Tag Archives: Blairism

In the end it was the Brexit election, but not the one I expected

Well, I was wrong about two things at this election. I think a lot of us were. The first was the absence of a Tory majority, the second the absence of a Lib Dem fight back, which I wrongly predicted a couple of months ago at this blog. But yesterday morning told a fascinating tale nonetheless.

On April 19th, upon hearing Theresa May’s decision to hold a snap General Election, I wrote the following:

“This decision was fundamentally, and shrewdly, party political. But it could turn into a whole lot more than that. Since Brexit is now the hallmark of British politics, I expect the upcoming campaign to be a proxy; a second referendum of sorts.”

I think have been proved more or less correct by this statement, though not in the way that I expected. Before Thursday, and like most in the country, I predicted the securing of a comfortable Tory majority. I felt that Mrs May, hopeless as she is, had done just enough to remind Leave voters of what they voted for on June 23rd last year.

I thought that in appealing to the sensibilities of Brexit voters, especially with phrases like ‘respect the will of the British people’, the Conservative Party would enhance its electoral stronghold in Westminster and would win yet another General Election. How wrong and naive I was to the consequences of a poorly-organised political campaign.

It is true that the Tories managed 43 percent of the vote share, but voters ‘returning home’ made gaining a majority more difficult. After the shock of last summer, when support for parties was vastly more dispersed, voters thought it was safe to return to their traditional red and blue corners.

I thought that UKIP voters would rally behind Theresa May as she led the campaign for a so-called ‘hard Brexit’. This proved not to be the case, as I should have anticipated. I remember when I was a member of UKIP how many former Labour voters sat in local and regional party meetings. I knew that for UKIP, a Leave vote in the EU referendum was their self-destruct button, but I underestimated the ensuing flow of voters who returned to Labour. Perhaps many of them now have an understandable and instinctive mistrust of the Tory Party.

But this election did espouse many undertones of the referendum, which I now feel was a mistake (more on this soon). As results emerged, it became clear that many of the Remain-supporting pockets of the country had used the Labour Party as a means of diluting Brexit. In this sense, I would exercise caution over the notion that Corbynism has entirely hollowed Blairism out of Labour or its voter base.

Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise scooping of 262 seats, an increase of 30 on the total that his predecessor managed, reflected a number of different factors, but his desire to prioritise, for instance, membership of the single market over immigration and a Brexit focused on protecting consumer and worker rights will have appealed to many of the country’s supporters of EU membership.

These trends were noticeable mostly in England, where politics seems to be more tribal on the issue of the European Union. In Scotland, I was pleased to see, the Nationalists took the heavy hits I predicted and the colours on the electoral map are mixed once again. Ruth Davison deserves enormous credit for helping to turn nationalistic tides and reinvigorate support for the union. She has also shrewdly positioned herself as a potential future leader of the Conservative Party.

Mrs Sturgeon, on the other hand, whose position as leader of the SNP is becoming increasingly untenable, failed in her efforts to retain seats largely because Scottish voters are tired of her drive for independence, which was always a fake given her support for EU membership and which was rightly rejected in 2014. I also suspect that Scots saw her insistence on keeping Scotland out of Brexit as a constitutional danger and a cause of yet more political instability.

As the election campaign got under way, I had convinced myself (I now realise stupidly) that the Liberal Democrats would prove to be a significant force. But their night was surprisingly underwhelming. Even prominent figures like Nick Clegg lost seats, and in many seats the party failed to garner even 1,000 votes. This is perhaps a good example of a lack of translation between membership surges and votes.

Had the Lib Dems ditched plans to offer a second referendum, which would ransack the population of its faith in and enthusiasm for politics, and instead fought loudly and clearly for an exit centred around keeping Britain in the single market, they would indeed have gained more than 12 seats at this election. All we are missing now is a party that advocates holding a referendum on whether we should have a second referendum. Don’t hold your breath.

Remain voters quite clearly had their say at this election. Most shocking was the Tory-Labour switch in Kensington. I think our departure from the European Union has been compromised and cannot bring myself to trust Theresa May to negotiate our exit. And the price we pay at home? A minority government doomed to failure and backed up by the DUP. There is no other way to see it. This is a national embarrassment.

 


UKIP will not pose a threat in 2020, but this may be bad for British politics

I now think that UKIP will play no considerable role at the 2020 General Election (provided, of course, that there isn’t one sooner). My conclusion is partly informed by uninspiring quarrels between its senior figures and partly by the result of last year’s referendum, which now seems so far away I can scarcely believe how time has flown.

Notice that I use the word ‘uninspiring’. Of course, squabbles in political parties – despite the fact that they can open up debate – aren’t usually very helpful, but with UKIP, matters are made worse. The party was primarily a one-issue political force, acting as a battering ram and driving home an agenda that had been forgotten or deliberately ignored for far too long.

At present, UKIP lacks purpose and direction. Its primary goal has almost (barring a few late hiccups) been achieved and it must now attach itself to other issues worth pursuing. Indeed, Michael Heaver, Nigel Farage’s former spin doctor, thinks that proportional representation and House of Lords reform are two such issues that the party can use to maintain its foothold in British politics.

This is a false trail. These areas of policy are fringe issues not capable of rallying a significant portion of the electorate. UKIP’s divisions are therefore uninspiring because neither side is offering any credible path towards long-term relevance in the current political climate. Arron Banks, who funded UKIP at the last General Election, claims that Paul Nuttall is week, but the problem is in fact much deeper.

The party has reached its sell-by date, and as the party only ever truly planned for a referendum, it is unsurprising to me that it finds itself a little hollowed out and purposeless afterwards. This is itself causing internal doubt and frustration. Being the leader, Mr Nuttall will find himself in the crosshairs, but truth be told, even Nigel Farage would struggle to keep UKIP on the map.

I do not write this gleefully by any means. I have always been fair to UKIP and stood up for the party when under unjust attack. This is because I believe that its impact on British politics has been largely productive. Its success transcends electoral representative democracy and, perhaps ironically, was aided largely by its very inconvenience to the establishment parties and their pocketed media tycoons.

UKIP’s most profound influence on British politics was to apply serious pressure on the Conservative Party to be conservative; to stop supporting Britain’s ongoing membership of the European Union, to stop imposing on the country unprecedented levels of mass immigration, to strengthen and illuminate the national culture and character. These simple premises had long ago been abandoned by a party that knew that all it had to do was mirror Blairite values and – as the Labour Party was hollowed and left demoralised in the ensuing post-Blair years – it would guarantee electability for years to come.

The Conservative Party knew that it had become New Labour. How could anybody have missed the many glaring parallels between its leader, Mr Cameron, and his now infamous predecessor? The trouble was, so too did many of its members. Its most disgruntled supporters switched their allegiances and opted instead to seek refuge in a growing party that believed and said the things conservatives had been saying vainly for so long. It is no wonder that UKIP became a force in such a short period of time.

Nigel Farage shrewdly spotted a few years ago that if he could only (but correctly) associate mass immigration with EU membership, and raise awareness to a possible referendum, his and his party’s political legacy would be secure. Though what he still does not recognise, to his discredit, is how ineffective the Leave campaign would have been had UKIP been spearheading it during the country’s referendum period. Alas, it no longer matters. Our side won it, all that remains is for departure to be negotiated and executed.

But what of the future of UKIP? I would love for my prediction to fall flat. They have been a useful kick in the backside for the Tories down south and northern Labour who, shamefully, have resisted public opinion (even that of its own voter base) and insisted on fighting – rather than listening to, UKIP. In the run up to the triggering of Article 50, backsliding on Brexit was widely suspected. But come the inevitable collapse of UKIP, a party almost too combustible for its own good, more serious backsliding may be seen.

The Tories, knowing full well that much of conservatism is damage limitation, may not see a battle worth fighting, and we could well see them revert to their old, disingenuous ways, freed of the UKIP-led electoral pressure that so many took for granted.


Article 50: 498-114 doesn’t tell the whole story

I find myself wondering what the result of yesterday’s parliamentary vote would have been had it been conducted on the basis of conscience or private opinion. Most certainly not 498-114, and there would not have been so many abstentions, either. Thankfully, the rare occasions on which we exercise direct democracy, which more easily illustrate the national mood, (the kind provided more easily by referenda than by elections) anchor our representatives more forcefully to respecting public judgement.

I usually like the debates surrounding big issues in the House of Commons. They tend to bring out the best and the passion in MPs, who by and large do care about things. One only has to go back and watch the day of the gay marriage bill to gain an understanding of the best of British politics, and I’m not referring necessarily to the result. But yesterday’s affair didn’t have the same sort of feel to it.

Parliament appeared tense, symbolised poignantly by row after row of gritted teeth and furrowed brows. MPs on both sides of the Commons, bitter in the fallout from a shocking referendum defeat, struggled to tap into any optimism, preferring instead to talk submissively about the importance of standing up for the democratic vote. George Osborne, arguably the biggest loser of last year’s EU vote, spoke of ‘provoking a constitutional crisis’ in the event of voting against the triggering of Article 50.

It is true that politicians ought to stick up for the values of democracy in times such as these, but what I found most peculiar about some of the speeches was the lack of enthusiasm for the new direction that the country has opted to head in. The chamber looked almost condescendingly anxious, with many of the MPs making up the 498 clearly too reluctant to praise the decision made by the electorate, or to welcome an exciting opportunity to re-establish Britain’s role in the world.

For the 114, it was the same old story. Nick Clegg tried his best not to take things personally,  channelling his blatant frustration into an irrelevant defence of the preferences of the majority of 18-24 year olds; the tiring implication being that elder generations stole the futures of the youth. I do not recognise this idea to be true, partially because I got to know many passionate youngsters who campaigned for Brexit during the referendum and partially because youth turnout is always notably low, or at least lower than it is among other age groups. Alex Salmond went as far as to call the triggering of Article 50 an ‘act of madness’, which, given his obsession with sovereignty, I couldn’t take all that seriously. A painstaking resentment was briefly interrupted by jibes aimed at Remain supporting MPs by an understandably jolly John Redwood, but for the most part, the debate lacked the energy that Westminster is renowned for.

But it was not just angst and disdain that characterised last night’s vote. It was also an opportunity to see quite clearly the depressing void that lies within Her Majesty’s opposition: a Labour Party still being eaten away at from the inside by Blairite residue and trying to decide whether it should stand by 70% of its constituencies and press ahead with European Union withdrawal. You would think that during such a significant period in British political history a major party would be able to pull itself together. It still amazes me that 94% of the parliamentary party backed Remain, despite profound differences now obvious with large swathes of its voter base.

Only the SNP, so hilariously brazen in their hypocrisy, managed to match Labour’s embarrassment. They defend Scottish independence and sovereignty in Westminster, they deride it in Brussels. They claim that, based on cross-border cooperation and commerce, it is in the national interest to work with other European Union member states, but they fail to apply the same argumentation to the issue of British union.  My gut instinct is that come the 2020 General Election (providing one isn’t called sooner), they will cease to be a serious political force. Even in the eyes of Scottish swing voters. In fact, more substantive change could take place in three years’ time than that. 114 MPs, at least open and honest in their disapproval of the public, rebelled against the national vote. Time will tell whether or not they are able to retain their constituency seats.

More than one hundred of Britain’s political representatives decided to ignore the legitimacy of the majority verdict in last night’s House of Commons vote. What truly shocks me is not the number of MPs who did this, but the number of MPs who didn’t.


Let’s talk about Britain’s constitutional crisis

For the time being, I’m uncertain as to who I shall support for leadership of the Conservative party. As a newcomer, I may find myself unable to vote in any upcoming contest, but I shall be following events and campaigning avidly nonetheless. I plan on spending a few weeks assessing candidates and will make my decision shortly afterwards. I’m extremely pleased, though, at the range and quality of Prime Ministerial candidates to date, and I suspect that watching the race unfold could well be as fascinating as it will be close.

We know now that Boris Johnson will play no part. Like most, I was shocked to see his official withdrawal earlier this morning, but as I spent time thinking about it over a full English breakfast, I realised that it made more sense than many will realise. I think for Boris to have become Tory leader in the current climate would have been a huge mistake. It would have had a hugely devaluing effect on the EU referendum; painting the entire campaign as a proxy for a Boris coup and a new Tory leader. By standing and (inevitably) winning, his legacy may have been permanently tarnished. It would have looked too opportunistic, too easy and too personal.

We also know that, contrary to previous repeated claims that he would not run for leader, Michael Gove has also decided to throw his name into the hat. For those interested, I would recommend you give his interview with Laura Kuenssberg a watch after reading (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-36677028). As I write, I feel no pressure in saying that I am a huge fan of Michael Gove, and could well decide to back him for leader. Both he and Andrea Leadsom impressed me hugely during the course of the referendum, and I am also glad that Liam Fox has expressed interest too. This could well be the most talent-filled and tightest leadership contest in some time.

Though it has been suggested more than once, I do not believe it would be right for the next leader to call a general election. A Conservative government was elected in 2015 for a five-year term, and it would seem counter-productive to put what remains of the country’s constitutional stability at risk. Another general election in the autumn would merely add to the unease and uncertainty that many of us are feeling. I do not say this as somebody who has recently become a member of the Tory party, I say this as someone eager to see Britain exit the European Union as quickly as possible.

Britain’s constitutional crisis does not end here, though. The Labour party continues to fight and wriggle its way out of a deep, ideological conflict. The combatants consist of Jeremy Corbyn, a ring of trade unions and an overwhelming mandate from traditional Labour voters pitted against a circus of hostile, Blairite MPs. It’s a war that has been brewing for quite some time. The election of Jeremy Corbyn back in September hinted at something that Britain’s referendum definitively exposed: that there is a huge disconnect between the beliefs and concerns of the Labour party membership and those squatting in Westminster village.

So while the Labour party attempts to put out a raging fire, another party in our system is presented with a golden opportunity. Tim Farron’s fierce critique of Britain’s referendum result last week, as well as his impassioned pledge to keep Britain in the European Union if elected, could see support for the Liberal Democrats soar. The referendum result was certainly close, and so naturally, support for re-entry would be very strong. Other than the Lib Dems, no major party has taken such a stubbornly pro-EU stance since defeat. The SNP have sung their usual babbling choruses about Scotland being dragged out of the union by England against their will, but this whinging must not be taken seriously.

It is worth noting that the future success of the Lib Dems is currently very much contingent upon how effectively Labour re-unite. As things stand, reunification doesn’t appear likely any time soon, but the situation could be win-win for Farron’s party. If Jeremy Corbyn hangs onto power, backed by his membership and the trade unions, and fights back against rebellious members of parliament, the Labour party will continue to appear sharply divided. This could well mean that swing voters, or more Blairite party supporters, look elsewhere for their political fix. Labour voters who do desert the party are likely to be seeking a centre ground; ground which the Liberal Democrats proudly occupy. If, on the other hand, Mr Corbyn is banished from the party (a prospect which is looking dangerously likely), or is pressured into resigning, the overwhelming number of party members who supported him are likely to be angered and feel further disillusioned.

It is perfectly reasonable to suggest that many will jump ship through sheer protest, or cut ties with the party permanently – again, a result likely to benefit the Lib Dems more so than any other party. The Liberal Democrats currently hold eight seats in the House of Commons, and though it may seem implausible to suggest that they retrieve many of those seats that they lost at the last general election, stranger things have happened in politics. My own view is that Labour turmoil could potentially result in the Liberal Democrats becoming a major part of the opposition to the next elected government. Perhaps I am wrong, but after the week we’ve had, I think it unwise to rule anything out just yet.

If Britain’s domestic integrity has been crushed in the last week, its international standing wasn’t aided too well by a speech made in the European parliament yesterday by a certain Nigel Farage. Yes, he has much to be happy about, but his performance was pathetic. His parliamentary colleagues in Brussels haven’t taken too much of a shining to him over the last 17 years, but that was no excuse for the diplomatic petulance he displayed in his first appearance in the chamber since the UK voted to leave the European Union last week.

This is a time for unity, not division; a time for peace, not conflict, and a time for maintaining strong bridges built over decades with European partners. Mr Farage did the country (that he claims to love) no favours when he decided to resort to petty insults early yesterday morning, and a moment of reflection on his part I’m sure wouldn’t go a miss. Those engaged will have taken particular note at the reaction of the parliament when Farage boasted that a tariff-free trade agreement between both parties would be mutually beneficial and something to be negotiated as quickly as possible. I therefore suggest that calls for Nigel Farage to play a part in the exit negotiations be swept under the carpet. The next few months and years look set to be turbulent, and as such, Britain needs its politicians to show leadership and great diplomatic skill now more than over.

But at least British politics is interesting again. That much is certain.