Professor Grayling on the Brexit Referendum

A.C. Grayling is an important figure in British intellectual life. He is a highly rated philosopher and has become a media figure who comments on all kinds of issues, mostly through progressive outlets. When the late Christopher Hitchens died it was AC-Grayling-Screenshot-800x430seriously suggested that Professor Grayling should now be accounted the new fourth horseman of militant atheism in the English speaking world, alongside Richard Dawkins and the rest.

Among the debates into which he has entered  has been that about Brexit. Like Richard Dawkins, Grayling is a strong advocate of Britain’s membership of the European Union. He has addressed this issue on several occasions recently on his own web site. His thinking on the subject can usefully be broken down into two halves, which are linked together by his underlying conviction that despite the result of the referendum that Britain should nevertheless remain a member of the E.U.

Grayling essentially claims that in the referendum campaign the Leave campaigners behaved dishonestly, that those who voted for Leave were only just over a third of the electorate, and that anyway the majority for Leave was too small to justify so radical and damaging a change in Britain’s constitutional arrangements. These views are clearly controversial, but he is certainly not alone in holding them, and any discussion of them would have to be very extended. They might be worth tackling in some future contribution about the whole Brexit debate.

At this juncture I want to focus attention on what seems to be Professor Grayling’s distinctive and “specific” contribution to the debate, if only because if shows just how far some Remain intellectuals are prepared to go to justify their last-ditch opposition to Brexit . The gist of Professor Grayling’s reasoning is that the referendum held in June 2015 was really only a glorified opinion poll; that did not provide the government with any mandate to trigger Brexit by invoking article fifty of the Lisbon Treaty. On the face of it there are many obvious objections to this view. For example if the referendum was really only advisory why did David Cameroncameron resigns resign when he lost it? And why did he hire

Jim Messina ( President Obama’s big data expert ) if it was really open to him to ignore the result if the wrong side won? Above all if the referendum was really  just a consultation which provided no mandate why did rich men on both sides spend huge sums trying to influence the result? Would they really have wasted their money on a consultative exercise of the kind envisaged by Professor Grayling?

These considerations though do not seem to have occurred to Professor Grayling who has developed his own rather different chain of reasoning. Perhaps we had better explore it. Professor Grayling  has summarised his case in this way: “Recall,” he says, “that the referendum was specifically intended to be advisory and consultative only. Briefing paper  07212 issued to members of both Houses of Parliament on June 3rd 2015 in advance of the debate on the Referendum Bill says in section 5 that the referendum is non-binding, advisory, consultative; and section 6 points out that if there were to be any suggestion otherwise, there would need to be a supermajority requirement. In the House of Commons in the debate on the E.U. referendum Bill the Minister for Europe, Mr. David Lidington, told the House that “the legislation is about holding a vote; it makes no provision for what follows. The referendum is advisory.” ( Hansard for 16 June 2015 )

Professor Grayling then goes on to employ some very choice language in which the word “thieves” appears to describe the way in which “the Brexit cabal have treated the outcome as binding and mandating, in defiance of the explicit nature of the Referendum Act itself.”

There are then two parts to Professor Grayling’s argument, the first derived from the briefing paper prepared by the House of Commons Library, and the second from the statement made by Mr David Lidington, who was, of course, the minister responsible for introducing the legislation which authorised the referendum.

The passage in the briefing paper which Professor Grayling refers to (p.25) reads as follows:

“It [ the Bill ] does not contain any requirement for the UK Government to implement the results of the referendum, nor to set a time limit by which a vote to leave the E.U. would be implemented. Instead, this is a type of referendum known as a pre-legislative or consultative, which enables the electorate to voice an opinion WHICH INFLUENCES THE GOVERNMENT IN ITS POLICY DECISIONS.” [ The words in capital letters- which I have supplied- appear in the original but not in Professor Grayling’s version.]

Since Professor Grayling quotation was strangely truncated it is no surprise that he did not find it necessary to ask- as I think we must- how  a government could properly be said to have been influenced by the result of a referendum if it did not abide by it ? Professor Grayling would surely have been outraged had the Remain triumphed in the referendum, and if then the prime minister had announced that he was leaving the E.U!

Next we come the remarks made by Mr.David Lidingtondavid-lidingtonMP when he introduced the legislation in question.  Professor Grayling quotes Mr. Lidington as saying that: “the legislation is about holding a vote; it makes no provision for what follows. The referendum is advisory.” So far as it goes this is an accurate quotation. But, once again,  Professor Grayling has not read far enough.  The words which immediately follow the end of his quotation from Mr. Lidington are as follows: “…as was the case for both the 1975 referendum on Europe and the Scottish independence vote last year.” Is Professor Grayling really asserting that the UK government could have overturned  the result of September 2014 referendum  in Scotland? I so, I can only observe that in so doing he would have embarked on a voyage across the dark ocean from which there can be no return.

Even this does not exhaust the difficulties of Professor Grayling’s interpretation of Mr. Lidington’s remarks. Towards the end of his contribution to the debate Mr. Lidington noted- in words that seem to have eluded Professor Grayling’s observation-that “the referendum is taking place as a result of clear manifesto commitment to negotiate the terms of the U.K.’s relationship with the European Union and to put them to the people in a referendum.”

In other words  Mr. Lidington was stressing that the government was morally bound by the pledge contained in the manifesto on which it had been elected to power, only a month earlier. And what was this commitment? The Conservative manifesto for the May 2015 could not have been clearer (p.72) . It was as follows: “Only the Conservatives can and will deliver an in-out referendum.” “We will legislate in the first session of the new Parliament [ i.e. the one in which Mr. Lidington was speaking ] for an in-out referendum to be held on Britain’s membership of the E.U. before the end of 2017. We will negotiate a new settlement for Britain in the E.U. And then we will ask the British people whether they want to stay in on that basis, or leave. We will honour the result of the referendum, whatever the outcome.”

This pledge, I am afraid, make a terrible hash of Professor Grayling’s suggestion that the referendum provided no mandate for Brexit. No one reading the Conservative manifesto would have thought this. I was not privy to the drafting which must have preceded the publication of the manifesto, but it is at least possible that the slightly unwieldy term “in-out referendum” was designed precisely to exclude the sort of reasoning that our philosopher has engaged in.

Professor Grayling owes his readers an apology- otherwise he might start giving his profession, a bad name.


Despite my efforts this post is complicated enough so I’m relegating three points to this appendix.

1] For those who want to get a feel for the referendum campaign the best book I’ve seen so far is Tim Shipman’s “All Out War, the full story of how Brexit sank Britain’s political class” ( London, 2016 )All out war During the campaign Shipman was the political editor of The Sunday Times which supported Remain. Perhaps his greatest coup is to publish the text of the speech which David Cameron would have given had Remain won the referendum ( p. 619-622)  Also writing from the Remain perspective is Ian Dunn’s “ Brexit, what the hell happens now?” ( London, 2016). For one,  ( but by no means the only)  Leave “take” on the Referendum, see Arron Banks, “The Bad Boys of Brexit, Tales of Mischief, Mayhem, and Guerrilla warfare in the E.U. Referendum Campaign” ( London, 2016). One of the most notable facts about the Leave campaign, insufficiently emphasised by Professor Grayling were the deep divisions within it. It was no tightly knit cabal.

NOTE: I have just seen an apparently well researched article on The Observer web site ( which was published on7/5/ 17 ) by Carol Cadwalladr entitled “The great British robbery: how our democracy was hijacked” in which she says, among other things, that two leave campaigns were in fact more closely linked than I realised when I wrote the above paragraph. Her article is an important contribution to our understanding of the referendum campaign. But whether the circumstances were really as scandalous as she implies is, of course, another matter. Nor should we forget the nine million pounds of tax payers money that the government spend on Remain propaganda before the purdah period began. 

2] In the course of his discussion of the House of Common’s Library paper about the referendum, Professor Grayling refers to the section (p. 26-27) which deals with the super majority thresholds that are sometimes required in referenda about constitutional matters. The paper points out that “discussion of the need  for some form of threshold usually arises in the context of ensuing the legitimacy and acceptance of the outcome of a referendum.” But since the paper does not suggest that such “super-majority” or turn out thresholds are necessary conditions for a valid constitutional referendum, I fail to see the relevance of the passage in question to Professor Grayling’s argument, more especially since no such requirement was included in the 1975 referendum which copperbottomed Britain’s membership of the E.U. in the first place. In this business sauce for the goose really must surely be sauce for the gander! Nor, it should be remembered, did the absence of such thresholds prevent the setting up of the Welsh Assembly, the proposal for which only passed by a very small majority.  It might, I suppose have been better had some such threshold been built into the legislation, but this would have undermined the democratic credentials of the whole exercise. Professor Grayling’s suggestion that the result of the referendum should be put aside because it lacked such thresholds therefore lacks credibility. Indeed I am prompted to ask if he would really have been arguing in this way if Remain had won?

3] While in this instance I disagree with Professor Grayling I do not think that his discussion of thresholds is altogether misplaced.  What would have happened had the majority either way been very small? As Professor Grayling points out this was a possibility which was raised during the campaign by Nigel Farage- who was expecting a narrow win for Remain.Nigel_Farage_MEP


Just how credible would the result ( in either direction ) have been had there only been ( say ) eight hundred votes  in it after several recounts? It seems to me that this is an issue which should be addressed by British legislators the next time that they vote to hold a referendum. Similarly there should probably be an amendment to the Irish Constitution which addresses this hitherto neglected issue. ( There is also the related issue which showed up in our second divorce referendum of extreme weather conditions suppressing turnout in one part of the country…)

Richard Miller


Revolutionary socialism and sexual politics


By Philip Vander Elst.

Social liberalism’ has become the universally accepted label applied to all those in the western democracies who support the Left’s political and cultural agenda of ‘sexual revolution’. The very use of such terms as ‘gay liberation’ ‘transgender rights’ ‘pro-choice’ and ‘sexual equality’, implies, like the word ‘liberalism’, that this increasingly victorious cultural agenda represents a genuine movement of human emancipation. But is this really true? Does the overthrow of traditional Judeo-Christian morality and the advance of moral relativism and sexual permissiveness represent an extension of personal liberty or a threat to its long-term survival? Growing evidence suggests the latter is the case, including four powerful and exhaustively documented books described below.


The first two books, by American feminist and lesbian writer, Tammy Bruce, are revealingly entitled, Tammy bruceThe Death of Right and Wrong (2004) and The New Thought Police (2003). They show how the rise of left-wing McCarthyism, with its politically correct speech and thought codes, is eroding religious freedom and the civil rights of all those, especially Christians, who dissent from the current ‘liberal’ orthodoxy about sex and the family. The third American book, The Homosexual Agenda (2003), by Alan Sears and Craig Osten, tells the same story in equally compelling detail. In particular, it exposes, with abundant chapter and verse, the extent to which militant homosexual activists are determined to use the coercive power of the State to change public attitudes and enforce compliance with their practical demands. Finally, the fourth book on this list, The Global Sexual Revolution: destruction of freedom in the name of freedom (2015), is the work of a brave German female sociologist,The-Global-Sexual-Revolution-Gender-Ideology Gabriele Kuby, and is a comprehensive and damning analysis of both the philosophical and historical roots (reaching back to the French Revolution), and the practical consequences, of the Left’s morally and socially destructive cultural agenda.

Those seeking a full and comprehensive understanding of this subject should obviously read these four books, but they may also be interested in reading a paper of mine, first published in 1981, examining the ideological connections between revolutionary socialism and ‘sexual politics’ as expressed more than a generation ago in the writings of various British Marxist and gay activist groups and publications. If they do so, and view its contents against the background of current events and the information provided in the above-mentioned books, they will see the degree to which my 1981 paper (see below) has proved to be prophetic in its analysis of the destructive impact of the gay/socialist alliance on the rights and liberties of the heterosexual majority.

Revolutionary Socialism and Sexual Politics ( July 1981 )


Edmund_Burke_by_James_NorthcoteTwo centuries ago Edmund Burke (1729-1797) wrote: “Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites.” Lenin (1870-1924), on the other hand, declared in 1920: “We do not believe in an eternal morality, and we expose the falseness of all the fables about morality.”  The opposition between these viewpoints reflects the fact that while Burke wanted to defend the traditional social order; Lenin’s mission was to overthrow it. This suggests that there is an intimate link between revolutionary politics and attempts to overturn, or deny, traditional moral values. What then is the nature of this connection?


The freedom and stability of our society are primarily sustained by two institutions: private property and the family. Private property guarantees personal independence and decentralizes power, while the family provides children with the secure and loving environment their development requires. The health and happiness of the family rests in turn upon the institution of marriage, which is based on the mutual loyalty, commitment and understanding of adult men and women. Without these qualities and the codes and institutions which nurture them, society fragments and breeds disharmony, resentment, and alienation. For that very reason revolutionaries are moral nihilists. They detest normality, contentment and stability. They wish to destroy the present social order and build a new one upon its ruins, and that cannot be done unless the restraints imposed by morality, property and the family are swept away.


However, the apostles of revolution also have positive as well as negative reasosn for their repudiation of these institutions. 


Marxists oppose the family, for example, because it represents a focus of loyalty outside the collective and gives individuals an emotional and material base from which to resist communal pressures and demands. They dislike the way it encourages individualism and the accumulation and transmission of private property. The advocates of ‘sexual revolution’ or ‘sexual politics’, on the other hand, reach the same ideological position from the opposite end. They oppose private property because it strengthens the traditional family, and in doing so, reinforces the traditional belief that marital faithfulness and heterosexuality must be defended, and homosexuality and promiscuity condemned, or at least criticized.


Although revolutionary socialists and sexual revolutionaries are not entirely overlapping groups in Britain, many of their activists are revolutionaries in both senses and share a common desire to overthrow ‘capitalism’ and ‘sexism’. They are by the same token united in the ‘struggle for socialism’, though they may differ in their interpretation of what precisely constitutes ‘socialism’. Their pro-abortion militancy is also significant as an expression of their common hostility to the rights of unborn children and the responsibilities of motherhood. This again reflects their dislike of the family and their rejection of traditional morality.


The evidence from their own writings and publications

The identity of interest between political and sexual revolutionaries is stressed in many far left and radical publications, as the following examples demonstrate. In the 10th issue of Gay Left (June 1980), a homosexual socialist journal that has just completed five years of publication, there is a “collective statement” on the relationship between “democracy, socialism and sexual politics”. After remarking that: “The Women’s movement and the Gay movement have politicized and radicalized sections of the population untouched by traditional socialist organizations”, the collective statement adds: “Feminist and Gay politics provide a subversive challenge to conventional ideologies and aspirations, and socialism cannot grow without such challenges.” In another article in the same issue (“Workplace politics: Gay politics”), Nigel Young writes: “I feel that only by piecing together our gayness and our socialism and combining it with collective action can we defend and advance the gains of the gay and women’s movements.”


This theme is underlined in an even more explicit and uncompromising way by Don Milligan, in his pamphlet, The Politics of Homosexuality, first published by Pluto Press in 1973 and reprinted in August 1978 by the Edinburgh Gay Activists Alliance. As he puts it: “The movement for women’s liberation and gay liberation are important because they make us aware of the ways in which we are drenched in myths and prejudices that support the way things are – enabling capitalism to continue.” “Homosexual liberation is not possible under capitalism”, he continues [erroneously, as it has proved!] though “it is not guaranteed under socialism.” Since “Socialism is not simply about economics” and “workers’ control of industry…would create only the possibility of gay liberation”, “gay liberation groups must also aim to spread our ideas throughout the labour and socialist movement.” This, Milligan appears to have achieved according to the review of his pamphlet in Gay News (No.148), by Jeffrey Weeks: “…the SWP [Socialist Workers Party], along with most of the other far left groupings, now have advanced positions on gay liberation to which this pamphlet’s arguments probably contributed.”


The link between feminist and revolutionary politics is emphasized by the Trotskyist International Marxist Group (IMG), in a pamphlet published in 1979, on Abortion, Liberation and Revolution. It argues: “Transformation of society can only be achieved through a united onslaught on the power and privileges of capitalist society. All the movements of the oppressed, women, racial minorities, youth, must join with the organized working class.”Trotsky quote In particular, “…all those fighting to change society will have to participate in the struggle against women’s role in the family.” This is necessary because: “If women had complete freedom – the freedom not to reproduce or the freedom to reproduce with any man they desire – then there would be no way in which the male of the ruling class could be sure that his property would be passed to his children.” The IMG pamphlet further alleges that restrictions on abortion represent an attempt “to force women out of the labour market and back into the home”, consequently it demands that there should be “no governmental restrictions on abortion, contraception and sterilization, for all women – including minors.”


Like the other far left groups, the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) is also aware of the need for co-operation between political and sexual revolutionaries. In the 5th edition of the Party’s programme, The British Road to Socialism, it is emphasized that “capitalism not only exploits people at work, it impinges on every aspect of their lives…Hence the broad democratic alliance needs to be not only an expression of class forces, but of other important forces in society which emerge out of areas of oppression not always directly connected with the relations of production.” That is why it insists that “the fight for women’s liberation is an integral part of the struggle for socialism, and needs to be taken up by the whole labour movement.” In that cause it advocates: “Women’s control over their own bodies, with freely available abortion.” In addition to proclaiming its support for “the overcoming of sexism”, the CPGB welcomes “the development of the gay movement, which aims to end prejudice and discrimination against homosexual men and women.”


The explicitly subversive nature of ‘sexual politics’ is most clearly revealed in the hatred expressed for traditional values and the family, especially on the homosexual left. Don Milligan denounces the family as the origin of sexual repression: “The family denies the sexuality of children, represses that of adolescents and reduces fidelity to an expression of property rights.” Parents are attacked because they “ ‘bring up’ their children in their own image” and so “fulfill a basic function for capitalist society – that of soaking each new generation in the values of bourgeois society and male supremacy.” Milligan further complains that “If homosexuality were fully accepted, many more people would have gay relationships.” To that end he concludes his pamphlet with eight demands, three of which call for: “An end to exclusively heterosexual sex education in schools. Abolition of all restrictions which prevent gay people from caring for their own children or adopting children. Abolition of all laws relating to the age of consent for boys and girls.”


Campaign group demands legitimization of sex with children 

This last appalling demand finds an echo in Gay Left, in which there is an advertisement on behalf of the Campaign Against Public Morals (CAPM), established after the arrest, in July 1979, of several members of the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), an organization devoted to the legitimization of sex between adults and children. Not only does this advertisement demand “that the laws against PIE be dropped.” It also goes on to deplore the way in which the trial of PIE members “could be used to cut back the ideological space in which ‘dangerous’ subjects like child sexuality could be discussed, as well as the havoc that it will produce in the lives of self-professed paedophiles and of other perceivedly ‘deviant’ adults.”


The rejection of traditional ideas about heterosexuality, marriage and the family is also explicit in a pamphlet by the Coventry Women’s Education Group, a self-proclaimed body of “socialist feminists.” Entitled, Please Yourself: Sex for Girls, the aim of the booklet “is to provide a feminist approach to sex, for girls of about 13+.” Its object, moreover, is not simply to provide information about pregnancy, contraception and abortion, “But most importantly it is about female sexual pleasure and how to obtain it.”  In short, the pursuit of sexual pleasure is urged as an end in itself that overrides all other considerations. This is implied in some casual statements regarding lesbianism and abortion: “sexual relationships may be with boys or with other girls. If you have a sexual relationship with another girl, it will usually be based on mutual masturbation.” This clearly suggests that indulgence in either a heterosexual or lesbian relationship is merely a matter of personal taste, even when minors are involved. The authors take a similarly cavalier attitude to the ethics of abortion: “Abortion carried out in the early weeks is simple and safe. It does not stop you from getting pregnant again when you want to.” Even the possibility that abortion raises a moral dilemma is ignored. Convenience and the pursuit of pleasure is all that counts. It is hardly surprising, in the light of these remarks, that this pamphlet shows no special regard for marriage: “Some people may be happier to live as a married couple but people shouldn’t feel that they have to in order to be happy.”


The relationship between revolutionary socialism and ‘sexual politics’ is finally most instructive in what it teaches us about the link between totalitarianism and permissive morality, or more accurately, amorality.


Permissive philosophies say or imply that people can do what they like with sex. Totalitarian ones say or imply that people can do what they like with power. Both are therefore different sides of the same coin in that both are rooted in a rejection of the notion that some things are objectively right and others are objectively wrong. This follows from the fact that if there is no such thing as an eternal or universal Moral Law, the abuse of power by a dictator is as much beyond criticism as the sale of child pornography. In other words, if there are no moral rules governing human behaviour, there is no evil or perversion in which men and women cannot indulge with a clear conscience. All things then become permissible to those who claim the right to remake the world according to their desires. There is thus a logical connection between totalitarianism and permissiveness, whether or not sexual and political revolutionaries overlap in any particular case.


Lenin’s ruthless embrace of moral relativism and totalitarianism

It was no accident that Lenin despised the idea of everlasting morality and at the same time formulated, in 1920, one of the most ruthless definitions of revolutionary government that has ever been written: “The scientific concept, dictatorship,” he declared, “ means neither more nor less than unlimited power, resting directly on force, not limited by anything, not restricted by any laws or any absolute rules. Nothing else but that.”


Could there be any clearer proof that the defence of traditional values is tied up with the defence of the free society?

Note: Mr Vander Elst is to be identified as the author of both parts of this contribution.

Sir Walter Scott on fundamentalism, and Islam?

I tell thee, the Word slayeth- that is, the text alone, read with unskilled eyes and unhallowed lips, is like those strong medicines which sick men take by the advice of the learned. Such patients recover and thrive, while those dealing in their own hand shall perish by the own deed.

Taken from The Monastery, in which novel the words are those of a priest.

Tuam- again

The recent revelations about the bodies that have been found in the burial site attached to the former Mother and Baby “home” in Tuam are deeply troubling. They are not though unexpected. But we don’t yet know the full facts. The investigation must be carried on, not just at Tuam, but in all the other relevant places, both in this state and in Northern Ireland. There must be no further cover ups. There have been quite enough already.

So far the state here has paid for the investigations in Tuam. This is only right. But should it not also be joined by the religious organizations concerned- Catholic and Protestant alike who ran the homes? It could also be that the British government has a role to play in this respect; as we on this site have  published evidence which suggests that the shocking mal administration of these institutions pre dated our current political arrangements. (See our post, “A Critical Error,” published in September 2016 – which we have reposted below.)

A critical error?

From Hansard, May 7th 1888. 

Mr. P.J. O’ BRIEN ( Tipperary North ) asked the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland [ A.J. Balfour ] , Whether he has yet received the Report in answer to the full enquiry which he promised into the circumstances of the case of the Cranna Orphanage in County Tipperary; whether it is accordance with the facts as reported at the coroner’s inquest on the body of the boy Madden; whether the remaining children in that Institution are still on the dietary [ regime?], the nature of which was then disclosed; and whether he will take steps to have this and similar Institutions visited at intervals by authorized Government Inspectors, so as to afford some protection to the orphan children therein confined, and to prevent the recurrence of such inhuman treatment as has been proved in the case of the Cranna orphans?    

THE CHIEF SECRETARY ( MR. A. J. BALFOUR )MORRIS(1889)_p333_THE_RIGHT_HON__A_J__BALFOUR_M_P (Manchester, E.) The local Constabulary authorities [ the police ] have furnished a copy of the verdict at the inquest on the body of the boy Madden, from which it appears that he died from weakness or syncope; but neither the jury nor the Coroner appears to have attached blame to any individual. The jury, however, in their verdict pointed out certain defects which, in their opinion, existed in the Institution as regards clothing, dietary, and attendance [ of a doctor?]. A letter has been received from the Bishop of Killaloe stating what steps have been taken to carry out the recommendations put forward by the Coroner’s Jury in order to remedy the existing defects.

MR. P.J. BRIEN The right hon. Gentlman did not answer the last part of the question. I understand that the Bishop of Killaloe very rarely visits the Institution.

MR A. J. BALFOUR I do not think a Government Inspector would be at all an improvement.

NOTE: Among the causes of Syncope mentioned by Wikepedia are, fasting, too few fluids, emotional distress and lack of sleep.  

When I mentioned the substance of this post to a friend ( a recently retired teacher ) he at once came up with the right diagnosis: “NEGLECT”