Of Brexit & Mexit: Part 2

The prophet Ecclesiastes once said (in 1,9, to be precise), that there is no new thing under the sun. Was his aphorism right as regards the history of the Tory party?

Well, then. Bernard Levin, while making clear his admiration for Margaret Thatcher, opined that: “There is one, and only one, political position that, through all the years, and all my changing views and feelings, has never altered, never come into question, never seemed too simple for a complex world. It is my profound and unwavering contempt for the Conservative Party.”

Levin had many reasons for his contempt – and delineated them within his peerless columns on a number of occasions – but one among the many was the squalid jockeying for position amongst political nonentities whenever blood was scented. It could be argued that the attitude of the modern Tory minister closely apes that of (here’s the irony) the nineteenth century Liberal politician Sir William Harcourt, described by Churchill as being “ambitious in a calculating style…. With an eye fixed earnestly, but by no means unerringly, upon the main chance.” (It should also be observed that here the resemblance between him and the shy contenders anxious to succeed Mrs May begins and ends, in that – to quote Churchill again – Harcourt was a “genial, accomplished Parliamentarian”, while the lack of accomplishments amongst his Tory successors is something to deplore.)

 Their Tory forebears had form, of course. Beaverbrook wrote that:

“Between October 15 and October 19 (1922) the struggle became less like a battle than a series of single duels. Every mans’ political  soul was required of him. Promises and promotions and honours were sprinkled from Downing Street on the green benches with a hose.”

Beaverbrook was writing about the meeting of Conservative MPs in the Carlton Club, a meeting which was to end the Tory – Lloyd George Liberal Coalition. This was just one of many internal struggles within the Tory party down the years, struggles that have enraged some and delighted others.

We find a more recent example (well, many of them, if truth be told) relayed gloriously in the diaries of the late Alan Clark. Encountering Edwina Currie in the Houses of Commons during the last, febrile days of Thatcher’s government, Clark congratulated her “on the combination of loyalty and restraint that [she showed] in going on television to announce [her] intention to vote against the Prime Minister in the leadership election.” Unsurprisingly, when Currie – whose devotion to self-promotion in the media was impressive even by modern Tory standards – suggested that they “argue this through”, Clark succinctly told her “to piss off”

Moving forwards a further two and a half decades or so, and we encounter Boris Johnson, of whom it could be said that he represents an embodiment of the sentiments that Wodehouse’s Ambrose Wiffen felt about the two small boys with whom he had been saddled:  

“On his first introduction to these little fellows it had seemed to Ambrose that they had touched the lowest possible level to which Humanity can descend. It now became apparent that there were hitherto unimagined depths which it was in their power to plumb”.

I suspect that many observers of the UK political scene would readily apply similar views about BOJO as he moved effortlessly from pulling the rug from under his leader to denouncing those of his colleagues engaged in identical activities.

As May prevaricates and flounders in a mess of Cameron’s making (and compounded by her decision to call an election), we are now in a situation where, like Micawber, her advisors have nothing to offer but advice; As Daniel Finkelstein has recently observed, “The best we can do on Brexit is play for time”

The above quotes have been selected in an attempt to escape from the claustrophobic atmosphere of the tedious squabbles about Brexit, and about its unplanned offspring, Mexit. 

Two preliminary definitions

  • Brexit – common term to denote the scheduled departure from European Institutions by the UK.
  • Mexit – author’s term for the possible departure of Mrs May from No 10 before the end of 2017

The state of play is confused even chaotic on both the issue of Brexit and on the issue of Mexit

To this outsider, the proceedings at the heart of HMG can best be summed as the ongoing effing fiasco. In no special order the collective performance of Mrs May and her cabinet colleagues can be described as faltering, floundering, foundering, failing, flailing, frustrated, fulminating, festering, furious and fractious.

Another eff word suggested itself but this is a family blog and the decencies must be observed.  

To simplify matters I shall employ the device of bullet points – a device much loved by manager johnnies.

 1. A Brexit update  from the edge of the margin of the periphery of the action

  • The situation here is not promising from the UK point of view.
  •  The 27 remainer counties appear to be hardening their resolve to make no concessions until the specified preliminary issues are resolved to their satisfaction.
  • As I write, the top level dialogue is running along the following lines: Mrs May – “The ball is in in your court” The 27 remainers – “Oh no it isn’t”  Mrs May – “Oh yes it is” And so on and so on.
  • The drama takes me back many years to the pantomimes of my childhood when the hero/heroine engaged in a brisk boisterous exchange with the audience as to whether or not the baddie was or was not behind him or her. All good stuff but not the ideal way to make progress.

 2. Thoughts on Mexit, again from the edge of the margin of the periphery

  • An impressive show of unity within the Tory Party following its party conference
  • On the debit side –  If a party can’t organise a conference – what can it do?
  • Peering through the fog of mendacity and delusion oozing out of No 10 – there is no obvious successor to Mrs M.
  • The first malcontent to show his head above the parapet – Grant Shapps – was judged by the media pack and by most of his colleagues in the house – to be a lightweight, and he quickly retreated to the obscurity from which he had emerged.
  • Collectively – those who rushed to support the PM were not exactly heavyweights – but what of that?
  • Whatever the wishes of politicians and media moguls – Brexit will continue to dominate the national political agenda until either The Brexiteers prevail and out we go or, by some most welcome development – not easy to discern at the moment – we come to our senses, ditch the Brexiteers and resume  Business as Usual within the EU.
  • The problem facing the Tories and, of rather greater importance, the country, is NOT the choice between Mrs May and AN Other, delightful though the prospect of AN Other ousting Mrs May might be to some us – to let us say – the reassuring self effacing Mr Hammond.
  • The problem facing HMG is NOT to decide between the a hard Brexit and a soft Brexit – both options evaporated when subjected to analysis.
  • The problem faced by the Tory party is quite simple: – Does it maintain its present Brexit policy to its only logical outcome – out we go  OR does it procrastinate and defer and set up enquiries and working groups and independent enquiries – all with the objective of playing for time to allow the nation to come to its senses.
  •  A few Tory MPS – not enough at this stage  – have been heard to whisper that maybe that the nice old timer, Dr Cable, had a good point when he suggested that there ought to be a FIRST referendum to decide if Brexit should proceed on the basis of the terms secured by HMG. This referendum might put the question, “Given the deal arrived at between the EU 27 and HMG – Should the UK stay in the EU or leave?” As with the June 2016 referendum – a simple majority to decide the answer. Alternatively, a  far more sensible way forward would be to put the same question to the House of Commons with the vote to decide if we stay or leave on the basis of the deal. 

 3. A few points for the voters and their elected representatives to consider

  • The word is that most MPs, being mostly of sound mind, would vote to remain within the EU if that option was available to them. This applies to Labour MPs as well as Tory MPs.
  • Opinion polls indicate steadily diminishing support for Brexit as the disagreeable consequences become more apparent.
  • One or other – or maybe both – of these options may in due course become available to the voters as more and more of them belatedly grasp the futility of Brexit, the scale of the deceit of BOJO and the baleful influence of the Murdoch/Dacre propaganda organs.
  • The emerging pattern of voting intentions is that the young are increasingly aware of the strong case to stay in the European Community – and is their future that is at stake.
  • I write these notes in my capacity as an old timer who sees BOJO as the most accomplished political fraud in my long life time – and there is a lot of competition for this dubious award.

 4. A look at the possible outcomes to the Mexit problem 

  •  At the optimistic end of the spectrum – Mrs May to be out by Christmas
  •  At the pessimistic end of the spectrum – Mrs May will still be PM up to the next election

  5. Of David and Boris

  • Those who follow these matters will recall that David Cameron committed the Tory party to hold an in-out referendum on our EU membership should the Tories win the 2015 election.
  • Obviously Cameron had considered this commitment carefully and his conclusion was that he could win the argument and the referendum.
  • He knew – or thought he knew – who were remainers and who were for leavers. Thus Mr Farage was clearly a leaver; Mr Ken Clarke was equally clearly a remainer; Messrs Dacre and Murdoch could be counted on to campaign to leave. And so and so forth as heads were counted.
  • What about BOJO? Aye – there’s the rub. Cameron was obviously counting on the support of BOJO to campaign to remain given that that had been his previous position. However, it has been reported in The Mail on Sunday that Boris only voted for Brexit to spite DC”. What does this little gem tell us about the judgement of Mr Cameron about the fickleness of his colleague of many years? More revealingly – what does it tell us about the judgement of BOJO, a man then as now devoid of any political principle save that of the advancement of BOJO.  

6. The view from Brussels

  •  They, the other 27 countries, believe that they hold all the winning cards. I believe that they are right to hold this view.
  •  I would go further. Their views about what the response of the 27 remainers to the pitiful performance of the representatives of HMG across the table is likely to be broadly as per the riposte of Alan Clarke to Mrs Currie as per the exchange quoted earlier, namely, “Piss off”.

 7. Of Brexit and the Blitz

  • The Daily Mail has reported that “A Think Tank funded by the British Taxpayers sparked fury yesterday by claiming Brexit would wreak similar damage to the Blitz. In an extraordinary intervention the OECD also suggested reversing would boost the economy.”
  • The intervention by the head of the OECD, Secretary General Angel Gurria, was sweet music to my ears,  but not to the ears of Mr Paul Dacre and his raucous well trained pack of journalists. Mr Gurria received the standard Mail treatment handed out to those daring to disagree with Mr Dacre.
  • I suspect that Mr Gurria would be quite relaxed about the predictable abuse heaped upon him.
  • That is apart from the menacing threat  by Tory MP to review (for review, read cancel) the £10 million a year that HMG gives to the OECD.

8. “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce” – Karl Marx

  • In the present circumstances the tragedy and the farce are being enacted simultaneously
  • The farce is Mexit
  • The tragedy is Brexit

 9. A closing thought. Help the aged.

  • Give your support to Dr Cable as he struggles to rescue the UK from its self inflicted wounds.
  • Now, more than ever, the UK needs its Cable Guy.

 

Image courtesy of Daily Express

 

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Brexit and Mexit

Brexit – common term to denote the scheduled departure from European Institutions by the UK.
Mexit – author’s term for the possible departure of Mrs May from number 10 Downing Street within the next few months.

Mrs May is as adamant that the UK will leave Europe as she is that she will remain in No 10 until well into the 2020s. In the following notes I will discuss the current states of play of and the prospects for these two key prime ministerial objectives.

Parliament broke up for its summer holidays back in July, and since then, Brexit and Mexit  have occupied and pre-occupied the UK media.

There is clearly a degree of overlap between the two issues – the state of play in the Brexit talks between the UK and the EU, and  the survival prospects of Mrs May as Prime Minister.

“It’s no use to start talking unless you’ve made up your mind what you’ll do if the other fellow says no.”
Ernest Bevin

Those now leading the Brexit discussions for the UK should note the wise words of Ernie Bevin, one of the most accomplished UK negotiators of the last 100 years.

Mr Davis appear to labour under the misapprehension that a few crisp insults will be a more than adequate substitute for a closely reasoned case.

“Belay that talk, John Silver…This crew has tipped you the black spot in full council, as in dooty bound; just you turn it over as in dooty bound, and see what’s wrote there.” “Thanky, George,” replied the sea cook. “You always was brisk for business, and has the rules by heart, George. Well, what was it anyway?  Ah – Deposed- that’s it, is it?”
Dramatic scene from Stevenson‘s Treasure Island describing a coup – which failed – among the mutinous pirates.

A similar scenario cannot be ruled out as we enter that most worrying and unpredictable of seasons – the party conference season. Those Tory MPs who are worried about their prospects under the shaky flaky leadership of Mrs May – maybe the great majority of them bearing in mind the unforeseen cull of a significant number of former Tory MPs on June 8 – will have been busily conspiring in recent months about the timing of the handing of the black spot to Mrs May

Mrs May addressed the following remarks to the Tory Party conference back in October, 2002.

So the direction of policy will be clear. And our plans will be in place for next year’s elections. Yes we’ve made progress. But let’s not kid ourselves. There’s a way to go before we can return to government. There’s a lot we need to do in this party of ours. Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies. You know what some people call us – the nasty party.

“I know that’s unfair. You know that’s unfair but it’s the people out there we need to convince – and we can only do that by avoiding behaviour and attitudes that play into the hands of our opponents. No more glib moralising, no more hypocritical finger-wagging. We need to reach out to all areas of our society.”

I suspect that Mrs May is about to find out at first hand just how nasty the Conservative party can be when it sets its collective mind to the task.  

What are the odds on the black spot being passed to Mrs May before the end of October? My informants tell me that you can get 11/2 on that outcome – not a racing certainty by any means, but still a cause of concern for Mrs May. 

Before I get down to detail let me set out my own views – after all this is my blog.

I hope that even now it is not to late for the UK voters to grasp the enormity of the folly of their collective decision on June 23rd , 2016 – Black Thursday – and somehow or other get that decision reversed.

I have no qualms about supporting an all party grouping convened and organised solely to achieve this critical political outcome.

I remain an unrepentant Remainer.

 A snapshot of the state of play on Brexit

Just as Mrs May fears the presentation of the black spot by her Tory party colleagues – so Britain should fear receiving the black spot from and by Brussels.

What would you do if you were in power in Brussels?

I can only speak for myself, but my exasperated response would be to attach a large EU hand to the seat of our British trousers and an equally large EU hand to our British coat collar and apply the old heave ho – Get out and stay out.

Let the British try for once – just once – to see ourselves as the Europeans see us.

Might it not be the case that we are perceived as a collective pain in the backside – a combination of party poopers, disruptive pupils,  soccer hooligans, and (by some at least)as the running dogs of Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre?

My sympathies here are largely with the Brussels boys but I need to be careful to avoid being labelled as being of the Quisling tendency. I don’t need that sort of obloquy at my time of life.

Where are we on Mexit?

“Depend on it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
Dr Sam Johnson

Well it would, wouldn’t it?

“If it were done when ‘tis done then ‘twere well it were done quickly.”
Macbeth reassuring himself that in murder speed is of the essence.

 Points to note on the Mexit issue include, firstly, that supporters of Mrs May – there are still a few about – are using their media influence to press the  case for TINA (There Is No Alternative). TINA was made popular by Mrs Thatcher at a time when the alternatives on offer were similarly bleak. However I suspect that the instinct for sheer political survival – always a powerful motive – will persuade significant numbers of Tory MPs to call time on Mrs May.   To put the matter into terms that would have been clear to our seafaring ancestors – a Black Spot faction will emerge to press the dreaded verdict into the sweaty palm of our Prime Minister. 

 Sceondly, will Mexit, if and when it happens, be a hard Mexit or a soft Mexit?

“Now, Grimes, you’ve got to behave like a gentleman…. Were going to leave you alone for half an hour. There’s your revolver. You know what to do.” Luckily they left a decanter of whisky in there with me..”
Decline and Fall. Evelyn Waugh

 I have opined elsewhere that a soft Mexit would entail supplying Mrs May with a loaded revolver and a bottle of Scotch, and relying on her to do the decent thing.  Under the terms of a hard Mexit the Scotch would be removed from the table.

“Subs – please check that I’m still here at the time of going to press.” Mrs T. May ( Headmistress)
Anxious request from Mrs May at the end of the spoof Private Eye column  — Sept 8- just before the start of the conference season. 

Brexit – what next ?

The news coming out of the Brexit talks grows more and more grim with each negotiating session. David Davis has mastered the art of presenting bad news with a smile, a smile that grows more and more forced as the discussions proceed.

His opponents across the table – for that is what they are – become more and more aware that they hold far stronger cards, and that they – his opponents – are quite relaxed about the excoriating comments about them in the Daily Mail with strong support from the Murdoch press. It is doubtful if  denunciation by Paul Dacre carries the same threat in Brussels as it does throughout the UK.

I am unsure about the significance of the latest Brexit policy statements coming from the Labour Party – and I am sure that my uncertainty is shared by Mr Corbyn – but what of that?

In terms of political strength, Mr Corbyn’s position ahead of and during the Labour Party conference is  much more powerful than that of Mrs May the following week in that all he has to do is to say nothing in a suitably vague key way and leave the making of mistakes to Mrs May.

The position of Mrs May ahead of and especially during the Tory party conference the following week is much more precarious and her very survival as Prime Minister is at risk because of her performance across a wide range of issues.

Theresa May actions sure to trigger a growl when mentioned in Tory circles include:

  • Her decision to call the June 8 election after stating that she would not do so.
  • Her abysmal management of the Tory election campaign.
  • Her belated recognition that there are a lot of old timers on the voting register and many of these were not impressed by her cavalier policy announcements about state support for dementia sufferers.
  • Her elevation to key election strategy roles for Nick (Rasputin) Timothy and Fiona Hill.
  • Her interminable reference to the strength and stability of her leadership.

Most telling of all was her miscalculation in calling the election.

Her predecessor, Mr Cameron, got it badly wrong when he agreed to hold the in/out referendum and he duly walked the plank.

Equality between the sexes is all the rage so why not a plank for Mrs May – low heels recommended for the trek down the plank.

 A word about the divorce settlement

It has become normal practice to describe the financial settlement that is expected to be a feature of Brexit as a divorce settlement with a disconcertingly wide range of possible amounts being bandied about.

BOJO was less than helpful here when he said that those in EU seeking amounts at the top end of the scale could go and whistle for the requested sums.

I have no idea how this matter might be progressed and under whose jurisdiction? Might the incumbent in No 10 at the time of the settlement be required to sign a cheque for say £50 billion or maybe the EU would allow us to settle the agreed amount on the basis of a Hire Purchase arrangement. 

Another word about the divorce discussions

I gather that some influential people are putting the case for the UK to remain in some key EU institutions – say within the Customs’ Union. In other words they argue that the EU could be persuaded to allow the UK to cherry pick which parts they would accept and which parts they would relinquish.

To develop  the divorce metaphor  – this is rather like a partner in divorce proceedings seeking agreement with the other half of the failed marriage if he/she could see his/her way clear to allowing a business as usual arrangement on bedroom activities to continue whilst other matters were being resolved.

In short to allow the terms of the contract covered by the  “with this body I thee wed” clause to carry on into the future.

Yet another wonderful prospect opening up for  the legal profession.

 Some Blue Sky thinking

Mr Blair was wont to talk about the need for blue sky thinking – new, out-of-the-box thinking. If ever there was a time for blue sky thinking that time is now.

The word is that an overwhelming majority of MPs would vote to reverse Brexit if that option was available to them.

How can those of us who wish to remain bring about a means of securing  that outcome?

On the subject of Blair – he and the other three living ex – Prime Ministers all argued strongly in support of remaining, and all have stuck firmly to that view. However there is no consensus about how that agreeable choice might be made available.

I gather that Dr Cable is attempting to develop a plan under which there would be a FIRST referendum to endorse or reject the terms that are finally arrived at. That seems to me to be a most promising approach, one to be supported and nourished. An approach which will grow in appeal as the reality of Brexit becomes clearer and gloomier.

So – let’s hear it for Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron – their country needs them.

A plausible political modus operandi – procrastinate and procrastinate and procrastinate again until we as a nation get the message and reluctantly accept that Brexit was a bad idea endorsed by a bewildered and battered electorate.

The happy ending might be that we get one more chance to redeem ourselves – can we please stay if we promise to be good?

One last point – The hostile exchanges between Mr Davis and his EU opponents can be compared in rancour with the robust exchanges of  views between Mr Trump and Mr Kim Jong-UN.

Is that really what we want?

Surely this great nation of ours can do better than that.

Image courtesy of Daily Star

A Parrisian Emotional Spasm

“The Conservatives are criminally incompetent”
“Even in the bad times I felt proud of my party but this scarcely believable Brexit shambles has left me deeply ashamed”
Heading and Sub Heading from The Times July 29 – Matthew Parris

“And you call that statesmanship. I call it an emotional spasm.”
Nye Bevan responding roughly to hecklers at the Labour Party conference in 1957.

My text for today is the Parris column which appeared under the dramatic headlines referred to above.

It is one thing for – let us say Mr John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, – to talk airily about the criminally incompetent Tories. It is rather more worrying for Mrs May and her cabinet colleagues to see themselves described as criminally incompetent by the thoughtful Mr Parris, a lifelong Tory and former MP, albeit one of the Tory left persuasion.

What has happened to trigger this Parrisian emotional spasm?

Parris makes it clear at the start of his column that the target of his ire is “not the government’s incompetence, Whitehall’s ill preparedness, the Prime Minister’s inadequacy, Labours disunity or even Europe’s aggressiveness ….. Do the voters even begin to understand how this mess is entirely of the Conservative Party’s creation – The fingerprints for this crime of mismanagement are Tory fingerprints- ”

Thus the Parris opening statement for the prosecution.

A couple of observations.

Polonius – My Lord I will use them according to their desert–
Hamlet – God’s bodykins, man, much better.
Use every man after his desert, and who should ‘scape whipping”

Hamlet shrewdly points out to Polonius the consequences of applying too rigorously the adage of each according to his deserts.  The whippers would need to operate a 24/7 system to ensure that the those performing below par got the treatment.

I have only the shakiest grasp of the criminal law but I would surprised if mismanagement is defined anywhere as being a crime. Let us be charitable and assume that Mr Parris got carried away at this point.

After a couple of paragraphs of fairly feeble criticism of Messrs Johnson, Fox, Davis and Tory MPs, Parris returns to splenetic mode.

“I call this criminal; irresponsible to the point of culpable recklessness towards their country’s future….. Do we yet understand, has it yet been born in on us, that it is we and we alone who have led the whole country into the predicament it now finds itself – I return to England ashamed to be a Conservative.”

Well – there you have it.

Let me go further than I did a couple of paragraphs ago.

  • There is no such crime as mismanagement – just as well as the already malfunctioning prisons would struggle to cope with the hundreds of thousands of new inmates from HMG, from Whitehall, from the Town Halls, from our Universities – but note that the behaviour of some Vice Chancellors may well be verging on the criminal as they loot the funds placed under their control placed there to fund higher education.
  • The hysteria that is such a prominent feature of this particular Parris column obscures rather than clarifies what went wrong and why, and, crucially, Mr Parris fails to spell out or even to suggest the possible steps that are available to retrieve the situation.  The former MP generates heat where light would be more appropriate. In all the matters discussed in his column Mr Parris shirks the challenge of fleshing out his generalisations – which are mostly sound; he uses a metaphorical shot gun to back up his assertions, when a precision rifle is called for.

“All animals are equal”: the 7th commandment in the first list issued by the animals following their takeover of Manor Farm in Orwell’s Animal Farm. As the revolution turned full circle the commandment was later amended to read- “All Animals are equal – But some Animals are more equal than others”.

I would like to borrow the amended version and further amend it to read – “All Conservatives are guilty – but some are more guilty than others.” Mr Parris clearly wishes it to be understood that he personally is not guilty as charged – by himself – but he is not quite as understanding of and as forgiving of the great majority of his fellow Tories.

Let me offer a version that combines a good deal more charity towards the silent majority of Tories with a rather more damning but also plausible indictment of the guilty Tory brexiteers.

The silent majority of Tories – caught up in a bitter conflict that was not of their own making – used the plausible excuse that the people had spoken and that the verdict arrived at by the people in the June 23, 2016 in out referendum must be not only respected but implemented.

The key point is that some Tories are more guilty than others.

A glance back at what happened before the May 2015 General Election

Prime Minister David Cameron, fearful that he and his party might be outmanoeuvred by UKIP on the delicate issue of EU membership, rashly committed his party to an In / Out referendum should he be in a position to do so after the election.

Cameron was obviously confident that he would win any referendum and his main concern was to secure a result that not only kept Labour out but would also enable him to shake off the encumbrance of his Lib Dem coalition partners.

To the surprise of many he succeeded in achieving a narrow but perfectly workable Tory majority over all the other parties in the May 2015 election – so – a prompt goodbye to the Lib Dem Mr Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister in the pre-election government, who was soon to be followed into the wilderness by the leader of the Labour opposition, Mr Ed Miliband.

More joy was to follow for Cameron – in September 2015 Ed Miliband was succeeded as Labour leader by Mr Jeremy Corbyn – widely and understandably regarded as a no-hoper by the commentariat.

May 2015 to June 2016

The main political feature of this period was the contest between the Ins and the Outs in the referendum campaign.

The various prominent figures on both sides on both sides of the argument were in the main clear as to their respective positions from the start.

Most MPs from the main parties were in favour of remaining in the EU. The prominent Outs were Mr Nigel Farage – the referendum was largely for his benefit – together with long time anti-Europeans such as Bill Cash.

Mr Paul Dacre of Daily Mail fame/notoriety could be relied on to support the out campaign and he duly did so. Mr Rupert Murdoch, proprietor of The Sun and The Times, could be relied upon to make mischief and he duly did so.

It was said that significant numbers of voters voted to leave because they were alarmed by reports of large scale uncontrolled immigration, but immigration was always likely to be an important issue in the referendum campaign and one must presume that Mr Cameron factored this into his calculations.

In the early stages the debate was not about the outcome but rather about the scale of the In majority. Mr Cameron knew or thought he knew which Tories would support the Remain cause and which would not. He failed to foresee that Michael Gove and Boris Johnson were men of deeply held principles and that they would stick to their principles by supporting whichever outcome would best further their own career prospects.

As the debate proceeded and the referendum date drew near a new issue emerged with the appearance of two hitherto unknown elements – the respective consciences of Messrs Johnson and Gove. Their damascene conversions followed by their admittedly effective campaigning were significant factors in swinging the balance away from Remain and towards Leave.

Cameron paid a heavy price for his inability to spot this pair of charlatans despite his supposed in-depth knowledge of their respective characters.

He resigned as PM on June 24 – the day after the referendum – as soon as it became clear that the in case had been defeated.

(A request to Mr Parris – please note that the behaviour of Johnson and Gove was despicable but NOT criminal. Please note also that Mr Cameron got the whole affair badly wrong, unfortunate for him – and for the UK – and for the EU – but not criminally so.)

The circumstances of Cameron’s resignation recalled to my mind a story that appeared in the autobiography of Bobby Windsor, the third and most boisterous member of the Pontypool Front Row. The other two members of this illustrious trio were Graham Price and Charlie Faulkner. Windsor wrote about payments made at the time to players at Cross Keys RFC. “Charlie was getting £3.50 and I was on £5. Before my first season as captain I was invited into the committee meeting to discuss plans. Charlie says to me, Tell them I want a fiver same as you. If they don’t agree to that, I’m f****** off. When I came out of the meeting, he said – What’s happening? I said – You’re f****** off.

What happened after DC resigned in June 2016

  • There was an intriguing and entertaing campaign as to who would become the one to replace DC as leader of the Tory party and, rather more importantly, as our new Prime Minister.
  • The two main Tory turncoats – from In men to Out men – excelled themselves, with Gove edging ahead in terms of sheer treachery.  BOJO withdrew from the race when Mr Gove announced his decision to stand.
  • The latter defection proved too much for Tory MPS and Mr Gove came a poor third to Mrs Andrea Leadsom – mother of 3 – and Mrs Theresa May – childless. Mr Gove then also withdrew from the race.
  • The contest then became a walkover after Mrs Leadsom made some ill considered comments about the advantages of having a mother as Prime Minister.
  • Mrs May entered Number 10 but not before making a speech from the front door, a speech carefully designed to be all things to all people. Her subsequent cabinet appointments were a source of qualified delight to BOJO, who had clearly not expected any favours. He did appear slightly uneasy, though, about having to job share at the Foreign Office with Messrs Liam Fox and David Davis, but beggars can’t be choosers
  • Mr Gove was awarded the consolation prize of becoming a messenger boy for Mr Murdoch.
  • Mrs May quickly decided to respect the verdict of the voters by arranging for the UK to leave the EU. She also stated that she would not call an election until 2020, ie 5 years after the 2015 election won by the DC government.

July 2016 to May 2017

The main points to note by way of explanation about what happened next are:-

  • In the referendum campaign Mrs May had been a clear but muted advocate for the In cause.  This track record did not prevent her from asserting that the will of the people would prevail, and that she would make all necessary arrangements for Brexit.
  • Progress towards the implementation of Brexit proceeded at a leisurely pace for the rest of 2016 and for the first few months of this year
  • Mrs May then announced in early May to a startled country that she would call an election to be held on June 8th in order to strengthen her position at the forthcoming discussions to finalise exactly how and under what conditions, the UK would sever its links with the EU.

Main features of the June 8 Campaign

  • The Tory campaign was all about Mrs May – said by Mrs May to be strong and stable – as opposed to Mr Corbyn who possessed neither of these attributes.
  • The commentariat debated the range of possible outcomes – given the widely perceived – by the commentariat – unelectability of Jeremy Corbyn – say from a Tory majority of 50 at the bottom end to 150 at the top end.
  • As the campaign proceeded Mrs May was seen to be making what we old manager johnnies would call a bollox of it – remember the fiasco of the dementia tax.
  • Finally and sadly the voters – showing all the reliability and consistency of BOJO and Gove – reduced her parliamentary majority to vanishing point. Effectively the outcome was a clear indication of the falling support for Brexit and the bum’s rush for Mrs May. As I write she is dependent for her very political existence on a shaky platform built on shit and quicksand – an arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party.

Features of the current situation

  • Most of the main movers and shakers are basking in the baking heat of Southern Europe. It may well be the case that the political tempers of the movers and shakers will be mirroring the ambient temperatures.
  • I suggested in a recent blog post that Mrs May will not be in No 10 by the end of Sept – the instinctive desire of her Tory-party colleagues for political self preservation will see to that.
  • A lot of professional politicians with faultless records of suitably docile service to their respective parties are said to be looking anxiously at the ease with which the new French President sacked a whole generation of party hacks and replaced them with… who? You tell me.

“Then – why the hell this defeatism?”
Nye Bevan deploring the feeble response to election defeat by the Labour Party in 1959.

A few closing points to convert Mr Parris from being a moaner-Remainer in a plaintive muted minor key to a fortissimo Remainer.

In recent months there have been some faint hopes stirring among we dogged Remainers that all may not be lost

In no special order:

  • The outcome of the June 8 General Election was a clear sign that electoral support for Brexit was and is waning.
  • Dr Vince Cable,  a passionate Remain advocate,  has secured the leadership of the Lib Dems.
  • There are encouraging signs that Mr Corbyn may decide to spend more of his time on matters of UK importance and rather less to the distressing but remote problems that are exciting people in Venezuela. We should recall that Mr Corbyn was a tireless advocate for the Remain cause on many platforms prior to the referendum.
  •  Mr Tony Blair has cautiously raised his head above the parapet to suggest that all is not lost and that ways can be found to build a new coalition to campaign for a second opinion.
  • Tory government ministers Davis, Fox and Hammond are on occasions taking time off from denigrating their colleagues and each other to hint that the task of securing brexit may well turn out to be rather more protracted than originally predicted.

So speaking only for myself but hoping that Matthew Parris may be listening:
What do we Remainers want?
A- A reversal of the decision arrived at by the In/Out referendum of June 23, 2016.
When do we want it?
A- Now.
What is our policy?
A- To initiate an energetic campaign to reverse the decision to leave the EU; to demand that the government put country before party; to apologise to the EU and get back to Business as Usual within the European Union.
What advice do we have for the whining Remainers as typified by Matthew Parris – he of the emotional spasms?
A- Shape up and follow the advice of that great Tory Winston Churchill and cut out the flinching, the wearying and the despairing.
What about the threat posed by Paul Dacre?
Follow the instruction of Rupert Murdoch back in 1983 – namely, F*** Dacre.
(On this last point honesty compels me to acknowledge that Murdoch was referring to a different Dacre but the instruction remains valid and free of ambiguity in the context of the Remain / Leave debate.)

 

 

The Theresa May Soap Opera

In the recent general election, held on June 8, there was a widespread assumption across the country immediately prior to the declaration of the result that the worst outcome – for Mrs May – would be a significant increase in the Tory majority of 17 to around 50, and the best outcome – for Mrs May – an increased majority well into 3 figures.

The outcome – among other things – caused the prophetic talents of most of the commentariat to be called into question.

I gather that there are now debates of sorts going on regarding the following linked but separate issues:

  • The administration of Mrs May is widely perceived as standing on the shakiest of foundations.
  • A leadership election would solve nothing.  Says who? Says Mrs M.

It would appear that a substantial slice of the Tory parliamentary pie would beg to differ. Malcontents are said to be murmuring sentiments along the lines of:  We are going nowhere fast – let’s get it over with – who knows  – with a different leader and with a spot of emollience here and there –  we might even win. 

  • Who therefore is likely to replace Mrs May as Tory leader and hence as our next Prime Minister when she leaves Number 10 sometime in the next few months? 
  • Which of the two main parties is most likely to emerge as the winner in the General Election which would be likely to follow?
  • What are the prospects of the Brexit vote in the June 2016 referendum being reversed and if yes, under what circumstances?

One tricky factor is the unreliably of the Tory – DUP coalition (a tiny pugnacious tail wagging a worn out dog). (I almost used the female of dog but feared that it might be politically incorrect and certainly ungentlemanly.)

 Please understand that I know no more than you do about the debates within debates that occupy the time of the main players: I read the newspapers and watch the TV news.

I have not had and do not expect to receive calls from BOJO and Mr Corbyn and other key players in the inner ring giving me the inside story.

Is Mrs May about to walk the plank?

In theory, Mrs May could cling on in No 10 right up to June 2022, showing the tenacity of Mr Assange holed up in the Uruguayan embassy. This is an unlikely but not impossible scenario.

Paddy Power will supply the odds for this outcome but is it really plausible? Not really. 

Who is the most likely replacement?

Again, Paddy Power will supply the odds but it is at this point that the matter becomes really interesting, because the drawing up of the short list is a matter for the (thinned out) Tory members of Parliament. Voting on the short-listed candidates is then extended to the membership of the Tory party, and this group is rather more concerned to secure the interests of the Tory party in the country.

So, the voting MPs in the drawing up of the short list will be concerned to ensure that their chosen candidate has the best chance of securing a Tory win in the highly probable ensuing election.

A few points to make by way of an interim report

  • Most of the main players have packed buckets and spades and headed for the seaside. They will not be around for the next six weeks or so.
  • Mr Dominic Grieve (who he?) will be minding the HMG shop in the absence of Mrs May. 
  • The main players will not be limiting their activities to shovelling sand into buckets. They will of course use the tranquility of the silly season to further their respective aims and policies via time-honoured plots and conspiracies.

The lessons of recent history – a look at which regime changes at / in Number 10 were civilised and which were not

Wilson replaced by Heath, 1970 – a regime change as per the text book, that is as per the verdict of the electorate.

Heath by Wilson, 1974 –  an own goal by Heath who absurdly asked the voters, Who governs Britain?  The gist of the response of the voters was that it was you, Mr Heath, but not any more.

Callaghan by Thatcher, 1979 – another text book democratic regime change.

Thatcher by Major, 1990 – Thatcher was given the old heave-ho by her parliamentary colleagues, mainly because she had opened fire on the Town Halls and with that move had increased the prospect of yet more confrontation. Tory MPs took the view that after a decade of Mrs T they were entitled to a  peaceful era,  and who, apart from Mrs T, could blame them? Anything for a quiet life.    

Major by Blair, 1997 – a landslide win by the most accomplished harvester of votes in the modern age.

Blair by Brown, 2007 – the years of plotting by Brown against Blair finally paid off. Blairites were ousted from key positions and replaced by Brownites, and Blair walked the plank, albeit with the plaudits of most of the House Of Commons ringing in his ears. 

Brown by Cameron, 2010 – a penalty shoot-out: the outcome was that Mr Clegg decided (how and on what basis?) that a deal with Mr Cameron was a slightly lesser evil than a deal with Mr Brown.

Cameron by Mrs May, 2016 – after Mr Cameron foolishly asked the British people, Yes or no to the EU? The response from the voters was to the effect that we don’t keep  a dog and then do our own barking. 

Mrs May by ?, 2017 – keep reading. 

As I write, Mrs May still resides in No 10, but the bailiffs are poised to hand out an eviction notice. She rashly asked the UK voters to strengthen her position vis a vis the EU in the forthcoming Brexit discussions and the skittish voters handed her the electoral equivalent of the black spot.

I suspect that she will be seeking – rather against her own wishes – new accommodation within the next few months and in the following notes I assume that this will happen.

The Tory party campaign during the recent general election (lost by Mrs May but not really won by Mr Corbyn) was all about Mrs May and sadly she wilted and withered under the relentless media scrutiny. 

As I write she is suffering from the effing syndrome – she is faltering, floundering, foundering, failing, flailing, frustrated, fulminating, furious & fractious. 

A few other adjectival candidates suggested themselves, all wholly appropriate, but this is a family blog and the decencies must be observed. 

A proposed timing plan to cover the next few months

  • Mid September  – The hour of the men in suits arrives and Mrs May is ousted via a leadership challenge.
  • End of September  – after a boisterous phase in which the usual mendacious pleasantries will be exchanged,  a short list comprising Messrs BOJO, Gove, Davis and Hammond will be chosen by Tory MPs and then presented to the electorate which is made up of members of the Tory party.  The four masochists will duly receive the most searching examination of their real and imagined qualities, and the cup of national schadenfreude will overflow as hitherto unsuspected frailties are flushed out and highlighted to the delight of the multitude. 
  • Mr Davis will be elected as leader of the Tory party, and, on the shaky assumption that the coalition with the DUP is still in place, will become our new prime minister.
  • This outcome will be determined on the basis that he is the least objectionable of the candidates on offer, not just to members of the Tory party, but much more importantly, to UK voters as a whole.

 The first decision of DD – to call an election or to soldier on?

I suspect that DD will go the country immediately given that he is on a hiding to nothing if he soldiers on.

If he secures a Tory majority – well done David Davis.

If Mr Corbyn secures a Labour majority, Davis remains as Tory leader and watches calmly from the sidelines as Corbyn grapples with problems of a somewhat greater order of magnitude than those that he had previously encountered.

Points to note regarding the next general election

  • Tory HQ should be able to organise an effective campaign based on Mr Davis, the Steady Eddie candidate, capable of steering the ship of state through the stormy waters (doncha just love these nautical metaphors) that lie ahead.
  • The Tory approach next time round will surely replace the bungling amateurism of Mr Nick (Rasputin) Timothy and Ms Fiona Hill – both quickly and rightly given the bum’s rush after the June 8 debacle – with a rather more competent and professional approach.
  • Messrs Murdoch and Dacre will carefully target the perceived weak links in the Labour Party chain. Both of these gentlemen will still be smarting from the June 8 outcome: next  time the Murdoch gloves and the Dacre gloves will be off; no more Mr Nice Guy from these champions of both the Tory cause and the Brexit cause. 

How might Mr Corbyn cope as he attempts to present himself not as the voice of one crying in the wilderness but rather as one fully capable of leading his country into the sunlit uplands?

On the last occasion, his campaign plan appeared from the point of view of this outsider to have been based on the time-honoured tactic of damage limitation and I understand that he was as startled as were most of the rest of us at the outcome – but also considerably more elated.

He will find it a little more difficult next time round, but equally I am sure that he learned a great deal and will arrange for his various spokespersons to distinguish between firm electoral commitments and commendable but longer-term dreams of a better world.

In the aftermath of the June 8 election, Mr Owen Smith was quoted as saying that if he and not Mr Corbyn had been elected as the leader of the Labour Party then the Labour Party might have been able to form a Government. Mr Corbyn might remind Mr Smith and a few others that a man who was rejected as the official Labour candidate by the voters in Blaenau Gwent was ill advised to raise the issue of who is and who is not electable.

(Coincidentally Owen Smith lost in Blaenau Gwent to a Mr David Davies, an independent local candidate.)

 With regard to the Liberal Democrats, I note and welcome the fact that Sir Vince Cable has succeeded Mr Farron as leader.

I warmly welcome his early comments as leader about the need to stay in the single market and in the customs union.

A promising start.

 A brief status report on Brexit

 Mr Davis and Mr Michel, the main EU negotiator, have appeared together at a joint press conference to talk about progress or lack of it in the first week of talks.  Watch this space.

The Blair factor.  Mr Blair has recently made some muted but well-publicised comments about the undesirability of proceeding with the Brexit plan, and as I share his views on the matter, I hope that his re-entry into the fray will strengthen the Remain cause.

Some of those cavilling at his comments refer with good cause to his espousal of the US-led invasion of Iraq, but it is worth reminding ourselves that in his time in Number 10 Blair got most things right most of the time both on the home front and abroad.

I take the view that he got two things badly wrong – he treated Gordon Brown with the deference that he should have reserved for Saddam Hussein and he treated Saddam Hussein with the hostility that he should have reserved for Gordon Brown.

BOJO & GoveThe attitudes of BOJO and Mr Gove with regard to Brexit are wholly predictable. Both will take whatever action is most likely to advance their respective careers – this is what is known in the politics’ business as shabby opportunism.

Closing notes

Those interested in these matters should not assume that there will now be a protracted interval to allow frayed nerves to settle and eventually to allow for a return to business as usual in early September.

The various permutations and combinations, the endless possibilities, each with their associated betrayals and denunciations, will be analysed, conspiratorial strategies will be devised, albeit in some agreeable preferably scrutiny free surroundings.

The show must go on.

 

JAMs today, Mexit tomorrow

For reasons that are not wholly clear, some Tory MPs have lately added their somewhat muted whispers to the rather more raucous calls from Labour ranks for an end to austerity.

These muted calls may be attributable for some to a Damascene conversion from support for belt-tightening to an endorsement of an approach that will yield land flowing with milk and honey.

Some of the muted calls may be triggered rather more by a prudent perception that the public mood has changed in favour of an approach based on the maxim of “enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think”

In recent years, political leaders across the spectrum in the UK have argued the case for improving the rewards earned by hard working people. Following her promotion to the coveted role of Prime Minister, Mrs May identified an additional economic category deemed to be worthy of support. This group was labelled as the JAMs, an unfortunate acronym for those deemed to be  Just About Managing.

As might be expected these statements of intent secured widespread support among the voters and understandably so since most of us regard ourselves as belonging clearly to both the categories delineated above. The difficulties arise as soon as we attempt to decide how to put some flesh onto the bones of the slogans.

  • Who  are the Hard Workers?  
  • Who  are the JAMs?

 Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden to till the ground from whence he was takenGenesis 3, 23.

Genesis 3 described the very first cushy numbers arranged by the Lord God for Adam and Eve. They were not required to work, and the only limitation placed upon them in terms of consumption was to give a miss to the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Sadly, Eve was unable to resist the wiles of the serpent and she, and, a little later, Adam, sampled the forbidden fruit.

The Lord God took a very dim view of their offence, and immediately put into effect the relevant disciplinary procedures. By the end of Genesis 3, their cushy number in the Garden of Eden had been brought to an abrupt end, and our illustrious ancestors became reluctant founder members of the working class.

So who – in these confusing times – are the hard working?

We have only to pose the question to in order to grasp the formidable difficulties that we face in coming up with definitions. 

Let me make a tentative start with a couple of possibly controversial assertions.

Throughout my working life, which stretched from 1962 to 2014,  I was fully persuaded that the demands made upon me by my jobs down the years were such as to make the job of Alexei Stakhanov in the Siberian coal mines seem languid by comparison. Equally,  I was convinced that the jobs of those around me could be compared with those of  the Lilies of the Field in that “they toiled not neither did they spin as Jesus almost put it in his sermon on the Mount.

Those around me would doubtless have disagreed. 

How therefore are we to decide and on what basis who are the hard working and who, by contrast,  are the Lilies of the Field, the semi detached members of the working class,  the ones with the enviable capacity to simulate but not to carry out high intensity toil? I will return later to this tricky question.

Who are the JAMs?

To take just 3 examples which might be thought to verge on the extreme.

A year or so ago Tribune magazine published a piece by me in which I argued the case for the state to bring pressure to bear on Sir Phillip Green, Sir Martin Sorrell and Mr Bob Dudley in order to discourage their cupidity. 

It never occurred to me that Sir Phillip Green (the 2016 version of the portly pilferer Robert Maxwell), Sir Martin Sorrell (who has to scrape by on a measly £50 million per annum), and Bob Dudley (the CEO of BP – said to be sinking below the poverty line on no more than £14 million a year) might see themselves as JAMs and that all three would argue, indeed did argue, that they were just about managing.

If this acquisitive trio see themselves as JAMs – where does that leave you and me?

You see the problem?

The PMQ factor

It was unfortunate that much of the raucous public political activity surrounding the Hard Working and The JAMs took place during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQ), an arena more notable for heat than light. It was doubly unfortunate that Mrs May proved adept at combining a combination of meaningless slogans with the interminable recitation of the gargantuan contributions, usually quoted in billions or, on a good day, trillions, to this or that socially popular cause. Mr Corbyn, faced with this formidable combination, wilted as he struggled to query the tsunami of figures.

For my part I rather suspect that the Prime Minister might be said to have added an extra term to the catalogue of lies, damned lies and statistics – namely the Maybe – a term to describe the implausibility of the figures shrilly quoted by Mrs May and which may and then again which may not be accurate, quite possibly a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

What can be asserted with confidence is that the theatrical arena that is PMQs did little to clarify who were/are the hard workers and who were/are the JAMs.

Back to the hard working JAMs. In my book A Cushy Number, I define a cushy number as a well rewarded sinecure. The word sinecure is defined as an office of profit with no duties. Cushy number seekers are looking for a lot more than an office of profit, although they are quite happy with the absence of duties. They demand a job which combines the minimum of effort with the maximum of reward. It must be stressed that cushy number seekers are a determined, clear-thinking group and they insist on having both criteria satisfied. They don’t want a demanding well rewarded job although they accept that this would be a step in the right direction. Equally they don’t just want a sinecure. They demand a well rewarded sinecure.

Got that?

A cushy number has been the dream of those who combine indolence and cupidity from the earliest days of social organisation. In our times and with the breakdown of social and class barriers, the desire is stronger and more widespread than ever before.  Most of us – let’s admit it – yearn for a job which combines the minimum of effort for the maximum of reward, and this aspiration is likely to intensify in the years to come. We want a cushy number, we fume whenever we hear that one of our friends has got what we believe to be one, but that’s about as far as the analysis goes.  Given this widespread demand for a cushy number, it is astonishing how little work or even thought has gone into this crucial issue. We need to think through what we mean in order to get what we want.  How on earth can we get a cushy number if we don’t know what we are looking for?  How exactly will we know one when we see one? What are the defining features of the cushy number, the features that separate it from your job and from all the jobs I ever had?

Pay rise for hard-working Britons is priority, says May
The Times. Aug 2, 2016

In the run up to the general election in May 2015, politicians from all parties proclaimed their love of and support for the hard working people in British society. This view is commendable as far as it goes – which is not very far at all.

To repeat: who are the hard workers, what jobs do they do and why might they deserve the favoured support of HMG in the austere times which are said to lie ahead? A little probing is called for.

As noted earlier I have given careful thought to the matter and a few years ago I published on the internet a book in which I explored the demands made on and rewards collected by a selection of professional jobs. Sales of the book soared quickly into double figures but then levelled off as the supply of relatives and friends ran out.

Those parts of the book which dealt with job demands are of relevance in the search for hard working people and I propose to re-examine them in the context of the present debate.

A few examples: Politicians, Doctors and the Police

No one would dispute that many – maybe most – of the senior executives that work in the square mile that constitutes the city of London work very hard, by just about any measure. So far so good. But does this group, dedicated as it is to working tirelessly to stealing from the rest of us, really merit the support of HMG, especially given the perceived reluctance of the group to pay taxes?

Politicians will assure us that whilst there are and will continue to be profound differences of opinion as the causes of and cures for the myriad of social and economic problems that plague our society, the factor which unites the profession of politicians is the hard work performed by politicians across the political spectrum.

And yet I recall a sting carried out not long ago which lured two ex-foreign secretaries, Jack Straw and Malcom Rifkind, to say on (hidden) cameras that, freed from the burdens of office, they had ample spare time at their disposal. For fees thought by some to verge on the exorbitant they would be happy to place their undoubted skills and experience at the service of whoever.

It was difficult to reconcile the languid life as outlined by two former leading politicians with the typical assertions of a hectic, high pressure working life.

What about our doctors, grafting away in the GP section of the beleaguered NHS? Time was when this group really was under pressure and not especially well paid, but things changed when a senior Labour politician, possibly doubling up as Santa Claus, awarded the GPs a most welcome combination of a huge pay rise and the removal of the requirement to provide a service outside normal office hours on Monday to Friday.

Since winning the professional equivalent of the National Lottery – indeed despite winning the professional equivalent of the National Lottery – the GPs have continued to plead that the appalling combination of poverty and overwork is persuading them to abandon the profession. It would be impolite to point out that this exodus arises at least in point because they can afford to do so.

What about our police? This is the group that is happiest trying to decide who committed criminal acts of a sexual nature years ago – even decades ago. In some cases the alleged offenders were in no position to defend themselves, having been called to the courtroom in the sky.

All good stuff but not quite as demanding as chasing current criminals.

I could on – and elsewhere I have gone on –  but you get the picture.

You and I and the editor of the Times Lit Supp, and the Nancy poets, and the Archbishop of Canterbury and Comrade X, author of Marxism for Infants- all of us really owe the comparative decency of our lives to poor drudges underground, blackened to the eyes, with their throats full of coal dust, driving their shovels forward with arms and belly muscles of steel
The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell

I have brought in the Orwell quote to illustrate the extent to which times have changed since The Road to Wigan Pier was published back in 1936. In those days, those in the economic comfort zones were relaxed that coal miners endured appalling working conditions on rock bottom wages in order to secure “the comparative decency of our lives.”

Subsequently, the mining communities experienced a few decades of  relative prosperity – a prosperity which was to end in the harsh confrontation of the miners’ strike and the closure of almost all the deep mines in the UK.

The chanting of Tory slogans about rewarding the hard working would not trigger favourable responses amongst the JAMs abandoned in what remains of the mining communities.

Stop press: The JAMs in Number 10

Any article which looks at the contribution of Mrs May to the national debate about the hard working JAMs must acknowledge that Mrs May herself is exceptionally hard working and, slightly more controversially, is barely managing. Indeed this latter quality has got to the point that the issue is not if but when she will receive her marching orders. I gather that William Hill do not rate her chances of still residing in No 10 by the end of the conference season very highly.

 “We’re going to leave you alone for half an hour. There’s your revolver. You know what to do ……………luckily they had left a decanter of whisky in there with me”
Captain Grimes describing his ordeal after getting into the soup in Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall.

Mexit – the exit of Mrs May from Number 10 – can be described in terms of a soft Mexit or a hard Mexit.

Under the terms of a soft Mexit, Mrs May will be left in solitary confinement with a loaded revolver and a bottle of whisky

Under the terms of a hard Mexit, Mrs May will be left in solitary confinement with just a loaded revolver.

Image courtesy of @UKDemockery on Twitter

Mrs Theresa May – a Mournful Tale of Decline and Impending Fall

We now know the outcome of the June 8 election.

What were the factors that determined the unexpected outcome, unexpected not only by Mrs May, by the experienced bookmaker Paddy Power, and by me?

I write what follows with some diffidence because my prediction of the result was an echo of that of Paddy Power – an overall Tory majority of around 80.

(Note –  I accept that, like Mrs May, I got the result badly wrong but that, unlike Mrs May, I was delighted by it.)

The factors quoted by the commentariat to explain the downfall of Mrs May included the following:

  •  The abysmal campaigning performance of Mrs May.
  • The unfortunate cock ups over the various arrangements to be made for the elderly infirm.
  • The alleged preference of young voters for the policies tabled by the Labour Party in its manifesto.
  • The evaporation of the UKIP vote coupled with the return of UKIP voters to Labour rather than to the Tories. 
  • The much better than expected campaigning performance of Mr Corbyn.

A notable campaign issue for Mrs May – the Dementia Tax

Grotesque “Dementia Tax label that led to U-Turn
Headline in The Daily Mail, May 23rd, 2017 

Mrs May was subjected to some fairly robust criticism for her handing of what came to be known as the “Dementia Tax affair. What made matters worse – for her – was that some of the criticism came from two of her warmest admirers in the Brexit General Election campaign, namely The Times and The Daily Mail.

The saga went through the following phases.

(i) The Tory manifesto was published. It contained a clear commitment by a future Tory Government to financial support for old timers as they make their way towards a rendezvous at some uncertain date with the Grim Reaper.

So far, so very good with enthusiastic endorsement by those likely to gain.

(ii) A brief interval as the small print of the manifesto was read carefully by the usual suspects.

(iii)  An outbreak of peevishness from those old timers who grasped with admirable clarity just what the manifesto policy might mean for them. 

(iv) The Tory leadership team – prop Mrs T May – sensed that they had goofed and beat a hasty retreat first into vagueness and then into vacuity.

(v)  Sadly for the Tory leadership, this about turn triggered significant opposition in the ranks. There was a raucous rejection from the usually reliable aged Tory voters as they did the sums, and assessed their prospects in their particular circumstances.

(vi) There followed recriminations all round, with hints, tinged with schadenfreude in some circles, that this volte face was the fall for which their leader had been heading. 

(vii) It has since been reported that the two cabinet ministers most closely involved in the policies covered by the dementia tax, Mr Hunt and Mr Javid, received only 24 hours’ notice about the commitments to be made in the Tory manifesto. The new policy was said to be the work of Mr Ben Gummer, son of John Selwyn Gummer. BG has evidently inherited the sure political touch for which his father, the burger king, was noted.

The departure of Ben Gummer from Westminster on June 8 would not have been universally mourned by his colleagues.  

 A Little Flesh on the Bones of the “Dementia Tax

And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe,
And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot,
And thereby hangs a tale.”
Shakespeare – “As You Like It.

 Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness, and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”
More gloom from “As You Like It

There, we found, sitting by a fire, a very old man in a flannel coat: clean, cheerful, comfortable, and well cared for, but intensely deaf.
Well, aged parent, said Wemick  shaking hands with him in a cordial and jocose way, how are you?
Charles Dickens- Great Expectations

Humans wear out with age, some more rapidly than others. This aging process has a wholly predictable consequence: maintenance costs rise with the passing years followed by a funeral, expensive or economical according to taste.

Inevitably these maintenance costs vary with minimal costs at the healthy end to the very expensive costs incurred by those requiring intensive care over protracted periods.

This poses the question which is of steadily rising significance as our average longevity steadily rises. Who should foot the bill for these steadily rising costs?

There has been a raucous thumbs-down from the usually reliable aged Tory voters as they did the sums, and assessed their prospects. 

Sadly, there was also a raucous raspberry from those senior citizens who want to pass on their estates to the next generation rather than to HMG. This group want HMG to foot the bill and, given that HMG has no money of its own, they want the tax payer to foot the bills.

On a personal note – at the age of 77 – the dementia tax issue was and remains of considerable interest to me, and I was frustrated by my inability to grasp the details of the policy as per the manifesto and as per the various subsequent clarifications to the policy.

The position is now much clearer: if Messrs Hunt and Javid were confused – what chance did I and do I have?

The May U-turn or rethink or retreat – delete according to taste – triggered a most useful debate on the key question of who pays for the care of the fragile old folk, and we owe Mrs M our thanks for raising this contentious issue.

The roots of the issue go back many years and the difficulty is to strike a socially fair balance between those who argue that they have striven all their lives in order to be able to give their heirs a start in the struggles to come, and those, at the other extreme who argue that each generation should fight its own battles and do its own striving with no haves and have nots lining up on the starting blocks in the great race of life.

Is there a sensible felt fair balance between the two extremes? The debate will doubtless continue.

On Leadership

In the thirties he ( Ernest Bevin) thought of Atlee as a second rate leader. But that was what he wanted. He had had enough of those who thought they were first rate with MacDonald
Roy Jenkins on Ernest Bevin

It would appear that not all UK voters were impressed by the Theresa May slogan of “strong and stable leadership repeated ad nauseam during the interminably protracted campaign. Effective leadership is not easy to define in good times and we are not living in good times. The appeal of strong leadership is not universal – not all of us wish to be ordered about.

Mrs May was convinced that Mrs May was a first-rate leader, but there are times when we should try to see ourselves as others see us. Had she done this Mrs May might have noticed that not everyone shared her opinion of Mrs May.

A shaky slogan and a shaky call, Mrs M.

Campaigning Style

He (Lord Roseberry) knew what was wise and fair and true. He would not go through the laborious, vexatious and at times humiliating processes necessary under modern conditions to bring about these great ends.
Winston Churchill on Lord Roseberry

Mrs May incurred a lot of criticism on account of her reluctance to mingle with – how shall we put it – the great unwashed. By contrast Mr Corbyn displayed an unexpected talent in this area and his readiness to engage with the electorate at close quarters was by no means the least of his political gifts.

Mrs M also displayed an unfortunate lack of judgement when she boycotted a televised gathering of the other party leaders, a gathering where each leader had to respond to questions from the floor.

Mr Corbyn showed sound judgement in accepting the challenge and performed well under pressure.

Hostages to Fortune, and U-Turns:-

Problems encountered by Mrs May during the campaign because of her alleged propensity to duck and weave included:

  • Her perceived readiness not only to abandon her pro remain stance before June 23, 2016 but, even more damaging, her eagerness to lead the Brexit team.
  • Her decision to opt for an election despite her previous repeated assertions that this would not happen. The lure of the prospect of an easy victory proved too strong.
  • Her retreat first into confusion and then into chaos over the dementia issue.
  • Her lapses into the tedious repetition of slogans when under pressure rather than engaging with the issues under discussion.

A Word on Political Advisors

Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill – to me, very shadowy figures – were said to have acquired significant influence with and over Mrs M. Sadly in the fierce in fighting within Tory ranks that followed the announcement of the result this pair quickly acquired the notoriety that is associated with the names of Alastair Campbell, Grigori Rasputin and Harry Bennett.

(For those not familiar with the last name – Harry Bennett provided the same sort of support for Henry Ford that Campbell provided for Tony Blair – muscular, aggressive and intimidating.)

Both Timothy – the advisor who bore more than a passing resemblance to Rasputin – and Hill were speedily jettisoned once their role in the debacle became apparent. It is not clear whether the plank-walking was voluntary or was at the insistence of Tory managers – were they handed P45s or did they resign? It depends which newspaper you read.

What Might the Future Hold?

As I write behind the scenes discussions are taking place as to the scale of bribes required by the DUP in order to prop up Mrs May.

Sadly not much strength and zero stability are in prospect to those of us on the outside.

Mrs M argued that – given that she was fully responsible for the debacle (we can all agree on that) – she should be allowed to stay in post in order to solve the formidable catalogue of problems in the in-tray of HMG. I cannot understand her logic on this latter point.

BOJO remains as Foreign Secretary in this wounded administration. How much time and energy will he be devoting to tackling the problems of the UK and how much time and energy will he be devoting to the far more serious problem of securing pole position for himself in the coming struggle for power?

For Mr Gove – read the entry for BOJO.  Mr Gove has returned to the inner circle in order, so it has been reported, to shore up its credibility – a very dubious piece of logic.

Might Mrs May still be in post in 5 years’ time? I doubt it.

How soon will the men in suits – the Tory managers – utter the dreaded words – Come in Number 1 – Your time is up?

My guess is that she will be leaving No 10 in 2017 – probably sometime around the annual party conference – a favoured time to speed the journeys of Tory politicians deemed to have outstayed their welcomes.

The Outcome of the June 8 Brexit Election – A Jeremy Corbyn Perspective

Is that tantamount, sir, to acceptance or rejection or consideration?”
Mr Guppy to Mr Jarndyce – Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Mr Guppy was anxious to clarify the answer to his proposal of marriage to Esther Summerson via her guardian, Mr Jarndyce. In a rather different context I am anxious to be very clear – in the style of Mrs May – about the outcome of the Brexit General Election on June 8.

I am writing these notes a few days after the outcome of the June 8 election was announced. It has not been easy to draw conclusions about the outcome given the raucous 24/7 babble masquerading as comment put out by the print, broadcast and Internet media.

A few tentative comments to get started:

  • The outcome of the election is being widely perceived as a major setback for Mrs May – those seeking a somewhat jaundiced view of her performance should consult Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail on June 10: his verdict was – nil points.
  • Some Tory apologists are still trying loyally but implausibly to portray the outcome as satisfactory for the Tory cause.
  • Most commentators are acknowledging that the outcome was a minor triumph for Mr Corbyn.
  • Substantial numbers of previously hostile Corbyn critics from within the Labour movement are shrewdly doing a 180 degree turn so as to re-position themselves for the rapidly changing political scene.

I thought that it might be instructive to comment on the factors that contributed to the improved fortunes of Mr Corbyn, and to those factors that prevented his triumph from being even more impressive, maybe even a move to No 10 with a working majority.

So: who were the friends of Corbyn and who were his opponents?

A brief stroll down memory lane

In September 2015, Jeremy Corbyn convincingly won the election held to decide who should replace Ed Miliband as the leader of the Labour Party. No one could dispute that his victory was overwhelming, although there were many in the Labour Party who rather regretted the outcome.

How did it come about that a candidate widely perceived as a no-hoper before the first leadership election was elected by a huge majority over the other three ostensibly more plausible candidates – Mr Burnham, Ms Cooper and Ms Kendall?

Like you, I can only guess at the reason or reasons for the unexpected outcome, but I suspect that by far the most significant reason in the minds of those voting in the contest was that the election of any one of the plausible trio would simply represent more of the same, and that the electors in their collective wisdom comprehensively rejected that option.

This raises the question: how does a party deal with a situation in which a huge gap opens up between the views and aspirations of the leaders and the led?

Just as the great majority of Labour MPs asserted their lack of confidence in JC, so, or so it would appear, the great majority of Labour Party members had lost confidence in their elected representatives in the House of Commons.

It would not have been easy to find high calibre replacements for the vast majority of the current crop of Labour Party MPs, but equally it would not have been easy to discard the current crop of around half a million seemingly truculent party members and replace them with the same number of pliable tranquil members.

After an all too brief apprenticeship in his new role, the great majority of Mr Corbyn’s parliamentary colleagues decided that he was simply not up to the job of leading the Party to electoral victory and that accordingly he must be replaced.

This phase came to a head in the confusion that followed the outcome of the in-out referendum, the resignation of Mr Cameron and his replacement by Mrs May.

There was a mass exodus from the Corbyn shadow cabinet and this was followed by an unseemly phase in which various contenders considered their respective prospects. The outcome here was the emergence of Owen Smith as the only challenger.

I noted that Owen Smith at one point in the leadership campaign was critical about the electability of Mr Corbyn. He accepted that Mr Corbyn was a decent enough chap in his way, but also that the job of leading the Labour Party requires qualities over and above mere decency. He may have had a point, but I m not sure that he was wise to raise to raise this issue given that his own record as a vote winner has verged on the shaky.

Let me explain. In the general election of 2005 the official Labour candidate in Blaenau Gwent was beaten into second place by an independent candidate, Peter Law. The loss of one the safest Labour seats in the UK parliament followed the possibly unwise decision by Labour Party HQ to impose a women-only short list on the local party. The women-only list may have made sense in London but it was not so seen in Blaenau Gwent, hence the loss of the seat.

Sadly, Mr Law died within a year or so of the General Election, thus triggering a by-election in 2006. It was confidently expected that there would be a speedy return to business as usual and that the newly selected Labour candidate, Owen Smith, would be duly elected. However, the obstinate Blaenau Gwent voters once again rejected the official party candidate and elected another local independent candidate, Mr Dai Davies.

I cite this example only to point out that the Owen Smith CV indicates substantial if unfortunate personal experience about who is and who is not electable.

It is not an easy political feat for a Labour candidate to fail to win Blaenau Gwent – the seat of Tribune stalwarts Michael Foot and Nye Bevan for Labour over many years.

As with the first leadership election, I am not sure about precisely what factors determined the outcome of the second leadership election. In the event Mr Corbyn secured a second substantial win to retain the leadership.

Despite his two substantial victories, there were still those in the Labour camp who continued to do whatever they could to undermine his position and he had to endure a steady stream of carping criticism – which he endured stoically – of his performance and this factor made his position very difficult in the weekly PMQ sessions as Mrs May repeated quoted hostile comments from his own colleagues to wrong-foot him.

Campaign notes on the June 8 General Election campaign

Corbyn allies
• Mr McDonnell – a most commendable performance – convincing and plausible throughout the gruelling 7 weeks.
• Mr Starmer – a reliable steady Eddie who provided no ammunition to the Tories, avoided getting involved in any internal party squabbling and generally proved himself competent when being interviewed by the relentless broadcast media.
• Mrs May – a reliable supplier of ammunition to the Labour cause from day 1. This was not in the Tory plan and supplied an unexpected massive boost to her opponents: she was as one forsaken by the Gods of Politics

The enemies from within – The Labour Party critics of Corbyn
There is no shortage of contenders clamouring for inclusion in this section – check the records and make your own selections.

Here are three of my contenders:

• Owen Smith – I mentioned earlier the contribution of comrade Smith to the Corbyn cause. It was gratifying to note that he was one of the first to talk to the media about his Damascene conversion to the Corbyn cause as soon as he grasped that the political wind had changed direction.
• Hilary Benn – The son of a rather more substantial parent – it was he who won plaudits in parliament for arguing the case for the UK to join in the bombing of Syria. I was not persuaded of the validity of his arguments then or since, given the undeniable contribution of the UK to the chaos and confusion of the situation in the Middle East since the misguided invasion of Iraq in 2003.
• Tom Watson – I was unable to discern any effective signs of support by Mr Watson. Rather the opposite – his contributions seemed designed throughout to maximise his chances of securing the top job when JC was ousted. Another reservation about Mr Watson – I was and remain unhappy about his behaviour in naming politicians from yesteryear as paedophile’s from the safe stance of parliamentary privilege. Child abuse, when proven in a court of law, is rightly deemed one of the most odious of crimes. What are we to make of the actions of Mr Watson in assuming and asserting the guilt of people whose alleged offences had never been tested in court?

Those whose silence would have strengthened the Corbyn position
• Len McCluskey – LM had established himself as the arbiter of whether or not Mr JC should be allowed to remain in post on the dubious basis that his union was and remains the largest provider of funds for the Labour Party. His stance rather resembled that of the Chairman of a major football club scanning the results of his club for evidence that the days of his manager were numbered.
• Ms Dianne Abbott – I will be charitable to Ms Abbott and note that her evident desire to assist had precisely the opposite effect. Her contribution could be described as similar to that of Mrs May but sadly it was also much more transparently inadequate. She has since cited medical problems as triggering her erratic performances, but some would argue – indeed have argued – that her erratic form goes back a long way.

The print media

The contributions of the newspapers to the election debates were wholly predictable. The Daily Mail and The Times stayed loyal to the May cause to the bitter end.

“F*** Dacre” replied Murdoch
The response of Rupert Murdoch after being informed that Lord Dacre – formerly Hugh Trevor Roper – had changed his mind as to the authenticity of the Hitler diaries back in 1983

Doubtless these stern if unseemly words were repeated over and over again during the 2017 general election campaign by some – not all – Labour supporters in response to their treatment at the hands of the combative editor of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre.

Political magazines

Being a pensioner I can – just about – afford to subscribe to the New Statesman and to Tribune.

Looking back, I recall that the New Statesman was lukewarm about the Corbyn campaign – a far cry from the aggressive views filling the Daily Mail.

Tribune was even more disappointing: muted and seemingly anxious to remain remote from the fray. It was not easy to discern quite what was going on at Tribune. In the 50 or so issues published between the summer of 2015 and the 2017 General Election, I estimate that the number of readers’ letters that were published was scarcely into double figures, a feature which does not suggest it was engaging with its readers.

The broadcast media – The BBC

If there was an anti-Tory stance from the BBC, I was unable to detect it.

The Daily Mail was very critical about the BBC, something which confirmed my judgement that the BBC maintained a broadly neutral stance throughout.

The social media

You tell me, because I have no idea if the social media influenced the election and if so how and in what direction.

The social media are to me what Russia was to Winston Churchill in 1939 – “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

A few words on the issues

I wrote the following letter to The Times on June 13, 2017 (sadly not published):

Sir,
“Labour’s Delusions- A jubilant party remains in thrall to discredited and dangerous ideas.”
In your second leader in today’s Times you chide the Labour leaders for their commitment “to discredited and dangerous ideas,” and you remind your readers of the admiration of some of them for Lenin and Trotsky.
Their discredited and dangerous ideas presumably include the policy to return privatised utilities to public ownership.
At the end of his autobiography – “A Life at the Centre” published in 1991 – Roy Jenkins wrote:- “ I think that the privatisation of near monopolies is about as irrelevant as (and sometimes worse than ) were the Labour Party’s proposals for further nationalisation in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Might Roy Jenkins have been a clandestine admirer of Lenin and Trotsky?

Yours – John Holden

Labour plans to increase tax rates for those at the top end of the earnings scale
Some critics complained about plans in this area on the grounds that any increase in the taxes paid by the rich would reduce their commitment to the cause of increasing the wealth of the nation and might even lead some of them to relocate to where their talents would be more appreciated.

The Labour proposals startled me only by their timidity. It has long been apparent that a significant number of senior business managers devote far too much of their time and energy maximising the take that they can squeeze from their companies, and far too little of their time and energy to ensuring that their businesses are effectively and efficiently managed.

Scarcely a day passes without The Times, in its business section, reporting on the greed of this or that senior manager and of the reluctance of the shareholders to acquiesce in the acquisitiveness of the said managers.

I would be more than happy to endorse the taxing of the reward packages of people like Sir Martin Sorrell close to or even at 100%. Sir Martin would doubtless dissent but, like Mandy Rice-Davies in a different context – he would say that, wouldn’t he?

But – my suggestion, if implemented, would free up more of the time of Sir Martin to further the interests of WPP rather than racking his brains about deciding on the largest possible figure that he could get away without triggering a shareholder revolt and a public excoriation. (A confession – in my first effort on this paragraph I wrote that Sir Martin was employed by WRP, the abhorrent Workers Revolutionary Party, rather than by the much more prosaic company WPP, originally Wire and Plastic Products.)

In my view one Labour Party failure – and it was a significant failure – was quite simply that it did not in some key areas explain just how moderate and reasonable and socially desirable its plans were, given the extent to which the Tories had allowed the top people to rip off the rest of us.

In praise of Mr Corbyn

Quite simply the period from the announcement by TM on April 18, that she was calling an election for June 8 to day of the election was a wonderful phase for JC.

He won well-deserved plaudits for his unfailing courtesy, for his consistent support of the claims of the JAMS and of the Hard Working majority as against the understandable but not widely shared wish of those at the top to be allowed to enjoy the fruits of their sharp practices into the future.

He clearly struck a chord in the hearts and minds of the young, a most encouraging feature of the outcome.

I am confident that if the more evident weaknesses in the performance of his party are put right, then the tensions and fragility that are now built into the Tory Government – a Government erected on shit and quicksand – then Labour is capable of forming a government that will work for the many as opposed to the few.

John Holden

PS – A slightly longer stroll down memory lane

I gather from some press reports that the thinking of Mr Corbyn is said to be close to the thinking of Mr Leon Trotsky, born Lev Davidovich Bronstein, and it is darkly alleged that some of the current difficulties within the Labour Party can be traced to the disruptive influence of Trotskyists. This may well be so – what do I know?

I do recall that back in October, 1963 I attended the Labour Party Conference as a Young Socialist delegate for Ebbw Vale. The conference was in Scarborough – it was the Harold Wilson white heat of technology conference.

Whilst there I vaguely recall being introduced to a Mr Gerry Healy. Labour Party members with very long memories may recall that Mr Healy was an influential member of the Socialist Labour League, a Trotskyist organisation and at the time a thorn in the flesh of Labour party managers because of what were described as disruptive tactics. I had gone to the conference with Ron Evans, one time parliamentary agent for Nye Bevan and later for Michael Foot and it was he who introduced me to Mr Healy. Ron had previously been a member of the Communist Party and had retained a measure of admiration for the strategy and tactics of Stalin. For reasons that will be evident to those interested in the obscure quarrels among far-left activists Ron was dismissive of Trotsky and his followers and managed just a surly greeting to Mr Healy.

I was startled to read many years later that Mr Healy had not confined his interests to the politics of permanent revolution. It was alleged by the gutter press that he taken a keen interest in the more attractive of the female recruits and that he had taken advantage of his position to pursue the time honoured exploitation of enjoying rather more than his fair share of the available talent. Some comrades from the Healy era were traced and expressed dissatisfaction at the state of affairs – affairs here used in both senses – exposed by the running dogs of the Fleet Street Press Lords…

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