Posts Tagged ‘Brexit’

Jack Lesgrin’s week: ‘Catch-Up Tsar’ or ‘Level-Up PM’ show Rhetoric and Reality are the new Jekyll and Hyde

10/06/2021, 10:08:11 AM

by Jack Lesgrin

Eventually, the two opposing forces of rhetoric and reality will collide. They always do with Tory governments. For most of the 20th and 21st-centuries, the Tories have been better at creating and owning the narrative, at opportunistic and sometimes vicious campaigning, and some might say, for short periods, at governing too.

As with all parties, they look upon the social, political and economic consensus of the day, that was moulded by governments of different colours over decades, and adapt accordingly, seeking to shift the dreaded ‘dial’ up, down, right or left-wards. The Tories accepted the NHS and welfare state, and Labour came to accept reform of trade unions and a greater role for private enterprise. In seeking election, parties sometimes seek an armed annexation of opponents’ territory, as with Blair’s “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”, or indeed Cameron’s 2006 embrace of environmentalism and oft mis-quoted literal embrace of “hoodies”.

But no amount of spinning, campaigning, Johnson-esque ‘hope-for-the-bestery’ can prevent the clash between a hardwired mentality among most Conservatives that lower spending is more important than higher achievement. This is because, ultimately, despite a few admirable exceptions such as Rory Stewart, or Jeremy Hunt, most Tories, in their heart of hearts do not believe that it is the state’s responsibility to seek to make society fairer, or safer. They will try everything under the sun to avoid admitting the obvious truth that the state is the only actor capable of affecting genuine change, hence Tory governments’ default position of seeking ‘consultation with industry’, or attempting a ‘voluntary code’ to do X,Y or Z.’ Usually, about a decade later, they have to concede that only the state, and law, can sort the issue out. Sugar tax is a good example. Perhaps the most egregious recent example is cigarette advertising. It’s no surprise that it was a Labour government, believing in the role of the state, that banned indoor smoking.

We should beware the illusory effects of the pandemic on British politics. As noted in last week’s column, the clouds parted long enough for the Magic Money Tree to be glimpsed, but the tree is already being hidden away, protected by heavily armed Conservative policy boffins. The government is to be praised for the largesse the state bestowed on people needing support during this crisis. But it would be foolish of the British people, especially the vulnerable, to infer that this is a government of an epoch changing nature akin to that of Atlee, or elements of Blair/Brown.

The Tories’ messaging, and campaigning efficiency in 2010, 15, 17 and 19, conveniently combined with their facing an ineffectual opposition, can convince large enough numbers of voters that compassionate conservatism is on the rise, as Cameron’s environmentalism, or May’s rousing initial emphasis on meritocracy and “fighting against the burning injustice” attests.

Mr Johnson won in 2019 largely on the back of his “Get Brexit Done” mantra, but no one can doubt that the “levelling up” and “Build Back Better” agenda was part of the allure. All rational voters would agree that alongside enjoying apple pie, it would be better to lift-up poorer areas and people to the level of those doing better and it would be good to build a more prosperous and fairer society post-pandemic.

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Labour was right about Brexit in 2017 and wrong in 2019

05/01/2021, 11:20:30 PM

by Kevin Meagher

There was a pretty big irony about last week’s vote on the government’s Brexit bill.

By whipping his MPs into supporting Boris Johnson’s deal, Keir Starmer was making good on a manifesto commitment: ‘Labour accepts the [Brexit] referendum result and a Labour government will put the national interest first.’

Of course, this was from the 2017 Labour manifesto, not the 2019 edition.

That version, influenced by the lobbying of the second referendum mafia, gave a quite different commitment. It promised to ‘

give the people the final say on Brexit.’ After a period of renegotiation, a new deal would be put to the vote, ‘alongside the option to remain.’

It was a lousy policy.

It would have seen Labour ministers constructing a new deal that honoured the party’s red lines around labour market standards, environmental protections, and single market access, only for the party to campaign against it in a fresh referendum, in order to remain in the EU.

Voters are not as gullible as politicians consistently believe.

Right along the Brexit-supporting Red Wall, they smelled a rat, sensing that Labour had no intention of respecting their choice to leave the EU and made plain their displeasure. The rest is, well, history.

So last week’s vote was about earning a fresh hearing with voters. The rights and wrongs of Brexit (mainly wrongs) will have to come out in the wash. There are no votes to be gained in prolonging the agony any longer.

In seeking to modernise Labour after last year’s rout, Starmer will carry on repudiating Labour’s recent past. It is the equivalent of a spring clean, expunging mistakes and decluttering the record in a bid to win a second look from the voters. More often than not, it is an exercise that culminates in a gentle dagger thrust into the last guy’s rep.

In which respect, Keir Starmer was in effect knifing himself last week.

He was the architect of Labour’s policy to back a second referendum in 2019. Jeremy Corbyn must take the overall blame for the party’s various policy, strategy, and presentational mistakes, but he was only trying to keep the peace by backing the muddled Brexit policy that Starmer and others were so keen on.

Perhaps Corbyn should have put his foot down – his policy in 2017 was both straightforward and popular.

Indeed, if the party had stuck with the 2017 commitment – avoiding the impression that they were trying to usurp the voters’ decision about the referendum – there would have been more scope to criticise the final deal. As it was, most Labour MPs ended up voting for a package they don’t believe in and one that Keir Starmer himself conceded was ‘thin.’

Now it is done, Brexit is delivered, and Labour can finally move on. But there will be many other painful concessions to make on the journey towards 2024. Labour still has a mountain to climb and is barely out of the foothills.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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Let’s face it, the moment belongs to Farage

04/01/2021, 08:51:42 AM

by Kevin Meagher

There he was on New Year’s Eve. On Twitter, where else? A simple photo, savouring his victory. A drained wine glass in one hand a well-drawn cigarette in the other. A smile like a crocodile that has just devoured a resting zebra.

He is not bothered about the constant abuse he receives, or even the gallons of milkshake that are poured over him. Its all been worth it. Nigel Farage knows the moment belongs to him.

‘25 years ago they all laughed at me,’ he wrote, (inadvertently paraphrasing a Bob Monkhouse gag), ‘Well, they’re not laughing now.’

And, indeed, we are not. We are out of the European Union and without Farage’s constant endeavours over the past quarter of a century, there would have been no Brexit.

Boris will convert the opportunity, but it is Farage who created it in the first place. A Home Counties John the Baptist. Starting out in the political wilderness, converting an army of believers one at a time with a mixture of unshakable conviction and his reptilian charisma.

He may be a figure of loathing for the left/liberal/SJW cohorts, but he is also something they themselves want in a leader. He is conviction politician. Ideologically coherent. Authentic to voters. He leads from the front. Eternally optimistic. If only the left could offer someone with similar attributes.

You do not have to like him to concede that he has made the biggest impact on British politics since Thatcher. His influence may well be baleful, but it is pervasive. A brilliant communicator and the best campaigner since Blair, he is a worthy adversary.

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The Uncuts 2020 (part III)

01/01/2021, 09:52:21 PM

U-turn of the Year: Boris Johnson and the Northern Ireland Protocol

‘You turn if you want to,’ Margaret Thatcher famously declared at the 1980 Conservative conference, ‘the Lady’s not for turning.’

Only she was.

Having let ten republican hunger strikers go to their deaths a few months later, she quietly relented on their central demands to be treated as political prisoners.

And having promised Ulster unionists that she would not play footsie with Dublin, Thatcher foisted the Anglo-Irish Agreement on them out of the blue in 1985 – guaranteeing the Irish government a say over Northern Ireland’s affairs.

Following in his heroine’s footsteps, Boris Johnson has also pulled off a similar U-turn, with the smell of burning rubber still hanging in the air.

The Northern Ireland Protocol guarantees there is no hard border on the island of Ireland by introducing a border in the Irish Sea instead – a key demand from Brussels, with adroit lobbying from Dublin and a not-so-subtle intervention from US President-elect, Joe Biden.

It means that Northern Ireland effectively stays inside the ambit of the EU when it comes to the import and export of goods.

This is not, shall we say, what Boris Johnson promised when he addressed the Democratic Unionist Party conference in 2018.

Back then, he told delegates that special arrangements for Northern Ireland would mean consigning it to the status of an ‘economic semi-colony of the EU.’

This would be ‘damaging the fabric of the Union’ and mean regulatory checks and customs controls between Britain and Northern Ireland.

‘No British Conservative government could or should sign up to anything of the kind,’ he said.

You do not need a crystal ball to work out what happened next.

To say there is apoplexy among unionists and loyalists over Boris’s betrayal is an epic understatement. (And we are talking David-Lean-Lawrence-of-Arabia-epic).

Yet, there are fewer and fewer unionist sympathisers in Westminster and so no-one is particularly miffed on their behalf.

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Labour must not try to board a sinking ship

30/12/2020, 08:02:17 AM

by Robert Williams

Promising to commit national economic suicide and break up the country more compassionately and efficiently is not really a vote winner.

Nevertheless, that is what Keir Starmer’s New! Improved! Shallow Cabinet is determined to do.

Despite splits over whether to back a Brexit deal, with some shadow ministers threatening to resign and backbench Labour MPs warning that up to 60 could rebel if Keir Starmer insists they back the government’s truly awful thin gruel deal, the party seems determined to lay claim to be the second worst opposition ever.

Labour’s dilemma is a continuation of its uncertain and internally divided position on Brexit and has been a sore point long before Keir Starmer became leader. The harsh justice is that. Labour has been consistently awful, short-termist, dishonest and cowardly for the last four years, and deserves severe criticism.

If Starmer carries through his intention to whip Labour MPs to vote for this deal, they will be neither honourable, honest or credible. You cannot be if you accept a tissue of lies, know very well that they are profoundly damaging, and do not dare oppose them because you might offend those who believed the lies.

Since he became Labour leader, Keir Starmer has, rightly, focused on competence, or rather the complete lack of it in the Johnson government. But he has deliberately ignored Brexit and the consequences of our exit from the EU, ostensibly to avoid falling into the “trap” of appearing to be pro EU. And yet there is no policy more incompetent and based on ideological lunacy than Brexit.

Quite why pointing out the damage any Brexit will cause (and is already causing) is bizarre. It becomes clearer with every passing day.

Ah, but Labour wants to show it has “moved on” from Brexit to it’s former “Red Wall” seats in the North, say some shadow ministers. Shadow Business minister Lucy Powell suggested on HuffPost UK’s Commons People podcast that refusing to vote for a deal would amount to “putting two fingers up” to ex-Labour voters who back Brexit. The shadow business minister said it was “better to be strong” and take a position.

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Labour’s splits over Brexit and Corbyn are threatening to spiral out of control

30/11/2020, 11:34:35 PM

by Trevor Fisher

Brexit has been driven off the front pages by Covid 19. This has created what can only be called The Reality Gap. The real world of the negotiation on the Withdrawal Agreement has been overlaid by the determination of the Johnson administration to walk out on January 1st whatever happens. A sensible government would have extended the deadline until after the Pandemic was beaten, but sense and sensibility are absent in an increasingly unreal world where debate is minimal.

The negotiations are clearly posing serious threats, either of a thin agreement – still the most likely outcome – or a No Deal. The slogan which won the 2019 election of an Oven Ready Deal was never realistic. A deal likely to keep the same terms as the UK now enjoy was not on the table. As the pandemic has done major damage to the British economy, a thin deal could create a major recession. No Deal would be worse. But as the British cannot deal with two major threats at the same time, Brexit has become invisible.

The risks were underlined in mid-November by the BBC report that Felixstowe – Britain’s major container port – was blocked and imports were stranded, some having to go to Rotterdam and come in by other ports. The delays will continue through December and into the New Year – withdrawal is not going to help the situation.

In Kent the lorry access through Dover and the Channel ports after January 1st is so problematic that lorry parks for up to 7000 lorries are being built. For the companies that rely on imports and exports, on top of the pandemic, the financial consequences of the Felixstowe bottleneck are already very serious.

Since problems with trade have such major risks, the Labour Party should be putting all its energies into holding the government to account. Sadly it is in danger of lapsing into civil war over the EHRC report and the removal of the parliamentary whip from Jeremy Corbyn. As this could involve legal action -hopefully this will not happen – any discussion of this is inadvisable and could be sub judice.

Indeed some elements of the Left – including Jon Trickett – believe Labour should apologise for backing a confirmatory referendum and not lining up with Farage, Johnson and Cummings in regarding the 2016 vote as the last word. Their views were set out in an article on Labour List on November 12th demonstrating continued fault lines in the Party over the successful attempt by the Tory Right to split progressive forces. However this does not mean that Labour should ignore the problems coming in six weeks time. Certainly the current internal ructions are a further distraction, and if unions do withdraw election funding the next five months up to the May elections this will threaten the basic function of the Labour Party – to fight and win voter support.

The Party is starting to spiral out of control.

Trevor Fisher was a member of the Labour Coordinating Committee executive 1987-90 and secretary of the Labour Reform Group 1995- 2007. He was a member of the Compass Executive 2007-2009

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Labour needs to be bolder. Keir Starmer should call for an extension to the Brexit deadline until Covid is under control

15/11/2020, 11:23:53 PM

by Trevor Fisher

Whatever is happening inside Number 10 with Cummings and Lee Cain reportedly ousted, it is clear that a turning point has been reached. This is likely to be Brexit related, as it was never the case that the slogan “Get Brexit Done” was within reach even before the pandemic struck. There was no “Oven ready deal” that could be simply signed off, and the sensible thing to do even for committed Brexiteers was to postpone the extension deadline to get the pandemic sorted. Labour should be saying this, but instead the Hard Left spokesmen Jon Trickett, Ian Lavery and Laura Smith issued a report titled No Holding Back on 12th November.

This lined up with full throttle Brexiteers who aim to take Britain out of the remaining EU arrangements on January 1st, advocated by Nigel Farage and his associates on the Far Right of the Conservative Party. Farage reacted to reports Cummings was going with the fear that Brexit would not be delivered. We will see in the days to come whether this is the case, but in the meanwhile Trickett and Co demanding that Labour apologise for cautiously wanting a confirmatory referendum on Brexit is nonsense. The 2019 result was bad: it would have been much worse if Labour had drive Remain voters into the arms of other parties: as it managed to do in Scotland anyway.

While a postponement of the Brexit negotiations is the compromise even  Brexiteers could accept,   the fundamentalists like Cummings, Cain and Farage were always unlikely to do so, but Labour could and should be saying it is time to postpone negotiations. Sadly even on less contentious issues Labour is unable to require sensible changes of course by the government. The most immediate is cancelling school exams in England in summer 2021. Tory policy to reinstate exams next summer is a bridge too far. Schools have lost five months teaching March to July. The only pupils who will have been taught the syllabuses completely are in boarding schools, or pupils with rich parents who can buy in coaching or online teaching or both.

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No Deal Brexit could blow Starmer’s strategy

01/10/2020, 10:43:42 PM

by Dan Cooke

Brexit is back. After months when the government’s shambolic response to Covid has monopolized political debate, the imminent expiration of the Brexit transition period on 31 December has reignited the intermittent interest of UK commentators in the nation’s future relationship with the giant trading block on our doorstep.

It took even more than this looming deadline to force Labour’s new Leader and his team to break their strategic vow of silence on anything related to Brexit. Only the furore over Johnson’s lawbreaking internal market bill forced a vocal but limited Labour response: to stress repeatedly that the government must focus on agreeing a deal; and No Deal would be a “failure “ that Johnson would have to “own”.

The first part of this assertion is self-evidently correct. No Deal would be disastrous – not just for Britain’s terms of trade, with the resultant imposition of EU tariffs on goods including cars, food and cosmetics, but also for essential co-operation on national security –  and would simultaneously create the worst possible environment in which to resolve the many vital open matters outside the scope of the current negotiations, such as seeking recognition of equivalence for Britain’s financial services sector.

Such an outcome would be, as Johnson once put it, an epic “failure of statecraft”, for which he and his advisers would be damned by history. However, if that verdict concerned them in the slightest they would have long since stopped getting out of bed in the morning. Instead, they know all too well that the Devil has all the best tunes. They most likely recognize – as Labour should too – that, in the foreseeable future, the fall-out from No Deal offers more favourable political terrain to this government – and one more challenging for the Opposition  – than any deal reasonably in prospect.

Let’s start with the alternative. Suppose a deal is announced with great fanfare in late October, in time to be ratified by year end. Johnson reprises his trick of last November, by returning from Brussels with a last minute agreement, achieved by compromising on his own red lines behind the cover of bombast and boosterism. This time around, the implicit threat of imposing a hard border in Northern Ireland through the Internal Market Bill is likely to be presented as having intimidated the EU into imagined concessions.

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Labour must beware the Tories’ ‘Miliband minority’ attack line – it worked before, it could work again

30/09/2020, 10:53:48 PM

By David Talbot

The country has become rather used to going to the polls. Three times in four years, no less. The hattrick of recent elections ushered in a Conservative majority for the first time in 23 years. The Conservatives were successful in turning the 2015 election into a de facto referendum on a minority Labour government. The attacks on Labour’s supposed dependence on the SNP gained wider resonance because of voters’ deeper suspicion of its leader and the party he led, but the Conservatives’ campaign created a palpable fear of a minority Miliband.

Fast forward two elections and Brexit has created a remarkable Conservative alliance. By making people’s identity, and the values they hold, the central tenet of the past four years of British politics, the Conservative party has fundamentally reinvented itself from Cameron’s modish liberalism.

From its traditional affluent, Shire-dwelling support to ripping through the Red Wall, it has taken the party to the highwater mark of British politics: 14 million votes. This is in and around the number of votes the Labour Party must achieve if it is to win the 2024 election.

The government’s electoral coalition, although mighty, is unstable. That is why it will continue to focus on socially conservative signalling and policies on law and order, national security and cack-handed attempts to reheat Brexit’s culture wars.

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Labour needs to talk about Brexit

15/09/2020, 11:13:23 PM

by Robert Williams

There is an ongoing debate in the Labour Party about whether Sir Keir Starmer should talk about Brexit. There have been so many other sticks with which to beat the government with, on COCIV test and trace, the highest excess death rate in Europe, the neglect of care homes, the growing scandal of PPE procurement contracts that make Al Capone look like an honest businessman, the A level fiasco. I could go on, and simply list the failures of Boris Johnson and his government for another few thousand words, but readers might lose the will to live.

So why reopen the wound of Brexit, which certainly contributed to Labour’s worst electoral performance since 1935. Why should Labour risk the wrath of its former Red Wall voters? They may not have liked Jeremy Corbyn, and that played no small role in making Labour less popular than a bad case of diarrhoea, but the Brexit saga was also significant. (Sorry for the analogy, but Corbyn was utterly toxic to voters, including former Labour voters, and it feels appropriate for his effect on the body politic).

Voters were exhausted by the political drama and wanted it over. They seized, or at least a large enough proportion of voters in key target seats did, on the promise of an “oven ready deal” and gave the Tories their largest majority since 1987. So one can understand why Labour has been as quiet as a monk in a silent order on Brexit. Even at last week’s PMQs, Keir Starmer did not mention, even in a limited and specific way, the government’s proposals to break international law.

The Labour leadership thinks that talking about Brexit at the moment is a lose-lose situation for them. It will remind voters, particularly those in the “Red Wall” that Labour backed Remain (it didn’t, they promised to renegotiate Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal and put it to another public vote – and yes, it was a farcical policy). Labour also fears that raising Brexit again will take the focus off the government’s handling of our exit from the EU. The “don’t interrupt your opponent making mistakes” view. And finally, Labour thinking is that they cannot do anything about Brexit in any case now that the government has a majority of 80.

So silence, as the government damages its own reputation for competence and now reneges on its own election manifesto – the one Johnson made every one of his candidates pledge to support – is, possibly sound politics. Let the government destroy themselves and wait on the sidelines. It is appealing, but I think it is wrong

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