Vote of no confidence in the Government – PREDICTION

Mrs. May will almost certainly win, which is nothing short of perverse

Well I never would have predicted that. Today, I put the size of May’s defeat on the ‘meaningful vote’ at 141, a number which I changed three times but felt was a good shot. I started getting nervous when I realised I’d forgotten to consider possible abstentions. I needn’t have worried – the total ended up at 230. This is a monstrous number and one that is entirely unprecedented.

This prompted the Prime Minister to stand at the dispatch box and all but ask for a vote of no confidence. Jeremy Corbyn duly obliged. The debate will take place tomorrow and the vote carried out in the evening..

So how is this one going to go?

There are very few people predicting defeat for the Prime Minister (certainly nobody close to the process). The ERG (the thorn in her Brexit side, led by the Honourable Member for the 18th Century) have pledged that they will back her, her confidence and supply partners, the DUP, have also pledged their support and that pretty much gives her the numbers to see this off. Somewhat counterintuitively, this one will appear to be much closer than any of the other votes, but will in fact be much more certain.

She’s going to win. Which is ridiculous, but makes sense when you look at it from a Tory Party identity point of view. It is, of course, enraging that we all have to suffer the consequences of a Tory identity crisis, but that’s the way it is. I want to write soon about why I think political parties should have a shelf life, and this will form a central part of thinking.

What is utterly obscene about this is that the Tories will never, above anything else, jeopardise their position in government if they can help it. Only if they can be absolutely assured that they are safe will they ever make any ‘risky’ moves. This obviously doesn’t always work out…as Mrs May found to her cost when she was about a thousand points ahead and fancied a 6 week tour of the country. The difference there was that she didn’t see it as a risk.

This becomes a huge problem when pretty much all other norms of party management and loyalty have completely broken down. Apart from infighting about the European Union, which is standard Tory practice, cabinet collective responsibility is hugely damaged, factions have emerged and are all willing to vote down legislation, broadsides against the executive are now daily and they just crushed the PM in the biggest vote of her tenure.

The PM, on this evidence alone, clearly doesn’t command the confidence of the house – but they will never ever say so when the alternative is that the opposition could form a government, or a general election could be called. This is deadlock, and it will only get worse.

As I said earlier, I can’t see Mrs May ever standing down of her own accord. All those that know her say she driven above all by a sense of duty – but this means different things to different people. It could be argued that being completely incapable of getting your major business through would indicate that it is your duty to step down and let someone else get their own mandate. But she doesn’t, and won’t, see it that way. And her party will back her. C’est la vie.

So this won’t be a very interesting prediction I’m afraid,. What will be more interesting is the pressure this now puts on Jeremy Corbyn. Frankly, it’s about time he faced some political pressure over Brexit and hopefully (though nowhere near certainly) this might come from his supporters, who overwhelmingly support a second referendum.

I personally think that would be the most politically catastrophic thing to happen since the last one (I think referendums are constitutionally ridiculous anyway and hugely resent the first one), but he will now start facing heated calls to back such a vote. If he doesn’t, or he dithers over it, will May be able to catch a break? Perhaps, but this will surely be short lived.

The problem now is that, if I’m right, all options will have been exhausted for removing Mrs. May and there will be no mechanism to stop her until the crunch in March (unless John Bercow just invents one, which, in his current mood, I wouldn’t put past him). So we remain in deadlock with a government that can’t get its business through, an opposition that hasn’t got a policy and a deadline fast approaching. It will be extended, obviously, there’s no way we will be leaving on that date. But eventually something will have to give.

And I have no idea what that will be.

So, to the prediction. As always, I point out my appalling record of political predictions before encouraging you to pay the slightest attention. Generally you can take whatever I say and believe the opposite.

Can you see any way she could lose it?

Prediction

On the motion That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government

I predict:

The Ayes to the right – 312

The Noes to the left – 324

VICTORY BY 12 VOTES

Will she continue as Prime Minister VOLUNTARILY?

Yes

The ‘Meaningful Vote’ 2019 – PREDICTION

It is certain she will lose…but by how much?

Here we go then.

Finally it has come around. That so called ‘meaningful vote’ will now happen this evening and it set to be a big one. Having already been delayed once and the Prime Minister out of road to kick this particular can, MPs are set to traipse through the lobbies and cast their votes on the deal (which isn’t a deal). I’ve enjoyed predicting the last few big political events and so I thought I’d do another special for this one. Yet again, my lunchtime has a purpose.

So how is this one going to go?

All the predictions are of a big defeat, so this really becomes an exercise in calling the scale of defeat. I know we’re all supposed to have the learned the lesson that nothing is predictable in politics anymore and, while that is true to some extent, Parliamentary votes are much easier to call than public ones. There are nowhere near the number of votes for a win – this is pure damage limitation.

So she’s going to lose – even she knows that. Usually, any defeat of any kind on the government’s main business would spell the end – but these are not usual times. It’s rather perverse, but briefings are whispering that as long as the defeat stays within the bounds of two figures, she will carry on regardless. Three figures…and they’ll consider it. This is insane – but what isn’t?

We live in a world of competing mandates (which I’ll come to in a later posting). Corbyn is elected by the members, but is crushed in a no confidence vote by his MPs. He’s still there. Now his members are against him on the major policy…but still worship him. The country voted Leave in a plebiscite, but the elected Parliament (88% of which stood on Leave manifestos) says Remain. May doesn’t have the confidence of any of her MPs, but they backed her in a confidence vote. She could lose and carry on. Madness all around us.

If I’m completely honest, I can’t see Mrs May standing down…ever. She could be the only one in the lobby and stand there thinking to herself, “If I could just get Juncker to send them all a basket of muffins…”. So this is probably all a bit pointless.

Enough waffling – to the predictions.

As always, I point out my appalling record of political predictions before encouraging you to pay the slightest attention. Generally you can take whatever I say and believe the opposite. Although I did call the last one very closely…

What do you reckon? Single digits? Double? Triple?

Prediction

I predict:

The Ayes to the right (for the plan) – 248

The Noes to the left (against the plan) – 389 

DEFEAT BY 141 VOTES

Will she continue as Prime Minister VOLUNTARILY?

Yes

Will she face a vote of No Confidence from the Commons tabled by Jeremy Corbyn within two days?

Yes

Will she survive that confidence vote?

You’ll have to come back for the next instalment…

 

The defence of Jeremy Corbyn – a study in rank hypocrisy

Tribal loyalty does nobody any favours. This proves it

Goodness me this is a tedious one. As ever, the context: during today’s session of PMQ’s, following a particularly bellowing broadside from the Prime Minister in the direction of the Leader of HM Opposition, the Right Honourable Jeremy Corbyn was caught on camera mouthing what appeared to be an unflattering term. While the words are disputed (sigh…I’ll come back to that), he called her a ‘stupid woman‘.

And before anyone starts, of course this is a ridiculous thing for us to be talking about and focusing on, but it has thrown up so many wider talking points. And those are what I want to discuss.

Because of course, it isn’t about the words. It’s about the person, the target and the fanatical, almost religious, tribalism that now dominates our public discourse. I wrote early on in my blogging life that you can tell someone’s opinion on one subject with a horrifyingly high degree of accuracy, based purely on their opinion on another, entirely separate matter. And here we are again.

To paraphrase the American comedian Bill Burr, all that matters is whether you wear a blue tie or a red tie. That’s it. That’s all you need in order to know what you think about this. Corbynite? Well it’s not a problem. Hate the guy? He must be punished, end of story.

What is particularly depressing has been the responses from the followers of the new Messiah. These range from the absurd (he didn’t say ‘woman’, he said ‘people’), to the deflective (look at what else is going on in the country!), from the downright evasive (Why are we even talking about this?) to the ridiculous (the guy is in trouble for saying something accurate!). What a horrible shame.

Firstly, the absurd. He said ‘people’, guys! No…no he really didn’t. If this is where you are then there really is no hope for conversation. I’d recommend you navigate away from here. I’ll even give you a link to something you’ll like. Go on.

‘We’ve got experts that said categorically…‘ Yeh and so have the other side. Stop being so dense.

Secondly, the deflective. Which would be a perfectly fair argument if it wasn’t for the fact that you wouldn’t be deflecting had a Tory done this. It is simply inconsistent to give JC a free pass on something that another would not. You’d be screaming ‘STRAIGHT WHITE OLD MALE CALLS POOR WEAK WILLED OPPOSITION MEMBER A STUPID WOMAN!!’ Of course there are worse things going on and this obviously doesn’t matter, but it would in reverse. Have some pride – be consistent.

The evasive. Yes ok it happened, but why are we talking about it? You know perfectly well why we’re talking about it. Had he just owned up and either apologised or defended his words, then we wouldn’t need to carry on talking about it. But he hasn’t, he’s lied and covered himself up in the face of blatant evidence – that’s worth talking about.

And finally, the ridiculous. The squalid, creepy defence of the Dear Leader. The backing from those who are quickest to jump on poor taste language, ‘microaggressions’, tiny hints of racism and sexism, the trawlers of social media histories, the petition signers.

‘But…but she is a stupid woman! He was only being accurate!’

Indeed. The problem with this becomes clear with a moment’s thought. To be entirely fair, I did see one or two of my friends come against this line furiously, maintaining their dignity. But come on…this is a slimy and quite shocking thing to do.

Again, had a Tory done this, you would be queueing up to explain why ‘stupid woman’ is different to ‘stupid man’, why their ‘privilege’ disallowed them from making any such statement, that any apology would not be accepted, such was the high cost of the offence.

Let’s take the argument and apply it. It was an accurate statement apparently. Ok, putting aside that it’s an opinion and not a fact, let’s say he was technically accurate to call her a ‘stupid woman’. She’s a woman, and she’s stupid, right? Stupid woman.

Well Diane Abbott is black. She’s demonstrably overweight and seems to have a flimsy grasp of numbers. So it would be totally fine for a Tory to be caught on camera following a statement from Ms. Abbott muttering ‘stupid fat black woman’. Wouldn’t it? Those are all technically accurate words, no?

Perhaps Emily Thornberry could be referred to as a ‘fat, snobby woman’ without fear of recourse? Or maybe Ed Miliband could be called a ‘conniving, backstabbing Jew’? Still accurate, individual words?

These are obviously pejoratives in their context, and nasty ones at that. It is easy to see that, as long as you are willing to. And I don’t claim that these are on the same level as ‘stupid woman’ because they aren’t, but why does that make ‘stupid woman’ ok?

I simply do not understand party tribalism. This is what you get from it and it’s pathetic. I remember wondering what to call this blog when I started it and had a few ideas – I’m so glad I went with Off the Party Line. That’s where we need to be – thinking, allowing for doubt, criticising your own side and praising the other whenever required. How can you have a moral purpose if you stick to party lines? I’ve praised and defended Corbyn in the past, several times, despite the fact I don’t like him or his ideas. And everyone makes mistakes, nobody can be perfect. But defending him even when he does something wrong?

This sort of episode makes Corbynism look more and more like a cult where the leader cannot be criticised, and it’s creepy. Watching perfectly sane and rational people claim he said ‘people’ is frightening, and the double standards are case studies in rank hypocrisy.

May leadership challenge 2018 – PREDICTION

Rebels have finally reached the numbers for a challange – but can they win the vote?

Here we go then.

Confidence in Theresa May as leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party (and therefore, Prime Minister) has been challenged by at least 48 of her colleagues. The magic number, talked about for months, has finally been breached and Sir Graham Brady contacted the Prime Minister last night to inform her. They agreed the vote should be held as soon as possible, and that will be tonight. Finally I have something to write about on my lunch hour.

So how will she fare?

Well, I have a sneaky feeling that this won’t be as straightforward as anybody thinks. Whilst actual confidence in the Prime Minister within her party, Parliament and the country at large is probably close to zero, actually winning a confidence vote will be, I think, quite easy. The political variables involved in such a process do not lend themselves to accurately reflecting reality.

It has taken a good while to get 15% of Tory MPs to trigger this ballot – they now need 50% to actually vote no confidence. Whilst they will almost certainly get a lot more than 15%, the jump to 50% is enormous.

The vacuum that would be left may make several factions keen to leave in her in place, worried as they would be by who or what would replace her. I’ve said for a long time, the biggest strength Theresa May has is her supreme weakness. That is to say, in normal times, she would be considered the worst option – now, however, there is nobody obviously ready to step in, no winning ideology ready to command a majority. If she were stronger, there would be a bigger clamour to depose her and provide the kind of organising necessary to do so. This attempted ousting is slapdash and desperate.

Whether she could win this but still survive a Commons confidence vote is highly questionable. Her majority is so tiny and even if just the letter writers were to vote against her, that would destroy her premiership instantly. But would anyone dare vote against her in that scenario? It’s one thing voting against when you know your party will still be in power, but knowing you would be triggering a general election? Very different story.

As always, I point out my appalling record of political predictions before encouraging you to pay the slightest attention. Generally you can take whatever I say and believe the opposite.

But today, I think I might have the result right. Of course I do. So in the spirit of aiming to be at least a bit wrong, I’ve also predicted the numbers.

What do you reckon? Will she stay or will she go?

Prediction

There are 315 Conservative MPs currently in the House of Commons, meaning she needs 158 to back her as leader.

I predict:

Confidence – 207 (65.7%)

No Confidence – 108 (34.3%)

Will she continue as Prime Minister even if she loses by 1 vote?

Yes

Will she face a vote of No Confidence from the Commons before the Brexit vote?

No

 

Chaos is taking over – we cannot carry on like this

All semblance of discipline and party solidarity has broken down – that isn’t good for anybody

The House of Commons is a marvellous chamber. Its chapel shape, based on St. Stephen’s chapel in the original Palace of Westminster, gives the place a grand and imposing air. The benches that face one another in perfect opposition, based on the choir stalls that once brought beautiful harmony, now facilitate the (alleged) adversarial nature of the politics of the country. The distance between the two front benches is said to be the length of two swords…take from that what you will.

And yet, watching proceedings this week at home, astonished at the malaise into which we are sinking deeper and deeper as vote after vote passed by low single digits, the chamber seemed unable to accommodate the true combat.

It should be simple – I sit on this side, I aim at that side. Stand up, face the way you were facing anyway, and fire. No longer.

Shots were being fired around the House – not across, but along. Civil war on all sides, right in the middle of an all out war. Remain Tories spat at Leave Tories. Leave Tories sniped at Remain Tories. Backbenchers lobbed missiles at the front benches. The SNP railed at Labour, Labour members rebelled to side with the government, Lib Dems were nowhere to be found, Tories rebelled against rebellions, members turning and seeking out their targets – it was utter and total chaos. The dividing lines of the country are no longer represented properly.

This can’t go on. The Prime Minister is kept in place, strangely, by her own weakness. The great irony is that the best thing that could happen to her now is a motion called of no confidence in her leadership. That is no way for a Parliament to function.

As Stephen Daisley says in The Spectator, “[Anna Soubry], standing mere metres from the Treasury benches, enquired: ‘Who is in charge? Who is running Britain? Is it the Prime Minister or is it the Honourable Member for North East Somerset [Jacob Rees-Mogg]? I know where my money’s sitting at the moment.’

“Before the crazy set in, an MP taunting the Prime Minister as a feckless weakling would bring the full nuclear hellfire of Number 10 raining down upon their head. That Anna Soubry won’t proves her thesis. The PM is too feeble to insist that her MPs at least pretend to respect her in public. Theresa May is not in power without authority — she’s without power too.”

She is not leading, and neither is Jeremy Corbyn. She leads her cabinet, not her party. Jacob Rees-Mogg leads an internal faction opposed to the executive. Anna Soubry leads another. Corbyn leads his members, but not his PLP. Polls are shifting dramatically and getting to summer recess no longer feels like the dash to safety it once did. The Prime Minister has gone from surviving day to day to surviving hour to hour.

Something will have to give. But it is a fool’s game to predict what that will be.

Tony Blair’s Brexit intervention is sensible – an analysis

This is the way to engage in the debate – thoughtfully and respectfully

The former Prime Minister, Tony Blair (much criticised on these pages) has made yet another intervention in the national debate. Only this time, he seems to be making reasonable points. His statement is lengthy, but lean, and makes significant attempts at conciliation. This seemed to merit more analysis, so I have done a full reply to the points he raised. As I sit watching the debate on the Taxation (Cross-border trade) Bill on BBC Parliament, despairing at the state of that place, I fear where we are headed. So this has been a relaxing and therapeutic piece to write.

This is probably about a 15 minute read. You may read Blair’s original piece here.

Blair’s text is in italics, mine in bold.

 

I fully accept the Prime Minister is putting forward the Government White Paper as a well-intentioned attempt to do Brexit whilst minimising the economic disruption to Britain. But this solution – half in/half out – won’t work, won’t end the argument and will simply mean a confused outcome in which we continue to abide by Europe’s rules whilst losing our say over them.

Parliament should reject this solution decisively.

So far, so agreed.

There is an essential Dilemma at the heart of the Brexit debate, which has been laid bare by what we have learnt over the course of the last two years since the referendum of June 2016.

The Brexiteers have a long term vision for Britain which may be heavily contested but is nonetheless a genuine new direction for the country. It involves Britain leaving Europe altogether, striking a new economic and political path and is a vision which only makes sense if we market ourselves as ‘not Europe’.

My tick has not gone away since the referendum – it’s the ‘European Union’, not ‘Europe’. See this old post for my full analysis of why this is important for the tone of the debate.

Otherwise, Blair is, unusually for a Remainer, being gracious and generous. I’ll expand on this later, but the rest of the Remain tribe should take note of this.

At the core of the Brexit campaign, however, is the exploitation of a myth which is that we are not in charge of our country unless we leave the EU.

The truth is we already have control over the major parts of British political life. Think of the top issues facing the country – the NHS, Education, Housing, Poverty, Crime. We can pass whatever laws we want. We can put our taxes up or down, cut spending or increase it, make peace or war, elect a leftist Labour Government under Corbyn or a right wing Tory Government under Rees-Mogg. Even in respect of immigration, we can do what we wish in respect of non-European immigration; and in respect of European immigration it has already been shown that we need most of those who come here to work and to study.

This is a little disingenuous. Whilst there is a good point here, it isn’t a complete one. Sure, the NHS is in our remit, but if the EU were to pass divergent health regulations or introduce the potential for more market interference in it, it could do so above our heads. Similarly on crime, the European Arrest Warrant is an EU tool implemented and enforced in the UK. And sure, we can elect any shade of government we like, but they are not in full control, defer as they must in certain areas to the EU.

And the immigration point, Blair highlights the key issue – non-EU immigration. Having seen several non-EU born friends attempt to navigate the UK visa system, it seems grossly unfair to discriminate so heavily against them in favour of EU citizens. Whenever a government feels under pressure on immigration, they’re the first to suffer, as the executive knows it cannot touch EU immigration and so becomes more stringent on non-EU applicants.

Therefore, the Brexiteers are driven to focus on the Single Market and Customs Union because that is the one area, for perfectly sensible economic reasons, where we have chosen to pool our sovereignty and so you can plausibly say we are tied to Europe’s laws.

The Single Market and Customs Union have thus been demonised as illustrating Britain’s loss of national sovereignty and they successfully pushed the May Government into announcing they would leave both before the ramifications of this decision were properly thought through.

They may deny this, but there is absolutely no point in Britain leaving Europe unless it is to be more competitive outside the European Single Market. It is the only Brexit which could conceivably work. But, to be attractive in those circumstances, business needs to believe it is offered advantages so overwhelming as to compensate for no longer having the right to enter European markets without friction.

This is a central point, and one which is not made enough. It is indeed true that a different model would be required.

Michael Gove may pretend that we should leave Europe to have tougher Environmental Protection but who seriously believes the problem with Europe is that it’s too weak on regulation of the environment.

This is less persuasive to anyone who understands these issues. Whilst the EU is often held up as a bastion of high standards (which I don’t argue against), this is often at the expense of the perception Britain’s own standards, standards which often match and exceed those of the EU’s. Britain has oft been painted in this debate as being somehow backwards on these issues, but on the environment, animal welfare, health and safety, British standards are world renowned and internationally recognised. It seems a shame to do down our country on these grounds.

Boris Johnson’s one specific grievance in his resignation letter – which in any event turned out to be mistaken – was the effect of European truck regulation on female cyclists, a frankly fatuous basis for altering the entire geo-political and economic future of the nation.

I must have missed this. But it does indeed sound fatuous. Go figure.

All of this is patently a ruse to conceal their real beef with Europe: its political culture which stresses the social as well as the economic and where regulation interferes with the freedom of the market.

Their ‘Clean Break’ Brexit means not only a new relationship between Britain and Europe but a new relationship between Britain and itself.

It is not anti globalisation or anti immigration. On the contrary, it sees Britain as a global player, but free to make its own decisions without the constraints of the Single Market and Customs Union.

Unlike others, I don’t regard this vision as dystopian, cruel or necessarily unworkable. If Britain were prepared to follow the logic of it through to its ultimate realisation, it is at least a version of our future worth debating, though one I would profoundly disagree with as, I suspect, would the majority of British people.

Bravo, Mr. Blair. Finally, somebody willing to have an actual conversation with the opposing side. He disagrees, but understands it. Take note, Remainers – this is how to talk to Leavers. This is one of two, maybe three pieces by Remainers over the last few years (and I’ve read countless) that has encouraged me to engage and given me cause to doubt. Not being called a racist within the first 5 paragraphs of a Remain piece is remarkably refreshing.

The problem is this vision was sold, in the context of Brexit, as short term painless and with substantial immediate gains like extra money for the NHS, and the most appealing element for many of the Brexit voters especially in the north of England was that Brexit would slash immigration and put a brake on globalisation.

Agreed, it was a silly basis on which to run the campaign. This was one of the reasons I paid almost no attention to the official campaigns. Frankly, anyone who believed that £350mil to the NHS pledge gets what they get. The focus on immigration was handled badly and distastefully (admitted to by Mr. Gove just today) and there just isn’t any stopping globalisation (depending on your definition). 

What has now become apparent is that, for sure, short term and this may mean a period of several years, this was a false prospectus. In the near future a ‘Clean Break Brexit’ involves economic disruption, the immediate result is a £40bn bill not a £350m a week NHS boost, we need most of the European migrants, and a Hard Border in Ireland poses risks both to the UK and the peace process.

As this reality has dawned, so the Government has tried to navigate its way through the Dilemma.

I’m not sure it’s that the reality has dawned, these issues were discussed at length before the result and were obviously accepted as a risk worth taking by the 52%. More, I think it’s that people who weren’t in that camp now run the show and weren’t as prepared for them as much as those who believed in the whole enterprise would have been.

The Dilemma is simply expressed: either we stay close to Europe after Brexit to minimise the economic cost, in which case we will be obliged to continue to abide by Europe’s rules; or we do a Clean Break Brexit in which case we will suffer substantial economic pain.

The first is a Brexit which leads to the question: what’s the point, since we will abide by rules over which we have lost our say, a somewhat weird way of ‘taking back control’.

The second is a Brexit which leads to the question: what’s the price?

This is the dilemma, well summarised.

For two years the Government has tried to pretend that we could have our cake and eat it: that Europe would somehow change the rules of the Single Market, which we helped shape, and allow us frictionless trade with freedom to diverge where we want to.

This is and always was a non-starter.

Very true. One of the reasons triggering Article 50, not preparing for a no deal situation and letting a Remainer run the show were all fatal decisions.

The Chequers Cabinet summit and the White Paper were the first serious attempt to choose and resolve the Dilemma.

Both documents are drafted with exquisite disingenuousness. But stripped of their verbal camouflage, they come down effectively on the side of staying close to Europe whilst trying to pretend the opposite.

We are to have a common rule book with Europe for goods and agri-food, including the rules already agreed in the Single Market. This means we abide by Europe’s rules.

Parliament can choose to refuse further rules but this will have ‘consequences’. This is supposed to stress our Parliamentary sovereignty. But the reality is the consequence of refusal would be exit from the common rule book area so it’s never going to happen. And of course, Parliament is sovereign. It always is. We choose to be in the Single Market now. We can choose to exit it now.

But in practice, under this proposal, we are staying in the Single Market for goods, whilst losing our voice in it.

Couldn’t have put it better myself. I guess that’s why I’m a blogger to a couple of dozen people and he used to run the country…

Likewise, with the so-called ‘Customs Partnership’. This is effectively the Customs Union just renamed, with the possibility at some later time of getting agreement to some as yet undiscovered technological facilitation of trade which would allow us to have different tariffs on goods. This is pie in the sky.

In any event until the time the pie miraculously appears on earth, it will be impossible to do trade deals elsewhere, as President Trump has just confirmed. In the meantime, of course, Europe can carry on doing such deals, but we will have no say over them, though we will be bound by them.

Again, true. How does Theresa May not see this when everyone else does? Does she think she’s pulling the wool over our eyes?

As for freedom of movement, this is to be replaced by a new ‘Labour Mobility Framework.’ This will give a special preference for European workers. It is the Government’s recognition that without such workers being able to come easily to Britain, key sectors of the economy will suffer.

The practical reality is that the difference between current freedom of movement and this new framework will be miniscule because for economic reasons it must be. Also, there is no way Europe would ever agree to this partial acceptance of the Single Market, unless freedom of movement was, in essence, retained.

Another way in which Mrs. May attempts to convince us she is ‘delivering’ when she is in fact doing nothing of the kind. I’m put in mind of a sailor who unhooks the moorings of his ship, only to hold on desperately to the dock with his hands.

Meanwhile, we will try to negotiate our way back into a slew of European Agencies where we are now as of right.

Going through each section of the White Paper, at every turn the absurdity becomes more manifest. Every page details why it is so important we stay in cooperation with Europe whilst trying to invent new forms of partnership which can be presented as consistent with leaving Europe.

Indeed, the Paper proposes even closer cooperation with Europe in defence and data protection, as if Brexit were necessary for such enhanced partnership.

The one area excluded is that of workers’ rights, with no commitment to retaining the benefits of the European Social Charter.

Finally, we come to what, with delicious irony, is titled ‘Fishing Opportunities’, under which we agree to negotiate a new fishing framework with the EU, which looks a lot like the old one.

The intent behind this, at least on the part of the Prime Minister, may come from a good place, but the result is an ‘Inbetweener’ half in/half out mess.

As with everything else. This is because she fundamentally doesn’t believe in it.

A genuine ‘soft’ Brexit would obviously be less damaging than a Hard Brexit, though it would highlight the ‘what’s the point’ nature of this choice. But this Brexit is just mush.

It is not making the best of a bad job. It is the worst of both worlds. This is where True Remainers and True Leavers make common cause.

We do indeed make common cause. Everybody sees it. It is plain and out there for all to gaze upon. It will never work.

I understand completely its attraction for some in business and for many people who just want the agony of Brexit to end. ‘Ok’ so the argument runs, ‘it may be a messy compromise but it’s the only way we can limit the damage, so let’s get on with it.’

How depressing.

But I am afraid this argument is fatally flawed.

  1. The practical upshot of this proposal is to tie us to Europe over large parts of economic life, without a say in its rules. This is intrinsically a dismal outcome which reduces British influence for no or negligible gain.
  2. It is not an ‘honouring’ of the Brexit vote. It will disillusion large numbers of Leavers, whilst being dismissed by Remainers, except those in the Conservative Party who see this as a way through their internal schism. A point often forgotten – never mind an economic crisis, a democratic crisis will be much worse and much harder to contain.
  3. The Europeans will not accept it unless clarified in a way which will expose the Dilemma once again. The likelihood is that they will consider cherry-picking between different parts of the Single Market wrong in principle and hard to do in practice, given the overlap between services and goods. But suppose they do accept distinguishing between the Single Market for goods and services. This will only be on the basis that Britain clearly applies those rules for goods trade, adjudicated by the ECJ, and probably with what are called flanking arrangements for those parts of the services sector intimately bound up with the manufacturing supply chain. This will never be palatable to the Brexiteers who sit in the Cabinet. So the argument will continue.
  4. Even if the Brexiteers or some of them swallow such an agreement with Europe, they will only do so, in order to drag the country the other side of March 2019, and then they will re-ignite the debate when it is then too late to stop Brexit and when our bargaining position will be very weak. Nobody wants to reopen this wound once it is closed. Even Jacob Rees-Mogg has said as much.
  5. By excluding services, the Government is prepared to do significant and possibly irreparable damage to the UK service sector which is the bulk of our economy, and where unlike the goods sector, we presently have a large surplus in European trade. Particularly for the financial service and tech sectors, where Britain is dominant in Europe, we now know from those active in those sectors that exclusion from the Single Market is going to result in job losses and economic cost which will impact output and revenue considerably.

In other words, this is a bad deal. More important, it will not be accepted as fulfilling the mandate of June 2016 and we know that because many of the leading Brexit proponents are saying it.

I’m certainly saying that. And there’s no getting around this fact. May might try to sell this on the technical point, but nobody wins anything in politics on a technical point. 

And there will be no majority in Parliament for it, or for ‘Clean Break Brexit’ or possibly for any version of Brexit or indeed for staying.

We are stuck.

And herein lies the lesson – referendums are constitutionally idiotic. If this teaches us nothing else, it ought to teach us that referendums do not work in a Parliamentary system without a fundamental restructuring. Yes, we’re stuck. That feels to me like a good way to learn a hard lesson. 

In any rational world, and I understand that is a big caveat in today’s politics, this would go back to the people for resolution.

I have to disagree – that may be the pragmatic way of resolving this immediate problem, but for me it just gives further credence to the idea that referendums are a good idea. They aren’t – they don’t have enough political power in our current system. The same questions will be asked – is this one binding? Does it overrule the last one? But the government promised to implement the last one… 

It would not be a re-run of the 2016 referendum. Two major things have changed since then. Our quantum of knowledge about the issue and particularly about the consequences of leaving the Single Market and Customs Union is vastly enlarged. And there is fundamental disagreement about what Brexit means between supporters of Brexit.

The question may be complicated because it really involves three choices: Clean Break, ‘soft’ or stay. But the complexity is not insuperable.

If it’s three way, does 34% win it? So 66% of people could vote against the option we end up taking…but we had a bigger mandate last time round…and on and on it will go.

For the Conservative Party it avoids owning a botched Brexit.

Well they made it, they can own it.

For the Labour Party it escapes constructive ambiguity becoming destructive indecision.

That’s no way for a major party to behave.

For Parliament it may be the only way through.

Maybe it is. But it seems like a major cop out to resort to this when they created the problem for themselves. I elect representatives to sort this sort of stuff out for me – stop asking me to do your job, you get paid enough (well…maybe…) to do it on my behalf.

End of analysis.

I fear any talk of another referendum. I have no desire to have another damaging fallout with friends. It would also have that chilling effect of ‘the EU makes you vote until you give the right answer’ which is rightly pointed out over and over again. And would this one be definitive? Or do we go again? What if a new government gets elected and decides against it? It’s too messy and anti-democratic.

We have a Parliament for a reason – if you want constant referendums, dissolve the blasted thing. I’m sick of politicians constantly reverting to this blunt tool to avoid making decisions they don’t want to make. The offering of referendums is the modern day independent inquiry – a tool to kick a subject into the long grass.

Consecutive PMs have now, to their eternal shame, failed to prepare this country for a no deal, leaving negotiators powerless and rudderless. Cameron refused to allow it and May leads a shambles. The dereliction of duty in these two cases is appalling and shameful to the office they have held.

I voted Leave and would do the same today. I have not changed my mind. But what people forget when they parrot the old ‘biggest vote in history’ line is that the second biggest vote ever was the vote to Remain. If it were up to me, we’d just leave the whole thing and get on with it. But it isn’t, and there is currently no majority for any position. I’m up for a discussion with anyone who wants to persuade me.

Mr. Blair, for all his obvious faults, made a good start.

It’s time for John Bercow to go

The Speaker is becoming a caricature of himself – he needs to step down

John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, first took the chair in 2009. We had a Labour Government, Gordon Brown was the (doomed) Prime Minister and Michael Martin had resigned the position under the cloud of the expenses scandal.

Upon his election, Mr Bercow promised that he would serve 9 years in the position – a term that comes to an end in June of this year. However, he has recently recanted, declaring his intention to serve another 5. This has served to annoy many MPs, some of whom cannot stand him. He has been a consistently divisive figure among members, but at least there was always a deadline for his departure.

Baroness Boothroyd, a popular ex-Speaker, has given her reasons why she thinks he should step down, most of them to do with practicality and courtesy. I fear she may not understand Mr John Bercow very well.

My support for Mr Bercow is on record. I said last year, “He has no shame in making sure the government is held to account, with a record number of urgent questions granted, and he makes sure the minister responsible damn well turns up to the House to answer them. He takes a dim view of junior ministers showing up to defend a question, and will often keep granting questions until the minister shows.”

“…he is keen to ensure that the House is presentable to the public and, knowing that PMQs is pretty much the only time the public are watching with any regularity, tries to discourage bad behaviour.”

I still stand by this. I make no bones of the fact that I think he has, on the whole, been good for the Chair, the House and for the wider public. He is a champion of the backbenches and a firm defender of the Commons against the Executive. This is important in a Parliamentary democracy, the chamber should never just become a yes man to the whims of the government.

All of this may be so. But here comes the ‘however’.

The criticisms I made in that post also still stand and have become more tiresome and frustrating since. He has added other issues, issues that were completely avoidable, but that show him as a caricature of the worst elements of his personality. That he cannot seem to avoid showing everyone that the MPs who hate him have a point, seems to indicate that he has no control over himself. Why does he insist on playing up to this reputation he has of being partisan, over zealous with his interventions and hostile?

Like a referee in football, he should never be the story. And yet he can’t help himself. Too often, he makes the headlines, he talks the most during PMQs, he has to have the last word with some silly little ‘zinger’ to a minister. Why? This is a common and legitimate criticism of him, yet he will not back off. By all means call the House to order, but then sit back down. He far too often interrupts what could be a horrible pressured moment for a minister and takes all of the momentum out of it.

Take this from Lloyd Evans as an example. He describes the moment where Theresa May had attempted to deflect some of the Windrush heat onto Yvette Cooper, who then was invited to speak:

“This sparked a furious counter-attack from Ms Cooper. She got to her feet and awoke the drowsier members of the Commons with a bombshell. She hadn’t planned to mention immigration but Mrs May’s disingenuous use of her remarks had provoked her to respond. Her delivery was thunderous.

‘Do not try to hide,’ she stormed at the prime minister. ‘Do not try to hide behind me! Do not try to hide behind the Labour party!’

“She said it three times, knowing how well the simple parade-ground thump-thump-thump can work.

‘Do not try to hide behind … ’

“She was halted by the Speaker, a noted expert in rhetorical sabotage, who stood up and called for quiet, and then sat down again. Quite needlessly.

“Ms Cooper resumed her attack but its impetus had been destroyed by Mr Bercow. Once again, he did the hecklers’ work by silencing an orator on their behalf.”

This was a classic example of it. He cannot just let the battle happen, he has to intervene and make sure he’s on the news during this little snippet. His over zealous interventions would be one thing, but the time he takes to drone needlessly on make him look like he is craving the attention. All that needs to happen, if anything, is for order to be called, to wait until the House quietens to an acceptable level, and then to bring the member speaking back in. No more, no less. But he won’t do it.

He has also had some lamentable lapses in judgement regarding his impartiality. Another thing that he continues to do and of which he will not learn the lessons. Now, this applies whether he is saying something you agree with, or whether he isn’t. But it is resolutely not for him to be giving his opinions on anything, and especially not while he occupies the Chair. In giving his opinion, he opens himself up to completely legitimate attack, and deserves whatever he gets.

As I said last year, “If he wishes to give his opinion, he should be absolutely free to do so…the second he resigns his office. There can be no other way.”

“His office affords him immense privileges. He is a member of the Privy Council, he can give private counsel to the Prime Minister and he can also give private counsel to the Queen. The key word here is private.”

Nadhim Zahawi, a vocal opponent of the US President, Mr Trump, had this to say about Bercow’s unwise pronouncements on a potential visit: “For the Speaker to talk in the language of bans only opens him up to accusations of partiality and hypocrisy, particularly when he has extended invitations to President Xi of China and the emir of Kuwait – both of whom have values clearly at odds with those we espouse in the UK.”

Bercow’s position was backed by Owen Jones in the Guardian. What a surprise. If you are unwilling to defend the principle here, then don’t come crying to me if a future Speaker gives an opinion on something that you don’t like. Crying ‘impartiality’ then will be the height of hypocrisy, and I eagerly await the opportunity to shout it.

Because surely this is the point? He is supposed to be impartial. You can’t want to hear his opinion on something, even if you agree with it. For instance, he openly discussed the fact that he had voted for Remain in the referendum. Barely a batted eyelid. Now, imagine he’d declared proudly that he had voted Leave. Would Mr Jones be writing a similar article? I hardly think so.

The crowning jewel of all of this was the sticker spotted in his car. The sticker read ‘bollocks to Brexit’. This, frankly, was an absolute disgrace. A disgrace to him, a disgrace to the office of Speaker and a disgrace to the institution of Parliament. The most partisan issue of our time, the most divisive and poisonous campaigns we’ve seen, the issue that continues to cause pain and anguish, the issue that won’t be resolved for many years, and the Speaker has taken sides. And he didn’t even hide it. It was on his car (registration B13 RC0 – are you starting to get the measure of the man?), the car was in his parking space.

Tom Goodenough got it spot on: “This latest transgression is arguably more serious. It also comes at a time where Bercow is under pressure on a number of fronts. The Speaker is facing allegations that he bullied a female staff member (Bercow denies the allegations). Given this, a wiser speaker would recuse themselves from any debate on the topic of bullying. Not Bercow. When MPs gathered to discuss the subject in the chamber yesterday afternoon, Bercow sat in pride of place in his chair.

“The calls for Bercow to go are growing and this latest matter makes it hard to disagree with those who say the Speaker’s time is up. In 2009, Michael Martin resigned ‘in order that unity can be maintained’. Perhaps it is time to Bercow to listen to his immediate predecessor, if not the wise words of Lenthall. After all, if Bercow does feel so strongly about Brexit then he is entitled to his view. But so long as he remains Speaker it isn’t his place to say so.”

That was in March. It’s now May.

And now we have further allegations of bullying and harassment. He apparently has a bit of a temper. He, of course, denies this. I’ve left this as a footnote as I really resent the idea that allegations should be enough to ruin anyone. I shan’t comment on this unless and until proven. There are enough reasons for him to fall on his sword or have it inserted into his back without mere allegations adding to the fire. Whether they are true or not, he is plainly and demonstrably unfit for his office.

“I have neither eyes to see, nor tongue to speak, in this place, but as the house is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here” said speaker William Lenthall. This noble tradition is being trampled upon by the current occupant of the Chair.

Mr Speaker, it’s long past time for you to go.