was never published, because it turned out this was only a bit of the story – and Higgins wasn’t planning to be off at all, it was other people who may have decided it was time for him to go. For more, see Is Higgins off, or is it another HS2 cock-up? and Government mount desperate bid to cut HS2 costs.


As pointed out by John in a comment on Wednesday, the Public Appointments committee will soon be looking out for a replacement chair for HS2 Ltd.

Higgins’ contract has always had an end-date – he told the Transport Select Committee in November 2014 that it ran until January 2016, and it was “is not in my gift” to extend it.

But what is interesting is to see what else Higgins had to say:

Jason McCartney: How long is your personal contract for in this role and how long do you see yourself being able to keep up this pace for… Would you be seeking a contract extension for another three or four years?

Sir David Higgins: Well, I would never be so presumptuous as to think—

Jason McCartney: But would you personally at this stage be looking for—

Sir David Higgins: I think I want to see what progress we have made next calendar year and what support we have from any Government, whichever Government it is, to take the project forward. What I am doing now is spending a lot of time with the Executive and the board, building up the capabilities of the organisation. I am really pleased that the approvals we have had through in terms of recruitment and flexibility allow us to hire the right people in-house rather than as consultants on the project, and that is now proceeding. We are going to get a really strong team.

While he has managed to extend the £242,000 post for another few months (not bad for a three-day week), it looks like he is planning to be off before the other delays in the project become clear.

On waffling….

Lord Tebbit (Con): I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. Will he just come to the point and meet the point that has been ably expressed by a number of noble and learned Lords? He is just waffling. Is he trying to talk it out until 11 pm?

Lord Davidson of Glen Clova: The suggestion that I am waffling is one that I do not find wholly offensive.

Originally found on Lords of the Blog, then traced back to Hansard via a search on TheyWorkForYou.  I always like to check with the original source.

My thoughts on Ada Lovelace Day and HS2

As a former computer programmer, I’m fully behind the idea of Ada Lovelace Day.  I think it is great to remind people that women have been involved in STEM careers for centuries.

I find it amusing that the first long distance drive was by Mrs Benz to her mother after an argument with her husband, who had been developing the automobile – but in reality her husband had relied on Bertha’s money, but wouldn’t market it to enable them to recoup some of the investment.

I think it really sucks that Caroline Herschel (1750-1848) is eclipsed by her brother, in spite of discovering numerous comets herself, and being a major help to her more famous brother. (George III paid William £200 per year and Caroline £50 a year.)

What is particularly annoying me today, is the use of Ada Lovelace Day by fans of HS2 – when HS2 Ltd pay their male CEO 6 times the salary of the woman he replaced.

HS2 is a bad project and a bad company to work for. And HS2 Ltd’s actions are just as likely to put women off seeing engineering as an equal pay opportunity.

Representing West Moors WI at the WI centenary

In 2015 it was West Moors Women’s Institute’s turn to send a delegate to the National Federation’s AGM. It was the centenary of the first ever WI being formed, so this was going to be a special AGM, and I was the very lucky person to be selected to go to represent West Moors. It was with great excitement that I arrived in Ringwood to catch the coach on 4th June.

Even leaving home at 5.30 am to get to the coach stop didn’t dampen my spirits.  There was a bit of a kerfuffle: we’d been told we’d get our tickets for the actual AGM on the coach – except they had been left at someone’s house.  So while the coach sped towards London, the organiser was being driven in the other direction to go home and get the tickets.  We were to meet at Fleet services, where the coach was due to have a break for breakfast.  We got to Fleet in good time, and then an anxious wait until the woman with the tickets finally arrived – but would we get to London in time?

We arrived at the disembarkation point in London with just ten minutes to spare.  This would be tight timing anyway – but as the Queen, Princess Anne and the Countess of Wessex were all going to be at the AGM, we had been told to bring two forms of ID and that these would be carefully checked on arrival.  And as we got closer to the Albert Hall, we could see a huge queue at one of the other doors.  Luckily though, we walked past this huge queue to our door, and were waved through.  Our seats were on the main floor of the Hall, and the Dorset Federation were seated together.

The day began with a number of reports, rather than singing Jerusalem because we were waiting for the Royal Party to arrive.

It was thrilling to be present when the Queen arrived, along with Princess Anne and the Countess of Wessex. We all sang God save the Queen: while I have sung this on many occasions, it was the first time I’d sung it with the Queen herself present. We also sung Jerusalem – it was great to sing it with 5000 other women.  It is very different singing it as part of a huge crowd, compared to a few dozen at a typical West Moors meeting.

To start with the Queen and the other Royals were seated, and I was fascinated to see the Queen put her handbag on her lap: having heard that she uses her handbag to signal to her ladies-in-waiting, I was intrigued to know what this might signal.  I soon realised that putting her handbag on her lap and searching through it meant “I’m looking for my spectacles, I’m sure I had them in here.”

Her speech was impressive, covering how the lives of women have changed over the last 100 years, including women getting the vote, the first British women Prime Minister and women climbing Everest, and that the Women’s Institute has made a real difference to many women’s lives. Not surprising with the many years of practise she has had, she is a very good public speaker.

The Queen was presented with flowers, beautifully handed over in what could have been a textbook example of ‘how to give flowers to Royalty’ by a well-practised primary school age child,.  The younger child giving flowers to Princess Anne was overwhelmed by the occasion and had to be accompanied by her mother.  The third flower-giver was a teenager: but she thrust her bunch at the Countess of Wessex and flounced off stage.  The Countess’s surprised look and tiny gesture showed that while this was not how she normally expected to be given flowers, she was used to teenage moods.

I was really looking forward to the talk by historian Lucy Worseley.  It covered the early history of the Women’s Institutes, and how many of the early WI members had been suffragettes.  I found it particularly interesting that the order of a typical WI meeting had been designed to teach women who to run public meetings, with committee business to give women a chance to learn how to act in public office, an educational talk and a break for tea and cake so that the women attending had a chance to gossip without interrupting the main meeting.   It was intriguing to learn that Jerusalem was a suffragette anthem before it was used by the WI.

The resolution – about removing the separation between nursing and personal care – provoked much discussion.  It seemed that while the meeting agreed with the general spirit of the motion, the wording wasn’t right.  After some discussion, it was proposed that the meeting moved on to further business: this passed, avoiding a vote on the main motion.

Then to lunch! I’d ordered a pack lunch from the Hall, and after collecting it, I went out into a glorious sunny June lunchtime.  The Albert Memorial was surrounded by women in brightly coloured dresses, some in finery, some in less dressy outfits.  But it was lovely to know that no matter who I was sitting next to, I had something in common.

There were two more talks, with Baroness Grey-Thomson describing her live as a para-olympic athlete and her elevation to the House of Lords.  The other talk was from business woman Helena Morrissey, about her organisation which aims to get more woman at senior levels in business.

One thing that has clearly changed over the last few years is the use of technology.  There were a number of venues with live streaming of the WI AGM, so as part of the day we had a video link with three of them.

We ended the AGM with the singing of Jerusalem and Land of my Fathers – we had Welsh Federation members behind us, and it was great to hear it being sung with proper Welsh pronunciations.

It was time to go to our coach and the drive home.  We pulled into Ringwood at 9 o’clock: the end of a long day, but a very enjoyable one .  Thank you to the members of West Moors Women’s Institute for selecting me to go.

Penny Gaines

West Moors

Flexible autumn

I write this on a blustery June day when someone has tweeted “is it this winter or next winter?”

Whether June is this winter or not is a bit like saying that an HS2 event is supposed to happen “in the autumn”. Various pronouncements were made yesterday along the lines of the Phase 2 announcement will be made in the autumn (of 2015).

But the announcement of the decision on the whole of the Phase 2 route is already way behind, having originally been due in 2014.

Out of date HS2 timeline, showing missed dates

Out of date HS2 timeline, showing missed dates

What’s more, when it comes to the Phase 2, HS2 Ltd seems to have a very flexible definition of “autumn”.

The original Phase 2 announcement was due in autumn 2012.  This slipped to “the end of the year”, and then to “the new year” before finally being announced at the end of January 2013.  Whilst  the definition of a particular season can be elastic, ‘autumn’ is definitely over when one year changes to the next.

All change for the Hybrid Bill committee?

With the decimation of the LibDems in the election, the HS2 Hybrid Bill committee lost one of their members. The committee has since postponed their visit to Buckinghamshire.  David Liddington, Aylesbury MP, told Mix 96

“Following the postponement, I subsequently spoke to the Committee Chairman, Robert Syms MP. The reason for the postponement is that there are likely to be changes to the Committee’s membership. The Liberal Democrat member was not re-elected.

“The new parliamentary arithmetic will probably mean the appointment of an SNP member and I gather that the Labour membership may also change.”

The original assumption was that the committee would not change membership after the election.

Jane Austen on the White Man’s Privilege

From Persuasion by Jane Austen. Captain Harville and Anne Elliot are discussing whether men or women are more constant:

“…Well, Miss Elliot,” (lowering his voice,) “as I was saying we shall never agree, I suppose, upon this point. No man and woman, would, probably. But let me observe that all histories are against you–all stories, prose and verse. If I had such a memory as Benwick, I could bring you fifty quotations in a moment on my side the argument, and I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman’s inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman’s fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men.”

“Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”

Midlands and HS2 missing in the Manifesto

Earlier today, the Conservatives’ published their 2015 manifesto. They said that as part of their Northern Powerhouse plans, they would build HS2: no surprise there.

However as an alert supporter of Stop HS2 pointed out, there’s no mention of HS2 in their section on the Midlands as an Engine of Growth. This is especially odd, as most of the section is about transport.

We will make the Midlands an engine of growth

We will back business by investing a record £5.2 billion in better transport, upgrading the M1 and M6, and electrifying the Midland Main Line from St Pancras to Sheffield – putting the Midlands at the centre of a modern, inter-connected transport network for the UK. We will back the Midlands’ strength in advanced manufacturing, engineering and science with major projects such as the Energy Research Accelerator and support for innovation in the motor industry.