Wednesday 16 January 2019

Massive Defeat - What Next?

I did think the defeat of the government could be upwards of two hundred, and sensed that far from the whips shaving off opposition that opinions were hardening. Thus the strategy of Theresa May in delaying the vote completely backfired. She lost by the meaningful vote 230. Not many more Tories than the payroll vote supported the deal.

It is dead, but much else is unclear. A House of Commons Liaison Committee may try to direct traffic towards, initially, indicative votes for how to leave the European Union, but it is clear that the Cabinet is going to do this anyway. There is no way now that Theresa May will be given the freedom to try and do what she wants; leading members of the Cabinet will be getting a grip with a new consensus seeking direction to policy.

The scale of the defeat gave Jeremy Corbyn no choice but to go for a vote of no confidence, and he is likely to lose this. There may be a few wild Tories to vote 'no confidence', but there are enough to stop this in possibly one of the last acts of the Tory tribe coming together. This means that Corbyn is bypassed: the option of a second referendum may still not be his policy despite party conference policy.
So the government can limp on, and another proposal that won't pass without Labour support is a second referendum. Neither of these being enacted, the European Union 27 States by unanimity will not be able to have grounds to extend Article 50.

A second referendum is a dangerous strategy. It will be divisive, the proposers will again lose control of it like they did in 2016 (it became an expression of anti-austerity and looked to kick the government), and of course it could still result in a no deal exit. Such a referendum may happen, but only if Labour back it, and many MPs will not.

No referendum creates two tough choices. One is to leave with no deal on the 29th March later this year. The House of Commons can always produce a majority to stop this, and the Cabinet can also stop this, given the balance of opinion. But the only way to stop this is to revoke Article 50.
Even if there is a referendum, it does not follow that the EU 27 will approve unanimously an extension to Article 50. So it may still need to be revoked, which the UK government can do: the Cabinet can do it as an executive act of governing. However, done as the only viable means to prevent a no-deal, it should get a majority in the House of Commons - if it goes to a vote.

Expect Cabinet resignations, but also possibly expect across the House of Commons appointments into it. This will destroy the political parties as they are, but the predicament demands that incredibly difficult yet necessary decision. They will sell it to give the UK time to think. The Attorney General says we can only revoke if it is to stop it altogether, but (as Kenneth Clarke asked) does this mean for all time? Of course not. To invoke it again is surely allowed once. This is how they will sell it.
However, as soon as it is done the government and legislature will breathe a sigh of relief. There may well be public disorder, but it is public disorder versus serious economic disorder and self-harm when there is no agreement what to do to leave. Politics will be allowed to form what to do to leave, but the government has so many other pressing needs.

I keep to my prediction: a cabinet coup involving Amber Rudd, supported principally by Philip Hammond and Greg Clark; expect many resignations and the sidelining at least of Theresa May herself. There is nothing in the British Constitution that says a party leader must be Prime Minister, instead such a person must command the Commons, and on the basis of preventing a no deal European Union exist, one of these people can command the Commons.

Furthermore, if the Cabinet does not go in a cross-party direction, the result of a new government direction yet within the Tories alone will result in Tory exiter zealots voting in a later vote of no confidence against such a government. Only cross party support and even inclusion into government will allow such a Cabinet as a shifted government to survive and implement the revoking of Article 50.

They must act on it before economic disaster strikes. They need to prepare now on how to explain the revoking of Article 50: the bad referendum campaigns, the lack of agreed interpretation as to what it meant, and the need to avoid disaster. The political system is being stress-tested indeed.

The principal person to blame here is David Cameron, who thought he could gamble the country to save his political party, and secondly Theresa May for behaving equally in a party manner and taking on a bunker mentality after her own failure in calling a General Election. She failed on that and she failed on delaying the meaningful vote. She paid a hefty price on both occasions.

There'll be the simple choice looming, and starkly presenting itself: either go over the cliff edge or revoke Article 50. As the tension rises the Cabinet must get a grip, and the prediction I made a long time back was that it will do just this. The Tory Party is at its 1846 moment, and the Labour leadership is about to be bypassed. Once Article 50 is revoked, it is likely that a General Election will follow, but the political parties may be well divided. The Cabinet might well introduce proportional representation before it goes, simply because 4 political parties (or near enough) out of two is chaotic in First Past the Post, and so a more consensual legislature will be necessary.

Saturday 5 January 2019

Decisive New Year?

Here we are, and Parliament reopens for what is a hugely critical time in The United Kingdom's political future and likely constitutional crisis.

What I wrote in the previous blog entry stands. It will go to the wire. May's agreement with the European Union will fail to get through, and a crisis will lead to a cabinet coup, in effect, and a necessary rescinding of Article 50, ostensibly to buy time. The Prime Minister will have changed, and the Cabinet will propose such emergency legislation not based on party but on informal networks of MPs, some into the Cabinet. So I predict. And it will be a very rough time of reactions and betrayals.

Let's look at the present and likely condition of the political parties instead.

Labour ought to be streets ahead of a government that is incompetent on so many fronts. this Government has second rate Cabinet Ministers, many of whom seem incapable of doing their jobs. Government seems impossible on so many pressing need fronts: housing, transport, welfare benefits, poverty, health funding, education funding.

Labour is close to the Tories on polling. As the party has grown its membership, it seems not to impress beyond this. In the last General election, it attracted those usually less likely to vote: younger people. But many of these supposed that Labour would be more pro-European. In fact, Labour negotiation would end up rather where May has ended up.

The point of a second referendum is to reverse the decision to leave the European Union, but Labour's process policy is contradictory. First it wants a General Election and only then a referendum. But, if it got a General Election, and won, it would negotiate to get something similar to May. It says the 'a customs union' would be different, but up against the EU law based method for having the Single Market and the Customs Union, the Labour result would be like May's.

In any case a second referendum would take a long time and be divisive again, and governments lose control of referenda as a method to heal division. Anyway, they do not.

The ambiguity focuses on Corbyn himself: lifelong voting anti-European, he was in favour of remaining, but refused to campaign alongside others of different parties. Like May, he presented a quiet and neutral position.

Labour at the time of Healey and Jenkins went to the left. Jenkins quit and Healey did not, and that probably saved Labour from a most damaging split and further diminution then. Under soft-left Kinnock, Labour drifted back to the right, becoming centrist under Smith and then spanned from the right to mildly-left under Blair. Now, captured by the ideological membership, it has gone left again. Yet Corbyn is not the far-reaching charismatic figure some think he is, and he would now never use the phrase, "Read my lips," as some politicians have (most notably George H. W. Bush in the United States). He has also been damaged by his political obsessions and loyalties. He lacks the political quality of gravitas.

Labour is split now, and it's not that divergent MPs will 'fall in' but will, in any government it runs, assert themselves. But it is not clear at all that Labour will win any coming General Election. Persistent poll ratings are poor for this opposition, especially at a time like this with government incompetence; also, the sorts of majorities Thatcher and Blair achieved are not available now as fewer seats are marginal and swings have less effect.

At the same time, the Liberal Democrats seem to have become forgotten. It may well be that a General Election will boost them in the real constituency level of results set against Tory weakness. Liberal Democrats principally benefit from Tory weakness, on the ground. The converse is true, and thus why they were all but destroyed under the post-coalition General Election: the Tories benefitted from Liberal Democrat weakness and the vote they had built in Tory constituencies: so many went elsewhere, to Labour for example (with little positive effect). Vince Cable has credibility, but he is no campaigner and they need someone else. Even then Cameron achieved a small majority and on a still good vote May lost even that.

The Conservative Party is split now, and this is 1846 all over again. If the Cabinet acts to prevent a no deal before late March, the party will probably self-destruct. But this is only further on from how it is already, and the likes of Amber Rudd and Philip Hammond will just have to bite the bullet, assisted by people from other parties. (This is my necessary Cabinet coup scenario.)

UKIP outside parliament is going up a dangerous blind alley with its racist direction wanderings. The Tory right wing may become another UKIP without the identity nastiness of this horrible fringe party.

Only the Scottish Nationalists seem to have shown a steady and consistent bloc of leadership with clarity in the House of Commons. Of course other small minorities like the Green MP and Plaid Cymru have been in a kind of alliance of resistance to this absent (except on 'Brexit') government.

The Democratic Unionist Party may play an important role presently, but it is out of step with a Northern/ North of Ireland that voted to remain, and with businesses that want a deal, and with people who want an invisible EU border on the island. It may have a political price to pay. People may largely blame it for the political crisis.

We see the problem at present. The political parties seem to be in a melt-down. Labour looks confused and divided, the Conservatives are in a split to become a chasm, and the Liberal Democrats are invisible.

It is why the House of Commons, at a time of deep political  and increasingly constitutional crisis, has to step up to the plate across parties, but the fact is that it cannot be the executive, and this is why a Cabinet has to take decisions and introduce emergency legislation to save this country from catastrophe, and it also act by working across the parties.

Suppose it does. What then?

The fall-out of necessary current Cabinet resignations, for other party people to go in, even on a temporary basis before a likely General Election (there is no time for that first or a referendum: actions must be taken), means that the Conservative Party will cry betrayal and disloyalty in different directions. The Labour leadership will be bypassed, and many will think this is no bad thing. It hasn't exactly shown that it would get a grip: its public performance and internal operation seems lacklustre. The Liberal Democrats might provide into a Cabinet, informally, but only if the rescinding of Article 50 is to stop us leaving the European Union and not to mess about afterwards.

A view has to be taken that the referendum in 2016 was bogus: bogus by both campaigns being terrible and ill-informing, bogus by making binary such a complex issue, and that the whole thing was a failed Tory Party exercise to silence the Eurosceptics - gambling the country to save a party. It is Parliament that is sovereign, not advisory referenda, and, if you don't like it, vote for MPs standing on an anti-European Union ticket. It is perfectly possible for a government, after the rescinding of Article 50 by a predecessor, to invoke it again and, if so elected for the purpose, to take us out of the EU.

Again, Party manifestos will matter less than personal manifestos.

It is because parties are now so divided and weak, that new parties are likely to emerge. The lesson of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, is not good: not good as a split that weakens its own side. But it may be different given the Tory self-destruction and the Labour leadership incapability, and Liberal Democrat national invisibility. I expect a new Nationalist ex-Conservative Party, a Centre Party with a reforming streak (like the left of the American Democrats), and a left wing party that will not be as on the march as it thinks. To me, Labour is on the march to do as it has so often done: pluck defeat out of the jaws of victory, and it isn't presently even in the jaws of victory. Policies matter, but then one wonders whether the people to present them can actually step up to the plate.

Politics is going to be rough, very rough, and many people will not like what is coming along.

The alternative is that we go, like the leaders did into the First World War, into a situation where legal and business chaos takes place. No one really thinks that this Keystone Cops Government has contingency plans that will work - look at Chris Grayling, for one example, hiring a ferry company that has no boats and won't find any, a firm with previous questionable management at best, and with a single dredger working at Ramsgate Harbour.

If the Tory Party does not destroy itself under my predictions, the voters will destroy it over the chaos that will come along so soon. Never before has a country decided to commit self-harm, as is optionally coming along - if the politicians do nothing, because they freeze like rabbits facing the coming headlights or just because they cannot manage it, the cliff edge will really hurt at the bottom thump. This is the very real danger.

So goodbye to the once secure political parties, and let's hope for controversial but necessary political decisions to stop the disaster soon down the line.