Archive for the 'Campaigning' Category


Election Battlegrounds: Guzzledown

Friday, November 15th, 2019

Political Betting doesn’t often discuss exhibitions of 18th century art, but I can highly recommend the Hogarth exhibition currently showing at the commendably eccentric Soane Museum in London. It is a very rare opportunity to see in one place all of Hogarth’s masterly sequences of ‘Modern Moral Subjects’, including A Rake’s Progress, A Harlot’s Progress, and Marriage A-La-Mode.

Most topical, though, is The Humours of an Election (1754-1755), depicting a (literally) hard-fought election in the two-member constituency of Guzzledown, Oxfordshire. In the first painting we see a riotous dinner where the two Whig candidates (one is ‘Sir Commodity Taxem, Bart’) are soliciting votes in joyously dubious ways whilst the Tories parade outside with an anti-Semitic banner (some things were different in those days). The Whig election agent falls back having been hit by a brick thrown through the window. Look carefully and you can see his canvassing returns (‘Sure’ and ‘Doubtful’ – a lot of Doubtfuls but only one Sure). In the third painting we see polling day; the Tory GOTV operation seems to be very effective as the dying and infirm are being dragged up to cast their votes, while the Beadle, who is supposed to ensure that the election is properly conducted, is fast asleep. Meanwhile there is a dispute about whether a soldier veteran, who has lost both hands, can take the necessary oath by placing his hook on the Bible. No-one cares that the coach carrying Britannia is in trouble as the two coachmen are absorbed in playing cards, with one of them cheating. In the fourth painting… well, go and see for yourselves.

Most relevant to today is the second painting, Canvassing for Votes, shown above. In the centre is a canny voter taking bribes from both sides. The landlady is counting her profits. The Tory candidate, beneath a campaign sign showing money pouring into Guzzledown, is buying trinkets from a pedlar to curry favour with the voter’s daughters on the balcony. At the back the Whig campaign HQ, the Crown Inn, is being attacked in an act of self-harm by a mob indignant at excessive taxes, with one stupidly sawing away at the sign which will crash down with him on it into the crowd below.

Of course, nowadays our elections are much less crude. We no longer have candidates using their own wealth to bribe voters to support them. Instead we have politicians trying to bribe us with other people’s money, or more subtly, with our own. We have even progressed as far as having politicians successfully bribing us with an entirely fictional number painted on the side of a bus.

Nonetheless the central problem remains: inasmuch as voters pay any attention, they pay attention to the wrong things, to pedlars’ trinkets rather than real issues. So let me cut to the chase and focus on a few key questions which voters and journalists should be asking of the three main party leaders:

To Boris Johnson: “You know perfectly well that there is no chance of having a trade agreement agreed and ratified by the end of next year. So which is it: a crash out at the end of next year with the No Deal you’ve sought to avoid, or an extension which you’ve pledged not to ask for?”

To Jo Swinson: “You know perfectly well that you are not going to be PM. If the Conservatives get a majority, we will have left the EU at the end of January; would you then help Boris implement a trade agreement against the inevitable opposition of the ERG? Or, if the Conservatives don’t get a majority, which of Corbyn and Johnson would you help into No 10, and on what terms?”

To Jeremy Corbyn, or if you want a more coherent answer, to John McDonnell: “You know perfectly well that all the spending commitments you’ve made aren’t a programme for government, they are an unfiltered and unsorted wish-list of eye-wateringly expensive suggestions. Which are your priorities, and which are just fantasies?”

Don’t expect answers, but if you are in London, do go to the Hogarth exhibition. It is on until the 5th January. Top tip: take a magnifying glass.

Richard Nabavi


The Midas touch. Living in a world of abundant knowledge

Sunday, July 7th, 2019

In the middle ages, Timbuktu was fabulously wealthy. It controlled the gold trade and it had all the riches that you would expect from that. Mansa Musa, the sultan, had a fortune that you couldn’t dream away, you couldn’t wish away.  

The sultan, as a good Muslim, performed the hajj, making the pilgrimage to Mecca. Being fabulously wealthy as well as a good Muslim, he travelled with a retinue of 60,000 men. All along the way, he gave gold to the poor and did good works.

He was like the sultan in one of the stories in the One Thousand Nights And One Night. However, his good deeds had terrible consequences. He gave so much gold away that he destabilised every country he passed through. The foundations of their economy, built on the scarcity of gold, were rocked.

Less dramatically but with long-lasting effects, when Spain conquered the New World, the vast quantities of silver and gold brought home caused enduring inflation in Europe for centuries. El Dorado hid dangers.

When something previously scarce becomes much more common, we value it much less. If the streets of London really were paved with gold, that would imply that Londoners didn’t value the stuff very much.

Suddenly, we find ourselves in a world of abundant knowledge that is effortlessly accessible. This is a blessing, but a disruptive one. It is an irony that the current era is often referred to as an Information Age and that we are said to live in a Knowledge Economy. The value attributable to raw information has declined vertiginously. Knowledge now litters our world like oranges in the streets of Seville and most of it is about as valued.

There are exceptions. Personal information, time-sensitive information and information exclusively held by one provider are all examples of information that may still have substantial value. The norm, however, is for information to be freely available and thus customers expect to pay, if at all, only for convenient access to it.

This has disrupted many industries. Whole professional castes were initially built around their control of access to information: lawyers, doctors and journalists, to give three examples. The barriers are being broken down. To retain relevance, professionals need to prioritise selling other services. Doctors and lawyers have positioned themselves with success by selling their skill in interpreting the data (in fairness, they had been doing this long before their knowledge base became widely publicly available).  

Journalists have had less success with this approach: their skill in interpreting data has not been demonstrated to enough potential customers to be sufficiently superior to amateurs for them to retain their role as paid guides to the modern world. Why buy a dog if you can bark yourself?

Politics has also been disrupted by this abundance of information. More than in most areas, the rewards for using false, misleading or partial information are high. If a doctor gives a patient incorrect information, the patient may die. If a politician gives a voter incorrect information, the politician may get elected.

Even so, the same general point stands. For generations, politicians have presented themselves as experts: “the man in Whitehall knows best”. Now he doesn’t. Anyone who is interested can bury themselves in reliable official statistics, public reports (and those of thinktanks) and review comparative studies from other countries. 

Civil servants have trained their entire career to weigh competing policies, but politicians, the decision-makers, generally have not. A citizen who is well-informed on his or her chosen subject will probably leave the politician flatfooted.

This is a career crisis. If politicians are not going to offer policy, what are they going to offer?

If there’s one thing that the politics of the last few years has shown, it’s that standing as a leader who puts capable administration before ideology does not have the same appeal to the public that it used to do. The public are looking for rousing themes, not triangulation.

Commentators have written much about the rise of populism. Certainly Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Donald Trump and Matteo Salvini match this well. It doesn’t really explain the parallel success of the Greens across Europe, the Lib Dems’ recent resurgence in Britain or for that matter Jeremy Corbyn and Die Linke in Germany. Other commentators have written much about the fragmentation of politics, which is certainly not happening in the US and is a questionable explanation in Britain, given the two main parties scored their highest collective tally for generations in 2017.

I suggest that both of these explanations capture some but not all of what is going on. We live in a world where information is near enough free for anyone who wants it and so politicians selling evidence-based policies have been correspondingly devalued. Those who can peddle simple and easy big ideas are rising in value relative to them.

As a result, politics by mood board is in the ascendancy. Politicians about whom the public say “say what you like about X but…” can say what they like.  Parties whose policies can be summed up in three words will take votes off parties with nuanced policy platforms. There’s a reason why Nigel Farage is abandoning the idea of a manifesto for the Brexit party.

Still, it feels that politicians have yet fully to grasp what the public needs in the age of abundant information. By and large, so far the populists are strikingly unpopular among the populace as a whole, with loyal followings but a low ceiling on their support. At some point a gifted politician with a captivating personality is going to articulate a simple vision that forges a consensus. That politician will have the Midas touch.

Alastair Meeks


Why there has to be trust in a complaints procedure for it to be effective

Sunday, March 3rd, 2019

It was barely 5 months ago that Dame Laura Cox issued her withering report on an entrenched culture within Parliament “cascading from the top down, of deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence, in which bullying and sexual harassment have been able to thrive and have long been tolerated and concealed.” Strong stuff. But despite token words of condemnation and promises to learn the lessons and implement the necessary changes, the report – let alone the promised actions – seem to have sunk without trace.

A pity. There is much to learn from the report which could well be applied to other organisations facing allegations of bullying. This can be seen starkly in the public exchange of correspondence about between Tom Watson (a man whose past conduct, both in relation to his accusations of child abuse against political opponents and as Minister for Digital Engagement at the time of the Damian McBride affair, might well be graced with the “bullying” moniker) and Jenny Formby, Labour’s General Secretary, valiantly trying to stop the existing Labour complaints process from being compromised and slowed down, at least according to her latest letter.

It is always much easier to focus on arguments about processes and procedures, especially when disciplinary proceedings are being contemplated, when any failure to follow due process can lead to trouble. But as Dame Laura put it: a “devotion to process and language rather than to real effectiveness” is a waste of time. Rather, like the MacGuffin in Hitchcock films, such arguments are merely a device to move the story forward.

One of the key reasons why Watson says he is interfering is because the complaints system is not trusted. Is this Formby’s fault? This is to ask the wrong question.

Whatever process is in place, whatever procedures and rules exist, however good and effective they are, they are never sufficient. Necessary yes. But they are mostly proof of the importance with which the issue is viewed. The real test of any complaints process is whether those for whom it exists trust the organisation to investigate properly and act on the findings, no matter who is involved. Without that trust, even the best written procedures implemented by a whole host of angels are mere will o’ the wisps.

And why might that trust be missing? Well, here again Dame Laura can assist. When interviewed about her report she put forward three questions that those at the top of an organisation should ask themselves when having to manage cultural change:-

  • Do I understand that radical change is needed?”
  • Can I deliver that change?
  • Will people have confidence that I can deliver that change?

Answering that third question honestly requires a level of self-knowledge and courage that is not as common as it should be.

It is not Formby – or not only Formby – who needs to ask herself these questions. It is Labour’s leader. If Corbyn were genuinely serious about ensuring that allegations of anti-semitism by Labour members were properly investigated, then Formby would have no difficulty in implementing an effective process. Is Corbyn genuinely serious in relation to this? He is certainly serious about wishing that such complaints did not exist and that he was not constantly asked about them.

But that is not quite the same as saying that he is serious about having them properly addressed. Indeed, judging by the response of some local Labour parties to the suspension of Chris Williamson, shooting the messenger is being seen as the only proper response – and a surprisingly popular one.

Corbyn has certainly said often enough how much of an anti-racist he is and for how long and that anti-semitism has no place in society. He has even said that those who indulge in anti-semitic abuse do not do it in his name. (Oddly, this appears to have had no effect on some of his more ardent supporters, as if they know better than him what he really wants.) And yet the more he repeats this, the more this quote comes to mind: “The louder he talked of his honour, the faster we counted our spoons.”

Watson may have set his sights on Formby and the complaints process for now. But anti-semitism did not appear out of nowhere. It was not borne into the party upon the wind. The question of how anti-semitism took hold and spread within Labour in recent years is being left, for the moment, to one side, as something too delicate or dangerous to be examined. But if trust in how Labour deals with such allegations is ever to be rebuilt then such an examination cannot long be postponed. Watson knows this. And he knows too who he really will be challenging if that is his intended destination. Is it?




The persistence of lack of memory. How the state retirement age was changed and communicated

Sunday, October 28th, 2018

Old sins have long shadows. The equalisation of state pension age was first mooted in the early 1990s and was enacted in 1995. Yet it remains controversial now. The action group WASPI campaigned in the last general election and that campaign arguably made the difference in some marginals.  Theresa May might conceivably have got an overall majority if it had not been for their efforts and the whole course of Britain’s departure from the EU, among other things, might have been radically different.

What are they campaigning about? The argument shifts from point to point.  The current focus is on the absence of notice given to the women who were affected by this change. A Parliamentary Research Paper published this week, State Pension age increases for women born in the 1950s, looked at the claims on this. 

A key section has the title “Did women affected have advance warning?” Its three subsections are headed: “How much notice should people get?”; “What did the Government do?”; and “How aware were women affected?”. 

Other sources of information are dealt with in just three words (“including press coverage”). This by itself shreds the value of the report to pieces. In practice people get their information about pensions from many sources, public and private. They watch TV.  They listen to radio. They read newspapers. They look online. They look at their company pensions materials.  They plough their way through their personal pension documentation. They talk to IFAs.  They talk to friends. Any examination of the advance warning that women got needs to look at all of those sources.

As it happens, there was plenty of press coverage. I was going to look into this myself, but I found that Josephine Cumbo of the FT had beaten me to it. In the period 1993-2006, she found more than 600 mentions in the national press.  As she notes, it appeared on front pages. It appeared in tabloids. The controversial nature of the changes was fully aired. This was not a law change that was smuggled out in secret.

But let’s give the WASPI women the benefit of the doubt and accept that they somehow missed this. So let’s think carefully about what is really being said when it is complained that insufficient notice was given.  The complaint is not, on the surface at least, that the change should not have been made.  Not even a group that campaigns for the restoration of sex inequality under the name “Women Against State Pension Inequality” has the gall to argue that. The complaint is that if only I had been told, I would have done something different. 

“Something” is usually conveniently unspecified. In practice, however, it can amount to only one thing: that the individual would have saved more money earlier. Let’s leave to one side the fact that means that the money that has not been saved has in practice already been spent on something that the individual would have wanted (so the individual, having consumed cake is now wanting to have it again). This idea of earlier saving implies that the individual, if only she had been told, would have planned rigorously for her retirement.

That’s hard to reconcile with the evidence or indeed common sense. Even if the changes had been perfectly understood by all, many would not have been able to afford to do more.  Many would not have wanted to.  The tax advantages for saving in a pension had always been there, but were not taken up with anything like the enthusiasm that financial logic would have suggested.

It is disappointing, to say the least, that the Parliamentary Research Paper did not look at information about pensions provided in the private sector. In the early 1990s, occupational pension schemes were having their own torrid time equalising retirement ages.  When the state followed suit, they made sure that they built that into their scheme booklets. 

If the compilers of the Parliamentary Research Paper had done any research in this area, they would have found that the point was routinely covered in the mid-1990s in scheme booklets. Here’s a typical example (not one drafted by me, though I certainly put together a few at that time). As you can see, anyone who read such statements would have been quite clear about the nature of the change that had been made.

The conclusion we can draw about women who were members of such schemes who were unaware of the change in state pension age is that they did not look in any great detail at their pension scheme literature, or if they did, it did not sink in. That suggests a lack of interest in long term saving and casts doubt on whether they would have paid any attention at the time to any government communication either.

These, remember, were the women who were likely to be among the most interested in pensions, already having made private arrangements. The rest were going to be a lot less interested. 

As it happens, this fits well with other evidence we have. A 2005 DWP Paper on Women and Pensions noted that only 22% of women had worked out what their retirement income would be and only 47% of women said they had looked into saving or investing for retirement. Perhaps one leaflet from the government would have galvanised the indolent into action. Personally, I am seriously sceptical. 

So, contrary to the implied argument being made by WASPI and its supporters, the changes to women’s pension ages were widely discussed in the 1990s and the early 2000s and they were communicated to many by sources other than the government – and yet they still were not absorbed by many. The women affected have already had the benefit of the money that they spent and they have not noticeably been otherwise disadvantaged by any lack of notice (as opposed to disappointed).

Their claim to any form of compensation is weak. The inverse relationship between the vehemence with which they press their case and the merits of it is striking.

Upton Sinclair supposedly observed that “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”. It seems that it is just as difficult to get a woman to remember something when her pension depends on her not remembering it.

What MPs of all parties have to wrestle with is that WASPI and their supporters, no matter how misconceived, have votes at their disposal. Making sure that they dispose of them in a favourable manner without wrecking longstanding pensions policy positions might be a tough balancing act.

Alastair Meeks

Alastair Meeks is a former Chair of the Association of Pension Lawyers


Men of Honour?

Monday, August 13th, 2018

In Peter Hennessey’s Reflections radio series, Margaret Beckett was asked why she abandoned the Catholic faith of her childhood.  The event which crystallised her disenchantment was John Freeman asking Cardinal Heenan what one word summed up the Church.  Margaret waited, expecting something like “charity”or “love”. The Cardinal’s answer was “Authority”.

Perhaps not a surprising answer for an institution long steeped in hierarchy and an acute sense of its own magisterium.  But in light of the revelations over recent years of the criminal, un-Christian activities of too many of its priests and nuns, most recently in this story (which has received surprisingly little attention) the Cardinal’s answer was revealing about what really mattered to its leaders.

To its shame, the Church has yet to show that it really understands that the appalling conduct by some, and its cover up by others, is not, sadly, an exception but the almost inevitable consequence of it placing the maintenance of its authority above other values.

This is what is likely to happen when people in authority feel unchallenged and unchallengeable.  For an institution founded by a man who said, “Suffer little children to come unto me” it will be a long time before many will be able to look at a sentence with the words “church” and “children” without thinking of matters quite other than what Jesus intended.

When an institution becomes more concerned about its own reputation, even at the expense of covering up or condoning behaviour deeply at odds with its professed values, about preserving its brand, about protecting its leader or staff from criticism, however justified, then there seems to be nothing which cannot be justified to protect the institution’s honour, even as its conduct becomes more and more dishonourable.

The same responses to allegations of scandal have been seen in: the Anglican church (Bishop George Bell), charities; some parts of the Muslim community, understandably (on a human level) unwilling to countenance the possibility that their religion may have been used to justify atrocious crimes; the NHS (most lately, Gosport); the Labour party, parts of whom have been desperate to ignore any suggestion that their leader is anything other than perfect;

Trump and his supporters treating anything even remotely critical as “Fake News”; the Leave campaign refusing to engage with allegations about its funding; even banking where, contrary to Bob Diamond’s tin-eared and premature “The time for apologies is over” most people felt (and probably still feel) the time for apologies has yet to start.

Curious that, in an age of PR, branding and the “message”, it seems to come as a surprise to many that the only long-term effect of acting dishonourably while focusing on image, of a culture of denial and cover up is to stain an entity’s or person’s reputation, perhaps irretrievably. Worse: the longer the denial lasts, the longer it will take to recover one’s reputation.  Long after a clean-up has occurred the entity will still be dealing with the harm caused by events long before.

You would have thought that the Tory party would have understood this lesson.  Its description as the “nasty” party has a half-life almost as long as the material stored at Sellafield.  The flirtation of Johnson and Rees-Mogg with Bannon, their apparent desire to copy the Trump playbook risks tainting once again their party, whatever its short-term advantages. 

Even if they are careless of their own reputation, surely they should have a care for the party?  Labour too seems intent on repeating the same mistake.  Not just in failing to address its issues with anti-Semitism but in giving the impression that the current leader’s reputation is more important than that of the party he leads. 

Corbyn is echoing the hubris shown by May last year when her battle bus had her name prominently displayed rather than that of the party she led.  One day they will no longer be leaders but their parties will live on.  When leaders forget that they are not more important than the institution they serve, disaster is rarely far away.

In an article in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat on 4 September 2004, shortly after the Beslan massacre, Abdel Rahman al-Rashed wrote this: “It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorist, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslim…….It would be easy to cure ourselves if we realise the seriousness of our sickness. Self-cure starts with self-realisation and confession. 

We should then run after our terrorist sons, in the full knowledge that they are the sour grapes of a deformed culture.”  Substitute “Catholics” and “child abusers” and “abusive priests” for “Muslims”, “terrorists” and “terrorist sons” in the above passage and this could – and should be – addressed to the church with which this header started.  There is profound pain and shame in these words but also an appeal to people’s better nature, to remember, and act on and according to, the real values which once motivated the entity’s creation.

What might the travails of religious groups teach those in public life?  The obvious one is that describing oneself as good does not makeone so.  But, ironically enough, one lesson is not to place so much emphasis on a star politician, a saviour who will lead the party to the promised land of huge majorities and electoral hegemony.  As is being clear that even the best politicians are flawed human beings, needing people and processes around them to limit their power.

But perhaps the most important one – and for voters, not just politicians – is to realise that, while  there is honour in public life, in seeking to speak up for unpopular groups or causes, in trying to make life better for the forgotten and vulnerable, in wishing to remove injustices, in seeking to improve our political arrangements, remembering the values which motivated you and acting honourably in trying to achieve your aims is the only, the best way of achieving anything worthwhile and lasting. 

There is a price to be paid for short-term victories achieved in a dishonourable manner.  Cynicism, disillusionment, worse: a perception that reprehensible means are a useful tactic.  Might we get better politicians were we to reward honourable behaviour?  Or, like Caliban, are we raging at our own face in the glass?



The sick rose. The disease in the English hard right and the failure of the rest of the right to confront it

Thursday, July 5th, 2018

Picture Credit: Wikimedia Commons

On 16 June 2016, Thomas Mair fired a gun at Jo Cox MP, shouting “Britain first, this is for Britain. Britain will always come first. We are British independence. Make Britain independent.”  He then attacked her with a knife, shot at her again and again shouted “Britain first”.

Sentencing him for murder, Mr Justice Wilkie, said to him: “You affect to be a patriot. The words you uttered repeatedly when you killed her give lip service to that concept. Those sentiments can be legitimate and can have resonance but in your mouth, allied to your actions, they are tainted and made toxic… You are no patriot. By your actions you have betrayed the quintessence of our country, its adherence to parliamentary democracy.”

At the time, this seemed to be a freakish event, like a rare migrant bird blown astray by unfamiliar weather conditions.  Since then, however, it has become apparent that the far right is systematically organising for terror attacks.  At Finsbury Park, a far right sympathiser drove a van into a crowd at a mosque.  In the year to March 2018, four far right planned attacks had been broken up (for comparison, 10 Islamist terrorist attacks had been stopped in the same period).  This is a major threat to the British way of life.

The impact is not just visible at the most extreme end of the spectrum.  For many years UKIP was careful to present itself as the acceptable face of nativism.  Nigel Farage might have blamed bad traffic on immigrants and thought it problematic to live next door to Romanian men, but UKIP portrayed itself as a party open to all.

UKIP is now imploding, spawning a host of parties as the various kipper titans seek to establish themselves as the dominant anti-immigration voice.  Anne-Marie Waters, having failed to take over UKIP, has set up For Britain, with a policy of reducing Muslim immigration to Britain to zero: one of its local election candidates had to be expelled after having been linked to National Action, the group behind a plot to kill Rosie Cooper MP. 

John Rees-Evans, most famous for claiming to have contended with a gay donkey seeking to rape his horse, has set up the Democrats & Veterans Party, which on its website accuses current lawmakers of tyranny and betrayal of the highest order.  (Henry Bolton, erstwhile leader, has announced plans to set up OneNation in his own image: its credo is awaited impatiently.)

What of UKIP itself?  Under the leadership of Gerard Batten, it has taken a lurch to the right.  He has denounced Islam as a death cult.  He has supported Tommy Robinson, the EDL founder who is currently serving a prison sentence for his second separate contempt of court for breaching reporting restrictions: Tommy Robinson’s utterances were apparently one of the inspirations for the Finsbury Park attacker. 

And it has just welcomed four high profile basement-dwelling online activists, one of whom specialises in conspiracy theories and one of whom recently encouraged vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down (this was, he clarified after five journalists had been gunned down, apparently a joke).  These are apparently suitable members of the latest incarnation of UKIP.

We are seeing a sick flowering on the right unleashed by Brexit, where nativism has spawned a new politics in which accusations of treachery are routine and violence is not beyond contemplation. 

What has been the response of the mainstream right?  To minimise and trivialise the threat.  Antoinette Sandbach MP received an email accusing her of treachery.  She reported it to the police.  The Daily Mail then ran a story on how the church-going pensioner who sent it was living in fear and upset that she had been labelled abusive. 

Later that week, another far right extremist pleaded guilty to a terrorist plot to murder Rosie Cooper MP.  Against that background, one wonders how the Mail expects MPs to sift lurid accusations.  It is disturbing to write the words, but in the current climate the idea of someone planning an attack on Ms Sandbach is not far-fetched.  Why should she be expected to behave as though it was?

The Brexit right that considers itself mainstream has a responsibility to confront this sickness.  It courted this section of society assiduously during the referendum campaign, frightening them with untrue claims that millions of Turks were poised to descend on Britain and portraying unending queues of asylum seekers as heading our way. 

Since then, various prominent Leavers have accused the judiciary, the BBC, the civil service, the CBI, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the governor of the Bank of England and pretty well any other national institution that you can name of seeking to sabotage Brexit. 

They have for two years fanned the flames of nativism and used the rhetoric of betrayal, treachery and quislings.  And they then refuse to make any connection between their inflammatory rhetoric and the actions of extremists.

What is particularly peculiar is that the people who have been providing shelter to far right extremists under cover of their angry nativism are often the same people who vehemently insist that Muslims should disown in the clearest terms the extremists in their midst.  The test should be the same of both groups. No ifs, buts or whataboutery: clear lines must be drawn. 

Too many on the right are currently treating civic obligation as a pick-and-mix.  Those who love to drape themselves in the Union Jack need to need to face up to their responsibilities, and help to change the climate and eliminate this dangerous threat to our society that they have helped to create.  If they really love this country, that is what they must do now.

Alastair Meeks


The LDs to outperform the Tories in Thursday’s by-election is the best bet out there at the moment

Monday, June 11th, 2018

Ignore the GE2017 result & look at what’s happening on the ground

Yesterday on Betfair someone wagered a few pounds on the Tories at 1000/1 to win Thursday’s Lewisham East by-election. This means that if he bet £10 he’ll lose £10 for all the signs are that the blue team is just running a token campaign in the seat where LAB got 67.9% of the vote in June last year. To make things harder the CON candidate is a leaver in a seat that was 65% remain.

The LDs who came second here at GE2010 are throwing everything at getting a good result and expect a big squeeze on Tory voters to tactically vote yellow. I’d expect their message to be something like “If enough CON supporters lend their votes the LDs they could yet defeat LAB and end years of Labour domination in Lewisham. That outcome would shock Corbyn’s Leadership to the core.”

To LAB voters you can envisage a message on the lines of “A good result for their Lewisham-born candidate could force Corbyn to reconsider his support for Brexit – and help turn the tide in favour getting another vote on Brexit

The signs are that Labour is getting a tad concerned. This is from leading party MP, David Lammy, under the heading “Lewisham is not a done deal” on LabourList.

“… there is a real problem with voter fatigue. The people of Lewisham East have had election after election – a general election in 2015, the mayoral and the referendum votes in 2016, another general in 2017, the council and Lewisham mayoral this year, and now this by-election. Voters really like Janet, and why wouldn’t they? She is an amazing candidate – a local who set up a foodbank, a keen campaigner who has already done a lot for the area. But people still need encouragement to go to the polling station. The fatigue goes for Labour members too..”

The info I’m getting from the campaign has been enough for me to gamble every day the maximum amount that Ladbrokes will allow me on the market featured above. I plan to go on betting almost however tight the odds get.

By-elections are one-off events. People aren’t electing a government and as we have seen voting pattern can be very different from normal elections.


Mike Smithson


The Conservatives must again make the case for private enterprise, profit, choice and competition

Saturday, May 19th, 2018

1929 Conservative poster

The risk is an unwitting drift into a new left-of-centre consensus

Some revolutions are begun by small steps; others are revealed by them. Of itself, Chris Grayling’s announcement this week that the government was bringing the East Coast Mainline back into public ownership, was nothing unusual. It is, after all, the third time in the 20 years of the privatised era that the East Coast franchise has failed. Furthermore, for the government, the return to state-run operations is a purely pragmatic consequence of there not being another operator ready to take over, and of not wanting to hand an extension to a company which has already failed to deliver. So far, so logical.

What’s not a natural consequence of the Virgin-Stagecoach failure is the decision to change the delivery model from franchising to a partnership. That represents not just a substantial change in transport policy but a retreat from the principle that a competitive private sector – where such a market is possible – is the best means of assuring service delivery. Once a partnership is in place, it is likely to be there for the long run, without the need to worry about retendering for the franchise.

I have to say, I’m sceptical about such a model. Public-private partnerships don’t have a happy history. At least with franchising, the companies take on both the risk and the potential rewards. Too often with things like PFI contracts, the state ends up with a very poor deal.

That, however, is not the point politically. What was perhaps most significant was how quietly the change was made; how little defence there was of the previous system – and, consequently, how easily the whole system could be transformed. After all, once you have an organisation running the infrastructure as well as the trains, you’re well on the way to breaking up the system within which even quasi-competition can take place. Labour – with its commitment to return the railways (and, indeed, a good deal else) to full public ownership and operation – must be laughing.

And this is where the quiet revolution is occurring. The era of retreating state control has been over for at least a decade: the financial crisis not only brought some banks directly into partial or full state ownership but also undermined faith in the entire capitalist system. Ever since, advocates of a well-regulated market economy have been on the defensive. In Britain, that took a little time to work through: Labour was initially still wary of advocating what might be seen as post-war socialism, despite its instincts. Not now. Corbyn and McDonnell have never been shy of state ownership and are no doubt exultant at both the government’s change of tack and the polling on the issue.

An article in the New Statesman this week quoted a Populus poll from last year which showed that more than three-quarters of the public backed state ownership of water, electricity, gas and railways. That’s no doubt partially a consequence of some obvious problems in each of those markets.

Water, for one, doesn’t even really have a market and the argument for a private monopoly as against a public one is marginal and relies on the profit motive driving medium-term efficiency, and on private companies not being as subject to political whims as a state-run would be. Both arguments are contestable.

However, even if you can make a case that regulation can provide either a direct or indirect market for each of the services, the problem goes deeper and is that of a growing scepticism of profit as the legitimate return of successful enterprise – again, perhaps driven by a sense of injustice against cases where directors have paid themselves large sums out of businesses that have then gone bust – Carillion providing a prime recent example. Those cases might be high-profile but they’re not representative.

What all this amounts to is an assault, not even by stealth, on the post-1979 (and in particular, post-1987) economic settlement; one which the Conservatives are not meeting. Unless they do so, they will lose the philosophical argument by default. It shouldn’t be difficult but perhaps that consensus’ ascendency has lulled the party’s leadership into a sense of complacency. Or perhaps they just don’t particularly do philosophical argument, even when in government and doing so is setting the foundations for the policies being implemented.

Unless they do, though, they’ll find public support weak and susceptible to the sort of collapse seen at the last general election, when Corbyn’s simple solutions and slogans sound sufficiently attractive to win voters.

To prevent that, ministers need to make a sustained effort to explain why markets – when regulated effectively, a key caveat – tend to produce more choice and innovation, and better service. Those who remember the nationalised industries may well remember the kind of customer service that went with them. But fewer and fewer do remember those days, thirty years and more ago now. The Conservatives cannot assume that the public buy into their preferred model (to the extent that it still is), nor that they adequately understand all the steps that link from the policy to the customer outcome. They have four years to turn that round.

David Herdson