Thursday, 16 May 2019

Why is Theresa May Introducing the Bill?

I am puzzled that no commentators seem to have understood what Theresa May is doing by introducing the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in early June. She knows there is not a cat in hell's chance of it passing, unless Labour bails her out, which is less and less likely due to differing political demands (Labour cannot be seen as facilitating a Tory exit from the European Union, the Tories cannot support a customs union arrangement) and the impending change of leadership that could rip up a deal.

The Withdrawal Agreement Bill is being introduced so that Theresa May can at least say, "I played my part - they did not pass it." Because May is so likely to resign soon regardless, there is no incentive for Tories to vote for it, in that she had said if the Withdrawal Agreement was passed she'd resign to give some incentive to vote for the thing.

Watching the programme, Brexit: Behind the Scenes, the other week, I was struck on just how inept was the British negotiating. The European Union negotiators saw the United Kingdom Parliament pass Article 50, and then no one turned up to negotiate for ages. When they did, the EU team had its negotiating position ready, but it was unclear what the British wanted. The government was fighting with itself. Eventually the British red lines led to a shaped Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration , which the UK Parliament then consistently failed to pass.

Sir Graham Brady and Tory 1922 Committee team met Theresa May for a "frank" discussion. They are supposed to be in the same party! It went on for one and a half hours to establish she will announce a process of her own resignation or the 1922 Committee will have to change its rules.

The context is appalling polling ahead of the European Parliament elections in one week, after all the delays and inept handling of the supposed withdrawal. In Britain we elect by a fixed party list, in Northern Ireland it is via single transferable vote - to better reflect ethnic sensitivities. Labour is also shrinking, on the basis that it has added to the delay and also is perceived to be uncertain in direction in its policy. The Brexit Party has eclipsed UKIP, and the Tories in self-disgust are sitting on their hands. Personally I am pleased that Change UK, after a series of cocked-up decisions, is becoming the UKIP equivalent and won't split the vote. The Liberal Democrats success in the local elections has stolen a march on Change UK. The fact is the Greens as remain will take socialist remain votes and the Liberal Democrats can take remain Conservative and remain moderate Labour votes (what Change UK was expecting to do). The Scottish Nationalist Party should benefit from Scotland being 'ignored' by the British Government (with its hefty remain vote) in all its inept dealings. Then we get something like a referendum before any confirmatory referendum to a deal. Let's wait a week to see how damaged are the Tories, how weakened is Labour, and how much the remain vote stacks against the leave vote.

I suspect that May has already factored in this vote, and simply doesn't care. She must enjoy being in the job, bizarrely, but if you look at photographs she has aged rapidly in these last three years. The Tories are being forced to push her out because she will not go. She would be gone by a challenge vote in December, but her political life will have run out before then.

She was never up top the job. She fell into it, but her record in the Home Office should have rung alarm bells. Her narrow perspective intransigence there led to the Windrush Scandal and hostile environment.

I suspect she is hanging on because she had no hinterland. Once she is gone she has nothing more to do. The Tory Party made her, formed her, and she fell into the top job when all others had stabbed each other in the front or had fallen by the wayside. Her "Brexit means Brexit and we are going to make a success of it" will be seen as utterly hollow, as reflected since by her never answering journalists' questions directly. She gives answers to another question, often multiple times. She gives no indication to her thinking as she takes a long time to make a decision. She is surrounded by third-rate politicians and has been able to carry on dealing the cards herself. The Cabinet should have taken them from her a long time ago, but did not.

So goodbye Theresa May and, at least, from your inept handling of this, we are still in the European Union. With good fortune, as politics moves on, we must just stay in and revoke Article 50, forcing the exiters to attempt to win a General Election - how it should be done. In the meantime, there are the EU Parliament elections coming up, and it is fortunate for me that the MEP I want to elect and function allies with the position I want to take in a substitute referendum of remain or leave. I will vote Liberal Democrat and hope leavers will do the same, or at least vote Green or SNP.

Friday, 3 May 2019

After the Local Elections in England

In the local elections the Conservatives lost over 1300 seats, Labour did not gain but lost around eighty, the Liberal Democrats put on just over 700, the Greens six short of 200 and Independents with tiny parties added over 600. The good news is that the increasingly racist UKIP went down by over 140. They have shown that people won't vote for a racist leaning party, with Islamophobia rife. This must be the good news.

So the socialist revolution will have to wait. The fact is that Jeremy Corbyn and the leadership of Labour remain a liability. The attachment of remainers to the Labour cause, with those blue European Union flags at Labour rallies in the 2017 General Election, the attraction of the young, seem to have faded away. I understand that even Tony Robinson has left the Labour Party, some time on the National Executive Committee.

I'm pleased that the Conservatives have, in the end, had a drubbing. They deserve it for utter incompetence, for political drift beyond the EU mess, and continued austerity and poverty happening to children. They gambled the country to save their party, and the party should split.

The Coalition may have gone on too long and had net negative effects, but compared with today its standard of government - actual cabinet government as well - was a model of proper interaction between ministers and with civil servants.

Perhaps now the one positive that the Liberal Democrats took from the Coalition was competence. And the rest of the legacy is fading. The clarity of the Liberal Democrat message was very helpful. They and the Greens picked up votes for remain, the Greens being the radical wing of politics, close to Corbyn in some senses but not Statist.

However, there could be a perverse outcome to the success of the remainer vote. It is that Labour sees the need to get the poison of 'Brexit' out of the way and cook up a back-room deal. The reason they won't is if they are seen to deliver a Tory Brexit, or facilitate a change of Tory leader to an extreme leaver who throws away the political declaration that would be more Labour.

Remember that the Tory government had a long Political Cabinet before a long Government Cabinet and when, afterwards, Labour was invited into talks, none of the Cabinet split. The reason was, surely, that this spread the blame to Labour. As a former member said when chatting to me soon after, this was a damned if you don't damned if you do move. Labour's response that it was trying to bring the country together didn't transmit to positive reception.

Next up are the European Parliament elections, and it now seems that UKIP will be of little challenge to Farage's Brexit Party. But Change UK could well take votes from the Liberal Democrats and Greens. However, those who get there first, like the Liberal Democrats, get the benefit. Chris Leslie for Change UK, saying that the Liberal Democrats have baggage, ignores the fact that Change UK has MPs full of baggage since 2017. As in the local elections, in the European Parliament elections I shall vote Liberal Democrat if given the choice. I'd vote Change UK if in alliance.

However, on one point I don't agree. I don't believe in having a second referendum. I can see the need for it if there is a back-room deal. Labour cannot stitch us up with the Tories. But, say, if in an imagined world the Liberal Democrats won a General Election, does anyone think they'd hold a referendum to reverse the previous one? Of course not. Winning government would be the referendum. The narrative has to be that the 2016 referendum was advisory, bogus and involved lies and even possible criminality. If you don't like staying in the EU, then win power. This is how to do it, and this is said without denying it still makes British politics in a very difficult place. We are best in and the extensions should turn into revoke. In the end we are either in or we are out, and I will vote for in, and for an ever closer European confederation, with the UK at its heart.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Treat the European Parliament Elections as a Referendum

I could have blogged half a dozen times since the last entry, but I left it until the European Union Council. It has just agreed an extension until October 31st with a review in June; however, failure to take part in the European Parliament elections means we must leave without a deal on June 30th.

What this means is that those European Parliament Elections - the government has made the order to hold them - could be a substitute referendum. Such MEPs would not sit for very long.

We now need Change UK, the Liberal Democrats, Greens, Scottish Nationalists and Welsh Nationalists to put up candidates with the simply policy to revoke, and set them up against, no doubt, The Brexit Party and UKIP as these would want an instant deal. Many Conservatives will not bother to either stand or support, and Labour will stand but obviously cannot support a revoke position.

With a breather given by the EU Council, the Tory Party is free to spend some time to eat itself. This party must be punished for introducing the damned referendum in the first place, its Prime Minister running away when he lost his gamble of party against country (both lost), and then having a pathetic Prime Minister and Cabinet that could not manage this properly, from Chequers to the Withdrawal Agreement with a sort of six of one and half a dozen of the other that satisfied no one.

I noticed a change of tone on a Sky News vox pox on Wednesday 10th: people saying this had gone on too long, the process had failed, and it was time to stop it.

Meanwhile, Labour must not bale out this government with some, as it used to be called, 'smoke filled room' deal with the government, to try and then raise a minority of the two main parties to get the Withdrawal Agreement through. After all, 177 Tories voted against any extension on Wednesday. Corbyn would be finished at that point, if he isn't already.

Theresa May has to be removed. A Tory right wing Prime Minister would lose Tory support; as the remainer wing would resign the Tory whip. In fact the space now allowed also gives space for breakage of that party. It could now be that Cabinet Ministers resign: they didn't after long political and governmental Cabinets because they could see Labour snared in, but if Labour escapes the trap then there is nothing left, and the Cabinet leavers can cause their disruption as seemed logical.

Revoke keeps the UK in the European Union and the nations of the UK together. However, there are political fall outs that will happen as a result of a wasted three years and trauma to the body politic.

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Evaluating Theresa May

I am motivated here by Philip Norton's lecture on 18th March at the Speaker's House, shown on BBC Parliament. The lecture is about the feasibility of a William Whitelaw premiership. Norton took a leaf out of Weberian sociological method and produced ideal types of politicians that make it to Prime Minister. He also uses them in a 2015 e-textbook called The British Polity.

So let us use them here:

Innovators seek power to implement a future goal of their own vision and drag their party behind them (as with wartime Churchill, Thatcher).

Reformers seek power to implement a particular programme drawn by the party (as with Neville Chamberlain, Clement Atlee).

Egoists seek power for its own sake and seek to preserve it with them at all costs (as with Anthony Eden, Harold Wilson).

Balancers either seek power to achieve a balance within the party and society or do this having been conscripted into the role (as with power-seeking Harold Macmillan, or conscripted Alec Douglas-Home).

As ideal types, Prime Ministers can in all reality straddle more than one. Clearly Theresa May is a Balancer, and sought power to be this. Her belief system was little more than loyalty to the Party; we can see this in her immigration decisions at the Home Office, and fairly disastrous they were. But she may also be an Egoist, perhaps surprisingly, in the way she seems to regard her own position in office as vital and is hard to shift.

She shares characteristics with Edward Heath in not being pally and not engaging in small talk. Edward Heath, says Norton, was not an ideologue, as sometimes considered in his Selsdon Man days, but was a technocrat. And Theresa May is also a technocrat. Heath did have a hinterland, but May is more like Thatcher in not having a hinterland. When politics is your life, you are very difficult to remove from office, and this is the case with May. Her promises to go are always conditional and she wants to control the timing, as well as pretty much everything else. Like Thatcher, the act of removal will prove bloody, this at a time of national weakness. I have written often now that the remainers in the Cabinet have to remove her first to get the others to resign, and fill the void, otherwise it could all swing the other way, and the exit group will stay as the remainers go - and then they will strike without mercy.

Theresa May is an Egoist in as much as she believes in her own resources, and, unable to persuade, gets support by bashing people over the head and creating panic from the ticking clock. It is a very bad way to get support - the difference between wind and rain and sunshine in getting someone to remove their coat. Bad feeling results in bad reactions, bad policy.

One might play this game with Tony Blair. This can be left to another time.

In the aforementioned lecture, Philip Norton refers to the fact that he also use this Weberian method in 1990 to survey and produce types of Tory MP. These were, then, the Neo-Liberals (market forces), the Tory Right (morality, law and order), the Populist (left wing socially and right wing on law and order - today they would have become pro-gay and lesbian), the Thatcherite (market forces plus law and order), the Tory Faithful (party over ideology), the Damp (some government intervention) and the Wets (government intervention as needed).

What we know is that May is not Thatcherite or neo-Liberal (these can be placed together now). The last vestiges of these within Cameron and Osborne were gone. She is slightly populist, as today, but has never been pro-LGBT herself. She panders to the Tory Right, on Europe, but clearly her Downing Street speech on becoming Prime Minister shows that she was not one, and also she has shown some intended Damp but not very Wet. She is, of course, Tory Faithful.

This has proved her undoing, because being Tory Faithful is to be split on Europe; the Tory Right might also be regarded today as nationalist, and the Damp and Wet are pro-European. (Thatcher saw the European Union as a back door to socialism, whereas the Single Market was hardly that.) Being Tory Faithful, when the party is in at least two places on the key issue of the day, is rather self-defeating.

Apparently Ian Duncan Smith is considering throwing his hat into the Tory leadership ring. He might have been the worst Tory leader in modern times, but Cameron and May must be ranked as being the worst Prime Ministers. I'd rather forget Cameron than subject him to these ideal types. He was a Blair-clone who gambled the Party for the country and ran away when he lost the gamble and plunged us all into the mess we are now in under his incompetent successor.

So she is a Balancer of the Tory Faithful, predominantly. And it is not what was needed. She needed to be a Reformer as well as Balancer, and Damp. One has to think that, beyond loyalty to the cradle of her political party that defines her life, Theresa May believed in little else. She might have drawn on the Liberal Nationalism of Joseph Chamberlain, but there is little evidence of that; most evidence is that she was devoid of political philosophy. Her Downing Street speech showed some populism and dampness, but they were not implemented. She constantly referred to the Party, and it is on its broken back that she has fallen.

How a General Election Can Produce a Result

At last Labour is ahead of the Conservatives in the polls. The Mail on Sunday reports a five per cent lead. The Cabinet implosion that seems increasingly likely makes a General Election more likely too.
May says that a Customs Union solution to leaving the European Union with a deal would be against her party's manifesto. What she means is that half her Cabinet would walk out if she took this and used it to apply for a long extension. On the other hand, failure to intend to go to the EU Council Meeting on April 10th with a solution would cause the other side of the Cabinet to walk out as well. Also some 170 Tory MPs are demanding no long term extension. The upshot is a broken record, to try again for the Withdrawal Agreement and/ or the Political Declaration probably pitched against the Customs Union option on the notion that she could win against a Customs Union. Not with 58 short on the WA that would be more with the PD - so a straight fight would garner forces for the Customs Union, even amongst those who would remain as full members. Once there is a delay, anything is possible including remain. So this becomes a final battle, and either the government goes for the Customs Union or the government collapses at Cabinet level - in that the hard right walk out and then we get by fast footwork the removal of May, a caretaker and bringing in a set of opposition politicians who could guide the result through.

We are forever told that a referendum on the deal is divisive, and this is surely true. I am myself not a fan of any referendum, except one to support or reject a given decision. This second one might fulfil that condition, but it might equally be an either-or that is another gamble, and carries the political risk that no deal off the table (the economic risk being too great) is seen as a stitch-up.

We are also told that a General Election cannot decide the issue because the parties are split. I have thought this too, but now there are grounds for thinking otherwise. What may make the General Election something to decide the issue is the lack of credibility in both main parties, the Tories for making a mess and Labour for apparent indecision, PLUS the emergence of candidates for the Brexit Party and Change UK. Change UK do need to negotiate with the Liberal Democrats. But there could be a Macron style from nowhere result here, if only because the Brexit Party and the now undoubtedly racist UKIP will take votes from each other and won't be able to negotiate unlike the Lib Dems and Change UK. We know that the Social Democratic Party collapsed, but the SDP were derailed by the Falklands War and, of course, the voting system. But if the two main parties melt down, then the first past the post system can deliver as it did to the Scottish Nationalists the moment they lost the Independence referendum.

The meltdown would happen during the campaign, in part because the manifestos would be confused and Theresa May or a caretaker leader would head the Tories' campaign. Whether Corbyn could rally support as he did in 2017 may depend on whether the remain supporters rally to the Labour flag again. There is some doubt about this. Other issues of pressing need may well benefit Labour. But Tory and Labour remain votes may well go to the Liberal Democrats and Change UK. The Scottish National Party have domestic issues to tackle but for a UK representation they are bound to advance on Labour and the Tories this time. UKIP and Brexit Party may draw Tory right votes, but cancel each other out in effectiveness. It is not clear how the Tory right will do; also the Democratic Unionist Party may suffer in Northern Ireland for being unrepresentative of a narrow remain province and assisting uncertainty.

So there is a real chance that the outcome may well produce a result for the country, and a likely remain parliament again. And this time the remain aspect would be revoke. Set against this is the fact that ever fewer constituencies are marginal: what would have delivered landslides in the past delivers small victories or minority administrations now. But, if the meltdown happens, the change (pun intended) to something new is possible, once the tipping point is passed.

Friday, 29 March 2019

Extend for a Full Term...

Well, the margin was bigger than expected - 58 votes - and surely means that it is dead. But the bunker mentality continues, to put her (presumably) political declaration this time up against the one that might emerge from the indicative votes on Monday. But that would leave the Withdrawal Agreement unpassed, and without the legislative time to turn it into law. In other words, there must be now a long extension at the very least.

The question is, given Theresa May's turn-off performance at the last European Council meeting, is she really the person to go there for a long extension? It would make a significant difference if the Prime Minister was someone else, such as David Lidington or even Amber Rudd. Then the fresh face and the different intent would assist a process of extension. The 'run off' proposal is hardly the most important aspect.

It is up to the Cabinet to remove her. No one else will, and nothing fresh will happen without this.

The 'price' of an extension I think - if I was the EU Commission and Council President - is a full term. If you elect Members of the European Parliament then they should be elected for a full term. The UK could then have that amount of time to pause, consider, propose and sort itself out.

If this leads to no exit of Britain from the European Union, then, oh dear.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

When a Resignation is Not

So the coup went so far, to push Theresa May on to the cliff edge to let her wobble in the considerable wind and different gusts. She has offered to go if she gets her deal through, which also means she has offered to stay if she does not.

The first stage of the indicative votes have gone through, with a referendum to a deal and a customs union as having the best votes, but not sufficient. The possibility is the Prime Minister's deal coming into the list of options, and many that abstained might vote for it.

Jacob Rees-Mogg was against it, very strongly, and then reluctantly in favour of it, and now he is against it again because the Democratic Unionist Party are against. The DUP was never going to vote for it, and indeed will vote against it. This means the hardcore Tories will be joined by others, like Rees-Mogg, to still vote against it. That May has made her wobble to go from her own mouth means that Labour MPs are less likely to vote for it beyond the three if it facilitates installing a more exit the EU type Tory leader.

Although revoke got a limited support, the fact is that up against a no deal exit on the last days, many of those who rejected this may be forced to do it. There could also be a fatigue of stopping and reconsidering. Clarke's custom union proposition wasn't exactly his own preferred choice. He would revoke.

Theresa May was brought up in the Tory Party. Civil servants are minuting government meetings in Cabinet carefully because these refer not to the country so much as what is best for the Tory Party. When the big Public Inquiry comes into this appalling mess, they will want how they have been compromised by our third rate politicians to be on the record. Theresa May's whole basis for decision making has been based on the Tory Party. She was never able to take them on.

One thing that was fairly disgusting in last weekend's press leaks and attack on May from within Tory Party high levels was about a team of people ready to take Theresa May out of the Commons rapidly. This was supposed to be based on her running down mentally under all the stress. This was kicking the woman on something else: she has type 1 diabetes and a drop in blood sugar due to extended answering in the House of Commons could lead to confusion and ill health. This 'plan' for her rapid exit will have existed from the first day she became Prime Minister; it may well have existed when she was Home Secretary. But politics is a dirty game, and in generating a coup attempt the gutter can be visited.

This does not mean she has been an appalling Prime Minister. She has been the worst, if after Cameron. He party-first strategy, forever feeding the crocodiles, had been disastrous. Cameron gambled the country for the party, and she has continued to do the same.

She's likely to go anyway. It doesn't follow that an orderly leadership election follows, because she could indeed go to require interim leadership. Plus the Cabinet coup makers may need the interim leader to get ahead of an exit enthusiast. They abstained on these indicative votes as a stop-gap to making a decision about anything; but if the remainers walk out of the Cabinet then the leavers will indeed install their own.

Theresa May never believed in anything. She was a remainer on balance, but so was the Tory Party with the expectation of a narrow win for Cameron and then his fall. When the vote went the other way, the infighting arrived at her as last one standing, and so she declared that Brexit meant Brexit and they were going to make a success of it. But she has not. The reason she has hung on and hung on is because she still wanted to make a success of it - some how. But the cul-de-sac has left her with nowhere to go. She is still trying to hang on, to be sure.

Northern Ireland may not have its Stormont, but the UK hasn't had a fully functioning government now for a long time. The UK is much diminished abroad, and is almost falling in on itself at home. Services aren't working, problems are not being corrected, more people are living in poverty, and there is a real sense of hopelessness. Forget these unemployment figures: when they compare with 40 years ago they are not comparing like with like. Universal Credit is causing real pain and the DWP is in chaos itself as it trains staff for something that is not working. Many people are underemployed, many badly paid, and those relying on benefits are having a terrible time.

It may be - and I think it looks like this - that Theresa May needs to be pushed out of office. She hasn't said she will go, she is instead trying to make a bargain, but if the deal is still dead then she won't go. She needs to be pushed. They need an interim leader that becomes more flexible.

If Gove or Johnson, and indeed if a number of exit enthusiasts win the Tory leadership, it will definitely split. But MPs can see the options for the future, how two Tory candidates will go to its elderly membership, and a split can project forward easily. I'm expecting a few more now to come to The Independent Group and, quite possibly, a new pro-European Conservative Party forming as well.

The Independent Group had better get its skates on, because if a General Election comes soon it needs a name and a set of candidates and an agreement with the Liberal Democrats and Greens. The Liberal Democrats need a new leader rapidly as well. If revoke is to be serious beyond Scotland, these two parties have got to move and quickly.