The Prospects for Brexel 2: A Second Brexit Election

Brexel 1 – My term for the general election called by Mrs May in June 2017. Her sole reason for calling Brexel 1 was to strengthen her negotiating position with the other 27 EU countries – an objective which she failed by a wide margin to achieve.

Brexel 2 – My term for the forthcoming General Election which will be fought mainly on the painfully protracted pros and cons of Brexit.

Those arguing for the latter will be seeking to reverse the outcome of the in/out referendum held in June 2016.

Let me declare an interest at the outset – I remain a committed Remainer. My devotion to the Remainer cause grows stronger with every development and revelation.

Two other definitions:

Brexit – common term to denote the scheduled departure from European Institutions by the UK.

Mexit – My term for the likely departure of Mrs May from No 10 before the end of January, 2018

“Not another one” – A lament from Brenda – from Bristol – on hearing that Mrs May, bolstered by her walk in the Welsh Hills, had called for a general election on June 8th.

My dear Brenda from Bristol – I’m afraid that the events which triggered your exasperation back in June, 2017 are about to be repeated and that another general election will be called in the very near future.

“They (the Labour Party) can be the party for overturning the referendum altogether… Or they can let the government have its way. There are no other options.”
Lord Finkelstein, The Times, December 6, 2017

I am not sure that Lord Finkelstein is right in his clear short list of options for the Labour party. However I hope that the Labour Party DOES opt to reverse the June 23, 2016 referendum and that the Labour Party wins the Brexel 2 election.

A stroll down memory lane – Notes on the turbulent 2 years from the 2015 general election to the June, 2017 general election

General Election held in June 2015:- The Conservatives managed to shake off the shackles that had tied them to the Lib Dems and secure a narrow but perfectly workable overall majority over all the other parties combined.  A happy day for David Cameron.

The only cloud on the horizon – soon to become a typhoon – was his rash but firm promise to hold a referendum on the UK membership of the EU.

Two immediate casualties of the Tory win were the departures of Mr Miliband (E) and Mr Clegg from their jobs as the leaders of the Labour party and of the Liberal Democrats respectively.

September, 2015 – In the election held to determine the replacement for Mr Miliband (E) – Mr Corbyn won by a large margin, securing around 60% of the votes cast, with the remaining 40% shared between Mr Burnham, Ms Cooper and Ms Kendall. Given that Mr Corbyn only made it onto the list of candidates because of a capricious decision by some senior Labour figures – who ought to have known better – to make the contest more diverse and more interesting – this was a truly astonishing outcome.

June 23, 2016 — The date of the in-out referendum – another startling result – a narrow majority in favour of leaving the EU – consternation and recriminations all round.

The main casualty here was Mr Cameron himself – he resigned immediately, thus triggering an election for a new leader of the Tory party and, rather more importantly, a new prime minister.

There followed a few weeks of entertaining farce the highlight of which was the knifing of BOJO by Michael Gove – oh joy unbounded. Mr Gove came a poor third in the first ballot thus demonstrating the shrewd judgement of the Tory electorate. There was a further confused interval in which Mrs Leadsom fell by the wayside after suggesting that maternity should be an essential qualification for a woman Prime Minister.

The thought occurred to me that, according to this novel criterion in the election process, my mother, and the mother of my 8 siblings would have been admirably qualified for a leadership role – but I digress.

September, 2016 – Meanwhile Labour MPs were far too pre-occupied with their own problems to worry about the internal and national and international problems afflicting the Tory party.

Mr Corbyn had not managed to win the hearts and minds of the Parliamentary Labour Party and accordingly enough pressure built up to force a second leadership election on the grounds that there was a widespread lack of confidence in his performance. JC was judged to be a decent enough chap but sadly it was felt that under his leadership the Labour Party was unelectable.

It was unfortunate that the MP who stood against him, Owen Smith, had recently been rejected by the electorate as the Labour candidate in Blaenau Gwent – one of the safest labour seats in Westminster.

Obviously Mr Smith had relevant painful first hand experience about who is and who is not electable.

For whatever reason or combination of reasons Mr Corbyn scored a second overwhelming majority.

November, 2016 – yet another surprising outcome from the democratic process, this time with global implications and repercussions – Mr Trump was elected President USA – as if the world did not have enough problems. Mr Trump is currently arranging for the US embassy in Israel to relocate from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – a change that has not won universal approval in the Arab world, or indeed anywhere else on the globe.

April 17, 2017 – I recall that I went walking in the Welsh hills and that my feelings were limited to jubilation when I made it to the top of Waun Rhyd.

April 18, 2017 – Mrs May was and is made of sterner stuff. After her walk in the Welsh hills at around the same time she announced that there would be a General Election on June 8. She explained her decision to renege on her previous resolve not hold an election because it was important to demonstrate to our EU partners that we were as one in our collective resolve to make our own way in the political life to come.
Given the importance of the Brexit issue throughout the campaign I referred to the election as the Brexel election – there is much fun to be had by manipulating those 4 letters – BREX.

April 18 to June 8 – A protracted election campaign which to a considerable degree centred on the extent to which the Tories would increase the slender but adequate lead – to be precise 17 – secured by Mr Cameron just 12 months previously.

My own prediction of the result was based on what the bookmakers were predicting – after all what do I know? The bookies were predicting not the outcome that I hoped for but the outcome that I dreaded – a Tory majority of around 90 seats over all other parties combined.

It is worth repeating the gist of the various forecasts and of the possible consequences of each forecast.

Those with long memories will recall that the Tory Brexel strategy was excessively focused on the alleged strengths of Mrs May and the perceived fragility of Mr Corbyn.

Firstly, if the Tory majority was actually diminished, the consensus was that (a) Mrs May would resign immediately and that (b) Jeremy Corbyn would be very secure in his position as Labour leader.

If the Tories secured a majority of, say, 18-40, then a weakened Mrs May would solider on (Corbyn again secure); 41-75, and May’s decision to go to the polls is justified, while Corbyn might cling on; 76 and above (the outcome predicted by the bookmakers with 12 hours to go before the election) would have represented a ringing endorsement for May, and a P45 for Corbyn.

June 8, 2017 – The Brexel/ Brexit General Election – a very significant day in the political history of the UK.

“What happened, what happened, I’m coming to that”
The Witnesses – WH Auden

Mrs May lost her majority and her authority was significantly eroded.

Mr Corbyn was and remains understandably jubilant.

Some – not all – Tory party knives were out for Mrs May.

Many Labour MPs who were hoping to see the back of Corbyn were both wrong footed and crestfallen by actual outcome.

A BBC documentary – “Labour – the summer that changed everything”- recently reported on the confusion within the ranks of the Parliamentary Labour Party as the likely consequences of the actual outcome sank in. Cue for a mass switch by Labour Party MPs as they grasped the implications for themselves of the outcome.

The programme makes for highly entertaining and rewarding viewing and I can recommend it – via Youtube.

I was very pleased about the outcome but rattled about my inability to sense the change in the public mood – I had gloomily albeit confidently anticipated that the Bookies would get it right.

I suspect that Paddy Power and William Hill et al will in future stick with the outcomes of rather more rational and predictable matters – the Bookmaker business model allows zero scope for losses.

Notes on the even more turbulent 6 months from June 9 to date

In the immediate aftermath of Brexel 1 – a shaky understanding was arrived at with the DUP – not a coalition – in order to enable Mrs May to stay in No 10. This shaky understanding was adequately lubricated with a large bribe from a government that had been previously stressing the need for austerity and belt tightening.

To this outsider, the proceedings at the heart of HMG since the arrival in No 10 of Mrs May in June 2016 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 the decencies must be observed.

What about Mrs May?

“We have the weakest PM in living memory
The time has come to acknowledge that Theresa May is unsuited to leadership and must be replaced urgently
Headlines above a piece by Iain Martin, The Times, December 7, 2017

Mr Martin was less than well disposed towards Mrs May and he explained his views in a thousand well chosen words.

Sadly his piece descended into bathos in his last paragraph – “ whether the job falls to Michael Gove or Amber Rudd or Boris Johnson, the key figures need to meet immediately … to agree on a replacement.”

This somewhat implausible suggestion raises the question – did Mr Martin get this fairy tale from GOBO?

So – what happens next? – Possible outcomes to the Mexit dilemma

At some early date a sufficient number of Tory MPs – a dozen or so will do the trick – may decide that they can’t take any more, and trigger a confidence vote which would be lost thus precipitating a General Election.

Or, Mrs May – no one else – decides that attack is the best form of defence and calls a General Election. Her persuasive logic here would be that Brexel 2 would be rather more about issues – to be precise about Brexit – and rather less about strong and stable leadership as was the case with Brexel 1

What outcomes do I want :- In no special order –

A coalition to be formed comprising all those whose over-riding political objective is to reverse the outcome of the June 2016 referendum.

In terms of practical politics – I hope and suspect that this coalition will consist of a Labour Party that will have undergone a dramatic conversion similar to that experienced by St Paul en route from Jerusalem to Damascus – Jericho, together with all the Lib Dems, the SNP and a significant number of Tories weary of the Brexit fiasco.

A brief digression.

“Brexit tribes are tearing our country in two- The lazy labels of “Remainer” and “Leaver” are stifling debate and spreading hateful stereotypes”
Headline above a piece by Clare Foges The Times December 4

Ms Foges castigates those responsible for creating a tetchy climate of mutual antagonism rather than rational exchanges of views.

At one point she noted that “Remainers are cast as the metropolitan elite ( I live in the suburbs of Pontypool), the ones drinking stupidly expensive coffee – (I never drink coffee) – who are to be found campaigning for transgender toilets – not a topic when I was in my prime many years ago – and – so on and so on.

My failure to fit in to any of the various alleged attributes of the Remainer tribe caused me to worry – albeit briefly – if I am in the wrong tribe.

Back to a plausible manifesto for the Remainers in the forthcoming Brexel 2
A selection along the following lines should do the trick
1.1 – The UK to stay in Europe. After the Brexit election has been won – back to Business as Usual.  All other electoral issues pale into insignificance by comparison.
1.2. Nationalise the utilities. This proposal has nothing to do with the ideology of Karl Marx and everything to do with restraining the avarice of senior managers as they ruthlessly exploit their monopoly and near monopoly positions in the national economy.
1.3 – Tax rates for the rich to soar way above the modest 50% suggested by Mr McDonnell. The logic behind this proposal is to encourage those on the highest incomes to spend a little more time on the work that they are paid to do and a little less time on looting the system – Vice Chancellors – please note – we know where you live.
1.4. For senior managers in the financial sector – bring in other measures over and above increasing the top rate of tax. These other measures to end the payment of bonus elements designed by themselves and their cronies. The principal reward element to be that senior managers get to keep their jobs if it can be demonstrated that their performance is up to the required standard.
1.5. “The Winner’s Shout, the losers curse/Dance before dead England’s hearse.
William Blake -”Auguries of Innocence
It is bad enough being poor, bad enough not having a secure job, bad enough having no access to affordable housing without the exposure to the vultures looking to loot the most vulnerable in our society. There are plenty more opportunities to put some flesh on the bones of Mr Corbyn’s wish to govern for the many not the few but these will suffice for now.

Mr Corbyn – what has he been up to in the past six months.
* Wisely keeping his head down and his powder dry
* Ongoing abuse from Messrs Dacre and Murdoch – no surprise there
* Possibly relishing the discomfort of those in the party who had sought his departure.

A brief Corbyn digression

Conventional wisdom back in the summer of 2015 had it that the plausible three candidates -Burnham, Cooper and Kendall – were all thought to be capable of giving David Cameron a run for his money, a run that did not exclude arrival in No 10. How did it come about that a candidate widely perceived as a no hoper BEFORE the leadership election was elected by a huge majority over the plausible three?

I can only guess at the reason(s) for the unexpected outcome but I suspect that by far the most crucial reason in the minds of the 2015 electorate was that the election of any one of the plausible 3 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 had no 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 be easy to find high calibre replacements for the vast majority of the current crop of Labour Party MPs. Equally it would not be 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 equable members.

A Situation Report as of December 2017

According to some reports
* Labour lead the Tories at the polls
* Remainers lead brexiteers in the polls, especially among the young
* Most MPs would reverse the outcome of the June 2016 if the opportunity to do so were to arise. Well I have news for them – that opportunity may well be imminent.
* The most accomplished harvester of votes in modern times is said to be preparing to re-enter the political arena to support our continued membership of the EU.  MY ACE TO BE TONY BLAIR.

Dec14, 2017

Stop press – The Roller Coaster effect
1. Mrs May returns triumphant from Brussels – a worthy successor to the Iron Lady

2. Whoops – we spoke too soon –
“Eleven egotists and act of sheer treachery
Headline above a Daily Mail editorial – December 14.
It seems a bit over the top to compare the eleven rebels to Mr Quisling and Lord Haw Haw but, as noted, we are living in turbulent times.

3. What about an election slogan for the remainers in the Brexel 2 contest that is just around the corner
How about – from the collected sayings of Rupert Murdoch – F*** Dacre


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.


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):

“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…

Featured image courtesy of Business Insider



The clear duty to argue for fair taxation arrangements

There is a compelling argument for changes to the present arrangements for taxation that would improve social justice and curb the acquisitive tendencies of the light-fingered, the sharp-elbowed and the caught-red-handed-in-dubious-activities.

In particular, it is worth examining at the case to change the arrangements for the taxation of retirement pensions, inheritance tax, property and income. A protracted period of austerity for those citizens who are currently well-heeled would help to make ours a better and healthier society, and provide a welcome boost to the British economy.

The Labour Party under Ed Miliband did not perform in an especially coherent way in the months leading up to the 2015 general election. As the election approached, there was a stream of announcements offering goodies to the electorate but with less detail as to who might foot the bill. This was confusing, but given that opinion polls were forecasting that Miliband could end up as Prime Minister, who was to say that this was mistaken? However, the polls were wrong.

Labour’s performance after its election defeat went from bad to worse, culminating in the shambolic arrangements for the election of a new leader and deputy leader. Some caustic commentators noted that a party unable even to organise its own internal elections is ill-equipped to manage the affairs of the nation.

Now some senior figures in the Labour Party, not especially committed to the ideas of Jeremy Corbyn, are adopting the stance of Hugh Gaitskell and vowing to fight and fight again to save the party they love. But Gaitskell was in conflict with the distrusted trade union block vote system, whereas Corbyn has been endorsed by a substantial majority based on individual votes.

So what might Labour under its new leader learn from the years 2010 to 2015? One lesson is the need to establish plausible policies well in advance of future general elections, and to subject these to ongoing scrutiny in the light of the developing political situation. Labour must be clear and credible on taxation.

In the simplest model, taxes are levied by the state in order to fund its own outgoings including the financing of the defence of the realm, the education of the young (and latterly of the not so young) and the care of the sick. In general, debate tends to be more lively and controversial on the issue of “who pays what taxes” rather than on the bills to be paid by the state.

“And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.”

St Luke 2, 1

You can’t say clearer than that, although the imperial decree, while global in scope, was notably skimpy in terms of who should pay what. St Matthew said nothing about this in his gospel and he was said to be a tax collector.

“’Shew me the Tribute money’ [said Jesus]. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them – whose is this image and super subscription? They say unto him –  Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.”

This was an adroit reply by Jesus in that it baffled the biblical equivalent of the modern media pack, but it failed to address the core question – who decided what was Caesar’s and who decided what went to God?

Levels of inheritance tax, income tax, the taxation of pensions and property tax should all be examined. There is a case for steeply rising levels of taxation at the top end of the scale with other levels remaining more or less where they are now.

The affluent will argue, as they have always argued, for very low levels of taxation in all these areas, and many of them put theory into practice by devising complex techniques to avoid or evade payment of any taxes.

On property taxes – council taxes to most of us – those with long memories will recall that it was this contentious issue that triggered the departure of Margaret Thatcher back in 1990. Thatcher, having tackled and defeated General Galtieri and Arthur Scargill, was looking for new fields to conquer and she selected the town halls.

Her plan was to put in place a new system of local taxation to ensure that rate payers would be made much more aware of what they were getting for their money and would vote for councils committed more to frugality and less to increasing both the numbers and living standards of council bureaucrats. The result: the poll tax.

Her defeat on the issue of local government reform and hence her political downfall was widely attributed to the antics of a handful of Spartists. Not so. It was engineered by the massed ranks of the local authority bureaucrats and local authority elected politicians who viewed with alarm the prospect of the collapse of their collective cushy numbers.

Since 1990, there has been some low key discussion about the case for a mansion tax, specifically targeted at those who have become very rich solely by managing to acquire the right houses at the right time. The logic of the case for a mansion tax, mainly but not restricted to London properties, is that enormous wealth has been acquired not by hard work but good luck, and that some of this wealth should be gathered in and returned to the community. A heavy council tax for more expensive properties would have the advantage that it would be difficult to evade or avoid.

It is unlikely that this would appeal to the likes of David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson – partly on principle and partly because they would have to fork out a lot of money.

Accordingly, Jeremy Corbyn should propose a review into just how much extra council tax can be squeezed out of those of the top end with some relief for those at the bottom. The news that such a reform was being actively examined might inhibit some of the more exotic subterranean projects in the centre of London.

A report in The Times on June 25 2015 noted: “It is hardly a surprise to learn that a home in Kensington and Chelsea costs more than a house in the Welsh Valleys, but the price gap between the two has widened exponentially over the past 20 years… the gap between the two is almost 1,500 per cent, up from 516 per cent in 1995.”

The report was accompanied by a photograph of a street in Blaenau Gwent where the smallest median house price was found at £75,000. I lived in the street in the photo for several years and this may help to explain my interest in a levelling of this particular playing field.

I concede that my proposal would entail a period of belt tightening among householders in the Park Lane area of London, but they might be consoled by the thought of the blessings that would result for the London poor, and by the thought that the capital would become a genuinely civilised metropolis rather than a haven for the fortuitously affluent.

George Osborne won approval in some quarters for his decision to raise the level at which inheritance tax would be levied, and the plaudits were especially generous from those who stand to benefit.

There is case to be made for the suggestion of complete abolition. Their assets will have been taxed throughout the lifetime of the owner and it can be argued that enough is enough.

On the other hand, there is a powerful case for the complete confiscation of all personal assets following the final call of the grim reaper to enable each generation to succeed or fail on its own merits rather than on inherited wealth.

Also, attitudes to the issue of the level of inheritance tax are strongly skewed geographically – given the steady increase in house values as we move from north to south in the UK.

Will the winners in the lottery that is the housing market sit passively by in the event of an adjustment which arranges that the affluent lose out and the losers emerge as winners? Of course not. Unsurprisingly, some commentators referred to inheritance tax as the most hated tax of all – and there is a lot of competition for that title.

Attitudes on this issue are likely to be determined by just one factor – anticipated assets following a bereavement. And the majority of people would be happy to see the level of inheritance remain at the pre-2015 Budget level.

This impoverished majority would be quite relaxed to see not only the retention of the previous level but also the imposition of a steeply regressive level at the top end.

How many would be upset if the legatees of the affluent of Kensington were required to hand over a much higher percentage of the value of the estate in the future than would be the case today?

The present system is socially divisive, and it could change if a political party inclined to change it were to find itself in power. The change would help to ensure that each generation had to stand on its own collective feet.

Another issue concerns the level of retirement income to be received by someone who is in the headlines in part because of a perceived gap between lifetime achievements and final reward.

The senior managers responsible for the collapse of HBOS in 2008 are said to be apprehensive about the growing public demand to revisit the scene of the bank’s failure with a view to ensuring that those responsible are required to pay for their errors and omissions with rather more than an emotional display of public penitence.

The imposition of a system linking pensions to actual working life performance would be widely welcomed. Accordingly, Labour should review the case to bring in a new pensions super tax. This should be steeply regressive rising to, say, around 80 per cent on pensions in excess of £250, 0000.

These particular old-timers don’t need the money, and it is unlikely that their contributions funded their inflated pensions. The reform would go some way to redress the imbalance between the financial interests of the aged and the young.

According to Labour MP Stephen Kinnock: “The Labour Party should look seriously at cutting the top rate of income tax to 40p or lower”.

He also suggests that the party should ban the phrase “the people with the broadest shoulders should bear the heaviest burden” – warning it would “put off people who are working hard and trying to do well”.

Is that really the case? Any review carried out by the Labour Party should indeed look seriously at cutting the top rate of income tax to 40p or lower – before rejecting it. I would go further and, for those at the top end of the scale, inaugurate levels of 80 per cent.

The top earners will argue that such a confiscatory approach will force them to seek their fortunes abroad to the detriment and subsequent impoverishment of the nation. We are regularly told by those at the top end that their huge rewards are in recognition of the risks that they take – with our money. Many of us would happily take the risk of calling their collective bluff.

As for “people who are working hard”, who are they? Which of us would not claim to be part of this group? And who are the people who are not working hard?

And who among us is not trying to do well? In so far as the phrase means anything, it means maximising our income.

As for banning the phrase “those with the broadest shoulders should bear the heaviest burden”, whatever happened to free speech? The phrase would actually constitute an appropriate working mission statement for the Labour Party in the next few years.

There are those who believe that many of the recently arrived affluent immigrants are treated far too leniently by the Government and HM Revenue and Customs. We are not talking here about asylum seekers and economic migrants, but the nouveau riche who have acquired sufficient knowledge about who pays what taxes, and, especially how to avoid paying any tax whatsoever. All are savvy as the seamy side of fiscal matters is concerned. And they are currently engaged in the purchase of much of upmarket central London.

Is this a healthy development and, if not, what measures might be taken to curb it? This group have opted to come to Britain because it is in their financial interest to do so. They will argue that in a competitive economy there will be winners – them – and losers – us. The losers in this particular race might reflect that the this country is more than capable of producing top quality exploiters at home, and that there is no case to add to the supply via imports.

Would-be reformers need to ensure that the precise targeting of the very rich did not and would not adversely affect their human rights. A lot of money can buy lawyers to argue that the super rich were being discriminated against, and we could end up with a Chilcot-style inquiry. Sir John Chilcot himself might be available to chair it in a few years’ time.

The need for Labour, then, is to recruit some talented thinkers to ensure that the sums add up. In today’s business climate, talented thinkers are presented with clear-cut career choices in which they will be paid sums beyond the wildest dreams of most people in return for ensuring that their paymasters get a good return for their investment. Those in this category can and do earn vastly more than the Prime Minister. They devise the myriad of wheezes to minimise taxation for their masters, to exploit loopholes in national and international law, and in general to ensure that efforts to control the sharp practices of their paymasters are stymied. And they do a very good job.

The question to be faced by any genuinely reforming party is: how do we get to recruit at least a few of these super bright individuals to put their cupidity on hold and work for the good of the rest of us for a while? Difficult but not impossible.

Labour needs to recruit people to counter the very effective propaganda tanks funded by the affluent sharp practitioners.

A closing point on tax credits. We should note the ease with which the seemingly intractable problem was solved when George Osborne apparently found £27 billion down the back of the sofa. Perhaps he had belatedly been made aware that even paupers have the vote.

HBOS update

There have been a few developments since my article on HBOS in the last issue of Tribune (January 8). They include the abandonment by the Financial Conduct Authority of a formal review of the contribution of the UK financial sector to the crisis of 2008.

Tracey McDermott, the interim chief executive of the FCA, has denied that she was put under pressure by the Treasury to take this step, but there were reports that her predecessor, Martin Wheatley, had adopted a policy towards the financial sector that was seen as too aggressive in some quarters. In particular, his alleged slogan of “shoot first and ask questions afterwards” was seen as contrary to the principles of natural justice.

Tracey McDermott is right. The shoot first approach was always going to create more problems than it would solve. I like the shooting metaphor provided that the questions precede the shooting. I would advocate the use of a precision rifle rather than a shotgun as being more likely to hit the target miscreants.

In the Daily Mail recently, city editor Alex Brummer wrote: “Fascinating to learn that a former Bank of England official, Megan Butler, now working at the FCA, had her fingerprints on the regulators New Years Eve decision to drop its enquiry into the culture of the banks. Even though the Treasury was not involved, the direction of travel was set by George Osborne in July 2015 when he argued that he time for banker bashing is over.”

But did banker bashing ever get started and, if so, which bankers got bashed and how much damage did the bashing cause to their wallets?

This article first appeared in Tribune on January 26, 2016

Image courtesy of

The NHS – last rites or might there be a miracle cure?

The National Health Service continues to attract headlines mostly of the doom and gloom variety despite the counter attractions of terrorism, immigration, Europe, UK Steel and Jeremy Corbyn. What are we to make of it all? Is it yet another case of the shepherd boy calling wolf so frequently and fraudulently that when the beast did appear and the alarm cry was voiced abroad, no one took any notice – and the shepherd boy did not live to tell the tale?

I have selected a few headlines and extracts to illustrate the NHS problem. The first two point to the alleged scale of the problem. The second two point to a possible contributory factor, namely, the tendency of departing managerial failures to help themselves to large slices of NHS funds that might well have been originally allocated to more constructive purposes.

It can’t be the case – or can it? – that there is a special NHS fund to ensure that bungling bureaucrats are compensated for their departures. The evidence suggests that there is just such a fund for just such a purpose, a clear case of those at the top looking after their own.

“Tell the truth, Prime Minister: that if you won’t inject billions more into sinking hospitals, it’s RIP FREE NHS CARE”

Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett, Mail on Sunday, October 11 2015

“Hospitals heading for £2bn overspend. NHS hospitals have run up a record overspend of £1 billion in three months prompting regulators to warn that the heath service cannot carry on as it is.”

The Times, October 10 2015

“Boss behind chaotic call centre service got £300k pay off on top of his salary…. The official responsible for the disastrous launch of the NHS out-of-hours hotline (Mr John McIvor) was paid almost £500k last year, the Daily Mail can reveal. He earned the huge package while senior responsible officer of NHS England’s NHS 111 Implementation Group even though the launch of out-of-hours service was condemned by doctors’ leaders as an abject failure”

Daily Mail, October 1 2015

“Outrage over £410k payoff to NHS chief”

The Times, September 30, 2015

The Patients

“What do you think about England, this country of ours where nobody is well?”

WH Auden, The Orators

It might be instructive to approach the NHS problem from a couple of different angles rather than get bogged down in an interminable and inconclusive debate about which government spent how much and when on the NHS

Why not start with the patients, or, as some players in the game might say, the customers?

What about them? How might they contribute to a recovery of the NHS?

Doctors today are faced with an impossible task which is to provide the public with an unattainable combination of perfect health and maximum self-indulgence. Either of these demands taken singly would pose formidable difficulties. Taken together, the combined demands are mutually exclusive. A reasonable standard of good health typically requires that people are not overweight, don’t smoke, go easy on narcotics and take some exercise. Many patients today refuse to accept these joyless injunctions and talk airily about impaired quality of life, and stresses induced by austere life styles. The inevitable outcome has been a shortfall between the promises and the fulfilment of the various health commitments made by government health departments of various political colours.

Imagine yourself behind the desk of a GP during surgery hours. You have to deal with an interminable procession of patients who are, in many cases and to varying degrees, personally responsible for the ailments about which they have come to acquaint you. Additionally, you will be dealing with some patients people anxious to enlist your support to add their names to the growing list of the disabled in order to improve their financial positions. The rapid growth in recent years in the number of people officially classified as disabled is one of the more mysterious features of the health sector, given the huge growth in resources allocated to health matters over the same period. It is just possible that there may be a tenuous relationship between the increase in the numbers of the disabled and the access to a standard of living not available by the more usual route of working, and even less so to those for whom the only alternative is to claim the lesser and more capricious benefits available from the social security system. The medical profession has the unenviable task of attempting to stem the flood tide of claimants. Stories, not all of which can be apocryphal, are widespread of acting performances in surgeries which warrant the accolade of an Oscar award, performances which combine the dramatic exaggeration of the ailment in question with menacing hints to the doctor as to the consequences of any refusal to agree with the claimant’s diagnosis. Not surprisingly, most doctors give up the unequal struggle and supply the occasionally dubious applicant with the necessary paperwork.

Is it for this that our doctors studied for five years followed by a couple of years as a junior doctor on low wages and long hours? What an appalling prospect. And it does not end there. The patients of today, urged on by an unending supply of do it yourself medicine kits, think they know better than the doctor what their various problems are, assuming that they have problems in the first place, and what the remedies ought to be. Our harassed family doctor is faced daily with this prospect. A tsunami wave of the self-indulgent, the obese, the smokers, the drug addicts, the alcoholics, the indolent, the hypochondriacs, the malingerers, and those who attend for the exuberant social life to be found in all surgeries. Whatever their motive and medical condition, the patients all collectively demand that their doctor convert the sow’s ear brought into the surgery into a silk purse to take home. There we are, an endless procession, all insisting (we know our rights) on our God-given right to perfect health.

In his novel The Good Soldier Schweik, Jaroslav Hasek outlines the medical treatments meted out by doctors to patients suspected of malingering by the Czech authorities during the First World War. The treatment was designed to encourage all patients to get fit as quickly as possible by imposing upon them a series of torments which increased daily in severity. The treatment initially provided heavy doses of aspirin and quinine to keep the patient profusely sweating. These were followed by the application of the stomach pump, the application of the clyster, and, finally, on day five, by swathing in cold wet sheets. By day five (remember, the treatments were accumulative) all patients were either dead or had reported back for active service. The dictionary definition of a clyster is not wholly clear, but sufficiently so to persuade me that I would rather not undergo the experience. I suspect that some doctors, on reading Hasek’s laconic account, would secretly feel that they would like to try it out on at least the most flagrant of the suspected malingerers.

What steps can the profession take to minimise these pressures? It often seems to be the case that doctors are engaged in a vast damage limitation exercise rather than in a positive program of health improvement. It is not politically advisable even to hint that an enormous improvement could be brought about in the nation’s health by simple regimes of diet, exercise and abstention from narcotics.

One splendid example of the latter contributory factor to health is readily available. Given that the root cause of a patient’s bad chest is often smoking, the obvious action to take is for the doctor to refuse any further treatment until the patient stops smoking. That is the common sense solution. So, what about putting in place measures which entail a reduction or in some cases the complete withdrawal of medical facilities to those who choose to adopt a lifestyle designed to trigger the ailments in question, that is those whose ailments are self inflicted? According to Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallet – and, as a member of the Board of Trustees at the King’s Fund and former chief executive of Marie Curie Cancer Care, he should know – the NHS itself is on a life-support system. Desperate circumstances demand robust remedial action.

The technicians or, as they prefer to be called, the doctors

Add to that the insane new contracts awarded by Labour to GPs, who were given a huge pay rise while being relieved of the chore of working evenings and weekends”.

Richard Littlejohn, Daily Mail, January 6 2015

Richard Littlejohn, in a long protest about the prospect of five months of mendacious electioneering, notes the ludicrous New Labour cock up in which the Health Minister approved an arrangement in which GP incomes were substantially increased while simultaneously and massively cutting the unsocial hours required by their previous contracts.

This ineptitude recalls the quote by Nye Bevan: “In an island almost made of coal and surrounded by fish, only an organising genius could produce a shortage of coal and fish  – at the same time.” Yet, sadly, that is what happened,

Let me explain. The pay and conditions of GPs improved dramatically a few years into the New Labour Administration. For reasons which remain unclear, the pay of GPs was increased by over 50 per cent while their surgery hours were cut. All this in return for doing the same job as before – treating NHS patients for whatever ailments, real or imaginary, they wished to discuss with their doctor.

Naturally, GPs were both delighted and suitably discrete about this turn of events. Wisely they did not trumpet their triumph to the outside world and, when pressed, described the increase as a modest gesture which recognised the poverty they had been forced to endure in addition to their daily torment in the surgery.

A succession of New Labour health ministers, questioned as to what had been done and why, alternated between claiming that a pay increase for GPs was long overdue – it wasn’t – or that the size of the increase had been exaggerated – it had not – or that doctors were being rewarded for their greater productivity – not a bit of it – or, as a last resort, blaming the previous incumbent in the job. The last explanation was probably the correct one.

Just to complicate matters, at the same time the job demands placed on doctors were sharply reduced by the simple expedient of not requiring them to cover night shifts and weekend shifts. Some suspicious observers felt that this was a Malthusian ploy designed to reduce the surplus population.

At the time, I could not understand how anyone could be so incredibly stupid as to give one group of state employees a huge pay increase in return for doing a lot less work. I sought in vain for an explanation for this blunder in the pages of The Journey by Tony Blair, his account of his years in Number 10. Not surprisingly, I was disappointed. One startling feature of Blair’s book is the frequency of the use of the words “modernise”, “progressive”, “reform”, and “radical”. The book would lose up to 10 per cent of its content if these interminably repeated words were simply deleted.

The other startling feature is the reluctance of Blair to supply any details of the changes that he has in mind. The reader can only assume that for Blair the endless incantation of these key words is a substitute for actually doing anything other than to make a bad situation a great deal worse. The book is long on froth and sadly short on the specifics of his slogans.

The measurement of the performance of medical professionals is gaining momentum and The Times recently published performance tables for the various branches of the profession such as heart specialists and orthopaedics specialists. Those about to undergo surgery anxiously study the tables and are jubilant if our hospital is at or the near the top and gloomy if the opposite is the case. The lawyers will ruthlessly exploit all mistakes. The next step will be to locate an office for a lawyer in every local surgery so as to miss no opportunity for lucrative litigation.

So, what help might the medical profession have to offer the NHS in what may be its terminal decline? Not much because the major problems, together with the relevant remedial measures, lie elsewhere.

NHS management

“When I consider life, tis all a cheat:

Yet, fooled with hope, men favour the deceit;

Trust on and think tomorrow will repay:

Tomorrow’s falser than the former day”


We must now turn to the root cause of the NHS problem. Put simply, the NHS is to a significant extent managed by people who combine ineptitude, insensitivity and cupidity in roughly equal proportions. This raises the question: are these cases the bad apples in the huge NHS barrel in which the great majority work tirelessly and with great passion – their words – to maintain the noble aims of the founding fathers back in 1948?

I think not. I suspect that the top layers of the NHS are teeming with managerial mediocrities with a flair for humbug and self-enrichment. They get away with it because they can get away it, and this is in large measure because the main political parties are far too busy either abusing one another or attempting to bamboozle the electorate to enquire about where the money directed to NHS actually finishes up.

Back in 2002, I wrote a book which I called A Cushy Number. In this, I explored the demands made on and the rewards collected by a selection of professions such as teachers, lawyers and politicians. My main sources of data were newspapers and magazines, and I would collect cuttings to illustrate my points about this or that profession.

The largest number of cuttings concerned the various sharp practices carried out in boardrooms by senior business and City managers. Not far behind was the huge collection of cuttings that I amassed concerning the collective sharp practices of senior managers in the Leviathan that is the NHS, this gigantic out-of control bureaucracy.

Time was when people such as almoners and matrons administered the NHS with a tiny fraction of the huge resources now allocated, but these delightfully simple arrangements no longer operate. Managerial bureaucrats saw their chance and moved in, rather like gold prospectors in the Yukon, but without the insecurity entailed in the latter activity.

Politicians faced with the reluctance of the NHS to respond to any model of effective managerial control resort to more and more reorganisations, not to solve the problem (impossible) but to create the illusion of activity. These reorganisations have the down side of resulting in surplus bureaucrats who cannot be sacked.

What happens in practice is that a fanfare of trumpets promises a dynamic new beginning, and the surplus bureaucrats saunter round to the back of the institution where they are readmitted on better terms and conditions.

A case study: Sir David Nicholson

The facts of the case that suggests that the performance of Sir David Nicholson in his last two jobs in the NHS was not impressive.

Sir David was chief executive of the West Midlands Strategic Health Authority, overseeing the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust for a period when death rates were found to be high.

Sir David issued a full apology, saying “I apologise to them on behalf of the NHS as a whole and for the fact that those patients, relatives and carers found themselves in the position where they not only had terrible things happen to them but the very organisation they looked to for support let them down in the most devastating of ways.”

Sir David’s worst critic could not have put it more trenchantly.

In September 2011, the Daily Telegraph revealed that Nicholson, then chief executive of NHS England, claimed expenses of more than £50,000 a year on top of a basic salary of £200,000 and benefits in kind of £37,600 at a time when he was asking the health service to make £20 billion cuts by 2015. His claim was three times an MP’s accommodation allowance.

Sir David has been interviewed in the media to express his concerns about problems in the NHS, problems to which he himself had made a significant contribution. However, not everyone was against him. On February 2 2013, The Guardian reported: “The boss of the NHS is set to survive this weeks damning report into the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal despite calls for him to resign by relatives of some of the hundreds of patients who died. The NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson enjoys the rock solid support of David Cameron and the health secretary Jeremy Hunt, according to well placed NHS and Whitehall sources.”

Three months later, on May 21 2013, Nicholson was quoted in The Independent as saying: “I have only ever had one ambition and that is to improve the quality of care for patients.”  That should not have been too difficult with Sir David in charge.

Sadly, the story of the NHS in recent years is reminiscent of the story of Britain’s financial sector, in which those senior managers who chose to loot the system – far too many of them – were and remain remarkably free to do so. The consequences of this freedom degenerating into license are there for all to see. There would seem to little prospect of reform unless those in a position to do summon up the will to do so. Few are convinced that Jeremy Hunt is the person for this particular challenge.

What, then, should the right person do, if they can be found and put in post What can be done by the rest of us to bring these managerially challenged mediocrities under control?

Some measures to improve the NHS might include:

* Grasp that the problem starts at the top – the NHS will not recover if this elementary point is not understood.

* Ensure that under-performing senior managers and those detected in sharp practice are sacked – not reorganised, not made redundant but sacked. Start with the low-hanging fruit and move on from there. And it may be that there is a lot of scope to reduce the head count at the top while simultaneously improving NHS performance,

* All redundancy financial arrangements must be scrutinised and signed off by politicians rather than by fellow NHS bureaucrats.

* All terms and conditions surrounding re-organisations should be referred to an independent body for confirmation, amendment or rejection.

* There should ben immediate review of the employment contracts of NHS bosses with a view to deleting “rewards for failure” sections.

* We need edict issued by the Health Secretary that those who blow the whistle on dodgy deals will be fully protected. Only the sharp practitioners need have any fears on this score

* Essential is an end to the practice whereby large rises have been justified because this bureaucrat or that one takes over all or part of the work of another bureaucrat – it is probably the case that both jobs could be dispensed with no adverse impact on the NHS.

* The recovery of misappropriated funds to be vigorously pursued, and those who have been “at it” to be taught a collective lesson.

I have no doubt that the NHS technicians – sorry, doctors and Nurses – will be happy to pour out their accumulated frustrations if requested. And they ought to be so requested.

There is certainly room for improvement.

“£450k hospital boss leaves failing trust – for another top job. Jackie Ardley oversaw catastrophic problems which led to the trust being put into special measures. But rather than being held to account the freelance boss has moved on to another executive post elsewhere,”

Daily Mail September 21, 2015

“NHS bureaucrats have been handing themselves extraordinary bonuses amid the worst financial crisis in a generation. More than 400 Department of Health civil servants last year shared rewards totalling £1 million for apparently performing above and beyond expectations. This included one of the NHS’s most powerful women, Dame Una O’Brien, whose role is to ensure the health service runs efficiently.  She was handed a £17.5k bonus, taking her total pay package to £240k.”

The Times, October 13 2015

To what extent have politicians contributed to the decline of the NHS? What is the extent of their collective responsibility?

In addition to the inept decision to raise GP salaries and cut GP unsocial hours taken during the Blair years, we should note the acquiescence of New Labour in the looting of the NHS by the very people entrusted with the responsibility of running it

The performance of the coalition Government with regard to its management of the NHS was just as bad as that of its predecessors, and either it failed to grasp what was happening on its watch or it did know but was afraid to act.

The flow of scandals remained steady during the coalition years and has if anything increased in the first few months of the Conservative-only administration under the stewardship of Jeremy Hunt.

So the prospects of the miracle cure for the NHS – the consummation devoutly to be wished – are not promising. If nothing is done the expressed by fear Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett may well come to pass.

The Tory Government should implement the actions suggested actions suggested above quickly and energetically. The Labour Opposition must hold them to account.

Doctors and nurses have their part to play to bring bureaucratic sharp practices to the attention of the (just about free) press. And those people who are, to a significant extent, responsible for their own ailments, must shape up.

This article was first published in Tribune on December 23, 2015

Image courtesy of BBC