Wednesday 30 October 2019

So It's on the Twelfth of December

So we have a General Election, made possible by the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party joining hands and writing to Donald Tusk, outgoing President of the European Council, so that we achieved the full 'Benn Act' extension to January 31st 2020. In the end, however, their December 9th would not carry. Johnson restored ten of his own party dissidents, his majority therefore dropping from -45 to -25, although John Mann (Labour, who often voted with Johnson) was off to the House of Lords to do a Theresa May job.

Labour will use its 'neutralise' Brexit policy (of a deal involving the Single Market and Customs Union, with a second referendum with remain on the ballot paper) as a means to talk about other things. It could well drive the General Election agenda with a range of policies.

Many Labour MPs disliked the gamble: a few voted against (e.g. David Lammy, very pro-EU) but many abstained (e.g. Jess Phillips, angered and sympathetic when Luciana Berger left Labour, and my own MP Karl Turner at Hull East). 127 Labour MPs voted for an election, 11 voted against, and 106 abstained. Indeed, the huge majority in the House of Commons - 438 votes to 20 - disguises the high number of abstentions. This included the SNP (one against) and Lib Dems (all, including Luciana Berger) on the basis of the unwanted later date. The Independent Group for Change wanted no change and three out of five voted against. Some ex-Tories not restored voted to abstain (e.g. Justine Greening, unfortunately leaving politics, Ken Clarke, retiring, and Oliver Letwin).

For other policies, the Tories have a largely incredible reversal to their long austerity, and why should we trust any of its spending intentions once a General Election is done? Why, indeed, trust Johnson on anything?

This is why it is important for the Liberal Democrats to have a range of policies, as well as the simplicity of revoke: only if the swings were so enormous in seats that they won a majority. Otherwise it will be second referendum time on some deal: May's, Johnson's, Labour's with a push for remain.

Presumably the Brexit Party will show its colours with a manifesto, but it spans a wide range of supporters - yet it's a one man love-in really and like all charismatic parties depends hugely on the one person leader. He is a right-winger and a Trump associate.

Scotland and Northern Ireland have predictable trajectories for voting, but England and Wales suffers from four parties per constituency, meaning that low percentages can win outright and a small vote for one party squeezes take away another's win. In terms of the whole, it's like throwing dice in the air and seeing what happens. The system doesn't work. Most votes are wasted. The more people vote tactically, the fewer the votes wasted.

Monday 28 October 2019

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act Does Its Thing

So this follows on from the previous post.

Johnson's stock is so low that he couldn't get this bill through. The nearly identical bill turned out to demand the 12th December, whereas the 9th is said to have students still in place. With Johnson confirming the extension to the end of January, Jeremy Corbyn has run out of excuses for no deal.

We all noted the rift with Independent Group for Change, based on the hope that a second referendum will come; however Jo Swinson confirmed that the action with Ian Blackford was significant in getting an extension to January 31st, resisted by Emmanual Macron. The two wrote to Donald Tusk, President of the European Council (the bureaucrat who guides the making of decisions - this time by ambassadors, and the French nodded it through).

There could be splits in the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party, because of the time of year and the matter of the change of policy regarding the confirmatory referendum. One Lib Dem voted otherwise tonight. This is why Jo Swinson put an Early Day Motion down to support a second referendum - presumably to satisfy most of the the nineteen and to show the limited support for this referendum.

(I have never supported a second referendum, and certainly not Mike Gapes view to make it mandatory - such changes the constitution and legitimises the first referendum.)

A General Election is a gamble, but frankly so is a second referendum. We'll see what happens tomorrow. The squeeze on Labour now is a forerunner to the squeeze in the General Election.

Taking the Initiative

We didn't get counter-intuitive moves, instead we had a bit of nifty footwork by the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party. I said to my friends on Sunday 27th October that this action was to prevent Emmanuel Macron offering a smaller extension.
It also had the humiliation aspect that the opposition (or some of it) called for a General Election that the Government could not achieve. It further had the benefit of showing Labour's indecision. Anyone watching Diana Abbott on the Andrew Marr programme on Sunday must have felt their own life-force draining away, similarly a day later Jeremy Corbyn was arguing that no deal must be taken off the table before a General Election, when no deal had been taken off the table (there are tiny technicalities left of a bureaucratic nature - yes, we don't trust them at all).

To escape such humiliation, the government, if losing its own preferred vote (this is written before 5 pm Monday), would introduce an almost identical bill as the Lib Dem SNP one: again, be careful of the small print. On the basis that it is so, the Lib Dems say they would support it. The Lib Dem bill enshrines the election date in law, so that Johnson after Parliament has been dissolved cannot alter it.

It could be that the Fixed-term Parliaments Act procedure for a General Election vote leads to an alternative Government in charge, but this seems unlikely now.

The current betting in a General Election is that the Lib Dems gain, the Conservatives get a leave vote, possibly upset by the Brexit Party, The SNP does very well, and Labour is squeezed. But it is also likely that a perverse reactive mood arises, where people put Labour's six of one and half dozen of the other Brexit in the bag and vote on the basis of social, communal and economic policies. Labour might be regarded as lousy at running anything, because they can't run themselves, but the fact is that it is Johnson who made so much of October 31st and the failure is his. He must own his own failure to act.

Furthermore, many people so fed up with 'Brexit' and realising that the trade deal negotiations extend on, the nightmare might just lead to an electoral mood to give up and vote to end it all, via the Lib Dem offer.

Who knows? Add to this the randomness of four parties in First Past the Post, and no one has a clue about the outcome.

Saturday 26 October 2019

Counter-Intuitive Moves

The notion that the French can apply pressure to the British by granting a short European Union extension won't work, because it will prevent going for a General Election. The way to get a result (Dear France) is to be counter-intuitive, which is to grant a very long extension, one that can absorb a General Election in the spring and a possible second referendum also in the spring, either one coming before the other. Also a very long one means the EU can look elsewhere for other pressing issues.

Another counter-intuitive action to make movement could be for Johnson is to get Tory MPs to vote no confidence in his own government. He would assume other MPs would join in, and he gets an instant General Election.

The way out of this trick is to be observant and nifty and abstain among the opposition, even if the opposition introduce such a vote, so that the move is made to a fortnight's effort to find a new Prime Minister.

Best result = Removing Boris Johnson and a new cross-party PM to negotiate with the EU
Second best result = Boris Johnson caged in as now
Worst result = Boris Johnson left in power as Parliament is dissolved with use of monarchic powers to negotiate and enact on EU matters, breaking conventions.

Jeremy Corbyn would have first shout, but then the Prime Minister job would fall to another senior back bench Member of Parliament This is the best way to proceed, for it would remove Johnson and put in a 'grown up' to run the government. The extension could then be as long as the temporary regime needs and wants.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats must take advantage of Brexit fatigue, by pointing out that if we leave one way or another, the whole Brexit thing will go on, with a trade deal to be negotiated and another no deal cliff edge approaching. The Liberal Democrat campaign is then to be to stop Brexit completely, to end the nightmare.

A long extension may also have other results. More MPs might cross parties. Jeremy Corbyn may well resign, probably for a female left-winger. He would do this as at least in an attempt to start to prevent Labour shrinkage at the next General Election. At the moment he wants a General Election when many Labour MPs do not.

Saturday 19 October 2019

General Election Most Effective Remain Strategy

So, here we are, with the Letwin Amendment passed, 321 to 306, and people think it is some sort of victory for the remain camp. It isn't.

It was passed so that those who wanted to vote for the deal can do so without risk of crashing out with no deal. Otherwise they would have been forced to vote against the deal in a meaningful vote.

Had the meaningful vote been passed, the Benn Act would have fallen, and then the legislation defeated, by Brexiteer types and all others, leading to a no deal crash out. Given Dominic Cummings' position in this Government, this could be an intended outcome. Johnson on this was not to be trusted. (Indeed, his letters to the EU indicate that he has broken his word in the Scottish Court to send the letter of extension and do nothing to contradict this: the court assumed he was as good as his word and refused to assume otherwise. How wrong they were.)

The Government itself then pulled the meaningful vote. According to its submissions to the Scottish Court of Sessions, the Prime Minister must both write the letter requesting delay and not do anything to contradict that request for delay - it is two-pronged.

But when the Government brings back the meaningful vote, the likes of Letwin, Boles, etc. can vote for the agreement, and the mathematics suggests that the Government is likely to win.

Had the Democratic Unionist Party voted with Johnson, this would have gone through. Now, put under a bus by Johnson, they are even more likely to vote in favour of a second referendum as an amendment to legislation for the Withdrawal Bill, coming up next week. Beyond devilment for being dumped, this is because the democratic test in Northern Ireland is a simple majority in Stormont, rather than community based, and because for some Unionists it is better to remain in the EU than to have customs checks down the Irish Sea. (There is also a chance to add a Customs Union provision, but that would amount to renegotiating the agreement, which the EU does not want to do - a second referendum on the deal does not itself affect the deal.)

The fact is that those who wish to stay in the European Union are on the back foot. There aren't the votes for resistance, and may be not for a second referendum, even of the DUP added support. So the option shrinks to whether the Government wants a General Election, and it seems that is the most likely step that makes good with a delay and changes matters: the 'democratic test' that the EU needs to grant a longer extension. It is likely to happen leaving Boris Johnson in charge of the Government while Parliament dissolves.

The problem here is that four parties and First Past the Post means it's like chucking dice in the air to find out who wins. The outcome could be strange indeed.

Friday 18 October 2019

It Turns on a Sixpence: Tories Boom, Labour is Finished?

At this moment in time, Thursday evening, it looks like the Tories will win the vote and the deal with the EU will go through.

The reason why is almost all the ejected Tories, except those who changed party, will vote for the deal. The ERG right wingers, the English Nationalists for sure, will vote for the deal. But crucially many Labour MPs will vote for this deal.

The Tories and Boris Johnson in particular will romp into a General Election. He will have achieved all his key wishes. The Amber Rudd criticism about him is answered.

The whole thing is turning on a sixpence. What was going to break the Tory Party looks like it will destroy the Labour Party.

The party will be shown as split, and the Tories will exploit it mercilessly (just as they attacked their one-time coalition partners). The Labour leadership will be shown as incompetent, on top of the reappearing (in the media) anti-semitism. The 'remain' Labour MPs will find themselves homeless.

A huge argument to drive this is fatigue - to just get any deal across and move on.

People like me who wish to stay in the EU with our friends, who believe in the European project, are going to have to think fast. At the moment, the argument is on the deal side. The argument will become one of how long it takes to negotiate free trade deals, and the reality of the economic downturn, and the loss of political influence.

The political revolution as such is still coming, but it won't be the destruction of the Tory Party but of the Labour Party. And Johnson's whole project was to save the Tory Party. Like he said, The Brexit Party are Tories, and bring them back. And he might just do that as well.

Thursday 17 October 2019

The English Nationalist 'Deal' with the EU

The not yet ratified Brexit deal is a statement between the lines that only some are noticing. It is English nationalist from a right wing Conservative point of view.

It does seem that a number of Labour MPs will support it, despite the fact that changes to the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration means that Britain (and it is Britain) will be able to move from European Union product and service standards, and labour market standards. It gives every potential for a race to the bottom. It does this because it isolates Northern Ireland and frees up Great Britain for a free market economic liberal future. It means that Scotland's social contract will also be ripped up, however much devolution offers limited protection.

The consent issue was solved by moving to a simple majority vote in Northern Ireland's Assembly (after four years) for what is not a backstop but a frontstop. The calculation is that demographically, and given the view of business, a simple vote will always keep Northern Ireland aligned to the EU. But it does, as the Democratic Unionist Party says, drive a coach and horses through the identified communities consent and veto dissent mechanism currently in place in the Good Friday Agreement.

This EU withdrawal talks that Northern Ireland is in the British customs territory, but puts it in Ireland's in practical terms (that is, the EU) and the customs checks happen at the ports (the Irish Sea). The DUP have been dumped and it's goodbye to their supply votes for the Tories.

Andrew Bridgen is typical of the English Nationalist Tory, because for all his noises over the guidance of the DUP, the prize of a free market competitive Free Trade Agreement distance from the EU is too great to lose. The ERG group will likely vote individually based on their view of the UK Union or the English prize.

The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) is starting to say that we would be better off in the European Union. Quite so. That keeps Northern Ireland in the UK, has an open border south, and allows the communities to move slowly one way or the other or not at all.

Let's be clear too, that Scotland won't have this, creating a competitive free for all, and Wales will have a real sense that it is being overwhelmed again by the English dog. This yet to be ratified deal is the one that breaks apart the British Union.

But the future dilemma is becoming clearer. This always was the Tories' last stand. Had the yet to be ratified deal not happened, the extension would have finished the Tories. The deal, if it happens, will probably save most (but not all) of the party - its remain dissenters will now have to shave off.

The alternative is increasingly looking like revoke. It seems to me we need a political revolution in how parties are supported and rapidly.

Some Labour MPs will deliver a reward to the Tories at the next General Election if this deal succeeds on Saturday in the House of Commons. But if it doesn't succeed, we go to a General Election knowing that the Tories must be defeated and that Labour, frankly, aren't and haven't been up to it for so very long. Labour itself is under incredible strain and policy confusion, and this deal going through (after which the European Parliament will ratify) could well shake Labour to pieces. Corbyn now is pretty much finished, from a number of different angles of ineffectiveness, not least damaged Lousie Ellman MP going independent - indicating the ongoing chronic problem with the Labour leadership.

My support for the Liberal Democrats today is stronger not weaker. If we leave then it is good to hear that the EU door will be open to the UK in future, and just maybe the needed political revolution will be a return of the social Liberal side to political power with others to get us back inside a multinational confederation that was always based on peace and economic sharing, with political institutions to match.

Sunday 13 October 2019

While Waiting...

What would the supposed deal be via the apparent negotiations? What would tackle the issue of consent and no border.

The answer that would work would be a referendum in the North of Ireland/ Northern Ireland to give permission to have a seamless border with Ireland.

However, if this was offered, it would likely head rapidly towards a deal. Is this likely? Would the Democratic Unionist Party object to such a snapshot of opinion? Probably, because it would bypass (non-functioning) institutions where they have a lock on progress, as does each ethnic community.

The trick, presumably, is a deal that is the most the DUP can allow, and the least the European Union would accept. But as the possibility goes one way, the agreement lessens each side.

In the end, it is the British who must concede the most, in that the May agreement with the EU was about as far as the EU could go to have both its Single Market and Customs Union maintained whole and have no economic border on the island of Ireland.

A collapse in the talks is still most likely, a gap that cannot be bridged. Then, of course, British politics intervenes from a different angle. A head of steam is trying to combine the legal delay application to the EU with a second referendum rather than a General Election. Labour policy has not changed, but many MPs are moving in the deal or remain vote for the public.

My own preference is against a divisive, gambling, second referendum. We have representative democracy. So we should go to a General Election, and see what comes. It is likely to be a hung Parliament again, except four English players, Scottish Nationalist dominance and more nationalism in Wales could mean huge unpredictability. I want to see Liberal Democrats campaign for revoke as the policy in Government, although they are likely to have still the opposition policy of a second referendum. MPs have decided the disaster of a no deal means it cannot go on the ballot paper, as indeed they are entitled.

A Government speaks for itself only. If subsequent others want to take its policies on, that is up to them. No Government has to agree to observe another's policy, including that 2016 referendum, and the legislation at the time made it clear.The danger is that some MPs would make a second referendum compulsory in its outcome, and thus introduce a new constitutional element. MPs can overturn any law by a new law. A new Parliament, and a new Government, means evaluating the situation yet again.

It is by no means clear that, even if its support rises, Labour will add seats. This is because of how the other three parties in England extract its critical support in each constituency. The same is true for all the parties. The Liberal Democrats may do very well, or once again find disappointment (as in 2010 when hopes were high). Tories could lose many 'remain' votes and lose 'leave' votes to the Brexit Party, as may Labour, but Johnson is a better communicator than May, even if toxic for many. The Tories could lose out in Scotland. Scotland is a different country. Nevertheless marginal and not so marginal constituencies will change MPs and it will lead to a fresh approach.