Archive for April, 2017

Short Post: Big Question

Sunday, April 30th, 2017

If Winston Churchill was able to fight and win the greatest war in history, providing strong leadership, without a mandate from the British people, how is it that in our time Theresa May cannot provide either strong leadership or negotiate effectively without one?

Boris Outburst On Corbyn: Echoes of Churchill’s 1945 Blunder.

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

Boris Johnson’s outburst in the Sun, gratuitously mean, insulting and cruel, will not sit well with voters in any party and will backfire. It is the flagrant bullying by the silver spoon public schoolboy of the lad with the scholarship from the terraced home. Corbyn is probably the most honest and transparent politician in the UK today. As this blog has remarked in previous posts, he is not a conventional politician and he does not do point scoring politics. He is a campaigner for causes in which he believes and which resonate with millions as the inequities of the current economic settlement become ever clearer. Corbyn does not do personal attacks either.

So Boris has no fear of reprisal. In fact Boris has form at mocking those unlikely or unwilling to respond. It is his style. It is also, in this Corbyn incident, a blunder. It has echoes of Churchill’s ill judged 1945 speech, warning that Labour would introduce a totalitarian socialist state if elected, with Gestapo style controls and surveillance. It was recognised as a tactical disaster which contributed in no small measure to the Labour landslide.

Labour Must Hold Its Nerve

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

In the face of unprecedented negative poll numbers Labour must hold its nerve and not panic. In the age of social media old verities do not apply in politics. Moods change fast. New ideas become trends in hours. The sheer size in the Tory lead across every kind of poll is like an overheated stock market. Suddenly there is a correction.

The price is now being paid for the appalling infighting over the Labour leadership by the PLP, most of whom spent much of the last year broadcasting their opinion that Corbyn was useless, a loser and an incompetent and would lose any general election he fought. It is small wonder that this has become the common currency at Westminster and across almost all the media. The Tories have now raised their sights from a landslide to a massacre. All they and the media need to do is copy and paste the vitriol about the Labour leader from its sources in the PLP.

The confidence of May is now eye popping. Her sights are set not just upon huge gains in England, but a score at least of seats in Wales and Scotland. The quickest way to zap an independent Scotland is to take a dozen seats, as the party of the Union, from the SNP. That would wipe the smile from the troublesome Nicola Sturgeon and silence all talk of another indy referendum. May would go into the Brexit negotiations with a mandate unmatched by any other EU leader, most of whom head governments built on coalition. The ghost of Thatcher would stalk the corridors of Europe not in admiration but in envy.

Fortunately there is a but. And to this Labour must cling. It is this. There are millions, 24 million to be precise, who are registered but do not vote because they care not about Brexit or the Union or Corbyn. May leaves them cold. They care not for politicians because they have so many cares that drive the challenge of their everyday lives. Within sight of abundance around them they struggle with too little money, too long hours, too many debts and too many worries. Insecurity is their companion 24/7. In a caring society they feel nobody cares not for, but about them.

If Labour stops reading the polls and concentrates on the NHS, social care, mental health, school funding, benefit cuts for the vulnerable, the probation service, social workers, housing costs, loan sharks and much more they will find they offer hope and inspiration to the victims of the dark side of Toryism. And if they motivate them enough to give them the energy to vote and the faith that they really can help themselves through the ballot box by voting for the party and the non-leader who feels their pain, Labour will pull off the biggest political upset ever on June 8th. If Labour hears the cry of the forgotten millions, it will  not be the strident vicar’s daughter who turns up in triumph to the Brexit negotiations, but the grey bearded old man, written off by everyone, but now master of all.

A very British ending that would be. Worth making an effort for. If you care.


Election 2017: Now The Battle Is Joined

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

Labour has now declared that its manifesto will offer a completely different programme for negotiating Brexit, which will be much nearer soft than hard, placing continued access to the single market and customs union high on the priority list. This is the first time since June that any meaningful challenge has been mounted against the Conservatives over Brexit and adds to the already significant threat from the Lib Dems in Remain leaning seats. The Lib Dems and UKIP are the only parties internally united in their attitude to Brexit. Both Labour and the Tories are split, so each has had to reach an internal compromise to come up with an external offer.

In May’s case she has gone for a hard Brexit, with hopes of some concessions from the EU in the face of her tough approach, because to do anything else would cause uproar among her hard core right wing. The benefit to her is that, as she is pursuing hard Brexit, about three million of the four million who voted for UKIP last time will back her. There is evidence that this is happening in the opinion polls and in part explains the surge to nearly 50% in some of them. By playing her Brexit zeal in Leave voting Wales she hopes to pick up seats from Labour and by playing Unionism in Scotland she hopes to pick up another clutch of seats there. Labour has disappeared  from the political map in Scotland and it is the SNP and Conservatives who lead in the polls north of the border, one pro independence, the other pro Union.

By proclaiming for a soft Brexit with some work permit based immigration control, Labour becomes much more attractive to Remain voters worried about their jobs ex EU.  By declaring anti- establishment roots and majoring on all the failures brought on by austerity, Corbyn’s team hope to pull out the five million non-voting former Labour supporters, whose daily lives are a struggle, but who care little about Brexit either way. If  Corbyn and May are both only partially successful in their plans, the result could be a lot closer than people think. Either way. For the moment it looks as if May is home and dry, but this is because hers is the only agenda which people know about. The time to watch the polls is when the campaign is in full swing, about three weeks out from polling day. If you see movement then something could be afoot. If May’s lead holds steady then she is on course to victory. Except in these political times nothing is certain.  The election is one May has to win. Any softening of her Brexit plan could lose her the UKIP vote. Without that she could lose everything.



France Votes For Change: But What?

Monday, April 24th, 2017

We shall not know until the second round completes in a fortnight. The two visions of France are at odds with each other in the battle between Macron and Le Pen.  Le Pen has the simpler, many say simplistic, programme for reform; France for the French, leave the euro, halt immigration, Frexit referendum and so on. Macron is more hopeful and uplifting, liberal and pro-Europe, but less specific. Both are riding a high tide of discontent, but it is not clear that either has chartered a reliable course to calmer waters.

France’s problems are structural as much as economic and social as much as political. With its social model, the euro is over valued, causing France to become less competitive. On the other hand its rival and neighbour, Germany, has enjoyed a devaluation, because the euro is much lower than an independent D-mark. This has made German goods cheap, because it has by far the most efficient economy and it has prospered as never before. But it was France who suggested the euro as a means of curbing German power. In the end it has had the opposite effect. Germany is now the economic and political powerhouse of Europe. Eventually it will be decisions taken in Berlin which will decide the fate of France.

There is little that either Macron or Le Pen can do about that. Both have offered a new dawn. Whoever wins will not be able to deliver that promised sunrise, because, as before, the French people will not support the reforms necessary to make it happen.

Are The Polls Right? Is Blair Coming Back?

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

At this stage we do not know. First the polls. They may be correct if the election were held today, but what will happen on June 8th could be another matter. Because between now and then a lot of variables will come into play which are as yet off the public radar or have not yet resolved. Usually the battle lines are clear when an election is called, but this time those lines will move while it is in progress. Moreover we do not yet know whether this election will be only about Brexit, as it will be for some. But if it turns on the economy, austerity and public services, it will be very different and the Tory position will look a lot less secure. And if it is about Brexit, the question of hard or soft Brexit might be decisive. The Lib Dem posture of championing soft Brexit with the right of the people to decide whether to accept the final terms, could be a major headache for the Tories.

If the turnout is in the 60-69 per cent band the Tories look likely to prize Labour moderates towards them. But if there is a high turnout into the 70s, with 5 million non voters coming out to support the anti-establishment Corbyn led Labour party, which its record membership suggests is possible, then the Tories are in deep trouble, because those non-voters will never vote Tory. They might vote UKIP but a full blooded left of centre Labour manifesto will be very tempting for them. Under attack from Labour on  an economy which favours the few, with its cuts to public services and benefits, and from the Lib Dems on a hard Brexit which threatens the prosperity and quality of life of almost everybody, the Tory dream could  very easily fade.

We will need to see the content of the manifestos before we can gain further insight. Meanwhile there is the outcome of the French presidential election coming down the track which could be game changing and the official declaration of the negotiating terms of the EU to be announced at the end of next week. The sudden appearance of the actual bill the UK will face may well cause a stir. And there is something else. If May wins, but not with a thumping majority, instead similar to what she has at present, she will be seen to have lost in the eyes of the world. She will go into the negotiations not stronger, but weaker.

On the other hand if she triumphs and Corbyn falls, there is now standing in the wings just the person to take the Labour leadership, restore the party to order and lead a powerful opposition to every move she makes. Tony Blair. He said as much on the lunchtime radio today. Because Brexit is so big, even this blog will forgive him for Iraq.

So it is not over yet. It could be just beginning.

Election 2017: The Party Line Up: But Will The Favourite Win?

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

The Tories

The election campaign opens with the Tories the overwhelming favourites. They are way ahead in the polls and May is the only credible candidate for prime minister. It makes sense to give her a mandate, her own, not  a hand me down from the discredited Cameron, so that she can  navigate Brexit and negotiate the best deal for Britain. UKIP, a persistent threat, is now a busted flush, Labour is a joke and the Lib Dems are marginalized. The road is open to a big majority. Go for it. That is the official wisdom. But this blog thinks it could turn out differently.

The Tories won in 2015 with their smallest winning total since the nineteenth century. They gained a million fewer votes than Churchill in 1950 and he lost. They added fewer votes to their 2010 total than Labour, who suffered a massacre in Scotland. A large slice of the Brexit vote was a vote against the establishment, i.e. the Tories.

The Tory intention is to gain a mandate for Brexit, but if the campaign swings to concentrate on the economic structure, public services and austerity, they are vulnerable. The Lib Dems are a major threat in the South, in Remain areas with seats they lost to the Tories in 2015, because of their clear cut, unambiguous Remain leaning approach to Brexit. So how certain is this predicted Tory win?


Labour are the underdogs. The Brits love underdogs. Their leader is a figure of fun. Correction, of  establishment fun. They are all over the place on everything and especially Brexit. But actually the mass of voters have moved on from Brexit and are more interested in low wages, housing costs, public sector pay caps, the NHS, funding gaps in education, prisons, social care and public services generally. There is a widespread belief that the system favours the few at the expense of the many. People, young people especially, are distrustful of politics and politicians.

Jeremy Corbyn is the anti-politician, anti-establishment, disruptive political campaigner and thinker. He is out of tune in Westminster and among people who respond to opinion polls. But among the young and the five million or so who have given up supporting Labour and do not vote, he is a hero who can lead them to better times. If he and his party get some of their ducks in a row they can deny May victory. If they get all their ducks in a row they could win outright, even without much in the way of gains in Scotland. But Labour leadership of an anti-austerity soft Brexit coalition government, with May out of politics and in hiding from angry Tory hardcore Brexiteers,  is not impossible.

The Lib Dems

They start in the best position by far because they have no more to lose and everything to gain. They are in a strong position to win back at least some of the seats they lost to the Tories in 2015, especially in  Remain locations. Their shock victory in the Richmond Park by-election is a pointer to the possibilities opening up for them and the surge of new members joining their party an indication of what might be afoot. They certainly have the capacity to deny May the victory she has gambled on.


It is unlikely the SNP can win any more seats as they hold almost all of them in Scotland, but they can play a powerful role in the next parliament if the expected Tory majority does not materialize, even if they lose a few seats themselves.


They still have the capacity to affect individual results by pulling votes from the Tories or from Labour, but they are unlikely to win any seats of their own. There might have to be a re-write of this if Farage re-enters the race.

Other Small or Regional Parties

If they count in the new parliament, May will have failed in her aim to get a bigger majority. She might even have lost her majority altogether. If that happens, she herself is lost. A Boris moment?

Snap Election: Masterstroke or Madness?

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

The polls are in her favour, so it looks like a  masterstroke. But wait. Elections are never won on the issue for which they are called. Looming in the background is the terrible state of the funding of all the major public services, especially the NHS and education, wages growing slower than inflation, public sector pay capped at an increase that guarantees a loss of real income, a £50 billion bill from the EU which has to be paid before negotiations begin and a very angry Remain camp who find their lives, future, friendships and families are being put at risk to satisfy the vanity project of a bunch of right-wingers who told the biggest political lies in the history of our democracy. So it may not be as easy to get a Tory majority as it looks.

As the campaign develops I will try an analyze the strengths and weaknesses of all the players, but I cannot pretend to be impartial. I am, as readers know, opposed to Brexit in whatever form and regard it as and act of political vandalism of the very worst kind. Not only will it damage this country, it threatens the Union of the British Isles and it may threaten the survival of the  EU itself. We could even soon be looking across the Channel at President Le Pen.

So while the commentary will try to be objective, the backing will go to any party or combination which will bring an end both to austerity and this whole sorry Brexit adventure.

Post Brexit Power: A Mirage?

Monday, April 17th, 2017

As yet it is too early to be sure. But there are already signs that the UK is no longer quite the international force it was before June 2016. Then the special relationship with the US was not just an emotional connection but a practical tool of international power politics. On matters of international relations the UK  was the EU’s foremost power. The authority came not from military strength, but because the UK was the US’s man in Europe and Europe’s key to the doors of the US.

That has all changed, as was demonstrated  when Boris, apparently following May’s half baked instructions rather than his own carefully prepared agenda, cancelled his trip to Moscow. Instead he put forward a silly sanctions plan which the EU rejected, humiliating not just Boris, but the UK’s prestige. Tillerson watched the influence of his closest ally go down the EU plughole and reported to Trump that the special relationship, whilst useful in the intelligence arena, appeared to have lost its practical political value.

Meanwhile America and Russia are now talking, albeit in rather acerbic tones, while the UK is cut out of the loop by its own flat footed diplomacy.  Moreover a buddying up is going on between the Trump administration and China over a potential trade deal and how to finally resolve  the North Korean threat. Osborne’s vision of the UK being China’s best friend in the West has become somewhat clouded by a much bigger attraction to the Chinese across the Atlantic.

In summary America, Europe, China and Russia are all talking to each other over various major international issues but the new global Britain, which the vicar’s daughter promised, is nowhere to be seen. It get’s worse. Her agenda for the Brexit negotiations is about to be rejected unanimously by the EU council. They will demand she pays the exit bill first. That is far from the posture, to use her own phrase, of her negotiating stance.

So what next? Unfortunately that is no longer up to us. We shall have to wait and see what is on offer.

Public Service Funding: The Problem Will Become A Crisis

Friday, April 14th, 2017

Today there are new warnings about funding shortages in education. The government retorts that they are spending more on education than ever before. Of course! There are more children, costs are rising and education is more sophisticated and more costly to deliver. I know of one secondary school which has had to write to parents asking for contributions because they having a funding shortfall of £1 million. On the news bulletins there are funding shortages in all public services. Only in overseas aid are the coffers flush.  Problems are mounting right across the piece, because after nine years of austerity absolutely nothing is properly funded.

This is not because public expenditure is out of control. It is because this government, now in power, either in coalition or with a majority, for seven years, has  promoted about the least efficient economical model it is possible to design. There is no end in sight to austerity because revenues are too low. There is too little wealth creation and too much asset inflation. Productivity is the worst in Europe and we are becoming accustomed to a low wage economy where incomes no longer rise. The tax system is way out of date and utterly unable to deliver what is needed to pay the bills. So government borrowing goes on and on, passing targeted end dates not by the month or the year, but by the parliament. We were promised a surplus at the end of the first. We are now aiming for the end of the third. That will be fifteen years!

And coming down the line is Brexit. That horror story is just beginning.