Tuesday 28 May 2019

A Government that Loses Legitimacy

The fact that the Conservative Party achieved 9% of the European Parliament vote in Britain, and 3% of eligible voters, raises a serious question of the legitimacy of a selected new Prime Minister with executive power. If one is selected by hardly a cross-section fragment of the voting electorate to lead the United Kingdom towards a no deal exit from the European Union, then the House of Commons is within its rights to box in such a Prime Minister with immediate effect. It has to be done rapidly, by grasping legislative power to itself (failed by one vote, when it tried before) or indeed by a vote of no confidence that, under the Fixed Term Parliament Act, could transfer to an alternative executive power, tolerated for the specific purpose of legislating to remove our end of the crash-out date.

The break up of the United Kingdom is the consequent danger of a government crashing out as a hostile act against the House of Commons and the remain majority vote in the United Kingdom. Scotland, through the vehicle of the Scottish National Party, and Wales and Northern Ireland/ North of Ireland will not stand for being taken out of the EU against their will. The Conservatives may well end up not only destroying themselves, and our good relations within the EU, but also the fabric of the United Kingdom itself.

(Personally, I am in favour of a political settlement that has the UK functioning rather like the EU, in that the nations can be fully independent but come together with a Council of the British Isles. Even Ireland as a whole could be in this, for consultation and agreement. However, it is one thing to move harmoniously and in agreement to such an arrangement, and another to do it through incompetence and acrimony.)

Vince is going as a leader, in harmony, and that is right. He's taken the Liberal Democrats through lean times and now they are in the right place at the right time. I did not switch to the Liberal Democrats to uphold my wish for the UK to stay a full member of the European Union, but it has my vote anyway because adopting its remain policy after a short post-referendum wobble was always part of the Liberal Democrat DNA. Theresa May fell victim to the Tory knives, and in one sense the European Parliament election vote for the Tories was at last compatible with government incompetence.

Vince is in his seventies and Jeremy Corbyn has entered his seventy-first year. The Labour office early on showed an inability to run a smooth party machine. He won his leadership re-election, but in the end a small group of Labour MPs ran off to form Change UK. Corbyn continued to sit on the fence, a position not only derived from Conference policy - that needed long description - but where one could see his own reluctance, and also see leading members of Labour able to interpret the policy to the point of contradiction. When my friends claimed that Labour was a 'stay-in' party, I could easily ask, "Really?" and quote those who said otherwise. Such a stance, or lack of stance, reaped its lousy reward.

Thus the likes of both Alistair Campbell and Lord Michael Heseltine could vote Liberal Democrat, and many a socialist and those worried about the environment could vote Green (the latter reason implies the Member of the European Parliament will actually contribute towards European policy, whereas the Tory, some Labour and the Brexit parties would have it otherwise).

Neither the Labour Party nor the Conservative Party suggest competence; but, although I hated the Liberal Democrats propping up the Tories, at least one can say that the coalition was competent and did bring in Cabinet Government. The Liberal Democrats need to get past the First Past the Post tipping point and be in government on their own, or maybe with friendly partners or support picked up in these years.

People dismiss a Tory split - "they stick together" - but facing oblivion can facilitate a split and cause behaviour away from the tribal. A Labour split isn't beyond imagination either. I think a possibility here is for Change UK to pack up, and its ex-Tories take their social conscience and individualism into the Liberal Democrats. If the ex-Labour members don't want to go in with them, well, perhaps with the ex-Tories gone, they might combine with more leaving Labour MPs should Labour itself continue to sit on the fence. Politicians should not worry about shifting about more than once, so wrap up Change UK as a fast-failed idea. Change UK did cost the Liberal Democrats a couple of seats in the d'hondte system of allocation; not sure if UKIP had the same effect on the Brexit Party - it was NOT Proportional Representation. It was PR in Northern Ireland, if a bit chunky with three seats for a whole province. UKIP is having a leadership election again, as it falls into racist-dallying sectarian oblivion.

The Tories don't want to have a General Election before enacting leaving the EU. Well, tough. The government and Prime Minister lacks legitimacy, and so the immediate political future is for MPs to prevent a no deal. And crashing out is probable because the EU won't have its executive branch sorted out until too late for any negotiations. If a 'deal only' Prime Minister was to be selected, then it's back to the only deal the EU agreed - there isn't another - or it would need an extension again for a new one. Then the House of Commons would be back to the strategy it operated during the hapless years of Theresa May. Otherwise it must sharpen its act against executive power.

Saturday 25 May 2019

Stopping a No Deal After Theresa May

So, two Conservative Prime Ministers have resigned over Europe and two were effectively removed: both the female ones were removed. Thatcher had become brittle and her loss of political touch caused her to run out of steam; May ran out of steam long ago and some wondered whether there had ever been much fuel in the engine at all.

Theresa May was a party hack and it was as if the party in nurturing her upbringing had replaced her parents (one died in a car crash, the other soon after) and friends. However, we should beware of Psychology Schools of Historiography. Colleagues were defined by the party, as were policy aims and intentions. Having once called the Tories the 'Nasty Party', May's hostile environment and Windrush scandal contribution made it nastier. She was a main part of Cameron and Osborne's extended austerity, in attacking the poor, and then as Prime Minister declared a reversal of it, and it seemed she had a political philosophy that followed Joseph Chamberlain, the interventionist, ex-Liberal Unionist. It turned out that she did not have his philosophy, because she had no discernible philosophy in politics at all. What was a possible strength of flexibility turned out to be emptiness. The General Election exposed her inabilities, and if the advisors had backed off from the repetition and policy errors she'd have been worse.

Political power fell to her, and she was unsuitable for the job. Politics has to be about persuasion, but she never sought to persuade, only explain, once she had decided something after a long time. She kept playing the cards long after she was exposed as having a weak hand. All the time people were falling into poverty, whilst the Tories trotted out that unemployment was the lowest since 1974, when they were comparing underpaid and under-employed work with the kinds of jobs in 1974 on which people took out mortgages. Many on Universal Credit being forced to look for more work are not counted as unemployed.

The European Union waited and waited before there was even a negotiating position presented to them. In her silence, and in the confusion of the Lancaster House speech and then Chequers, she ended up with a distorted deal that she could not sell back at home.

So, three wasted years, but worse than this was time to create a 'radicalised' House of Commons in both directions. This will constrain the next person to be selected as a leader. One despairs at the quality of candidates: a buffoon like Boris Johnson, who does not do detail and offends many by his serious gaffs, and then ideologues, and backstabbers, and the downright dishonest. Changing the leader inside a political stranglehold does not refresh the body politic.

The next milepost is Sunday night and Monday morning, with the European Parliament election results, which in the UK may introduce the concept of wiping out the Conservative Party. It is already a rump of members, but soon that rump may have a very limited outreach. The party that nurtured Theresa May could well be destroyed by her. I hope so because it is all it deserves.

Farage is a demagogue, and his likely effect electorally in a General Election is to boost a flagging Labour Party and recovering Liberal Democrats. Indeed, Vince Cable leaves after the Liberal Democrats have had a long sleep, and people will vote for it if it looks like it can help destroy the Conservative Party rather than prop it up. For all his qualities, and ballast, and rationality, Vince was not a leader. His one legacy (more than May has) is a success in spreading the demand for a confirmatory referendum. But the next leader could have better outreach and drive and purpose. Change UK won't now eat into the Liberal Democrat vote: they have been seen off by their own early incompetence, and indeed their own taint. The Liberal Democrats should welcome them into the fold.

The Scottish will not tolerate a belligerent Tory leader forcing the UK to leave without a compromise deal of closeness to the EU; the result will be a Scotland self-generated referendum for independence, and if the Scots have to do it themselves the likely effect is greater support for it. So a Tory leader this time could break up the United Kingdom.

After the dither of Theresa May, the next leader to force a result will try to use executive power to circumvent the House of Commons, as did Theresa May initially, but the House of Commons will either use legislation to assert its will or via the opposition vote no confidence in the government to stop it in its no deal tracks. Whilst it is true that there could be a crash out via executive bloody-mindedness, the House of Commons has the means to create its own legislative space and will have to do so ahead of October 31st, or use the result of a no confidence vote under the Fixed Term Parliament Act to produce a minority government to act to prevent a no deal exit. That itself may well split the Conservative Party for good.

Tuesday 21 May 2019

Theresa MacDonald?

Theresa May's bold new plan for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill is a not quite Ramsey MacDonald: a Tory Prime Minister bending to the Labour position, but not quite.

The new customs union proposal is temporary for one Parliament only (in the legislation).

The new confirmatory referendum within the legislation is (as I understand it) a kind of indicative vote dependent on the bill going through, in that MPs voting and losing on a confirmatory referendum would be committed to passing the bill. This is done by offering a vote on the confirmatory referendum after the second reading. Surely if this was an amendment that was lost, supporters of the referendum would then vote against the bill on third reading. But this does not come with government support, but only an option, and MPs on the payroll vote would do what they wanted individually. It is not enough for those who want a second referendum locked in with a deal passed.

The third main element, of 'match UK customs to Northern Ireland' if the backstop comes, in is supposed to appeal to the Democratic Unionist Party.

The Ramsey MacDonald sway (he was a Labour Prime Minister who headed a National Government with the Conservatives and Liberals in 1931) is enough to lose her own Conservative Party support, but it is not enough to attract enough Labour MPs. It will keep those like Caroline Flint, but hasn't quite attracted Lisa Nandy - and she is exactly the person the Prime Minister needs on board. Andrew Percy is a Tory MP who has supported the government's meaningful votes so far, but won't support this. So it looks like a serious net loss. The Tories may end up with the payroll vote and little else. If you are going to do a Ramsey MacDonald, then you may as well do it.

Her point is that the Cabinet went as far as it could go to propose a temporary customs union, but to appeal to Labour it must meet the permanent customs union demand of Labour. May is losing votes before she attracts them! But surely the Cabinet passed it because all ministers knew that Theresa May could introduce the bill, lose it and we move on anyway, as members of this Cabinet and others declare for leadership anyway.

The Democratic Unionist Party has already said no to this new plan. The problem is that the backstop could come in while there is divergence going on; the backstop would require reversal of divergence. The backstop comes in if there is no trade deal with the EU, but the UK would be already free to make deals elsewhere and thus begin divergence. This just does not work: it only works if the UK stays in the Customs Union. Adding UK legislation on Great Britain to a treaty on withdrawal that does not contain that legislation won't appeal to the DUP.

The SNP won't support it, because it ignores the Single Market (at the very least), and the Liberal Democrats have declared "Bollocks to Brexit" already, and the Greens wish to stay in. Change UK are moving towards the practicality of revoke, which Vince Cable has said may have to be so if to be regretted.

So the new deal for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill is still born. Good. We face the need to revoke, and the benefit of revoking to end the nightmare.

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.