Iain Dale: Zombie May and her Zombie Cabinet

Leadsom seems to be the only one with lead in her pencil. All she needs now is to grow big fat hairy balls.

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

Another astonishing week in Brexitland. But I suspect we’ve seen nothing compared to what is to come over the next seven days.

Sadly, we have a political leadership which is wholly unfit to be described that way. We have a Prime Minister who deludes herself that she is showing leadership when in fact she is doing the opposite.

She chairs a Cabinet, but refuses to give it any idea of what she believes, or where she wants to take the country. And we have a Cabinet that is so devoid of bollocks that it allows her to do what she likes without fear of consequence. And she lets them do it. It’s a Zombie Cabinet, led by a Zombie Prime Minister.

Her speech in Number Ten on Wednesday evening was one of the most embarrassing of her premiership, and there have been a fair few to rival it for that particular accolade. It achieved the exact opposite of what she presumably wanted. At times, she even channelled Donald Trump, which was never going to end well.

By trying to pitch the people against Parliament, she did something very dangerous – something I cannot remember any other prime minister doing. The fact that she had already done it that day in Prime Minister’s Questions, and then repeated it seven hours later, made it even worse.

She also achieved something else unique. She alienated many of the MPs she needs to win over to get her third “meaningful vote” through Parliament next week. These include Labour MPs and members of the ERG. It takes a lot to bind those two groups together, but Theresa May achieved it.

I do not understand how that speech ever came to be made. Did none of her advisers raise a hand, and point out the dangers of taking the approach she did?

But in the end, the buck stops with the Prime Minister – she is after all responsible for what comes out of her mouth – but speeches like that go through multiple drafts, and are run past a whole raft of people. Yet no one seemed alert to the downsides and dangers of what she was about to say. Quite incredible.

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I’ve copped quite lot of criticism for saying that I think May’s leadership has run its course, but I’ve got broad shoulders and people are free to say what they like. Margaret Thatcher inspired me to join the Conservative Party when I was 16. I devoted a large part of my life to promoting the Conservative cause in one form or another. It was my dream to be a Conservative MP, and although I never achieved that aim, I still continued to be an activist for the party until I joined LBC, when it became inappropriate to continue with party political activities.

I believed May was the right choice to succeed David Cameron, to take us to Brexit and conduct negotiations with the EU. I was wrong on both counts. As I said on Any Questions last Friday, this is the most calamitous British government since Lord North lost America. Hyperbole maybe – but not much of an exaggeration, surely.

Brexit means Brexit, and we’re going to make a success of it, she said. Ad nauseum. We will leave on March 29th, she said. Ad nauseum. We’ll be leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union, she said. Ad nauseum.

Well, Theresa May’s form of Brexit does not mean Brexit. At the time of writing, we won’t be leaving on March 29th. If her deal goes through we won’t be fully leaving the Single Market or the Customs Union. It’s all going terribly well, isn’t it?

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Up until now, I have always thought that were there to be a general election, the Conservatives would win a majority. No longer.

The prospect of a Corbyn government is nearer now than at any time during the last three and a half years. It won’t be that he gets many more votes than he did last time. It will be because Conservative voters stay at home and sit on their hands.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the local elections. Labour’s polling apparently shows that they are not going to do well because people now see them now as the party that backs Remain, and Labour Brexiteers are deserting. We’ll see.

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Back to the Cabinet. Last week, I wrote in my diary about its supine nature. They’ve been at it again.

On Tuesday, the Cabinet met to discuss what to do about extending Article 50. The Prime Minister asked each of her ministers to give their views on whether we should request a short or a long extension. I’m told that once they have all finished, she said: “Thanks for your comments,” and moved the discussion on to something else.

Not a single one of them apparently raised a hand, and said: “Excuse me, Prime Minister, we’ve given our view, what’s yours?” It was then briefed out that she would be writing to Donald Tusk asking for both a short extension which could be turned into a long one if necessary. The next morning, her entire cabinet was taken by surprise when it emerged she was only asking for a short extension.

This is not Cabinet Government in any meaningful sense. But, given the Prime Minister’s weak political position, it is truly astonishing that the Cabinet continues to allow her to get away with it. Andrea Leadsom seems to be the only one of them with any lead in her pencil at the moment (don’t let that image pollute your mind). Perhaps she will be the one with the big fat hairy balls to tell the Prime Minister, “Enough, and no more”.

Mohammed Amin: The New Zealand atrocity – and the symbiotic relationship between anti-Muslim and Islamist terrorists

The attack is a salutary reminder that all terrorists, by definition, believed in something and have a cause.

Mohammed Amin MBE is Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum and Co-Chair of the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester. He is writing in a personal capacity.

Yesterday, I awoke to the news of the horrific attack against two mosques in Christchurch New Zealand. The apparent killer posted a manifesto online before commencing his murderous assault on innocent Muslim worshippers.

The attack is a salutary reminder that all terrorists, by definition, believed in something and have a cause. Mass murder driven simply by a personal desire to kill, without any ideological underpinning, is not terrorism as the word is defined.

For example, other Muslims often complain that the 2017 Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock was not labelled as a terrorist while the 2013 Boston Marathon bombrers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were, implying that only Muslims get labelled as terrorists. The labelling here is accurate, because the Boston Marathon killers had an ideology they were promoting, while the Las Vegas killer did not.

Violent Islamist extremism

Sadly, a long line of major terrorist attacks around the world mean that violent Islamist extremism is “front of brain” for almost everybody. If you want to understand this ideology, I recommend reading “The Genealogy of Terror: How to distinguish between Islam, Islamism and Islamist Extremism” by Matthew L.N. Wilkinson which I review at this link.

The frequency of violent Islamist extremism leads some people to make inaccurate and massively hurtful statements such as “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.” Depending on who it is, anyone who says that is either ignorant or being deceitful.

Other ideological motivations

There have been many different motivators for terrorism, often geographically localised such as Irish Republican Army terrorism, Kurdish separatism, and Tamil separatism.

At the non-geographical ideological level, the 1995 Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was motivated by anti-government beliefs. His beliefs were not the same as the white racism that motivated Dylann Roof to kill black worshippers in a Charlotte church in 2015. Roof’s views may however overlap to some extent with those of Robert Gregory Bowers who has been charged with the 2018 attack on the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue.

The New Zealand killer appears to have anti-Muslim beliefs very similar to those of Anders Behring Breivik, the 2011 killer of young socialists in Norway.

What is to be done?

As with violent Islamist extremism, the most immediate requirement is for more physical security and greater intelligence enabling plots to be intercepted and foiled.

However, that is not enough.

The ideological beliefs that are circulating need to be analysed and understood, with de-radicalisation programs being developed that are tailored to the individual ideologies involved. It is superficial to simply label all of them as “far right” without looking at the distinctions between them.

The 1500-page manifesto of Breivik or the 74-page manifesto issued by the apparent New Zealand killer can easily be dismissed as nonsense. They are. However, to prevent people being radicalised by these ideas, we must understand the twisted logic that underlies them.

In the UK the role of the Prevent Programme is critical. As David Cameron said on so many occasions, it is not enough to deal with those attempting to commit acts of terrorism.

One needs to also deal with those who promote the ideas which are absorbed by people and lead people to become terrorists. That is what he meant by dealing with non-violent extremism, a concept often mocked by the extremists and their fellow travellers, but which is explained very precisely in Dr Wilkinson’s book.

What happens next?

The Muslim extremists who contend that Muslims will never be accepted in, for example, Europe exist in a symbiotic relationship with those non-Muslim extremists who contend that Islam is an alien religion that does not belong in Europe. Such Muslims will already be pointing towards the New Zealand attack in order to convince impressionable young Muslims that they will never be accepted here.

The outpouring of support and sympathy that we have seen from political and religious leaders is therefore vital.

Going forward, all politicians and media outlets should reflect on their language. Are they using words that unite people or divide them?

Sadly, all too often in Britain, North America, Australia, and continental Europe one finds politicians promoting divisions within society for electoral gain. They need to be ostracised as Fraser Anning, the Australian Senator, has been for his comments immediately after the shooting.

Garvan Walshe: Extension. A short one would serve no purpose. A longer one would bring Brexit’s reverse.

Honourable countries face up to the consequences of their actions. They don’t, like dilatory schoolboys late with their essays, simply ask for more time.

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party. He runs TRD Policy.

A fresh rumour gathers strength in Brussels. People who had lost hope, in the EU itself and (it is said) some member states, have started to think that Brexit could be defeated. I use the word advisedly: not stopped — defeated. They hope for a long extension, enough for another referendum in which, they imagine, anti-Brexit forces would be successful.

Nothing will have pleased them more than Geoffrey Cox’s legal opinion that any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement the Prime Minister negotiated to the withdrawal agreement were cosmetic. In law, Cox was right. The agreement was not renegotiated. As Gil Scot Heron might have put it:

“You will not be able to amend, brother
You will not be able to seek new alternative arrangements
You will not be able to lose yourself in arbitratino
Skip out below a Unilateral Declaration
Because the agreement will not be reneogiated.”

The reasons the agreement will not be changed provide the honourable case for Brexit. This is an argument stripped of scare stories about straight bananas or unelected bureaucrats who turn out on closer inspection to be elected parliamentarians.

The honourable Brexit cause doesn’t need to drum up fears of a unitary superstate. Even the hybrid form of government into which the EU is evolving is not something it thinks Britain should be part of. We have our own history, looking outward across the seas to the island chain of our formal colonies to which we sent millions of emigrants – Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, and from which, research from the Henry Jackson Society has found, the British would be happy to accept increase immigration.

And I’m sure this is the Brexit that my Brexiteer friends wanted when they campaigned to leave. They want a free and independent Britain making its own way in the world again. They didn´t think this country a mean-spirited nation unable to absorb newcomers, whov’ve done so much to make the country what it is. They don’t want to withdraw from the West: Britain’s strong armed forces should be a pillar of the alliance system. These are all honourable goals, and this Brexit is an honourable cause.

Yet if the EU is a political union, and Britain to be outside it, that changes the balance of power on our continent. A single economic superpower about the same size as the United States, with Britain to one side. A single entity capable of defending its interests, and those of its members against countries, like the UK, that have chosen to be on the outside. These are the consequences of leaving. Don’t think, as Remainers often do, that the EU is nice.

Honour knows that actions have consequences, and it’s necessary to bear them. This includes the reversal of the traditional balance of power between Ireland and the UK. This will have effects on Northern Ireland’s future. In finance, technology, and defence procurement, Europe’s rules will be set by the EU’s members and not by Britain. That’s the consequence of leaving — the price of freedom if you will.

Because honourable countries face up to the consequences of their actions. They don’t, like dilatory schoolboys late with their essays, simply ask for more time. A short extension to Article 50 won’t serve any purpose whatsoever; while a long one, which the EU would only grant to hold a referendum, risks Brexit’s defeat.

Parliament however is in dilatory schoolboy mode. It voted today on a motion to propose the oxymoronic “managed no deal”. It voted on a “standstill agreement” that the EU will not accept. It may eventually vote on whether to have a referendum, but only after the withdrawal agreement has been gone through. It may also vote on whether to pursue a Norway-style Soft Brexit, even though that requires the deal that it has just rejected to be approved. It may also vote for an essay extension. What unites them all is that they avoid the choice on offer: this deal, No Deal, or No Brexit.

And Parliament, having voted on Tuesday against the deal a second time, today voted against no deal and against no Brexit too. Having eliminated all other options, we’ll be exactly back to where we started: trying to Brexit without accepting the consequences of Brexit is the only thing that can command a consensus across the Commons.

Parliament seems unable to adjust itself to the central fact of a Brexit deal: it needs to be agreed with the EU, and the EU won’t agree anything that doesn’t involve Britain taking the consequences of its own decision to leave. The fact is that the deal on the table, which allows for a wide variety of outcomes to be negotiated over the next four years, is as good as it’s going to get. If you want to leave the EU, take this deal ,and start shaping Britain’s new phase of independence. Give yourselves a Brexit with honour. If you don´t, you could end up with a long extentsion and another referendum. If that happens, they’ll be cheering in Brussels, not Britain.

Michael Josem: Company regulation. Westminster has no right to legislate for the Isle of Man.

It is neo-colonialist for MPs to attempt to do otherwise in relation to Crown Dependencies – and the attempt should be resisted.

Michael Josem is a marketing & communications professional.  He is a resident of the Isle of Man who formerly worked for members of the Liberal Party in the Australian Parliament.

Today, the legitimacy of parliaments to make laws comes not from their divine rights but, rather, from the consent of the governed. The Westminster Parliament has a legitimacy to make laws for the UK, because the people of the UK give their consent through a free and fair democratic process. The US congress has a similar legitimacy – just as the parliaments of Canada, Australia, France and elsewhere do. They have a right and duty to make laws for their own people – but not for others. This principle should not be controversial in 2019.

In a bygone era, parliaments (most obviously Westminster, but other European parliaments, too) did not accept such constraints on their power. In colonial times, Westminster created laws for its overseas colonies of North America, Australasia, Africa and elsewhere. This practice substantially ended in the twentieth century, because our civilisation recognised that the parliament of one people has no moral right to rule over another people. The United Kingdom was a key leader in recognising that its parliamentary “children” should be allowed to mature and make their own decisions.

Despite the obvious moral illegitimacy of one parliament making laws for another people, there is today a group of Westminster MPs who appear to recognise no such constraint on their power. Led by Andrew Mitchell and Margaret Hodge, these neo-colonialists are seeking to change company regulation in the Crown Dependencies of the Isle of Man and Channel Islands without the consent of the peoples who live there.

With the support of much of Labour and the minor parties, they appear to have been able to construct a parliamentary majority to amend the Government’s Financial Services Bill to impose these new rules upon the Crown Dependencies.  A vote has been postponed but is none the less likely to happen.

There are good arguments in favour of the legislation that they propose, and good arguments against it, too. But those arguments should not be heard in Westminster, because Westminster has no moral legitimacy to force its rule upon the Crown Dependencies on this issue. The people of the Crown Dependencies do not vote in Westminster elections, and so their view is not represented Westminster. Because the people of the Crown Dependencies have no say in Westminster, there is no legitimacy for Westminster to say what happens in the Crown Dependencies.

Of course there are some areas in which Westminster can legitimately legislate for the Crown Dependencies. The governments of the Crown Dependencies have consented to various British regulatory and legislative instruments over the years. Most obviously, this includes assenting to Westminster administering foreign affairs and defence.

Similarly, with the consent of the Crown Dependencies, Westminster legislated earlier this year to form a post-Brexit Customs Union with the Isle of Man (despite unhelpful, troublemaking votes from f the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats to oppose this move). This empowerment of Westminster to make trade deals on behalf of the Isle of Man with foreign nations was legitimate because it has the approval of the Manx people, as represented by our own democratically elected government at Tynwald.

The modern political world is witnessing many challenges to established norms of behaviour – mostly from the executives of various countries. While it is unusual to see a legislature break its own behavioural norms, these are clearly interesting times. Rather than try to expand their jurisdiction in an undemocratic manner, Westminster MPs should continue to have some humility about the moral limits to their powers.

Today, the public is demanding more than ever before that political office holders should recognise that they are servants of their people. In that vein, Westminster MPs should remember that they are the representatives of the British people, not their rulers – and when it comes to the Isle of Man, Westminster MPs are neither their rulers nor their representatives. These Westminster neo-colonialists should stop trying to leverage ancient suzerainties to achieve their short-term political goals.

MPs supporting this move covet the power to rule over the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, despite never being elected by the people of the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands. If they want to make laws for the Isle of Man, they are welcome to seek election to the Manx parliament at Tynwald. Their legislative power grab will only be legitimate if they have nothing less than the approval of the Manx people.

Lord Ashcroft: “There’s not going to be a single Democrat that can go toe-to-toe with the President.” My interview with Kayleigh McEnany.

Trump’s press secretary sets out how the President intends to run his re-election campaign in 2020.

If you enjoyed the last presidential election, you’ll be delighted by the thought that we’re only 20 months away from the next one.

Characteristically enough, Donald Trump declared his intention to seek a second term earlier than any previous incumbent, and his campaign is already in what Americans like to call “the staffing up process.” One of the earliest senior appointments is Kayleigh McEnany, the former CNN commentator named earlier this month as the campaign’s national press secretary.

I met her last week at the Trump campaign headquarters in Northern Virginia for a discussion you can hear in full in the latest Ashcroft in America podcast.

If candidate Trump’s slogan in 2016 was Make America Great Again, I asked, how far is he going to claim to have achieved that by 2020?

“Moving forward, it’s ‘keep America great’.” Last time round “he was on pace to win from the very beginning” because “the conservative base found their hero. They found someone that they found to be authentic, that spoke from the heart, that wasn’t scripted, that wasn’t a mannequin politician.” Since his election, she says, “the results speak for themselves.”

The base is one thing, but my research regularly finds around one third of Trump voters saying they were voting mainly to stop Hillary Clinton. If the Democrats can find a more appealing candidate this time – which ought not to be hard, given her approval ratings at the time – doesn’t that mean he’s in trouble?

If they were sceptical at first, she believes, they have been won over: “They recognise that this president has brought jobs back, that he’s brought security to manufacturing, that he’s fought for the American people, he’s fought for the blue-collar worker, and they see those results on the ground.”

McEnany puts the economy, rising wages, and falling unemployment at the head of a long list of the President’s achievements. But does that leave him vulnerable if the economic cycle takes a turn for the worse? “I don’t foresee the economy changing at all. The fundamentals of the economy are strong.” Moreover, “business owners know that they have a free-market capitalist in the White House,” a President who will deregulate and allow “uninhibited growth.”

At this stage in the process, most of the interest is on who the Democrats are going to nominate as Trump’s opponent. What kind of person does she think the party is in the mood to choose?

“A socialist. It’s pretty clear. You look at the fact that just eight years ago, what the Democratic contenders were saying then versus now and it’s striking. You’ll recall President Obama would say over and over, if you like your health care you can keep it. There is a recognition that there is a place for private insurance. Now you’re hard pressed to find a single candidate who says that – the order of the day is government-run health care… The left is ruling the day, the extreme left and socialism is the order of the day.”

As for what kind of Democratic opponent would give the Trump campaign the toughest job: “I don’t think a single one would… When you’re standing up to results like that there’s not going to be a single Democrat that can go toe to toe with the President. It’s much like back in the Reagan era where Reagan asked voters, are you better off today than you were four years ago. And when that question is asked of voters, the answer is yes.”

While there is the prospect of a high-profile independent candidate in the 2020 race, McEnany argues that this would cause Trump less trouble than his other opponents. “I don’t think it will be a centrist ticket, I think it will be a liberal one. You’ve seen [former Starbucks boss] Howard Shultz come out and say, ‘I can’t stand with this socialist Democratic party’. He’s still a liberal, make no doubt about it, but should they nominate a far-left socialist they’re gonna have a real problem on their hands.”

So if you’re not worried about sceptical voters or your potential opponent, what is the biggest challenge facing the Trump re-election campaign? “Breaking through the filter of the mainstream media.” A study by Harvard University had found “historic negative coverage” during Trump’s first hundred days in office – “there’s so much unfairness, so much false reporting and the President’s not given a fair shake.” The campaign’s job is “making sure the American people have unfiltered access to what the President wants to share with them.” The campaign’s own polling during the State of the Union speech confirmed this.

“We saw a double-digit rise in approval among swing voters who just directly watched the President. There’s a lower number for those who watched the media reporting of what the President said. That’s proof to us that our strategy moving forward, the President unfiltered wins the day, at rallies and speeches talking directly to the American people.”


You can hear Lord Ashcroft’s full interview with Kayleigh McEnany in the latest Ashcroft in America podcast.

Natasha Hausdorff: The proscription of Hezbollah is welcome – though overdue

It will be a significant step forward in keeping this heinous organisation from inciting hatred on our streets.

Natasha Hausdorff is a barrister and a Conservative activist.  She was recently a Pegasus Scholar and Fellow in the National Security Law Programme at Columbia Law School in New York. 

The Home Secretary’s decision today to proscribe the whole of the Lebanon based Hezbollah terrorist organisation is significant and long-overdue, not least because of the organisation’s antisemitic ideology and targeting of Israeli civilians. Once affirmed by Parliament, the UK’s approach to Hezbollah will be brought into line with that of the United States, Canada, Japan, Israel and the Netherlands.

Since July 2008, the so-called ‘military wing’ of Hezbollah has been on the list of proscribed organisations that are “concerned in terrorism”, pursuant to Section 3 and Schedule 2 of the Terrorism Act 2000. It is a criminal offence for a person to belong to, support or otherwise invite support for a proscribed organisation. However, until now, an arbitrary distinction between supposed political and military ‘wings’ left certain support for the group lawful in the UK.

Hezbollah has perpetrated atrocities around the world, from Buenos Aires to Bulgaria. Its terror activity has included hostage taking, airline hijacking, and bombing, including blowing up a US Marine barracks killing more than 300 US and French servicemen in Lebanon. The group has also assassinated diplomats and policy makers in the Middle East, the US and Asia. The original proscription in the UK coincided with the discovery that Hezbollah had been targeting British soldiers in Iraq. Acting as an Iranian proxy, it has killed thousands of innocents and continues its butchery in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, promoting Iran’s regime of terror in the region.

While some terror organisations feign non-violence, Hezbollah itself has never gone in for such a masquerade. The organisation makes no such distinction between its military and political affairs, because terror is its fundamental ideology and raison d’etre.  Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary General, explained in clear terms: “We don’t have a military wing and a political one; we don’t have Hezbollah on one hand and the resistance party on the other…every element of Hezbollah, from commanders to members as well as our various capabilities, is in the service of the resistance, and we have nothing but the resistance as a priority”.

This sentiment has been echoed by other top officials, including Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the group’s current Secretary General, and Ibrahim Mussawi, its spokesman. And this unity of purpose is considered to be an essential component of the group’s perceived success; Qassem stressed to a Lebanese paper in 2000 the importance of “one leadership, with one administration”.

It is bizarre that we in the UK have sought to maintain a distinction which is at odds with the pretty straightforward position articulated by Hezbollah leaders.  The artificial division between ‘wings’ has also been a dangerous one. Exploitation of the loophole created by this approach has allowed Hezbollah flags to be flown with impunity on the streets of London. The organisation has one flag, which displays an image of a Kalachnikov rifle, combined with a Heckler & Koch G3 assault rifle, clenched in a raised fist. Individuals displaying the Hezbollah flag at the annual ‘Al Quds Day’ march in London have been shielded from prosecution under Section 13 of the Terrorism Act, under which it is an offence to carry or display an article “in such a way or in such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion [of being] a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation”.

That the current legislation allows open support for this terrorist organisation on our streets has been raised repeatedly with the police and the Home Office by concerned community organisations. It would seem that these efforts have finally paid off. Undoubtably, full proscription ought also to affect the future approach of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. This move sends a clear message that we will no longer tolerate incitement and celebration of terror on the streets of the UK.

The news of full proscription is also to be welcomed as an indication of a toughened stance towards Iran, Hezbollah’s patron and financier. The Foreign Secretary seems to be taking a stronger line on Iran due to the continued imprisonment of British Iranian dual national, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. In light of Iranian support for terror organisations across the Middle East, tougher action on Iran is to be supported and encouraged. Rejection of the untenable distinction between ‘wings’ of Hezbollah will also enable law enforcement agencies to crack down on financial support for one of the best funded terror organisations in the world.

Concerns have been mooted over full proscription in view of Hezbollah’s participation in the Lebanese government. It has been argued that the UK’s relationship with Lebanon may be unduly complicated by such a determination. That argument remains unconvincing in light of the relationship which the US, Canada and the Arab League maintain with Lebanon while being clear in their own acknowledgment that Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation in its entirety.

Indeed, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Tom Tugendhat, has further indicated that proscription of the ‘political wing’ would not conflict with the UK’s duty to speak to ministers in the Lebanese government. Notably, such MPs as Joan Ryan, Mike Gapes and Ian Austin, all of whom left Labour last week, have also previously called for the group to be banned in its entirety.

The Government and the Home Secretary should be congratulated on the decision to finally end the charade and proscribe Hezbollah in full. With Parliament’s approval, this will be a significant step forward in the proper approach to combatting terrorism and to keeping this heinous organisation from inciting hatred on the streets of the United Kingdom.

The most pro-intervention speech by a Defence Secretary since the Iraq War

Is the Treasury up for funding and voters up for supporting the ideas he sketched out ealier this week?

Some of the Conservative Party’s most knowledgeable foreign affairs specialists are a bit sniffy about Gavin Williamson’s defence policy speech earlier this week.  One of its centre pieces was the announcement that “the first operational mission of the HMS Queen Elizabeth will include the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Pacific region.  “Significantly, British and American F35s will be embedded in the carrier’s air wing,” he continued, with a nod to our close relationship with America, before speaking of enhancing “the reach and lethality of our armed forces”.

That sounds a lot like a metaphorical, though certainly not a literal, shot across China’s bows in that last case.  One senior MP with an interest in security policy told ConservativeHome that he is all for stepping up activity in the South China Sea.  But “if you go out every few years for a few months, there’s no point.  It doesn’t show strength, it advertises weakness”.

Williamson’s answer to that might be to highlight the £1 billion that he screwed out of Philip Hammond in last autumn’s Budget, which itself came on top of an £800 million increase during the summer.  One point of the speech was to signal that he will soon be back for more: after all, there is a £7 billion black hole in the Ministry of Defence’s equipment budgets.  Without money to help reduce it, and more, the Defence Secretary will have no chance whatsoever of achieving the aims he set out.  These were so striking that it is well worth pondering their implications.

Only a few years ago, when the Coalition Government was formed, Russia was not considered a serious danger to national security at all.  It was only last year that Williamson tore up previous assumptions and told the Defence Select Committee that it is now a bigger threat to us than terrorism.  And earlier this week, he duly added China to the list of British security problems: “all the while, [it] is developing its modern military capability and its commercial power,” he said.  It was the most pro-intervention speech that any Defence Secretary has made since the Iraq War, listing “Kuwait, Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Kosovo” as earlier, successful, valuable incursions.

Hence his reference not only to cyber and to new drones for the RAF, but to new Poseidon P-8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft, new equipment for the army, and two naval “littoral strike groups complete with escorts, support vessels and helicopters. One would be based East of Suez in the Indo-Pacific and one based West of Suez in the Mediterranean, Atlantic and Baltic”.

All this raises three questions.  First, is it the Government’s collective position that China is no longer the friend that George Osborne saw it as, but is instead, in effect, a foe – or at least to be treated with a premis of suspicion?  Second, are the voters really up for a more interventionist-leaning foreign and defence posture, especially at a time when America seems to be entering a period of relative isolationism?  (“We stand ready to support our friends in Ukraine and the Balkans,” the Defence Secretary declared.)  Finally, Williamson’s programme implies higher defence spending still.  Is the Treasury willing to fund it?

The speech might have been delivered in much the same way were Britain not due to leave the EU.  There is no necessary connection between the re-ordering to which the Defence Secretary referred and Brexit.  But quitting the EU does make a difference to defence policy.  If we are to remain committed to our common continent, that implies solidifying the army presence in Eastern Europe – at a time when its manpower is at its lowest for more than a century.  And if we are also to become Global Britain, that suggests extending our reach and capabilities.

Unlike many of his colleagues, Williamson has no military background and, in the Conservative Party, the post that he holds is greatly prized – and seen as almost on a rank with the great offices of state.  His promotion was therefore not a popular one, and he has been widely briefed against.

Furthermore, the speech is bound to be read, by a cynical Westminster Village, as a leadership election preparation exercise.  Our plea for the Defence Secretary is that he is damned if he does and also if he doesn’t.  If he sets out a policy direction, he will be accused of ulterior motives. If he doesn’t, it will be claimed that he has nothing to say.

At a time when Brexit is all-consuming, and most Cabinet Ministers other than Michael Gove seem unwilling to make an impression, it ought to be thoroughly welcome that one of the others is developing a policy, even if you don’t agree it – which by and large we do, as believers in higher defence spending.

Ben Roback: Can a true progressive win the presidency in 2020?

Hopefuls should remember that what plays well in the primaries may be un-deliverable from the White House.

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.

Make no mistake, the 2020 presidential election campaign is well underway. At the latest count, over half a dozen Democrats have announced their intention to seek the party’s nomination and well over a dozen more could join the field in the coming weeks and months.

Building on the anger and passion that pushed the Democratic base to join the resistance and then turn out to vote in the midterms, the wide field of Democratic hopefuls is set to gravitate around a progressive left-wing agenda.

Pushing that leftward shift is the rising stars of the party, all of whom make no apology of their progressive and at times even socialist values. The nickname-only Democrats are the brightest lights in that group – namely “AOC” (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), “Beto” (Beto O’Rourke) and to a fading extent “Bernie” (Bernie Sanders).

The policy platforms put forward by those running in 2020 are, for the majority, unquestionably left-wing. The default proposal by anyone seeking the Democratic nomination has been Medicare for all and support for a ‘Green New Deal’. It is no surprise that the Obama-alumni hosts of Pod Save America described those two policies as the “secret password” that gets Democratic hopefuls into the race.

On the campaign trail then, we will hear an awful lot more about Medicare for all and the jobs boom associated with a Green New Deal. But just as Donald Trump found that it is easy to promise that he will build a wall and Mexico will pay for it at rallies, Democratic hopefuls might also find that their most progressive policies are dead on arrival on day one of a Democratic presidency.

Political kryptonite for the Republican Party, a Medicare for all bill has no chance of passing a GOP-controlled House or Senate. The proof? Before introducing legislation that would create a government-run, single-payer health care system in September 2017, Sanders said:

“Look, I have no illusions that under a Republican Senate and a very right-wing House and an extremely right-wing president of the United States, that suddenly we’re going to see a Medicare-for-all, single-payer passed. You’re not going to see it. That’s obvious.”

Moreover, the party structures on the left are yet to get behind some of these radical reforms. Tom Perez, Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman, regularly pivots to a broader answer about health care policy when asked whether he supports a single-payer plan. Nancy Pelosi, the House Majority Leader, was more direct earlier this year when she was asked whether Democrats should run on a single-payer platform in 2018, and said: “No. I say to people, ‘You want to do that, do it in your states.'”

All that is before we even consider the process required for such a fundamental overhaul. That’s why Vox wrote:

“Doing anything as big as Medicare-for-all would be difficult. Doing it while cancelling a large portion of the country’s current health insurance plans, even with a transition period, would be an undertaking with no precedent in the history of American social policy. It would require the categorical commitment of the next Democratic administration to get it done.”

Notwithstanding those legislative and political challenges, the left will be buoyed going into 2020 by polling that shows strong support for major policy overhauls. According to Reuters, 70 per cent of Americans support Medicare for all, including 85 per cent of Democrats and a staggering 52 per cent of Republicans.

Despite that gloomy picture, it is worth remembering historical examples of radical agendas being implemented in the face of political objection. Although there has been much commentary on the increasingly progressive economic policies favoured by the likes of Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and the viability of their ideas in today’s political environment, it should be noted that Democrats have, in the past, been able to advance an interventionist agenda in the face of staunch right-wing opposition.

From Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal, which laid the basis for modern day social security, to Lyndon Johnson’s ‘Great Society’ which, among many other things, created Medicare, an advancement of left-wing social and economic policies is not a new phenomenon in US political life.

A wide-open race that could get wider

Polling continues to show that there is no clear Democratic frontrunner for 2020. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll  found that 56 per cent of Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents, when asked whom they would support for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, didn’t offer up any name at all. The starting gun has barely been fired and there are months for more hopefuls to throw their hats into the ring.

With an early flurry of announcements and the creation of exploratory committees, more ‘establishment’ candidates like Joe Biden and Michael Bloomberg (whose candidacies are expected but not guaranteed) might keep their powder dry and wait to see the direction that the race takes before entering.

With Trump entering a new period of vulnerability and exposure on three major fronts – the shutdown, Mueller, and his approval ratings – the list of Democrats and left-leaning independents that think they can run against him and win is long and growing by the day. At the same time, the rising Democratic stars are pushing the party’s presidential hopefuls further and further to the left. The narrative that underpins 2020 Democratic candidates will therefore become increasingly progressive.

Politics is the art of the possible, not the art of the promise. Democratic hopefuls would do well to remember that what they promise in Iowa and New Hampshire is not necessarily compatible with what they can deliver in the White House. The President’s current self-inflicted problems are the perfect proof of that.

Richard Kemp and Lee Rotherham: The backstop’s not the only danger in May’s deal. Its defence and security plans will undermine NATO.

Given proven trends, that time will come. The UK will then, by negligence, have contributed to a catastrophic defence rift between the continents of Europe and North America.

Colonel Richard Kemp was an infantry battalion commanding officer, headed the international terrorism team of the Joint Intelligence Organisation in the Cabinet Office, and was Chairman of the COBRA Intelligence Group and of the EU and Nato Intelligence Support Committee. Dr Lee Rotherham is Director of the Red Cell, and is Executive Director of Veterans for Britain.

This week’s Aachen summit declaring closer integration between Germany and France in defence and foreign policy will inevitably give rise to headlines about an EU military force. Commentators here in the UK often describe these developments as risible and unnecessary, like endless EU’s directives on cucumbers, and look no further.  But neglecting the details and the hazardous effects for the UK is a serious error.

To date, even many MPs still have failed to familiarise themselves with developments and the extent to which the UK has become involved. The topic has been almost absent from the public debate over the future shape of the post-Brexit deal, despite its consequences for defence and, more broadly, for the encompassing range of security and international relations issues with which the matter is closely bound.

So how does defence creep into the Brexit negotiations?  The Barnier Model envisages a deal comprising four pillars, in which two are the old Justice and Home Affairs and Defence pillars, re-established from Maastricht Treaty days. The Chequers approach also envisaged a form of pillar structure in which both form separate units. In both cases, close institutional cooperation is anticipated, and Parliament does not seem to have been given much opportunity to consider the ramifications or its ability to provide future oversight, and safeguard national interests.

There are several risks arising from a lack of strategic reflection on the nature of those ties, given that the EU is now in a period of acceleration towards a defence union. A dispassionate audit of past trends, stated objectives, and highlighted ambitions clearly indicates that the side arrangements already being made during transition generate real risk for the UK’s strategic global interests; and, consequently, that this element of the negotiation also needs a radical rethink, and that instructions to civil servants engaged in ongoing planning needs to change.

Consequently, I have reviewed the very recent history of these developments in a new paper, Brexit’s Troubled Flank – The Departure Deal and EU Defence Integration, written with Dr Lee Rotherham.

The paper sheds light on the EU Common Security and Defence Policy, alongside its twin, the Common Foreign and Security Policy, which take an indisputable course of direction towards the declared aim of a ‘common defence’. We show how it has taken place over five phases, and now is advancing apace with a mandate that unblocks major integrational opportunities for the EU.

We briefly explain how this process is part of a wider horizon of integration across a range of other policy areas, meaning that firewalling within a close association agreement with the EU (such as Chequers provides) is ultimately an impossible task. And we contextualise UK historic engagement on defence with its European neighbours from the Treaty of Dunkirk onwards, showing the policy bipolarity between the sure anchor of NATO, and the flexing shift from multilateral intergovernmental arrangements between European states that the EU is now authorised to swallow up.

There are now four key threats from being too closely tied to the new landscape of EU Defence structures;

  • The pursuit of a single market in defence, which creates a new risk to the UK’s independent strategic capability;
  • The creation of a major defence budget, with procurement leading the way, whereby UK finances may be diverted away from UK theatre requirements;
  • Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) – the creation of structures that increasingly duplicate and in time will rival NATO, notwithstanding current shallow caveats;
  • The generation of common assets and common units, thus providing the kernel of a future common European standing army.

In the language of the Chequers Cabinet agreement and the White Paper that followed, the UK Government does talk in terms of the principality of NATO and of its separate status. But the pragmatic reality, when speaking with diplomats, is that European capitals are, behind the scenes, divided along very different faultlines. Different alliances flow over different aspects of future defence integration, with some governments prepared so sign off on certain arrangements while objecting to different proposals.

This fluidity creates a dangerous dynamic in Brussels negotiations, since it is the very prerequisite required for states to concede that ends up generating motion towards deeper defence union, and across a wider range of policy areas. As the process is slow, the evolution follows over time, but the nature of the EU treaties and the acquis communautaire means it never recedes, and the direction is one way.

For this very reason, expressions inserted at the demand of certain EU states that EU defence integration will not undermine NATO cannot be taken at face value. The aspiration is undermined by the practical effect over time of assigning strategic ambitions, creating big budgets, identifying defence obligations, harmonising forces, creating common units, and creating a single defence industry (with all the shutting down of peripheral factories that will follow). NATO is under real threat from this since the EU ambitions run on a steady long term trend.

The Government, meanwhile, is running a Brexit policy on defence that aspires to being institutionally close to the entities pursuing this process. It will therefore share the risks and damage when these policies develop. It will encourage elements of Whitehall to pursue even further the policy of the past 20 years of pooling resources in order to cut UK costs, and with them independent capability. Too close an institutional affiliation meanwhile leads to too close a UK orbit, and no prospect of an easy escape vector when the ongoing process of EU integration bites into the bone.

A Whitehall mantra of ad hoc participation contrasts with the heavy and legalistic obligations stated in the entry agreements that Whitehall has permitted and which the EU has no will to change, nor any requirement to do so.

Given proven trends, and demonstrable ambition, that time will come. The UK will then, by negligence, have contributed to a catastrophic defence rift between the continents of Europe and North America. And of more direct and immediate concern, it will have triggered the breakdown the unique and irreplaceable defence and security relationship that the UK has with the US.

Sanders is a refreshing change from the careerists who infest American as well as British politics.

So though he presents himself as anti-Trump, he has something in common with him. And there could, astonishingly, be a future for socialism in America.

Where We Go From Here: Two Years in the Resistance by Bernie Sanders

Books by serving politicians in which they purport to describe their beliefs and vision of the future are seldom of any value. The author is in a rush, and imagines that words which elicit applause when spoken at a rally of the faithful can be transferred without further effort to the printed page.

Bernie Sanders, who ran for the Democratic nomination in 2016 and is contemplating another run in 2020, is as lazy a writer as the rest of them. His book reads at times like a parody: “I have said it a million times, but I think it bears repeating. The campaign that I ran for president was never about me.”

Here is another grave problem with the campaign book as a genre. It is all about me, but the candidate is anxious to demonstrate how ordinary and unassuming and decent he is, so he (or she, though still most often he, for this kind of vanity comes more easily to men than to women) advertises his homespun humility, while also reminding us at frequent intervals that he is morally superior to the other side.

Sanders dismisses Donald Trump as “the most dishonest and reactionary president in the history of the Republic”: a formula which makes one wonder how much American history he knows. But it is true that the really disgraceful presidents are often passed over in silent embarrassment by the historians.

And then we are into the campaign rhetoric:

“Our job, for the sake of our kids and grandchildren, is to bring our people together around a progressive agenda.

“Are the majority of people in our country deeply concerned about the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality that we are experiencing? You bet they are. Do they believe that our campaign finance system is corrupt and enables the rich to buy elections? Overwhelmingly so.

“Do they want to raise the minimum wage to a living wage and provide pay equity for women? Yes they do. Do they think the very rich and large corporations should pay more in taxes so that all of our kids can have free tuition at public colleges and universities? Yup. Do they believe that the United States should join every other major country and guarantee health care as a right? Yes, again. Do they believe climate change is real? You’ve got to be kidding.”

To dismiss this because of the style would be a mistake. In Britain, Conservatives thought it was sufficient to be contemptuous of Jeremy Corbyn, and failed to foresee that in the 2017 general election he would be rather good at persuading people to vote for a socialist.

In the United States, Sanders, who is eight years older than Corbyn, was likewise dismissed as an out-of-date Leftie whose socialism could have no popular appeal.

But Sanders was in many ways a more attractive candidate than Hillary Clinton, who inspired even in her most devoted supporters deep misgivings, and who managed to beat him only because she had the Democratic machine behind her.

Sanders actually appeared to believe what he was saying, for with eccentric obduracy, or if one prefers admirable independence of mind, he had stuck to it even for long periods when he might with advantage have modified his views.

It was obvious to most people that however much Clinton claimed to have the interests of the struggling poor at heart, she had come to feel more at home in the Hamptons.

She herself was beaten in 2008 by Barack Obama, a candidate with a better ear, and a more plausible claim to be in touch with the wider public. His campaign book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, is in a different league to Sanders’ effort.

And Obama’s memoir, Dreams from My Father, written ten years before he became well-known, so when he still had time to write a proper book, is better still.

In The Audacity of Hope, Obama describes a conversation he had over lunch in late September 2001 with a media consultant who was encouraging him to run for office:

“‘You realise, don’t you, that the political dynamics have changed,’ he said as he picked at his salad.

“‘What do you mean?’ I asked, knowing full well what he meant. We both looked down at the newspaper beside him. There, on the front page, was Osama bin Laden.

“‘Hell of a thing, isn’t it?’ he said, shaking his head. ‘Really bad luck. You can’t change your name, of course. Voters are suspicious of that kind of thing. Maybe if you were at the start of your career, you know, you could use a nickname or something. But now…’ His voice trailed off and he shrugged apologetically before signalling the waiter to bring us the check.”

As it happened, Obama with his strange name possessed the touch of implausibility which Americans sometimes warm to in a presidential candidate. So, in his unbelievably boorish way, did Trump.

For either of them to get to the White House was amazing, and in that sense a dream come true. They were outsiders who knew, in quite different ways, how to appeal to anti-Washington sentiment, which is generally the prevailing sentiment in the United States.

Clinton, as the wife of a former President and a woman who had come to enjoy the company of the rich, could not run an anti-Establishment campaign, and looked hypocritical when she pretended to do so.

Sanders is not open to that charge of hypocrisy. He genuinely believes that billionaires (his favourite target) should pay more tax, the pharmaceutical industry should charge less for essential medicines, assault rifles should not be on sale to the mentally ill, and they in turn should receive proper medical treatment at public expense rather than being incarcerated in America’s shamefully extensive prison system.

In this book, one starts to feel that Sanders, though not immune to the charge of senatorial self-importance (he has been one of Vermont’s senators since 2007, and was before that in the House of Representatives), is a refreshing change from the careerists who infest American as well as British politics.

The new and younger version of Sanders is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. According to Sanders,

“Progressive ideas are now mainstream in America. That’s what the people want, especially Democrats… When there is political excitement in the air, when ordinary people sense hope for the future, they will come out and vote, and Democrats will win. The simple truth is that ‘moderates’ or ‘centrists’ do not generate that level of excitement.”

We shall see. Lord Ashcroft has pointed out that a candidate who makes Democrat activists feel good might “drive uncommitted voters back into the arms of Donald Trump”.

But Trump is enough to give plutocracy a bad name, and Sanders here mounts a fierce attack on the in his view undeserving rich.

Once one has adjusted to his manner of speaking, one finds he is lucid and sincere in his account of where America has gone wrong and what a bad deal many hard-working Americans get. His opponents as well as his fans should pay attention.