Archive for the 'Tories' Category


Thoughts from a Big Beast

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019

On Monday evening, Ken Clarke, described by Intelligence² as a Big Beast of British politics, was being interviewed by John Humphreys, though even Humphreys was scarcely able to get a word in, as Ken opined, entertainingly and at length, on Brexit, Boris, elections and a life in politics.

The following comments he made are worth noting as relevant, not just to the election, but to politics thereafter:-

Communicating with voters

The challenge now for politicians was how to talk to voters, persuade them, reach out to them intelligently, particularly in an age of social media and fragmented groups with people only listening to those they agreed with rather than those who challenged them. The old-fashioned ways: speeches, town hall meetings, long interviews were no longer enough. New ways were needed and this was one of the most important things for the next generation to develop. He did not think anyone had yet found the right voice, an effective way of doing this. But if it did not happen, then the siren voices of populists promising glib analyses and easy answers would dominate.

The Benefits of FPTP

This forced parties to become wide coalitions and present to the electorate a broad package of measures, a programme for government, based on compromise and priorities. But he liked it because it also forced voters to make a choice about a programme for government rather than simply focus on a single issue or obsession. Rather than have lots of small parties unable to agree or unwilling to compromise, all arguing for their own preference (much like the pointless 7-way election debates), voters would be forced to choose and to prioritise. He thought that both main parties were now a somewhat bizarre version of themselves but thought, perhaps optimistically,  that they would be able to pull back to the art of compromise and pragmatism, to being a truer version of themselves.

The Benefits of Unpopularity

In answer to a question on the steps needed to combat climate change, he made two points. First, while it was now high on the agenda, the talk was still of setting targets and changing dates by when steps would be taken and not on the actual steps which needed to be taken. Second, those steps (and as an example, he named raising two taxes he had introduced as Chancellor) would be individually extremely unpopular. If parties only ever worried about short-term popularity, what went down well with focus groups and opinion polls, nothing would ever get done. That was why sensible governments worked out what their priorities were, did them as soon as they were elected, explained what they were about and why, made sure they worked properly, eased off the closer it came to an election and awaited the judgment of voters on the whole after a 4/5 year term rather than obsessing about the immediate ratings. If the measures had been properly explained and worked, then voters would be more willing to accept them; if they didn’t work you were stuffed anyway. But to achieve effective change you needed to be willing to endure unpopularity. That, of course, presupposed that parties knew what they wanted to do and had a plan for getting there.

The Importance of a Good Opposition

An opposition which was an alternative government was essential to our system, not simply because it was needed but because, if it was properly challenged and scrutinised, it forced the government to raise its game. Labour was not such an opposition and he felt that Corbyn would never be PM, even if he tried “for a thousand years”. But Labour would be “out of sight” if it had a good leader. In the same way, he had no problem with interviewers being probing and asking tough questions. A good interview forced the interviewee to engage with his audience (rather than repeat slogans “developed by erks in No 10”) and explain things well, probably better than if he was just lobbed easy questions.

Spreading the Wealth

The 2008 financial crisis was at least as much responsible for Brexit as any particular issues people had with the EU itself. Finance Ministers (like him) believed in the 1990’s that they had sorted out how best to manage economies. Everything was becoming more globalised and co-operative; the levers they had seemed to be working. What they didn’t notice (or pay enough attention to) was that this was benefiting 40% of the population and that parts of the country and its people were not benefiting but were nonetheless enduring significant change and disruption. The dissatisfactions this had caused had expressed themselves in many ways (Trump, Brexit, Salvini).  The answers so far given: it’s all the fault of the favoured scapegoat were not an answer. But a sensible pragmatic answer and solutions were needed.

My take (FWIW): This issue – who gets the benefits, who bears the costs and are both fairly shared – is, and always has been, the pre-eminent question in politics. It will, however it may be presented as issues related to Brexit and FTAs and nationalisation and austerity, continue to be so after December 12th.  And it will be quite a challenge for whatever government emerges after the election. It was notable that Clarke admitted that his generation of politicians had been perhaps too smug and confident about what they were doing and had not noticed what was happening under their noses. But all of the above issues (and they are only some of what was discussed) matter, particularly the issue of how politicians and voters find a new common means of communicating with each other. If understanding and persuasion are absent, how can politics work effectively?

Clarke said that it was Macmillan’s decision to apply to join the EU which finally persuaded him he was a Conservative. He would now describe himself to a canvasser as a “doubtful Conservative”, one who wanted a sensible plan – not just fine words – for what Britain’s relationship with the EU would be. He was wryly aware of the symmetry in his long political career.

Whether you agree with him or not on the European question, it is a great pity that his voice will no longer be heard in the Commons.



The curious incident of the ERG at Christmas 2017

Saturday, October 5th, 2019

Johnson Tweet from December 2017

The dozy reaction to the Joint Report has misframed Brexit ever since

Why does a dog not bark when by rights you would expect it to? There are only two reasonable explanations: either it sees no reason to, or it’s been prevented from doing so. A guard dog might, for example, not raise the alarm if the burglar is well-known to it – though that’s not the only explanation, even if it is the most famous. It might be that the dog has been drugged, or muzzled, or removed from where it should be, or somehow otherwise distracted from that to which it should have been paying attention.

Far be it from me to compare Brexit to a burglary or the ERG to barking dogs but there is method in it. Brexit is in the mess it is for many reasons but one of the principle ones is that the government pursued a deal which fell grossly short of achieving anything like a majority in parliament – and that by the time it did fail, so many key players were so publicly committed to so many aspects of it that it cannot be meaningfully re-written.

How did it come to that? One overlooked aspect has to be the final negotiations around the production of the Joint Report in December 2017, which formed the basis of what would become the both the Chequers Plan and, ultimately, the Withdrawal Agreement. In retrospect, everything that the Commons objected to last Christmas was in the Report the year before – yet there was no barking? Why not?

It’s a question I find difficult to answer. Key individuals who would later turn extremely hostile were signed up to the Report. Steve Baker – now ERG Chairman and three-times rebel on the Withdrawal Agreement – was a minister in DExEU in December 2017 and happily let it sail through. Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary at the time, tweeted his congratulations on a deal that was “taking back control of our laws, money and borders for the whole of the UK”. In fact, in paragraphs 49 and 50 of the Report, it was perfectly obvious that Britain was signing up to indefinite alignment with the EU’s Single Market rules and Customs Unions tariffs and policies. How did the ERG miss this?


I can only offer two explanations, neither of which is very satisfactory. The first is that the DUP were satisfied with the Report, having made vocal objections in the days running up to the summit and secured changes in response to those objections. That produced the all-UK backstop rather than an NI-specific one. In paying too much attention to the DUP, the future Tory rebels presumably missed that the DUP’s objections were based on Unionism rather than Euroscepticism – hence why the DUP was happy to accept the all-UK backstop, which resolved their concern of an Irish Sea border.

The other explanation is simply that it was happening at Christmas and people were distracted. It’s easy for political commentators (or academics, journalists and so on), interested in a topic to assume that those making the decisions at the time were similarly overridingly concerned by it. Some perhaps were but MPs are busy people and have both political and social commitments beyond Brexit.

Whatever the reason, the Tory Eurosceptics’ failure to bark in December 2017 was a catastrophic silence. Both the then-PM and the EU must have taken from the lack of MPs’ hostility that there was the basis for a deal that could get through parliament. The elements in the Joint Report would be hard-coded into the process and produce the doomed Withdrawal Agreement, to which the EU is still strongly attached despite it clearly being all-but dead in the UK.

What might have been the alternative had they howled? It is of course impossible to give any definitive answer but there were two clear paths open, though both held many obstacles to success. The first would have been for May to have adopted a closer Brexit arrangement with the EU, with the open backing of Labour MPs. The second would have been to have charted the other side of the rocks upon which her Deal foundered, and done what Johnson has subsequently tried.

The problem with these different alternatives is that they might well not have worked either. May did try, in the aftermath of the third defeat of her Deal, to try to strike an arrangement with Labour and not only got nowhere with it but the process cost her her job. Perhaps there would have been more goodwill earlier in the parliament, or if she had tried to attract individual MPs rather than Labour as a party, but I’m still sceptical the numbers could have added up, or that she could have accepted policies which meant giving up the immigration controls so dear to her political heart.

On the other hand, had she immediately moved to the Brexiteer right to secure that flank, she would just have ended up in the same position that Johnson is in now, with no more guarantee of getting a deal than he has (and perhaps less, given that her Brexit team would have been temperamentally unsuited to such a position).

All the same, bringing matters to a head 12 months earlier, when there was still more than a year and a quarter to the Brexit deadline and when parties were not so publicly committed to draft agreements, would have given breathing space to readjust.

That, however, is history. What happens next?

The pretence that the EU will not re-open the Withdrawal Agreement has clearly now been dropped, though that doesn’t necessarily imply any change in its underlying negotiating position but Johnson’s proposals do cause the EU a tactical problem.

The European Council will be reluctant to reject the Johnson paper outright, both for the optics and for the consequences. Failure to reach an agreement will trigger the Benn Act’s provision to request an extension but in the absence of any basis for extension, what’s the point? The EU doesn’t want a hard Brexit and certainly doesn’t want to be responsible for one (or to risk being seen as such), so that implies it will do its best to offer an extension and, as such, will find a reason to do so. I suspect that the lateness of the delivery of the UK’s proposals and the vagueness of the language will give sufficient grounds to refer it ‘for technical analysis and further negotiations’, or some such process.

That would give Johnson a fig-leaf to cover the necessity of an extension – the lack of a rejection of his plan, painful though that may be to some in the EU – though it would clearly scupper any chance of an October 31 exit.

In reality, what the EU would be doing would be providing time for a UK general election, a change of government and a change of policy but obviously they couldn’t say that publicly. Such an election is clearly looming and a Brexit extension is the key to unlock the door to one. I’d expect it on either November 28 or December 5, with the latter the more likely.

I’d also anticipate a longer extension than the Benn Act provides for. There is an EU Council meeting scheduled for December but that’s too soon after an election to table papers, digest them and reach tentative agreements ahead of the summit. More likely is a timetable focussed around the March 2020 meeting, with perhaps a month or so to ratify any agreement reached, implying something like April 30 as the new deadline. Clearly, if Johnson is successful in the election, there’ll either be a No Deal outcome or a serious revisiting of the EU’s priorities. Alternatively, the process would be even more fundamentally reset.

This, of course, assumes no further dogs dozing on the job.

David Herdson


The Tories seem determined to blow up their own party

Monday, September 2nd, 2019

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new administration has so far moved with speed and determination. That’s one reason why so many commentators seem taken in by its impression of tough-minded resolve and tactical acumen. But we shouldn’t be fooled. There are huge risks in the approach that Johnson and his right-hand man Dominic Cummings are taking, and they have made a series of mistakes that might give their opponents the last laugh.

The first blunder the new-model Conservatives made actually predates Cummings’ arrival at Johnson’s shoulder – and that was picking a well-known and shop-worn personality to be leader and Prime Minister in the first place. Johnson has a long track-record, much of it contestable, but all of it controversial. No-one is going to change their mind about him now – and most of the public simply don’t like him.

Introduce a fresh face to the public, a Penny Mordaunt or a Sajid Javid perhaps, and you can reset the narrative. Fair-minded voters will grant hearing to someone they’ve never heard much about: ask John Major, who immediately turned around the Conservatives’ polling fortunes in the winter of 1990-91 before going on to win an unlikely General Election victory in 1992. But the tawdry and fleabitten circus act known as ‘Boris’? Not so much.

Detailing the long list of the Tories’ subsequent errors would take a very long article indeed. The biggest is driving pell-mell at a policy that polls tell us isn’t even backed by a majority of the public any more. By getting committed so clearly, so unequivocally to Brexit at all costs, the Government is cutting itself off from majority opinion. Nor is a No Deal Brexit popular: when YouGov recently asked voters to rank their preferences from +2 (a very good outcome) to -2 (very bad), No Deal came off worst by a long way.

Johnson and Cummings’ methods also leave a lot to be desired, on three fronts. Proroguing Parliament in such a high-handed and confrontational manner may well come back to haunt them. Firstly, most of the public does not agree with this constitutional sleight-of-hand: if we again turn to YouGov’s numbers, voters oppose the executive’s suspension of Parliament by 47 per cent to 27 per cent. 

Secondly, that level of extraordinary constitutional aggression has united the Government’s opponents. Just a few weeks ago, liberals and leftists – both theoretically pro-European – could not stand the sight of each other. Labour people were telling us that Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson’s reluctance to deal with Jeremy Corbyn was blocking realistic attempts to stymie No Deal. Liberal Democrats were saying that Labour was a pro-Brexit party as much to blame for the current mess as the Tories are.

Neither set of claims stood up to much scrutiny, of course, but now they seem old hat. Both sides can get together and make up in opposing ‘the coup’, and we’re likely to see a lot more co-operation within Parliament in the coming days. Remainers and No Deal sceptics know it’s now or never. Despite their very different final objectives, they can make common cause now – a cause which many middle-of-the road voters will sympathise with.

Third and last, trying to bypass Parliament has achieved the extraordinary feat of making Jeremy Corbyn look reasonable. Many of his past associations, and plenty of his basic ideas, are anathema to a majority of voters (though quite a few of his actual policies are pretty popular). But who can object to an Opposition leader who calls for more debate, more deliberation, more votes? Keeping the doors of the House of Commons open is hardly a radical demand from the Far Left.

The Government has thrown Labour a lifeline, cheered on by many commentators who cannot see the difference between playing an ace and overplaying your hand. Without Brexit, the Tories would just have to play for time. The people now in control of the Labour Party will tear it apart at some point. They are fixated on their very narrow range of ideological targets, rather than on the service of any one particular party – rather like Cummings himself, in fact.

Labour is about to be convulsed by a series of deselection battles that, while it might not bring down all that many MPs, will divert a huge amount of energy and anger away from the Conservatives, and towards the Corbynites’ own internal enemies (not that there are all that many left). One day soon, the Conservatives might just be able to move in and pick over the rubble. Not if they embark on a No Deal Brexit, or a snap General Election campaign that can only serve to unite Labour people around winning as many seats as possible.

No doubt Cummings feels pretty clever right now, watching protestors marching on the news. He will feel that he is isolating Britain’s strongest pro-Europeans, and that more ‘mainstream’ British voters just want the whole farrago over and done with.

He might well find that he’s committing one of the frequent errors that clever people often make: believing their own hype. No doubt Nick Timothy thought that his ‘Erdington strategy’ of corralling working-class voters into the Conservative camp was working fine – until the whole thing collapsed around him.

Even if the Conservatives win a near-term General Election, and that’s a big ‘if’, the final disaster the Tories are inflicting on themselves is the long-term toxification of their brand. Much of Britain isn’t the insular, suburban, conformist or small-‘c’ conservative place that it was in the 1970s and 1980s, when the Tories were last able to win stable majorities.

It’s increasingly an urban, cosmopolitan, outward-looking, liberal country, one that will look back askance at a transient electoral victory won in the teeth of a new and emergent Britain’s opposition. Pro-European young people are turning away in their droves: unweighted subsets of YouGov data show the Tories share of the vote among 18- to 24-year olds bobbing around between nine and 19 per cent.

Cummings has one get-out-of-jail card, and that Corbyn’s unpopularity. There’s no need for hyperbole here. The Leader of the Opposition is quite simply one of the most unpopular front-rank politicians Britain has ever known. In Survation’s most recent poll, even Labour voters thought that Johnson was more of a strong leader than Corbyn. But the Tories seem to be trying to throw away that great advantage, by alienating as many voters as they can, and by uniting their foes. It’s just about possible that will work in the short term. In the long term, it may well doom the Conservatives to irrelevance. 

Glen O’Hara

Glen O’Hara is Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Oxford Brookes University. He is the author of a series of books and articles on modern Britain, including most recently The Politics of Water in Post-War Britain (2017). He blogs at ‘Public Policy and the Past’, and tweets as @gsoh31.


The Conservative Party is pursuing profoundly un-conservative policies. So I’ve left it.

Wednesday, August 7th, 2019

Ideology with no concern for consequences or convention is the business of revolutionaries

I have today resigned my membership of the Conservative Party after 24 years. While that’s a moment of some sadness for me, it’s of trivial importance on any wider scale. What isn’t trivially important is the set of changes which the Party’s undergone in the last few years and especially the last few weeks because these will have an immense impact on the country, one way or another, and are changes that no true conservative party would be advocating.

Foremost is inevitably Brexit. Unlike some who’ve left the Party recently, I am not opposed to Britain leaving the EU. I did vote Remain in 2016 and don’t regret that decision but the country chose Leave and that decision should be respected.

What is not necessary is the obsession with either the arbitrary deadline of 31 October, or the clear desire among many in the Party to leave with no deal. The latter would be deeply damaging to the economy and community cohesion, while the former makes it an all but certain outcome as there wouldn’t time to deliver anything else, even if the conditions for re-opening talks weren’t designed as if to be rejected.

In truth, Brexit has become for the Conservatives what nationalisation is for the Corbynite Labour Party: an end in itself, to be achieved irrespective of cost and with any practical benefits as an incidental bonus. It is a revolutionary ideology unworthy of the Conservative Party, not least because it fails to consider the likely counter-productive political and social consequences of delivering Brexit in such harsh manner.

Over the last 20 years, the effective policy of the Party has gone from keeping open the option to join the Euro (1997/2001 manifestoes), through to leaving the EU without a deal. This is the measure of the shift in policy and the reason why it is now unattractive to many natural supporters of a pragmatic political party interested in pro-business policies and cautious about unnecessary radical change.

The source of this new-found enthusiasm for these grossly disruptive policies is not hard to pinpoint. While I accept that Boris Johnson himself is by instinct a fairly liberal Conservative – though these instincts are far too easily overridden by his ambition and cynical embrace of populism – he has surrounded himself both in cabinet and in his Number 10 staff by people drawn disproportionately from the right of the Party, presumably because of their willingness to endorse his Brexit policy. This not only reduces the quality and capacity of the government – how many, including Johnson himself, have previously failed in ministerial office? – but sends a clear signal that the Conservatives are not the broad church they have traditionally aspired to be.

In particular, the appointment of Dominic Cummings is an indication that good, stable government is not valued: he will inevitably cause conflict and chaos and destroy much more than he can create. His appointment is what a PM with a 150-majority who wants to fight a civil war would do, not one who needs every vote. Cummings might argue that it is better to undertake a revolution than to undergo one. I would argue it’s better not to have a revolution at all: they invariably end up eating their sponsors, as well as many others.

The suggestion yesterday that the PM could simply sit out the two weeks after losing a Vote of No Confidence, and bed-block in this manner to trigger a general election and so deliver Brexit by default – even if another government could be formed from within the existing House – is grotesque. It’s one of the most striking examples yet of how little this government values the conventions of politics that keep debate within sensible bounds and ensures wide buy-in to the legitimacy of the system. We ignore these conventions at our peril: once broken, they no longer protect anyone.

The third main reason I cannot actively support this government is its irresponsible attitude to fiscal prudence. The Cameron governments did great work in healing the economic damage caused by the excesses of Gordon Brown, in eliminating the real-terms budget deficit while preventing recession and in overseeing considerable growth in employment. These achievements are now likely to be undone by the uncontrolled promises made for additional spending or new tax cuts. There are certainly many valid candidates for increased spending but those decisions have to be taken sustainably (which again argues for a controlled Brexit).

Politically, these commitments completely undermine the Party’s arguments and actions of the last decade and are not only irresponsible in themselves but will inevitably give cover to Labour to make their own unfunded promises. Labour will no doubt also take the opportunity to claim (wrongly) that the reversal of policy also proves their assertion that the austerity programme was the result of an ideological desire to cut rather than a pragmatic need to sort the nation’s finances out. The largesse is both unconservative and un-Conservative.

The changes in the Conservative Party’s policies and attitudes have left me politically homeless. Labour under Corbyn remains a serious threat to the country, while I cannot support the Lib Dems when they reject the referendum result. I know I am not alone in my dilemma and there are others on the centre-right who feel much the same. Where our votes will go in the end, I can’t say: I suppose it will depend to a large extent on whether any party bothers to court us.

David Herdson

Conservative Party member (1995-2019)
Councillor, Bradford MDC (1999-2003)
Chairman, Shipley Conservative Association (2011-13)
Chairman, Wakefield District Conservative Association (2016-18)


Why I’ve resigned from the Conservative Party

Wednesday, July 24th, 2019


From longstanding PBer Richard Nabavi

After five decades of support for the Conservatives, I have now resigned as a party member. Naturally this hasn’t been an easy decision; it has been a pleasure working with my MP Nus Ghani, and before her Charles Hendry, and helping in a small way in various constituencies to achieve six years of sound Conservative-led government under David Cameron, even if the past two years have been increasingly difficult. I shall miss the opportunities to take part and to meet with senior figures in the party, which I’ve always found very interesting.

However, with the election as leader of someone who is, to put it charitably, deeply unserious, and with the descent of the party into what can only be described as a political death-cult untroubled by political and economic reality, obsessed with the arbitrary and unrealistic date of October 31st, and deliberately refusing to listen to multiple well-informed warnings about the dangers of crashing out of the EU in total chaos, I cannot remain as a member any longer.

The party is no longer recognisable as the pragmatic, business-friendly, economically-sound, reality-based party of government which I have supported for decades. It will justifiably get the electoral blame for the consequences of the disastrous course it has chosen, and will probably never be forgiven by younger voters.

The election of Boris Johnson as leader is irresponsible and unworthy in itself: many of those who voted for him are fully aware that he is unfit to be PM. But, worse than that, it is a symptom of a much deeper malaise in the party, one that goes to the very heart of what the Conservative Party should be about. It is a choice of denial as well as of desperation, showing that party members have lost interest in dealing with the world as it is, not as it they would like it to be.

If the Conservative Party no longer wishes to be a serious party of government, living in the real world and striving to act in the interests of the whole United Kingdom, what is the point of it?

I hope that, at some time in the future, the party will come back to its senses, as it did in 2005, and allow some future leader to drag it back into the reality of the 21st century. Unfortunately, it looks as though I will have a very long wait.

Richard Nabavi


If there was a betting market on the first Tory MP defecting to the Brexit Party my money would be on Steve Baker

Sunday, April 28th, 2019

In today’s Sun on Sunday reports

Tory MPs such as Lucy Allan, the MP for Telford, have openly tweeted encouragement for the Brexit Party, and dozens of others say privately they will vote for Farage.

Some have discussed defecting.

One prominent Brexiteer said: “Maybe we should all just defect to the Brexit Party. Can you imagine the chaos.”

It was sent to members of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group. A source close to Farage confirmed: “Nigel is very smug at the moment and is 100 per cent sure that there is at least one high-profile defection in the pipeline with others likely to follow.”

Farage is also promising the 28 Tory MPs who remain opposed to May’s Brexit deal — a group known as the “Spartans” — that the Brexit Party will not contest their seats at the next election.

In 2014, Farage successfully persuaded two Conservative MPs, Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless, to defect to Ukip.

If Shadsy does put a market on the first Tory MP defecting to the Brexit party I’d be looking to back Steve Baker.

At the start of the month Steve Baker publicly spoke about voting against the government in a vote of no confidence.

As the Spectator noted

In response, [Baker] stressed that ‘At this point I can foresee no circumstances, while as a Conservative MP, I vote against the government in a confidence motion.’

But then went on to add:

‘But we are approaching the point where the stakes are now so very high and so transcend party politics and what this country is about, and the fundamental British value that political power rests on consent, that I think these things are coming on to the table.’

To me if you’re willing to say that publicly then you’ve contemplated leaving the Tory party and for the Spartan wing of the ERG there’s only one party to defect to, that’s Farage’s new party. Gerard Batten’s turning UKIP into the political wing of the EDL has ensured there shouldn’t be any Tory MPs defecting to UKIP.

Now there’s the Carswell/Reckless precedent that when you betray the Tory party you trigger a by election but there is an easy get out for any future defectors. Given the the Parliamentary arithmetic and Mrs May’s attempts to pass her deal every vote is crucial it would be reckless for the Spartans to be out of Parliament for around two months fighting by elections.

There’s quite a few Leavers who would be delighted to see the Spartans leave the Tory party, the defections to the Brexit party would increase the average IQ of both parties.



Ex-CON leader betting favourite, Javid, drops sharply amidst reports of plots to block him

Wednesday, April 10th, 2019 chart of movement on the Betfair exchange

A sign of the Tory Islamophobia crisis?

As can be seen from the betting price chart six months ago the Home Secretary. Sajid Javid, was 6the favourite to succeed TMay as CON leader and prime minister Since then he has seen a steady deterioration in his position in the betting and over the last couple of days he’s moved down from an 8% chance to just 5%.

Earlier in the week BuzzFeed was reporting that Tory members were posting anti Muslim comments on social media urging one and other to prevent Javid from becoming leader The report stated that about 52 members have now been suspended over anti Muslim posts. According to the report

“On Monday, BuzzFeed News presented Conservative HQ with a list of another 20 Facebook users who claim to be Tory members and have made Islamophobic comments on the platform.

The users all publicly stated that they are current party members, and either discussed how they intend to vote in a future Tory leadership election, or are members of a closed Facebook group which only allows confirmed party members to join.

It is understood that more than 50 Tory members have now been suspended over anti-Muslim posts, though the party refuses to say which members it has suspended, or how many.”

LAB supporters often complain that all the public attention seems to be on their party’s anti-semitism crisis with very little focus on the Tory problem with anti-Muslims. There is a difference. The LAB issue goes right to the heart of the party’s leadership while nobody is saying that Theresa May is in anyway sympathetic or involved.

Mike Smithson


April 2019: month of chaos

Saturday, November 10th, 2018

A No Deal Brexit is now highly likely in March

Nothing has changed: words that might well form Theresa May’s epitaph. Unfortunately for her, unless something does, that epitaph will be needed sooner rather than later. With less than five months until the Brexit deadline, both the parliamentary maths and the European diplomacy remain resolutely irresoluble. Nothing has changed.

Some might argue that’s a favourable interpretation; that Jo Johnson’s resignation yesterday indicated the maths are getting worse for the PM but that wouldn’t be quite right. To some extent, these resignations ought to be baked into the figures. We don’t know exactly who’s going to resign, or when, but we do know that passions on Brexit run high and that it will be impossible for the government to satisfy all its ministers in whatever is agreed. Hence, some will walk. This is just the process playing itself out.

Unfortunately, what also hasn’t changed are the other irreconcilable aspects of Brexit. The EU and Ireland still demand an open border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland; the DUP demand no regulatory dealignment between NI and GB; Tory MPs demand the ability to diverge from the EU; the EU insists that its external Customs Union border must be consistent.

The problem here is that the four demands cannot all be met simultaneously but that for a deal to be able to be signed and ratified, the government needs the agreement of all those parties demanding them. Hence, unless something fundamental changes, it’s almost impossible to see how a deal can be done.

Hence the Gordian Knot attempts to solve the problem by changing the rules (or ignoring them); the most popular of which is the second referendum. Quite how this is supposed to come about when the government is understandably adamantly opposed to the idea isn’t clear. Nor is it obvious how a second vote resolves the problem when it’s all-but certain that public opinion would polarize away from any unhappy compromise and toward the extremes of Remain or No Deal. A second vote offers nothing that parliament cannot do now except provide a little more justification for a U-turn should Remain win.

However, the clock has practically run out on the time needed for a new referendum and certainly will have done so by the December summit – and even that might not be when a deal is either done or declared undoable. Article 50 could be extended to enable the vote (if the EU agrees) but there’s a more practical deadline of late May, when the European elections take place: elections Britain would be entitled to take part in if still a member. But it’s still all hypothetical as long as the Tories are in power: no referendum bill will be introduced.

Which means that the can can’t be kicked any further down the road: March 29 really is the deadline, deal or not – and the changes are very much not.

As Jo Johnson pointed out in his resignation statement, a No Deal Brexit would not be a piece of cake. The British government would neither be bureaucratically or logistically ready. In all probability, neither would the countries with which Britain shares its closest transport links.

    It’s entirely possible that the country could see its worst disruption since the Winter of Discontent or the Three Day Week – hardly an appetizing prospect.

That assumes that Theresa May makes it that far. With incoming fire from the DUP and from both wings of her own party (though oddly, not from the Labour front bench), she may not – though the red lines and the parliamentary maths won’t be any different for any alternative Tory PM. They would of course be different for Corbyn but that’s not going to happen unless May seriously errs in her relationship with the DUP.

Ultimately, some form of deal or deals will be done. Practical politics will demand it as the logjam of interests is swept aside by the force of public opinion being confronted with the reality of what No Deal looks like. These might be micro-deals to keep individual sectors running, based on mutual recognition; it might be a comprehensive one based on something like those sections of the Withdrawal Agreement and Future Framework already agreed. Whichever, the talks look highly likely to go down to the wire and beyond.

David Herdson