Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Todd’

Could we please have a real-world Labour Brexit policy?

19/11/2018, 06:05:32 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Theresa May is right. It is:

  • Her Brexit
  • No deal Brexit
  • Or no Brexit

If you are not choosing from that menu, you are at an imaginary restaurant. Which five members of the Cabinet, the so-called European Research Group, and the Labour leadership, unfortunately, are.

There is, according to the BBC’s Europe Editor, zero appetite in EU circles to renegotiate May’s withdrawal deal. “We have a document on the table that has been adopted by the EU and the UK, and so for me, the question of further negotiations does not arise,” Angela Merkel said.

But Andrea Leadsom demurs. She aims to tweak May’s deal. John McDonnell goes further. He wants a completely different agreement by next March.

In the real-world, there are three possible ways forward:

First, May’s deal. The lack of advocates for this deal has reduced May to comparisons with Thatcher’s final days. It is also reminiscent of the period immediately after the 2010 general election. Then, as now, it was apparent that the prime minister did not have the numbers.

There is, however, a plausible argument to say:

While imperfect, this withdrawal agreement takes the UK out of the EU, we accept it and are focusing upon the long-term relationship between the UK and the EU, which remains to be determined.

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Binning Brexit must be the start of the change that we need

13/11/2018, 09:47:38 PM

by Jonathan Todd

In William Waldegrave’s admirably honest and bleakly comic memoir, he describes William Armstrong, the head of the civil service, suffering a nervous breakdown. Armstrong, when Waldegrave was working for prime minister Ted Heath, “talked apocalyptically of his control of the Blue Army in its war against the Red, then lay full length on the floor of Number Ten’s waiting room, at the feet of an astonished delegation of businessmen”.

“Could civil servant Olly Robbins prove Brexit’s unlikely hero?” asked a recent Financial Times profile. Of course, sadly, not. While we hope that the strain does not impact Robbins as greatly as Armstrong, Brexit is a joyless revolution, devoid of heroes.

Out of the crooked timber of Brexit, Immanuel Kant might have said, no straight thing was ever made. Nothing, as Jo Johnson stressed when resigning from government, has been fashioned from it to compare with the promises made in its name during the 2016 referendum.

Politics, eventually, catches up with policy. While Johnson’s departure may trigger bigger political events, it responds to a policy reality that has long been obvious: Theresa May is incapable of delivering a Brexit that won’t make us worse off and her Brexiter critics have no plausible policy for doing better. The political energy that pulses through Remain derives from a more coherent policy: staying in the EU via a People’s Vote, based on what is now known, not the false prospectus of two years ago.

The right policy is the right politics. Labour MPs in seats that voted for Brexit cannot advance a policy that combines Brexit with the brightest prospects for jobs and growth in these places. Because – as voters increasingly realise – no such policy exists, eroding the political case for accommodation with Brexit by these MPs. Especially when, among Labour voters, at least two-thirds in every constituency support another referendum.

The polling does not reveal a thirst for Lexit among Labour voters in industrial towns. Other voters in these seats may have more of a taste for Brexit – in many cases, for reasons far removed from the inclusion and internationalism that have traditionally characterised Labour. But – with every unfortunate story of redundancies attributed to Brexit – this taste is diminishing. In any case, while Brexit ought to be bigger than self-interested calculations, these voters are less crucial to the survival of Labour MPs than Labour voters.

From whom the message is clear: we want another say on the dud that we were sold.

No one any longer bothers to deny the defectiveness of Brexit. The case for persisting rests upon fulfilling 2016’s mandate (whatever that was). Or the fear of no deal, which, given the willingness of the prime minister to listen to the parliamentary majority against this, is misplaced.

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Brexit anxiety: Panic on the streets of London

23/10/2018, 11:33:22 PM

by Jonathan Todd

I don’t, unfortunately, think it is an exaggeration to say that I am terrified of Brexit. I burst in to tears – not something I do frequently – on the morning of 24 June 2016, a few hours before Jeremy Corbyn advocated invoking Article 50. It seemed to me that my country had invited catastrophe and now, sadly, I feel surer of that.

“There was always a core who could not accept the outcome; it has swelled,” reckons Robert Shrimsley in the Financial Times. I am not sure that this is quite right and certainly do not consider myself part of such a grouping. While we should be vigilant to Russian interference in our democracy and Vote Leave broke electoral law, I do not question the legitimacy of the actions taken following the 2016 referendum.

Theresa May was perfectly entitled to set out her redlines, to invoke Article 50, and to proclaim, “Brexit means Brexit”. Albeit the redlines have been mugged by reality, her government has appeared unprepared for the consequences of Article 50, and “Brexit means Brexit” is no less a meaningless platitude than “a red, white and blue Brexit”.

In the face of this staggering incompetence, what has remained constant is not lack of acceptance at the outcome of the 2016 referendum but – pace Shrimsley – unease about where we are headed. No convincing leadership has emerged to meet worries about the ending of a relationship that has been integral to the UK for approaching half a century.

“The easiest trade deal in history” came to not be that easy. “The exact same benefits of single market membership” are illusive. Only Michael Caine is still saying that German car manufacturers will make everything ok.

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Labour Conference 2018: Time for a new direction on Brexit

24/09/2018, 09:44:22 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Labour Party conference meets amid the UK’s deepening constitutional and economic crisis. Merely by reiterating its long-established red lines, EU leaders inspired a haughty and incoherent speech from our out-of-her-depth prime minister, bringing the calamity of no deal Brexit nearer.

The message from Nigel Farage at the Leave Means Leave rally is clear: “No deal, no problem.” The message from Labour’s conference needs to be equally straight-forward: “No deal, no way.”

Brexit, as President Macron noted, “was pushed by people who predicted easy solutions.” Now the same people tell us not to worry about no deal. Surely the will of the people is not to be fooled twice.

The warning lights from Labour should be flashing brightly to avoid the kind of no deal scenario depicted in a Financial Times editorial in July:

“The UK would spill out of the EU on March 29 2019, guaranteeing chaos on all fronts. It would spell international isolation, as well as a shock to the economy and a political backlash. No competent government could contemplate such an option.”

Given this, the prime minister is wrong, pace her Friday speech, to assert that no deal is better than a bad deal. Labour must say so.

The prime minister is mistaken, too, to claim that EU leaders provided no explanation for their rejection of Chequers. It followed from their consistent position on the indivisibility of the EU’s four freedoms. We must hope that Labour, as an internationalist party, demystifies this hardy mysterious reality.

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People have the power on Trump and Brexit. But will we use it?

03/09/2018, 09:04:23 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“Ultimately,” as Edward Luce wrote in the Financial Times recently, “the American people will decide Mr Trump’s fate.”

Impeachment depends upon majorities in both houses of Congress. Which the Democrats do not have. But might after November’s mid-terms.

If Republican voters rally to an embattled Trump, they might retain both houses. Conversely, if the stench of corruption emanating from Trump drives an anti-Trump vote, the Democrats would triumph.

Beto O’Rourke, seeking to unseat Ted Cruz to become the first Democratic Senator for Texas in 25 years, describes the election as, “the most important of our lives”.

Like all Democrats, however, he is riding against the headwind of an economy enjoying (at least in the short-term) the sugar rush of Trump’s tax cuts. In which case, recovering one of the two houses might be a reasonable Democrat performance. Albeit this would leave them requiring Republican votes to impeach Trump.

These votes would only be forthcoming if Republicans deduced they would be in their interests. This would depend upon another people’s verdict: polling on Trump and impeachment.

While unpopular with the rest of America, Trump remains viscerally popular with his base. This is an advantage that he enjoys over President Nixon in the early 1970s, creating a firewall against elected Republicans turning against him.

Robert Mueller is methodically diligent, but the questions that hang over Trump are more political than legal.

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Where would the UK be with any other Labour leader?

30/07/2018, 10:50:40 PM

by Jonathan Todd

A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of no deal Brexit. The building prospect of this epic disaster makes Theresa May’s triggering of Article 50 in March 2017, sixteen months in advance of anything resembling a united government position on the biggest decision facing us since World War II, recklessly premature.

Jeremy Corbyn demanded that Article 50 be triggered on 24 June 2016. As, in the period since, Labour has done no better than the government in offering up a Brexit plan likely to be compatible with the EU’s long-established and clear positions, we would now be over a month into the wasteland of Corbyn’s no deal if he were then prime minister.

Any other post-Michael Foot Labour leader, recognising that Brexit is incompatible with any viable Labour political economy, would have thrown themselves into the Remain campaign in 2016 with more gusto than Corbyn. We’ve got our party back, Neil Kinnock said when Ed Miliband became leader. But, despite their differences, all leaders from Kinnock to Miliband would, in the circumstances that Corbyn now finds himself in, be putting the national emergency of Brexit above all else.

Once we heard of “one of the easiest trade deals in human history” and Brexit with “the exact same benefits” of EU membership, now we are told of “adequate food” – but even this might prove overly optimistic. There will be, as Corbyn never tells us, no Brexit dividend, no £350m extra a week for the NHS. There will be, to almost recall a bleak Daniel Day-Lewis film, stockpiling of blood. No deal Brexit was meant to be impossible – don’t they want to sell us their prosecco? Not as much as they want to preserve the integrity of EU institutions, it, predictably, transpires – and yet, it looms ever larger.

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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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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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The Bolsheviks of the left and right are intent on wrecking Britain

25/02/2018, 11:33:24 AM

by Jonathan Todd

The Bolsheviks of left and right don’t like our country. The left brain is not sure whether it went south with Thatcher or when the wrong side won the Cold War. The right when the dastardly Heath shackled us to the continentals or the first Reform Act of 1832.

They concur that something is rotten about contemporary Britain. We might as well jump off the Brexit cliff-edge. Walk the scorched earth of undiluted, uncompromising Corbynism. Maybe jump that jump and walk that walk, do the full Lexit shuffle.

There is a puritanical hankering for purification in these urges. Which contrasts with the moderation and pragmatism that supposedly distinguishes Britain. Hitler couldn’t happen here, we said. We’d laugh at the goosesteps, Orwell reassured us. Now those exalted by the Bolsheviks – Corbyn and Rees-Mogg – could goosestep wherever they like and be defended.

Telling us that, “the now routine equation of Stalin and Hitler both distorts the past and limits the future” and wanting colonialism “included as the third leg of 20th-century tyranny, along with Nazism and communism”, the left Bolsheviks are more Bolshevik as traditionally understood. Apologists for Stalin, as well as current regimes maintaining similar traditions, such as Venezuela, while seeing a repressive arch stretching directly from the British Empire to the Trump Empire.

The right Bolsheviks would shudder to be compared to those with these views. But there are similarities. They are both utopians. Albeit the Bolsheviks of the right are nostalgic utopians. Enamoured with what we never were and cannot be again. As the right Bolsheviks look back longingly, the left Bolsheviks look forward expectantly. They are certain that Corbyn will be King, they just wonder who will be first against the wall.

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The inspiration of Tessa Jowell

29/01/2018, 10:24:38 PM

by Jonathan Todd

In an era of robotic politicians, Tessa Jowell is a magnetic presence. The cause of unprecedented scenes of applause in the Lords. The catalyst to improved cancer services. Her humanity shrines like a beacon, reminding us that politics doesn’t have to disappoint.

There’s nothing like a dame, Peter Mandelson – quoting a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical – told the Dulwich and West Norwood (DaWN) summer party after Tessa, our MP, had been made an Order of the British Empire. This might have been the same year that we watched Andy Murray become the first male British Wimbledon champion since 1936. When Murray secured this victory, Tessa punched the air in the house backing on to Dulwich Park that has witnessed many of these annual events.

More immediately after Tessa became a dame, there was a party in the Commons to celebrate this elevation. While the eschewing of political honours exemplified by Keith Hill, Tessa’s sometime neighbouring MP, is impressive, there was also a lot to admire in the big tent assembled for Tessa’s party. From Tony Blair to Ken Livingston, from Kay Burley to the Southwark News, from Seb Coe to Brixton charities, it exemplified Tessa’s capacity to bring diverse people together.

I saw Tessa most closely in a less high-profile context than delivering the Olympics and Sure Start. At GC meetings in a chilly hall in Herne Hill. My decade on the DaWN GC is the only GC that I have known. I wasn’t going to do anything as sober as serve on a GC as a student and I’ve since moved to a CLP (Birmingham Ladywood) that doesn’t have one.

GCs are like wines. The more you experience, the more – if you pay attention – you appreciate. It initially seemed pretty uninviting and tedious. Over time, the personalities, politics and issues revealed themselves. I came to know DaWN through its GC and my understanding of Ladywood is hampered by its lack of a GC.

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