Tuesday, 12 November 2019

A Month to Go: How Goes It?

I thought the initial General Election launch was good for Labour: straight out of the traps with policy announcements. The Tories were a bit of a mess in comparison, and then the Liberal Democrats somewhat disappeared in the national media.

Since then, Labour was slightly derailed by some of its past personnel, and the Tories continued to have accidents. The Liberal Democrats emerged with its revoke position and a few policies, such as mental health. At this point Labour had more to vote for, because it painted the broader brush. The Tories were incredulous regarding their offerings, and we'd sort of heard them before.

The press thus did its duty, putting out Tory HQ propaganda, e.g. on Labour's spending cost. I increasingly object to television 'reviewing' the press, because the press is simply biased from top to bottom. Broadcasters have a duty of balance, and the Sky Press Preview, for example, treats stories as something worth talking about when they are propaganda and misinformation.

So we had accidents and skirmishes, but the big event at the end of the beginning was The Grand Old Duke of York, Nigel Farage, deflating the tyres of his own lacklustre troops and marching them down again. In this one-man party, he decides - or rather he and President Donald Trump of the United States. He won't stand in 317 Conservative held seats, unilaterally (we are told). This has a number of interesting effects, and why the Tory press has come out with the fed message to stand down in them all.

This is a General Election to be fought constituency by constituency. Farage's intention is for Labour voters to (more likely) vote Brexit Party than Conservative, and thus undermine Labour seats. But it means the Conservatives less likely to win such seats, even if Brexit can focus more on Labour.

And then some Labour voters, who saw Brexit as an alternative party from the Conservatives, might regard Brexit as (obvious to the rest of us) a right wing party. So the resistance to vote Tory might translate to Brexit, with its Trump association and its likely impact on the United Kingdom. However, militant brexiteers won't be affected: they'll vote Brexit or Tory.

It doesn't affect the Liberal Democrats: in fact it improves their position. This is because Conservative 'soft remain' voters will realise that the party is now compatible with the Brexit Party. They are likely to take behaviour from MPs who left the Conservatives for the Liberal Democrats.

It does not follow, even with Farage's help, that the Conservatives can maintain their 317 seats. The Liberal Democrats can chip away at some of those votes, either to their own advantage or to let Labour in. This is why the Tory right and press want Farage to stand down: because the impact of his action to make Trump happy is more limited than people may think.

Liberal Democrats = unaffected, may even benefit
Labour = will be squeezed, but Brexit becomes Conservative associated. It means even more Labour should promote a broad agenda for this electorate.

The Remain Alliance is a formal version of redirecting votes prior to Farage's climbdown, but the Alliance is likely to have minimal effect I'd think, even if it does cover sixty seats. The Remain Alliance may help the Liberal Democrats if there is a Green-leaning Climate Emergency vote: Labour is making a big effort on that as part of its headlines of broader concerns.

Johnson's reputation is failing. The MPs Russia report was frozen, probably because the Tory party is funded by rich Russians, these of Russians who killed in Britain. Johnson looked a comparative mess at the Cenotaph, but of course he wasn't Michael Foot. He's had to follow, not lead, over the flooding in Yorkshire. His reputation as a political liar is growing. He actually shields Corbyn in this: and, indeed, Corbyn has never made any racist statements in his life but Johnson has. How much this matters we don't know. Many Labour voters will withhold their votes with Corbyn as leader, but a lot of that is the drip drip of the press and the nature of the more right wing Labour voter, the one that surfaced as a result of the European Union membership referendum.

Also some people think that Parliament wasn't working before - the fact that it kept holding the Government to account seems to be lost in this. It was Government that was continually crass in how it approached matters through the May and Johnson years.

Furthermore, Scotland is another country and Wales is beginning the think differently, such that Wales is more of a mystery now.

There is a month to go from today's date to polling - four weeks and two days. It must be a possibility that the Brexit Party will stand down from more seats as its vote diminishes. Its decision so far, and any further, will also sharpen the minds of the other sides, whether Labour or the clearer Remain parties. There'll be much less complacency that the other side will split its vote. It is too early to predict trends, but Labour are campaigning better than the Conservatives and could pick up support, and we still do not yet know whether the Liberal Democrats will make real inroads using its database and constituencies focus or get squeezed again as the campaign pans out. If it is a 'Brexit' General Election then the Liberal Democrats should do well, but it may be otherwise.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

So It's on the Twelfth of December

So we have a General Election, made possible by the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party joining hands and writing to Donald Tusk, outgoing President of the European Council, so that we achieved the full 'Benn Act' extension to January 31st 2020. In the end, however, their December 9th would not carry. Johnson restored ten of his own party dissidents, his majority therefore dropping from -45 to -25, although John Mann (Labour, who often voted with Johnson) was off to the House of Lords to do a Theresa May job.

Labour will use its 'neutralise' Brexit policy (of a deal involving the Single Market and Customs Union, with a second referendum with remain on the ballot paper) as a means to talk about other things. It could well drive the General Election agenda with a range of policies.

Many Labour MPs disliked the gamble: a few voted against (e.g. David Lammy, very pro-EU) but many abstained (e.g. Jess Phillips, angered and sympathetic when Luciana Berger left Labour, and my own MP Karl Turner at Hull East). 127 Labour MPs voted for an election, 11 voted against, and 106 abstained. Indeed, the huge majority in the House of Commons - 438 votes to 20 - disguises the high number of abstentions. This included the SNP (one against) and Lib Dems (all, including Luciana Berger) on the basis of the unwanted later date. The Independent Group for Change wanted no change and three out of five voted against. Some ex-Tories not restored voted to abstain (e.g. Justine Greening, unfortunately leaving politics, Ken Clarke, retiring, and Oliver Letwin).

For other policies, the Tories have a largely incredible reversal to their long austerity, and why should we trust any of its spending intentions once a General Election is done? Why, indeed, trust Johnson on anything?

This is why it is important for the Liberal Democrats to have a range of policies, as well as the simplicity of revoke: only if the swings were so enormous in seats that they won a majority. Otherwise it will be second referendum time on some deal: May's, Johnson's, Labour's with a push for remain.

Presumably the Brexit Party will show its colours with a manifesto, but it spans a wide range of supporters - yet it's a one man love-in really and like all charismatic parties depends hugely on the one person leader. He is a right-winger and a Trump associate.

Scotland and Northern Ireland have predictable trajectories for voting, but England and Wales suffers from four parties per constituency, meaning that low percentages can win outright and a small vote for one party squeezes take away another's win. In terms of the whole, it's like throwing dice in the air and seeing what happens. The system doesn't work. Most votes are wasted. The more people vote tactically, the fewer the votes wasted.

Monday, 28 October 2019

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act Does Its Thing

So this follows on from the previous post.

Johnson's stock is so low that he couldn't get this bill through. The nearly identical bill turned out to demand the 12th December, whereas the 9th is said to have students still in place. With Johnson confirming the extension to the end of January, Jeremy Corbyn has run out of excuses for no deal.

We all noted the rift with Independent Group for Change, based on the hope that a second referendum will come; however Jo Swinson confirmed that the action with Ian Blackford was significant in getting an extension to January 31st, resisted by Emmanual Macron. The two wrote to Donald Tusk, President of the European Council (the bureaucrat who guides the making of decisions - this time by ambassadors, and the French nodded it through).

There could be splits in the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party, because of the time of year and the matter of the change of policy regarding the confirmatory referendum. One Lib Dem voted otherwise tonight. This is why Jo Swinson put an Early Day Motion down to support a second referendum - presumably to satisfy most of the the nineteen and to show the limited support for this referendum.

(I have never supported a second referendum, and certainly not Mike Gapes view to make it mandatory - such changes the constitution and legitimises the first referendum.)

A General Election is a gamble, but frankly so is a second referendum. We'll see what happens tomorrow. The squeeze on Labour now is a forerunner to the squeeze in the General Election.

Taking the Initiative

We didn't get counter-intuitive moves, instead we had a bit of nifty footwork by the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party. I said to my friends on Sunday 27th October that this action was to prevent Emmanuel Macron offering a smaller extension.
It also had the humiliation aspect that the opposition (or some of it) called for a General Election that the Government could not achieve. It further had the benefit of showing Labour's indecision. Anyone watching Diana Abbott on the Andrew Marr programme on Sunday must have felt their own life-force draining away, similarly a day later Jeremy Corbyn was arguing that no deal must be taken off the table before a General Election, when no deal had been taken off the table (there are tiny technicalities left of a bureaucratic nature - yes, we don't trust them at all).

To escape such humiliation, the government, if losing its own preferred vote (this is written before 5 pm Monday), would introduce an almost identical bill as the Lib Dem SNP one: again, be careful of the small print. On the basis that it is so, the Lib Dems say they would support it. The Lib Dem bill enshrines the election date in law, so that Johnson after Parliament has been dissolved cannot alter it.

It could be that the Fixed-term Parliaments Act procedure for a General Election vote leads to an alternative Government in charge, but this seems unlikely now.

The current betting in a General Election is that the Lib Dems gain, the Conservatives get a leave vote, possibly upset by the Brexit Party, The SNP does very well, and Labour is squeezed. But it is also likely that a perverse reactive mood arises, where people put Labour's six of one and half dozen of the other Brexit in the bag and vote on the basis of social, communal and economic policies. Labour might be regarded as lousy at running anything, because they can't run themselves, but the fact is that it is Johnson who made so much of October 31st and the failure is his. He must own his own failure to act.

Furthermore, many people so fed up with 'Brexit' and realising that the trade deal negotiations extend on, the nightmare might just lead to an electoral mood to give up and vote to end it all, via the Lib Dem offer.

Who knows? Add to this the randomness of four parties in First Past the Post, and no one has a clue about the outcome.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Counter-Intuitive Moves

The notion that the French can apply pressure to the British by granting a short European Union extension won't work, because it will prevent going for a General Election. The way to get a result (Dear France) is to be counter-intuitive, which is to grant a very long extension, one that can absorb a General Election in the spring and a possible second referendum also in the spring, either one coming before the other. Also a very long one means the EU can look elsewhere for other pressing issues.

Another counter-intuitive action to make movement could be for Johnson is to get Tory MPs to vote no confidence in his own government. He would assume other MPs would join in, and he gets an instant General Election.

The way out of this trick is to be observant and nifty and abstain among the opposition, even if the opposition introduce such a vote, so that the move is made to a fortnight's effort to find a new Prime Minister.

Best result = Removing Boris Johnson and a new cross-party PM to negotiate with the EU
Second best result = Boris Johnson caged in as now
Worst result = Boris Johnson left in power as Parliament is dissolved with use of monarchic powers to negotiate and enact on EU matters, breaking conventions.

Jeremy Corbyn would have first shout, but then the Prime Minister job would fall to another senior back bench Member of Parliament This is the best way to proceed, for it would remove Johnson and put in a 'grown up' to run the government. The extension could then be as long as the temporary regime needs and wants.


Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats must take advantage of Brexit fatigue, by pointing out that if we leave one way or another, the whole Brexit thing will go on, with a trade deal to be negotiated and another no deal cliff edge approaching. The Liberal Democrat campaign is then to be to stop Brexit completely, to end the nightmare.

A long extension may also have other results. More MPs might cross parties. Jeremy Corbyn may well resign, probably for a female left-winger. He would do this as at least in an attempt to start to prevent Labour shrinkage at the next General Election. At the moment he wants a General Election when many Labour MPs do not.

Saturday, 19 October 2019

General Election Most Effective Remain Strategy

So, here we are, with the Letwin Amendment passed, 321 to 306, and people think it is some sort of victory for the remain camp. It isn't.

It was passed so that those who wanted to vote for the deal can do so without risk of crashing out with no deal. Otherwise they would have been forced to vote against the deal in a meaningful vote.

Had the meaningful vote been passed, the Benn Act would have fallen, and then the legislation defeated, by Brexiteer types and all others, leading to a no deal crash out. Given Dominic Cummings' position in this Government, this could be an intended outcome. Johnson on this was not to be trusted. (Indeed, his letters to the EU indicate that he has broken his word in the Scottish Court to send the letter of extension and do nothing to contradict this: the court assumed he was as good as his word and refused to assume otherwise. How wrong they were.)

The Government itself then pulled the meaningful vote. According to its submissions to the Scottish Court of Sessions, the Prime Minister must both write the letter requesting delay and not do anything to contradict that request for delay - it is two-pronged.

But when the Government brings back the meaningful vote, the likes of Letwin, Boles, etc. can vote for the agreement, and the mathematics suggests that the Government is likely to win.

Had the Democratic Unionist Party voted with Johnson, this would have gone through. Now, put under a bus by Johnson, they are even more likely to vote in favour of a second referendum as an amendment to legislation for the Withdrawal Bill, coming up next week. Beyond devilment for being dumped, this is because the democratic test in Northern Ireland is a simple majority in Stormont, rather than community based, and because for some Unionists it is better to remain in the EU than to have customs checks down the Irish Sea. (There is also a chance to add a Customs Union provision, but that would amount to renegotiating the agreement, which the EU does not want to do - a second referendum on the deal does not itself affect the deal.)

The fact is that those who wish to stay in the European Union are on the back foot. There aren't the votes for resistance, and may be not for a second referendum, even of the DUP added support. So the option shrinks to whether the Government wants a General Election, and it seems that is the most likely step that makes good with a delay and changes matters: the 'democratic test' that the EU needs to grant a longer extension. It is likely to happen leaving Boris Johnson in charge of the Government while Parliament dissolves.

The problem here is that four parties and First Past the Post means it's like chucking dice in the air to find out who wins. The outcome could be strange indeed.

Friday, 18 October 2019

It Turns on a Sixpence: Tories Boom, Labour is Finished?

At this moment in time, Thursday evening, it looks like the Tories will win the vote and the deal with the EU will go through.

The reason why is almost all the ejected Tories, except those who changed party, will vote for the deal. The ERG right wingers, the English Nationalists for sure, will vote for the deal. But crucially many Labour MPs will vote for this deal.

The Tories and Boris Johnson in particular will romp into a General Election. He will have achieved all his key wishes. The Amber Rudd criticism about him is answered.

The whole thing is turning on a sixpence. What was going to break the Tory Party looks like it will destroy the Labour Party.

The party will be shown as split, and the Tories will exploit it mercilessly (just as they attacked their one-time coalition partners). The Labour leadership will be shown as incompetent, on top of the reappearing (in the media) anti-semitism. The 'remain' Labour MPs will find themselves homeless.

A huge argument to drive this is fatigue - to just get any deal across and move on.

People like me who wish to stay in the EU with our friends, who believe in the European project, are going to have to think fast. At the moment, the argument is on the deal side. The argument will become one of how long it takes to negotiate free trade deals, and the reality of the economic downturn, and the loss of political influence.

The political revolution as such is still coming, but it won't be the destruction of the Tory Party but of the Labour Party. And Johnson's whole project was to save the Tory Party. Like he said, The Brexit Party are Tories, and bring them back. And he might just do that as well.