Category Archives: England

#Moggmentum

It is impossible to write anything political at present, without prefacing it by saying how unpredictable politics is. Brexit, the rise of Trump and Corbyn’s Labour etc. This, neatly brings us to the curious case of Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Jacob Rees-Mogg is the Conservative MP for North East Somerset. Prior to this summer Rees-Mogg was somewhat a laughing stock. His posh accent and old-fashioned views made him a walking stereotype. This summer though, something has changed. Rees-Mogg has become one of the favourites to be the next Conservative leader. What has changed?

Firstly, there is no obvious pretender to the Conservative throne. This means journalists and pundits are looking outside of the Cabinet for future leaders. Secondly, Rees-Mogg has authenticity. His opinions are controversial, but there is no doubt where he stands on the major issues of the days. Thirdly, he is a good media performer. His dry sense of humour and articulate speaking style has made him a favourite amongst media producers. Lastly, everyone is looking for the next political shock.

So, can it happen? Rees-Mogg has claimed stories he will stand as the next party leader are part of the media’s silly season but other reports claim he has sounded out friends about his leadership ambitions. He has also just topped ConservativeHome’s survey of party members on who they would like to be next Tory leader.

Comparisons have been made with Corbyn’s rise, but it is important to note Conservative leadership contests have different rules to Labour ones. Rather than all candidates being presented straight to the membership, the parliamentary party first whittles the choice down to two candidates. Rees-Mogg would have support from the Right of the party, but it is clear there would be a significant stop Rees-Mogg campaign, indicating it would be difficult for Rees-Mogg to reach the final two.

If Rees-Mogg was to reach the final two, it is possible he could win. His Eurosceptic stance and traditionalist leanings are popular with Conservative members. But, we are a long way from this scenario. Currently there is no vacancy, and it is unclear when this contest would happen and what the political climate will be. Crucially Rees-Mogg would also have to gain support from the Parliamentary Party. That appears unlikely.

#Moggmentum may be picking up, but I still wouldn’t put any money on Jacob Rees-Mogg being the next Conservative leader.

 

The General Election had to go ahead

Tragically, this General Election campaign has been like no other. Two cowardly terrorist attacks in two weeks in Manchester and London led to stoppages in the campaigning as politicians joined with the country to mourn and grieve. The attacks also caused fears that the General Election may have to be cancelled amidst a greater security threat.

This possibility in my opinion was rightly quashed by the Prime Minister in her statement after the attack who confirmed the General Election would go ahead as planned. This decision could be seen as highly controversial, but I believe it is the only decision that the Prime Minister could make.

Sentiments of this sort will have been more eloquently expressed by many before, but is worth repeating. Quite simply we cannot let the terrorists win. It does not mean that we cannot hurt or even that we cannot be a little scared, but it does mean that we cannot let the attacks define our lives. We have to carry on and we have to get on with our lives. That is our way of showing the terrorists they will never win. The concert in Manchester was a fantastic step in this direction and the country going to the polls this Thursday will be the clincher.

Over the next few days we as a country are going to have to ask some difficult questions. This could take us into some tricky places and the debate should be handled with care, but the debate we will have about security is a debate that we must have. Questions about police cuts and their impact on safety, deals with foreign countries as well as whether it is right for politicians to share platforms with certain individuals are fair game. The first job of any aspiring Prime Minister or government is to keep its citizens safe. It is now up to the respective candidates to show how they can achieve this.

These last few weeks have been difficult for most in this country. The attacks have been attacks on our way of life and that is particularly painful. However now is the time to stand together. We have to unite. Voting on Thursday is a part of this. Democracy, the right to vote and the right to openly debate the way forward and determine our future are precious gifts which we are lucky to enjoy. The value of this will never be understood by those seeking to destroy us. Therefore I urge you, in fact I implore you go out and vote on Thursday and show we will carry on.

A sensible Brexit deal

Although Parliament has officially broken up for the summer, the debate about Brexit continues to heat up as MPs head for their summer holidays. The current momentum appears to be moving towards the Chancellor’s position of accepting the need for a transitional phase after Britain’s formal exit from the European Union. This transitional phase could see Britain stay in the Single Market and Customs Union for a limited time period as the final stages of a trade deal are negotiated and business adapts to the new environment.

This apparent change in direction and policy from the Government is a direct consequence of the recent General Election. It is wrong to claim, as some do that the result of the General Election was an uprising against Brexit, but it is also wrong to claim the Government can continue as if nothing has changed. The new parliamentary arithmetic does impact on the type of Brexit the Government could hope to get through Parliament. This indicates the Government is going to have to compromise.

The benefits of a transitional phase are clear. It ends the prospect of a cliff-edge Brexit and reduces the danger of a ‘no-deal’ solution, and in doing so limits the possible economic consequences. This level of compromise would appease some of the more moderate Remainers in Parliament. It would also help provide businesses with clarity, whilst accepting their argument that they will need time to adapt to the new climate. Furthermore, the additional time period could be vital in thrashing out the final details of a satisfactory trade deal between Britain and the EU.

This gives clear ground to ‘Remainers’ but may worry the ‘Brexiteers’. Therefore, in order to highlight the referendum deal is being respected, then there must be a clear end date to the transitional phase when Britain formally cuts all ties with the European Union. A transitional phase cannot be used as an excuse to stay in the European Union indefinitely. A transitional phase which ends before the next General Election which is scheduled to occur in 2022 would appear to most a sensible time limit, which gives the Government time to deliver on their Brexit promise and for business to adapt.

A transitional phase will not please everyone. The most ardent Remainers will never accept the referendum result, while the most extreme Brexiteers will reject the need for any negotiations with the European Union. However, this sort of agreement could appeal to moderate Brexiteers and Remainers who want to make Brexit work.  With the evidence showing this is where most of the population lie, expect this solution to gain more and more traction in the immediate future.

Bercow under pressure

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow has always enjoyed a tumultuous relationship with the Conservative Party. This relationship further soured when Bercow used his position as Speaker to signal that he would not be in favour of President Trump addressing Parliament. This delighted the opposition benches but caused a stir on the Conservative side and has led to back-bencher James Duddridge tabling a motion of no-confidence in the Speaker.

The role of Speaker is vitally important in the House of Commons. The Speaker has a duty to act impartially and respect all sides in Parliament. The Speaker will also represent Parliament across the world and the country and must be respected. Bercow has successes to his name including making Ministers more accountable and introducing long overdue modernising reforms. However if the Speaker is not seen to be impartial and is believed to have overstepped his mark then the position must be in doubt.

This is not the first time John Bercow has found his position in jeopardy. In 2015 Conservative MPs led by William Hague attempted to introduce secret ballots on Speaker elections which would have made it easier to remove a Speaker. This move was defeated by 228 votes to 202 as Tory rebels voted against the whip but was a clear sign of the historic discontent there was on the Conservative side towards Bercow and his supposed lack of impartiality.

The pressure on Bercow has further intensified with video footage seen by the Daily Telegraph showing Bercow’s position on the EU Referendum. The footage shows Bercow stating that he voted to Remain in the EU referendum and casts doubt on whether Bercow can be relied upon to maintain a neutral stance in any future EU debates.

Bercow did overstep the mark in making the comments he did about Trump, and the video footage seen in the newspapers will not have helped him. They have cast doubt on his impartiality and have caused Parliament unnecessary problems. The controversy could easily have been avoided given President Trump has yet to ask to address Parliament. Given that Bercow still commands support from Labour and the SNP it is hard to envisage Bercow losing a Parliamentary vote. Should, though enough Tory MPs vote against Bercow (could be up to 150 according to reports) then Bercow’s position could become untenable.

For some opportunistic Tory MPs who have long disliked Bercow this could provide the perfect opportunity to remove him and could well prove a costly mistake from the Speaker.

 

Paxman’s time is over

Bank Holiday Monday saw the leaders of the Conservative and Labour Party engage in a debate of sorts as they faced questions from a studio audience followed by an interview with Jeremy Paxman. Both sides were quick to claim victory in the debate, but the aftermath appeared to focus not on the performance of either Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn, but of Jeremy Paxman.

Jeremy Paxman throughout his years as a political interviewer has developed quite a reputation. He is seen as somewhat of a Rottweiler and the ultimate test for any aspiring politician. Paxman has a clear style and throughout his career has undoubtedly gained many scalps, but there are question marks about whether now is the time for Paxman to step down.

Paxman’s interview of Corbyn drew particularly strong criticism. Paxman interrupted Corbyn several times and seemed unwilling to let the Labour leader answer the questions he was posing leading to a significant proportion of viewers getting more and more irate with Paxman and becoming more and more sympathetic with Corbyn.

There are a couple of reasons as to why I think the renowned Paxman style is unhelpful, which were on show last night. Firstly his rude, sneering, arrogant and cynical style does little to engage people with politics. His failure to let politicians answer questions and expand on their ideas ensures the interviewee feels unable to develop a position without being interrupted. This leads to safety first answers which is not beneficial or enlightening to anyone interested in politics.

Secondly Paxman must understand that he is not the star. There is somewhat of an aura around Paxman but the reality is he can never be the most important figure in any interview. The interviewee must face difficult and hard questions but should be treated with respect. This has not happened for some time under Paxman and this needs to change.

It is unlikely that Jeremy Paxman is going to change. His style and technique will always be the same. However maybe these interviews showed the limitations to these methods and that it is time to move in a different direction. Politicians can be put under pressure in interviews through many techniques. A disarming style perfected by the late David Frost which gives politicians a chance to feel comfortable has proved to be highly effective in gaining answers. Maybe it is time to give that approach a go? 

Douglas Carswell should call another by-election!

In August 2014 Douglas Carswell shocked the political world by announcing he was leaving the Conservative Party to join UKIP and in doing so triggered a by-election in his Clacton constituency which he subsequently won convincingly. He then went on to hold his seat in the 2015 General Election, but tensions with the top of the party and in particular Nigel Farage and the direction he was taking the party begun to come to the fore with Carswell calling for the UKIP leader to quit after the General Election in 2015.

More recently revelations have emerged about Carswell’s true motives for joining UKIP. In Owen Bennett’s book on Brexit The Brexit Club it is claimed that Carswell only joined UKIP to undermine Farage and stop UKIP and the UKIP leading running the ‘Out’ campaign for the EU referendum. Carswell is unrepentant about this and claims the success of the Brexit campaign justifies his decision and actions.

UKIP leader Paul Nuttall claimed he was hardly surprised by Carswell’s decision and that ‘Carswell had been becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the party’s direction of travel’, despite Carswell claiming recently he was ‘100% UKIP’. Former leader Nigel Farage long estranged from Carswell could not hide his joy saying the former UKIP MP ‘jumped before he was pushed’ and that now he should call a by-election in his Clacton seat.

Carswell has been unmoved by these calls and claimed that as he was not moving to a new party there was no need to call a by-election. This has not stopped Nigel Farage saying that Clacton residents will be contacted by UKIP to ask for their thoughts on whether a by-election should be called and has also cited Carswell’s support for the ‘recall principle’.

Carswell is correct to state that becoming an independent MP is different from moving from one party to another, but cannot hide from the fact that he will now no longer be obliged to follow the manifesto that he was elected on. Carswell was elected to serve as a UKIP MP by the constituents of Clacton. That was an important pledge Carswell made to his constituents. This pledge has been broken and should justify a by-election.

Carswell previously called his electorate in Clacton ‘his boss’. If this is something that Carswell still truly believes, then he should call a by-election as he did in 2014 and see whether he has the support to make this decision.

 

Parliament should have a say on Brexit!

Britain’s projected exit from the European Union has taken another twist. High Court judges have ruled that Theresa May cannot trigger Article 50 without the backing of Parliament putting at risk the government’s planned timetable for Brexit. The decision will be challenged by the Government but unless the appeal is successful, Theresa May could be forced to change her plans.

This ruling will not stop Brexit. Some pro EU campaigners point to the large majority in the House of Commons of Remain MPs but fail to grasp the changed climate. The country in a huge democratic exercise has now voted to leave the European Union and the campaign is over. Although many MPs are unhappy with this decision they understand the ramifications of overturning the will of the British people and will accept the result and vote for Article 50.

On the 23rd June, Britain voted to leave the European Union. That much is clear, that debate is over. However there were many different reasons as to why voters took this decision. Issues such as immigration have taken precedence in the post-mortem but there were other reasons as well. There was nothing on the ballot paper which spelt out what Britain’s new relationship would be with Europe and it is right this is discussed and debated.

In this country we live in a parliamentary democracy. It was Parliament who voted to bring about the referendum and it is Parliament who should sign off on the deal, sealing the will of the British people. The government should not be forced to reveal their whole bargaining hand before Parliament but should highlight their general direction. This way Parliament can carefully scrutinise the government’s plans and ensure that the British people gain the best possible deal.

The reality is this is a situation which could easily have been avoided. At no stage would Parliament have defeated the government on this and Theresa May could have prevented this outcome by including Parliament in the process. Brexit was never going to be smooth, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be this difficult. This will be interpreted as a setback for the government but could be the reminder they need that they cannot bypass Parliament and that Parliament could actually be useful in this process.

Can George Osborne still become Prime Minister?

George Osborne’s ambitions have long been common knowledge in Parliament. Furthermore the great political chess-player had seemed on course to achieve his aim and succeed his great friend and ally David Cameron into Downing Street, securing the front-runner status after the Conservative victory in 2015.

The Conservative victory in 2015 and the almost messianic status that Osborne received in the light of the win as a political strategist now seems a long time ago. Since then the former Chancellor has produced one questionable budget, played a leading role in ‘Project Fear’ and has lost his job with his reputation in tatters. Politically things have looked better for George Osborne!

So could this change in the future? George Osborne remains influential in the Conservative Party. Throughout his time as Chancellor he promoted many of his allies, some of whom now occupy powerful positions in the party. This gives Osborne a strong base for any future leadership contest. Added to this Osborne has begun to position himself as the champion of the modernising wing of the party. This gives him political room to exploit and allows him to maintain his influence and relevance in the new political landscape.

George Osborne remains young (he is only 45!). This gives him plenty of time. He has shown no desire to leave Parliament and has hinted he is yet to give up on his ambitions recently claiming he didn’t know ‘how this story ends’. Osborne can afford to be patient, even waiting for May to step down after a successful time in office. A vacancy does not have to occur immediately for Osborne to remain in the game.

The political situation in this country remains complex. Theresa May has enjoyed a solid start as Prime Minister but with Brexit negotiations to come things will become more tricky. Should May fail to take the party with her on Brexit, her position is far from insurmountable and a new vacancy may arise sooner than expected. In that climate Osborne’s experience could make him an attractive choice in what would be an open contest.

Much has to happen before this is even a possibility and we are largely talking about hypotheticals. However there does remain a plausible scenario where Osborne takes over from May as leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister either after a successful May government or a failed May government. George Osborne has been written off before in politics and has bounced back, so when it comes to the former Chancellor, it is wise to never say never!

Can UKIP survive?

It has been a tumultuous period for UKIP of late. The populist party has bounced from one crisis to another in recent times, beginning when Nigel Farage stepped down after the referendum triggering a leadership contest. This contest quickly turned into a farce when front-runner Steven Woolfe failed to make it onto the ballot submitting his forms late, paving the way for Diane James to win the contest. Diane James lasted 18 days in charge before resigning leaving questions about whether she had wanted to run in the first place. This resignation meant Nigel Farage was announced as interim leader and it was confirmed a new leadership contest would take place.

Steven Woolfe was first to declare his candidacy in this new contest promising to learn lessons from the last contest. Raheem Kassam, a former adviser to Nigel Farage and editor-in-chief of Breitbart UK also confirmed his desire to stand. This was before things took a turn for the worse in Strasbourg this week when Steven Woolfe was rushed to hospital (fortunately he now seems to be recovering!). It later emerged there had been an “altercation” between Woolfe and Mike Hookem (another UKIP MEP) over the news Woolfe had been in talks about defecting to the Tories (exactly what happened here is still unclear, so it’s unwise to speculate at this stage). Subsequently an inquiry has been announced.

These events have been seen as being systematic of the underlying tensions which have existed in the party for quite some time. For a relatively small party UKIP are riven by factions and infighting. At its most simple it can be split between those who are loyal to Farage and those who are loyal to Carswell (UKIP’s only MP) but in reality it is far more complicated than that. After recent events major donor Arron Banks has threatened to leave the party if Woolfe is barred from standing and Neil Hamilton and Douglas Carswell stayed in the party, possibly taking away UKIP’s war-chest. From the Carswell wing of the party it is considered likely Suzanne Evans will run for leader paving the way for a very bitter leadership campaign.

Despite all these problems UKIP have showed they are still a political force winning a council seat off Labour in Hartlepool and continuing to poll around 12%. Of course there are challenges ahead, such as re-positioning themselves and finding a leader with similar appeal to Farage but this indicates there remains a place in the British political spectrum for a party with right-wing populist appeal such as UKIP, especially given questions about Labour’s long-term future. Whether this is UKIP in its current form or whether it is a new party or movement is up for dispute, but what is clear if this particularly form of UKIP wants to survive then they need to sort themselves out fast as they will not survive many more weeks like this.

Will the Labour Party ever win again?

So Jeremy Corbyn has won the Labour leadership contest. Again. After a bitter summer full of dispute and wrangling Jeremy Corbyn decisively defeated Owen Smith and strengthened his hold on the Labour Party. In doing so Corbyn ended the debate about who will lead the party into the next election, but added to a more profound question; can Labour ever win again?

It is hard for even the most optimistic Labour supporter to make a case for the Labour Party winning the 2020 election. The proposed boundary changes could cost Labour as many as 20 seats and the latest polling puts Labour a staggering 15 points behind the Conservatives. There is no historical precedent for an opposition party winning from this position. Politics has been strange in recent times, but it is not that strange!

So if we rule out 2020, what about future elections? The synopsis also looks bleak for the Labour Party in this regard as well. In their traditional stronghold of Scotland, they now only have 1 MP and currently sit in third place behind the Conservatives. Furthermore research has found a lot of working class Labour voters who voted for Brexit deserting the party. Without these voters it is impossible for Labour to gain a winning majority. This is a long-term problem for Labour and as of yet there has been no solution.

Perhaps most seriously there is the question of whether the Labour Party can or even wants to stick together. London Mayor Sadiq Khan has warned of a split and a large proportion of Labour voters now consider this to be likely. Figures from all sides of the party such as Chuka Umunna, Hilary Benn and John McDonnell have called for unity and have denied rumours of a split, but still the headlines won’t disappear. Can the Labour moderates really cope with another 4 years of Corbyn?

Political parties have no divine right to exist and certainly have no divine right to win. This is certainly true for the Labour Party. It is foolish given what is happening in politics in the world to make a definitive prediction on this topic, but what we know is that political parties do have a shelf-life and Labour could be reaching the end of theirs. Labour as an electoral force are on a precipice and it is anyone’s guess as to whether they can or ever will recover.