Some post-Question Time clarifications

For those of you who seem intent on getting the wrong end of the stick . . .

I'm not sure which I enjoyed more – appearing on BBC1's Question Time last night or following the Twittersphere's reaction to it as the show went out at 10.35pm. Once again, it seems, I am the Marmite panellist – people either loved me or hated me. (From the tweets, it seems as if the "lovers" edged out the "haters" – phew!)

And I was amused to get – almost at the same time – tweets/texts/emails of the "We're so proud of you for sticking up for Muslims" variety and tweets/texts/emails of the "You're just an evil extremist Islamist" variety; tweets/texts/emails of the "Great to see an articulate lefty" variety and tweets/texts/emails of the "You're an embarrassment to the left" variety. Hilarious.

Question Time is a fun show to do but I'd be the first to admit that it doesn't lend itself to nuance or depth and doesn't allow panellists enough time to unpack their views and opinions in any detail. There's been some confusion on Twitter, and in the texts and emails, about the various views that I expressed and positions that I took – and, of course, some of the confusion is a result of the deliberate misrepresentation and distortion of my views by my critics on the right. So I thought I'd take this opportunity, like last time, to offer some brief post-QT clarifications:

1) On prisoner voting: I don't support giving every prisoner the right to vote but I am opposed to a blanket ban. It might be considered right, proper and proportionate to strip serious criminals – murderers, rapists, paedophiles, armed robbers, etc – of their right to vote but the vast majority of prisoners in this country are not serious criminals. On what basis can it be said to be proportionate to remove the right to vote from a shoplifter or a drug offender or someone who has breached the terms of their Asbo? And this is not some odd or extreme position. Italy, Malta and Poland, for example, ban only those deemed to have committed serious crimes from exercising their right to vote. In Greece, anyone sentenced to life receives a permanent voting ban. Let's be clear: I'm not advocating giving killers such as John Hirst the right to vote in prison – and nor was the European Court, despite Douglas Murray's factually inaccurate claim to the contrary on the programme last night.

2) On multiculturalism: I didn't equate David Cameron with the EDL or "smear" him, as Tim Montgomerie and others have claimed. I pointed out that the English Defence League and the French National Front welcomed Cameron's remarks (and that even the BNP's Nick Griffin, while also welcoming the comments, pointed out the "provocative" timing of the speech in Munich, given events back home in Luton). Am I expected to ignore their comments? As a member of an ethnic minority, should I not be bothered that far-right racists who wish me and my family harm are claiming the PM's speech – or, at the very minimum, the media spin around it – as a vindication of their views/opinions? Am I supposed to pretend that politicians never "dog-whistle"? (For more on my views on Cameron's speech, see my column in this week's New Statesman.)

As for the "forced marriages" issue, which the oddball right-wing blogger "Archbishop Cranmer" seems to have seized upon in his rambling blog post this morning, I didn't say there weren't any forced marriages in the UK or that forced marriages were a "myth" – I pointed out that it was ridiculous for Murray to pretend (a) that multiculturalism is responsible for forced marriages and (b) that I've yet to come across a single politician, community leader or religious spokesman who defends forced marriages or excuses them on the basis of "multiculturalism". It is just ridiculous and dishonest to make such a claim. "Cranmer", who constructed his entire blog post on the basis of something I didn't say, says my "ignorance is astonishing"; I find his inability to understand simple English "astonishing". He really should pay attention.

3) On Egypt: There is no inconsistency to supporting the popular and peaceful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt while opposing the Anglo-American military intervention in Iraq. Arabs should be allowed to choose their own leaders and decide their own destiny; the west should neither prop up the despotic dictators in the Middle East – as we did with Saddam Hussein (until 1990) and Hosni Mubarak (until last week) – nor set out to remove them through "shock and awe" – as we did in Iraq, without UN backing and with bloody consequences.

4) On the "big society": I was amazed that Francis Maude could pretend that the draconian cuts to spending on charities and voluntary groups could be avoided if councils reduced their "costs" and "overheads". Conservative ministers have made some pretty disingenuous claims in recent weeks but this one takes the biscuit. The fact is that councils, which are having to make unprecedented and front-loaded cuts to their budgets of roughly 27 per cent over the next four years, "made savings of more than £3n between 2005 and 2008 and a further £1.7bn in 2008-2009. In 2009-2010 councils made efficiency savings of more than £4.8m every day." As David Cameron himself admitted, in opposition (on 8 September 2009): "Local government is officially the most efficient part of the public sector." He added: "Councils achieve well in excess of the sector's spending review targets, beating central government savings by a country mile." And much ink has been spilled in the tabloid press about "fat-cat" local council bosses but a "reduction in the chief executive pay bill of 50 per cent would only yield 0.35 per cent of the savings needed to fill the £6.5bn funding gap for 2011-2012, and equates to only 0.05 per cent of total employee expenditure". Bad luck, Francis.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Now Britain has voted for Brexit, what do David Cameron and the government do next?

Article 50, and what Whitehall, Westminster and the EU have to do following the Leave vote.

The UK has now voted to leave the EU. David Cameron has resigned as Prime Minister. The pace of events has been rapid and the big question that many will be asking is “what happens now?”

It is clear that Cameron has a mandate to stay and “steady the ship”. This means that the PM has the authority to deal with any crisis and urgent big decisions. The UK will not be without a government.

But what government do we have? In resigning, Cameron effectively becomes a caretaker PM. UK Cabinet government works through a mixture of collective responsibility and informal prime ministerial power. Now, we will see a Cabinet of ministers many of whom may be in competition to lead their party; others may now be anticipating the end of their ministerial career.

Then there is the preparing for withdrawal. When it comes to how and when to start formal negotiations, the truth is that the process and timetable for leaving is not clear. Cameron has said it will occur after a new PM takes office in the Autumn. Both Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have insisted that the withdrawal will take time. Meanwhile, EU statements have been pressing for Article 50 – the formal process for leaving – to be initiated as soon as possible. Even starting the process for leaving is going to be a negotiation.

Gove and Johnson signalled instructions to the civil service to start thinking about the exit process and preparing the negotiating ground. Civil servants are now free to lay the groundwork for such negotiations talking to their opposite numbers in other EU states.

The next EU Council meeting on the 28/29 June will be a key moment. Can the UK convince the rest of the EU not to press for action until a new government is in place? Clearly other EU states want speedy resolution and clarity. The discussions around that over the next week will be a foretaste of what is to come.

On top of all this, the government already had a large agenda of reform and deficit reduction. Since the referendum campaign got into full swing, many big decisions and announcements had been put off. Some – airport expansion in the Southeast for instance – will have to wait for a new PM. However, other pressures, such as finance and performance in the NHS, will be less easy to ignore.

Finally, and far from least, the events of the next few days and weeks will not just be down to Whitehall, Westminster and the EU. The polarised nature of the vote, particularly in Scotland and Northern Ireland, has already put the question of UK unity back on the table. It was for this reason Cameron noted how important it was to keep the devolved administrations closely involved in any negotiations. Nicola Sturgeon has already indicated she wants another referendum, though this itself requires legislation from Westminster. The government will have a constitutional crisis on its hands if it does not find consensus.

The government (perhaps even the nation) will be looking for some breathing space and the watchword will be stability. Whether it manages to find it is another matter.