CommentPlus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning’s papers.

1. The teamwork is admirable. But it will kill the Lib Dems (Guardian)

If the coalition sustains its honeymoon, says Jackie Ashley, the Tories will reap the rewards; if it fails, Labour will. Clegg needs to push voting reform fast.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

2. There's no case for cutting the number of MPs (Times)

The shadow justice secretary, Jack Straw, argues that "equalising" the size of seats is a crudely partisan Tory measure -- the Lib Dems will regret backing it.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

3. Hayward is jeopardising more than his job (Independent)

The leading article suggests that David Cameron's meeting with Barack Obama later this month could be overshadowed by tension caused by the BP oil spill.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

4. If mud sticks, unfairly, so can oil (Financial Times)

Clive Crook discusses the tide of harsh media criticism of Obama. Much of it is unfair. Some of it is ridiculous. But that does not mean it will not stick.

5. Saving industry needn't pit sentiment against machismo (Guardian)

Theorists like Vince Cable say bailing out British firms is pointless, says Julian Glover, an obvious departure from his predessor Lord Mandelson. Non-intervention is not a doctrine consistently applied.

6. Listen, Govey, not all sink schools are failing (Times)

Libby Purves warns that our new Education Secretary's eagerness to fire "underperforming" head teachers could result in an own goal. The measure of failure should be more sophisticated.

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8. Frankfurt's shroud of secrecy should be shed (Financial Times)

The EU and ECB need to have greater transparency, argues Wolfgang Münchau. The central bank should at the very least be forced to publish the votes of its meetings without having to identify the members.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

8. Hardliners are now the face of Israel (Independent)

By attacking criticism as part of an anti-Israel, anti-Semitic propaganda war, the Israeli government yet again fails to understand that the problem is policy, not PR, says Queen Rania of Jordan.

9. Libel laws: In the public's interest (Guardian)

The government must throw its weight behind Lord Lester's efforts to improve our flawed libel laws, says the leading article.

10. The burden of pain (Times)

The central task for the Lib-Con coalition is how to cut with a fair distribution of pain, says the leading article. It will be very hard to do so, but the rewards for success could be great.

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Richard Dawkins: We need a new party - the European Party

I was unqualified to vote in the EU referendum. So at least now we should hear from experts. 

It is just conceivable that Brexit will eventually turn out to be a good thing. I gravely doubt it, but I’m not qualified to judge. And that is the point. I wasn’t qualified to vote in the referendum. Nor were you, unless you have a PhD in economics or are an expert in a relevant field such as history. It’s grotesque that David Cameron, with the squalidly parochial aim of silencing the Ukip-leaning wing of his party, gambled away our future and handed it over to a rabble of ignorant voters like me.

I voted – under protest, because I never should have been asked to vote, but I did. In line with the precautionary principle, I knew enough to understand that such a significant, complex and intricate change as Brexit would drive a clumsy bull through hundreds of delicate china shops painstakingly stocked up over decades of European co-operation: financial agreements, manufacturing partnerships, international scholarships, research grants, cultural and edu­cational exchanges.

I voted Remain, too, because, though ­ignorant of the details, I could at least spot that the Leave arguments were visceral, emotional and often downright xenophobic. And I could see that the Remain arguments were predominantly rational and ­evidence-based. They were derided as “Project Fear”, but fear can be rational. The fear of a man stalked by a hungry polar bear is entirely different from the fear of a man who thinks that he has seen a ghost. The trick is to distinguish justified fear from irrational fear. Those who scorned Project Fear made not the slightest attempt to do so.

The single most shocking message conveyed during the referendum campaign was: “Don’t trust experts.” The British people are fed up with them, we were told. You, the voter, are the expert here. Despicable though the sentiment was, it unfortunately was true. Cameron made it true. By his unspeakable folly in calling the referendum, he promoted everyone to the rank of expert. You might as well call a nationwide plebiscite to decide whether Einstein got his algebra right, or let passengers vote on which runway the pilot should land on.

Scientists are experts only in their own limited field. I can’t judge the details of physics papers in the journal Nature, but I know that they’ve been refereed rigorously by experts chosen by an expert editor. Scientists who lie about their research results (and regrettably there are a few) face the likelihood that they’ll be rumbled when their experiments are repeated. In the world of science, faking your data is the cardinal sin. Do so and you’ll be drummed out of the profession without mercy and for ever.

A politician who lies will theoretically get payback at the next election. The trouble with Brexit is that there is no next election. Brexit is for keeps. Everyone now knows that the £350m slogan on the Brexit bus was a barefaced lie, but it’s too late. Even if the liars lose their seats at the next election (and they probably won’t), Brexit still means Brexit, and Brexit is irreversible. Long after the old people who voted Leave are dead and forgotten, the young who couldn’t be bothered to vote and now regret it will be reaping the consequences.

A slender majority of the British people, on one particular day in June last year when the polls had been going up and down like a Yo-Yo, gave their ill-informed and actively misled opinion. They were not asked what they wanted to get into, only what they wanted to get out of. They might have thought “Take back control” meant “Give control back to our sovereign parliament, which will decide the details”. Yes, well, look how that’s working out!

“The British people have spoken” has become an article of zealous faith. Even to suggest that parliament should have a little bitty say in the details is hysterically condemned as heresy, defying “the people”. British politics has become toxic. There is poison in the air. We thought that we had grown out of xenophobic bigotry and nationalistic jingoism. Or, at least, we thought it had been tamed, shamed into shutting its oafish mouth. The Brexit vote signalled an immediate rise in attacks on decent, hard-working Poles and others. Bigots have been handed a new licence. Senior judges who upheld the law were damned as “enemies of the people” and physically threatened.

Am I being elitist? Of course. What’s wrong with that? We want elite surgeons who know their anatomy, elite pilots who know how to fly, elite engineers to build safe bridges, elite athletes to win at the Olympics for Team GB, elite architects to design beautiful buildings, elite teachers and professors to educate the next generation and help them join the elite. In the same way, to decide the affairs of state, as we live in a representative democracy, we can at least hope to elect elite parliamentarians, guided and advised by elite, highly educated civil servants. Not politicians who abdicate their democratic responsibility and hand important decisions over to people like me.

What is to be done? Labour, the so-called opposition, has caved in to the doctrine of “the British people have spoken”. Only the Lib Dems and SNP are left standing. Unfortunately, the Lib Dem brand is tarnished by association with Cameron in the coalition.

Any good PR expert would prescribe a big makeover, a change of name. The “Euro­pean Party” would attract Labour voters and Labour MPs disillusioned with Jeremy Corbyn. The European Party would attract Europhile Tory MPs – and there are plenty of them. The European Party would attract a high proportion of the 48 per cent of us who voted Remain. The European Party would attract big donations. The European Party might not win the next election, but it would stand a better chance than Labour or the Lib Dems under their present name. And it would provide the proper opposition that we so sorely need.

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition