Saturday, 14 December 2019

The Unsaid: Final Thoughts

As reflection time takes place among some, I do have some final thoughts.

The General Election was conceded by the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats, as no one then could get through a second referendum.

The Liberal Democrats assumed they would be a focus for remain, but failed on two counts: one was they had a lack of publicity, including thanks to Prince Andrew's legacy when they launched their manifesto. It wasn't particularly the revoke policy at fault - they simply failed to explain it properly, as they were forced to do when more realism kicked in and the second referendum was emphasised again. But it is usually fatal to make policy adjustments in an election campaign. We also discovered the inadequacy of the Jo Swinson leadership, with far too much emphasis on her face, her image and her performance instead of on a team. Imagine if Ed Davey had won (I supported him) - there would not have been that attempted cult of personality. She was an unknown entity and this was too much of a gamble.

We forget, too, that Jeremy Corbyn was a block to the Liberal Democrats as he was to Labour. The difference was Labour MPs suppressed their criticism, but the Liberal Democrats expressed it. So two parties that would have had a referendum could not get together, because of the man that the Labour electorate so roundly rejected. It doesn't matter if the press did it, or the Marxism did it, or the antisemisism did it. Labour and he knew very many months back that he was no good, but his belief in his own necessity - to give socialism just one more push - had support and simply backfired. But it backfired for the Liberal Democrats too. Swinson was forced to be anti-Corbyn, and rule out Labour, and this was all a distraction to the emphasis that should have been on policy.

(I was opposed to a second referendum as I was opposed to the first. The argument for revoke needed explanation regarding parliamentary democracy but it failed to be explained, as it should have been long before the actual campaign. Parliament - the House of Commons - was not at fault: it did its job. But we saw that the opposition was easily dispersed, and this came into the campaign, and the personality of Corbyn was large in the actuality of the public response.)

The slight majority remain position was dispersed, and First Past the Post gives victory to those that are coherent. Farage let his own tyres down, and had further consequence to support voting Conservative from a leave perspective. Even then, although it told leaver people to vote Conservative, Farage cost Conservative not Labour seats.

Take Hull East. Had Farage's company not stood, a portion of his votes would have gone Conservative. The Conservatives would have won here too. The Conservatives nationally could have had a majority of 180 rather than 80, had Farage stood down completely - and that was with Labour getting more votes! (The quoted figure I've seen is 188.)

Labour must get rid of Corbyn and that whole approach he revived. It must find an alternative to State Socialism. Sometimes nationalisation is good, for some natural monopolies and services, but it must be managed at a more local and aspirational level. The Labour manifesto was a back to the seventies approach. It was a cluttered and gathering collection of State Socialist freebies. It did not appeal. The Liberal Democrats, as historically Liberals, identify themselves in relationship to the left (e.g. trade union based non-socialist Labour Liberal MPs) - even though they have, historically, lost people off to the right (think Joseph Chamberlain). Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy built a Liberal Democrat identity just to the left of New Labour, with the expected Liberal philosophical twist. But this cannot be done if Labour has an antagonistic leadership. This is partly why Jo Swinson, receiving ex-Labour anti-Corby people, became 'tribal' according to friendly critics. She went with the Scottish Nationalists for a General Election, but lost coherence as Labour tried to neutralise its own remain and leaver dilemma, and so the Liberal Democrats suffered as well.

That's my point, to remember in years to come: for Labour to get rid of State Socialism and its trapping membership, and for the Liberal Democrats to remember its more open, less tribal, left-ecumenism.

The Liberal Democrats also suffered because of the Coalition and their self-discipline to keep it going to the very end, after which the appreciative Conservatives turned on them with their electoral machine. The argument the Liberal Democrats could have used in defence against facilitating austerity was that at least government then was competent - proper cabinet government. They failed to make even this case for the defence. Jo Swinson simply did not do it, and so much rested on her shoulders.

As for active policies now, the opposition MPs are there to turn up and vote, but that's about it. The real opposition to policies will come from the Conservatives to the Conservatives. Let them get on with it. If they harm us, we will protest. Johnson will want to hang on to as many convert constituencies as possible, to go for a further five years and into a future quite possibly beyond my lifespan! Johnson went to captured Sedgefield, Tony Blair's constituency, to stamp his feet there, to reach out beyond, and to be the Tory Blair. Let's see if this is what happens, domestically. The Scottish and Irish have more immediate and strategic oppositional and future creating strategies, to be watched with interest. The European Union will become more co-ordinated and likely more powerful, and the UK will feel it from the outside. We will likely end up taking, and not contributing, but it will be decades before our opportunity to contribute may come about again. This is tragedy of the moment: a future of isolation for a diminished England and Wales, and even Wales itself considering its future identity as a political unit.

The future of Britain in the European Union really did matter. This is defeat. Let the victors take the spoils. We'll be back later, but much later, when the wheels come off the wagon, and when there are an alternative set of wheels and indeed a repair to be made to the wagon itself. All political careers end in failure, after all. We pro-Europeans know this for sure.

Friday, 13 December 2019

Defeat on Europe and the end of the UK Union

It is time for me to move on from politics in this blog. It used to be a religion blog but became exclusively political as the Remain-Leave battle took place.

The remain voters were dispersed and the leave voters cohered (mainly). I voted Liberal Democrat but Hull East was nearly lost from Labour to Conservative. The Brexit Party may have taken Labour votes, but had it not stood many voting for it would have voted Conservative and Karl Turner MP would have lost. Those were conditions for me to vote Labour! The campaign was Leave versus other issues, not Leave versus Remain. In the past few years Jeremy Corbyn should have stood down as his mismanagement was obvious; I'd also say the Liberal Democrats voted for the wrong leader. Ed Davey would have been more nuanced and had a broader resource for thinking strategy.

But the remain side has been defeated by First Past the Post, and that's it. We lost.

The Conservatives could well be disastrous. Leaving the European Union is not straightforward and I agree with Jo Swinson's attack against nationalism today (though I have sympathy for civic nationalism as demonstrated by the Scottish Nationalist Party). Beyond this, his vague promises and his constituencies and MPs will make Johnson a kind of Tory Blair. He also wants to be liked, as Blair did. Johnson is a conman who needs to keep convincing people as he sells his dodgy motors. Let's see what happens.

But it is his and theirs now, to see what they do. As the issues tighten, people will start to respond. The European Union will become more co-ordinated without what is left of the United Kingdom, and I will have my support from it from afar. As for Ireland, I hope it reunites peacefully and in an orderly fashion, and Scotland will surely now become its own nation. Wales needs to think about its future. As for England, well, we reap what we sow, and we have sown Tory seeds.

Effective Landslide for a Tory Blair

Johnson didn't exactly win: Labour imploded. The old Liberal Democrat narrative of disappointment has come again. In First Past the Post terms, this means that Johnson has walked it.

People (like me) who wanted to stay in the European Union are defeated. Johnson will have the freedom to have trade talks closer to the EU, or have an extension, or anything he likes. A liar lies on, but a Prime Minister (especially a near sole campaigner) has enormous power. He has the monarch's powers - we learnt that once he took power months back, needing the Supreme Court - and he has party dominance.

I'm sorry Jo Swinson lost her seat, but she turned out to be a poor strategist and poor campaigner: she had profile but probably needed to nurture her seat more. Chuka Umunna failed too. All the ex-Tory independents failed. Liberal Democrat losses have undermined gains.

However, the Scottish Nationalist Party has done very well, and Irish Nationalists/ Republicans for the first time have a majority of seats in a Westminster General Election. The Union is likely finished, now, because Scotland is another country and Ireland wants its place in the European Union throughout the island. Johnson cannot ignore this, or these nations will rip away.

I'm going to go against the grain of many of my political friends. I think Johnson will be a kind of Conservative Blair. He talks about "One Nation Conservatives", and now he has MPs in deprived constituencies looking for public spending - spending that he has sort of promised. Of course he could spend three years being a political and economic bastard and two years appealing to voters, but my guess is that he'll want to connect and be loved. Blair wanted to be loved and then let his bigger simplistic politician George Bush take him into Iraq. The Tories will provide their own opposition over the next five years.

Corbyn should have gone long ago: ineffective from the off with his office, and saved by one campaign in 2017 and membership, making some sort of progress against the weak and indecisive May Prime Minister. It was a case of a party of devotees out of touch with a wider electorate. It's no good having a supposed fantastic manifesto if it fails to attract wider support, and it should have appealed over a neutralised Brexit policy and toxic leader (justified or otherwise). He should go soon, but he wants to hang about presumably to maintain the left wing policies - because Labour will fight over its left-right split. The membership should retain the party's left wing stance, but many will also give up party membership. Blair at least knew how to win elections, even if people saw less from his majorities than they desired.

The Liberal Democrats will rise again as the Conservative bloat fails - and it will because of the Brexit nature of the vote. But it will need another good strategist for the Liberal Democrats: another Paddy Ashdown ,really. If they don't find such a new leader, their future will stay low level.

In five years I'll be a year off pension age, so we just have to live with this. Is the body politic renewed by this General Election? Probably not. Even so, we'll still have to wait five years.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

It was Not a Leave Versus Remain Campaign

If this was the Brexit General Election, then it hasn't balanced the Leave versus Remain argument. It has been, rather, a contest of Leave the European Union versus a whole bunch of policies - because we've had Boris Johnson and his 'Get Brexit done' lie of a slogan versus Jeremy Corbyn and his neutral stance.

Some photos of children in hospitals have given a sideways shove to the control exercised through the Tory election machine - notice how the press do their duty with the same fed stories. It may help to show the truth against the consistent spin and claims: Johnson so far has got away with it.

Jo Swinson hasn't been able to compete. She can't get a look-in, or rather when she does it is along with a jumble of others. Nevertheless, the actual Brexit division, leave versus remain, may be happening at constituency level, begun by the Brexit Party deflating its own tyres. The result is that as support for this party declines, the Brexit vote coheres and the remain vote looks split, because Labour can, via its other agenda, attract some remainers. The Liberal Democrats have also been hampered by their reputation for participating in austerity, for which they have only themselves to blame. Jo Swinson's apology for measures attacking the poor sounds as hollow as the apologies for dumping free tuition fees once in government. The anti-austerity agenda is as much about what has happened as what will happen.

Nevertheless, the voting options are narrow. If I still lived in New Holland, I would have to vote Labour. This is despite being culturally, intellectually, and politically, Liberal. In East Hull, I can help build the Liberal Democrat vote in a safe Labour seat.

Or at least I thought so. There is a chance that the Tories could win even in a place like East Hull. So should I now vote Labour? I think the answer is no, because if the Tories do win in East Hull then they would be on an incredible landslide anyway. So I think I have the luxury of a first choice vote - one to waste. This is again the issue of First Past the Post, a rotten system when there are four parties, and one that has been upheld in the media campaign to squeeze out the remain case.

Seeing this, I'll vote for remain. I think. I don't like the local Labour candidate, and did say I would not vote for him. But I am not wholly decided yet. I don't like State Socialism as a means to solve problems, but I accept we need to solve them and do need some rebalancing in the economy. I don't find the Corbyn political office effective, and it suggests incompetence in governing. But it couldn't be as bad as the present shower in office, devoid as it is of an ethical heart - it is heartless and lying is to be expected.

I'll likely vote Liberal Democrat but do so despite the campaign and not because of it, in how it actually failed to make an impact.

Friday, 6 December 2019

Less than a Week to Go

Less than a week to go before polling and where are we?

Corbyn is still having to fend off questions on antisemitism which, overblown or not, is sapping the life out of the Labour election campaign and still raising questions whether the number of Labour MPs won't shrink.

This is no good to anyone, partly because a weak Labour Party allows a majority for the Tories even if other parties do well. Sometimes one thinks that Labour should have seen this coming, and for the sake of the Labour Party Corbyn should have resigned, even in favour of another left winger. Failure at the polls means it's too late: they should have acted by now.

The Tories and, in particular, Boris Johnson won't stop lying, and giving slogans, but he just seems to be getting away with it. May's repetitive slogan was her undoing, but Johnson has the coherence of the Brexit vote behind him, especially as the Brexit Party continues to disintegrate. The communicability of the amoral conman must work or the conman has nothing. He won't be interviewed by skilled interviewers because the conman looks for the line of least resistance, and does not care about scrutiny.

The Liberal Democrats nationally have failed to cut through. It launched its manifesto when Prince Andrew was in a lot of media trouble, and it seems barely able to push through. The Remain Alliance seems to be weak as an attractor. Whatever happened that generated the million strong marches for a second referendum? It's as if the Brexit side of the argument is getting a free run, and people on my side of the argument are going down to defeat.

There are few days now to turn this around, and the next leaders debate again excludes others.

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Emergency! Danger!

I was going to write about Corbyn damaged but, otherwise, has presented himself and the Labour Party quite well, that Swinson had recovered from her Leaders' Question Time low point but this recovery is qualified by lack of media reach, and Johnson has gone for safety first and whose reputation is beginning to have impact.

But, forget all that. The YouGov poll is a wake up call to optimists. It predicts what I was beginning to think in Scotland, but throughout the UK.

I thought in Scotland that the Conservatives would resist better than we expected and, as the Scottish National Party progressed, it would be Labour that would be squeezed.

It seems that, according to the YouGov poll of 100,000, this is so across the UK and, not only that but the Liberal Democrat experience of disappointment isgoing to be repeated. I could have written about the latter, and now it seems the indicators are this could well be so.

YouGov predicts: Conservatives 359, Labour 211, SNP 43, Liberal Democrats 13, Plaid Cymru 4, Green 1. However, there is a margin of error that leads to the Conservatives having a majority of one to a landslide - 328 to 385 for the Tories.

The Brexit Party burst its own tyres weeks back, and now they have deflated completely. They could still deprive the Tories of some eight seats, but utter collapse improves the Tories further. The view that it was the party to take on Labour seats seems now to be fading away, and the Leave vote will give itself to Johnson's Conservatives. The squeeze on all others will lead to Labour having Michael Foot 1983 numbers of MPs and this when the Tories haven't just won the Falklands War.

The Remain Alliance is likely to fail completely. Defectors to the Liberal Democrats won't win unless local factors operate. In essence, the unity of the leave vote and the weakness of Labour lead to this likely Tory majority result. The Liberal Democrats simply cannot organise the remain votes to itself, not unless it takes from an even weaker Labour and that means a bigger Tory majority.

I take the view that half a loaf is better than none, but we are up against a Labour Party that thinks if ideological purity is not possible then we may as well have the Tories. It is this logic that leads to us having the Tories.

We have two weeks to turn this around. It needs dedicated 'least worst' voting in every constituency with a marginal flavour. I notice that even once safe Labour East Hull, my constituency, is at risk of a Tory win - not Liberal Democrat - and this means I may have to swallow hard and hold my nose. It is a likely Labour win, but it used to be rock solid.

Friday, 22 November 2019

Liberal Democrats Need to Regather

I watched the two hours of four leaders meeting an audience. Now, to be clear, I am Liberal Democrat and support the revoke policy. But there is no doubt that the worst performance on that programme was that of Jo Swinson. More than that, I could see it coming. It was coming because Corbyn was matter of fact and played a straight bat, and then Nicola Sturgeon showed her skill derived from being First Minister, answering questions and even creating some room for some teasers about what Corbyn would and would not expect if ending austerity and promoting the public sector was his priority. I could foresee Johnson in some trouble as well, which he was but then had cheering supporters.

Jo Swinson will not get this policy understood if she doesn't do a Jonathan Sumption (the ex-Supreme Court Judge) and point out that a referendum is no more than an opinion snapshot and is not a part of the British Constitution, that no government or House of Commons can bind another, and a General Election is the opportunity for a party to make its manifesto promise. Instead, she was forced on to the back foot.

But her other weakness is her voting record in the coalition, for which the Liberal Democrats will get punished. For that she should promote government discipline, and contrast it with what has been missing this last three years, and that arguments were made in government, agreed, and then delivered. She can say a lot was regretted, but the necessity was for certainty in government at a difficult time. Failure to say this makes her look like a charlatan - and she looked like a charlatan in the programme.

Visuals matter, and Johnson didn't look good, but his waffles and defensiveness was not good either. The cheers of the crowd did not bail him out. The main result of his appearance was not his policies but the dodginess of his character and how he expresses himself.

There is no doubt, therefore, that Jeremy Corbyn continues to have a good General Election. He did it last time in 2017 through rallies and 'momentum' (to use a word) but now he is doing it by having a strong policy thrust. The Liberal Democrats manifesto launch was overshadowed by other news.

To describe The Tories and Brexit Party as having a 'stitch up' is to open the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Plaid Cymru to the same charge. The reason Swinson as less likely to be a PM is not the Brexit Party retreat but lack of impact of the Liberal Democrat campaign.

I receive many Liberal Democrat emails, but they cannot deny that they are having a rough election so far. They need not to change the revoke policy, but change how it is defended and where the second referendum policy fits into that. It is the case that a Liberal Democrat majority government would be such a seismic change that it would be the equivalent of a second referendum.

I'm not over worried at this point. That Labour is doing much better helps defend it against shirnkage, and it doesn't follow that the Liberal Democrats are less able to take Tory votes. Towards the end, Swinson made that point quite well. (She also made the anti-semitism accusation over Labour well.) So the result of the present moment could be better in terms of avoiding a Tory majority. But the Liberal Democrats need to gather round and sort this out fast; it needs something of a relaunch without it quite being a relaunch.