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General Election 2017: An Unpredictable Race In Hampstead & Kilburn

General Election 2017 - Hampstead and Kilburn Conservatives attack leaflet - Tulip Siddiq Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn - 1

Game On in Hampstead & Kilburn

Today I received the above piece of campaign literature from the Hampstead and Kilburn Conservatives. It isn’t exactly subtle, and it perfectly encapsulates the problem facing incumbent Labour MP Tulip Siddiq, defending her slim majority of 1,138.

When Glenda Jackson was defending the seat in 2010, Labour squeaked home with a majority of just 42, making the seat the most marginal in England. And crucially, back then the seat was a tight three-way marginal, with the Liberal Democrats less than a thousand votes off the pace. In 2015, the LibDems suffered in Hampstead & Kilburn as they did nationwide, despite fielding an excellent candidate in Maajid Nawaz, and slumped to just 3,039 votes.

By way of further context, Hampstead & Kilburn voted strongly in favour of remaining in the European Union during the referendum, 75% Remain to 25% Leave,  with nearly 23,000 constituents signing an angry petition demanding a second referendum when things didn’t go their way with the first one.

So what will happen in the snap general election on 8 June 2017?

Given Labour’s current polling, and the personal polling of leader Jeremy Corbyn, by all rights Tulip Siddiq should be packing her office in Portcullis House and looking for something new to occupy her time. A majority of 1,138 puts Hampstead & Kilburn high on the Tories’ target list, and a few ministerial campaign visits and perhaps a drive-by from the PM herself ought to flip the seat, all other things being equal.

However, all other things are not equal.

 

The Brexit Factor

Brexit is a real factor here. Following the EU referendum I sat on the 139 bus from West Hampstead alongside numerous “March for Europe” protesters bearing placards weepily declaring themselves to be not British but European. Anger at Brexit runs deep here, as I discovered when I inadvertently carried a Brexit-themed shopping bag into the local Waitrose supermarket on Finchley Road during the campaign. The strength of pro-Remain feeling and the depths of the anger (and let’s face it – the arrogant refusal to even attempt to empathise with the opposing side) on display in this constituency throws everything up in the air when it comes to predicting general election results.

 

The LibDem Factor

To my mind, the key question is what happens to the Liberal Democrat vote. Nationally, the LibDems have come back from the dead, more in spite of Tim Farron’s leadership than because of it, and driven almost entirely by that party’s near-unambiguous anti-Brexit position. One knows that a successful vote for a LibDem candidate would result in an MP determined to delay or even scupper Brexit altogether were it remotely possible to do so, and this will be very attractive to a lot of voters here – the kind of people who abandoned the party in a hissy fit back in 2015 because of their coalition with the Evil Tor-ees, but who suddenly realise that they have common cause with Farron & Co. once again.

 

The Tory Factor

This is likely to see a number of voters – the “wetter”, less ideological and pro-EU Tories – switching their support from the Conservatives back to the Liberal Democrats. If your imagined “European identity” is the most important factor in your vote, then going LibDem is the only smart decision here.

In 2015, the Tories pandered to the constituency by running an extremely wet, centrist candidate – Simon Marcus was against the “bedroom tax” and welfare reform, and even against Trident renewal – and still came up short. I have yet to get a good sense of where 2017 candidate Claire-Louise Leyland stands on core ideological identifiers like tax policy, welfare reform, education, defence spending and civil liberties, but it seems likely that as an embryonic career politico (she stood for the Northern Irish constituency of West Tyrone back in 2015) she would generally toe the party line, perhaps diverging to the left on occasions.

Voters basing their decision on economic competence and basic credibility will probably therefore feel safe in voting Tory with Leyland on the ballot. Even though the Hampstead & Kilburn Conservatives probably don’t have any wiggle room to move further to the left, what else can centrist voters do – plump for Jeremy Corbyn? Hardly likely. That leaves the threat posed by the LibDems to the Tory europhile wing as the only real danger to be addressed.

However, just as Brexit is pushing some soft conservatives out of the Tory Party toward the LibDems, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party is likely to push a number of Hampstead & Kilburn voters away from Labour, also to the LibDems. Quite how much this will occur is hard to predict.

 

The Labour Factor

The more Hampstead side of the constituency has its share of trustafarian Corbynista types who think that reheated 1970s socialism is the best thing since sliced bread, but I suspect that there are far more young lefty creative professionals here who recoil from Corbyn’s haphazard management of the party and the very real chance that he will significantly hike their taxes given half a chance. There are a lot of people here for whom being seen as a “lefty” is important for social and professional acceptance and/or advancement, but who also quite like having disposable income and a functioning economy in which to spend it. Thus Jeremy Corbyn isn’t really their guy.

Meanwhile, the more Kilburn side of the constituency contains an awful lot of Corbyn true believers – as I saw when I attended a Corbyn rally at the Kilburn State Cinema during the post-Brexit leadership coup. However, there are also a number of working and lower-middle class constituents who might recoil from the kind of metropolitan identity politics that the Labour Party currently peddles, as Channel 4 news discovered when they trawled Kilburn High Road for vox pops.

In short, the Labour vote here is even more unpredictable than the Tory vote. The Guardian suggests that Hampstead & Kilburn may be part of a “metropolitan firewall” for Labour. Hmm, now where have I heard vastly over-optimistic talk of an electoral firewall before?

 

Too Many Moving Parts

While it is safe to say that the Liberal Democrats will exceed their 2015 vote total (despite fielding a candidate without Maajid Nawaz’s household name factor), it is hard to predict just how strongly the party will rebound, or at whose expense. Theresa May’s Brexit position (and revulsion at Brexit in general) will drive some Tory voters over to the LibDems, while lack of confidence in Jeremy Corbyn will drive some Labour voters the same way.

Will the combined effect be sufficient that the LibDems manage a miraculous come-from-behind victory, sneaking past the two big parties to snatch the seat? Unlikely. It would take an awful lot of defectors to bump up the LibDem total by such a large amount. But it is not impossible. The LibDem vote here fell by 13,452 between 2010 and 2015 just because their voters were in a strop with Nick Clegg for his decision to pragmatically enter a coalition with the Evil Tor-ees in the national interest rather than propping up the rotting carcass of Gordon Brown’s Labour government. Stung by Brexit, how much more reason have they now to return to the fold, more motivated than ever before?

However, I think it is more likely that the Hampstead & Kilburn constituency will be won by the party which manages to do the best job preventing their peripheral supporters from defecting to the LibDems. And it seems to me that the Conservatives have an advantage here.

While 2017 candidate Claire-Louise Leyland remains something of an unknown quantity (former Stronger In campaigner turned Theresa May supporter, passionate about mental health and otherwise fill in the blanks), she at least represents a party viewed rightly or wrongly as basically competent. This article is not the place to relitigate the many ways that Theresa May’s government is endangering our national interests through their glib and superficial approach to Brexit negotiations, but in a head-to-head between Tory ideologues and fratricidal Labourites you pick the swivel-eyed Tory every time.

Labour, on the other hand, risk losing their most pro-European supporters – the kind of tedious people who paint the EU flag on their face at public demonstrations and call themselves “citizens of the world” – to the LibDems, together with portions of their young professional vote and working class anti-Corbyn vote.

In other words, while even an ardently pro-European Conservative voter has many reasons to think long and hard before abandoning the party, pro-European Labour voters with little real expectation of a general election victory have every incentive to shrug and vote for LibDem candidate Kirsty Allan (while furiously humming “Ode to Joy”, naturally).

And that is why the piece of campaign literature which came through my door today should be extremely worrying for Labour’s Tulip Siddiq. The helpful chart on one side makes it look as though this is a straight-up fight between Jeremy Corbyn’s loopy, crackpot Labour Party and the Tories (thus underplaying the possibility of a LibDem fightback), while the reverse side trumpets three “damaging” headlines in which Siddiq proudly takes credit for nominating Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour leadership, refuses to concede that it was an error and then actually joins his Shadow Cabinet (while conveniently omitting the fact that Siddiq later resigned from the shadow frontbench in order to clutch the EU flag and vote against Article 50).

 

Where Things Stand

If this is indeed a scenario in which the two leading parties – Labour and the Conservatives – are attempting to win by losing the least number of votes to the Liberal Democrats, then the Tories presently have the advantage, and if they are smart they will do everything they can to tie Tulip Siddiq to Jeremy Corbyn in the public imagination. This will certainly be the advice/orders filtering down from Lynton Crosby and CCHQ in any case.

The more that Hampstead & Kilburn constituents are seeing and talking about how Tulip Siddiq helped inflict Jeremy Corbyn on the country and repeatedly enabled his chaotic leadership of the party (fair characterisation or not) rather than how the Tories have a childlike understanding of Brexit and an increasingly tarnished reputation for economic competence, the more likely it is that the Conservatives will prevail on 8 June and Claire-Louise Leyland will be returned as our new MP.

To survive and retain the seat for Labour, Tulip Siddiq must find a way of beating the Labour Party’s unbeatable Brexit conundrum while also distancing herself from Jeremy Corbyn – but not to the extent that it keeps the Corbynista vote at home or threatens any support she might need from the party leadership. In other words, Siddiq really has to thread the needle to prevail here.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats need to make the local race all about Brexit, and nothing else. Kirsty Allan needs to paint herself as the only candidate with the courage to stand up for all of Hampstead & Kilburn’s heartbroken “citizens of the world” by acting with other LibDems as a drogue parachute on Britain’s departure from the European Union. Then she must hope that she can tempt enough such people away from their 2015-era partisan loyalties in order to pull the LibDems back to their 2010 levels of support, plus a little bit extra. It is a tall order, but not quite an impossible one.

So, all to play for at the moment. Bring on the hustings!

 

Update – 30 April

This interesting analysis from the Guardian and Electoral Calculus uses ICM polling to suggest that the Liberal Democrat resurgence may be a paper tiger – an attractive theme (and one eagerly picked up by the Remain-sympathising Westminster press) but with little basis in actual reality.

In particular, it shows that while a number of previously Labour-voting Remainers are indeed likely to jump ship to the LibDems, the Conservative vote looks far stickier, with 2015 conservative voters far less likely to jump ship even if they disagree with Brexit. This would seem to pour cold water on any hopes of a LibDem resurgence here.

The upshot of their analysis:

Our model sees the Tories on 422 seats, with Labour reduced to just 150, and the Lib Dems declining from 9 to 6. The Conservative majority would be north of 190. Labour would be wiped out beyond what most people are currently predicting. Leadership candidates like Clive Lewis would no longer be leadership candidates, because they would no longer be MPs.

The Lib Dems could lose a third of their MPs even after gains in places like Cambridge, with seats like Carshalton & Wallington, Richmond Park and Southport especially vulnerable. The danger in these seats is pretty clear. In Carshalton, Tom Brake won a majority of 1,510 in 2015. If a fraction of the town’s 7,000 UKIP voters return to the Tories, that majority will be wiped out. Southport is almost identically poised. Unless a major influx of Remain voters arrives from somewhere – and there’s no indication in any of this data that it will – then these seats will be lost. The Lib Dems don’t face the same problem in Richmond Park, which only turned back to the Lib Dems in December; but with a majority of less than 2,000 and a recent history of flipping, you wouldn’t bet the mortgage on a hold.

Devastating if correct.

On the plus side for Labour, there is hardly any UKIP vote in Hampstead & Kilburn to drift back to the Tories, unlike some other constituencies where the potential backwash of ex-UKIP voters to the Conservative Party threatens to sink LibDem and Labour candidates alike. This means that Tulip Siddiq’s fate as the constituency MP is firmly in Labour’s own hands, and their ability to hold on to their vote in the face of Jeremy Corbyn’s broad unpopularity.

 

General Election 2017 - Hampstead and Kilburn Conservatives attack leaflet - Tulip Siddiq Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn - 2

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Theresa May Calls A General Election: First Reaction

Theresa May - Conservative Party - General Election 8 June - Parliament - Downing Street

Here we go again

Okay, here is my hot warm lukewarm tepid pretty cold take on Theresa May’s shock announcement that the government will seek to trigger a general election on 8 June.

After a Scottish independence referendum in 2014, a general election in 2015 and an EU secession referendum in 2016, can we really muster the energy and enthusiasm for another vote in 2017?

Well, now we don’t have a choice (not that thinking a bit about the issues and then strolling to your local polling booth is very difficult). Theresa May made a bold decision to reverse her earlier protestations to the contrary and call an early general election, and from a purely party political perspective it was the smart move. Besides the jubilant Liberal Democrats, many of the whiners and naysayers on the opposition benches are unimpressed, bordering on terrified.

Many on the Left have been trying to have it both ways, first by criticising our “unelected” prime minister for daring to lead without an electoral mandate of her own, and now by carping at her decision to go the the public to seek that very mandate. It appears that “put up or shut up” time has snuck up on them.

But how does each party stand to fare in a June general election?

 

Labour

First and foremost, this is a richly deserved disaster for the Labour Party. Dan Hodges has already taken to Twitter trying to pin the blame for the party’s coming annihilation on Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, but this is to mistake the symptom for the disease.

Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership and retained it following the coup attempt – both times cheered on by this blog – because unlike the third rate nonentities who currently make up the centrist wing of the party, the Corbynites clearly stand for something. You may not like what they stand for – indeed, opinion polls show that most of the country strongly dislikes the hard left agenda – but at least they have clearly demonstrable values and principles which extend beyond the acquisition and retention of power.

What have the Labour centrists offered since around 2005? Nothing but bland, focus-grouped banalities, preaching enlightened compassion while shoring up a failing consensus (pro-EU, pro-mass immigration, eager to reap the benefits of globalisation but even more eager to throw its victims on the welfare scrapheap rather than help them adapt to the new world) that betrays the interests of its core working class (and principled eurosceptic) vote.

The Corbynite revolution gave the indolent centrists a richly deserved kicking, but Corbynism – with is aversion to patriotism, obsession with nationalisation and statism, obsessively anti-American foreign policy and seething hostility toward wealth generation – is not the solution, but rather a fringe obsession. Throw in the fact that even many Corbyn true believers disagree with Corbyn’s principled euroscepticism (one of the few issues where he happens to be right), and there are more faults running through the Labour Party than they can possibly resolve in the weeks leading up to 8 May.

The key test will be the writing and release of the Labour Party manifesto. Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour Party must quickly produce a compelling vision for the country that appeals to Corbynite true believers while not scaring off the rest of the country. Sounds impossible? That’s probably because it is.

And after the election? If (as seems likely) Labour end up treading water or going backwards, will that be the end of Jeremy Corbyn and Corbynism? Maybe, maybe not. You can pretty much find a pundit to tell you exactly what you want to hear on that question, depending on your own proclivities. But the centrists’ only hope is to hang the party’s impending defeat firmly around Jeremy Corbyn’s neck so as to discredit his worldview and leadership.

I half wondered whether some panicked shadow cabinet members might try to engineer another last-minute coup to depose Corbyn and replace him with a caretaker leader to see the party through 8 June, but it seems unlikely. The centrists have proven time and again that they lack all courage and conviction, and since victory seems impossible under any circumstances it is better from their perspective to let a general election defeat do what they themselves could not – rid the party of Jeremy Corbyn.

But if Labour does go on to lose the election and Corbyn then resigns, will what follows be any better? The last Labour leadership contest should tell you all you need to know about the calibre of individuals waiting in the wings to succeed Jeremy Corbyn.

 

Conservatives

One may not agree with Theresa May on all things – this blog certainly has sharp differences, particularly on the manner of Brexit and the role of the state – but one would be hard pressed to argue that she is an incompetent leader, particularly in comparison with the other party leaders. The public sense this too, which is why the Tories currently have a 20+ point lead over Labour in the opinion polls, why even many Labour supporters prefer Theresa May to Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister, and why the Conservatives will increase their majority following the election.

However, the Tories may not gain as many seats as their current commanding poll lead suggests. Some Tory MPs in staunchly Remain-supporting constituencies are vulnerable, particularly those who unseated Liberal Democrat MPs in 2015. Meanwhile, the Tories are potentially poised to pick up some seats from unapologetic Remainer Labour MPs representing constituencies which voted Leave, particularly in Northern England. Therefore we are likely to see a degree of musical chairs, where some formerly Tory seats go LibDem while the Tories pick up a number of seats from Labour. In my opinion, the net effect will favour the Tories (and the Liberal Democrats) at the expense of Labour, but the extent to which this is the case remains open for debate.

More interesting, though, is the likely impact on the composition and mindset of the Conservative Party following the election, assuming that they are returned to government. This will likely be a Tory party where some of its more pro-EU MPs are gone (excellent), but which also suffers from the loss of those MPs who otherwise exerted a more liberal influence on the government. The authoritarians and the head-in-the-sand hard Brexiteers will likely be strengthened and consolidate their grip over the party, which is a problem for anybody who wanted Brexit to act as a catalyst for further liberal reform and democratic or constitutional renewal in Britain.

 

Liberal Democrats

The LibDems did not deserve their electoral drubbing in 2015, in which they were essentially punished for finally behaving like a responsible party of government and abandoning an unworkable campaign pledge (on university tuition fee caps) in the face of fiscal reality. For this act – for graduating from a party of preening opposition to one of government – they were subject to endless hysterical screeds about “betrayal”, and lost the bulk of their parliamentary party in the process.

Just as the LibDems did not deserve the full extent of their defeat in 2015, so they will not have deserved their likely gains in 2017, which will be fuelled by marshalling hysterical establishment opposition to the outcome of the EU referendum. The party will likely pick up a brace of seats – many retaken from the Conservatives – based solely on their pledge to campaign against a “hard Brexit” they will be powerless to stop. At one time, the Liberal Democrats might have presented a potential fallback option for disenchanted Conservative voters unhappy at the more authoritarian direction of their party. No more. Under Tim Farron, the party has descended into screechy europhilia and blind hatred of that half of the country which voted for Brexit. Civil liberties and other one-time LibDem interests will take a back seat to their efforts to subvert Brexit.

As a further complication, the kind of Brexit that the LibDems now technically argue for is actually not inherently bad in the short term – retaining single market access, openness to immigration etc. But the LibDems are not to be trusted, because:

  1. Their true agenda is to reverse Brexit entirely, not merely to seek the best form of Brexit, and
  2. Rather than pushing for better models of European cooperation and trade regulation, the LibDems seek only to keep Britain as closely shackled as possible to the existing, failed systems. For a party which likes to present itself as the home of enlightened, grown-up pragmatism, the LibDems take their europhilia like a religion, worshipping the EU as something inherently good and never to be seriously questioned.

Finally, Tim Farron is already picking up a lot of flack in left-wing papers and on social media for his fundamentalist Christian beliefs, particularly as they pertain to homosexuality.

This is a shameful, ridiculous witch hunt. So what if Farron refused three times to say whether he considers gay sex to be a sin, as his moralistic tormentors are currently crowing in a bid to damage him? Does anybody seriously think that the Liberal Democrat manifesto is going to call for the recriminalisation of homosexuality, for putting sodomy laws back on the statute books? Be serious. There is a world of difference between private belief and public policy.

There has to be space for private religious belief in this country. Secularists have a fair point when they worry about the influence of religion on public policy, particularly given that we have a legislature where 26 unelected bishops of the Church of England sit in the upper house and meddle in our lawmaking. But religious faith should not and must not become an acid test of eligibility for public office, where anybody professing faith or traditional beliefs is portrayed as extreme and beyond the pale.

More than anything, this is a witch-hunt against Christianity, one which will be cynically used by the other parties of the left as they manoeuvre for political advantage. Interestingly, Islam also has a word or two to say about homosexuality, and one can argue that Islam has a lot further to go than Christianity in accommodating LGBT people and issues, certainly in this country. But one wonders how many of the perpetually outraged critics of Tim Farron would be as fervent in their criticism if Farron were a Muslim rather than an Evil, Backward Christian?

 

UKIP

I voted for UKIP back in the 2015 general election, not as an endorsement of that party’s more nativist, reactionary tendencies but as a means of expressing disgust in a Conservative Party which had drifted far from conservative principles under the leadership of David Cameron, and whose slide toward bland centrism did not deserve rewarding with my vote. I stand by that decision.

Needless to say, the landscape has changed in two years. Nigel Farage – a man with considerable political courage, if also numerous faults and demagogic tendencies – has retreated to the sidelines, if not quite sailed off into the sunset. And after a period of instability the party has settled on Paul Nuttall, who has shrunk into his leadership position, more of an inept clown than an existential threat to Labour’s Northern base.

Furthermore, the party’s raison d’être was essentially accomplished with last year’s referendum vote to leave the European Union. The party limps on, near bankruptcy and desperately insisting that its existence remains necessary as the guard dog of a hard Brexit, but most people either feel that the job is done following the triggering of Article 50 or realise that a party in such turmoil will be in no position to influence events any further, regardless.

The writing has been on the wall for some time. I attended the UKIP Party Conference in Doncaster in 2015, and spent my time interviewing various party figures and supporters about what role they saw for the party in a post-referendum Britain. Most senior UKIP figures, including Nigel Farage, spoke only in bland banalities.

Only Douglas Carswell had a plausible answer – a return to small-government, free trade, small-L libertarian platform – but this side was never likely to win out over the leftward turn to appeal to disaffected Labour voters. And indeed, Carswell has now left the party to stand as an independent candidate, firmly closing the door on any move in this direction.

At present, UKIP seem doomed to lurch incompetently to the Left, willingly shedding any remaining libertarian voters as they court the disaffected Labour vote by promising the same kind of consequence-free safety and security that Donald Trump promised to his supporters in America. A sad decline of a briefly promising political party.

Nobody can deny the influence that UKIP has had on our national politics. Nobody can say for sure that UKIP will not bounce back from their current political near death experience. But we can say with relative certainty that the party will fail to impress in 2017.

My take from the UKIP conference two years ago seems increasingly prescient:

I can’t help wondering if UKIP might not pay a price in 2017 or beyond for failing to pay enough heed to the type of party they want to be – and the type of supporters they want – by the time of the next general election.

I think it is fair to say that UKIP will now pay in a lump for their lack of foresight.

 

Scottish National Party

Nicola Sturgeon was quick to declare that Theresa May’s decision to call for a general election is a “political miscalculation”.

Sturgeon said:

“She [Theresa May] is clearly betting that the Tories can win a bigger majority in England given the utter disarray in the Labour Party.”

“That makes it all the important that Scotland is protected from a Tory Party which now sees the chance of grabbing control of government for many years to come and moving the UK further to the right – forcing through a hard Brexit and imposing deeper cuts in the process.”

Because in Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP’s mind, Scotland is a nation of adult-sized, diaper-clad babies requiring constant protection from the Evil Tor-ees, who are constantly threatening to do Bad Things like lower the tax burden and unleash free enterprise.

Will the SNP manage to sweep the three Scottish constituencies they failed to capture in 2015, or will they lose seats? One can only imagine that they will do very well again, and use their strong showing as an excuse to prance around acting as though the couple of million votes they received from a tightly concentrated part of the United Kingdom represent some God-given, stonking mandate to thwart Brexit for the rest of us or else attempt to sever Scotland’s historic union with the UK through another pointless referendum (they would lose, since the choice would be between remaining in the UK or being outside both the UK and EU).

At some point, one might hope that Scottish voters might look around them and realise what godawful, incompetent government they are receiving by lending such overwhelming support to the SNP. One might hope that those Scots who love liberty might balk at a party which introduces an authoritarian “named person scheme” giving the government oversight of every Scottish child, and whose decision to centralise the fire and police services into single unitary authorities is already costing lives. One might hope that Scots who are against independence or ambivalent about it might decide to stop rewarding a party which has abdicated any responsibility for government in favour of a single-minded obsession with independence, even after the 2014 referendum, to the extent that no legislation has passed the Scottish Parliament for over a year.

But all such hopes will be in vain. The SNP will perform well once again, racking up credulous low-information votes in defiance of their abysmal governing in Scotland and the scandal-plagued, ineffectiveTartan Tea Party in Westminster. By their actions and apparent preference for living in a one-party SNP statelet within the United Kingdom, Scottish voters are choosing to deliberately sever themselves from our shared national political discussion.

If the SNP is all but guaranteed to clean up regardless of their abysmal record in government and the ineffectiveness of their Westminster caucus, what incentive do the other parties have to make compelling pitches for Scottish votes, since these pitches will always be ignored? By choosing to half sever themselves from our United Kingdom with blind support for the SNP, Scottish voters are in danger of completely severing themselves from our national political discourse.

This is a tragedy, but it is a tragedy very much of Scotland’s own making.

 

Britain’s Rainbow, Unicorn-Spangled Progressive Alliance

Ah yes, the super-secret, silent progressive majority which is going to come together in the spirit of unity to lock the Evil Tor-ees out of Downing Street forever and save Britain from the evils of conservatism. Didn’t exist then, doesn’t exist now.

Disregard any breathless commentary about a Labour-LibDem-Green-SNP alliance.

 

Conclusion

One wonders what was the point in instituting a Fixed Term Parliaments Act if we were only to discard the idea of fixed terms for political expediency at the first opportunity.

Generally speaking, fixed terms of government are a good idea, but it must be acknowledged that they usually do not work well in a parliamentary system. Excuses can always be found to justify circumventing the normal timelines and going to the polls early, particularly when the government’s majority is small or when the country faces a particularly contentious issue which bisects normal party lines. The present situation meets both of these criteria.

Theresa May’s decision to call an early general election was clearly motivated by the opportunity to extend the Tory advantage in Parliament, with her stated rationale about “Westminster being divided while the country is not” being a convenient smokescreen. But that’s politics. If people didn’t like the idea of snap elections held for partisan reasons they had every opportunity to become more involved in campaigns for electoral and constitutional reform. Those who spend their time watching Britain’s Celebrity Horses Dancing On Ice and ignoring the nuts and bold of how their country is run have limited standing when it comes to complaining about outcomes they dislike.

Furthermore, those on the Left who spent the last nine months complaining that Theresa May has no mandate to govern can’t very well also complain when the prime minister responds to their wailing by seeking to claim an electoral mandate of her own. This applies particularly to snivelling Labour MPs (Liz McInnes) who seek to use the death of their own family members as political capital.

Brendan O’Neill perfectly critiques this attitude:

The speed with which Remainers went from saying “May doesn’t have a mandate for Brexit” to “How dare May seek a mandate for Brexit” is breathtaking. All that “no mandate” talk was such hogwash. They know there’s a mandate out there for Brexit — a historic, populous, swirling mandate — and they are horrified that it is being tapped into once again via a General Election.

It’s clear now that by “no mandate” they meant “ignore that mandate”. They thought they had wrestled the issue of the EU, and the whole question of Britain’s political and economic future, back from the people and into the hands of their expert friends and legal minds and level-headed lords and MPs. Wrong. Here come the people again!

When it comes to a summary of where we stand and predictions as to the likely outcome, Pete North makes the most sense as it relates to the election’s impact on Brexit:

If it is to be a shadow referendum then remain has already lost it given that their options are split and they’ve spent the last year telling most people they’re thick and xenophobic. I think it’s fair to say that the Lib Dems will achieve a restoration of a sort but there’s not much to get excited about. It is possible that they could form the next official opposition but by then Mrs May will have all the mandate she needs to do whatever she wants. There will have been a referendum, a parliamentary vote, article 50 and a general election. We are leaving the EU and that’s the end of it.

If I had to make a bet, I would predict that the next two months will see a lot of noise and intrigue followed by an electoral outcome not dissimilar to the one we have today, only with a slightly larger Conservative Party caucus gained at Labour’s expense and a moderately revitalised Liberal Democrat party who then go on to strut around as though their 30-odd seats represent some kind of stunning repudiation of the referendum result. UKIP and the Green Party will go nowhere, and by reaffirming Scotland as a de facto one-party statelet by rewarding the SNP for a job disastrously done, Scottish voters will continue to make themselves increasingly irrelevant to the UK-wide political debate.

Maybe I’ll be proven wrong. Maybe the Independent will come out with a hidden video recording of Theresa May murdering puppies a week before polling day, or maybe some of our EU “friends” will make some kind of infantile play to destabilise the British political situation for their own sadistic gratification. Perhaps Theresa May will astonish me and turn out to be pursuing an expanded Tory majority because she does in fact have an ideological backbone, and needs the wiggle room in Parliament to ram through a proper reforming Conservative agenda. Perhaps.

But if I had to guess right now, I would say that on 9 June we will be looking at “the same, but more of it”.

 

Theresa May - Conservative Party

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Brexit Denial Watch, Part 1 – Sarah Olney, The Liberal Democrats’ Special Secret Weapon

Slightly different to the Brexit Catastrophisation Watch series, these Brexit Denial Watch posts will focus on public figures of power and influence who marshal Olympian levels of denial to pretend to themselves and others that the British people did not really vote for Brexit, and that the referendum result can and should be overturned

Let’s all take a moment to savour the defeat of former Conservative MP for Richmond Park, Zac Goldsmith, in the by-election which he foolishly triggered after following through on his word to flounce out of the Conservative Party if the government finally took its boot of the neck of the aviation industry and authorised the expansion of London’s Heathrow airport.

Zac is a wishy-washy watercolour impression of a man, a Conservative In Name Only, Crown Prince of the NIMBYs, a snarling anti-aviation zealot and an utterly useless London mayoral candidate. British politics will miss his early departure like I missed my inflamed appendix after the Royal Free Hospital scooped it out. (How’s that one, Matthew Parris?)

But naturally, the Liberal Democrats’ surprising win in Richmond Park is being spun by a gleeful party as rather more than it is. One can understand the jubilation of a party reduced from being junior coalition partner to a pathetic rump of eight MPs at being able to add another warm body to their number, but they go too far when they claim that 20,000 people in leafy Richmond is such a representative sample of Britain that a by-election result (which often go against the government of the day) can be safely interpreted as the British public “changing their minds” about Brexit.

And this is exactly what the LibDems, in their arrogance, are now claiming. The Spectator reports:

Goldsmith hoped to focus on airport expansion and his decision to fulfil his promise to constituents to stand down if it was given the green light. But the Lib Dems had other ideas and made it about the EU. The Richmond borough voted heavily to remain — at 69/31 — and the Lib Dem campaign — which was also anti-Heathrow — focused on this. They highlighted Goldsmith’s support for Brexit and reached out to Remain voters — with Olney even promising to vote down Article 50 in the Commons, if elected.

In her acceptance speech, Olney said voters had ‘sent a shockwave through this Conservative Brexit government’ while Tim Farron made the bold claim that if this were a general election the ‘Conservatives would lose dozens of seats to the Liberal Democrats – and their majority with it’. Now this is jumping the gun a bit, and as Fraser notes, a lot of the result can be put down to the Lib Dem’s effective ground game where Goldsmith just didn’t seem to have one. But it can’t be denied that the Lib Dem strategy is working. In the Witney by-election, the party increased its votes share from 7pc to 30pc. They have clearly defined themselves as the party of Remain and in constituencies that voted to stay in the EU this message is resonating.

The newly-elected MP herself was even more explicit on Sky News:

Olney told Sky News that ‘it does look now as if we can have a vote in Parliament that might override the referendum – and I will, obviously, be voting to Remain because that is always what I have believed’.

This is hilarious. Furious, tantrum-throwing Remainers have been complaining since the small hours of 24 June that the 52% of people who put their cross in the box voting to leave the European Union were in fact doing anything other than seriously voting for Brexit. It was just a cry of dissatisfaction, we were told. It’s all about immigration, or globalisation, or multiculturalism, and if only politicians say enough platitudinous things to placate public feeling on those issues then there will be no need to go ahead and trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, setting in motion the wheels of our departure.

And yet despite 17 million British voters casting their ballots to leave the European Union when the referendum question was both crystal clear and painstakingly discussed in advance (and the consequences clearly printed on the pro-Remain government propaganda sent to every household during the campaign), now we are supposed to believe that this vote was actually not a mandate or instruction to take Britain out of the European Union, while a single solitary by-election in leafy, pro-EU west London in which voters were explicitly choosing who to represent them in Parliament until the next general election, not casting a single-issue decision about Brexit is enough to cancel the whole thing.

Do these people hear just how arrogant they sound, and just how plain their attempts to game the system to their own advantage appear now that the curtain has been pulled back and the desperation of the moment has forced them to dispense with their usual subterfuge?

Besides, who knows whether the voters of Richmond Park really do want Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney as their new MP? As Brendan O’Neill put it on Facebook:

Anti-Brexit Lib Dem wins by-election in Richmond. But how can we be sure the people of Richmond really knew what they were voting for? Maybe they’re “low information”. Maybe they were made poisonously anti-Brexit by Guardian and Economist propaganda. Maybe they’re so hooked on Newsnight and Radio 4 that they can no longer think for themselves. Perhaps they were brainwashed by the demagogues Tony Blair and Richard Branson. Can we really trust such people to make big, important decisions like who should sit in parliament? We need a second vote. Give them another chance to get it right. The country must be saved from their ignorance.

Since the election, alarming new evidence has come to light – in the form of a car crash interview with Julia Hartley-Brewer on LBC radio, in which Sarah Olney jabbered like a madwoman, couldn’t answer a single question about Brexit and eventually panicked and had to be rescued by her spokesman after less than four minutes on air – which suggests that the people of Richmond Park may have unwittingly elected a complete and utter cretin to be their representative in Parliament for the next three and a half years.

Since the people of Richmond Park thought they were electing a competent  human being with a basic grasp of the issues rather than a flailing dilettante who cracks under the immense psychological pressure of a casual interview on morning radio, clearly they did not have all the facts. Clearly they were misled. Clearly they need another opportunity to consider their response in the light of this new information.

Isn’t that what we keep hearing about that idiotic “£350 million for the NHS” Vote Leave NHS bus?

 

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General Election 2015: The Morning After The Night Before

David Cameron - Conservative Party - General Election 2015 - Tories Win

On the eve of the 2015 general election, this blog complained:

David Cameron, the Prime Minister I supported for much of these past five years – and for whose party I voted in 2010 – spent the last day of the election campaign not making a powerful case for real conservative stewardship of the country, but by indulging in petty scaremongering about a Labour victory and pre-emptive expectation setting around the “legitimacy” of rival claims to power in the certain event of a hung parliament.

Well, inspiring or not, the Prime Minister’s strategy worked magnificently. David Cameron may have failed to inspire the British people with a burning, urgent vision for conservative government, but at least he managed (through endless repetition) to remind us that the economy is growing again under the Tories, and that a Labour-SNP coalition could put it all at risk.

And now, where only hours ago we expected the political parties to be commencing the first of many fraught rounds of coalition negotiations, instead we see David Cameron being driven to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen, while the other parties (save the astonishing SNP) quickly and mercilessly dispatch their failed leaders.

First and foremost, this election result is a resounding defeat for Labour, and the confused non-values it stood for during the 2015 campaign. Having both repudiated the centrism of New Labour and failed to return the party to its ideological roots, putting himself in the ludicrous position of being against the Tories but not for a tangible vision of his own, Ed Miliband has brought Labour to complete and utter electoral ruin.

Ed Miliband went to his political Armageddon today flatly refusing to accept that Labour had made any mistakes during their last thirteen year spell in government, at least as far as the economy and public spending were concerned. The electorate took one look at this outright denial of reality and determined that the Son of Brown could not be trusted to take stewardship of the finances again.

But almost nobody expected the Labour Party to perform this badly against the Conservatives – poll after poll showed the Tories and Labour in a virtual dead heat. So when the exit poll results were announced at ten o’clock last night, people scarcely believed them. Paddy Ashdown confidently remarked that he would eat his hat if the Liberal Democrats were reduced to ten MPs. They currently have just eight. UKIP supporters (including yours truly) were convinced that UKIP would win more than two seats, picking up at least Thanet South or Thurrock. But only Douglas Carswell now remains, cutting a lonely figure.

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Rootless Tories Prefer LibDems Over UKIP As Future Coalition Partners

Nigel Farage Nick Clegg UKIP LibDem Coalition

 

An interesting (and concerning) poll in Conservative Home this week reveals that more Conservative supporters would prefer David Cameron to enter into a future coalition with the Liberal Democrats (again) rather than UKIP.

Paul Goodman breaks down the detail:

  • Liberal Democrats73 per cent. This finding may be a proof that familiarity doesn’t necessarily breed contempt.  To some degree it reflects the fact that Tories have simply got used to working with the LibDems.  It is also a tribute, in its own way, to the staying power of the Coalition: I put my hand up to not having expected it to last all the way to the end.
  • UKIP49 per cent.  Some members will see UKIP as a natural partner for the Party.  Others won’t, but will believe that differences can be fudged.  Others still, as with the Liberal Democrats, will feel that coalition is a price worth paying to keep a Conservative-led administration in office: in some cases, respondents will have selected both options.

What does it say about the modern Conservative Party and the mindset of its supporters, that they would prefer to enter into coalition with a party that is rabidly pro-EU and in favour of an ever-expanding public sector funded through ever-increasing tax bills on the successful, rather than UKIP, the party which (just about) believes in smaller government, lower and flatter taxes, personal responsibility, a stronger military and secession from the European Union?

The answer, of course, it that it says nothing good at all.

The fact is that some Conservatives have quite enjoyed having Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats as bedfellows for the past five years – the coalition has helped the wet Tories to cover their left flank, giving the party a plausible excuse for making little progress on shrinking the size of the state and zero progress on reclaiming power and sovereignty back from the EU.

But if the current course of the 2015 general election campaign tells us anything, it is that the bland centrism that characterises the modern Labour and Conservative parties is increasingly unattractive to voters. True, the smaller parties are seeing some shrinkage in their support as polling day nears, but we remain on course to see the largest ever number and percentage of national votes cast for parties outside the big three.

Whether left or right wing, people are finally getting tired of seeing their core convictions (be it trade union solidarity and income redistribution on the left, or personal liberty and small government on the right) bartered away in pursuit of ineffectual policies calculated to cause minimal offence to anyone.

Yes, the Tories still have work to do in order to detoxify their brand. But the answer is not for them to dress up in Labour Party clothing and bang on endlessly about the importance of public services and “our NHS”. Such an approach will never work – it has been tested to destruction by David Cameron and George Osborne, and has convinced no one.

To move to the left is to sidestep the issue and avoid the hard work detoxifying conservatism in Britain, when what is needed most is patient explanation and passionate promotion of the idea that small government and less state (and EU) interference in our lives would be something to celebrate, not to fear.

Here is an interesting – and different – way to frame the question to Tory activists and the Conservative Party leadership. Rather than simply asking whether they would prefer the devil they know or the devil they don’t when choosing a future coalition partner, let’s ask which of these UKIP policies and ideas have suddenly become so offensive to the modern Conservative Party that they would sooner jump back into bed with Nick Clegg than with Nigel Farage:

Sadly we already know many of their answers, and they give us very little hope for the immediate future of British conservatism.