The UK will vote to be inside the EU – eventually

05/06/2018, 08:31:35 AM

by Jonathan Todd

The UK will have another referendum on our membership of the EU. Rather than if this will happen, it is more a matter of when, on what terms, and in what circumstances.

This is because:

  • The referendums of 1975 and 2016 have established a de facto constitutional principle that the UK cannot move in or out of the EU without a referendum.
  • If this referendum does not come before March 2019, and the UK exits the EU at the closing of the Article 50 window, the UK will make right-wing and/or left-wing attempts to find a new place in the world, but neither will be able to turnaround the ongoing diminishment of UK living standards associated with Brexit, building pressure for a revision to the status quo ante.

There’s much to be said for the Ken Clarke view that referendums are defective instruments. It is difficult, however, to imagine circumstances in which it would be politically possible to reverse the verdict of 23 June 2016 without another referendum.

While Best for Britain is expected to publish its campaign manifesto on 8 June, calling for such, given the intransigence of Labour and the Tories towards a referendum, the likelihood remains that the UK will leave the EU in March next year.

45% of the public now expect that this will have a negative impact on the economy. Versus, according to the latest polling, 30% who think it will have a positive impact. Only 13% think it will make no difference to the economy. In contrast, 40% think it will have no impact on their personal finances.

“A recession,” Ronald Reagan said, “is when your neighbour loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours.”

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The madness of self-identification in a political party

29/05/2018, 07:53:53 AM

by Rob Marchant

While one can guarantee that on the streets of British provincial towns, it is not exactly an issue high on most people’s agenda, it is clear that, on Twitter and in the political bubble that is Westminster politics, the tricky area of trans politics has in recent months taken a huge step into the limelight.

Last week, Labour, for the first time, declared that people who declare themselves to be trans should be accepted as such within the party, without question. Obviously it is not intrinsically “trans-phobic” to have concerns about the fairness or viability of a mechanical process, but that is exactly the charge now being levelled at anyone in that category. And such criticism is, in most cases, because people genuinely see that such a policy is open to abuse.

Like activist David Lewis who, to draw attention to the potential for abuse, declared himself a woman but only “on Wednesdays” and put himself forward to be Women’s Officer in his local CLP. Satire, yes, but an important point – who is to say he is any less worthy of consideration than someone who says he is a woman five days, or seven days a week? Where do you draw the line?

No, rather like the penalty for criticising the Dear Leader himself, anyone currently raising concerns about self-id on Twitter (for the record, we are not talking about Neanderthal men, the critics are largely women) is now risking a torrent of online abuse. And Lewis is currently suspended from the party for his pains.

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The shame of Barnet: losing a council because the voters think you’re racist

11/05/2018, 08:21:19 AM

by Rob Marchant

The general consensus of the UK media is that Labour did not achieve the result it needed to last Thursday. As largely expected, it had lukewarm results in London overall and disappointing results outside.

But the most significant result of the night was surely that in Barnet, where the Tories in midterm, in London, actually regained a council that they recently lost to No Overall Control.

The reason? Unsurprisingly, the Jewish voters of Barnet, surely the council with the highest Jewish contingent in Britain, turned away from Labour in droves. Because they were fed up with Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to tackle anti-Semitism, two years after the Chakrabarti report. And, as the Jewish Chronicle’s Stephen Pollard pointed out:

Quite. While there was enough evidence from polling returns by ward, the anecdotal evidence was strong, too. Journalists deployed to the borough noted the extraordinary strength of feeling they found on the doorstep. As John Mann, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Semitism, put it:

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Uh oh Jeremy Corbyn. Three lessons from Labour’s below par locals result

04/05/2018, 10:24:17 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Leaders own their party’s results. Labour’s surprise tally in last year’s general election was Jeremy Corbyn’s triumph. He deserved the bouquets. Following this year’s below par showing for Labour in the local elections, he will similarly merit the brickbats.

In one sense, it seems unfair to cast this as a poor night for Labour – seats were won, the overall number of councillors went up. Expectations might have been over-inflated in terms of taking councils such as Kensington and Westminster, but progress was made and Labour was starting from a very high base.

But in politics you’re either going forward or falling back and to have a chance of forming a government at the next election, Labour needed a lot more from these results.

First, some context – last year, Labour over-performed expectations in the general election but still fell 61 seats short of a majority. To have any semblance of stability a government needs a majority of at least 30 (John Major’s 1992 administration soon fell apart despite starting the parliament with a majority of 21), probably nearer 40. This means Labour is roughly 100 seats short of what’s required to govern.

Yesterday’s local election results demonstrated nothing like the breakthrough Labour requires to call itself a government-in-waiting. Three lessons are evident: Labour’s badly needs Tory switchers, ground organisation alone isn’t enough and Brexit dangers now lurk with the party so reliant on Remainers to buttress its vote.

Given the deadlock between Labour and the Tories at 40%-ish each in the polls, for the past year, there seems to be limited scope to boost Labour’s vote share by further attracting non-voters or squeezing minor parties. Certainly not enough votes in the right places to secure an extra 100 seats.

The only route through for Labour is to win the support of people who are currently Tory voters.

However, there is a disconnect in the leadership’s psyche as to why anyone could countenance an act as egregious as voting Tory. The notion of actively trying to attract Tory voters is an alien concept within today’s party.

The result has been a shrill Labour message cast in moral absolutes. The top line of Jeremy Corbyn’s eve of poll op-ed in the Mirror was, “Tory austerity has almost certainly increased the death rate.

Calling Tory voters, the people Labour needs to win an election, accomplices to murder is quite a way to open a conversation about switching.

Over the past weeks, the party has had an army of footsoldiers knocking doors but the evidence of yesterday’s vote is that organisation without a message that resonates with switchers, will not win Labour power. The party has to have a better offer than singing ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ repeatedly at this group.

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Hungary: a lesson for lovers of populism on left and right

26/04/2018, 05:02:57 PM

by Rob Marchant

It is pleasing to see Jeremy Corbyn get something right, for once.

A couple of months ago, he recorded this video message in support of Hungarian socialists, rightly warning how their country was in danger of becoming home to despotism, although he put it more politely. In his words, that the far-right government “is not only weakening democracy, but allowing intolerance and racism to take hold” (ok, so the irony meter in the Leader’s Office was switched off that day).

In contrast, our country’s government, in the person of its idiot Foreign Secretary, was quick to congratulate recently reelected president Viktor Orbán in a lugubrious tweet, failing to mention his racist campaign, or his fixing of the media and electoral system to win. I suppose that, in the post-Brexit world, his low calculation is less maintaining a democratic continent and more “any port in a storm”.

As Nick Cohen pointed out recently, Orbán is – like Putin – starting to treat harmless NGOs as enemies of the state. Not to mention demonising one of the country’s great entrepreneurs and philanthropists, George Soros, by fabricating ridiculous stories that he will flood the country with immigrants (he is clearly neither a government nor standing for office). As Cohen says, “It’s as if UK ministers were pretending the choice before the electorate was between the Conservative party and Human Rights Watch.” Quite. But more of Soros later.

Back to Budapest, where I was last week. A beautiful city and not – not yet – the seat of a dictatorship.

But it very soon is likely to be, as its election a matter of days ago has largely demonstrated. Not only did Orbán’s authoritarian Fidesz party win (again), the anti-immigration rhetoric seems now to have reached fever pitch. And that’s before we even start with Jobbik, an ugly and even more far-right party, which came in second with a fifth of the vote. In short, the “top two” choice is now between the far right and the really far right.

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Authorising a single bombing raid is not the same as war. It was right there wasn’t a vote on Syria

17/04/2018, 12:43:48 PM

by Atul Hatwal

To listen to Labour’s frontbench yesterday would be to think parliamentary democracy lay in ruins because the government had not called a vote on Syria before intervention.

A frequent refrain in the House is that there is no more serious issue than that of war or peace. Few would disagree that Parliament should be central in these matters, but the unasked question yesterday (certainly by Jeremy Corbyn) was whether the Syrian mission constituted war.

Labour’s leader drew the parallel with Iraq, where there was a vote before deployment. But is Labour really saying that a single bombing raid is the same as a war?

Iraq entailed an air, sea and ground operation involving thousands of armed personnel on a mission that was planned to go on for months into years. Syria involved four planes on a sortie that took minutes.

One of the worst aspects of parliamentary practice is the way precedent is so rapidly ossified into hallowed practice and wreathed in constitutional piety.

After the precedent of the Iraq vote in 2003, now every action, no matter big or small, is subject to the same threshold for assent.

It was right that there was a vote on Iraq just as it was right that there was a vote on the operation in Libya, but not the interventions in Kosovo, Sierra Leone or the bombing of Iraq in 1998 in operation Desert Fox. These latter three were much nearer to Syria and in no way comparable to the Iraq war or even Libya.

The one anomaly in recent times has been the response to 9/11 with the invasion of Afghanistan – there wasn’t a vote but should have been for the same reasons there was a vote before Iraq and in 2011 before Libya.

Jeremy Corbyn was right in his speech yesterday – the Convention which was articulated by the Tories in 2011 and accepts the need for a Commons vote before military action on the basis of the 2003 Iraq precedent, is broken.

But not because it needs to be hardened from what is effectively an accepted guideline, into a fully-fledged War Powers Act as Labour will propose in the debate today. Instead the parliamentary process should reflect the reality that a raid is not a war and not every action merits a full vote in the Commons, complete with fevered build-up, publicity, vote wrangling and contentious discourse.

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Labour’s current situation with anti-Semitism is unsustainable

13/04/2018, 11:10:42 PM

by Rob Marchant

Let’s try an experiment. Since anti-Semitism is a form of racism, let’s simply use the word “racism” as we outline the following facts.

In the last three weeks, a British mainstream political party has:

  • Received a letter, addressed to its leader by two well-respected national community groups, protesting perceived institutional racism within it;
  • Been demonstrated against, twice, by anti-racism campaigners, the first of which demos was attended a number of its own MPs;
  • Had various members threatening those same MPs with deselection and abusing them online over their attendance of said anti-racism demo, including a celebrity member demanding their expulsion;
  • Had hundreds of members attending a counter-demo, against the anti-racism demo, which included a banner from the country’s biggest trade union;
  • Had its leader attend a controversial event with a radical left-wing group who also criticised the first anti-racism demo;
  • Had its leader found to be a member of a number of Facebook groups infested with racists, ultimately forcing him to close his Facebook account;
  • Had its leader support in an online Facebook comment the painter of a racist mural;
  • Had its Head of Compliance resign, after his department had already been significantly beefed up to deal with a flood of disciplinary issues connected with racism;
  • Appointed a leader to the party machine – ultimately in charge of dealing with first-level disciplinary issues – who had previously been in controversy over remarks that many perceived as downplaying racism;
  • Had to remove the chair of its Disputes Panel for championing an activist suspended for posting about the “Holocaust Hoax”, and only after public outcry was said chair actually removed from its National Executive Committee;
  • Replaced said chair with NEC member who worked for, and has in the past defended, former London mayor Ken Livingstone, also currently suspended for alleged racism;
  • Had another NEC member write a piece in the Guardian criticising MPs who attended the anti-racism demos;
  • Had a cross-party group of peers ask the Met to investigate various Facebook posts by its members for inciting racial hatred;
  • Had a sister party in another country suspend relations with it over perceived tolerance to racism.

It’s not pretty, is it?

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Dominic Raab has been caught fiddling the figures on house prices and immigration

13/04/2018, 06:37:49 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Dominic Raab is a fool.

He’s a fool for thinking he could say house prices have risen by 21% because of immigration over the past 25 years and not have to answer follow-up questions on the provenance of this number. It’s a striking figure, of course people are going to ask for the source data.

To not anticipate that his Sunday Times interview would generate a chorus of questions from opposition politicians, journalists and think tankers, shows an amazing inability to think through the political consequences of his actions.

He’s a fool for not understanding that the UK Statistics Authority has a remit to police the misuse of government statistics and that his department, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is mandated to comply with their rigorous code of practice.

A scintilla of comprehension about the role of the Authority would have meant he’d have known that they would publicly slap him down ,as the questions rained down, for not publishing the data and force the department to make it available.

Most of all though, he’s a fool for cherry-picking this figure from research which, now the department has published it, makes the exact opposite point to the one he aired in his interview – immigration actually has a comparatively small impact on house prices.

The research ascribes three factors as driving house price rises: domestic population growth, population growth from net migration and increasing real incomes.

Out of a total increase of £97,000 1991-2016, £80,000 is from increasing real incomes, £11,000 is from population growth driven by net migration and £6,000 from domestic population growth.

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Corbyn must commit to being a leader of the many and not just the few

10/04/2018, 07:00:31 AM

by Andy Howell

By any measure Jeremy Corbyn has had a bad month or two. He was far too slow to react to the controversy over Anti-Semitism and, perhaps, even indifferent to it. On the Skripal front Corbyn’s anti cold war instincts may be understandable, indeed admirable, but the tone and manner of his interventions over Russia simply struck a wrong chord. The perception of those outside of the Party’s membership is that Corbyn only took a ‘proper’ line when dragged to it by the press, public opinion and the views of most of the world’s political powers.

Let us not also forget three high profile sackings. First off, Corbyn’s office announced that Debbie Abrahams had stepped down as shadow Work and Pensions Secretary as a result of allegations of bullying made by her office staff. Abrahams herself made it very clear that she considered she had been sacked and countered by claiming that she herself was the victim of bullying from the leader’s office. Owen Smith was sacked over calls for a further referendum on Brexit despite the Party’s conference policy still holding this out as a possibility if the May’s eventual deal proves to be unacceptable. Officially General Secretary Ian McNicol resigned, but effectively he went when the leadership told him his time was up.

On leftist social media channels Corbyn’s supporters remained out in force, defending their leader’s stance, until the Leadership itself was forced to reposition itself. In the narrow and rarified world of Facebook and Twitter, loyalists are convinced that Corbyn and his team have been dragged into these new positions by the dark forces of the press when, in reality, they have been responding to the concerns of the wider electorate.

This weekend YouGov’s polling — taken during this turbulent period — shows that only 31% of the public think Corbyn is doing a good job as leader of the Opposition; 56% think that he is doing a bad job.

In many ways the greatest frustration over the last couple of months is that so many of our problems have been self-inflicted. On Russia Corbyn could have better defended his position if his statements had been more measured or more statesman like. In talking to a number of younger, and newer, Labour members over the last few weeks I have sensed a growing confusion or disenchantment with his Leadership. Some of Corbyn’s most fanatical supporters still refer to him as ‘magic grandad’ but you don’t have to search very hard to find many who are becoming more muted.

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Who will respond to Nick Clegg’s call to arms by being our Gladstone?

28/03/2018, 10:22:02 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“All the kindling is lying around, it just needs a spark to light it.”

Thus, concluded Nick Clegg’s weekend interview with the Times. It is a long time since we all “agreed with Nick” at the 2010 election. The AV and EU referendums failed to go his way, while five years of coalition with the Conservatives diminished his party such that they were wiped out at the 2015 election, with Clegg’s seat, on the back of a student vote, angry about tuition fees, turning Corbynite two years later.

With such a record of failing to read or move public opinion, we should take with a pinch of salt Clegg’s expectation that we are on the cusp of something big.

“There will be some kind of realignment. I think it is inevitable … British liberalism should get off its knees.”

This is striking: something that happens very rarely (realignment) is said to be inevitable; British liberalism depends not on his Liberal Democrats but upon this realignment; and its form is vaguely presented – “some kind of realignment”, while elsewhere Clegg repeatedly refers to “a new political entity”, not “a new political party”.

Enough is enough. Not just for the Jewish community with Labour. The security services must also have misgivings about Jeremy Corbyn as he seems less prepared to believe them than Putin’s Russia on attempted murders on British soil. As with the Jewish community and the security services, pro-Europeans now strain to see friends in a Labour party with undiminished reverence for the 2016 referendum.

But where is the extra £350m each week for the NHS? On no Brexit scenario does HM Treasury anticipate a “Brexit dividend” that would extend to this. Quite the opposite. And where are all these Turkish immigrants that we were warned about? Turkey, predictably, is no nearer joining the EU, as Brexodus continues, with talented and hard-working people taking their skills and endeavour elsewhere.

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