Posts Tagged ‘Theresa May’

The Monday column: When will Momentum strike?

13/11/2017, 10:00:44 PM

There was a good reason why the Roman Senate forbade the army from entering the city. Armies have a single purpose: to dominate and control. That’s what armies do: They march forward and vanquish enemies. Or there’s not really much point in having one.

From the grand events of antiquity to the humdrum affairs of Labour’s internal politics.

Momentum, Jeremy Corbyn’s Praetorian Guard, was created out of the remarkable insurgency that propelled him to the Labour leadership back in 2015.

It made sense for the Corbnyintes to try and bottle that enthusiasm and organisation, but Momentum was, from the very beginning, created as a standing army outside of the party’s control.

A back-up plan. If Corbyn was usurped by his internal opponents, Momentum could rely on hundreds of thousands of members and graduate into a new left-wing political party.

But June’s general election result has made Corbyn unassailable. His critics have withered. There is no realistic threat to his position, which begs the question: What is Momentum now for? Does it find itself without a purpose, or is it preparing the cross the Rubicon and seize control of Labour’s internal workings?

There have been skirmishes over the past few months, with local branches and constituencies across the country falling under the hard left’s influence. Meanwhile, Momentum’s founder, Jon Lansman, is currently running for a seat on the party’s National Executive Committee.

And while it’s likely that a swathe of moderate councillors will be replaced by Momentum supporters next year, robust local government regulations will prevent the hard left from being able to force through illegal budgets and the like.

But Momentum has bigger ambitions and the mandatory reselection of MPs remains the Holy Grail.

So far, Jeremy Corbyn has been incredibly cautious about triggering a full-on civil war with his MPs over this, but if Theresa May presses ahead with the parliamentary boundary changes for the next election, Labour MPs will, de facto, face mandatory reselection.

Indeed, if she wants to bequeath a once-in-a-generation advantage to her party on the way out of Number Ten, Theresa May will allow the Boundary Commission to proceed with its work of cutting the number of constituencies from 650 to 600.

A full-on offensive to replace moderates with true-believing Corbynites will be too great for Momentum to resist. The resulting schism with the party’s moderate wing will cripple the British centre-left for a generation.

Can Momentum resist the urge to dominate and control?

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The Monday column: It’s time to curb the excesses of our lecherous legislators

30/10/2017, 07:33:08 AM

Westminster is full of priapic politicians and its casual culture of sexual opportunism has demanded attention for decades.

Yesterday’s Mail on Sunday revelations about trade minister, Mark Garnier – referring to his secretary as “sugar tits” while instructing her to purchase sex toys for him – feels closer to one of those dreadful 1970s Robin Askwith sex comedies – but its behaviour that would get anyone in any other organisation the sack.

Everyone in politics is aware of the few bad apples that lurk in each party’s barrel and further revelations about our lecherous legislators will follow in coming days.

The wandering hands, suggestive comments and leering looks are part of the fabric of our dysfunctional system that sees MPs – voting aside – generally left to organise their own working lives.

Late nights and constant boozing hardly help enforce desirable codes of behaviour. Throw in the seedy glamour of politics – the intrigue and back-stabbing – and it’s a combustible mix, for some, who perceive they have a free pass to behave appallingly.

And while laws to protect workers from sexual harassment apply just as readily to Parliament, those abusing their position are abetted by a culture of deference.

Not helped by the fact that the victims of harassment and predation in our political system are usually ambitious people themselves.

At the risk of stating the obvious, discretion is expected in politics. There’s a culture of what goes on in Westminster stays in Westminster and everyone who works there signs-up for that.

MPs demand loyalty, which is why they generally recruit from within their tribe. This inhibits staff facing unreasonable behaviour from speaking out. They know that to do so is career suicide.

None of this makes harassment acceptable, but it helps explain why it happens and why the victims of it are so reluctant to speak out.

Lacing the cafeteria tea urn with bromide might help, but the bigger aim should be to regularise Parliament as a workplace.

Reducing late night sittings and the endless round of receptions and dinners would be a useful place to start.

Ensuring that staffing disputes and complaints are arbitrated by a proper, functioning HR system, as Theresa May seems to be suggesting, is a sensible reform. The risk of investigation should be enough to make all but the most errant MPs behave themselves.

And rather than collecting dirt on their colleagues for the purposes of political leverage, perhaps the Whips offices should be held accountable for the conduct of their MPs.

Making them more accountable is the way to improve the behaviour of those MPs letting the side down. No doubt there will be a correlation between the lechers and the indolent. The hard-working and industrious parliamentarians have little to fear.

No-one enters political life – at whatever level – expecting it to be easy. Politics is and always will be a contact sport.

But when that contact involves being pawed or propositioned – or worse – by sozzled MPs there is clearly a line that needs redrawing.

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The moment to work to veto Brexit has come

26/08/2017, 09:53:46 PM

by Trevor Fisher

Jon Todd’s article Ten thoughts for August raised big questions going beyond one month. It did not trigger an in depth debate, which raises the question whether blogging helps or hinders analytical discussion. But assuming for the moment that it does, here are some points about the immediate future – to the end of the year which is as far as is sensible to look in an age of rapid political surges.

Jon is probably right that an early general election is unlikely to happen but it is not impossible. As May is giving the dominant Brexit wing of her party everything it wants a new leader seeking a mandate is unlikely. The Tory website which could not see a successor – 34% voting none of the above and even David Davis failing to get 20% support shows that the Tories have no real alternative. However folly is folly, and the Tory Brexiteers are majoring in stupidity.

The option of a cliff edge No Deal politics is top of their agenda. If thwarted, May or a successor could call an election with a No Surrender on Brexit platform. Those like Stephen Kinnock, Heidi Alexander and Chuka Umunna who hope Tory Remainers would vote for a soft Brexit and defeat May ignore the political consequences. No Prime Minister could survive such a slap in the face. May certainly could not.

Because of this, there might be a snap election on Brexit. As it is possible that the government might fall Labour has to be prepared for an election at any time up to the moment of decision.  Corbyn told Michael Eavis at Glastonbury he expected to enter #10 in six months. This possibility means a choice has to be made, Corbyn Labour or Reactionary Conservative. It’s unavoidable, and the choice has to be Corbyn. There is no way a Tory government is preferable, as the bonfire of hard won rights through the so called Great Reform Bill will make clear.

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Ten political thoughts for August 2017

09/08/2017, 09:38:19 AM

by Jonathan Todd

August is a time to take stock. Particularly so after a wild twelve months in politics. Here with ten thoughts.

1.) There will be no early general election

Tories can’t agree on much. But they are united in not wanting Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister and will do whatever they can to avoid an early general election that might bring this about.

Labour are powerful enough to subject the Tories to gruelling, parliamentary war but too weak for this to end in an early general election.

2.) Theresa May probably isn’t going anywhere fast

The Tories can’t agree on what form of Brexit should take and, as candidates reflect different Brexit flavours, a successor to Theresa May.

More chairperson than chief executive, she is condemned to try to navigate a peace between the tribes. Which may just hold if, before the election, she both delivers some form of Brexit and stands aside to enable a leadership election in which the post-Brexit Tory future will be personified.

3.) Cliff-edge Brexit is still possible

When Nick Timothy reappeared, the beard was gone. But the cant that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ wasn’t. It would be funny if it wasn’t tragic.

Lord Macpherson, until last year the top official at the Treasury , is quoted (£) as saying the “absence of realism in the government’s approach makes ‘no deal’ an evens chance.”

The magnitude of the calamity that ‘no deal’ portends cannot be understated and no responsible British politician would do anything to encourage this.

4.) But de jure Brexit, de facto Remain may now be the most likely outcome

Uncut does not know the government’s position on free movement. But the contours emerging amount to:

Free movement ends in March 2019 when the UK exits the EU but beyond that date, the government will support whatever arrangements British business tells us are necessary.

The de jure situation would change (free movement would be a prerogative of the UK government) but the de facto one wouldn’t much (our economy will still need and allow comparable numbers of immigrants to arrive from the continent).

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When it comes to Brexit, Farage is in charge of both Labour and the Tories

31/07/2017, 10:09:31 PM

by Trevor Fisher

Jonathan Todd’s Remain piece (17th July) ended with him asking for a speech by the leader at conference denouncing Brexit and vowing to lead the fight against it. But as Rob Marchant has pointed out more recently (26th July), Corbyn has always been anti-EU and telling Marr a couple of weeks ago that his policy was, like UKIP, to take Britain out of the single market was no surprise. This was the man who voted against the Single Market in 1996 and the Maastricht treaty and the Lisbon Treaty and there is only one question to ask about the man who leads the Labour Party.

Why did the Party allow him to run Labour’s Remain campaign into the ground?

But that is history – as will be the anti-Brexit campaign if the parliamentarians cannot be removed from running it. But more of that later. At present, the key issue is why the politicians cannot make an opposition that has an effect. For Labour, Corbyn is the problem. For the Lib Dems, the puzzle is the failure to stand up for anti-Brexit. Its position in the election was for soft Brexit. Much like Labour’s Brexit for jobs. But for the real disaster position, we have to look to the Tories, and their commitment via Theresa May to the dogma that No Deal is better than a Bad Deal. For once I agree with frequent Uncut commenter, Tafia. There will be no deal. The forces that control British politics will not allow a deal since any deal is from their viewpoint a bad deal with hated foreigners.

And who are these forces? Well, as Jonathan may recall, some weeks ago I pointed out at a meeting he was at that the key element is Nigel Farage. I might have done better to swing from the ceiling singing the Hallelujah Chorus. The reaction was that Mr Yesterday had gone, so good riddance and hopefully UKIP has gone too.

But Farage has not gone, just abandoned UKIP with his backer, Arron Banks. According to the Daily Mail, he has botoxed (and a before and after showed the anxiety wrinkles completely vanished), has a new (French) girlfriend and is full of the joys of spring.

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British politics is like cricket – a big score isn’t enough, you have to actually beat the opposition

11/07/2017, 08:32:43 AM

by John Wall

In cricket you not only have to win but also beat the opposition.

The teams walk out, one is such a hot favourite that when they win the toss and decide to bat many think it’s all over. The ball is hit all around the ground and the score mounts. There is a declaration and the other side bats. Things continue badly, they’re quickly skittled out and the follow-on enforced. Then the pendulum swings the other way, batsmen get dug in and the match is drawn.

Despite a large number of runs and some very good individual performances it’s remembered as an inconclusive stalemate, the captain is blamed and replaced – sound familiar?

This is the vote achieved by the first party in the last ten general elections:

Major (1992): 14,093,007

Thatcher (1987): 13,760,935

Thatcher (1979): 13,697,923

May (2017): 13,636,690

Blair (1997): 13,518,167

Thatcher (1983): 13,012,316

Cameron (2015): 11,299,959

Blair (2001): 10,724,953

Cameron (2010): 10,703,754

Blair (2005): 9,552,436

This is the percentage share:

Thatcher (1979): 43.9%

Blair (1997): 43.2%

Thatcher (1983): 42.4%

May (2017): 42.3%

Thatcher (1987): 42.2%

Major (1992): 41.9%

Blair (2001): 40.7%

Cameron (2015): 36.8%

Cameron (2010): 36.1%

Blair (2005): 35.2%

This isn’t rejection of May and her manifesto, she increased the Conservative vote by 2.3 million and 5.5%, and also got 56 more seats than Corbyn.

May’s problem – back to cricket – is that although she “won”, she didn’t “beat” the opposition sufficiently as can be seen by looking at second party percentage shares:

Corbyn (2017): 40.0%

Callaghan (1979): 36,9%

Kinnock (1992): 34.4%

Howard (2005): 32.4%

Hague (2001): 31.7%

Kinnock (1987): 30.8%

Major (1997): 30.7%

Miliband (2015): 30.4%

Brown (2010): 29.0%

Foot (1983): 27.6%

This was largely because the minor parties were squeezed. In 2015 they secured about a third of the vote, but only a sixth in 2017. About 2/3 transferred to Labour and 1/3 to the Conservatives. There was also an age divide, the young voted Labour and the old Conservative.

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Weeks after the result, the 2017 general election has left us with many more questions than answers

27/06/2017, 10:56:41 PM

by Trevor Fisher

As life in the Westminster bubble is now obsessed by the date of the next general election, the last one is slipping away without due care and attention, leaving many more questions than answers.  If the 2017 general election was a horse race, there would have been a steward’s inquiry. The bookies would have demanded to know why the favourite lost – but remained in the winners enclosure – the outsider came up strongly on the rails but still remained several lengths off the winning post, and the winners of 2015 were the losers in 2017 as the SNP fell back in its own hurdle race and UKIP lost most of the 4 million votes it gained in 2015.

The only consistent pattern was poor performance by the Greens and the weakness of the Lib Dems who having been destroyed in 2015 could not convert their opposition to Brexit into votes though 48% of those who voted in the 2016 Referendum voted to Remain. Even the one clear trend that was established on June 8th – the return of 2 party politics as the two main parties hoovered up votes from the small parties,  UKIP mainly going to the Tory Party – is not certain to be a long run trend.

The over-riding problem for analysts of political trends is that we are now in a politics of Surge. It has long been true that opinion polls don’t provide an accurate guide, partly because the old national swings rooted in class politics began to collapse with the rise of fringe parties from the 1960s. But this has come full circle recently with fringe parties rising and falling like a yoyo, while the two main parties rise and fall, with Labour rarely breaking 40% – June 8th was unusual – and the Tories normally ahead.

For example, it was predicted (in the Telegraph) that the Tories were heading for a Landslide, based on marginal seats, which backed up an Independent report by Andrew Grice that the Tories were “heading for a 90 strong majority”.

However the dates on these articles are (for the DT) November 28th 2009 and the Independent 10th November 2009, both 6 months before the election of 2010. The actual election was a hung parliament and as we all know, the Lib Dems went into coalition and were destroyed in the 2015 election, a development which no one saw coming.

Paddy Ashdown said he would eat his hat if the exit polls were correct, and later ate a confectionery hat on TV. In 2015 the SNP wiped out Labour in Scotland and the EU referendum in 2016 took Labour voters in numbers into the UKIP camp, with modest gains from both groups of exiles in 2017. Making the move back to two party politics more effective was the poor performance of  the Lib Dems, as on the one issue they can take a lead on, rejection of Brexit, they managed to fail to take a lead at all. Thus while instability has been a core fact of life for some time, the surges in the election as party performance kicked in were sufficient to mean  the early polling was not worth the paper it is printed on.

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This was Corbyn’s campaign. He led from the front. He deserves the credit

16/06/2017, 05:37:19 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The 2017 election rewrote the rules, and though the opinion polls did well in tracking the Corbyn rise and the stagnant Tory vote, the experts largely missed the increasing popularity of Corbyn though by the time Paul Mason wrote in the FT on June 3rd that “the UK is not a left wing country, but it is a fair one that has had enough of austerity” – he captured something of the shifts taking place, and the shifts are not all to Labour. Working class areas were particularly vulnerable and there is a need to analyse almost on a seat by seat basis – especially with small majorities like the Labour gain in Crewe by 48, and holding on to Newcastle Under  Lyme by 30 and Dudley North by 23. In Stoke Central, where Labour was in a minority, the UKIP vote collapsed but Labour increased, no doubt a result of the by-election where at the peak three months ago 500 Labour canvassers were out. Unlike Stoke South, which the Tories gained. Local campaigns played an important part, especially in Wales.

Nevertheless though May had achieved her target of hoovering up the UKIP vote most of us – me included – once the campaign started failed to understand the Corbyn phenomenon. By the last week of the campaign it was clear that a hung parliament was possible and I wrote this on 4th June, though Labour did not achieve largest party status. But it gained votes and support. The question we all have to answer is why. Starting with Corbyn’s remarkable personal success.

The ability of Jeremy Corbyn to appeal to a popular audience was clear from the start of his leadership campaign in 2015 and no one has begun to understand it, though the attraction has more to do with personality than policies, though the manifesto was supremely important. But Corbyn first. Though telephone canvassers reported that voters were turned off by Corbyn, the crowds at his rallies were and are impressive and as Jackie Lukes reported from Hull, this visibly gave Corbyn confidence and improved his credibility.

Not I think in reaction to what he was saying. At Stoke in September I could not hear his speech as the public address was abysmal – and when he spoke at a Libertines concert just before the Manchester bombings, reports say the crowd cheered so you could not hear him speak. It was not important – but the lack of impact of the tabloid smear campaign linking him with terrorists had something to do with his personal image, like Mandela after Robbins Island he was simply a grandfather figure.

He also played the immediate issues very well, so an apology is due for thinking he was wrong to accept the Brexit vote and to vote for Article 50. These moves defused Brexit and May should have realised this was not going to be a crucial issue in a general election, which will  always be about many issues. While I still think Labour was wrong to vote for the election, that is what the Fixed Term Parliament Act forces the opposition parties to do as rejecting the challenge invites the charge of cowardice, but that was not a charge that could be levelled against Labour. The avoidance of Brexit was tactically sound, but strategically stores up a battle yet to be fought.

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Beware. Labour’s grief may well be post-dated

15/06/2017, 04:23:30 PM

by Kevin Meagher

As cushions go, the ten seats the Democratic Unionists are likely to put at Theresa May’s disposal still only gives her a working majority of two. It’s a cushion cover, not a cushion.

The obvious threat of potential by-election losses (as well as the awful prospect of ISIS attacking MPs in order to collapse the government), means Theresa May’s control of events is time-limited.

She has weeks to restore equilibrium to her government’s authority and will presumably use the forthcoming Queen’s Speech, the summer recess and the party conference season to get back on the front foot.

But then what? She can’t run the risk of seeing her government collapse due to a defection, a death or because of the duplicity of the DUP. She needs to actively plan for a second general election.

Imagine this scenario.

March 2018. Philip Hammond gets up to deliver the Budget. Austerity is cold in its grave as a political priority. He could kick the whole issue of funding adult social care into the long grass by announcing a Royal Commission. He might put up corporation tax a bit in order to offer a basic rate income tax cut and a reprieve for cash-starved councils and the NHS. He might relent a bit on public sector pay too. And then his big reveal: The Tories are scrapping tuition fees.

‘We recognise,’ he intones gravely ‘that saddling young people with debt at the start of their working lives makes it impossible for them to buy a home. As Conservatives we believe in a home-owning democracy so we want to extend that promise to all young people.’

He might even throw in a big, eye-catching measure like a special ISA to help first-time buyers save for a deposit, with the Government putting in half the cash, or similar.

Then Theresa May calls a general election.

Will that enormous surge in support among young people fall neatly into Labour’s column once more? How many will now break for the Tories? How many, in fact, will turn out at all? Was last Thursday’s surge a blip or a paradigm shift, as political scientists would put it? Did that record number of young voters back Labour for socialism or self-interest?

The jury’s surely out on all counts.

The delirium Labour people felt at 10pm last Thursday was precisely because expectations were so appallingly low. That extends to the leadership, which was as surprised as anyone at how things panned out.

But was it merely a reprieve? Has the party postponed the nutting contest with a wrecking ball until next year – or, perhaps, even sooner?

Labour has not earned the right to breathe easy. You can take it as read the Tories will learn from their mistakes. If it came to it, co-opting the popular parts of Labour’s platform would be, for them, preferable to losing.

The big existential threat may still be in front of Labour.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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Reality check: a winning party needs to win, you know, seats

14/06/2017, 11:21:42 AM

by Rob Marchant

For some MPs and commentators, suddenly everything has changed about Labour’s situation. But what, exactly? Did we win, as Emily Thornberry thought we did? Has Jeremy Corbyn now become the nation’s best choice for prime minister? Is it just “one more heave”?

Hmm. Not really. In fact, dig a bit deeper and we might observe the opposite: that in fact, very little has changed at all.

Yes, Corbyn confounded expectations of the votes he could poll nationally. As did Theresa May. However, the mere fact that his impressive upswing in vote-share did not actually win him the election should give us pause, for three reasons.

One: an increase in vote-share (in this case, the largest since 1945) is, self-evidently, not just down to the party and its leader in a given moment. Logic dictates that it is down to three other things as well: the opposition, the leader and state of the party last time, and the opposition last time.

In this case we are talking about May, a leader almost universally derided at time of writing, and who may yet turn out to be the shortest-serving prime minister not to resign through ill-health in nearly two centuries; Cameron, who was felt by the public not to be a bad leader (at least at the time of the 2015 election) and increased his vote; and Miliband, who brought Labour’s number of parliamentary seats close to its 1980s post-war nadir.

In this context, Corbyn’s achievement looks somewhat less impressive: he has done better, set against the terrible May, than the terrible Miliband did against the half-decent Cameron. A low bar indeed.

Indeed if, instead of looking at the swing, we look at his vote-share compared with that of other Labour leaders (perhaps a better measure), we can see that he is around the middle of the table. The real news is the confounded expectations, not the absolute result.

Two: the maths. There is also one thing which really stands out about the big upswing in vote-share compared with other general elections: Labour’s abject failure in translating it into seats. In fact, if we map swings against seats for elections since 1945, we can see that it is a marked outlier.

Fig. 1: Swing vs. seats since 1950. Source data: http://www.ukpolitical.info/ConvLab.htm

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