“The idea that Brexit can be stopped is a dangerous delusion that ignores the continuing revolt against political elites.”
Daniel Finkelstein, The Times, 3 January 2018
My text for today is the excellent article by Lord Finkelstein published on January 3. As always with Lord F his piece is infuriatingly plausible and irritatingly reasonable. I doubt if the case for accepting the result of the referendum could be put more persuasively. And yet I still take the view that the out decision should be reversed although I am far from clear as to how this might be achieved.
The key point of his article is not that there is no possibility that the ‘out’ decision is irreversible and he concedes that a way might be found to achieve precisely this objective. The thrust of his article is that that if this were to happen- “ the damage done to trust in democracy would be huge. Unless the second referendum arose from a huge public clamour (which is incredibly unlikely) millions will conclude that their vote and the promise made to them were worthless when they challenged the interests and attitudes of the political establishment.”
Well – only up to a point, Lord F.
Lord Finkelstein compares and contrasts the stance of Lord Adonis with regard to reversing the ‘out’ outcome with his own stance. He readily concedes that on the merits of the case he and Lord A are as one.
“Where we part company, rather sharply, is the idea that there is no self mutilation involved in parliament overwhelmingly voting in favour of a referendum, telling voters it would implement the decision and then deciding not to.”
On the following day Tony Blair was asked by John Humphreys about how the various forces that were said to be gathering momentum (sorry about using that bad word) to reverse the ‘out’ outcome. The old maestro was in splendid form as Aggro Humphreys tried and failed to pin him down. Was this outcome an indication of the waning powers of Mr Humphreys, a confirmation of what we all knew and still know, namely that TB remains a very bright star in the political firmament, or, quite possibly, evidence that the electorate is becoming increasingly mindful that it got it wrong back in June 2016?
Most likely – a combination of all three factors.
A brief reminder of how we got ourselves in this fine mess or to be precise, how we were landed in this fine mess and who got us into it.
The gist of how we got to where we are can be succinctly stated.
1. David Cameron, faced with the prospect of being outflanked by UKIP, foolishly decided to resolve the long festering in/out sore, by making an in-out referendum a key element of the Conservative party manifesto prior to the 2015 general election.
2. He added significantly to the rashness of his decision by banking on the previously declared support of Boris Johnson that the UK should remain in the EU. What can one say about the judgement of a prime minister capable of such a gross error of judgement?
3. Cameron realised soon enough that he had miscalculated as the in-out campaign got under way, and Boris, sensing his opportunity, threw all his considerable talent for mendacity to campaign for an ‘out’ outcome.
4. Cameron put his party before his country in agreeing to the referendum.
4. Cameron paid in full for his errors, the outs had it, and he promptly resigned.
5. In the ensuing campaign to succeed him as Tory leader and, more importantly, as our PM, Boris was mortified – to his chagrin and to the huge delight of many opponents and neutrals – by the predictable treachery of Mr Gove. Well, it takes one to know one. It is worth noting that Boris put the interests of Boris ahead of the interests of the Tory Party and of the Country and no one should have been surprised by this flexibility.
6. The Tory faithful then gave the bum’s rush to Mr Gove and Mrs May strode through the gap that had opened up to become our PM. The trivial fact that she had previously been a cautious advocate of remaining in Europe was obviously not going to prevent her from seizing this fortuitous main chance.
7. Mrs May proceeded to make a hash of everything she attempted in her new role as Prime Minister, culminating in her decision to call a general election in June, 2017. The flighty electorate seized its chance to issue a comeuppance to her and duly did so. (Note – a sure sign of a desperate Brexiteer is one who asserts that Mrs May won the June 2017 election.)
And so, what might be termed the gist of the gist of the above:
1. David Cameron made two foolish errors and paid the price for his folly in full.
2. The dynamic duo – Gove and Johnson – let us refer to them as GOBO – failed to win the approval of the Tory faithful in the ensuing beauty contest.
3. Mrs May emerged initially as the winner, but since her “victory” has continued to dig herself deeper and deeper into trouble
Lord Finkelstein argues, under the flimsiest of democratic pleas, that the rest of us should accept the consequences of this lamentable catalogue of deplorable opportunism, errors and failures executed by a tiny group of shady, shabby, wholly discredited Tory chancers.
I have been a consistent supporter of the European Union for many years. For the reasons noted earlier I opposed the whole idea of resolving the issue via a referendum. I don’t believe in keeping a dog and doing your own barking. I was dismayed by the outcome but not surprised by the slippery behaviour of GOBO.
If the situation changes – so should you
“In the course of time as circumstances change and the issues are altered we may find it necessary to change some part of the programme; that will not be because we thought the programme was wrong but just because it might be readjusted to changing conditions. You know, comrades, to change programmes is not an admission or error, other all history would be a series of confessionals.”
Aneurin Bevan, speech to the Labour Party Conference in 1959.
A shrewd comment taken from the collected sayings of Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch was talking about a different Dacre – to be precise he was referring to Hugh Trevor Roper – but what of it – his pithy dismissal applies even more so to Dacre of The Daily Mail.
Is it being undemocratic to seek to reverse the ‘out’ outcome?
Not at all and here is why.
I see what is happening via Brexit as a national disaster and it would absurd to proceed given the basis on which on which the referendum was conceived and how the largely uncertain pros and cons were presented to a bemused electorate, irresponsibly deceived and stampeded by GOBO.
The old military maxim – do not reinforce failure – is of relevance here.
“Why a second referendum is a lost cause”
Headline above a column by Philip Collins, The Times January 5, 2018
Mr Collins simply plays Little Sir Echo to the points made previously in The Times by Lord Finkelstein. At one point Mr Collins notes that “back in the day (when Mr Blair was PM) the brains who powered the Labour party made up the most formidable electoral team in modern political history”. Collins is quite right to make this point – Blair was the most accomplished harvester of voters in modern times. Collins was also uncharacteristically shy when he omitted his own key role in this formidably electoral team.
In the long years since the departure of Tony Blair from No 10, Collins has contented himself with writing columns of quite startling blandness for The Times. Might he be persuaded to resume his former career as a mouthpiece for Blair? Once a pen for sale – always a pen for sale.
“Humphrys mauls Blair over call for new EU poll”
James Groves, Daily Mail, January 5, 2018
Well – James Groves would say that, wouldn’t he?
“Lies, damned lies and Blair on Brexit”
Headline above Daily Mail editorial, January 5, 2018
Well – the Daily Mail leader writer would write that, wouldn’t he/she?
No surprises there.
Whither Brexit — Key points to consider.
1. Brexit is the only political show in town – all other political issues are being relegated to the sidelines. Please note that a major reshuffle at the top of HMG is rumoured to be in prospect. P 45s for some cabinet ministers are said to have been made out and are ready to the aforesaid cabinet ministers – – so be it. (See the stop press for an update here. )
NHS said to be in chaos – for now – just give Mr Hunt a good kicking.
Sanity of Mr Trump is questioned – nothing new there. Actually there is something new here – see later notes.
Rail transport in the home counties remains in chaos – for now – give Mr Grayling a good kicking.
And so it goes on, with all issues other than Brexit being relegated to back burner status.
2. All the self proclaimed insiders are united on one point – HMG is in chaos as it tries to pick its way through the tangle that is Brexit
As one blogger wrote –
“To this outsider, the proceedings at the heart of HMG can best be summed as the ongoing effing fiasco. In no special order the collective performance of Mrs May and her cabinet colleagues can be described as faltering, floundering, foundering, failing, flailing, frustrated, fulminating, festering, furious and fractious.
Another eff word suggested itself but this is a family blog and the decencies must be observed.”
3. Parliamentary arithmetic
“Eleven Conservative MPs led by Dominic Grieve QC collaborated with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour and other opposition parties to demand that they rather than Theresa May should approve or block our withdrawal from the EU.”
Quentin Letts. Daily Mail, December 15, 2017
The eleven rebels were duly Dacred – or, if you prefer, vilified, by Dacre and his underlings, an outcome which cannot have surprised them.
“This country has long grown used to Lord Heseltine’s love affair with the EU. But when the 84 year old grandee suggests Brexit would do more damage than a Corbyn led government, it is surely time to summon the men in white coats.”
Daily Mail micro editorial, December 27, 2017
Lord Heseltine would have known that he was setting himself up to be Dacred and he was right and he was duly Dacred.
However this particular gem raised the same issue as that currently being raised about Mr Trump – is he losing the plot.? (Note in the case of Mr Trump – the answer is -yes!)
“May rift with Davis as he admits Brexit might not happen”
Mail on Sunday headline, December 31, 2017
This headline from the Daily Mail’s stable mate paper gave further evidence that all is not well at the top of HMG.
Mr Davis has been showing signs of strain as he attempts a task comparable to all the labours of Hercules. It would not be surprising if in an unguarded moment he let slip his view that Brexit was by no means the foregone conclusion demanded and predicted by Mrs May.
And so it goes on a daily basis as we, the public, anxiously scan the print media and listen to the broadcasters for developments on the Brexit – who has gone over to the Remain cause? Who is rumoured to be about to switch sides? It is all enthralling entertaining stuff.
A few prosaic Brexit points
* The May government is sustained only with the support of the DUP – a shaky flaky foundation.
* There are growing signs of restiveness within the Tory ranks as the unfortunate combination of ineptitude and friction at the top of HMG becomes more evident by the day.
* What about Mr Corbyn – said by many to be shrewdly keeping his powder dry and relying on Mrs May to dig not only her own political grave but also that of the lame Tory government? The critics of Mr Corbyn – he has his share, including, of course, Paul Dacre – have suggested that he has taken this approach too far and that his impersonation of Mr Micawber waiting for something to turn up has been rather overdone and needs to be replaced by something rather more positive. (Shadow Cabinet – please note.)
A slight digression – a word about the delicate situation within the Parliamentary Labour Party
Conventional wisdom back in the summer of 2015 had it that the plausible three candidates -Burnham, Cooper and Kendall – were all thought to be capable of giving David Cameron a run for his money, a run that did not exclude their arrival in No 10.
How did it come about that a candidate widely perceived as a no hoper BEFORE the leadership election was elected by a huge majority over the plausible three?
I can only guess at the reason(s) for the unexpected outcome but I suspect that by far the most crucial reason in the minds of the 2015 electorate was that the election of any one of the plausible three would simply represent more of the same and that the electors in their collective wisdom comprehensively rejected that option.
This raises the question – how does a party deal with a situation in which a huge gap opens up between the views and aspirations of the leaders and the led. Just as the great majority of Labour MPS had no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn, so, or so it would appear, the great majority of Labour Party members had lost confidence in their elected representatives in the House of Commons.
It would not be easy to find high calibre replacements for the vast majority of the current crop of Labour Party MPs. Equally it would not be easy to discard the current crop of around half a million seemingly truculent party members and replace them with the same number of pliable tranquil equable members.
Over to you Mr Corbyn.
I am mindful that the UK political pundits collectively have a dismal track record in terms of their ability to make accurate forecasts of the outcomes of recent appeals to the electorate. Additionally and significantly the judgements of Mr Cameron and Mrs May have been notably way off the mark.
If the professionals can and do get it so badly wrong – what chance have I got?
In any event – here goes.
Possible outcomes include:-
Mrs May stays in No 10 until 2022 – her preferred outcome. The bookies are currently quoting roughly evens as the odds of Mrs May still being in office by the end of 2018.
Mrs May opts for another election – this is the least likely outcome given how badly she got it wrong last time.
Mrs May loses a vote of confidence triggering a general election. This is by far the likeliest outcome given the continuing of loss of support for Mrs May from within her own party, together with the jumping ship of key current Brexiteers as they realise that the game is up.
So – where does Holdenforth stand?
I predict that:-
* The lack of any alternative candidates perceived as being able to implement Brexit is the ONLY factor that is now sustaining Mrs May in office.
* Mrs May will lose a vote of confidence.
* This will happen no later than the middle of 2018 and probably within the next 2 or 3 months given the steady draining away of support for her.
* This event will trigger her departure from No 10.
* The resulting leadership contest will end with – you tell me – in No 10.
* The ensuing general election will be fought solely on the Brexit issue.
* A new political group will emerge Phoenix like from the ashes of Brexit to despatch Brexit into the dustbin of history where it belongs.
Stop Press items from your oracular blogger – January 7
May set to axe “pale and stale” Ministers
Mail on Sunday headline. January 7, 2018
A senior government source said ”Theresa understands that, when voters look at her government, they see a lot of stale, male and pale Ministers who are on the wrong side of 50. She will be promoting more women and those from non-white backgrounds and there will be more of an emphasis on youth.
From the same Mail on Sunday report
So – the pale stale male aged Ministers are being lined up as fall guys – and why not?
Mr Marr grills Mrs May on “The Andrew Marr Show” – January 7.
I gave this one a miss on the grounds that Mrs May might have taken a leaf out of Marr’s book and taken out an injunction banning the raising by him of awkward questions.
You never know these days.
A gem from the Mail on Sunday on which to finish.
“ Wilson’s spin doctor: One of us must be a liar. You’ll have to judge who.”
Headline above a piece by Joe Haines in the Mail on Sunday, January 7, 2018
The issue in question refers to disputed authorship of the notorious Lavender List which surfaced after the resignation of Harold Wilson in 1976.
Joe Haines, one time press secretary for Harold Wilson, points the finger at Marcia Williams. Those of us with long memories will recall that Joe Haines wrote a hagiography of the portly pilferer, Robert Maxwell after leaving Number 10.
Like Andrew Marr – Joe Haines has form.
As Mr Richard Littlejohn might put it – you couldn’t make it up.
Image courtesy of BBC