Fine young criminals

And a strong contender for Quote of the Week

Now, let's get one thing straight. I do not advocate, or defend, criminality. But every now and then, you read about a crime that really makes your heart sing a bit. This time, we're in Michigan, where a 53-year-old banker, Patricia Keezer, has been sentenced for embezzling funds at her bank and giving them away to needy customers to help them with car repairs, mortgage payments and taxes.

What a hero! Sort of. Check out the quote:

"I would take other people's problems and make them my problems," Keezer told the judge. "I do have a problem with giving things away."

It melts you a little bit, no? I know it's wrong, I know it's illegal, I know the money wasn't hers to give. But there's a little part of me that's really glad she did it, although not for her sake, given that she now faces a year and a day in prison. (Why the day, judge, why the day?)

It sounds like even the judge was pretty much won over:

"You are like a modern-day Robin Hood," Battani [the judge] said of the folklore hero who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. "Those Robin Hood days are long over."

Well, maybe they are, Battani, but once in a while I reckon we should just stand up and say, "You know what, you modern-day Robin Hoods? We salute you. Yes we do."

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.