The Hartlepool byelection spells disaster for Keir Starmer – and Labour

If Corbyn can’t win Hartlepool, and neither can Starmer, who can?

It looks like Labour is about to lose the seat of Hartlepool to the Conservatives for the first time since 1964.

A dramatic Survation poll shows that Jill Mortimer, the Tory candidate, has 49% support among the Red Wall constituency voters, easily beating the 42% share of Labour’s Paul Williams.

It’s one poll and it’s one view, and the obvious classic caveat is the one that the Tories are keen to stress – there’s only one poll that matters and that’s election day. But still, this has been billed as a key byelection to gauge the public mood, and all the signs are there that Labour is as far from power as ever.

So what on earth does all this mean? We can quibble over the extent, but nobody will be arguing that Sir Keir Starmer is anything but a clear departure from Jeremy Corbyn. Yet he is set to lose a seat that even Jezza didn’t manage to throw away in the great ‘Conservative Charity Seats Donation Fund’ event that was the 2019 General Election.

If we’re being completely fair, it’s probable that, absent the Brexit Party, the Tories could have taken that seat as it seems that entire block vote has now gone blue. But even if that were the case, even if it had gone blue and was now being contested in a byelection, surely Labour would need to be winning this back to show a direction, a path to Downing Street?

There could very likely be an election in summer 2023 – that is not a long time away. And if Hartlepool is any sort of marker, we could be in for an even larger Tory majority.

And where does that leave Labour? Five general election defeats in 13 years doesn’t bode well, particularly if the margin is only getting wider. And across the Labour spectrum as well – Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband, Jeremy Corbyn (twice) and Sir Keir Starmer would all have tried to swap sides of the House with the Tories, and all will have failed. Who do you turn to next? Who’s the next in line to the throne? Which faction takes the wheel next time, and based on what?

Honestly, predicting the complete downfall of a major party in the UK is a fool’s game…but is that where we’re headed? I couldn’t tell you the vision, the purpose, the blueprint for government that the Labour Party would bring, so how could I vote for them? You may say the same about the Tories, and I’d agree, but they’re in power. They have the incumbency and stuff to talk about – what is the purpose of Labour at this point?

Fans of Corbyn are often of the opinion that the election defeat wasn’t wholly his fault, that he was definitely popular, that everyone loved him really, that it was the media’s fault and that he was treated unfairly. Putting aside the childishness of those arguments, they were summarily dismissed by the wider commentariat – Jeremy Corbyn has to own his failures as leader. And that was quite right.

So the same is now true of Starmer. If Labour lose Hartlepool, it’s his loss, nobody else’s. He has to own it. The million pound question for Labour then is; if not Corbyn, if not Starmer, then who?

If only Jeremy Corbyn had won

It doesn’t matter who is in government – it’s the opposition that is more needed than ever

Cast your mind back to December 2019 (or 1BC, Before Covid, as it should probably henchforth be known). The general election has been a fraught campaign between the incumbent Prime Minister Alexander ‘Boris’ Johnson who came to power on the back of the toppling of Theresa May, and Jeremy Corbyn who was battling accusations of antisemitism in his own party.

Somebody comes to you from the future – they can’t tell you who wins but they can tell you what is happening a year from now.

The Treasury – they tell you that the rail services have been effectively renationalised, the UK economy has shrunk by 11.3% (the largest for 300 years), the UK has borrowed £394billion, easily a peacetime record, including a government scheme costing £43billion to pay people not to work (indeed, making it illegal for those people to work) and they’ve given a million NHS workers a pay rise.

Unions – they tell you that the teaching unions have managed to persuade the government that all schools should be closed and children are to be taught remotely.

They tell you that everyone is confined by law to their own homes with minimal, strict exemptions and the opposition has not only failed to oppose this, but been incredulous that it took so long to do. They tell you a close government adviser praised the “innovative intervention” of China’s Communist Party in imprisoning their population, even saying “I think people’s sense of what is possible in terms of control changed quite dramatically between January and March; [China is] a communist one party state, we said. We couldn’t get away with it in Europe, we thought… and then Italy did it. And we realised we could.” And the government listened to this man and gave him a top table seat.

There’s a new national tradition – everyone has to come out of their homes and applaud public sector workers. The incumbent Prime Minister does it outside Number 10 – it is frowned upon to not do it.

Freedom passes‘ are coming – an official document that would be required to access the most basic services, Anthony Blair’s dream finally come to fruition, even more authoritarian than even he could have imagined. Papers, please.

Who, dear reader, do you think wins the election? The fop-haired [MASSIVE AIR QUOTES] “libertarian” [END MASSIVE AIR QUOTES] who campaigned to leave the EU or the turnip growing socialist who was frightening Jews? The man even gives you £100 to bet on it – where does the money go?

Ok sure, we’ve been sneaky here in neglecting to mention that a global pandemic struck. But ok, fine. Let’s tell them – a pandemic strikes and world leaders are panicking. Tell me with a straight face that you’d still lay a ton on De Pfeffel over Jezza.

And herein lies the problem. Johnson has paralysed the system because the way he chose to react (yes, it was a choice) to an undoubtedly scary situation was entirely against every “principle” he had ever claimed to espouse. Yet his followers, his party, those who have loved him for years, yearned for the day he would embrace his destiny and seize the keys to Number 10, can’t quite take it in. The Tory media can’t figure out how to approach the subject, MPs who love him but hate his approach to Covid have no idea how to hold him to account. They are confused, wrong-footed and nervous to try.

The man spent decades carefully building, honing and cultivating this mawkish, sickly adoration. He became a darling of the Conservatives and built up such a cultish following that, now the illusion has evaporated in plain view of anyone who cares to see it, his devotees are still staring dimly, wide eyed at the small, helpless Wizard of Oz, exposed as nothing more than a carnival showman with silly hair.

Still today, opinion pieces in the Telegraph and the Spectator pine for the ‘Old Boris‘, clamour for him to realise his mythical, non-existent ‘Churchillian spirit‘. It’s as pitiful as watching latter day Branch Davidians hold on to the myth of their founder.

Imagine – imagine – it was Corbyn in Number 10 and McDonnell in Number 11. Imagine the ferocity of the Tory benches. We’d actually have an opposition, which frankly is a damn sight more important at the moment than the resident of the seat of power.

It’s perfectly clear now that the government, of whichever stripe had been selected to lead the country, would have done exactly the same thing, give or take a few hundreds of billions of pounds (who can really take in these vast numbers any more?). What matters is how they are held to account and how they are opposed. Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour party has been supine, acquiescent at every turn, nay even demanding the government to go harder, faster, deeper. “What he said, but better” is the rallying cry of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition Leader.

The only opposition, once again, is a small sect of the Tory benches, just like on Brexit. This is simply not healthy. The government benches are supposed to back the government, the opposition benches are supposed to oppose. Like it or not, that’s the system and it’s breaking down. Every institution that is supposed to act as a brake on power has failed us – the opposition, Parliament itself, the media, the courts, every restraint on power currently lies slack while the proverbial bull trashes the – irony of ironies – China shop.

I have no love for Jeremy Corbyn. Any time Jewish people speak up and say they’re frightened is usually a good time to be very careful indeed. In that regard it was with a sense of huge relief that he got nowhere near power. But look what we have now. An authoritarian government and no opposition. Even if you believe everything the government has done has been right, even if they chose the right way to deal with this, no power should ever go this unchecked in a democracy. Ever. There is no excuse.

We will pay for this fealty for decades.

The PM becomes everything he once railed against

From rebellious child to Chief Nanny within 12 months – what happened?

Alexander ‘Boris’ Johnson recently celebrated a full year in office. It’s been a pretty eventful year, starting with the culmination of a long battle to remove the previous incumbent, through a fraught general election (which he of course won handsomely), the official departure of the UK from the EU and now a global crisis of historic proportions.

It’s a job he always wanted, apparently from early childhood, and so achieving the goal should have been momentous. And maybe it was for a short while, but it seems the enormity of what he had taken on hit him early, and hit him hard.

The arrival of Johnson into Number 10 and the subsequent defeat of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party heralded a new dawn in a politics that had been characterised by thin margins and difficult backbenches for the previous 10 years. He could govern freely. But what was it all really for? Why did he want it? For what point and purpose was he to obtain this office and level of power?

We all know who and what Jeremy Corbyn was. He never hid it and never really changed, even as the decades went by. It’s not difficult to imagine what a Corbyn premiership would have looked like, especially if he had a whippable majority the likes of which Johnson now enjoys. Whatever your view on the guy, he had principles and plans. We can imagine the country’s relationship with Israel would have changed significantly, rail companies would have started to move into public ownership, taxes would have risen, wealth taxes introduced, private schools abolished, the works.

But turning back to the chap who actually won – what does he stand for? What does he believe? And why does he want this job? When he got into Number 10, what was the driving vision, the force, the true goal of being there? What troubled him so greatly about the state of the nation that he was determined to lead it? What made him tick? Well, it’s difficult to pinpoint. But surely there are clues in his background and writing?

Most notoriously, he apparently penned two articles for the Telegraph before the referendum campaign kicked off – one in favour of Leave, one in favour of Remain. There are charitable readings of this, there are slightly less charitable ones. But the plain fact remains – he didn’t know.

In fairness, once he had chosen, he stuck to it, and continues to do so. But this is surely due more to political reality than any real conviction on the matter. He had readily and viciously attacked Britain’s membership of the EU in the past – but it suited him just fine back then, when it was all easy and hypothetical and grew his audience. Then it became easier to be its defender when he obtained office, so he did that. Does it bother him that much?

And then we come to the latest drive to ‘combat obesity’. I make no remark on the validity of this strategy, the requirement for it, nor even whether this is something that should or should not be happening. But again, less than a year into securing the top job, he shows all his previous utterances to be mere vapour.

One would have got the impression from his many columns and writings on the topic that Mr. Johnson was not just an advocate of the freedom of the individual, but positively rabid on the subject of so-called ‘nanny state’ intervention. Yet the second he takes a briefing from PHE on the matter, he’s a convert. What drives this? And how did that happen so fast?

As recently as July of 2019, he promised a review of so called ‘sin taxes’, vowing to end the “continuing creep of the nanny state”. He said the new taxes would “clobber those who can least afford it”.

Looking back to his column history, in 2004 he wrote a piece headlined “Face it: it’s all your own fat fault”. In it, he argued that “the more the state tries to take responsibility for the problem, the less soluble the problem will become”. Seems pretty straightforward. But years ago, right?

A couple of years later, he attacked Jamie Oliver for trying to introduce more nutritious food into schools. “If I was in charge I would get rid of Jamie Oliver and tell people to eat what they like”. Well now you are in charge, Mr Johnson. He allegedly also said of mothers who were pushing ‘unhealthy’ food through the railings of their children’s schools, “I say let people eat what they like. Why shouldn’t they push pies through the railings?”

He also used his Telegraph column to rail against the ‘cack-brained’ EU plan to introduce compulsory child booster seats up to the age of 12, claiming they were “poking their noses into the back seats of our cars”. Compulsory face coverings anyone? No state intervention there, no siree.

Perhaps an inkling as to how he might deal with a national health emergency came in 2012 when he penned a column headlined “To swim, perchance to drown, is an undeniable human right”. He was responding to a Port of London decision to ban swimming in the Thames without a permit. The driving message was that risk taking is part of life and that people should be allowed to do so without the nanny state wagging it’s bony finger at us. Ahem…

His flowery language, as has been typical of Johnson over the years, didn’t hold back: “this river-swimming ban is of a piece with the namby-pamby, risk-averse, mollycoddled airbagged approach that is doing so much economic damage to Britain”. Does this sound like the kind of man who, if ever trusted with power during a pandemic, would impose a lockdown, restrict freedoms, ‘mollycoddle’ and ‘airbag’ a ‘namby-pamby’ and ‘risk-averse’ population? Again, I make no comment on those policies such as they are, but why did Johnson, of all people, impose them when he has always set himself up as a defender of liberty against the strong arm of the state? If he really believed the state does more damage than individuals free to make their own choices, why did he not stand on that principle when it really came to a head?

This is not an argument for or against lockdowns or masks or anything like that. It’s a point about what different leaders would do when faced with these challenges. Lockdown wasn’t inevitable, nor compulsory face coverings. Other options were, and still are, available. You may believe these things to be vital, but ask yourself: why would a libertarian styled leader take these routes?

It goes without saying that having had Covid-19, and had it badly, that that would have an effect on him. A close brush with mortality would be enough to scare anyone. I have no wish to take away the impact that would have had.

But principles long held are typically difficult to shake. Those previously mentioned ‘nanny state’ columns were written when he was hugely overweight. He is still overweight – so what else changed? At the moment it feels like the walls crumble just a little too easily. As though the typically pro-immigration PM might suddenly become a Farage-style drawbridge puller, or become a puritanical religious believer, or start believing that Churchill was really a racist and should be erased from our collective memory.

Is this uncharitable? Perhaps. It’s just hard to watch this without imagining that it would simply not have happened with any number of other leaders. Imagine for a second that Corbyn had become the PM and secured a healthy majority. The way Johnson has behaved since taking office is like Jeremy Corbyn agreeing with Netanyahu that the West Bank settlements should be annexed, introducing a tax cut for the wealthy, repealing the sugar tax and sending a birthday card to Donald Trump. Maybe even writing a leader for the Telegraph, reintroducing grammar schools, expanding Trident and outlawing industrial action. All completely anathema – but of course, we always knew who he was and what he thought, so that would all have been crazy and straight of the blue.

Yet with Johnson, we just nod along. As though this is always what he thought and that it’s ok to, not just slightly bend your principles for the purposes of realpolitik, but turn fully 180degrees without a second’s thought and act as though this is normal. What is an anti-nanny-stater doing talking about sugar taxes? How can he think nobody has noticed?

Maybe because in reality, it actually doesn’t matter any more. Because political tribalism is so deeply embedded that nobody is voting for anyone any more, just against the other guy. It’s easy to scoff and point at those who had hope in the guy, who voted for him because they took him at his word. It’s difficult to feel sympathy, especially when it has been obvious to many just what kind of politician he is. I mean him no ill will, I’m sure he is perfectly pleasant company and, by all accounts, a rather personable chap.

But relying on his principles and sense of duty, his sense of driving purpose? Sorry, but he has never provided any evidence that he should be trusted to maintain a certain set of holding principles against all weathers and all comers. So why would we expect him to do so when push came to shove?

So there we have it: Al Johnson, from rebellious child to Chief Nanny. Who’d’a thunk it?

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

 

If Labour wins the next election, Theresa May should stay Prime Minister

Socialists – it’s your turn to be run by somebody who doesn’t believe in your project

Who knows when the next election will be? In theory it is pencilled in for 2022; in theory this is more or less guaranteed by the Fixed Term Parliament Act. But the evidence of last year shows us that the Act isn’t worth the vellum it’s written on. An election could be called at any time, and when it is, it will be a choice between Jeremy Corbyn’s vision of a Socialist Britain versus whichever person emerges from the ensuing scrum following the Maybot’s political scrappage.

At this point, my money is on a Labour win, though that could obviously change. Let’s, for the sake of argument, assume that Corbyn is victorious and commands a small majority in the House. To illustrate to those voters just how painful the last two years have been for some of us, I propose that Theresa May continues as Prime Minister.

Why on earth would we do that, Mark? That would be patently absurd. She doesn’t believe in anything that was proposed in our campaign, she doesn’t believe in Socialism, she argued against it! What could possibly be gained by having someone lead a government on a platform that she fundamentally doesn’t understand or want?

Well…quite.

One assumes that renationalising the railways will be a Labour policy (good – I support that). Theresa May could own that, why not? Of course, she thinks the market should be involved, but she is obeying the vote and getting on with it. Sure, she’ll cock it up, the current companies will hold her over a barrel and demand billions in compensation despite the fact they won’t even be running the railways any more, fares will go up, service will be poorer and the whole thing will be an exercise in damage limitation…but that’s just what you get when a non-believer takes on the project. Suck it up, guys.

Sure, she can set up a national investment bank, why not? Of course, she doesn’t believe in borrowing to spend on public services, so she won’t put enough into it and the whole thing will collapse, meaning price rises for everyone, failed projects, tons of wasted money and half built infrastructure. But hey, what do you expect when she thinks it was a bad idea in the first place? She’s just enacting the will of the people.

Why couldn’t she take on the task of getting rid of Trident? She can do that, after all she is driven primarily by a sense of duty. Of course, rather than dismantling it safely and gradually spending less and less on it until it’s completely decommissioned, she’ll probably negotiate with the unions and the suppliers until we’re basically spending the same amount of money on it, but the thing doesn’t work and sits idly in a dock somewhere being completely useless (even more so than it already is).

I’m sure many of you would be rather annoyed if this were to happen, and rightly so. I think Corbyn’s vision for Britain is idealistic, unworkable and rather silly in many ways (though certainly not all). But if he wins, he obviously should run the country and implement his ideas. That’s what democracy is about. Good ideas implemented by people who believe in them is the ideal situation. Bad ideas being implemented by people who believe in them is obviously worse. But to have a good or bad idea being implemented by people who fundamentally don’t believe in them is the worst. I’d much rather have a government with policies I loathe than a government who doesn’t believe in what I believe in, trying to implement what I believe in.

Gosh…socialism being enacted by a capitalist Conservative – what a ridiculous notion. Brexit being enacted by a team of Remainers…

Labour MPs are threatening to quit over the antisemitism row – here’s why they won’t

Moral stands come at huge personal cost – is anyone outraged enough to give up their career?

Another day, another Labour antisemitism story. As Katy Balls pointed out in the Coffee House Shots Podcast this week, the Labour antisemitism row is “all too common – I feel like we talk about this story every couple of weeks on this podcast.” It is not going away – if anything it’s getting worse. Something, at some point, will have to give, but the question is, what will that be?

One obvious thing would be Jeremy Corbyn not being leader any more, whether that be via resignation or a coup. Neither of those are going to happen any time soon, so that option is a non starter.

Another is the decisive action that the party could take – caving on the IHRA definition, fast tracking disciplinary cases against those accused of antisemitism, the removal from the party of demonstrable antisemites…yes ok, you can stop laughing now.

The option floating around more recently is a serious one – Labour MPs resigning the party whip. This has apparently been threatened by several members, although none has gone yet apart from John Woodcock. However, Mr Woodcock was always a severe critic of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, was subject to internal party disciplinary proceedings and so probably doesn’t really serve as the starting pistol for a slew of resignations.

According to the Telegraph, “As many as 20 MPs are “closer than they have ever been” to quitting the party as claims of racism “gnaw at their consciences”. Many are reaching “breaking point” because of Mr Corbyn’s failure to get to grips with claims of anti-Semitism at the very highest levels of the organisation, sources said.

“In recent days, MPs have publicly issued ultimatums to Mr Corbyn, including Stephen Kinnock, and a growing number are thought to be considering quitting the party formally to make a stand.”

Now, forgive my cynicism, but I am simply not buying this. I have no expectation whatsoever that we are about to see an exodus of Labour MPs daring to quit the party. Allow me to run through some reasons why this course of action is next to impossible.

For them to have any impact, there would have to be enough of them. A handful won’t suffice. A dozen even, wouldn’t have a big enough impact. They would need to walk out in droves, simultaneously, with something or somewhere to go. The personal cost to each of them would be enormous, and I simply don’t see that they would be willing to give everything up to make a moral stand on this issue.

Moral stands are expensive and personally costly – I suppose that’s why they’re called moral stands. If it doesn’t cost you anything, it isn’t a stand in any sense of the word. Let’s look at what they would be giving up personally – any career ambitions of government for a start, the backing of their local activists, the money that comes with being part of a party and the party whip (they may actually have to think for themselves). For those with a comfortable majority (and therefore a job for as long as they want it), they will almost certainly be giving up their seat at the next election – that’s their livelihood gone. A reminder – the basic salary for an MP is £77,379.

They would be replaced by the party (who wants to replace most of them anyway – this would hand it to them on a plate) with hard left candidates ready to challenge them at the next election for their seat, using all of the party money and machinery. That money and machinery would now be aimed against the incumbent. You would have to be a monumentally popular local MP to merely survive such a fight, given the tribal nature of so many voters.

As a group, assuming they can organise sufficiently well to all move as one, they will be splitting the vote on the Left – they will stand accused of ensuring a weak and dangerous Tory Party will continue to rule the country for at least another decade, but this time with a majority. They may form a new party, but it will be small and vulnerable in FPTP. Who among them has the moral courage to bring all of this upon themselves?

It would, of course, be the right thing to do, but they will never do it. The excuses for not doing so come ready made, and sound moral and courageous. “Why should I leave? This is my party as well, so I’m staying put” they may say. Maybe. But is it really their party any more? I see nothing but an almost total takeover from where I’m sitting.

“It wouldn’t achieve anything – I’m going to stay and fight from within.” Well, ok. That sounds good, but is it really? You’re having little to no effect where you are.

This is sounds like a load of hot air and empty threats. I’d be amazed to see even 5 resignations, never mind the numbers that would be needed to punch the party hard where it hurts. Sure, the odd one or two will go, and probably in a blaze of glory. It will look good for the headlines for a couple of days. But as soon as the dust settles, everyone else will be right back where they were.

From there, it really is anybody’s guess.

Defining antisemitism – why is Labour still fighting this?

What is there to be gained from not accepting the IHRA definition?

It has been weeks now since the Labour Party refused to accept the full definition with examples of the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism. This is a definition accepted by everyone else without a problem, yet Labour has decided to alter or remove some of the examples. This was called out as, to put it mildly, a strange thing to want to do, particularly when it hasn’t gone unnoticed that there has been a little bit of an issue with antisemitism in recent times.

To do this in the first instance is odd and counterproductive. To maintain it in the face of criticism is…well let’s call it ‘bold’ for now. But to dig your heels in and refuse to budge in the face of widespread anger and rage, from groups who are not going to back down any time soon and who are only getting wider and wider support is utterly bewildering.

The issue at hand, the definition of antisemitism, is up for polite discussion in my opinion, in the sense that anything and everything should be up for discussion. That much I don’t object to. I have no particular wish to disagree with Jewish people’s definition of what is antisemitic on any level, but if some do then that is their right. It all looks fair and above board to me, but I’m not Jewish and don’t pretend to know anywhere near enough about the subject. What I do object to is the party machine rejecting the official and widely accepted version, amending it and then not saying why it has done so.

This is the crux of the matter – if you have a point of view, then defend it. If you think those examples are bad, say why. If you think wording needs tweaking, explain yourself. But don’t just change it and hope everyone will be fine with it.

It just looks and feels entirely suspicious. Why not just accept the whole thing and be done with it? Why not explain why it doesn’t accept it all and lay it out in a reasoned and measured way? Why leave the narrative to be written by its opponents? Why, of all things, does the party want to have this fight? It should be preparing for government, touring the country persuading us of its policies and slamming the government. Instead it wants to indulge in a ridiculous theatre of an internal argument. It makes no sense. Do they not want power?

Not a week goes by without some Corbynist higher-up saying something stupid and reigniting the flames. It’s like watching UKIP when they were in the spotlight – every week another activist recorded saying the word ‘nigger’ or ‘paki’ or sharing photos of their gollywogs. It was self defeating and idiotic – but they just couldn’t help it. Now you only have to open a newspaper to see some pillock equating Nazism and Zionism or intimating Jews are part of the whole conspiracy. All of this whilst they are disciplining members of the PLP for raising their concerns – not a great look.

One explanation is simple incompetence. This is the generous interpretation. The other is more chilling, and that is that the party wants the fight and simply does not care about anybody who may have any concerns. It smacks of deliberately provoking Britain’s Jews into anger, and that is a shocking thing to do. They’re not backing down and they’re not explaining, so what else are we supposed to draw from it? What on earth is there to be gained from all of this?

What an absolute shambles. And those are words which are currently being used about Her Majesty’s Government. How dreadful that we must also apply it to Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition.

I’d say they need to fix this, and quick. But something in me suspects they actually don’t want to. Something just isn’t right.

A chilling thought.