Archive for October, 2019

Election 2019: Sobering Numbers

Thursday, October 31st, 2019

In 2010 Cameron gained 96 seats for the Tories on 10.7 million votes.

In 2017 May lost 13 seats and her majority on 13.6 million votes

In 2015 Milliband lost almost every seat in Scotland with a net loss of 26 seats overall on 9.6 million votes

In 2017 Corbyn gained 30 seats for Labour and a record surge in Labour votes to 12.8 million, although he began the campaign with the Tories showing opinion poll leads of up to 20+.

Message. Do not underestimate Corbyn. Unpopular in Westminster but in the country there is no other politician who can pull such crowds, with such enthusiasm. And he advanced in the last campaign more than any other leader in any party on record.


The Christmas Election

Thursday, October 31st, 2019

In normal elections there is a general feel at the start which way they are likely to go. This time no commentator would dare to predict the outcome. But as a starter post of what are likely to be many, let me leave you with some themes.

In England and Wales, if the election is dominated by the single issue of Brexit, the Tories believe they will not only win, but win a majority. But if the election comes to be dominated by the state of ordinary people’s lives, austerity, public services, fat cats, climate change and growing inequality in society, Labour believe they will win. And they almost certainly will. If Brexit dominates, but in a negatives sense, in other words people have had enough of it and want out from the apparently irreconcilable Brexit arguments, then the Liberal Democrats will cause havoc in the two main parties. If the Lib Dems win a significant number of seats, they will make Brexit near impossible to deliver.

In Scotland the drive will be independence, with the evil of Brexit the issue to resolve by backing the SNP, who are likely to win back many of the seats they lost in 2017. In Northern Ireland it will not be about basic Brexit, it is a  Remain nation, but about the all Ireland economy and way of life. There will be a likely tilt towards Irish unity and away from old style unionism.

But the most likely element of Election 2019 will be the unexpected. In other words anything can happen and for sure it will.


Brexit Chaos: Now A Three Way Political Duel

Friday, October 25th, 2019

Boris wants an election, but does not have the votes. Even some Tories are scared. Labour as usual says Yes but No. Yes it wants an election but not till no deal is ‘off the table’. It will wait to see what the EU decides about an extension. The EU says Yes to an extension but not for how long. They will decide that when things in Westminster become ‘clearer’. They may have to wait quite a while. We have been waiting over three years.

What happens next?

I have absolutely no idea.

Brexit Latest Part Three: Boris Checkmates Labour.

Thursday, October 24th, 2019

Tonight Boris drops a bombshell. Approve an election and I will give time to scrutinise the Withdrawal Act, so we can leave in an orderly fashion with a deal first. Labour, whose shuffling ambiguities and nuanced murmurings to cover its own disagreements over Brexit have already cost it dear in the polls, putting it 15 points behind the Tories in the latest, with Corbyn’s leadership score the lowest for any leader ever recorded, have been outsmarted and have no choice than to agree. They must then fight, with all their enormous organisational superiority, a doorstep campaign that focuses on the issues which matter to real people. Brexit is a battle for Boris and Farage. Labour can still reverse the tide and win.

But if Labour bumble about and bottle out, the Lib Dems, Farage and a left of centre Tory offer will cream them. The party will deserve what it gets, but it will be a terrible betrayal of the ordinary people of our country who deserve rescue from the most pernicious economic model since the dawn of the industrial revolution.

Labour’s only other option, which would show a welcome bit of bottle, would be to table an immediate motion of no confidence in the Boris government, win it, put Corbyn in Downing Street, organise an election on its terms, with Brexit either done on the current deal tweaked, or on hold until after the election, in which a decider referendum would be part of its offer. A big challenge, not without risk, but one in which the rewards of victory would be very high indeed.

We will know very soon  where we are headed. It is certainly Boris’s moment, but in an era of surprises, it could just be Corbyn’s time. In 1945 nobody expected Attlee to win. Not even Attlee.

Brexit Latest Part Two: Reforms

Thursday, October 24th, 2019

The Constitution

A gobsmacked world  looks on in dismay as the UK slowly throttles itself in a tangle of argument, prejudice, constitutional failure and muddled thinking. So the first reforms are to the constitution. We must repeal the Five Year Parliament Act, restore the royal prerogative of the prime minister to ask for a dissolution without any formal reason and enshrine in law the nature and extent of the executive’s prerogative powers across the piece.

The principles are that sovereignty is owned by the people and expressed through their representatives in parliament. The Executive governs and Parliament legislates. Parliament can sack the executive and the executive can, via the monarch, dissolve parliament; a balance of power which has given this Union a stability of governance in even the darkest hours, but which is now lost.

There must be provision for a fair representation of the issues and interests of the Home Nations, either in a UK parliament, or perhaps by scrapping the House of Lords and replacing it with an elected senate to act as the revising chamber for all and the final backstop for the Union. The title Lords could be retained both for the institution and the elected members.

For all parliaments, not just the devolved assemblies, there has to be a modern voting system which ensures proper representation and majority government, either with or without coalition. The first past the post system, still in use in Westminster and many local authorities, works properly only if there are two parties. Otherwise you end up with power in the hands of representatives most people voted against. In the modern world of technology and social media where the electorate is informed and connected as never before, quite independently of official news, FPP is unfit for purpose

The State

There was once a clear understanding of where the state ended and the private sector began. There was also a clear boundary between individual responsibility to provide and manage, separated from the state’s obligation to support and deliver. Excessive privatisation, outsourcing and regulatory quangos contribute to vast elements of everyday life, paid for or subsidised by taxpayers, but outside democratic scrutiny or ministerial responsibility.

Public utilities and public services are in many cases now at crisis point, made worse by austerity as the norm and shareholder priority as a standard.  Wholesale nationalisation for the sake of it never works but state ownership of critical infrastructure and services certainly does. The state should be player and partner and at times competitor. But for monopolies like the generation and distribution of electricity the state must be the owner. The retail market can be open to private firms, but the state must be an option for those who want to buy their power direct.

At the moment state owned banks are in competition with those privately owned, even in the High Street, demonstrating a seamless blend of different ownerships, in the public interest. Some rail franchises are or have been state run with great success, so the state as a competitive player works. But outsourcing, for example the management of prisons or policing, so that they become a source of profit for shareholders, creates an unacceptable conflict of interest with unsatisfactory employment conditions and delivery shortcomings.

The Economy

The current financial sector dominated economy, powered by asset inflation, is reaching the end of its life. Already it is causing hardship and serious inequalities, as well as sucking money away from new wealth creation. This in turn depletes the tax base, reducing available funding for public services and infrastructure investment, including housing, transport, communications and clean energy.

Reform requires quantitative tightening in the financial sector and an increase in the money supply into the base of the economy to fire up an economic regeneration founded on new wealth, greater than anything seen for several generations. It is complex and beyond the scope of this post. But it is worth laying down a marker. It is a must with or without Brexit. Without it, nothing else will work well enough to fulfil  ambitions for a better future.

Brexit Latest Part One: Deadlock

Thursday, October 24th, 2019

Once again parliament has shown it cannot govern. Agreeing Boris’s Brexit deal is pointless if there is no agreement on how to put it into law. The normal structure of government and opposition has to fall away to be replaced by consensus. Getting the Withdrawal Agreement through all stages in two days is not reasonable, but doing it in five days is. It is more than well known already; it is a modified Theresa May WA without the backstop. So instead of the adversarial line up, the national interest, and the majority of the people of this country who want to move on, demands cooperation and consensus. Having agreed the thing in principle that should be easy.

But it is not, because all those opposing the government want to shower amendments at every level, which will not only make speedy passage impossible, but potentially change the whole nature of the deal. Fearing that last outcome, the government has paused the deal, so we are stuck. If parliament grinds to an impasse, it becomes unfit for purpose. Parliament is sovereign, but in a democracy,  it must be the case that ownership of that sovereignty is with the people. When their vehicle breaks down, they have the power and right to replace it. Unless that right is denied them.

And now that is what is happening. Our busted constitution prevents the prime minister from calling an election and endless manoeuvring for party advantage compounded by disagreements within Labour, stops Corbyn moving a motion of no confidence to bring down the government, which he would almost certainly win. Officially the argument is that a No Deal prohibition must be secured first, but that falls away, since the quickest way to do that would have been to let the WA through to become law. So we are left with the real reason. Labour fears it might lose. Not Labour in the country, the membership and the Unions are gung ho for a fight. But Labour in the shadow cabinet, especially Labour from Islington.

Because what would happen is that Boris would go, Corbyn would temporarily move into Downing Street, but under the idiotic FTPA, he would have to gain a vote of confidence. He would get that only if his policy was to secure a long enough Brexit extension and hold a general election, followed by a referendum. But that would mean that Labour, not Boris, would be the government in charge of the Brexit chaos. And all that would have to be explained on the doorsteps, drowning out their very attractive election manifesto, which, without uncompleted Brexit as a running sore, would be a major vote winner.

So, as I write this, we are stuck. Because even if we have an election, all the polls indicate another hung parliament. It might be that Labour would be the largest party, or it might be Boris. But it could be that the Lib Dems, whose scrap it Brexit policy is the only one anybody understands, might enjoy a surge back to previous highs in the 60 seat level, making four parties, Con, Lab, Lib Dem and Scot Nats. The Lib Dems and the Scot Nats want to kill Brexit and  in that scenario they would have over 100 seats potentially between them, most of Labour is Remain and so will be most of those Tories who get back in. So that could be the end of the Brexit story with the recall of Article 50.

But the numbers could be different, Farage might be there, leading to more deadlock or even a crash Brexit. In either event the saga then continues for not months, but years, even decades, during which the Union will certainly fall.

Which takes us on to Part Two.

Brexit: Now What?

Monday, October 21st, 2019

Once again the position of this Blog is simple. Recall Article 50 and scrap the whole thing. Brexit is a mess. Nobody can agree what it means, nobody can agree what they want, nobody knows how it will work, nobody knows whether there will be benefit or cost. Moreover everybody sees it as an end of uncertainty, when it is in fact a beginning of a never ending era of trade negotiations and arguments which could last a generation.

But all that now takes second place to the real crisis at hand. Our model of government has broken down. Through an apparently harmless collection of Acts, Judgements and procedural manoeuvres, our constitution has entangled itself into an unfathomable muddle between Executive and Legislature, leading to such confusion as to make our Union, once a model of calm and reliable democracy admired across the world, something close to ungovernable space. Parliament may be sovereign and it is certainly the Legislature. But as the last three years have shown beyond all doubt, it cannot govern. And the time when it pretends it can is over.

As a matter of priority parliament has to reinstall authority to the Executive by repealing the Fixed Term Parliament Act and restoring Prerogative powers to the Prime Minister as political Head of State, but with a more coherent specification of what these powers are. They must include the management of the country and its relationship with the world, as existed before 2010, at the very least. Legislation must come to parliament for approval, as must the budget. Parliament certainly must retain its power to sack the Executive, but the Executive must have the power restored to dissolve Parliament and ask the people to elect a new one. This notion that you can run a country by telling the prime minister what letters to write and to whom is plain silly. You cannot govern by giving the Executive a to do list and then refuse to support it.

Neither can you govern with every member of the House of Commons pursuing their own agenda in detail. I hate Brexit. But I hate also schools having to feed hungry children in the holidays and at weekends, foodbanks, extortionate housing costs, homelessness, knife crime, the list goes on and on. And none of this will be fixed while the people charged with fixing it are in a state emotional overload arguing about the critical differences between a custom’s union and the custom’s union. And arguing not just for an hour or two, but day after day, month after month and year after year. With no end in sight.

I shall never, ever again, vote Tory because it is this so called broad church party made up of narrow and unreconconsilable factions, which has run us into this mess. The FTPA, Brexit, offered in a referendum without knowing what it was, austerity without end crushing public services, an outsourcing gravy train to giant monopoly corporations which unaccountably go bust, the rich getting richer at the expense of the poor, are all things support for which I will never give. But I do care that I once lived in a country where reliable government was a given. We have to get back there.

Finally let me leave you with this. It is said  that this is a Remain parliament. Maybe. But if we had not tinkered with the constitution it would have gone long ago. Put another way, the 1935 parliament, which was extended until 1945, was an Appeasement parliament. Had it been invested with the powers of our current legislature, we would, for certain, have lost World War II.

Boris’s Surprise: But Is It Good?

Friday, October 18th, 2019

First let me re-state the position of this Blog. I am a Remainer and the only satisfactory outcome for me is the recall of Article 50 and the closing down of this whole Brexit adventure.

I said at the beginning that Brexit may turn out to be an undeliverable concept. By the end of tomorrow we shall know whether I may still be right, or whether, against all the odds, Boris gets his deal through the Commons, at least in its first stage, that is approval of the latest Withdrawal Agreement. He has, as predicted proved much more flexible than his hard nosed followers expected and , to get his deal, he has abandoned many previously non-negotiable positions. He has abandoned also the obdurate and awful DUP and for that he gets a Gold Star. Indeed if he does get the deal through he will have shown himself to have political gravitas behind a clown mask that his detractors, like me, mocked.

On the other hand it may be parliament will tomorrow reject the deal, but fail to agree on what to do next. This Blog is now almost more concerned about our country becoming ungovernable, because of constitutional dysfunction, than it is about Brexit. Indeed it is already the case that the UK Union is probably damaged beyond repair. Northern Ireland is en route to unite with the the Republic of Ireland and Scotland is closer than it has ever been to voting Yes to independence. Whatever Brexit deal is agreed if any, will only make matters worse, because it has been revealed as a Union in which the Home Nations can be dominated against their will by English nationalism of a kind they find unacceptable. Moreover there are years of uncertainty about what, if any, trade deals can be struck with the rest of the world.

The only thing which can give us the time and space to restore a working constitution, modernise our institutions of governance, heal divisions and fire up the languishing economy, is to recall Article 50. Eventually we will realise we have a choice between being under the economic thumb of the United States, or China, or the EU. We can prosper if we apply ourselves and reshape our economic model to drive wealth creation rather than asset inflation, under any of the three. But only under the EU do we share in the running of the entire project as a major veto power. With the others, we take or leave it. That is why membership of the EU is by far the best of all deals. And the only one in which we can hold the UK Union together, as it is the only one which provides for the Home Nations a backstop guarantee against the ideological excesses of nationalist England.

Will The DUP Block Boris?

Thursday, October 17th, 2019

So far yes, but in a situation as fluid as the current fiasco, anything may happen.

But the DUP must tread with very great care. They are a Leave  party in a Remain country or province. Unionists no longer have a majority in the Assembly, which is why they are making so many difficulties about it re-opening. The majority of every class of people and business in NI support the backstop. Finally polls now confirm that if given the choice of remaining in the EU as part of a United Ireland, or exiting the EU and remaining part of the UK, the majority would go for the United Ireland.

The quickest way to fracture the UK union and make sure of a united Ireland and an independent Scotland is to force a crash Brexit. It is very unlikely in the long term that the UK as we know it can survive the Brexit trauma of the last three and a half years because of the profoundly undemocratic way in which the 2016 Referendum was organised. Forcing both NI and Scotland out against their will is domination by English nationalism that makes the union unequal to a degree which will be unacceptable without major reform of powers and governance. The now chaotic state of the UK’s constitutional structures  makes that a project impossible to deliver.

The DUP. who even opposed the Good Friday Agreement, a sin for which they will find no forgiveness, now face the end of the road. Whatever happens to Brexit its days are numbered.

Trump’s Troubles: How Bad Is It?

Thursday, October 10th, 2019

By a normal measure very bad. But for Trump not so bad. It is the very nature of his presidency that the electoral college votes of almost all heartland America went to Trump. They did not vote for an honourable and righteous man but for the very antithesis.

They backed Trump, not because he was one of those squeaky clean members of the political class which had let them down, but because he spoke their language, understood their problems, articulated their fears and was willing to do whatever it took to change the political agenda in their favour. Moreover he shared their faults and committed their sins. But that was exactly why he would do the job they wanted. And by and large he has. The economy has boomed, rustbelt jobs have returned, stuff they worry about is being fixed. It is America, meaning blue collar America, First.

Yet the China Trade War seems to be getting out of hand, slowing the world economy. There is confusion over American foreign policy with accusations of stabbing allies in the back, an impeachment inquiry which could get really serious and an increasingly impulsive and at times irrational Twitter output. There is no infrastructure renewal as promised. Healthcare is a major worry unresolved. And November 2020 is just over a year away. Trump’s ratings are still good, but they are slipping. That slip could become a slide.

So the verdict is that, even for Trump, his troubles are in the danger zone. It is the case that with Trump, it is always all about Trump. Therefore it is up to him. He can easily make his troubles better. But on past form it is very likely that he might make them a whole lot worse. Nobody knows how he will deal with it all. Not even his closest advisers. Not even Trump himself.