Category Archives: EU

Will the moderates stand up and be counted?

It is not an easy time to be a political moderate. The Labour Party has been captured by the left-wing Corbyn project and the Conservative Party is increasingly being driven rightwards. In the age of ‘populism’, being a moderate does not seem to be a sensible career choice.

Let’s start by looking at the Labour Party. First; their internal organisations. The left of the party has a clear majority on the National Executive, following recent elections and will only see their power enhanced by the resignation of Labour General Secretary Iain McNicol. Secondly; their membership. The Labour membership is dominated by those sympathetic towards Corbyn. This isn’t changing anytime soon. Thirdly and lastly; political reality. Moderates on the Labour side believed the General Election would finish Corbyn off. That was wrong. Labour’s 2017 General Election performance only strengthened Corbyn’s position.

Now onto the Conservative Party. Firstly, who runs the party. A leaked letter from the famous European Research Group set out clear terms of what is expected from Brexit. It would not have escaped Downing Street’s attention this letter had enough signatories to trigger a vote of no confidence. Secondly, the future leadership contest. Jacob Rees-Mogg is clear favourite to be the next Tory leader. His position strengthens with the day (although it is not clear MPs would let him into the final two). Lastly and as with Labour; the political reality. Some strategists in the Conservative Party believe the party can hang onto power not by regaining socially liberal voters, but by moving culturally right and taking votes in Old Labour heartlands. The direction of travel is clear.

However, there are MPs in both parties who are unhappy with this situation who share more in common with each other than certain wings of their party.  So what can they do?

For Labour moderates, there is no clear path to them regaining control soon. Corbyn will not continue forever, but looking at the current membership, it seems inevitable a Corbyn ally will follow. For Tory moderates the chance appears remote. Yes, a Tory leadership contest in this Parliament opens the possibility of putting a moderate on the ballot paper. However, could a moderate win with the membership?

So, what happens next? Firstly, they can form alliances in Parliament and drive the agenda this way, using parliamentary arithmetic to their advantage. Secondly, there is the nuclear option. A new party. Maybe, just maybe this is the way for moderates to coin a phrase ‘take back control.’ This will require bravery and putting aside tribal differences. As time develops, this option may become the most viable. As their parties drift away from them, moderate MPs must consider all options.

These MPs may have to accept the time has come or is coming for them to make a stand. The decision is simply for them; do they allow this to continue or do the act? Over to you moderates!

Pressure builds on Theresa May

With Theresa May away in Davos this week, pressure has continued to mount on her at home. The latest drama begun with a tweet from Nick Boles who criticised the lack of ambition of the Government. This was followed by Sir Nicholas Soames who branded Theresa May’s vision as “dull, dull, dull.” The drama threatened to blow into a full-brown crisis when media reports indicated a vote of no confidence in Theresa May may be imminent.

Additionally, Theresa May has also had to deal with calls from Boris Johnson for more money for the NHS and Chancellor Philip Hammond angering Tory Brexiteers by calling for a soft Brexit.  This caused new chairman of the European Research Group Jacob Rees-Mogg to intervene who called for a fundamental change in ministers tone on Brexit.

So how much trouble is the Prime Minister in? In regards to a vote of no confidence in her leadership, no-one can be totally sure. A quirk of the Conservative leadership system is that only the chairman of the 1922 Committee Graham Brady will be aware of how many letters he has been sent calling for this vote. This vote would be triggered if Mr Brady receives 48 letters, 15% of the Conservative Parliamentary Party. It is hard to predict with any certainty how many letters Mr Brady has.

Events are starting to move in an ominous direction for the Prime Minister though. Firstly, the Brexiteers are starting to mobilise. Secondly, the criticism of May is becoming public.  Thirdly, the botched reshuffle highlighted how little authority the Prime Minister has. This is a powerful combination. This led to Philip Hammond calling on rebel Tories to “stick with” Theresa May.

Theresa May’s position has been under threat since the disastrous General Election. Famously described by George Osborne as a “dead woman walking” on the weekend after the election, nothing has changed since then. Theresa May has always been at the whim of her backbenchers. If the mood is turning bleaker then Theresa May’s grip on power is likely to be fading fast.

What may save her, is the only thing that has been saving her to date, mainly the Conservative Party doesn’t want a leadership contest and there is no obvious replacement. However, this won’t last for ever.  Theresa May and the Conservative leadership remain in a state of stasis. A leader with no vision and no plan will always be on borrowed time. And that is what it is increasingly feeling like with this Prime Minister.

What now for UKIP?

UKIP has enjoyed better days. Embattled leader Henry Bolton, (the party’s fourth in two years) remains under pressure over racist remarks made by his then-girlfriend Jo Marney. Bolton, under pressure from the party hierarchy split from Marney, only to be caught seen having dinner with her this week.

The backlash from this saga has been severe on UKIP.  West Midlands UKIP MEP Bill Etheridge resigned as a party spokesperson and called for Bolton to stand down, with fellow MEP Jonathan Arnott quitting the party totally. Furthermore, rumours abound Bolton will face a vote of no confidence from the UKIP NEC this weekend, but may survive due to the party being unable to afford the contest to replace him.

UKIP has been on a downward spiral for some time.  The 2017 local elections saw the party lose all but one of their councillors. Following on from this, the party went on to gain only a measly 1.8% of the vote in the 2017 General Election. Recent revelations have also indicated the party is losing members. This is not a party moving forward!

It’s not always been like this for UKIP. It was their initial growth which was a factor in Cameron promising the EU referendum in 2013. Additionally, UKIP won the 2014 European elections, gained 2 defecting MPs from the Conservatives and secured nearly 4 million votes at the 2015 General Election. History will still show their impact on UK politics in the last decade as being significant.

So what has happened? Firstly, larger than life former leader Nigel Farage stepping down in 2016 after the EU referendum was a hammer blow for the party. Farage brought air time, recognition and relevance, attracting voters across the country. The party has never fully recovered or found a new appeal.

Secondly, they won. UKIP’s sole purpose was to secure and win a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. Now this has been achieved a large proportion of UKIP’s supporters feel the job is complete.  What is their left for UKIP to achieve or campaign for?

Lastly, the internal organisation of the party is shambolic. UKIP have always lacked professionalism and structure. Without this base, no political party can sustain itself for the long term. The chaotic nature of the party is a significant factor as to why it’s in this mess.

UKIP has been written off many times before only to bounce back, but this time it seems like it is at the end of the road. A party with no cause, no charisma and no organisation has no place in UK politics. Until one or probably all three of these factors change UKIP will be destined for the scrap-heap. Still, they can always claim it was fun while it lasted.

 

Both May and the Government will survive 2018

Politics in the United Kingdom is becoming notoriously difficult to predict. Therefore, it may seem like a fool’s game to predict what will happen this year. However, that is what I am about to do. My predictions are as follows:

  1. Theresa May will still be Prime Minister
  2. The Government will not have fallen.

Let’s begin with my first statement. Theresa May’s position has appeared precarious since the General Election. The loss of the Conservative majority appeared to be a fatal blow from which the Prime Minister could not recover. Undoubtedly, this weakened the Prime Minister, but yet she has clung on and will continue to cling on. Why?

Mainly, it is because the political climate has not changed substantially since the morning of the 9th June 2017. Firstly, there remains no obvious candidate to take over from the Prime Minister. Secondly, Conservative backbenchers remain nervous about whether a move against the Prime Minister would hinder Brexit. Lastly, there does not appear to be a desire from any potential candidate to take over the role whilst Brexit negotiations are ongoing. The Prime Minister’s future is inextricably linked to Brexit and whilst Brexit talks are ongoing which they will continue to be during 2018 then her position is safe.

Ok, let’s now move onto the second statement. The Government only has a small majority and is reliant on support from the DUP. In theory this means the Government is vulnerable. Additionally, we have seen the Government face defeats in the House of Commons since the General Election. So, given this political environment, how can I be so sure the Government will survive 2018?

The answer is simple: Jeremy Corbyn. A number of Conservative MPs may have misgivings about the direction of the party and their policy positions, notably around Brexit. But, crucially they will not do anything to make a Corbyn premiership and an early General Election more likely. The other players to consider in this calculation are the DUP. The DUP have always been highly critical of Corbyn and McDonnell. A Government led by those two would be seen as a disaster by the DUP.  The DUP may seek to renegotiate their current terms but would not facilitate an early General Election and bringing down the Government.

2018 will bring more political surprises and shocks, but I firmly believe these two things will stay the same. In reality only time will tell. Happy 2018 all!

 

 

 

Virgin Trains is wrong to stop selling the Daily Mail

Virgin Trains has announced it is to stop selling the Daily Mail on its West Coast trains. Virgin explained the decision by claiming the paper was not compatible with the Virgin brand and beliefs and that considerable concern had been raised by employees about the Daily Mail’s editorial stance on certain issues such as LGBT rights, immigration and employment.

The decision by Virgin Trains has drawn a considerable response. The Daily Mail unsurprisingly hit back calling the decision “disgraceful.” The decision was also criticised by Boris Johnson who labelled the decision “absurd” and Jeremy Corbyn who said “there would be no bans on a publicly owned railway.” A rare moment when the Foreign Secretary and leader of the opposition were in agreement. Not everyone has been critical of Virgin though. Jane Fae for instance in The Guardian supported the decision of Virgin claiming the paper does not match Virgin’s brand identity.

Virgin’s defence of this decision has been centred on the editorial line and position of the Daily Mail. This is crucial, as this makes the decision a moral and ethical one rather than a business call. If this had been explained as a business decision than the backlash would not have been as severe.

To clarify, this is not a defence of the Daily Mail. I do not read the Daily Mail and rarely agree with their editorial lines. I find the language they use toxic and that as an outlet they do very little to enhance constructive debate on most occasion. I am not a fan of the newspaper and do not see myself ever becoming a Daily Mail reader. However, that is not the crux of the issue in this instance. The real principles in play are that of censorship and freedom of press.

I believe fundamentally people in this country should be free to buy the newspaper they desire. Additionally, I believe that if you do passionately disagree with a editorial line of a newspaper line you choose to engage with the argument rather than ban the newspaper. Living in a free society with an open press means you come across opinions you disagree with. This is to be expected and applauded.  Believe me, the alternative is far worse. Let people decide for themselves what they want to read.

Britain remains divided over Brexit

On Monday, Theresa May will to travel to Brussels for lunch with Jean-Claude Juncker and Michel Barnier. Prior to this meeting, the UK will have present proposals on the Brexit Bill, the Northern Irish border and citizens rights. These proposals will then be debated and discussed by the EU27 who will decide whether “sufficient progress” has been made to move talks onto the next stage.

Regardless of how these talks develop and how the proposals are received, it appears unlikely it will impact significantly change public opinion in this country which remains firmly divided on Brexit and whether to hold another referendum. As parliament continues to debate legislation, public opinion on Brexit and the European Union has remained relatively static.

Polling from Opinium shows Remain would have a 1% lead should the EU referendum be held today. However, that remains well within the margin of error. Furthermore, the polling shows that 91% of Remainers and 88% of Leavers would stick to their 2016 vote. Lastly, only 35% of the public are in favour of a deal on the terms of the referendum against 53% who are opposed to a referendum on the terms of a deal.

This shows that despite a perception that Brexit talks have been handled badly to date and that according to YouGov, those that believe the Brexit vote was the wrong decision have a four point lead over those who believe it was the right decision, there remains no overwhelming desire for a second referendum on Britain’s membership or even a referendum on the terms of the deal.

Voters are liable to change their mind and may yet do so but presently there is no clear evidence that this is happening. The General Election (albeit a few months ago now) offered a test of whether British voters wanted to change their mind on Brexit. There was no clear evidence that they did. The noises about reversing and stopping Brexit are coming from the same voices. These are voices which are being driven by their own opinions rather than by the weight of public support and it will always be the latter that politicians will be concerned about.

As the Government prepare and plan their next move, it is clear as it has been since the 24th June 2016, the UK will leave the European Union. The only real question is whether the UK leaves with a deal or without a deal. Sorry, Remoaners we really are leaving!

Have we reached peak Corbyn?

The Government is stumbling from one crisis to another. Two senior ministers have resigned in the last few weeks and many others are under pressure. Brexit talks appear to be at an impasse and there are doubts whether the Government can get the current Brexit bill through Parliament. Under these conditions, most political analysts would expect the opposition to enjoy a substantial and growing lead. Yet this isn’t happening. So why have the polls not moved dramatically?

Firstly, it is not totally fair to say there has been no movement. The Britain elects poll tracker has a slight Labour lead of 1.5%. This is a change from the General Election where the Conservatives enjoyed a 2 point poll victory over the Labour Party. Labour has also gained 9 seats in council by-elections since the General Election whereas the Conservatives have lost 10. So, the evidence does suggest that the Labour Party is ahead at present.

However, that is not enough for many on the Labour side. Former leader and known Corbyn critic Tony Blair has suggested his party should be 20 points ahead. He has not been alone in his criticisms. One possible answer for the current static nature of the polls could be that we have reached peak Corbyn.

Jeremy Corbyn shocked everybody with his performance at the 2017 General Election. His energy and enthusiasm on the campaign trail was a pivotal factor in costing the Conservative Party an overall majority. This looked to have terminally wounded Theresa May. Yet, May has held on despite coup attempts, a disastrous conference speech and reports that up to 40 MPs are willing to call for a vote of no confidence. Not only this but she still retains a small lead over Jeremy Corbyn in the question over who would make the best Prime Minister. This lead is small, but it is consistent and has been static for the last few months after Corbyn made significant ground before. Very few leaders of the opposition have made the transition to Number 10 without leading on this question.

There could be several sensible explanations for these polls and given what has happened with political polling in the last few years we must take these findings with a pinch of salt. All political parties and leaders do have a ceiling though. Corbyn has divided the nation and maybe given his brand of politics, this is as high as we can expect him and Labour to go. However, until we see further evidence it would be foolish to consider this anything more than a working hypothesis.

What to do about Boris?

Boris Johnson is a politician who divides opinion; a marmite figure if you will. Not many sit on the fence when it comes to the Foreign Secretary. Boris is also a figure it is hard to keep out of the news. His ‘unique’ style and tendency to say the wrong thing at the wrong time makes him a journalist’s dream. Qualities that some might argue are not becoming of a Foreign Secretary.

This week Boris has found himself under pressure again following comments he made to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. The Foreign Secretary stated that a British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe jailed in Iran had been teaching people journalism at the time of her arrest. Her family and employer have always maintained she was on holiday at the time of the arrest. The Iranian judiciary and media have seized upon these comments and claimed he has now revealed the truth about her actions. Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe has already been sentenced to five years in jail, but could now see this sentence increase as a result of the remarks.

Mr Johnson has since apologised if his comments had “caused anxiety.” This apology of sorts does not go far enough for many and senior Conservatives have called for the Foreign Secretary to be sacked. Mr Johnson has also said that he is willing to meet the husband of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe before he visits Iran in a couple of weeks. This is a trip which could have potentially serious ramifications for his future.

When considering whether the Foreign Secretary should be sacked, it is important to remember we don’t live in normal political times and he is not a normal case.

Presently, Theresa May has limited power. Two Secretaries of State, Sir Michael Fallon and Priti Patel have just resigned from the Government. Parliamentary arithmetic is difficult and Brexit legislation dividing the party is coming fast down the line. This is not an ideal time to sack your Brexiteer Foreign Secretary.

Furthermore, for all his faults Boris is a ‘Heineken politician.’ He reaches the parts of the electorate few other can’t. He was the Conservative candidate who won the mayoralty in Labour London twice. He was the spearhead behind Vote Leave’s success in the EU Referendum. This would be a man people could flock to on the backbenches.

When deciding her next move the Prime Minister has a lot to consider. Britain cannot afford to have a Foreign Secretary who endangers the lives of our citizens abroad. However does the Prime Minister have the authority to carry out the sacking and would she survive the resulting repercussions? It is an unenviable position for a Prime Minister already on life support to face.

Why has the Idea of a Second Referendum not Materialized?

What makes democracies flourish is scrutiny. Opposition to government brings out the best of the governing parties through scrutiny and compromise with government. The Brexit referendum broke this trend in a peculiar way.  Neither of the two main parties in the UK are ardently pro-EU, and Labour’s ambiguity in their stance towards Brexit makes easier the job of the Conservatives – who face less opposition from Labour in regard to the withdrawal from the EU than they ought to. The fundamental reason for this is down to the fear of alienating large swaths of supporters.

Since the General Election in June, Labour has maintained a narrow lead over the Conservatives in the polls, despite the divisions in the Tory party on the manner of the EU withdrawal, while failing to consolidate a strong lead over them.

Labour’s relative success in this election was founded on a mixture of former UKIP, Liberal Democrat and Green voters. This varied coalition has brought Labour into a strong political position in parliament and aided the collapse of the Conservative majority. The Labour party has long awaited success in the polls, and it appears that they are (on face value) succeeding in that regard. This however, makes Labour’s newly established popularity fragile, if one is to assume that Brexit is a major electoral issue. The support is delicate due to Labour’s mixed messages on Brexit – Corbyn made a career of being a left-wing Eurosceptic; Sadiq Khan and Tom Watson not ruling out a second referendum; and Corbyn resisting calls from Labour members to remain in the Single Market. The Brexit ambiguity that is projected by Labour therefore fails to alienate its pro-remain (students, and former Green and Lib Dem) voters, while keeping Britain’s ‘working-class leavers’ happy (estimated to be around 15 percent of the population).

A radical deviation to either ‘Brexit’ or ‘Remain’ politics would certainly risk Labour’s lead in the polls. This may explain the silence from the strongly pro-EU Labour MPs such as Owen Smith (now in the shadow cabinet), which begs the question: is Labour prioritising its party interests over what many of its MPs believe will damage the UK with Brexit?

Either way, Labour will eventually have to come out of its shell and show a firmer stance in this regard. This will not necessarily harm the party – a plurality of people believe that Brexit will damage the economy, and life more generally. If the damages of leaving the EU become as clear as they were described during the Referendum, then surely a vote on the final deal obtained by the government would not be an unpopular move.