Will the UK be leaving the EU or remaining in the EU?

 

By the end of the Tory Party Conference which is to end in a few days’ time, we – the UK electorate – might be a little clearer as to the most likely answer to the question posed in the blog title.

I was tempted to adopt an Asquithian position – wait and see – but I overcame my reservations in order to have my say now, and then compare my predictions and forebodings with the actual outcome.

I noted that Peter Kellner, when interviewed during the Labour Party Conference, was most reluctant to be drawn either on the outcome of a second referendum, were there to be one, or on the outcome of a General Election, again, were there to be one.

Why should Holdenforth walk where the sharpest of our pollsters fears to tread?

I’ll tell you why: Holdenforth has no reputation for prescience to lose – so here goes.

(Before we move on – readers of Holdenforth – assuming that are any – may recall that the wife of Peter Kellner, Catherine Ashcroft, was at one time the Foreign Secretary of the EU. That relationship would surely have given Mr Kellner an insider view of the workings of the EU. What chance has Holdenforth got, operating as it does on the fringe of the border of the periphery of events?)

Will the UK be exiting the EU or will it be remaining in the EU?

A status report on the stances currently held by the two main parties and by other interested parties.

 The Labour Party

“Senator Muskie said that policy had to be democratically decided. Dean Acheson turned on him… ‘Are you trying to say, Senator, that United States foreign policy should be determined in a series of little town meeting? Don’t ask them, Senator, tell them.’”
Portrait of Dean Acheson” by Roy Jenkins

Jeremy Corbyn said during the conference that if the wish of the Labour Party is for a second referendum then he will accept that wish in the true democratic spirit, and, if the opportunity to implement it presents itself – he would implement it.

Holdenforth suspects that Mr Corbyn is confused in his thinking: we would prefer him to adopt the robust approach of Dean Acheson and tell us what ought to happen.

A shaky start to the resolution of not just a crucial issue by Mr Corbyn: it is THE crucial issue.

 The Tory Party

“Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is the Russian national interest.”
Winston Churchill.

I think that the Churchillian view of Russia expressed in 1939 might reasonably cover the view of Holdenforth about the Tory party as it gingerly approaches its annual conference to be held in the coming week.

Uncertainty prevails but perhaps the key here is the sum of the personal prospects of the current Tory members of the House of Commons – as perceived by themselves. What, they will ask themselves, is the best outcome for me in terms of my political prospects?

Holdenforth believes that this is the unspoken but all-pervasive sentiment among Tory parliamentarians.

 Any others?

“Without Tony Blair there can be no new party. If a centrist regrouping is to shake up British politics it will have to be led or at least guided by the former prime minister”

Lord Finkelstein The Times, September 19, 2018

In his column, Danny Finkelstein was at his brilliant, infuriating best as he set out the case for any plausible third party to be led or, at the very least, strongly influenced by Tony Blair.

 Where does Holdenforth stand on this crucial issue?

Here is our preferred outcome in our preferred sequence of events.

* We want an immediate general election that will be, like the last general election in June 2017, a single issue election – to leave the EU or to remain in the EU. We will call this general election Brexel.

* We forecast that the pressures created by and following the calling of Brexel will effectively force all the competing parties to spell out their positions – in or out?

* We further forecast that common sense will prevail and that the Brexel will be won by the Remainers regardless of their appeal or lack of it on other policy areas.

* We further insist that in the highly probable event that Brexel is won by the Remainers, there would be no need for an in-out referendum because the Brexel victory would be a sufficient democratic outcome to overturn the 2016 referendum.

* The final step could not be more simple – a short note from the newly elected HMG to the EU authorities to inform them formally that they should regard Brexit as dead, and please to cancel our earlier application to invoke article 50.

* At this point – Goodbye Brexit – Job done – back to business as usual.

 Why exactly does Holdenforth want the in-out decision to be taken by The House of Commons?

Because the decision to hold a referendum ought never to have been taken in the first place.

The in-out decision was an ill-judged decision by David Cameron, and one which ended a promising political career.

The solution put forward by Holdenforth returns the in-out decision back where it belongs: Parliament.

A glance back on how we, the  UK people, got to be burdened by Brexit.

I have previously written at length on the background to this fiasco: on the contribution of Mr Cameron, and his decision to use the ludicrous option of a referendum to put the allegedly sensitive EU membership issue to bed when he had no need to do so. The referendum device is a clumsy and wholly inappropriate tool for the resolution of most political issues, and especially so for issues with major long-term consequences. To put the charge against Mr Cameron more bluntly – Mr Cameron took a wholly unnecessary and reckless gamble in which he put narrow party interests above the national interest.

In the UK, as in most democracies we elect politicians to take major decisions on our behalf.

Sadly Mr Cameron, by his misjudgements and failures, triggered the worst of all outcomes, that is a Brexit outcome. The Brexit outcome quickly triggered his own resignation and a period of unprecedented political, economic and social turmoil; he snatched a UK defeat from the jaws of victory.

There can also be no doubt that the dubious duo of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove bears more responsibility for the outcome than any of the other participants. It has to be said, not necessarily in their favour, that their relaxed and flexible attitude to the truth aided their assertions about the bleak prospects facing the UK in the event of a remain outcome.

It was ironic that at the very moment of their triumph, Mr Gove made a dash to join the contenders for the Tory leadership following the resignation of Mr Cameron, taking care to trip up Boris Johnson whilst doing so. A short time later Johnson fled the field leaving others to deal with the wreckage that he had thoughtfully bequeathed.

However, one of Mrs May’s earliest moves as PM was to announce a thought provoking division of labour with regard to the politicians charged with arranging the small matter of the departure of the UK from Europe, the unedifying trio of  Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis: the appointment of BOJO as Foreign Secretary caused the most surprise given his erratic and eccentric track record.

It soon became apparent that Mrs May and the Brexit Three had been so preoccupied with positioning themselves for a favourable personal outcome to the referendum that individually and collectively they had no idea about what to do next.

After a while the gap between aspiration and a plausible Brexit plan became so obvious to the public that Mrs May announced magisterially that “Brexit means Brexit.”

Quite So – and F*** All means F*** All!

 “It (the oratory of Stanley Baldwin) lifts the discussion on to so abstract a plane that the minds of the hearers are relieved of the effort of considering the details of the immediate problems.
Nye Bevan in a less than flattering portrait of Stanley Baldwin.  Tribune 1937

Likewise the oratory of Mrs May.

“It seems entirely possible that saying nothing at all comes naturally to Mrs May.”
Iain Martin, The Times.

However, as I wrote in an article published by Tribune in January 2018, the bulk of Parliamentarians remain keen to reverse the result of the referendum.

For our part, we assert that the sheer enormous scale of the output bellowed out from our traditional media and from our ever-expanding social media have done little to clarify the complexity of the in-out debate for the general public.

The unedifying spectacle of the interminable 24/7 yapping about the pros and cons of Brexit with every pontificating political and media Tom, Dick and Harry galloping from studio to keyboard results only in triggering yet further confusion.

(A word on a pet Holdenforth dislike from the wide world of UK media. I refer to the Andrew Marr show – the great political showpiece of the BBC. It beggars belief that anyone can take seriously the sight and sound of Andrew Marr – the great suppressor of investigative reporting when he was under the spotlight – attempting to grill a passing politico. Evidently in the view of the BBC – it takes one  impostor to know one.

How is the political re-grouping outlined by Lord Finkelstein going to come about and why does Holdenforth assert with jaunty confidence that it will come about?

Broadly along the following lines.

  1. We will have a Brexel in which a serious Bremain party is formed to campaign on the single issue of in-out. This will be the Remain Party.
  2. “ Joy shall be in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth , more than ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance” Luke, 15,7

Holdenforth will welcome to the Remain fold all who see the errors of their ways, and, more guardedly, those who opt to join the Remain cause solely to save their political careers.

As the In-out general election gathers momentum – sorry about that term – no double entendre intended – current and would be Members of Parliament will  desperately scuttle hither and thither to identify the likely winners, and then reluctantly cosy up to and embrace the party they perceive as emerging as the winners.

  1. The Remain Party will secure a majority in Brexel and immediately kill off Brexit.
  2. The Remain Party will assume office and get on with the mundane but essential job of governing the country.

 Who are the votewinning heavyweights that Holdenforth would like to see recruited to the remain cause?

As well as Blair, and in no special order:

From Labour ranks:- Brown, Mandelson, Lords Hattersley Kinnock and Adonis, Hutton, Miliband D and Miliband E,

From Tory ranks:- Major, Cameron (yes, Cameron  – a repenting sinner if ever there was one), Lord Heseltine, Osborne.

Holdenforth worries that our list may be top heavy with members of the House of Lords but then – beggars can’t be choosers.

No need to welcome the current Tory Remainers with Anna Soubry – they are there already.

What happens next

* The Tory conference holds out the promise a uniquely entreating combination of farce and tragedy.

* We at Holdenforth have said what we want to happen and what we think will happen. Our view as to we want to happen will not change – we are committed Remainers.

* Holdenforth will follow events at the Tory conference closely and get back to you as to what we think will happen when the dust has settled on the Tory bloodbath next week.

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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