Posts Tagged ‘Atul Hatwal’

How to fight hard Brexit: Step 2 – Learn from the Brexiteers, use their tactics against them

29/12/2016, 04:23:00 PM

In a series of three pieces, Atul Hatwal sets out how hard Brexit can be fought in the coming years. Today he looks at the political tactics needed to control the debate

The unwritten story of the past twenty years of British politics is the triumph of the nutter. Or at least, those who were once commonly described as such.

I started working for the Labour party in the mid-1990s. Back then, the Maastricht rebels – the political forbears of today’s Brexiteers – were regarded as fringe loons yearning for pre-Suez Britain, while hard left refuseniks such as Jeremy Corbyn were similarly dismissed as deluded Bennite voices from a long dead past.

In possibly the quote of the decade, John Major’s press secretary, Tim Collins, described John Redwood’s supporters in the 1995 Tory leadership contest as the “swivel-eyed barmy army, from ward eight at Broadmoor.”

How times change.

Many centrist words have been expended bemoaning the triumph of yesterday’s nutters, not enough understanding why they have been successful.

The journey from margin to mainstream for Brexiteers and hard left alike has been driven by a common political tactic, a tactic which pro-Europeans should repeat in the fight against hard Brexit: co-ordination between ultras and moderates.

Campaigns to move opinion on big issues are won by tag teams. Ultras and moderates working together, wittingly or otherwise.

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How to fight hard Brexit: Step 1 – Understand why Remain lost. Spoiler: It’s not what Westminster thinks

28/12/2016, 11:04:18 AM

In a series of three pieces, Atul Hatwal sets out how hard Brexit can be fought in the coming years. Today he looks at why Remain lost and the implications for the battle to shape Brexit

Why did Remain lose? Since the referendum Brexiteers have been assiduous in asserting their narrative: immigration trumped the economy, emotion won over facts and these are the new rules of the political game.

The Brexiteer version of history is now the accepted consensus at Westminster, virtually unchallenged by pro-Europeans, often meekly accepted.

The state of the pro-EU camp feels very familiar, certainly to a Labour member. All very mid-1992 when following a fourth electoral defeat, the best that many senior leaders of the party had to offer by way of strategy was “one more heave.”

It wasn’t good enough then, it isn’t now.

The starting point for pro-Europeans is to ask the right question.

Not just why Leave won but why a Remain campaign built around familiar economic beats failed when the same backing track had proved so persuasive at the general election and the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.

At the election and referendum, campaigns targeting concerns about the economy had convincingly defeated Scottish nationalism in 2014 and crushed Ukip’s English anti-migrant nationalism in 2015.

The conventional wisdom is that immigration was more potent as an issue in 2016.

Fortunately for those who want to prevent a hard Brexit, this is wrong.

The British Election Study (BES), which surveyed a huge panel of 30,000 voters before and after the referendum, sheds some light on what actually happened.

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Nissan might have got the headlines last week but the real story is what’s bubbling on free movement

30/10/2016, 11:04:22 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Imagine for a moment you are Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator.

The man entrusted with securing Brexit on the best possible terms for the 27 EU states.

The man whose job it is to stop those truculent Brits going a la carte on the EU set menu and establishing a precedent where leaving the union means that cake can be had and simultaneously eaten with no question of anyone having to touch their greens.

You are the man who had a very interesting lunchtime last Thursday.

That is when the British government announced that Nissan would be building its new cars in the UK, something which infuriated a number of the EU states who had hoped they would win this investment. States that will be represented by Barnier in the Brexit negotiation.

As a very senior EU official and seasoned French politician, Michel Barnier will have been in contact with Nissan and a variety of international businesses, through official and unofficial channels.

He will know that Nissan had drawn some very clear red lines before making such a commitment.

He will have been baffled by the visits of the UK secretary of state for business, Greg Clark, to Japan for the same reason that most of Whitehall was perplexed.

What on earth could Clark give the Japanese manufacturer?

Specifically, Nissan wanted assurances on the continuation of country of origin rules, which mean parts sourced from around the world but assembled in an EU state do not incur tariffs; that tariffs would not be levied on the finished car in the EU and non-tariff barriers, such as forcing importers to register each car up a mountain, at a portakabin that is staffed once a week, which is only accessible by dirt track, would not be put in place.

Thanks to the efforts of the British government, somehow, Nissan have been convinced to make a multi-million pound investment. It’s clear that what they were told did not amount to warm words. Some very hard and definite commitments were given (with a clear implication that non-delivery by Britain will nix the deal).

The British press have focused on perceived promises from the UK government to compensate Nissan financially if tariffs are imposed, but Michel Barnier will have known better.

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MPs organising to block a 2017 Brexit election and imprison Theresa May in Number 10

19/10/2016, 11:40:42 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Over the last few days the true weakness of Theresa May’s parliamentary position has been revealed.

First there was the climbdown on Brexit scrutiny and now the Heathrow delay.

May’s small majority means that less than ten disgruntled Tory backbenchers can confidently block her plans. Lest we forget, 35 sacked Cameroon ministers sit on the backbenches courtesy of her first act as PM.

Last Wednesday, following the Brexit U-turn, Uncut highlighted the increased likelihood of an early election for May to boost her majority so that she could pass her programme. On Saturday, Sam Coates in the Times similarly wrote of the rising prospect of an early poll.

Now Uncut hears that MPs from across the main parties have started to informally discuss how to prevent the Fixed Term Parliament Act (FTPA) being circumvented to trigger an early election.

What unites these MPs is a desire to stop hard Brexit which would be enabled by the inevitable, sizeable Tory majority following any contest between May’s Tories and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.

If Theresa May wanted to call an early election she has two options: repeal the Fixed Term Parliament Act and re-institute the previous arrangements or call a vote of no confidence and whip the government to be defeated, paving the way for an election (there is another option – under the FTPA, a two-thirds majority in parliament can trigger an election but that requires both Conservative and Labour support which is fanciful)

The first option is virtually impossible because of the parliamentary weakness which makes an early election desirable for Theresa May.

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Last night’s government climbdown on Brexit brought an early general election a lot closer

12/10/2016, 05:37:06 PM

by Atul Hatwal

We live in a political world of dominoes (dominoes? millennials – look it up). The first of a line fell last night that could have profound consequences for politics in the next 12 months.

The government was forced to accept a Labour motion calling for greater parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit. The original government whipping was to oppose but was reversed at the last minute with the submission of a bland government amendment to the motion’s wording, enabling Tory MPs to back it.

The minutiae of the motion doesn’t matter, it’s the government U-turn that counts. This tells us three things.

First, there are sufficient Tory rebels – an alliance of Remainers and liberal Leavers – who will vote against the government on Brexit issues. As Theresa May well knows, the first step is the demand for greater parliamentary scrutiny, swiftly followed by calls for a vote on the final terms.

No matter what the press or hard Brexiteers say, this vote is now likely on the same basis as last night’s retreat – MPs will cite the importance of parliamentary sovereignty and the government will be defeated on an opposition motion or amendment to a Bill promising this vote, unless it gives in.

Second, the same parliamentary arithmetic that drives the scrutiny and vote means that hard Brexit will be very difficult to pass. There are approximately 80 committed Tory hard Brexiteers but virtually all of Labour, Lib Dem, SNP, DUP and Plaid combined with high double digits of Tory MPs would not vote for it. No amount of whipping can overturn this majority.

Third, the likelihood of Theresa May’s relatively hard Brexit policy being rewritten by the House means she faces a choice: have the centre-piece of her policy platform – the terms of Brexit – defined by the legislature rather than her executive, or go to the country.

She might be genuinely committed to avoiding an early election but if she wants to get her way on Brexit she will need a bigger majority – one that can only be guaranteed if she faces Jeremy Corbyn in a poll.

The Labour leader might have recently won this year’s leadership contest but many in parliament expect that he will be gone by 2020. Even Corbynite MPs are looking to 2018 as a date when Corbyn will stand down and handover the torch to someone like John McDonnell (assuming the hard left have reduced the nomination threshold among MPs, for leader, by then).

Theresa May has a limited window when she can be sure that Jeremy Corbyn will be her opponent, ensuring she boosts her majority. On current trends, anywhere from 50 to 80 Labour MPs could expect to lose their seats, though among Labour’s MPs there are even more apocalyptic scenarios with losses in triple digits.

Over the coming weeks, Theresa May is going to realise the limits of her Commons authority. At that point she could easily conclude that U-turning on an early general election is less damaging for her than U-turning on her Brexit policy.

May 2017 anyone?

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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The Tories don’t realise it yet but their conference was a disaster

06/10/2016, 09:09:59 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Jeremy Corbyn is busy with his reshuffle but the reality is that its a sideshow. The main event this week was in Birmingham with Theresa May’s first conference as Tory leader.

Party conferences share an important characteristic with Chancellors’ budgets – the better the immediate headlines, the worse the legacy.

Last year, George Osborne’s post-election budget was heralded as a masterstroke the day after it was delivered, only to unravel over tax credits.

Ed Miliband’s commitment to fix energy prices at Labour’s 2013 conference was viewed as a game-changing moment on the day. But in reality, it fed the public’s mistrust of Labour and markets contributing to disaster at the general election.

Gordon Brown’s 2007 conference debut as leader won instant plaudits (“Brown dressed to kill after emptying Cameron’s wardrobe” proclaimed the Guardian) that subsequently dissolved. Rather like his last budget as Chancellor earlier in 2007 when he abolished the 10p tax.

Or for those with longer memories, the glowing reports of Norman Lamont’s 1992 budget foreseeing the green shoots of recovery the best part of a decade before the public agreed.

The headlines this morning following Theresa May’s big speech were all that she would want. But she’s actually had a disaster.

Long after the conference bubbles have gone flat, two bitter flavours will linger on the palate: hard Brexit and the Tory obsession with foreigners.

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Patience and clarity of purpose. That’s what Labour’s moderates need now

24/09/2016, 05:44:50 PM

by Atul Hatwal

It’s been a difficult day for Labour moderates. The numbers aren’t great– an increased majority for Jeremy Corbyn with a plurality of in each section of the selectorate backing Labour’s incumbent. This is clearly a decent result for Corbyn.

Two challenges must be faced, one in the short term, one in the medium term.

The immediate question will be whether moderate MPs return to serve on the front bench.

There are currently over 60 vacancies and a real danger that Labour will be stripped of the title of official opposition if these roles remain unfilled through to Christmas.

However, things have been said which can’t be unsaid. It’s not credible for people who have been decrying Jeremy Corbyn as a catastrophe for the past months to suddenly say, with straight faces, that this man should be prime minister.

Even if tongues could be temporarily held, the rancour would soon re-emerge in the internal struggles that are imminent as the hard left try to rewrite the party rule-book and tighten their grip on the machine.

The answer for moderate MPs is to make Labour’s Swiss cheese front bench Jeremy Corbyn’s problem.

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If Labour MPs want to make ending free movement a Brexit red line, they’d better be ready to leave the single market

20/09/2016, 10:35:24 PM

by Atul Hatwal

One of the reasons the Labour party is in such a terrible state is that the many of moderate mainstream, those meant to offer an alternative to Corbyn, are so bad at the basics in politics.

Yesterday’s foray into the debate on freedom of movement by Rachel Reeves, Emma Reynolds and Stephen Kinnock, was a case study in ineptitude.

By arguing that ending free movement to reduce migration should be a red line in Brexit negotiations, they have constructed an argument that will not survive first contact with a journalist and set a broader public expectation which can never be met.

The obvious immediate question which journalists will ask these MPs is whether they are prepared to leave the single market?

If the central European states such Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, western European states such as France and EU President Juncker stick to their public position of vetoing any reform, are these MPs prepared for hard Brexit?

Will they back a version of leaving the EU that would see the flight of financial services from the City of London, the movement of major manufacturers like the Japanese car makers to the continent, the imposition of a hard border between northern and southern in Ireland and condemn tens of thousands of their constituents to the dole?

Seriously?

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David Cameron flunks his final test

13/09/2016, 07:43:37 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Twenty years. That’s what it will take for David Cameron’s name to be anything other than a byword for political failure. In the 2030s a new generation of Conservative politicians, untainted by the assumptions of their political forbears will rediscover David Cameron like some long lost Beatles recording.

I recall the process well from the mid-1990s when many of us working for the Labour party unearthed our own Rare Groove classics: Jim Callaghan and Harold Wilson.

When nostalgia and retro-chic return Cameron to relevance he will be 69.

Just three years older than the current leader of the Labour party, one year older than Hillary Clinton, most likely the next President of the United States and one year younger than Donald Trump, god forbid, the next President of the United States.

Instead of ascending to the highest office in his profession, based on a life of experience, David Cameron’s most productive working years will be spent trailing around the world engaged in lucrative but transitory and ultimately hollow pursuits.

He branded himself the heir to Blair a decade ago and as he travels through his fifties and sixties, David Cameron will truly take-up this mantle.

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Speaker poised to strip Labour of designation as Her Majesty’s Opposition in Autumn

27/07/2016, 10:45:13 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Uncut has learned that House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, is considering action to strip Labour of the title, Her Majesty’s Opposition, if Jeremy Corbyn wins the leadership election and the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) remains on strike, leaving the bulk of front bench roles unfilled.

Sources in the House of Commons administration familiar with his deliberations have told Uncut that Bercow has looked on with dismay at the impact of Labour’s civil war on the functioning of Britain’s parliamentary democracy. One said,

“The meltdown happened so near the end of the last term and the situation was so fluid that it would not have been appropriate to act. But if the situation persists into Autumn, when there is a full schedule of parliamentary business, some form of action is likely.”

Although the constitutional position is murky, the Speaker has a pivotal role in determining which party is the opposition. Normally the choice is clear – it’s the largest party opposing the government. However, with dozens of frontbench roles unfilled, Labour is in dangerous territory.

Official designation as the Opposition brings a series of institutional advantages for Labour, ranging from funding to influence over the parliamentary agenda.

At the end of the last parliamentary term, Jeremy Corbyn was only able to complete his shadow cabinet by asking some MPs to take dual roles.

Paul Flynn became shadow leader of the House of Commons and shadow secretary of state for Wales and Dave Anderson was appointed the shadow secretary of state for both Scotland and Northern Ireland. Currently the majority of shadow ministerial positions remain unfilled for Labour.

When the new parliamentary session begins, Labour’s Swiss cheese front bench is likely to be exposed.

For example, if there is a motion on the floor relevant to a shadow team, while a Standing committee is considering a bill in that team’s area, with relevant Statutory Instruments committees also sitting and a Westminster Hall debate on a topic in their brief, then Labour will not be able to provide a shadow front bench representative in each debate.

In practical terms, it means the government will have no opposition in one or more area. They will not be held to account by the opposition and a core component of parliamentary democracy, in the way it has been practiced for over 100 years, will have broken down.

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