Sunday, 9 May 2021

Back Again as the Nations Divide

Time to resume the blog after a long gap when the political opposition to leaving the European Union was divided. The progressive left is still divided, but it is (after the devolution elections and local elections) more effective in the nations beyond England and some mayoral settings.

The Conservatives, forced to be centrist as a result of the pandemic, continue to stomp all over the political space. A terrible Brexit deal, although exposed over Ireland, and between Ireland and Britain, is yet to unravel in significant areas. (We're not going to go to war over Jersey, are we?) The divorce is a bureaucratic mess.

But where it will go wrong is with the British nations. The West Lothian question has never quite gone away - in fact it has intensified. Mark Drakeford is able to save Labour in Wales because he had a practical and deliverable manifesto assisted by the recognition given to him with the Coronavirus pandemic. The Scottish National Party and not Alba, but definitely the Green Party, was able to continue to define politics and government in Scotland. Northern Ireland wants it both ways: different from Britain when it suits, but like Britain economically as it suits.

If Ireland can produce the equivalent of the National Health Service, many northerners would vote for taking Northern Ireland into Ireland itself, and back into the European Union. Unionism is already different from the Democratic Unionist Party and its agenda: based on consent, the Alliance Party can be a place for parking Unionism and considering the future.

It is Scotland where the big change is coming. There seems to be a misunderstanding in the United Kingdom government (that increasingly legislates for England only in the details of life) that it decides the path to independence or otherwise. Previously, Cameron said yes to a Scottish Independence referendum, won it, and on the basis of that gambled again regarding the European Union in-out referendum, and thanks to Osbornes austerity and ignoring ordinary folk the government lost. Had the government lost the Scottish referendum, we would never have had an EU referendum.

However, 'just saying no' this time won't work. The reason is this. The Union of Scotland with England, Ireland and Wales was based on a consent of equal nations. Scotland remains a nation - its own legal structure and religious settlement - and the union comes from the sovereignty of the people of that nation and the nations it joined (principally England). The Supreme Court of the UK has already shown that it is both the top of the tree of the Scottish system as well as the English plus system, and if it has to decide about the legitimacy of a referendum it is likely to delve into some very ancient bases indeed about how the Union is formed.

Johnson then is in danger of making a huge error. He stayed away from Scotland in these elections to give the Scottish Conservatives a better outcome; his reach politically - his ability to win - has limitations.

The irony is that the West Lothian Question could well be sorted out via an EU style confederation. We could have a British Isles of independent nations coming together with a limited Parliament (like the EU Parliament) and a Council with national vetoes to decide matters of common interest. We could be a confederation, just like the EU, with some in it and some (one or two) not. The House of Commons ends up being English.

As for the English Labour Party (if we can call it that), it is in a hell of a mess. It probably does have to change its leader - why sack the deputy when the boss has said he carries full responsibility? But there is no party ready to take over from it. The Liberal Democrats looked diminished after these 2021 elections, still damaged from the Coalition and destroyed immediately after by its partner party the Conservatives. It propped up the Conservatives so that they could take us out of the EU, precisely the opposite of Liberal Democrat political culture, and for a while the Conservatives alone in power attacked the poor again, until Johnson started winning 'poor' population seats and became centrist. Let's see how long this lasts, and when ordinary folk with short memories wake up and smell the Tory coffee.

The point is that if Labour are failing as the Liberals once did a hundred plus years ago, where is the political party to replace Labour? Once Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy built up the Liberal Democrats and they would have been ready - but Nick Clegg destroyed all their good work and the Liberal Democrats have gone into reverse to where they were.

And look at the Liberal Democrats in Scotland. They are at some islands (Scotland's further reaches) and a few fragments. They are a fragment in Wales. They are in retreat in Cornwall. If you are pro-EU in Scotland, you must support the SNP or the Greens because the leadership of the Lib Dems have gone into retreat on the EU and because it is a Unionist party by its own intention.

My own view is we'll have to join the European Free Trade Area to have a simple and straightforward trading relationship with Europe, but to do this will need political change and I can't see it - except that the nations of the British Isles are likely to divide first and define politics. Scotland did offer this compromise and was, once again, ignored. So now Scotland is withdrawing its sovereign consent from the Union and this affects everything.







Friday, 31 January 2020

Sad Day

Today is a very sad day. The United Kingdom withdraws from the European peace project based on sharing economic and political institutions.

What was working to bind us together, particularly free movement of people within the European Union, will no longer be available to us. Younger and aspirational people have been undermined by the UK moving out.

In the 1970s a realisation came about that government had capacity, and to be good and effective needed to be at different levels. So much government has been good, recently, because it has had a European level (including the principle of subsidiarity). Now, all those matters that were decided and organised there must come back here. Devolution also seems threatened in regards of returned and no longer shared powers.

This is why we must let them, the victors of focusing the 'no' vote, get on with government. They wanted it and they've got it, and already we wonder if the government has the numbers and time to do the job. So much must go in place in order to function. The Scots need to be canny in going for a pro-European independence, a start to making the UK more like the EU - a family of nations with consultative sharing political institutions.

The idea that removing from the EU will solve the Conservative Party's problem with Prime Ministers falling from the Europe question is for the birds. The closeness or otherwise to Europe will be the issue that torments them: they have the obsession in their blood supply.

Pro-Europeans have not gone away. But we were defeated by the voting system and now our task is to hand over the reins and watch. I don't care about their promises: I would not hold them to their promises. If they succeed - good. If they don't, well, moments come to hand back power.

Liberal Democrats need strategies to turn their votes into seats. Simple as that. Labour may or may not fail, but Lib Dems generally do not succeed when Labour fails. What I think will likely fail is left-Labour, and Labour may then wipe out, given its condition and make-up. Then the Lib Dems must do more. The aim has to be for the Lib Dems achieving government, and ready from when the Johnson success becomes the moment of failure - when the smile goes off the joke. We will need a new political landscape, in the end: one to take us back into Europe. That will take more than a decade.

In the meantime, the Europeans can organise their confederation. I wish it the best. The Europeans will be less chained by Anglo-Saxon triumphalism and liberal economism, and see that politics and people matter most. The European Dream continues to organise.

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.