The Brexit Gospel According to St Matthew Parris

“Tories are lying to the voters and themselves”
Headline above the Matthew Parris epistle to the readers of
The Times, February 3, 2018

This Parris epistle is the text for the following Holdenforth blog.

The gist of the Parris column

Matthew Parris was in fiery, combative mood from start to finish. He began by wading into the mild polyphiloprogenitive Jacob Rees-Mogg, and proceeded to excoriate the Tory Brexiteers:

“With a complicit Prime Minister and a supine cabinet trailing in its wake Europhobia – this mutant gene in the conservative body politic now spreading its cancer through the whole government – is moving from idiocy to dishonesty…. Isn’t it now clear that the government doesn’t believe in what its doing, can’t even decide how to do it, hasn’t the guts to say so, and is trying to creep forward under cover of fog, wretchedly hoping something will turn up?”

Parris rounds off his tirade by comparing the morality of Mrs May as regards Brexit with that of Mr Eden over Suez and to that of Mr Blair over Iraq – in each case to the disadvantage of Mrs May – on the reasonable grounds that Eden and Blair believed in their respective policies.

His final two sentences sum up his position – “ A special kind of guilt attaches to the sane majority of the Conservative Party. It is written across their faces.”

In his epistle the normally urbane, rational Parris displayed the notorious bad temper of Dickens’ Dr Slammer  – “he would have added more but his indignation choked him.”

What then has happened to trigger his outburst against Jake Mogg, the Bertie Wooster of our time? Mr Mogg is portrayed as a cad  and/or a bounder – I am not sure where the one ends and the other begins. Such insults, such invective! The voters have grown accustomed to hear GOBO, the notorious pair of Gove and Johnson being so described – and deservedly so -in these terms, but not Mr Mogg.

Mr Michael Winner, had he still been with us, would have suggested that the blessed Matthew calm down. What has Holdenforth to say?

Notes on the Brexit war front as perceived from the fringe of the edge of the margin

In no special order:-

  • The outbursts of Anna SoubryA modern Tory – albeit a left wing Tory – version of La Passionara (the fiery anti fascist fighter in the Spanish civil war) had evidently had more than enough of the GOBO and Jacob Rees-Mogg when she urged the Tory Party to sling out the hard line Brexiteers. More turmoil in the ranks.
  • The Chief EU negotiator, Michel (Aggro) Barnier is getting warmed up. As the Daily Mail noted on February 12, he “warned that the EU  could reject Theresa May‘s request for a transition period if substantial disagreements over its terms remain” and “has been accused of trying to take advantage of the UK by imposing a so called punishment clause that would allow the EU to sanction Britain at will until 2020”. Those on the EU side of the negotiating table are evidently running out of patience – and who could blame them? I suspect that things are going to get a lot worse before they get better – if indeed they ever do get better.
  • Mr Soros  and his generous gesture in supplying that most useful of lubricants – cash – to the remain cause. The support of George Soros for the remain cause triggered an irate response from Paul Dacre ( I take it that the Mail editorial in question was him:  “obscenely wealthy ….. Made a fortune destabilising sterling ….. Using his hedge fund wealth – undermining elected government … unelected elite incarnate trying to impose their views on the majority of British voters”. You can‘t accuse the Mail of opacity – that is, telling it like it is.
  • The verdict of the House of Lords. A clear victory here for the remain cause. Their Lordships and Ladyships turned out in force to attack the Brexiteers and support the remain cause. The atmosphere was civilised but the broad collective thrust was clear – they want to stay in the EU. There were a few discordant voices but that’s Lord Tebbit for you.
  • Cabinet Unity on its approach to Brexit. Mrs May was adamant that the cabinet was united but it did not seem so from my remote observation point. At times it seemed as if Cabinet Meetings might as well have been  recorded given the rapidity with which the various disputants sought out and secured platforms to express views that were not easy to reconcile with the party line put out by various apologetic and confused spokespersons.
  • Professor Anthony Grayling. Who he I hear you ask? Well, he is an academic philosopher and also a hirsute, crazed latter day John the Baptist bellowing in the wilderness to any one that will listen that Brexit is a gigantic fraud and that the UK should simply stay put in the EU.

Current Concerns of a Committed Remainer

It must be admitted that Holdenforth has been and remains uneasy about some of the support that has made its way into the ranks of the Remainers.

Holdenforth readers – I am confident that the number is more than one – will recall that in recent blogs I have argued passionately in favour of the Remain cause, but for those of you new to the blog, the gist of the Holdenforth case to remain in the EU can be summed up in a few bullet points:

  • In recent decades the EU as an organisation had been doing a reasonable job.
  • There had been steady progress in improving the effectiveness of the various branches of the EU, but there was and is much to be done to curb corruption and to improve the accountability.
  • The political movement in the UK to withdraw from the EU had been led by politicians whose dislike of the EU and all that it represented was of long standing and commendably consistent – let us cite William Cash and Nigel Farage as examples from this group.
  • All the main political parties with the exception of UKIP  were broadly supportive of staying within the UK. Brexit was and remains the raison d’etre of UKIP – as ex and current members will ruefully confirm.  

Prior to general election held in June, 2015 Mr Cameron, apprehensive about the possible future threat that might be posed by the would be leavers foolishly and unnecessarily committed the Tories to holding an in/out referendum should the Tories win the  election. Prior to making this foolish and unnecessary commitment Cameron would  have carefully assessed the views of those big hitters across the political spectrum , who would campaign for and who would campaign against. Bill Cash and the unelected Paul Dacre would campaign for Brexit and Ken Clarke would campaign against.

What Cameron did not expect was that Boris Johnson would not only campaign for Brexit, but that he would be the most effective of the Brexit campaigners. He would have based the former opinion on the fact that Johnson had never been known for his Brexit views, but he should also have remembered that the views and actions of Johnson were guided by just one fiercely held principle, namely that he, Johnson, would always act in the best interests of Johnson. 

In short – two fatal errors of judgement by Cameron.

  • To commit to a referendum – no need – there was no need to do so.
  • To rely on the most dishonest politician of our time to support the remain cause.

Following Cameron’s resignation in the wake of the Brexiteers’ victory in June 2016, there followed a confused interval in which Mr. Gove put the knife into Johnson, triggering the departure of Johnson from the battlefield.

A short time later Gove was given the bum’s rush by the Tories eligible to vote – oh joy – and finally Mrs May made her way through the confusing melee into No 10.

 A year later, and after much further confusion and an abysmal political performance by Mrs May, the outcome of the snap election was the loss of the Tory majority and the emergence of the DUP to prop up the shambles that now constitutes the Tory Party

At this point -and to borrow a phrase from Churchill – “ You ask – what is the policy of Holdenforth as regards Brexit?”

1. The policy of Holdenforth remains clear – to stay in the European Union.

2. How exactly does  Holdenforth think that this admirable aim might be achieved? 

This is where it all gets a bit tricky – just ask Mrs May.

Let us see if we can suggest how the situation might develop?

We will return to our text as supplied by the Blessed Matthew Parris on February 3 for inspiration.

  • “They (the Government) know (most of them) that the referendum placed voters in an impossible position”  – but who placed them in that impossible position?
  • “They know that narrowly the voters made a mistake” – you betcha
  • “They know that our party is now acting against the interests of our country” – agreed  
  • “ And nobody has the spine to say so” – not quite true – one or two heads have appeared above the parapet

One more quote from the Blessed Parris, this time above his column published a few days earlier, on January 27, 2018:

“ One well – aimed speech could topple Mrs  May”

A most promising suggestion – the Remainers from across the political spectrum should get in some vocal target practice to trigger the toppling of  Mrs May.

Where do we go from here?

“Depend on it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
Dr Johnson to Mr Boswell, 19 September, 1777.

Holdenforth sees only 3 possibilities.

1. Mrs May and her government stagger from crisis for the next 4 or so years. 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. 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 in Northern 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.

A word on the mechanics of this last option.

To trigger a leadership election disaffected Tory MPS are required to write to Mr Graham Brady, the discrete Chairman of the 1922 Committee. It has been reported that Mr Brady never gives the slightest indication to anyone of the number of requests – if any – that lie in his potential explosive in-tray.

Doubtless actual and potential conspirators have some idea of who might join their movement but – a muttered word in the corridor is one thing – a signed letter delivered to Graham Brady is something altogether more positive and more traceable.

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.


  • 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.

Mr Corbyn and the Labour Party

“In those days – the 1960’s or thereabouts – The Young Trotskyites in  Liverpool hated capitalism, they hated imperialism, but most of all they hated each other.”
Alexei Sayle

Will Mr Corbyn wake up, grasp what is happening, and ask the adherents of the late Leon Trotsky to butt out and allow him to develop a Brexit strategy that will attract rather than alienate the voters?

Holdenforth fears the worst if Mr Corbyn were merely to follow the advice of Mr Micawber and wait for something to turn up.

This passive policy lacks both vision and energy- it just won’t do. 

 “Either poverty must use democracy to destroy the power of property, or property in fear of poverty will destroy democracy”
Thomas Rainsborough, Putney Debate, August 1647, quoted by Aneurin Bevan in “
Why not trust the Tories”

Mr Corbyn has argued that “The Labour party should serve the many, not the few.” I hope that when the time comes – and it will come quite soon – he and his colleagues will realise that the case to serve the interests of the many against the interests of the few is much more powerful in the wider context of the EU than in the parochial context of the UK.

Go for it – JC!

For now – Holdenforth suggests 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.
  • A intent to reverse the events of recent years and a wholehearted wish to get back to business as usual within the European Community.
  • The subsequent general election / second referendum to be fought in a spirit that would combine a readiness to acknowledge  that the two main parties have made some appalling errors of judgement in the past few years – a point made powerfully by Matthew Parris – and a readiness to debate the issues rather than to swap slogans.

One last point.  Sadly the irate response from  Brenda from Bristol back in the spring of 2017 struck a chord across the country.  I sadly suspect that the perception of many voters about ALL politicians – from committed remainers through the apathetic middle to the committed leavers  – is that since politicians don’t worry about the voters why should the people worry about political matters – even when the key political issue is the future of the UK.

Many voters resemble apathetic observers of a mega spectacular acrimonious divorce.

 Image Courtesy of The Times




Notes on Carillion and Related Matters

“I returned and saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift , nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise , nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happened to them all”
There is no new thing under the sun.”
Ecclesiastes 9,11

George Orwell used this verse from Ecclesiastes in his essay, “Politics and the English Language “ as an example of the English language at its best. Accordingly I am reluctant to suggest that it needs to be updated to reflect today’s all too prevalent social and political chicanery – but your blogger feels that he must say what he believes – so here goes.

The reference of Ecclesiastes to riches not being acquired by men of understanding is simply wrong. Understanding is a sine qua non in the acquisition of riches – a necessary but not sufficient quality. The other sine qua non is greed.

In the following notes I hope to demonstrate the validity of this point.

I have called this blog “Notes on Carillion and Related Matters”. Well, what related matters?

In the past few weeks there has been a spate of angry reporting and comment in the media about perceived excessive payments to a variety of fortunate recipients together with one notable case of perceived underpayments to a raucous group of senior female BBC employees. The groups in question are the senior managers of some of our major construction companies, including Persimmon, the senior managers of Carillion, the multi tasking company, senior employees of the BBC and, the story that simply won’t go away – the bosses of our Universities referred to by known by the reverential title of Vice Chancellors.

We are barely 3 weeks into 2018 and here we go again – more examples of how in the UK those at the top have yet again succeeded in enriching themselves at the expense of those unfortunate enough to dwell on the lower slopes of our national economic terrain.

The media treatment of the stories involving Persimmon and Carillion have been filling the headlines in recent days – a case of the hogs hogging the news.

Holdenforth will now look at what happened and why and, where appropriate, suggest solutions.

The pay debate at the BBC

I considered this conflict zone in my previous blog. To recap:-

Some senior female BBC employees discovered to their surprise and chagrin that that their male colleagues were paid considerably more for doing what appeared to many outsiders – including your blogger – the same job. This practice was in breach of the law which specified that the same rate be paid for doing the same job.

Two solutions were suggested:

  • Bring the pay for the women up to the level paid to men.
  • Bring the pay rate of the men down to the level paid to the women.

A third factor surfaced as the debate warmed up, namely that many licence payers thought that pay rates for the senior women for not especially demanding work was already far too high and that the rates paid to men for the same work was disgracefully high.

Holdenforth suggested that the BBC be privatised and this bold move would allow the free competitive market to decide who was worth what.

I trust that the Parliamentary Media Committee is now actively examining this option. Holdenforth will not remain silent if a Chilcottian dilatory approach is adopted.

Both categories – the ladies and the gentlemen – need to be reminded that not all licence payers share the view prevalent across the BBC that the BBC is a national treasure to be funded up to and beyond the readiness of the aforesaid licence payers to foot the bill.

An Avarice of University Vice – Chancellors

The gist of the problem here was that it belatedly appeared that our Vice Chancellors had been busy helping themselves to funds originally intended to improve the financial health of their various institutions.

I suggest the word “ Avarice“ as a working collective noun for our acquisitive VCs.
I had thought that the Avarice had managed to defuse the public anger but more and more instances emerged about the commendable and tireless energy displayed by the Avarice in their search for wealth.

The latest to surface – On January 18 – noted that “University Chief complained about cuts… then saw her pay rise by £45k”. The chief in question, Dame Julia Goodfellow, had received a £25k performance bonus paid presumably in recognition of her tireless efforts to maximise her reward package.

Now for the first of the two new big issues – Persimmon.

Events at Persimmon made the headlines primarily because of the perceived large payments made to senior managers.

“Why the housing boss being paid an obscene £131 million must be forced to give his ill -gotten gains away-”
Headline above a report by Alex Brummer, Daily Mail January 11, 2018

Let us allow Mr Brummer to have his say.

“Persimmon’s Chief Executive, Jeff Fairburn, is due a pay and bonus package of £131 million… Other bosses at the firm – which has seen its stock market value soar as it has ruthlessly cashed in on the Government’s controversial Help to Buy scheme – will be given shares worth a staggering £800 million.”

Mr Brummer went on to point the finger at former chairman Nicholas Wrigley who absent-mindedly forgot to impose a cap on bonuses and left Persimmon “in recognition of this omission.” He also left Persimmon with his £131 million.

In his fiery piece, Mr Brummer neatly analyses the flaws in the Help to Buy scheme, flaws which Mr Fairburn spotted and exploited, with the unintended assistance of the sleepy Mr Wrigley, to the significant benefit of his bank balance.

Clearly Mr Fairburn was and is man of understanding.

No problem in identifying the winners here- the top brass.

Equally clearly, the losers were those who will be unable to access the scheme because of the depletion of the allocated funds.

I estimate that around 1,000 would-be home owners have lost out.

Now for the really big issue of today’s Holdenforth Blog – What went wrong at Carillion and why?

“Don’t ever work for McAlpine or Wimpey or John Laing”
Memorably sung by the late Ronnie Drew of The Dubliners as he exhorted his listeners not to work for the named well known construction companies because of the combination of appalling working conditions and lack of job security.

The message of “McAlpine’s Fusiliers” had already been overtaken by events because many large building companies – including that known as Sir Robert McAlpine – had been absorbed by Carillion.

Hopefully a successor to Ronnie Drew will emerge and produce a protest song to be used in the inevitable demonstrations that will be held to draw attention to the misdeeds of those at the top.

Who are the villains?

Well, Alex (Bolshie) Brummer is still in splendid form, in articles entitled “Chairmen in the doghouse” and “Carillion fat cats WON’T get payments” which appeared in the Daily Mail on January 18.

According to Brummer, (Carillion) Bosses including former CE Richard Howson were due to continue receiving payments despite the construction and outsourcing firm going into liquidation on January 15 owing around £3 billion. Other senior managers said to be still enjoying enviable reward packages were Mr Zafar Khan and Mr Keith Cochrane.

The report noted that senior Carillion managers had been careful to arrange for their own financial well being whilst Carillion was heading for the liquidators – possibly their business role model was the captain of the Cruise Liner Costa Concordia who steered his cruise liner onto the rocks and subsequently took care to ensure that he was one of the first into the lifeboat. His conduct in terms of self preservation was prudent but not in keeping with the noblest traditions of the maritime service.

In an article published in the Mail the previous day (“Easy ride for miscreants”), Mr Brummer was dismissive of the announcement from Greg Clarke, an employee of HMG, of a fast track Insolvency Service probe into the collapse of Carillion and its current and former directors.

‘Bolshie’ Brummer was dismissive mainly because of the abysmal record of HMG and its associated quangos in getting to the bottom of even simple corporate financial failures, and even less so with failures as labyrinthine as the current spate.

He sighs sadly that “Carillion Chairman Philip Green – no relation to BHS Phil Green – can resume his search for honours , former CE Richard Howson can retreat to his Swiss chalet and serial non executive director and former Tony Blair acolyte Dame Sally Morgan can look for the next job.”

Having got that off his chest, Brummer suggests that “a judge led probe with directors required to give evidence under oath would be ideal. One thinks back to the late Bingham enquiry into the collapse of BCCI in 1992 which was completed and published within a year.”

I fully support the Brummer suggestion and his insistence on the need to avoid a languid Chilcot approach and its associated Maxwellisation constraints.

I would go further – given the required urgency – and urgency and lawyers do not go together – the central issues could be flushed out and the report published within the next 3 months.

An innovation of this kind – making it clear that retribution would be swift and the consequences drastic for those found to be responsible – would be a splendid foretaste of a new resolve to ensure that senior managers did the job properly – or else.

For the record, the Captain of the Costa Concordia was sent to prison for 16 years for his double offence – that of taking an irresponsible short cut and then of leading the rush to the life boat. The lawyer leading the urgent enquiry might well bear the outcome of this nautical malfeasance in mind.

“Carillion in the dock”
Daily Mail leader, January 17, 2018

The leader writer played little Sir Echo to the Brummer piece – he/she demanded “Nothing less (than an urgent judicial enquiry) to investigate the greed and management failures that brought down Carillion – leaving millions of taxpayers and pension holders to pick up the pieces.”

I second the views of the irate Mr Brummer and of the Mail leader writer – and confirm that it is a pleasant experience to pay fulsome tribute to the doughty views of Mr Paul Dacre and his team in their thirst for justice.

“Hung out to dry by the Carillion fat cats”
“Up to 30k small firms could get just 1p in the pound owed to them by failed contraction giant that paid its bosses millions”
Daily Mail headlines, January 17, 2018

The mail reporters Daniel Martin, Rachel Millard and Tom Kelly spelled out the serious consequences to the thousands of companies and the ten of thousands of employees of the downstream companies. Consequences including reduced pensions and for many the loss of jobs in what were rightly assumed to be key national priority activities – the construction of hospitals, schools, roads and additional rail capacity.

On a personal note I have recently been required to choose between two options for my own modest retirement British Steel pension and I have every sympathy with those now at risk from the Carillion scandal.

It needs to be highlighted that robbing pensioners of income that they have rightly counted on to be a protection against an impoverished old age effectively robs them for the rest of their lives.

I have observed at close quarters the fears and anxieties triggered by the problems with the old British Steel pension scheme.

I would also like to mention the problems posed by the predatory activities of the vultures – alias financial advisors – circling round the British Steel pensioners as they sought advice about how to invest their pension funds.

Robert Maxwell was a prominent founder member of the pension robber club – and the term ‘Maxwellisation’ was coined to enable the guilty to defend themselves thus prolonging the already interminable proceedings.

How did Mrs May respond to queries about Carillion at PMQ on January 17

“Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye”
Matthew 7, 3

More prosaically – “People in glass houses should not throw stones.”

Her robust rejoinder that the situation was just as bad in Wales and in Leeds – both Labour controlled – was true but it was unlikely to be of comfort to the many thousands whose lives and plans have been so savagely disrupted.

One of her weakest rejoinders- and most of her rejoinders were pretty feeble – was that HMG was not responsible for the management of Carillion.

Quite true – but HMG was by far the biggest customer of Carillion, and, as such, HMG was and still is in a very strong position to take prompt effective action if and when it is so minded.

As details of the fiasco emerged, one servant of HMG was reported as requesting that the employees affected should be supplied with the address of their local job centre – a response on a par with suggesting that members of the public injured in a terror attack be given the location of their nearest A and E department.

Thoughts on the root causes of the Carillion debacle. In no special order:-

  • A leadership team whose top priority was to ensure that they emerged from what they dimly perceived as the approaching collapse of Carillion with the maximum of money for themselves. They – the Carillion leaders – were working tirelessly to loot the system but sadly this allowed little or no time to manage the business.
  • A government riddled with ineptitude as it sought in vain to distance itself from the consequences of its own failure to act.
  • A government so obsessed with and pre-occupied by Brexit that all other issues are relegated to the pending file.
  • Decades of government policy – going back to the Blair years – which allowed the private sector to exploit the public sector.The effect of the revolving doors practice

In the various reports about Carillion much has been made of the dubious nature of Private Finance Initiatives – including the extent to which they contributed to the collapse of Carillion.

There may be some truth in this view and the doubtless the High Speed Enquiry will have the item on its agenda.

I would like to consider just one aspect of the controversial relationship that exists between the public sector and the private sector and the perceived no mans land in the middle.

There has been a great deal of media discussion in recent years about the so-called revolving doors syndrome. The gist of this practice is that senior mangers leave the public sector and move speedily and seamlessly across into the private sector.

We should ask ourselves – just what do these transferees have to offer the private sector – certainly not the languid approach to management that prevails in the public sector.
The appealing feature of those making the move is overwhelmingly their familiarity with the managerial weaknesses that prevail together with the experience that would allow their new employer to exploit the public sector.

Attempts have been made to limit the speed with which these transfers are made but these are more observed in the breach rather than in the observance. Thus, knowledge of the naivety of those employed in the framing of major public contracts is of considerable help to those on the other side of the table – the civil service lambs are on the one side and the private sector wolves are on the other.

The best of them – those civil servants that are wide awake – will be recruited by the wolves and the outcome will be all too predictable.

Beware the temptation to blame it all on Capitalism

“Yes, capitalism has flaws – as the Carillion catastrophe shows. But the alternative is too chilling to think about”
Peter Oborne, Daily Mail January 20, 2018

The situation is getting out of hand – I agree with some of the points made by Mr Oborne.
Sadly – and as is usually the case with him – he gets carried away by his own indignation and fails to make clear the improvements required to allow PFI arrangements to operate effectively.

Holdenforth will not make this elementary error.

For now I will just mention – for the umpteenth time – the tried and trusted aphorism:_

Q-“Why does a dog lick its balls”
A – “Because it can”

We reformers will suggest how it can be improved – by removing the balls.

I hasten to add that Holdenforth will not suggest this wholly disproportionate step for the human offenders – that would be verging on the over zealous – but effective and simple remedies are available.

A digression about Mr Corbyn

Mr JC proclaims that he is in business to govern for the many and not for the few. I take it that the few are the haves and the many are the have nots.

Given the likelihood of a General Election in the next few months we need to hear from Mr C and his colleagues as to how exactly they plan to put their admirable campaign slogans into effect. We need some policy flesh on the bare bones of the slogans.

I doubt if there if there is much hope from Mrs May – Holdenforth sees her sole political aim as being to preserve just one job – her own. Understandable but lacking in mass appeal.

Accordingly I will suggest a few policies for JC and his colleagues to consider.

(I note that Mrs May is reported as being ready to put in place effective measures to bring the situation under control. Sadly The Times cartoonist is not persuaded that she is serious.

In his first drawing on January 22, 2018, Mrs May’s “to do” list is headed — * “Tackle Corporate Greed”; in his second drawing, “To do” is replaced by “To say.”)

Holdenforth wants more stick and no carrot.

  • Tax rates at or close to 100% to be set for the corporate thieves – these rates to stay in place until senior managers grasp that they had been appointed to the job to work for the prosperity of the organisation rather than exploiting the various loop holes in the tax and reward package arrangements.
  • Outlaw the practice of setting complex bonus arrangements for senior managers. The reward for effective performance to be that the effective managers get to keep their jobs.
    For the ineffective – prompt P45s with no generous farewell packages.
  • Any enquiries into what has gone wrong to eschew the Chilcot approach. The guilty men were quick enough to deploy their sharp practices.
  • Any enquiries to eschew the Maxwellisation approach – the very name ought to have ruled it out.
  • Do not use any enquiry into corporate abuse as an excuse to put capitalism on trial – otherwise we will get nowhere very slowly.
  • Similarly do not use any decision to take the railways back into the public sector as an excuse to put socialism on trial – otherwise again we will get nowhere very slowly.

Let us be very clear – as Mrs May would say — the collective group that needs to be on trial is that of the Senior Managers in the private and public sectors who have abused their positions of trust to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of us. So – get rid of the Arthur Daleys that prosper at the top and replace them with senior managers who can combine competence with integrity.

Senior Managers in all sectors of the national economy are subject to temptation and sadly some will succumb.

Like the dog and his propensity to lick his balls -they abuse the system because they can.

Let us try to put in place effective measures to discourage them – those spivs looking for quick easy risk free bucks would soon get the message.

To end on an optimistic note.

It is still the case that those senior managers who have converted their organisations into modern versions of the Augean Stables are very much a minority group.

So – Bring in managerial replacements who can and will do the jobs to the required standard.


What the Papers Say

For many years the broadcasters on radio and later on television have allocated broadcasting space to reviews of the contents of the newspapers.

Holdenforth has thus far distanced itself from this activity but on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, January 9 and 10, the Times and The Daily Mail gave many column inches to accounts of and opinions on three separate but not wholly unrelated stories.

These stories were:

  • The gender pay gap at the BBC.
  • The performance of Mrs May as she sought to refresh her administration.
  • The decline and fall of Mr Toby Young.

The opportunity to comment was too good to miss – so – here goes.

There are, as the saying goes, lessons to be learned from all three stories, although not everyone will have learned the same lessons. As a bonus and given that Holdenforth is both a campaigning blog and a fertile source of suggested remedies for the various problems under discussion – solutions will be put forward  where appropriate.

The gender pay gap at the BBC

“Lawyers advise women on BBC pay row”
“The BBC’s failure to treat women fairly beggars belief” – Giles Whittell
Headlines in The Times – January 9, 2018

“Male BBC stars face salary cuts as equality row flares”
Headline in The Times, January 10, 2018

“The BBC does not exist”
Headline above a piece by Matthew Parris, The Times, January 10, 2018

Well – up to a point, young Matthew.

I suspect that Lord Hall would second this puzzling assertion on the grounds that it might afford temporary relief to his very real and sadly beleaguered organisation.

 “BBC begs Huw to cut £600k pay cut.”
“Radio 4’s Flagship Show imploded in a soggy morass of smuggery”
Daily Mail Headlines on January 9, 2018   

(The last quotation is included not for its topicality but for its relevance.)

This particular spat was triggered by the resignation of Carrie Gracie from her BBC job as its China Editor. The gist of her complaint against the BBC was that it was and is acting in breach of the law which states that equal jobs should receive equal pay.

The problem was by no means a new one and resentment by the fair sex against the other sex had been simmering since the BBC had been required to publish pay bands for its highest paid employees. This information was sufficiently informative to trigger resentment amongst significant numbers of female household names.

This observer was startled only because these household names had been all too ready to pretend to exercise their investigative and forensic skills to expose inequalities around the world but also that they were seemingly unaware of what the man sitting next to her was being paid – considerably more as it turned out.

Options open to the BBC were said to be just two:

  1. Bring the rewards paid to the men down to the rewards paid to the women.
  2. Bring the rewards paid to the women up to the level paid to the men.
  • For obvious reasons the top boys in the BBS were less than enthusiastic about option 1.
  • For equally obvious reasons the ladies were prepared to settle for nothing less than the going rate for the men?

At first glance the solution is obvious – obey the law and pay the same rate for the same work.

Listeners to Radio 4’s flagship Today programme had a field day as the various problems were debated between John Humphrys and a most unhelpful Ms Frostrup who was said to be fuglewoman for the cause of the downtrodden females.

During their lively altercation Carrie Gracie was sitting at the next desk but taking no part in the proceedings.

“Women fume as Humphrys jokes about BBC pay”
Times headline, January 12, 2018

The widespread ineptitude at the BBC has evidently been passed to John Humphrys – during the Today programme in question the following exchange between Mr Humphrys in London and Jon Sopel in America was recorded.

Remember – recorded – not broadcast. Remember also that the feisty Carrie Gracie was sitting next to John Humphrys at the time:

“JH – Oh dear God she’s actually suggested that you should lose money. You know that don’t you?
JS – Yeah I have Yeah.
JH – The idea is I’m not allowed to talk to her about it throughout the whole course of the programme. Not a word.
JS Can we have this conversation somewhere else?”

The last comment by the cautious Mr Sopel was a good example of securing the stable door after the horse had bolted.

To get back to the main issue – how might the BBC get out of this fine mess that it has created for itself?

In my capacity as a company manager I had long supposed that the rate for the job was the same regardless of sex.

I vividly recall the question arising around 30 years ago when I queried the situation. The fiery female HR Officer told me – “Don’t even think about it – just pay it.”

Some male chauvinists might argue that for Carrie Gracie to claim pay parity with her male colleagues is rather like Mr XYZ who plays centre-forward for Solihull Motors claiming pay parity with Harry Kane who plays in the same position for Tottenham Hotspur.

One point to note here is that if both players were to be placed on the transfer list then the asking price for Mr Kane would be significantly more than that asked for Mr XYZ.

The same point would apply to the requested salaries for the two players.

There is a clue here as to how the BBC problem might be resolved.

The point to highlight is the anomalous position occupied by BBC in the world of UK, European and Global media businesses. Its highest paid employees – the senior managers and the celebrity stars – are quick to use the need to pay competitive salaries when he argument to do so is convenient.

So far – so good.

These same advocates also stress the admiration in which the BBC is held across the civilised world and the need to preserve the commendable Reithian standards.

It is time that this self-serving balloon was punctured. The BBC is an organisation responsible to no one, and, at the top, full to the brim with the arrogant, the complacent, the elite, and the mediocre.

Matthew Parris in the piece referred to earlier noted that in the BBC “there are endless meetings and a lurking fear of what other meetings might think”. Mr Parris – there is unanimity across the top echelons of the BBC on one key issue – their the readiness to loot the system to their own financial advantage.

The remedy for this confusion could not be simpler – sell the BBC to the highest bidder.

It would then be interesting to see how the pampered mediocrities get on the real world. Its senior managers and its celebrity stars would soon find out just what value the real world placed on their services.

I suspect that a few of them might be able, via their agents, to negotiate reward packages at or close to the present levels.

A closing, clinching argument – The revenue brought in from the sale of the BBC could help provide the funds for the renationalisation of the privatised utilities.

 The May Reshuffle

The big event in No 10 on the first two days of this week – January 9 and 10 – was the eagerly awaited cabinet reshuffle. There had been numerous press briefings telling the hacks that there was to be an infusion of new blood, new energy, new ideas. Out with the old and in with the new.

How it was done in the good old days:

“I particularly remember when (Lord) Derby was asked by Bonar Law to come and see him. After I had shown him in I went back to my room, The bell rang; I went into Bonar’s room and Bonar said – “David, where did you send Derby?“…. I said to Bonar – “Oh Sir –  you thought of offering him the War Office.”
“Oh yes” said Bonar; “Derby -what about the War Office?
Formation of the cabinet of Mr Bonar Law following the Tory win in the 1922 general election. Memoirs of a Conservative by Lord Davidson

Given that nearly a century has elapsed since the above exchanges one might think that the management of the processes of cabinet selection and of cabinet reshuffles would have become rather more efficient.

It would appear from the accounts of what happened earlier this week that if anything things have got worse.

“What happened, what happened – I’m coming to that” – as WH Auden might have said – indeed as WH Auden did say.

The following selection of headlines from The Times and The Daily Mail indicate the disappointment felt in the media at the gap between the glowing prospects held out during the briefings and the understandable reluctance of some of those marked out for the P45 treatment to go quietly.

It should be noted that the quoted comments are from newspapers not noted for their Bolshevik tendencies.

“Greening quits in shambolic reshuffle”
“Defiance and derision greet May’s day of mixed messages”
“Shambolic day for a powerless prime minister” -Rachel Sylvester
Headlines in The Times, January 9, 2018

“Backroom reshuffles can’t save the Tories”
Lord Finkelstein in The Times, January 10, 2018

The last quote would have caused most concern in Tory HQ because Lord F gave cogent reasons why backroom reshuffles “can’t save the Tories.”

“No Prime Minister!”
“On day of reshuffle chaos, Health Secretary turns down new job and May is forced to sack Education Secretary after she refuses to move”
“May sacks Greening after 2-hour stand off”
“Education Secretary snubbed new cabinet job in clash at No 10”
“But “Unsackable” Hunt defies PM to stay in charge at Health”
Daily Mail headlines, January 9, 2018

The Daily Mail headlines do not suggest that the planned changes had proceeded smoothly and the accompanying reports simply  bruised the flesh on the already bruised bones of the May administration.

The obvious point was made that if Mrs May is unable to manage her own cabinet – and clearly she can’t –  then how she can be trusted to grapple with rather more urgent and serious matters – like Brexit.

“How Theresa’s showdown with Justine turned ugly”
Andrew Pierce, January 10, 2018

The master plan ahead of the meeting between Mrs May and Ms Greening had been to move Ms Greening from Education to Welfare. According to well-informed sources the meeting was ill tempered but the key outcome was that Ms Greening opted to leave the cabinet rather than be moved.

She was said (by the well informed sources) to be furious at being fingered by the No 10 briefers as a contributory factor in the abysmal Tory performance in 2017 election. She did not take kindly to being described as “dead wood” – and who shall blame her.  After saying something along the lines of – you can stick welfare up your  **** – but I wasn’t there and can only conjecture as to her actual words  – out she flounced, looking suitably aggrieved.

Deborah Ross in her Times column on January 10 wrote about the case to raise funds for “the middle aged white men that are the victims of something that didn’t actually happen nonetheless and may be crouched under a table at the Garrick, hoping that this this will all go away, even though it never came.” Trust the acerbic Ms Ross to kick a man when he is down even though he is not actually down.

Reflections on this latest shambles:

  1. Yet further evidence of a Government on its last legs. In my previous blog I opined that Mrs May will not be in No 10 come the end of March.
  2. Meanwhile I suggest that Mrs May seeks the advice of Lord Sugar about the most efficient way of dispensing with the services of those deemed surplus to requirements. I gather that Lord Sugar is commendably crisp in handing out P45s. Get him in, get his advice, and next time – if there is next time – follow it.

 The decline and fall of Toby Young

As with the previous two stories I will get the show on the road via a few headlines:

“Knives out for disgraced Young over role at free schools charity”
The Times, January 10, 2018

One of the knives was inserted by Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the national Education Union, who said that “now his repugnant views were in the open, Mr Young’s role as director of the New Schools Network must be in doubt.”

“Fury as hypocritical Labour MPs force Toby Young to resign”
Daily Mail, January 10, 2018

Mr Young resigned from the board of the Office for Students (OfS) following a furore over inappropriate remarks he made several years ago.

Sadly the main cause of the peevish comments in The Mail was that his critics in the Parliamentary Labour Party had not been equally critical of colleagues in the Labour Party who had been exposed for carrying out similar unseemly activities.

For me the only point to be made here is that politicians from all parties have a long record of selective indignation – evidently it goes with the job.

“Why chumps like my friend Toby should get a second chance”
Headline above a piece in the
Daily Mail by Sarah Vine, by chance the wife of Michael Gove, a close friend and stout defender of Mr Young, January 10, 2018

The gist of the story

  1. Toby Young was recently appointed to a nice little earner on the board of the OfS.
  2. It belatedly appeared that Mr Young had been in the habit of sending out Twitter messages that some might consider as verging on the indelicate.

The Times published a small sample of his tweets, one of which read as follows.

“Referring to a publicity shot of himself with Padma lakshmi, fellow judge on US TV show Top Chef who he appeared to be touching, he said:-

-Actually, mate, I had my d**k up her a**e -”

We can all decide for ourselves if we consider the writer of pithy little tales like this and hundreds more is just a chump and that he should be given a second chance.

What do you think?

  1. My Young was initially inclined to tough it out – but it soon appeared that he was fighting a losing battle.
  2. He fell on his sword in the full glare of the media lights.

The publication date of the most recent edition of Private Eye magazine was too late to include the news about Mr Young’s resignation. It did, however, publish a piece about Toby Young which dwelt at some length on other aspects of his career. Friends of Young (including Messrs Gove and Johnson) had emphasized his passion to improve education standards in schools, a passion which he had pursued tirelessly in recent years.

Private Eye drew attention to the fact that Toby Young had done very nicely from his activities with New Schools Network, a charity that promotes academies and free schools and relies heavily on government funding.

Now – we are getting warm.

Last year I wrote a blog about the pros – not many – and cons – no shortage – of academies. At one point I wrote the following:

“Let me speculate about the probable consequences of a mass transfer of schools from Local Authority control to management by super heads. I predict that  the teaching profession will be invaded by a Tsunami of Arthur Daleys masquerading as pedagogues, but  in reality in hot pursuit of a quick buck, the sort of quick buck easily acquired by those familiar with the no mans land of the public – private sector, a world where the public funds the business and the private operators  scoop up the profits, if any. We are looking at an educational version of the City of London populated and run by spivs for spivs, all avid for frenetic activity in the business of mergers and acquisitions.

“More prosaically my concerns about this switch to academies centre on the following points.

1.Arrangements have been in place for many years whereby the control of schools rests with democratically elected local authorities.

“My contention is that to the extent that these bodies are failing to discharge their responsibilities then the public has the means to take effective actions.

  1. My main concern is that this transition to academies will divert the attention of Head Teachers away from the core task of providing the best possible education for all pupils to one of casting about for ways of maximising their own  reward packages.

“In short I see a replay of the squalid farce that has been enacted in Higher Education with the shameless looting by Vice Chancellors of the unguarded public funds.

“I see a significant number of Academy CEOs plunging into wholly unnecessary restructuring in order to line their pockets at the expense of pupils and of the public.

  1. I would go further and predict that if the dash to academies wins out, in a few years time the standard of education will suffer a further decline, a decline that is wholly avoidable.”

Unlike Toby Young with his unseemly tweets, I would not retract or redact of what I wrote about academy schools.

It is wholly apposite that the two most prominent defenders of Toby Young are the GOBO (GOveBOris), the Guilty Men of the Brexit farce.

The Prospects for Brexit in 2018


“The idea that Brexit can be stopped is a dangerous delusion that ignores the continuing revolt against political elites.”

Daniel Finkelstein, The Times, 3 January 2018


My text for today is the excellent article by Lord Finkelstein published on January 3. As always with Lord F his piece is infuriatingly plausible and irritatingly reasonable. I doubt if the case for accepting the result of the referendum could be put more persuasively. And yet I still take the view that the out decision should be reversed although I am far from clear as to how this might be achieved.


The key point of his article is not that there is no possibility that the ‘out’ decision is irreversible and he concedes that a way might be found to achieve precisely this objective. The thrust of his article is that that if this were to happen- “ the damage done to trust in democracy would be huge. Unless the second referendum arose from a huge public clamour (which is incredibly unlikely) millions will conclude that their vote and the promise made to them were worthless when they challenged the interests and attitudes of the political establishment.”


Well – only up to a point, Lord F.


Lord Finkelstein compares and contrasts the stance of Lord Adonis with regard to reversing the ‘out’ outcome with his own stance. He readily concedes that on the merits of the case he and Lord A are as one.


“Where we part company, rather sharply, is the idea that there is no self mutilation  involved in parliament overwhelmingly voting in favour of a referendum, telling voters it would implement the decision and then deciding not to.”


On the following day Tony Blair was asked by John Humphreys about how the various forces that were said to be gathering momentum (sorry about using that bad word) to reverse the ‘out’ outcome. The old maestro was in splendid form as Aggro Humphreys tried and failed to pin him down. Was this outcome an indication of the waning powers of Mr Humphreys, a confirmation of what we all knew and still know, namely that TB remains a very bright star in the political firmament, or, quite possibly, evidence that the electorate is becoming increasingly mindful that it got it wrong back in June 2016?


Most likely – a combination of all three factors.


A brief reminder of how we got ourselves in this fine mess or to be precise, how we were landed in this fine mess and who got us into it. 


The gist of how we got to where we are can be succinctly stated.


1. David Cameron, faced with the prospect of being outflanked by UKIP, foolishly decided to resolve the long festering in/out sore, by making an in-out referendum a key element of the Conservative party manifesto prior to the  2015 general election.


2. He added significantly to the rashness of his decision by banking on the previously declared support of Boris Johnson that the UK should remain in the EU.  What can one say about the judgement of a prime minister capable of such a gross error of judgement?


3. Cameron realised soon enough that he had miscalculated as the in-out campaign got under way, and Boris, sensing his opportunity, threw all his considerable talent for mendacity to campaign for an ‘out’ outcome.


4. Cameron put his party before his country in agreeing to the referendum.


4. Cameron paid in full for his errors, the outs had it, and he promptly resigned.


5. In the ensuing campaign to succeed him as Tory leader and, more importantly, as our PM, Boris was mortified – to his chagrin and to the huge delight of many opponents and neutrals – by the predictable treachery of Mr Gove. Well, it takes one to know one. It is worth noting that Boris put the interests of Boris ahead of the interests of the Tory Party and of the Country and no one should have been surprised by this flexibility.


6. The Tory faithful then gave the bum’s rush to Mr Gove and Mrs May strode through the gap that had opened up to become our PM. The trivial fact that she had previously been a cautious advocate of remaining in Europe was obviously not going to prevent her from seizing this fortuitous main chance.


7. Mrs May proceeded to make a hash of everything she attempted in her new role as Prime Minister, culminating in her decision to call a general election in June, 2017. The flighty electorate seized its chance to issue a comeuppance to her and duly did so. (Note – a sure sign of a desperate Brexiteer is one who asserts that Mrs May won the June 2017 election.)


And so, what might be termed the gist of the gist of the above:


1. David Cameron made two foolish errors and paid the price for his folly in full.


2. The dynamic duo – Gove and Johnson – let us refer to them as GOBO – failed to win the approval of the Tory faithful in the ensuing beauty contest.


3. Mrs May emerged initially as the winner, but since her “victory” has continued to dig herself deeper and deeper into trouble


Lord Finkelstein argues, under the flimsiest of democratic pleas, that the rest of us should accept the consequences of this lamentable catalogue of deplorable opportunism, errors and failures executed by a tiny group of shady, shabby, wholly discredited Tory chancers.


I have been a consistent supporter of the European Union for many years. For the reasons noted earlier I opposed the whole idea of resolving the issue via a referendum. I don’t believe in keeping a dog and doing your own barking.  I was dismayed by the outcome but not surprised by the slippery behaviour of GOBO.


If the situation changes – so should you


“In the course of time as circumstances change and the issues are altered we may find it necessary to change some part of the programme; that will not be because we thought the programme was wrong but just because it might be readjusted to changing conditions. You know, comrades, to change programmes is not an admission or error, other all history would be a series of confessionals.”

Aneurin Bevan, speech to the Labour Party Conference in 1959.


“Fuck Dacre”

A shrewd comment taken from the collected sayings of Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch was talking about a different Dacre – to be precise he was referring to Hugh Trevor Roper – but what of it – his pithy dismissal  applies even more so to Dacre of The Daily Mail 


 Is it being undemocratic to seek to reverse the ‘out’ outcome?


Not at all and here is why.


I see what is happening via Brexit as a national disaster and it would absurd to proceed given the basis on which on which the referendum was conceived and how the largely uncertain pros and cons were presented to a bemused electorate, irresponsibly deceived and stampeded by GOBO. 


The old military maxim – do not reinforce failure – is of relevance here. 


“Why a second referendum is a lost cause”

Headline above a column by Philip Collins, The Times January 5, 2018 


Mr Collins simply plays Little Sir Echo to the points made previously in The Times by Lord Finkelstein. At one point Mr Collins notes that “back in the day (when Mr Blair was PM) the brains who powered the Labour party made up the most formidable electoral team in modern political history”. Collins is quite right to make this point – Blair was the most accomplished harvester of voters in modern times. Collins was also uncharacteristically shy when he omitted his own key role in this formidably electoral team.


In the long years since the departure of Tony Blair from No 10, Collins has contented himself with writing columns of quite startling blandness for The Times. Might he be persuaded to resume his former career as a mouthpiece for Blair? Once a pen for sale – always a pen for sale.


“Humphrys mauls Blair over call for new EU poll”

James Groves, Daily Mail, January 5, 2018


Well – James Groves would say that, wouldn’t he?


“Lies, damned lies and Blair on Brexit”

Headline above Daily Mail editorial, January 5, 2018 


Well – the Daily Mail leader writer would write that, wouldn’t he/she?


No surprises there.


Whither Brexit — Key points to consider. 


1. Brexit is the only political show in town – all other political issues are being relegated to the sidelines. Please note that a major reshuffle at the top of HMG  is rumoured to be in prospect. P 45s for some cabinet ministers are said to have been made out and are ready to the aforesaid cabinet ministers – – so be it. (See the stop press for an update here. )



NHS said to be in chaos – for now – just give Mr Hunt a good kicking.


Sanity of Mr Trump is questioned – nothing new there. Actually there is something new here – see later notes.


Rail transport in the home counties remains in chaos – for now – give Mr Grayling a good kicking. 


And so it goes on, with all issues other than Brexit being relegated to back burner status. 


 2. All the self proclaimed insiders are united on one point – HMG is in chaos as it tries to pick its way through the tangle that is Brexit


As one blogger wrote – 


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


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


 3.  Parliamentary arithmetic


“Eleven Conservative MPs led by Dominic Grieve QC collaborated with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour and other opposition parties to demand that they rather than Theresa May should approve or block our withdrawal from the EU.”

Quentin Letts. Daily Mail, December 15, 2017 


The eleven rebels were duly Dacred – or, if you prefer, vilified, by Dacre and his underlings, an outcome which cannot have surprised them.


“This country has long grown used to Lord Heseltine’s love affair with the EU. But when the 84 year old grandee suggests Brexit would do more damage than a Corbyn led government, it is surely time to summon the men in white coats.”

Daily Mail micro editorial, December 27, 2017 


Lord Heseltine would have known that he was setting himself up to be Dacred and he was right and he was duly Dacred.


However this particular gem raised the same issue as that currently being raised about Mr Trump – is he losing the plot.? (Note in the case of Mr Trump – the answer is -yes!)


“May rift with Davis as he admits Brexit might not happen”

Mail on Sunday headline, December 31, 2017 


This headline from the Daily Mail’s stable mate paper gave further evidence that all is not well at the top of HMG.


Mr Davis has been showing signs of strain as he attempts a task comparable to all the labours of Hercules. It would not be surprising if in an unguarded moment he let slip his view that Brexit was by no means the foregone conclusion demanded and predicted by Mrs May.


And so it goes on a daily basis as we, the public, anxiously scan the print media and listen to the broadcasters for developments on  the Brexit – who has gone over to the Remain cause? Who is rumoured to be about to switch sides? It is all enthralling entertaining stuff.


 A few prosaic Brexit points


* The May government is sustained only with the support of the DUP – a shaky flaky foundation.


* There are growing signs of restiveness within the Tory ranks as the unfortunate combination of ineptitude and friction at the top of HMG becomes more evident by the day.


* What about Mr Corbyn – said by many to be shrewdly keeping his powder dry and relying on Mrs May to dig not only her own political grave but also that of the lame Tory government? The critics of Mr Corbyn – he has his share, including, of course, Paul Dacre – have suggested that he has taken this approach too far and that his impersonation of Mr Micawber waiting for something to turn up has been rather overdone and needs to be replaced by something rather more positive. (Shadow Cabinet – please note.)


 A slight digression – a word about the delicate situation within the Parliamentary Labour Party


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 their 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 three 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 Jeremy Corbyn, 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.


Over to you Mr Corbyn.


What next? 


I am mindful that the UK political pundits collectively have a dismal track record in terms of their ability to make accurate forecasts of the outcomes of recent appeals to the electorate. Additionally and significantly the judgements of Mr Cameron and Mrs May have been notably way off the mark.


If the professionals can and do get it so badly wrong – what chance have I got?


In any event – here goes.


Possible outcomes include:-


Mrs May stays in No 10 until 2022 – her preferred outcome. The bookies are currently quoting roughly evens as the odds of Mrs May still being in office by the end of 2018.


Mrs May opts for another election – this is the least likely outcome given how badly she got it wrong last time.


Mrs May loses a vote of confidence triggering a general electionThis is by far the likeliest outcome given the continuing  of loss of support for Mrs May from within her own party, together with the jumping ship of key current Brexiteers as they realise that the game is up.


So – where does Holdenforth stand?


I predict that:-


* The lack of any alternative candidates perceived as being able to implement Brexit is the ONLY factor that is now sustaining  Mrs May in office.


* Mrs May will lose a vote of confidence.


* This will happen no later than the middle of 2018 and probably within the next 2 or 3 months given the steady draining away of support for her. 


* This event  will trigger her departure from No 10.


* The resulting leadership contest will end with – you tell me – in No 10. 


* The ensuing general election will be fought solely on the Brexit issue.


*  A  new political group will emerge Phoenix like from the ashes of Brexit to despatch Brexit into the dustbin of history where it belongs.


 Stop Press items from your oracular blogger –  January 7


 May set to axe “pale and stale” Ministers

Mail on Sunday headline. January 7, 2018


A senior government source said ”Theresa understands that, when voters look at her government, they see a lot of stale, male and pale Ministers who are on the wrong side of 50. She will be promoting more women and those from non-white backgrounds and there will be more of an emphasis on youth.

From the same Mail on Sunday report


So – the pale stale male aged Ministers are being lined up as fall guys – and why not?


Mr Marr grills Mrs May on “The Andrew Marr Show” – January 7.


I gave this one a miss on the grounds that Mrs May might have taken a leaf out of Marr’s book and taken out an injunction banning the raising by him of awkward questions.  


You never know these days.


 A gem from the Mail on Sunday on which to finish.


“ Wilson’s spin doctor: One of us must be a liar. You’ll have to judge who.”

Headline above a piece by Joe Haines in the Mail on Sunday,  January 7, 2018 


The issue in question refers to disputed authorship of the notorious Lavender List which surfaced after the resignation of Harold Wilson in 1976.


Joe Haines, one time press secretary for Harold Wilson, points the finger at Marcia Williams. Those of us with long memories will recall that Joe Haines wrote a hagiography of the portly pilferer, Robert Maxwell after leaving Number 10.


Like Andrew Marr – Joe Haines has form.


As Mr Richard Littlejohn might put it – you couldn’t make it up.


Image courtesy of BBC


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

Further Developments in Brexit and Towards Mexit

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

In this piece I have combined my thoughts on the prospects for Brexit with my thoughts on the prospects for Mrs May based on recent developments in both areas.
At the end of the piece I ask myself – have these developments advanced or retarded the Brexit case, and, on a lighter note – what have they done for the prospects of Mrs May?

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.

“At present, and until something turns up …… I have nothing to bestow but advice.” Thus – Mr Micawber to David Copperfield; thus – the various advisers to Mrs May.

“The best we can do on Brexit is play for time.”
Lord Finkelstein, The Times, October 18, 2017

Is this not also the strategy of the Remain camp? Both camps can’t be right – or can they?

What has happened in the past two months or so?

Development include – but are by no means not restricted to – the following items:

1. What have BOJO and Gove been up to?

“Brexit’s arch plotters care only for themselves… A British mother locked up in Iran is the victim of a divided government and the manoeuvrings of Boris and Gove.”
Headlines above a piece by Rachel Sylvester, The Times, November 14, 2017

“Merlot Memo to save Brexit — How they (Bojo and Gove) buried the hatchet to take on Hammond – Former rivals warned PM to ignore Cabinet Bremoaners like Hammond”
Headlines in the Daily Mail on November 13, 2017

The emergence of Bojo and Gove as the key Brexit political warriors – let us refer to them as BoVe given their recent peace accord – has been a notable development.
Those who follow these matters in the media – an ever increasing number – will recall that that it is barely 18 months ago that Gove buried his hatchet in the unprotected breast of Bojo, causing Bojo to retire from the leadership fray.  The recent love in between the two is a startling U- turn even by the more relaxed standards of the 21st century.

We live in turbulent times as allegiances are switched to secure perceived personal advantages.

2. The real Brexit Battlefield.

The synthetic Brexit battle is being played out within the Westminster village. The real battle is being contested in Brussels between the UK’s David Davis and his counterpart from the EU, Mr Barnier.

Mr Davis continues to soldier on forlornly in his capacity as the representative of HMG against the formidable odds posed by the massed ranks of the other 27 EU countries. This latter group are more or less united in their resolve that the departing UK will end up as a chastened saddened solitary political has been – and who shall blame them for adopting this censorious approach?

Brusque handshakes are exchanged at the end of each negotiating session but this observer gets the feeling that Mr Davis would prefer to have his hands around the throat of Mr Barnier rather than the limp handshake masquerading as a symbol of friendship.

3. Some encouraging developments – at least to this Remainer.

“We don’t have to leave the EU, says Article 50 author —- Lord Kerr of Kinlochard.
The public is being “misled” by politicians who claim that Britain’s decision cannot be reversed, the diplomat who helped draft Article 50 has said. “
The Times November 10, 2017.

The key sentence in the report underneath the headline noted that “Britain could unilaterally withdraw from the (Brexit) process at any time —— the Prime Ministers Article was only a notification of the Uks intention to withdraw from the EU. Intentions can and do change.” So far – so very good.

On the debit side, Lord Kerr is notably shy as to how this possible change of heart might be achieved politically.  It is also unfortunate that the contribution from Lord Kerr is from the House of Lords, possibly the most undemocratic political institution in Europe or anywhere else for that matter.

Well – this Remainer will accept help from any source – cf Churchill extending the hand of friendship, albeit just for the duration of the Second World War, to Marshall Stalin in 1941.

4. Support for the Remain cause from Goldman Sachs

“Anger as Goldman (Sachs) demands a second poll”
Daily Mail, November 17, 2017

The Daily Mail got predictably worked up about the anxiety voiced by Mr Lloyd Blankfein reference the outcome of the 2016 in/out referendum. Mr Blankfein also asked for a second Brexit referendum – “so much at stake – why not make sure consensus is still there?”

“In Goldman Sachs we trust” was an ironical chapter heading in “The Great Crash” by Professor JK Galbraith. Not everyone trusted Goldman Sachs in the 1930s and the company has never enjoyed anything approaching widespread confidence. Down the years Goldman Sachs has been mostly noted for its ability to secure wealth for its managers approaching that of King Croesus.

I will not exactly welcome the intervention of Mr Blankfein but I will go as far as saying that I support his comments.

5. “Anger as head of economic think-tank likens Brexit to Blitz.
A Think Tank funded by the British Taxpayers sparked fury yesterday by claiming Brexit would wreak similar damage to the Blitz. In an extraordinary intervention the OECD also suggested reversing would boost the economy”
Daily Mail, October 18, 2017

The intervention by the head of the OECD, Secretary General Angel Gurria, was sweet music to my ears, but not to the ears of Mr Paul Dacre and his raucous pack of journalists. Mr Gurria received the standard Mail treatment handed out to those daring to disagree with Mr Dacre. I suspect that Mr Gurria would be quite relaxed about the predictable abuse heaped upon him.

Notes on some of the fringe developments regarding Brexit and Mexit

1. The emergence of Mrs May as The Hammer of the Reds

Mrs May decided that enough was enough and came out swinging against the Bolshies. All splendid stuff but also a little confusing in that Mr Trump, not normally noted as a model of calm diplomacy, was at the same time displaying commendable charm towards Mr Putin.

A key feature of Mrs May’s criticism of Russia was that it was attempting to erode the Unity of The West. I can’t recall the building from which Mrs May delivered her denunciation, but the Crystal Palace would have been appropriate.

2. The Release of the Paradise Papers.

The press had a field day poring over this gold mine – a suitable term – of damaging material released concerning the largely successful efforts of wealthy people and organisations to locate the most competitive tax rates applicable around the world.
These disclosures were of great value to the Remain cause because it would be far easier to find the weak link in the chain of 27 EU countries than to induce the EU as an institution to reward the global frauds.

3. The plight of the anxious businessmen

“All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”
Dr Pangloss in “Candide” by Voltaire

Given the unfortunate events in the lives of Pangloss and Candide the reader must have wondered what misfortunes might persuade Dr Pangloss to change his mind.
At one point Mrs May met with a group of businessmen understandably anxious about the extent of the uncertainty looming as Brexit staggers from crisis to farce to crisis. Mrs May was said to have assured the businessmen that all would turn out for the best but they, the businessmen, were not fully persuaded that this would be the outcome.

4. The alleged unseemly sexual misdemeanours in and around Westminster.

How would I know – and – for that matter – how would you know – who did what to who and when?

“You did this to me!” “O no I didn’t!” “Oh yes you did!”

Suffice it to say in the context of Brexit and Mexit – the reported alleged activities are a diversion that Mrs May could do without, and this point applies especially to accusations against cabinet ministers, two of whom – Sir Michael Fallon and, yesterday, Damian Green, have now left their posts as a result. Where will it all end?

5. The Priti – mysterious – Patel affair – the word affair not used here in the sense of unofficial away fixtures in the context of marital commitments.

For me the main point to emerge from this diverting development was that if Mrs May is unaware of which of her cabinet colleagues have been up to what or even where they have been – how on earth can she be so sure about what Mr Putin and his associates have been up to?

The lesson to be learned here is that Mrs May can get herself into all sorts of tangles without the help of Mr. Putin.

So – what next? Possible outcomes to the Mexit dilemma

The outcome for Mrs May lies in the hands of her fellow Tory MPs – at what point will enough of them decide that enough is enough and put in place the arrangements required to hand Mrs May the black spot.

If I were one of these MPs- and thank the Lord I’m not sir – I would ask myself in the time honoured way – what is the best outcome in terms of enabling me to hang on to my hard won coveted political Cushy Number.

And back comes the answer – my chances are better under another leader, even another leader whose sole attraction is that he/she is not Mrs May.

Brexit and Mexit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I remain an unrepentant Remainer.

 A snapshot of the state of play on Brexit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where are we on Mexit?

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

Well it would, wouldn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brexit – what next ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 A word about the divorce settlement

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

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

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

Another word about the divorce discussions

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

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

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

Yet another wonderful prospect opening up for  the legal profession.

 Some Blue Sky thinking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that really what we want?

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

Image courtesy of Daily Star