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”.

 

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Problematising Boundary Review Is Just A Way Of Entrenching The Labour Party’s Structural Privilege

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There are many obvious reasons for delaying or scrapping the upcoming constituency boundary review changes – but no good ones

See what I did with the headline there? Right-wingers can adopt the wheedling, victimhood-soaked language of the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics too, if we think it is going to advance our cause or smite our enemies.

Left Foot Forward editor Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is in high dudgeon because the coming boundary review and shrinkage of the House of Commons from 650 seats to a slightly more manageable 600 MPs apparently means that too many of those who are left will be on the government payroll.

Ní Mhaoileoin writes:

The government’s plan to cut the size of parliament will increase the proportion of MPs on the government payroll, the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has flagged.

According to new research, in a 600-seat Commons some 23 per cent of MPs would be on the government payroll, the highest proportion ever. The ERS warns that this could have ‘deeply worrying’ effects on parliamentary scrutiny and is calling for a cap on the number of payroll MPs.

‘This research shows we risk a crisis of scrutiny if the cut in MPs goes ahead without a corresponding cap on the number of payroll MPs,’ ERS chief executive Katie Ghose commented.

Having nearly a quarter of all MPs in the pocket of the PM is not a healthy situation for our democracy.

I think we can all agree that a body tasked with holding the executive to account which itself includes government ministers, parliamentary private secretaries and other hangers-on is always going to struggle to do an effective job – which is why many of us who think and care about constitutional issues all the time (as opposed to only when the system throws up a result we don’t like or disfavours our own preferred party) favour the total separation of the executive and the legislature.

Conservatives and progressives could potentially work together on reducing the size and cost of government while improving oversight by reducing the number of unnecessary junior ministers and official bag carriers, were it not for the leftist desire to have a government minister for everything under the sun, from Culture, Media and Sport to “Children, Young People and Families”. When your political philosophy expects and demands that the state be involved in every aspect of our lives, it inevitably necessitates a large cohort of ministers to do the meddling.

A cap on government payroll MPs would nonetheless be a reasonable (if typically British) compromise, but of course this is not what Ní Mhaoileoin really wants. And what Ní Mhaoileoin really wants is to maintain the current structural privilege currently enjoyed by the Labour Party. As Labour tends to perform best in urban seats, which themselves tend to be smaller and less populated than the suburban and rural constituencies where the Conservatives do well, the net effect for many years has been that it takes far fewer votes to elect a Labour MP than a Conservative MP.

Think of the gross anomaly whereby the SNP won 56 seats in Parliament at the 2015 general election with just 1.5 million votes, while UKIP won just a single seat despite winning 3.9 million votes. In the case of Labour and the Conservatives, the disparity is less pronounced – but it still exists. Boundary reform seeks to equalise constituency sizes, thus addressing the problem (though sadly not helping UKIP, who do not boast the SNP’s narrow geographic concentration of support). And this equalisation will enforce a basic fairness, the value of which makes it worth suffering through any negative side effects, particularly where these can reasonably be mitigated.

The concerns about the upcoming boundary review are well-rehearsed and rapidly becoming tedious. One might take them more seriously if those who raise the concerns showed any interest in solving or overcoming the issues that they raise rather than cynically using them as an excuse to halt something which – despite its inherent merit – is likely to be detrimental to the Labour Party’s electoral fortunes.

In short, this overwrought leftist concern about a toothless Parliament in the pocket of Theresa May is merely an attempt to problematise the issue of boundary reform, throwing a spanner in the works to prevent electoral disadvantage to Labour. Ní Mhaoileoin is doubtless in favour of reducing the size of the Commons as an abstrat theory, and if she were pressed through a hypothetical example would likely object to the current distribution of voters among seats which favours one party over another. But because the currently-favoured party in our system is Labour, and because Labour stands to lose out in relation to the Tories through this particular boundary review, Niamh feels compelled to oppose it.

But how to oppose something that is so self-evidently worthwhile and logical? The only way is to go grasping for every last flaw or possible technical hurdle in the review, inflating them out of all proportion and presenting each one as a show-stopper (or at least as justifiable grounds for interminable delay). As with the British Left’s general approach to Brexit, Ní Mhaoileoin is desperately problematising the boundary review, hoping to scupper it without ever having to reveal her true, grubby, anti-democratic reasons for doing so.

Smart politics? Maybe. The principled, moral, liberal thing to do? Absolutely not. Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin’s position is actually profoundly conservative – and not in a good way.

But apparently any behaviour, no matter how tawdry and self-serving, becomes noble and virtuous when it is performed in the service of the Labour Party.

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On The Article 50 Ruling

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Everybody calm down

So as was always a possibility, the High Court has ruled that the government does not have the authority to initiate Britain’s secession from the EU by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty without first winning a vote in Parliament.

From the Guardian:

Parliament alone has the power to trigger Brexit by notifying Brussels of the UK’s intention to leave the European Union, the high court has ruled.

The judgment (pdf), delivered by the lord chief justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, is likely to slow the pace of Britain’s departure from the EU and is a huge setback for Theresa May, who had insisted the government alone would decide when to trigger the process.

The lord chief justice said that “the most fundamental rule of the UK constitution is that parliament is sovereign”.

A government spokesman said ministers would appeal to the supreme court against the decision. The hearing will take place on 7-8 December.

The lord chief justice said: “The court does not accept the argument put forward by the government. There is nothing in the 1972 European Communities Act to support it. In the judgment of the court, the argument is contrary both to the language used by parliament in the 1972 act, and to the fundamental principles of the sovereignty of parliament and the absence of any entitlement on the part of the crown to change domestic law by the exercise of its prerogative powers.”

Unless overturned on appeal at the supreme court, the ruling threatens to plunge the government’s plans for Brexit into disarray as the process will have to be subject to full parliamentary control.

Starry-eyed, anti-democratic campaign group New Europeans are naturally delighted by this development, which they see as the first step toward overturning/ignoring the EU referendum result and ploughing on as though their hateful and spurned vision of a federal continental union had not just been summarily rejected at the ballot box.

Moments ago this cautiously triumphant missive from New Europeans pinged into my inbox:

This only adds to the political challenges for those of us who are determined to stop Brexit come what may.

If Theresa May decides to call an early election as a result of the legal challenges, we will find ourselves with a new parliament elected with a huge Conservative majority and a parliamentary mandate to deliver Brexit.

In this scenario, there will be no chance of a second referendum on the deal. Britain will be out of the EU in no time and there will be no way back. The best we could do would be to secure safeguards for EU citizens already here and Brits in Europe through our campaigning in Brussels.

On the other hand, if Theresa May is able to start the negotiations and bring the deal back to the current parliament, it is plausible that she will not be able to carry a majority for her Brexit deal, particularly if it is a hard Brexit deal (as seems likely), the cost of which will be truly “titanic”.

Failure to secure a parliamentary majority on a Brexit deal will mean a new election and provides the opportunity for a second referendum on whatever deal she negotiates. That would not be a referendum like the last one on the question “Do you like migrants?”. It will be a referendum on the cost of Brexit and I predict that the public will vote over-whelmingly to stay.

There is a huge job to do if we are serious about stopping Brexit. One of the key arguments in the legal challenge must continue to be the focus of our campaigning. It is not acceptable for the government to remove the individual rights of citizens by way of a referendum.

The rights that EU citizens – and all British citizens are currently EU citizens- will lose on Brexit mean that from a legal, moral and political point of view Brexit should not be allowed to go ahead.

From a moral point of view? When will these preening, sanctimonious euro-moralists get over themselves?

Meanwhile, Pete North takes the news in his stride:

The government will appeal. I’m pretty relaxed about it to be honest. The vast majority of Tories will fall in behind May and Article 50 will pass even if it scrapes a majority. There is no question of it not being invoked. The main sticking point will be a parliamentary demand that Mrs May pursue membership of the single market which she is in all likelihood planning on doing anyway. Why they are bothering I don’t know since Mrs May can make no guarantees. If they do manage to block it by some obscure means then they are basically signing their own death warrants and I think they know this. No MP would ever be safe in public again. From an anti-establishment perspective either suits me fine. If they want to spit on Brexit then they are basically declaring open war on the public. That’s a battle they lose every time.

I’m inclined to agree. Any Remainer celebrations are premature in the extreme. Even assuming the government loses its appeal to the Supreme Court (and unlike some angry Brexiteers I do not claim to be enough of a British legal scholar to know whether or not the case deserved to win on its merits), Parliament would almost certainly not stand in the way of the referendum result, no matter the posturing of some pro-EU MPs.

I don’t really remember the Poll Tax riots toward the tail end of Thatcher’s government. I mean, I remember seeing stories about it on the news, but since I was only eight years old the political ramifications of what I was seeing rather eluded me. But despite my hazy memory, I think it is safe to say were MPs (and it would have to include many Labour MPs representing constituencies which voted to leave the EU) to vote against giving the government authority to invoke Article 50, the resulting conflagration would make the Poll Tax riots look like a summer picnic on Hampstead Heath.

Never mind the constitutional ramifications, and the bizarre state of limbo into which Britain would fall, caught between an instruction from the people to secede from the EU and the petulant demand of MPs to remain. That is nothing compared to the wave of fire and fury and civil disorder that would (rightly) be unleashed upon Parliament, the political class and those MPs responsible.

Now, in our benighted age it is true that we suffer a number of MPs of less than exceptional intelligence and ability. But even the slowest of the crop are capable of grasping that when push comes to shove, they do not want their final act on Earth to be telling the British people, including many of their own constituents, to go to hell – that we should pipe down, forget about independence from the EU and meekly listen to the instruction of our superiors.

Let the legal process unfold as it may. If putting the ball back in Parliament’s court  gives Remainers who now suddenly fetishise British parliamentary sovereignty (after having been happy to watch it relentlessly undermined through our years of EU membership) a furtive thrill, or helps to shore up their denial, then so be it.

They will find the survival instinct of the British political system is much stronger than their ongoing child’s tantrum about being parted from their beloved European Union.

 

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A Third Runway At Heathrow Or Fixing Potholes In Roads? We Need To Be Bigger Than This In The Age Of Brexit

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It is Westminster politicians and journalists, not Brexiteers, who have been short sighted and parochial

The Telegraph’s James Kirkup poses an interesting question about the expansion of Heathrow Airport and other national political priorities in the post-Brexit world:

Almost 70 per cent of commuting is done by car so roads are clearly of interest to voters, never mind the wider economics.   But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that big shiny infrastructure projects like runways and high-speed railways are simply more glamorous and interesting to politicians and, yes journalists, who spend more time in London (where most people commute using public transport) than stuck at a roundabout trying to get onto a bypass.

Airport expansion is about international trade and competitiveness, our national self-image and our global role. All the important things that important people in London spend so much time talking about, in other words.  And rightly so. We should have another runway at Heathrow, and one at Gatwick, come to that: the more competition the better

But then our leaders really should start talking about things that are actually important to the people they work for: clogged roundabouts, congested junctions and potholes.

Earlier this year, the Treasury gave councils £50 million extra to fill holes in roads. Councils reckon they need £12 billion more to fill them all. That’s close to the £16 billion that might need to be spent on new roads around an expanded Heathrow. Which would voters choose in a referendum?

Read the whole thing – it is a thoughtful piece. And of course James Kirkup is right to point out that key national infrastructure projects and local community investment need not be mutually exclusive.

Personally, I make no apologies for firmly supporting the expansion of Heathrow Airport, as well as new runways for Gatwick Airport any any other airport which wants to expand to the benefit of our aviation sector.

As this blog previously ranted:

Air travel is great. It takes rich tourists from wealthy countries and brings them to poorer countries where they boost the local economy with their money. It keeps the wheels of business turning, from the CEO flying from New York to London for a meeting, the office worker commuting to Berlin every week for a project, to doctors and scientists gathering for international conferences.

Air travel bridges the distance between our towns and cities and helps knit the planet together through a web of far-flung family members, friendships and business relationships. And in doing so, the aviation industry helps to foster trust and understanding, bridging cultural divides and doing more to affirm our common humanity than any third-sector institution or political movement.

And yet we seem intent on attacking aviation, thwarting its growth and choking the life out of the industry with punishing airport taxes and insurmountable barriers to expansion. And for what? So that human beings can creep meekly across the surface of the planet, apologising for our very existence and ostentatiously offsetting the carbon dioxide we emit whenever we open our mouths?

But I must admit to bristling a bit at Kirkup’s analogy comparing Brexiteers to downtrodden locals worried only about potholes in their roads, while the Remain-supporting establishment are cast in the role of far-sighted metropolitan elites who alone acknowledge and face up to the long term problems facing our country.

If anything, it is actually the other way around. By continually divesting Westminster of more and more decision-making authority through successive EU treaties and agreements, it is the British political class who effectively dragged the level of our political discourse down to the level of squabbling about NHS waiting times, train delays and potholes in the roads. When all of the consequential decisions – like trade, and increasingly foreign relations – are taken at the European level, all that’s left for British politicians is to squabble about whether the BBC should be forced to up its bid for The Great British Bake-Off.

That’s why we now have a wishy-washy parliament and civil service which is having to rebuild atrophied trade negotiation competencies almost from scratch, while we look to our prime minister less as a world leader or person of real consequence, and more as a glorified Comptroller of Public Services, someone to moan about on social media when the local library closes or the street lights don’t get repaired quickly enough.

The British people instinctively realised this, too, when they voted in the EU referendum. They realised that they only way to even begin to regain control over the full range of domestic and foreign affairs which trickle down to impact their lives was by leaving the failing supranational, federalist experiment known as the European Union.

Kirkup suggests that our leaders “our leaders really should start talking about things that are actually important to the people they work for: clogged roundabouts, congested junctions and potholes”. Well excuse me, but I specifically do not want the prime minister of my country to be wasting her time fussing over potholes and traffic jams. I want the political leadership of this country to set its sights on higher matters for once. In fact, the rule of thumb should be that Westminster only takes an interest if a decision cannot be fairly and responsibly made at a lower level.

And as for Kirkup’s fact that £50 million was given by the Treasury to local authorities to fill in potholes, this is simply more evidence that all government in Britain is vastly overcentralised – that the work of constitutional and governance reform must continue well beyond Brexit. Why not vastly reduce the amount of personal income tax or VAT claimed by central government, and devolve increased tax-levying powers to the counties instead? That way, the people of Liverpool and Bristol can pursue policies which work for them, while the people of rural Essex or Cambridgeshire can do likewise – whether they choose to prioritise filling in more potholes or attracting new investment by slashing taxes or offering incentives to business.

The real danger of Brexit is that nothing much changes and we fail to rock the boat; that we fail to properly grab this once-in-a-lifetime chance to critically re-examine the way in which we govern ourselves and make important decisions at a personal, community and national level. Securing an economically stable secession from the European Union should be the minimum requirement, not the grand prize. Why go to the effort of leaving the EU simply to return to being governed by the same set of domestic institutions which orchestrated our national decline prior to joining the European Economic Community, and then gave away more and more power to EU institutions once we were inside?

Ultimately, the media does us a disservice by framing idiotic questions and false choices like whether we would prefer a new runway at Heathrow Airport or for the potholes on our road to be fixed:

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Ask your average group of people whether they want to see enacted a policy which benefits them personally or one which has larger but more disparate benefits spread among a much larger population, and a majority will vote with their own immediate self interest – 67% to 33% as it currently stands on the Telegraph’s online poll.

Does that mean that this is the better policy? Absolutely not. There are times when we are one nation and must subordinate the narrow interests of certain interest groups in order to further the national interest, and there are many other times when we should be able to organise ourselves as communities and regions without the heavy-handed interference of Westminster. And while central government should absolutely be rolled back in many areas, subjecting new airport runway capacity decisions to a citizen’s pothole veto is precisely the wrong way to run a country or frame important strategic decisions.

We need to up our game. Politicians, journalists, ordinary citizens alike, all of us need to try harder to live up to the momentous times in which we find ourselves.

If we stop shooting for the middle and actually try to make the most of the historic opportunity afforded by Brexit then in a decade’s time we might witness a rebirth of local democracy and improve citizen participation in the democratic process at all levels. Better still, we might stop behaving like such dependent children, looking petulantly to Westminster for solutions to every issue we face. And if we stopped demanding that the same people who deal with matters of war and peace and the economic stewardship of the country also ensure that the Number 12 bus runs on time then maybe, just maybe we might improve both the quality and speed of critical decision making in this country.

And yes, maybe then there will finally be a gleaming new runway at Heathrow Airport, and at Gatwick too. Because voting for Brexit was the far-sighted, responsible act of enlightened citizens, not grumbling, parochial NIMBYs. And it should be the first of many such acts, not the last.

 

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Top Image: Michael Gaida, Pixabay

Bottom Image: LadyDisdain, Pixabay

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With David Cameron’s Resignation From Parliament, British Conservatism Can Begin A New, Bolder Chapter

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Finding himself prematurely out of power and seeing no value in life as a mere backbench MP, David Cameron brings the curtain down on a bland, centrist, disappointing and entirely forgettable political career

Having successfully completed Tony Blair’s fourth term of office and having a premature end called to his fifth, David Cameron today announced his decision to flounce out of parliament – despite having earlier promised to stay on as an MP after his fall from power.

He took his leave of us with these words:

With modern politics, with the circumstances of my resignation, it isn’t really possible to be a proper backbench MP as a former prime minister. I think everything you do will become a big distraction and a big diversion from what the Government needs to do for our country.

And I support Theresa May, I think she’s got off to a great start, I think she can be a strong prime minister for our country and I don’t want to be that distraction – I want Witney to have a new MP who can play a full part in parliamentary and political life without being a distraction.

[..] I hope I’ll continue to contribute in terms of public service and of course contribute to this country that I love so much.”

[..] I spoke to Theresa May and she was very understanding about this decision. I support her, I support what she’s doing, she’s got off to a cracking start. Obviously I’m going to have my own views about different issues – people would know that. And that’s really the point: as a former prime minister it is very difficult, I think, to sit as a backbencher and not be an enormous distraction and diversion from what the Government is doing. I don’t want to be that distraction; I want Witney to have an MP that can play a full role in parliamentary and political life in a way I think I would find very difficult if not impossible.”

Naturally this has led to speculation that David Cameron somehow disagrees with Theresa May’s loudly-trumpeted plans for new grammar schools and the return of potentially widespread academic selection to the education system.

I find this explanation…unconvincing. If the capsuled history of David Cameron’s premiership and leadership of the Conservative Party has taught us anything about Cameron the man, it is that he has absolutely no core political convictions which he is not more than willing to toss overboard for the sake of political expediency and his relentless desire to engage in centrist triangulation.

Fiscal conservatism? As long as he and George Osborne were able to find some statistical or rhetorical device to falsely claim that they were “paying down Britain’s debts”, Cameron was more than happy to continue spending hand over fist, driving Britain’s national debt ever-upward while exhibiting enormous timidity in reversing many of Gordon Brown’s most draconian tax increases.

Strong national defence? It took his successor, Theresa May, to drive through the parliamentary vote on the renewal of Trident, while under David Cameron’s watch Britain temporarily waived goodbye to our aircraft carrier capability (a true diminution in the eyes of the world) as well as the ability to effectively patrol our own coastline and airspace without the help of allies.

A smaller state? The much-vaunted “Big Society” was dead on arrival in 10 Downing Street back in the spring of 2010, and whatever rearranging of deckchairs the coalition government engaged in, nothing was done to tackle the biggest budget black holes – pensions and the NHS. Under David Cameron, the government preferred to virtue-signal their progressive credentials by spending borrowed money on international aid than get to grips with departmental spending.

So given this singularly unimpressive track record, the idea of David Cameron suddenly discovering an ideological backbone and beliefs strong enough to resign over is frankly ludicrous.

In fact, what really happened is quite obvious. Cast from power unexpectedly and with unexpected speed, Cameron lied when he said that he intended to stay on and complete his term as MP for Witney. To have said otherwise and admitted his intention to resign would have appeared churlish, and more than anything Cameron wanted to cultivate the image of himself as an easy-going happy warrior, ready to relinquish the trappings of office without regret and re-assume a more humble role as a backbencher.

This announcement came as quickly as it possibly could without making Cameron look completely dishonest and reprehensible. At least when Gordon Brown resigned as an MP he had managed four years as a backbencher – albeit four years in which he collected a hefty MP salary while being virtually invisible in Westminster. David Cameron’s brittle ego wouldn’t even permit him to last a year on the backbenches. His top flight political career having been brought to an unexpected end, Cameron saw no reason to stick around as a mere constituency MP.

To politicians like David Cameron, the role of constituency MP is merely a springboard to ministerial power. When the possibility of prize cabinet jobs or the keys to Number 10 Downing Street are no longer an option, wasting time on select committees or dealing with constituents’ issues appears a supreme waste of time – time which could be better spent cashing in on fame and carefully tended relationships while they are still relatively fresh and can bear the most fruit.

James Kirkup is similarly unimpressed with the manner of Cameron’s departure:

On June 27, David Cameron issued this statement: “I will continue with my duties as the MP for Witney. It is an enormous privilege to serve the people of West Oxfordshire.”

So enormous that he could only bear it for a few more weeks, apparently. He’s off, leaving the Commons and triggering a by-election in Witney: some lucky Tory will soon inherit one of the safest and prettiest seats in the country.

What does this tell us about Mr Cameron? Nothing terribly positive, to be honest. Let’s remember, he fought the EU referendum campaign promising not to quit if he lost, then quit when he lost — but only having clung to office as long as possible and having banned the Civil Service from doing any preparatory work for Brexit, thus making it harder for his successor to actually get on with the job.

In between breaking his promise not to resign as PM and breaking his promise not to resign as an MP, the only significant official work he undertook was drawing up an honours list handing an OBE to his wife’s stylist and a knighthood to his press officer.

Not exactly the most dignified departure from office, is it? And certainly not one that’s easy to reconcile with many, many statements from Mr Cameron about the sense of duty he owed to his nation, the selfless service he felt obliged to render.

And Kirkup’s unsparing conclusion:

And this is why flouncing out of Parliament in this way is so telling: it speaks to something fundamental about Mr Cameron’s character and his approach to politics: a lack of seriousness, the absence of real commitment.  Yes, he wanted the job and yes he put the hours in, to the cost of his family.

But he would never die in a ditch for his political beliefs, never shed blood and move mountains to hammer home his arguments. It was always enough to get by, to do just enough to get the top grade and do better than the rest.

Sadly, that describes Cameron perfectly – far more obsessed with optics than reality, and forever in search of the path of least resistance, even when that path ran direct through traditionally left-wing territory.

Ultimately, David Cameron was a weak and instantly forgettable prime minister because he was a centrist triangulator and a technocrat at heart. As prime minister he had no real interest in reforming Britain in his own image, imposing his own worldview or being a statesman. Rather, he was content to campaign and govern as a mere Comptroller of Public Services, the living, breathing symbol of the diminution of our national politics.

With his happy departure from Parliament (en route to a minor footnote in history) one hopes that the ground has shifted under British politics, and that the age of the technocrat might be coming to an end. His successor, Theresa May, while far from being this blog’s preferred choice, at least seems to have some strongly held political views of her own, while Jeremy Corbyn’s imminent re-election as Labour Party leader promises a 2020 general election offering genuine choice to the electorate.

All we need now is for George Osborne to follow his chum David Cameron into political retirement and we may finally be able to turn the page on this most boring and depressing chapter in Conservative history.

 

David Cameron - Coke Zero Conservative - I Cant Believe Its Not Miliband

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