There’s No Business Like Brexit Business

Since my previous blog, then there has been a period of calm or, if you prefer, a period in which Brexit matters were briefly absent from the headlines whilst the various opposing factions got down to some serious plotting.

The peace process – Chequers style

Mrs May, presumably hoping to get her retaliation in first, convened an all-day cabinet gathering at Chequers on July 6.

Her objectives in calling the meeting were reported as being:

  • To spell out her plans for Brexit to her cabinet colleagues.
  • To bounce her cabinet into accepting her plans by the time-honoured tactic of giving them very barely enough time to read the plans, much less the time required to grasp their implications and consequences. This latter objective was said to apply especially to the perceived usual suspects.

The arrangements for the Chequers meeting appeared to your aged blogger to be based on the away days much beloved by bullshitters masquerading as managers with all the apparatus normally associated with such fraudulent gatherings.

It would appear from the copious leaks that emanated from the proceedings that great pressure was applied throughout to spell out the serious consequences of failing to unite behind her banner. Of these the most horrifying was that “Corbyn will get you,” a warning sufficiently terrifying as to subdue all but the most determined of her critics.

Those emerging from the day-long ordeal indicated that the outcome was that a united cabinet was now united behind a sound plan and that the next step was to present the said plans to our enemies in Brussels and, then – just like that – dictate the terms of a final agreeable Brexit.

The Sunday papers were full of praise for the latter day Thatcher – she had routed her internal fifth column critics and she was now about the to apply the same treatment to the pesky nuisances in Brussels (‘Iron Lady May has crushed the egos and the weasels’, trumpeted Dan Hodges in the Mail on Sunday). All downhill from now on.

Well – up to a point, Mrs May.

I awoke on the morning of Monday, July 9 to learn that Mr David Davis had resigned sometime around midnight. Good to see that our politicians are busy even at that unlikely hour.

This development had not been on the hymn sheet that the crowd of spokespersons clustered in No 10 were consulting, and there was confusion as the May team sought to minimise the problems arising from the departure of Mr Davis. To aggravate matters further Mr Davis made it clear in an interview on the following morning with John Humphreys that he had no intention of going quietly, by mounting a spirited and rational and plausible defence of his resignation on the Today programme.

So much for the overture.

As the day wore on, rumours began to circulate that BoJo had taken the day off – rather in the manner of his long trip to Afghanistan to avoid the Heathrow debate.

It emerged early in the afternoon that BoJo too had resigned and had poured petrol on the fire by noting in his tear stained resignation letter, a doleful despairing document etched in bitter tears, his grief at the betrayal of his beloved Brexit dream.

This development did indeed fox me – sorry about the pun, Liam – because I had always understood that the one consistent political principle pursued at all times by Boris was to advance the political career of Boris. It just shows how wrong you can be.

It has to be said that the timing of the BoJo resignation letter was masterly, because Mrs May was occupied and preoccupied with the formidable task of preparing to defend her Brexit plans to a House of Commons that was not wholly persuaded of her case and her cause. BoJo evidently holds firmly to the principle that you wait until your opponent is down before you kick them – nice work, BoJo.

The press coverage the following day broadly reflected the predilictions of the organs in question. True to form, Richard Littlejohn’s Daily Mail column urged the resignation of Mother Theresa (“She has repeatedly misled the British people and forfeited the trust of being our Prime minister”). Conversely, a Times leader opined that “The foreign secretary’s resignation is neither unexpected nor unwelcome. He has been a disruptive cabinet member and Mrs May has greater authority without him”. Meanwhile, in the same newspaper, Rachel Sylvester’s column argued that “The fantasies promoted by Leavers have led us to the cold reality of a government in chaos and a PM no one dares to kill”: not exactly a ringing endorsement of Mrs May.

Brexit – What next?

Sadly, much of the Brexit debate will continue to focus on the survival prospects of Mrs May in No 10, rather than on the most important issue to arise in the politics of the UK since 1945: namely, how can the absurd Brexit fiasco be jettisoned to enable the UK to reverse the outcome of the 2016 referendum and return to the comparatively sound and sensible political, economic and social arrangements developed over tens of decades throughout the EU?

We Remainers note with glee (and BoJo notes with gloom) that the Brexit dream (for dream read nightmare) is dying.

What political actions will kill it off?

Holdenforth suggests that a combination of the following developments should do the trick.

1. Mrs May to be forced out of No 10 by either losing a vote of confidence in the Commons or by a successful leadership challenge. Holdenforth can assert with confidence that Mrs May will not opt to follow the action of Neville Chamberlain in May 1940 and go voluntarily – it will have to be the old heave-ho.

2. The ensuing general election will be in effect a re-run of the referendum in all but name.

3. The outcome will be that there will be a majority in favour of the Remain cause as the voters belatedly grasp how they were conned the first time round.

4. No need at that point for any delay – just a brief note from HMG to the senior management of the EU to apologise for any little local problems triggered by Brexit – a spot of meiosis would be appropriate here, our application to invoke article 50 to be withdrawn and that as from now – its back to business as usual between a penitent UK and the EU.

It should also be observed that the great majority of the current crop of MPs understand only too well that Brexit was and is a huge national error but, as is the way with MPs, timidity, and looking after Number 1, take precedence over the national interest. In the Brexel 2 campaign, the Remainers should stop making obeisance to the sacred result of June 2016 and bellow out that the voters were conned by the insidious combination of the stupidity of David Cameron, the mendacity of Mr Farage and the astounding duplicity of BoJo.

Their campaign slogan should be “Goodbye Brexit: Hello, Bremain!”

The realistic possibilities continue to be as follows.

1. The likelihood of an attempt to dislodge Mrs May via a successful leadership is gathering support mainly because of the increasing exasperation among Tory MPs about her perceived hopeless political performance.

2. The other and rather more plausible possibility is that the resolute Tory Remainers – the dirty dozen according to Paul Dacre – would prefer to see Mrs May lose a vote of confidence, thus triggering a general election under her leadership.

Holdenforth is as confused as you are as to what the outcome will be.

What we do hope for and will use our limited resources to demand is the latter option, that of a general election.

Were that to happen a whole new game would come into play.

Why so?

An election called in these circumstances, clearly a second Brexit referendum in all but name, would see a significant re-alignment of the parties and crucially, the re-entry into the fray or rather into the political vacuum that is now so prominent a feature of the UK political scene, of former senior politicians: Tony Blair, Nick Clegg, Gordon Brown, John Major, George Osborne and the Miliband brothers,

Holdenforth says – Bring it on!

In this election (let us refer to it as Brexel 2) the only issue would be: does Brexit go ahead or not.?

Failing this, we would hope that Theresa May will write to Donald Tusk requesting that we return to the status quo of the UK remaining within the EU, and apologizing profusely for any inconvenience cause over the past 2 years.

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Brexit: The Show Must Go On (and On, and On)

The latest episode of the Brexit saga which ended on June 20th, centred mainly on the Tory Parliamentary Party with Labour MPs in the roles of spectators, gazing at the confusing proceedings with a mixture of bewilderment and torpor.

The setting was the House of Commons and the Leavers in the Parliamentary Tory party had gathered in strength to seek to reverse the attempts of the House of Lords to put a series of spokes in the Brexit wheel.

The threat to Mrs May came from the dozen or so declared Tory Remainers in parliament, and, lest anyone might be any doubt as to their identity, the Daily Mail published a rogues gallery of the dissenters.  

In the event, the Lords’ amendments were reversed, although not without the deployment of a good deal of traditional carrot and stick tactics by the Tory whips. The stick was just that – follow the party else or else. The carrots consisted of a series of understandings arrived at between Mrs May and the dissidents. Sadly, as I write, there appears to be some misunderstanding as to the precise nature of the understandings.

A week or so ago there had been a not especially adept rebellion by Mr Ian Blackford, the leader of the SNP in Westminster, and his colleagues. So transparently simulated was the Scottish indignation that the sympathy of most of the neutrals was with the speaker, Mr Bercow, not normally the most popular figure in and around the Commons.

The parliamentary members of the Labour party awoke from their collective slumbers to produce an internal row of their own, although its origins and substance were so obscure as to baffle the neutrals.

Anything else to report before Holdenforth gets down to looking at the “What happens next?” prospects for Brexit?

Well yes – one or two minor matters to report.

In no special order of importance:

* The G7 conference convened to discuss the various trade problems triggered by the unilateral imposition of massive tariffs by the USA on a range of products and the retaliatory tariffs imposed by the countries singled out for tariff treatment. This G7 conference, convened to repair broken fences, finished up as the G6 + 1 group, with the USA refusing to endorse the most modest of end of conference communiqués and the remaining 6 members issuing peevish denunciations of the disruptive Yanks. Holdenforth simply notes at this point that this development did little to advance the Brexit case to abandon the EU.

*The refusal of Mr Trump to sign the final G7 communiqué was swiftly followed by a dramatic meeting of those two giants of the global show business scene, Messrs Kim Jon Jung and Mr Trump. We, the great mystified British public, were advised that Mr Trump is happier in a one on one meeting where his well-honed deal making skills are easier to deploy than is the case where he is merely one of a larger group. The outcome of the Trump – Kim Jung Um summit was a communiqué every bit as devoid of content as the G7 / G6 gathering but with the significant difference that Mr T was writing the script.

* There was an unseemly disagreement between Italy and Malta about which of the 2 countries should accept a boat crammed with refugees from sub Saharan Africa. The matter was resolved when Spain agreed to accept the migrants, but clearly Europe will come under pressure to accept refugees as long as the conditions which trigger the exodus from their respective countries persist – a major headache for the EU

Back to Brexit  — What happens next?

Sadly the Brexit debate has tended to focus rather too much on the survival prospects of Mrs May in No 10 and rather less on what will be the situation when the various boisterous Brexit debates within the Tory party and between the various Westminster parties have ended and the dust has settled.

Crucially the key discussions – hereinafter referred to as negotiations – between the UK Brexit team and its counterparts from the EU are continuing and the reports emerging from these negotiations hint that the EU team sees the position of HMG growing steadily weaker.

An Iain Martin article in The Times on June 21 stated that, “The Commission’s bad faith behaviour has become so appalling that even some Remainers have now woken up woken up to the implications” and concluded, “A the fog of negotiations clears and it becomes obvious that the country is being stuffed, will feelings boil over into some sort of revolt”?

Holdenforth does not go along with this absurd view. Holdenforth has consistently argued that the deplorable state affairs triggered by the Brexit affair was and is the product of an appalling initial misjudgement by David Cameron to hold a referendum, the predictable jump by Boris Johnson onto what he saw as an opportunity to advance his political prospects and the consistent but wholly misguided efforts of Mr Farage to undo the commendable vision of the EU project to replace bellicose nationalism with civilised cooperation.

Holdenforth believes that:

*The stuffing of the UK – and, yes, there has been a lot of stuffing – has been largely the malign work of Mr Cameron, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage.

*The sooner that the UK wakes up to the true nature and purpose of Brexit, and puts the Brexit engine into reverse and politely requests of the EU authorities that HMG accepts that Brexit has been a huge mistake and that the UK begs to revert to a Business as Usual basis, the better.

For its part, the EU sees this ill-assorted trio as putting a wholly illusionary national interest ahead of all other considerations and sensibly refuses to do anything to assist the venture.

In his regular Times column published the day before the Martin piece Lord Finkelstein discussed with his customary clarity the formidable problems facing Mrs May and her cabinet as they attempt to steer the good ship HMG between the competing hazards posed by the Scylla of the Brexiteers and the Charybdis of the Remainers, each with their alluring sirens.

If this were simply a dilemma facing the Tory party then we, the great uncommitted, could sit back and enjoy the show.

But sadly that is not the case.

Lord Finkelstein seemed to me in his column to be so anxious to be scrupulously fair, to list all the competing forces and assess their relative strengths in various permutations and combinations, that he lost himself in the sheer exuberant variety of possible outcomes.

His final paragraph expressed his dismay perfectly:

 “To leave the EU without a clear idea of our future trading relationship would be lamentable, but to leave without a withdrawal agreement would be catastrophic.”

Holdenforth can do better than this. To leave the EU would be lamentable and catastrophic, and any other apocalyptic adjectives that come to mind – – no need for the accompanying qualifications.

How long can the great survivor stagger on?

Francis Elliot, the Political Editor of the Times, recently argued that “The PM has walked a fine line between equally unhappy Brexiteers and Remainers but can’t put off judgement day for ever. “

Mr Elliot lost no time in pointing the finger at those he saw as being responsible for the current shambles – Mr Cameron and Mrs May.

He wrote amusingly about what the public enquiry that will in due course be set up to review how we got into this fiasco. The enquiry will work along the lines of the Chilcot enquiry into Iraq, it will drag on for years and will decide that all those responsible were acting from the best of motives – expect a report around 2030 by which date I for one will have kept an appointment with the Grim Reaper.

Sadly Mr Elliot was woefully vague when he looked at short term issues and possible solutions.

HF will step in where Mr Elliot feared to tread – our readers rightly demand rather more snap and sharpness from our perusal of our crystal ball – so here goes.

Let us assess the prospects between now and the end of the party conference season in early October.

The realistic possibilities continue to be as follows.

* The likelihood of an attempt to dislodge Mrs May via a successful leadership is gathering support mainly because of the increasing exasperation among Tory MPs about her perceived hopeless political performance.

The logic from this quarter  is that if say Boris Johnson were to emerge as our new PM that he would be well positioned to take on and defeat Mr Corbyn in the subsequent general election.

On this latter point pundits of all political tendencies and of none were said to have been shaken by the reported 7 point lead by the Tories in the polls. If Jezza can’t lead Labour into a poll lead now – then when can he?

*The other and rather more plausible possibility is that the resolute Tory Remainers – the dirty dozen according to Paul Dacre – would prefer to see Mrs May lose a vote of confidence thus triggering a general election under her leadership.

Holdenforth is as baffled as you are as to what the outcome will be.

What we do hope for and will use our limited resources to demand is the latter option, that of a general election.

Were that to happen a whole new game would come into play.

Why so?

An election called in these circumstances, clearly a second Brexit referendum in all but name, would see a significant re-alignment of the parties and crucially, the entry into the fray of former heavyweights, people like Tony Blair, George Soros, Nick Clegg, Andrew Adonis, Gordon Brown, George Osborne, the Miliband brothers and so on and so on.

Holdenforth says – Bring it on!

In this election (let us refer to it as Brexel 2) – the only issue would be: does Brexit go ahead or not.?

A word on the current balance of parliamentary power

The government of Mrs May is balanced precariously on a base built on quicksand and another shaky material the name of which escapes me.

No-one is more aware of this than Mrs May – after all her poor judgement in the summer of last year triggered Brexel One the outcome of which added significantly to the problems of the Tory government.

As I write the Conservative party consists of:

*A substantial number – but still a minority – of diehard Brexiteers. Let us refer to them as the Bill Cash Group.

* A dozen or so diehard Remainers. Let us refer to them as the Anna Soubry group. This doughty dozen are said to be prepared to risk the consequences of voting against their own party in order to keep alive the aim of reversing the leave outcome of the June 2016 referendum

* The silent majority of Tory members of Parliament who simply hope that the Brexit issue will go away – it isn’t going to. This group, with no ideological preferences either way, will be watching the polls, studying the media, and chatting amongst themselves. Their motives as regards stay or go will be determined by one simple consideration – what outcome is the most favourable for my career, with my mortgage to pay and the kiddies to feed – all significant factors.

Meanwhile, within the Labour Party, there is a similar spread of opinion as that which exists in the Tort party but without the intensity.

But as Lord Finkelstein has pointed out “The objective of the Labour leadership is only this – to bring down the government and defeat it in an election”

This factor, a second order factor, will make life difficult for Mr Corbyn and his colleagues as the media hawks come in for the kill.

We also have the Lib Dems – Dr  Cable and his tiny band. This group is committed to putting the outcome of the referendum to a test but lack the numbers to exercise much influence.

Sinn Fein – their long standing refusal that they owe any allegiance to the UK parliament rules them out of consideration.

DUP – the jokers in the parliamentary pack.

How about an injection of a spot of transparency – a favourite word these days – into the confusion?

The key Holdenforth assertion is that most MPs would, if the choice were available to them, vote to reverse the outcome of the June 2016 referendum.

* The Brexit victory in the June 2016 referendum was NOT a clear demand by the British to leave the EU, but rather the outcome of an appalling error of judgement by Mr Cameron in agreeing to the referendum in the first place compounded by the squalid opportunism of Boris the bounder and Farage the cad. By the way: what exactly is the difference between a bounder and a cad?

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

* It was reported that Lyndon Johnson said of one of his tiresome colleagues that it was difficult to decide if it was better to have him inside the tent pissing out or outside the tent pissing in.  BoJo has established a third category – he is inside the tent and pissing inside it – a practice that has not endeared him to his colleagues in the tent. The long suffering UK voters will have noted his inept performance as Foreign Secretary in the past 2 years.

* Mrs May’s switch of allegiance following the referendum merely added to the catalogue of disreputable political actions perpetrated by the Brexiteers.

* On an oh by the way basis – if Mrs May, who ought to have known what was going on, can change her mind, why can’t the rest of us: we, who were bemused by the tsunami of mendacity, respectfully request a second opinion.

So what happens next?

More than two thousand words down the line and I still have no idea. Trying to make sense out of the Brexit chaos can be compared to trying to extract excrement from a rocking horse.

But rest assured: Holdenforth will stay on the case to the end, an end which we hope will be happy rather than bitter.

I hear you ask – what is the policy of Holdenforth as regards Brexit?

We hope that matters will proceed as I suggested in my recent blog, “Brexit, Boris & Snappy Electioneering”: namely, that Mrs May will write to Donald Tusk requesting that we return to the status quo of the UK remaining within the EU, and apologizing profusely for any inconvenience cause over the past 2 years.

As I Please: Brexit, Boris & Snappy Electioneering

What next for Brexit?

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

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

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

Can’t quite see it myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well they would do that, wouldn’t they?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours etc,
UK Prime Minister on behalf of HMG

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

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

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

Then and now

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

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

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

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

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

Well put, Mr Jean- Christophe Cambedelis.

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

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

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

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

Reflections on effective electioneering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about the opinion formers in the media?

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

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

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

How might this drama unfold in the next few months?

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

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

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

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

What happens next in Westminster ?

Holdenforth still sees only 3 possibilities.

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

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

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

A modest rebellion.

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

Holdenforth asserts with confidence – Yes!

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

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

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

Possible factors to take into account

What about Mr Corbyn and his colleagues?

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

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

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

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

What should the policy of the Remainers be?

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

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

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

The key policy elements of the Remain camp to be:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Straws in the wind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Whither Brexit?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Notes on possible problems ahead.

 

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

Paul Johnson, The Times. March 19, 2018.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

A word about the Salisbury Poisonings

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

In practice two issues appear to be handicapping him.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Back to Brexit 

 

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

 

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

 

What happens next in the negotiations?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What happens then?

 

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

 

What happens next in Westminster?

 

Holdenforth still sees only three possibilities:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

So:

 

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

 

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

 

Holdenforth asserts with confidence – Yes!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The key policy elements of the Remain camp to be:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

The 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.

So:

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

To put the arithmetic slightly differently – just over 3% of the entire Tory membership in the Commons would be enough to do the trick.

Might we have enough Tory MPs with the required amount of intestinal fortitude and/or a private income and / or a job offer in their pocket?

Holdenforth asserts with confidence – Yes!

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

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

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

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.