As I Please: Brexit, Boris & Snappy Electioneering

What next for Brexit?

A report in yesterday’s Daily Mail (headlined ‘Stop the insults and start talking, UK tells Europe’) kicked off by saying that “Downing Street struck back at Brussels after EU officials accused Theresa May of wanting a ‘fantasy Brexit.’”

The news emerging from the Brexit talks between the UK and the EU is both sparse and bleak. The Daily Mail is taking the view that the EU side is proving to be obdurate and offensive, and that the prevailing tone is rather more abrasive than the exchanges between Washington and Pyongyang.

To fill in the gaps, some tabloids are musing on the feasibility of a complex plot which would see Michael Gove replace Mrs May and, after a year or so, Mr Gove would gracefully make way for the up and coming leader of the Scottish Conservative party, Ruth Davidson.

Can’t quite see it myself.

For Holdenforth the most eye catching comment in recent days has been from Richard Littlejohn who noted that “regular readers” ( of his column) “will know that I’m no fan of Mother Theresa (yes, Richard, we had gathered that) and that he “thought Boris deserved the job when ‘call me Dave’ committed harakiri.” I have to confess that I missed his earlier endorsement of Boris and I also understand why he has not sought to remind us of this.

Littlejohn complained sourly that “leaving the EU is taking longer than defeating Hitler.” It is not easy to see how the two events can sensibly be compared but we live in strange times.

In line with the consistent policy of Holdenforth of providing a way out of the various problems examined in this blog, a suggested solution to the problems that are emerging as the Brexit process moves from the swapping of slogans to the nitty gritty details will be outlined.

Can Mrs May secure a good deal from the obdurate team batting for the EU, and, in so doing, secure the smoothest of transitions from where we are now to the sweet bye and bye of Brexitland?

Holdenforth will come back to this issue in a few paragraphs, but first a word about the emergence of the Soros campaign. According to the Mail (May 24), this will take the form of a “six-month blitz on MPs, unions and voters to thwart (the) PM’s Brussels deal”.

Well, the mission statement of the campaign is “to stop Brexit and begin to put Britain back together” so at least in this one cannot accuse the Mail of seeking to mislead its readers.

The Mail dutifully returned to the fray the following day, claiming that it had “new evidence of foreign billionaire Soros’s plot”; that it would “sabotage” Brexit; that “Europhiles” were now “ruthlessly” targeting MPs.

Well they would do that, wouldn’t they?

The Mail outlined the campaign strategy and tactics to be employed to achieve the commendable aims of the Soros team, and the Soros team will be doubtless be delighted to learn that Holdenforth is with them all the way.

But – how can Holdenforth translate its zeal for the aims of the Soros team into effective actions?

Shouting “Come on you Soros boys -and girls” from the rooftops (and this blog) is ok as far as it goes but that isn’t very far.

Holdenforth is noted for its lack of tangible assets or, as Mr Soros would say, cash.

Additionally, it lacks experience in the dark arts of political campaigning.

(A minor digression before we leave Mr Soros to get on with a spot of sabotaging. Mr Soros bears an uncanny resemblance to Mr Michael Gove – just thought I’d mention it.)

The best that Holdenforth can do in these challenging circumstances is as follows. We have drafted a letter from the British Prime Minister (no names, no pack drill at this stage) to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk. The letter looks at the prospects for Brexit and it is not pleased by what it sees:

Further to our recent discussions I now write to confirm the following points as agreed in our meeting on July 30, 2018:

1. It has become apparent to Her Majesty’s Government that there is now no prospect of reaching an agreement between us and the EU on the major contentious open points.

2. Accordingly HMG faces the prospect of leaving the EU with all its array of long established economic, political and social arrangements with – to use that most unfortunate term – no deal.

3. Equally it has become apparent to HMG that many of the assumptions made by the Brexiteers from the launch of the referendum campaign to date have been both hopelessly unrealistic and absurdly optimistic.

4.The combination of these factors, if allowed to continue, will result in the UK being stranded in no man’s land with a coldly uncooperative EU behind us and Heaven only knows what in front of us.

5. Accordingly and as per our agreement reached on July 30, I now confirm that HMG, on behalf of the UK, asks that the EU will accept the formal cancellation of our application to invoke Article 50 and that the UK be allowed to return immediately to the status quo ante that prevailed prior to the start of the Brexit fiasco.

6. I trust that you and your colleagues who will have been sorely tried by the antics of the Brexiteers -as indeed have I – will quickly draw a veil over the unfortunate events of recent years.

I would be grateful for your formal confirmation of the contents of this letter.

Yours etc,
UK Prime Minister on behalf of HMG

PS -Strictly between ourselves I am sure that you will understand that:

*I was always a Remainer but I had to bide my time until the time was ripe to see off the Brexiteers

*The Brexiteers, led – or rather misled – by that blond bloated bladder of wind Boris, are now all too clear that their day has come – and gone.

Then and now

Back in November 2014, The Times ran an article entitled “Boris brags about London’s exotic army of billionaires.” The article below the braggadocio headline went on to say that “As mayor, Boris Johnson has had time to think about makes London the greatest city on earth. His answer? Its mega rich inhabitants… Mr Johnson boasted that London had more billionaires than New York and Paris. ‘London is to the billionaire as the jungles of Sumatra are to the orangutan…’”

Later the report noted that “He acknowledged that high house prices in the capital were a phenomenon caused in part by his” (note the possessive pronoun) “millionaires… The success of London is making it very hard for Londoners to afford to live there.”

I think that the reader can reasonably draw the conclusion that Boris and the billionaires were on the best of terms at that time.

To quote the dour New York detective – who loves ya baby?

Several months earlier (in July 2014) another Times report said that “France [had] accused hypocritical Britain of cosying up to Russian oligarchs yesterday as European divisions thwarted hopes of immediate action over the shooting down of the Malaysia airlines passenger jet. A spokesman for President Hollande of France complained that his is a false debate led by hypocrites … when you see how many Russian oligarchs have sought refuge in London, David Cameron should start by cleaning up his own back yard.”

Well put, Mr Jean- Christophe Cambedelis.

That was then. Now, Boris Johnson has been leading the pack in denouncing the wealthy immigrant Bolshies following the alleged Russian complicity in the Salisbury attempted murders and the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Interestingly, the UK has now reversed its 2014 position and has added Russian complicity in the attack on the Malaysian airlines jet to its catalogue of accusations against Russia.

Holdenforth makes just one point, the rich London reds now under attack by Boris are the self-same rich London reds praised to the skies by Boris just a few years ago.

Holdenforth believes that the only lesson to be learned from this sorry sequence of events is that Boris has just one unvarying political principle – the advancement of the political career of Boris.

Reflections on effective electioneering

“We know what to expect when the Tories return to power – a party of great vested interests, banded together in a formidable confederation; corruption at home, aggression to cover it abroad; the trickery of tariff juggles; the tyranny of a wealth fed party machine; sentiment by the bucketful; patriotism and imperialism by the imperial pint; an open hand at the public exchequer; An open door at the public house; dear food for the million; cheap labour for the millionaire. That is the policy which the Tory party offers you.”

What you think of this for a snappy election message? I ask you: could Mr Corbyn put the points more effectively and more memorably?

It would be difficult to write a more devastating attack on the policies of today’s Tory Party as it prepares for the next election.

I would urge Jeremy Corbyn to contact the author and seek to enlist his services were it not for the facts that:

* the author has been dead since 1965.
* the author switched sides – from Liberal to Tory – in 1924
* the author was Winston Churchill.

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All Quiet on the Brexit Front – a Lack of Progress Report

Few would disagree with the observation that there has been a lull of late in the battle for Brexit. Given the overriding importance of the outcome it is reasonable to ask why this should be so.

The lull may be due in part to the plethora of alternative major newsworthy issues currently on the go. The Salisbury poisonings, the war in Syria, the perceived need to ensure that the female of the species is paid the same as the male of the species for the same work, the pros and cons of the case for more bobbies on the beat to combat violent crime, the exuberant activities of Mr Trump at work and at leisure, the immigration issue neatly summarised by Private Eye as “Windrush to Bum‘s Rush,” the black spot handed to Sir Martin “Shortie” Sorrell by his disgruntled colleagues – these and many more compete with Brexit for the attention of Mrs May and her colleagues.

It is also worth noting that the lull may be more apparent than real in that the location of the debate between the EU and the UK has shifted from the glare of the cameras to rather more secluded venues to allow the principal negotiators to haggle over the small print.

It would seem that the pleasantries exchanged in recent weeks have now given way to what we old fashioned manager johnnies would call the nitty gritty where the devil will be in the detail.

The potential influence of the dissenters – from all sides of the house – – from the policies of their own parties is strengthened by the all pervasive sense of confusion and uncertainty surrounding Brexit.

“In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king.” (Equally the one eyed woman is queen. Holdenforth does not do inequality.)

In this blog I will examine the possible contribution to the Brexit campaign of the dissenters in the House of Commons, those pains in the arse to party managers and docile colleagues alike, and I look at how the outcome of the Brexit drama may well be significantly influenced by the contribution of those traditional bit players and noises off – the awkward squad whose members are, for a wide variety of reasons, at odds with their respective parties.

Who are the key players – the main stakeholders – in the unfolding Brexit drama and where do they stand?

Firstly, the EU negotiating team. Their aim will be to drive the hardest possible bargain in order to make it clear, very clear, to any other would be leavers that leaving, far from being a soft option, will be the political equivalent of the actions of sharpshooters who take careful aim before shooting themselves in the foot.

The motto of the EU negotiating team and their backers towards the UK might be succinctly expressed as “If that is the way that they want it, then that is the way that they can have it and that is the way that they will have it”.

“So they [the Government] go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent.”
Winston Churchill, From Hansard, November 12, 1936

Might there be parallels between the behaviour of Mr Baldwin and his government in 1936 and the behaviour of Mrs May and her government in 2018?

Let me allow Mr Alex Massie, occasional columnist for The Times, to have his say.

“Its time for May to stop marching in circles”
Alex Massie, The Times, April 23, 2018

I was preparing to catalogue the formidable array of problems facing Mrs May on the Brexit front when I read the excellent column by Mr Massie in the Times on April 23. He listed not only the problems that I had intended to mention but quite a few others that had escaped me.

None of the obstacles listed by Mr Massie are trivial and this makes any attempt to compress them tricky. However Holdenforth does not seek to avoid problems so herewith my selections from the Massie column together with my comments.

“Picture the scene deep inside the Downing Street bunker. There sits Mrs May .. Surrounded by her closet advisors as they ‘war game’ the latest developments in the Great Brexit War” (Holdenforth –  We are with you so far, Mr Massie.)

“’Give me options’ you imagine the prime minister demanding. But there are no good options, merely different kinds of difficulty.” (Nicely put, AM.)

“The Sunday Times reported yesterday that that the PM accepts, however reluctantly, that Britain may yet have to remain within the EU customs union if it is to achieve its objectives elsewhere.” (What objectives might these be other than that Mrs May clings onto the keys of Number 10?)

“Mrs May is trapped: in office but not in power.” (Spot on, AM.)

“At some point even this prime minister must make a decision. Are her opponents the EU 27 – ” (Yes) “or her own backbenchers” (Yes again)

“The spectre of Moggism hangs over the government.” (Let’s not carried away. Surely things have not got so bad that this modern Bertie Wooster, the lightest of lightweights, can be thought to exercise significant influence. )

“The gulf between rhetoric, action and reality widens by the day.” (Hear Hear.)

There is more, much more, in the same vein in the AM piece and none of it will have made comfortable reading for Mrs May.

Holdenforth cautiously suggests that the prospects for a successful outcome for the UK in the coming Brexit battle are bleak and the position of and prospects for the HMG team are far more shaky than those of the EU team.

Alex Massie has set out with crystal clarity the weaknesses of HMG and of the UK in the impending Brexit battle. He outlined the difficulties of trying to satisfy the mutually exclusive aims of the hard Brexiteers, the peace at any price Brexiteers and those for whom any departure from the EU will be over their, if not dead bodies, then badly battered bodies.

The task of the HMG team is made significantly more difficult – if that were possible – by the fact that the SNP is firmly in the Remain camp and the Labour Party is in the Micawber camp, waiting for something to turn up.

The policy of the Labour Party continues to puzzle Holdenforth. Insofar as one can make any sense of the material that is put out it appears to be a confused combination of playing Little Sir Echo to the Tories, and, as noted, waiting for something to turn up.

The latter policy cannot fail to succeed in that something WILL turn up. But what is that something?

When the questions are coming thick and fast from the 24/7 media pack – and sooner or later they will be coming thick and fast – Labour will need to get its Brexit act together – so why not get a plausible principled policy together now in the relative tranquillity of the Brexit phoney war?

What about the opinion formers in the media?

“Let me a little show it, even in this-
That I was constant Cimber should be banished,
And constant do remain to keep him so.”
Caesar spelling out his fixed position just prior to his death at the hands of Brutus and others in Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Paul Dacre, like Julius Caesar some two thousand years ago, has been and remains commendably consistent on Brexit.

He has been consistent in his raucous demand that Brexit should mean Brexit – and he continues to demand that Brexit will mean Brexit – full marks to PD for consistency- but he needs to remember what the outcome was for Julius Caesar.

How might this drama unfold in the next few months?

As noted I will confine the scope of this blog to the possible contribution of the awkward squad which lurks on the back benches of the House of Commons to the outcome of the Brexit battle.

Members of the awkward squad are not to be confused with those members who from time to time feature in the headlines to the fury of the party whips and the joy of the electorate. This latter misbehaving group provides ample evidence as to the diverse activities and antics to be encountered in the inner sanctum of our democracy. We will not- for the moment – be looking at abuses of the parliamentary expenses arrangements, nor will we raise the question of how the MP Stephen Milligan died “in unusual sexual circumstances” (How does one die in usual sexual circumstances?), and of why Mr Jonathan Aitken was detained in one of Her Majesty’s penal institutions following his conviction for perjury. We will not seek to raise the case of the internet advertisements placed by the MP for the Rhondda, Mr Chris Bryant, for same sex partners, and nor will we raise the difficulties faced by the Liberal Democrats in the leadership election brought about by the drink problem of its former leader, Charles Kennedy.

(With regard to the last-mentioned difficulties which we will not be raising: four candidates put themselves forward to succeed Mr Kennedy. The tabloids immediately and predictably got onto the job of looking into their past lives and the outcome for two of the four was less than welcome. It turned out that one of the four, Mr Simon Hughes, was sexually ambivalent – not a vote winner in those judgmental days- and another, Mr Mark Oaten, was reported as having engaged in sexual activities too revolting to be described in a family newspaper! A third, Mr Chris Huhne, later had to resign from the Cameron cabinet because of suspicions, later confirmed in court, that he had persuaded his then wife, and, latterly, his aloof critic, to accept penalty points on her driving licence for offences committed whilst he was at the wheel. So – Nick Clegg got the job – a poisoned chalice if ever there was one. I should like to end this stroll down memory lane with a brief word about the unseemly allegations concerning Lord Rennard. The portly Lib Dem peer was said to have adopted a very hands on approach in his dealings with female colleagues and a few of them broke cover to accuse him of excessive familiarity. I have no idea what went on any more than you have but some of the reports reminded me of Molly Bloom’s confession to the priest in “Ulysses” – “And where did the man touch you, my child?” “It was on the canal bank, Father” One could sense the frustration endured by the priest as his zeal for getting to the gist of the matter overlapped with his quest for fortuitous titillation came up against not a brick wall but a canal towpath.)

Time was when politicians were expected to have principles to which they would adhere and, when necessary, refer. These principles were presented to the electorate which would then make its choice from the range on offer. Not any more. The speed with which clearly proclaimed principles are jettisoned and wholly different ones adopted leaves the onlooker dazed with the sleight of hand. In the early sixties the Labour party was bitterly opposed to the Common Market. Under Blair, the New Labour Party sought by a series of complex manoeuvres to take us in. The Tory party under Heath in the seventies was firmly pro Europe. Now the party is all but committed to pulling out. As recently as the 1983 general election the Labour party was proud to call itself socialist and put to the electorate a set of policies to match its principles. I recall vividly the speech made by Michael Foot in Ebbw Vale on the eve of the 1983 election. He spoke with pride and passion about the values and principles of the party he was proud to lead. On the debit side it took him about an hour just to bring his story up to 1945 and there were some in his audience and doubtless in the country anxious for a more contemporary note. Nowadays the Labour party whilst condemning everything that Thatcher stood for, has been careful to retain and in some cases even to extend her policies. It’s all very confusing to the voters.

What happens next in Westminster ?

Holdenforth still sees only 3 possibilities.

1. The least likely – Mrs May and her government stagger from crisis to crisis for the next 4 or so years. In this event and whatever else happens – the UK will be out of Europe. The arguments presented by Alex Massie will have lengthened the odds in its favour to the most remote eventuality.

2. Around 50 or so Tory MPS would have to write to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee to request a leadership election. This is the second plausible possibility, especially given the shaky record of Mrs May in her brief but turbulent stay in Number 10.  It is much less likely than option 3 (see below) because Members of Parliament are noted rather more for their opportunism than for adherence to principle.

3. The most likely outcome is that Mrs May will sooner or later- and sooner rather than later – lose a vote of confidence and this would trigger a general election. For this to happen just 10 Tories – 3% of the total – would be required to vote against in order to dislodge Mrs May.

A modest rebellion.

Might there be enough Tory MPs with the required amount of intestinal fortitude and/or a private income and / or a job offer in their pocket to carry a no confidence vote?

Holdenforth asserts with confidence – Yes!

We urge the required 3% to follow the example of Henry V before Harfleur as he urged his followers to “imitate the action of the tiger; stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise nature with hard favoured rage“, and so on and so forth” by putting their heads above the parapet during and at the end of the confidence debate.

There would then be a repeat of the 2017 General Election – sorry about that, Brenda from Bristol – a single issue General Election which we will call Brexel 2 – a second referendum in all but name.

Our legislators – those in the Commons now plus a rather larger number anxious to replace them would then be required collectively to decide how to proceed and the voters would be entertained by the spectacle of the elastic consciences of the thousand plus candidates competing to be elected to the House of Commons being stretched to breaking point.

Possible factors to take into account

What about Mr Corbyn and his colleagues?

You tell me. I am far from clear as to what the Parliamentary Labour Party would do in the event that Mrs May and her Government lost a vote of confidence.

It might well be that her successor as Tory leader would note the fragility and uncertainty of the Labour Party, rally the Tory troops and succeed in winning the subsequent election.

What if for whatever reason or combination of reasons the DUP withdraws from the current support “arrangement” , something which could happen at any time given the volatility and unpredictability of politics throughout Ireland?

This leaves the only realistic option of lancing the boil – and putting Mrs May out of her self-inflicted misery – as being for a sufficient number of brave Tory MPs either to vote against or abstain on a vote of confidence to trigger a general election.

What should the policy of the Remainers be?

Holdenforth suggests that the scattered and disorganised remainers adopt an approach along the following lines:

“Sir William Harcourt was a genial accomplished parliamentarian , a party man, with an eye fixed earnestly but by no means unerringly upon the main chance”
From “The Earl Of Rosebery” -essay by Winston Churchill .

Thus Sir William Harcourt , thus significant numbers of current and would be members of the House of Commons.

The key policy elements of the Remain camp to be:

1. To persuade enough dissident Tory MPs to trigger the toppling of Mrs May.

2. An intent to reverse the 2016 referendum and to recommend that the UK get back to business as usual within the European Community.

3. The subsequent general election / second referendum to be fought in a spirit that would contain a readiness to acknowledge that the two main parties both made some appalling errors of judgement on this crucial political issue in the past few years.

Holdenforth remains firmly in the Remain camp and it remains confident that the Brexit battles, if fought to a finish, will be won by the EU and its negotiating team.

Should that outcome come to pass Holdenforth predicts that Mrs May will be left with two options, both unattractive.

A bad deal unlikely to be endorsed by her hard Brexiteer wing
or
No deal – an outcome difficult if not impossible to sell to the UK voters.

Throughout these turbulent proceedings the current membership of the Commons and those hoping to replace them will have just one aim in common – what outcome will be the best for me?

In this phase the electorate, advised and exhorted by the tireless media, will be trying to predict the outcome.

Straws in the wind.

Owen Smith, a member of the Labour Shadow Cabinet, suggested that Parliament be allowed the final say on the Brexit terms secured by HMG – and was promptly sacked by Mr Corbyn. Given the gravity of some of the political offences that JC had previously pardoned from members of his shadow team – not a good omen for the future.

A doughty cross party and no party group has been formed to campaign for a second referendum on Britain’s future in the EU. Its leading members include Carolyn Lucas, Chuka Umunna and the formidable Anna Soubry. Comedian Andy Parsons – who he? – and Sir Patrick Stewart – thespian space traveller – were also on the launch platform.

The House of Lords has tabled some tricky amendments to trip up the Brexiteers thus triggering some Bolshevist demands by The Daily Mail for the political gelding of the our revered upper house.

Tony Blair and John Major have both launched impressive broadsides against Brexit.

Lord Adonis – a beacon of sense in the Brexit battle – is said to be working tirelessly to organise the Remain forces and I wish him every success in his efforts.

Mr Barry Gardiner was said to have embarrassed the Labour Shadow Cabinet by suggesting that the party’s Brexit policy was bollocks – Holdenforth is not as prim as the Daily Mail which reported the word as b******s.  Whether direct or via asterisks the frustration of Mr Gardiner was plain to discern – his was a commendably direct comment which suggest that there is may well be some flexibility in the views of Mr Gardiner as the Brexit battle moves from phoney to turbulent.

Holdenforth both suspects and hopes that events are moving against the Leavers and in favour of the Remainers.

 

 

 

Whither Brexit?

 

All in all and taking one thing with another and looking at things in the round and pondering on the reports from the two camps – Brexit and Remain – and making all due allowance for possible contributing factors like the repercussions of the attempted murders in Salisbury and the war of words in the Labour Party about whether or not the party is rife with anti-Semitism and, if yes, why, and what did Kim and Xi discuss in their clandestine meeting and how clever of the Chinese President, Mr Xi Jinping, to arrange for his term of office to be converted into a lifetime appointment and what, if anything, happened between Mr Trump and Stormy Daniels, and, in the case of the last item, does anyone really care –  let us see where we have got to, and where we are headed for, Brexit wise. 

 

 “So  who would you trust – A manic burnt-out Blair preaching doom or a rejuvenated Theresa May in touch with the people and urging unity?”
Daily Mail headline on  March 30, 2018 

 

Well – since you ask, Mr Dacre – I would trust Mr Blair.

 

“Our Ruling Class is ashamed to be British – That was Orwell’s view of the appeasers in WW2. The same accusation applies to Remainers who still think they can stop Brexit.”
Headline in The Daily Mail on March 31, 2018 alongside photos of a beaming Tony Blair, a grim faced Nick Clegg and a determined David Cameron, our former rulers thought to be ashamed of being British by Leo McKinistry and doubtless by the indefatigable Paul Dacre.

 

For my part I hope that the doughty trio of Remainers are right and that Brexit will be stopped in its tracks.

 

Let us make a start by looking at Brexit developments, or, rather, at voids where developments might have been expected since my last Brexit blog  in mid-February. 

 

  • Are we in a Brexit phony war and, if yes, when and how will it explode into action?
  • Is a rejuvenated Theresa May on the crest of a wave that is about to carry her to a triumphant Brexit outcome?
  • The media are teeming with reports purporting to be based on reliable inside information as to what is going on. Which opinions are based on reliable inside information and which opinions are just chin music?

 

Before we address those questions, there was also a welcome breaking of ranks in the Labour Party when Owen Smith outlined the case for a second referendum – on the debit side Mr Smith was promptly sacked from the Shadow cabinet by Mr Corbyn – a case of one step forward, one step back.

 

From my remote position on the margin of the outskirts of the periphery – it seems to me that Mrs May has strengthened both her own position and the prospects for a smooth Brexit in recent weeks.

 

Brexiteers are claiming that significant progress has been made in the various discussions between HMG – for HMG read Mrs May and Mr Davis – on the one hand and the EU negotiating team – Mr Barnier and Mr Juncker – on the other hand. It has been reported that some obstacles to Brexit have been overcome, and that the way is now clear for some detailed negotiations on terms and conditions between the two parties.

 

EU leaders have been filmed embracing  Mrs May – not with notable warmth but a kiss is still a kiss -after some sessions, and the Brexiteers have a collective spring in their collective step.

 

Notes on possible problems ahead.

 

“One strand is evident amongst those who believe that leaving the single market and customs union can make us better off economically.
“It will not.
“Making trade with by far our biggest, richest and closest trading partner more expensive will not have net economic benefit.”

Paul Johnson, The Times. March 19, 2018.

 

Calm, clear, measured words from the Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies and an accomplished numbers man – a rarity in the Brexit turmoil.

 

There was an entertaining if uninformative spat between two Tories from the toff end of the party, namely Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Bertie Wooster of the Brexit camp, and Lord  Patten, a Tory big beast from yesteryear, and a passionate Remainer. Lord Patten wondered what Rees-Mogg would like to be when he grows up – many of us would like to know the answer to that question –  and Rees-Mogg opined that Lord Patten did not want democracy in the United Kingdom.

 

I suspect that Lord Patten is more than capable of looking after himself but I also suspect that some in the Brexit camp think that the Brexiteers should appoint Rees-Mogg a minder with the qualities of Jeeves to ensure that the imbecilities articulated so beautifully by this relic are not allowed to  damage the Brexit cause. 

 

 The same point applies to BoJo only more so. Scarcely a day goes by without Boris Johnson making waves – he is evidently resolved to make himself into a UK version of Donald Trump, with the added incentive that the alarming excursions of Mr Trump into the social media seem to strengthen rather than erode his position and his prospects.

 

Both Trump and BoJo personify the old truism that you can fool some of the people some of the time.

 

A word about the Salisbury Poisonings

 

To some extent Brexit has been squeezed out of the headlines by the events in Salisbury on Sunday, March 4, 2018 when the ex Russian spy Mr Sergei Skripal  and his daughter were poisoned by a deadly nerve chemical.

 

There was an immediate and widespread assumption that the Russians were responsible, to be more precise that the crime was planned in and by The Kremlin,  quite possibly on the personal authorisation of Mr Putin  or that Russia had lost control of  some nerve gas and that rogue elements had used it on Mr Skripal.

 

In both cases the Russian state would bear  a heavy responsibility.

 

I thought at the time and have continued to think since that one or other of these explanations might well prove to be correct but I also had and have some sympathy with the argument put forward by the Russian foreign office that  the UK should both complete its investigation and then allow the Russians the time specified in the relevant protocols to respond to the charges, if any.

 

Things did not work out along the lines requested by the Kremlin. The Russia guilty view quickly gathered momentum, and the outcome was a rapid and significant reduction in the numbers of officials employed by Russia in its UK embassy and the Russian embassies of its  many allies on the one hand and a roughly similar cut in the number of  officials employed by these many countries in their respective embassies in Russia.

 

The thought occurred to me that the sequence of events indicated a degree of over manning in the espionage sector but what of that.

 

One matter arising as the crisis escalated intrigued me. The various affluent Russian oligarchs who had moved to London following the break up of the Soviet Union were deemed to be undesirables and a clamour arose in the media for their malign influence to be curbed. These oligarchs had not come here empty handed – being Russians of the thrifty type they had brought their huge fortunes with them , and had used these fortunes to buy influence in the old fashioned way.

 

As I recall much of this influx would have taken place under the nose of Boris Johnson when he was Mayor of London – I do not recall that he opposed the oligarchs when he was in a position to do something about it – but then – that’s BoJo!

 

Another and much more important consequence of the Salisbury crime was that Mrs May was able to persuade her NATO allies to support her as she successfully pointed the finger at the Kremlin. This resulted in the mutual scaling up of tensions and the mutual scaling down of diplomatic head counts and this in turn led to a significant increase in her popularity.

 

I suspect that this latter bubble will burst once the hard Brexit negotiations get under way. 

 

A word about Mr Corbyn – in theory and given the precarious position of Mrs May in the House of Commons – Mr Corbyn should be in a position to make a significant input into the Brexit debate in the next few months.

 

In practice two issues appear to be handicapping him.

 

  • Can he move on from his Wilkins Micawber stance  – that of waiting for something to turn up.  Mr Owen Smith has shown him the way but Mr Corbyn seems reluctant to deal with the absurd “ the people have spoken“ position. Why not allow the people to have second thoughts?
  • Mr Corbyn has also been perceived as struggling to cope with the charges of anti Semitism – is he guilty or not guilty?

 

It seems to me that the instances quoted as illustrating that Labour is an anti-semitic party range from the clearly guilty to reasonable points about the regrettable behaviour of Israel in the occupied territories.

 

Mr Corbyn has been in politics long enough to recognise the odious nature of the crime of denying that some 6 million Jews were murdered in the second world war, and long enough to grasp that suggesting that the Holocaust did not happen is rubbing salt into very painful wounds.

 

“ When British forces entered the so called convalescent camp at Belsen is 1945 they found a scene of indescribable horror.: the wasted bodies of 50,000 human beings who had died from starvation and disease… Only a century before all Ireland was a Belsen. Nearly two million Irish people died of starvation and fever within five year; another million fled bearing disease to Liverpool and the New World.”

Opening words of “Genocide” – an essay by Professor A.J.P. Taylor. 

 

As one who is partly of Irish descent I would not take kindly – even after an interval of 170 years – to reading that the Irish famine did not happen.

 

Those seeking explanations for continuing Irish obduracy down the years would do well to bear the actions of Sir Charles Trevelyan and his Whitehall colleagues in the 1840s in mind. 

 

Back to Brexit 

 

As the two protagonists edge gingerly forward into uncharted territory – who are the key players?

 

  • For HMG –  Mrs May, Mr Davis and, more unpredictably, Mr Johnson
  • UK opinion movers and shakers – Paul Dacre and Rupert Murdoch
  • The EU first team – Messrs Jean-Claude Juncker, Mr Barnier and Mr Tusk
  • The Remainers – Mr Blair, Mr Owen Smith , Anna Soubry, Mr George Soros and Sir Martin Sorrell. I include the Holdenforth in this latter group on the shaky grounds that the addition a few paupers to the remain group would work wonders for diversity.

 

What happens next in the negotiations?

 

“A successful Brexit will crucially depend on negotiating speedy bilateral agreements with big economies. The precedents are not good: success will take compromise.”
Times leader, April 3, 2018

 

The leading article is not exactly brimming with confidence that the outcome will be satisfactory, and it ends with the old standby that “the best may prove the enemy of the good“.

 

The Times explains its own concerns and reservations: here are the concerns and reservations of  Holdenforth in no particular order.

 

1. It is unfortunate that the next phase in what are bound to be difficult negotiations will coincide with the outbreak of an uncompromising trade war between the USA and China – not a good start.

 

2. The worsening row between “The West” and Russia over the attempted murders in Salisbury has further poisoned and polarised global politics – again the timing is unfortunate.

 

3. The 27 countries that, as things stand, plan to remain in the EU, have enough problems of their own without making matters worse by bowing to the collective tantrums of the UK, starting with the absurd Cameron decision to hold a referendum.  I suspect that the 27 will not wish to make any significant concessions and they will not wish to be seen to be making any significant concessions- after all the 27 as a group hold the stronger cards.

 

4. Accordingly, this blog predicts that the EU stance will be inflexible although couched in courteous language.  

 

If this does turn out to be the case, then Mrs May may well  have to opt for a “no deal” outcome rather than a “bad deal” outcome.

 

What happens then?

 

We could be heading for a degree of turbulence that will make the proceedings experienced to date seem positively tranquil.

 

What happens next in Westminster?

 

Holdenforth still sees only three possibilities:

 

1. Mrs May and her government stagger from crisis for the next 4 or so years. In this event and whatever else happens – the UK will be out of Europe. Not impossible but not very likely.

 

2. Mrs May loses a vote of confidence and this would trigger a general election. For this to happen just 10 Tories would be required to vote against. Quite a strong possibility – but – as noted – Mr Corbyn and his party are not exactly clear as to their policy.  A slight variation on this option is that the DUP withdraws from the current support arrangement , something which could happen at any time given the volatility and unpredictability of politics throughout Ireland.  

 

3. Around 50 or so Tory MPS would have to write to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee to request a leadership election. This is the second plausible possibility, especially given the shaky record of Mrs May in her brief but turbulent stay in Number 10.

 

Which of our two plausible  two options would have the greatest appeal to disaffected Tory MPs?

 

Quite simply the leadership challenge, even if successful, would solve nothing because the successful challenger would face the same formidable catalogue of problems.

 

This leaves the only realistic option of  lancing the boil as being for a sufficient number of brave MPs either to vote against or abstain on a vote of confidence to trigger a general election.

 

So:

 

  • There are currently 314 Tory Mps in the Commons
  • 10 or so Tory votes to support the opposition would be enough to dislodge Mrs May.

 

To put the arithmetic slightly differently – just over 3% of the entire Tory membership in the Commons would be enough to do the trick. Might we have enough Tory MPs with the required amount of intestinal fortitude and/or a private income and / or a job offer in their pocket?

 

Holdenforth asserts with confidence – Yes!

 

We urge the required 3% to follow the example of Henry V before Harfleur as he urged his followers to imitate the action of the tiger; stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise nature with hard favoured rage, and so on and so forth by putting their heads above the parapet during and at the end of the confidence debate.

 

There would then be a repeat of the 2017 General Election – sorry about that, Brenda from Bristol –  a single issue General Election which would be a second referendum in all but name.

 

Our legislators would then be required collectively to decide how to proceed and the voters would be entertained by the spectacle of the elastic consciences of the thousand or so candidates competing to be elected to the House of Commons  being stretched to breaking point.

 

Holdenforth suggests that the scattered and disorganised Remainers adopt an approach along the following lines.

 

The key policy elements of the Remain camp to be:

 

  • Persuade enough dissident Tory MPs to trigger the toppling of Mrs May .
  • An intent to reverse the events of recent years and to recommend that the UK get back to business as usual within the European Community.
  • The subsequent general election / second referendum to be fought in a spirit that would contain a readiness to acknowledge  that the two main parties have made some appalling errors of judgement in the past few years.

 

 Let us close on an eye watering issue from down under…

 

Senior Australian cricketers have been found guilty of ball tampering and have paid a heavy price for their sharp practices

 

Just a thought –  how would you like to have your balls sand papered?

 

I have to confess that the very thought of it made my eyes water.

 

 

 

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):

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

Yours – John Holden

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

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

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

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

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

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

In praise of Mr Corbyn

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

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

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

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

John Holden

PS – A slightly longer stroll down memory lane

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

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

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

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

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 fundstrategy.co.uk