Iain Dale: The Prime Minister put in a superb Parliamentary performance yesterday

Plus: But her deal’s so bad I’d rather Remain. Robbins is the real Rasputin, not Timothy. Would I really vote Tory tomorrow? And: Carry on Cocks and Dicks.

Iain Dale is an LBC presenter, a commentator with CNN and the author/editor of over 30 books.

I’m not angry: I’m just overwhelmed by a feeling of sadness that it’s come to this. It didn’t have to be this way.

I’m convinced that if Nick Timothy was still Theresa May’s chief adviser, things would have been very different. Instead, Olly Robbins replaced him in the Prime ministerial affections game, and we know the result.

Oops, how every dare I criticise a civil servant! The very thought. Well, I’m sorry: this Rasputin-like figure has more of a hold over the Prime Minister than Alan Walters had over Mrs Thatcher, or Peter Mandelson over Tony Blair.

She’s believed his every utterance or piece of advice over Brexit strategy even though, time and time again, he’s proved to have been disastrously wrong. On each occasion, it has resulted in yet another humiliating capitulation. When the rue history of this period is written, Robbins will not come out of it well.

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On Wednesday, I wrote on my blog explaining why I thought the Brexit deal hatched between Theresa May and the EU was just about the worst result possible.

Indeed, so bad is it that if I had to choose between remaining in the EU and voting for this abortion of a deal, I would vote to Remain. I don’t resile from my Brexit vote, or the firm belief that we are better off out – but the trouble is, we won’t be out if this deal gets through.

For the avoidance of doubt, let me put on the record once again that no deal is preferable to a bad deal, and that this is the very worst deal. No deal is not an ideal option either, but at least we’d be master of our own destinies.

Yes, I accept that there would be some short-term issues to get over – but get over them we undoubtedly would. Instead May thinks that we should accept European rules with no say in their drafting. Any fool can see the dangers in that, and it is the direct opposite of ‘taking back control’.

So when the deal comes to the Commons, I hope it is decisively rejected. And I say that in the full knowledge that the Prime Minister would undoubtedly have to resign immediately. There’s no way she could survive it.

Having said that, she does have a remarkable ability to endure the impossible. But this time I think she’s bitten off too much. It takes a special talent to unite Andrew Adonis and Jacob Rees-Mogg, but by God she’s achieved it. It will be something she will live to regret, I suspect.

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I’m completing this diary early on Thursday afternoon. So far, there have been six resignations but by the time you read this I suspect there will have been more.

If Penny Mordaunt, Andrea Leadsom, Liam Fox and Michael Gove aren’t seriously considering their positions, I am not quite sure what kind of backbone they think they have.

Dominic Raab has now got first mover advantage, and has instantly transformed himself into a frontline leadership candidate.

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I have to say that May put in a superb parliamentary performance yesterday. Having to stand up on your hind legs when you’ve just had two cabinet ministers resign can’t have been easy. And to take questions for two and a half hours is something that few other leaders across the world would ever have to do. Credit to her for coming through it with aplomb.

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This week, I feel a bit of a fraud writing for ConservativeHome. For the first time in a very long time, I do wonder if I could support the Conservative Party in a general election were it held tomorrow. If it were a snap election held on the basis of endorsing Theresa May’s Brexit deal, I don’t think that I could.

But here’s the dilemma. Who else could I vote for? Certainly not Labour, definitely not the Liberal Democrats, absolutely not UKIP, whose leadership I abhor with every fibre of my being.

The Greens? Another lot of pro-European zealots. But I don’t really believe in spoiling my ballot paper, either. And this is why I rarely believe people who say after some Conservative disaster or another, “I’ll never vote Tory again”. Time heals and most people go back to their normal political home.

May had better hope there really are four years between now and the next election. Many people will have forgiven the party for this Horlicks of a Brexit deal by then…but it’s entirely possible that this open wound won’t have healed by then, either.

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Last week I told the tale of Cox, Dicks and Willy. However, according to a senior cabinet minister who texted me having read it, I missed out the best story.

Terry Dicks, John McDonnell’s predecessor as MP for Hayes & Harlington, used to tell a story about a public meeting in the 1979 election when he was standing against Michael Cocks, the Labour Chief Whip in Bristol.

According to Terry, the well-spoken woman in the chair concluded the meeting with the words: “Well ladies, there you have it. Your choice is between Cocks and Dicks”. For some of us, it was ever thus…

May’s Deal 3) Alex Morton – If the Commons rejects it, here are three alternatives

Perhaps the Prime Minister will secure Parliament’s approval. But if she does not, the Conservative Party must choose a direction quickly.

Alex Morton is Director of Policy at the Centre for Policy Studies, and was a member of David Cameron’s Downing Street Policy Unit.

As you read this, MPs at Westminster will be ploughing through the 500-page text negotiated by Britain and Brussels, and deciding whether or not it is something they can sign up to. There is still a reasonable chance that the deal gets through. But if Parliament or the Conservative Party decide that they cannot live with it, something else will have to replace it.

The first thing to say may sound like a statement of the obvious: the only options that aren’t on the table for the Conservative Party are a second referendum, or simply giving up and deciding to Remain. The 2015 manifesto promised to honour the referendum result, and the 2017 edition promised a hardish Brexit. Just one in five Conservatives think the decision to leave the EU was wrong. To go from a Leave referendum result to overturning it and remaining in the EU would split the party, as the Corn Laws did. It is also disingenuous to claim you are really concerned with EU control in areas such as goods regulation under May’s deal…and should instead return to being one of 28 countries making decisions, and also sign up to ending the financial rebate, open borders, Eurozone membership etc.

This leaves us with three real options, each of which have their own positive and negatives:

  • Co-operative WTO exit.
  • Hostile WTO exit.
  • EEA membership or similar.

Co-operative WTO exit

A co-operative WTO exit would see the EU and UK co-operating to sign various side agreements to keep trade flowing and limit economic disruption on everything from planes to imports in key areas like foods and medicines. In effect, it would be a bit like Canada Plus, in that it would seek to rapidly nail down what was necessary and then over time flesh out the rest. EU nations have various reasons to go along with this rather than see a hostile WTO exit:

  • A major EU/UK falling out would have major implications for the EU economy, and for global trade. Donald Trump is hostile to the WTO, refusing to appoint judges (which is slowly causing chaos in the organisation) and bending the rules. If the EU tried to pursue a hostile WTO exit, this would embolden Trump and destabilise multilateral trade.
  • A EU/UK fallout would also have a strong knock-on impact on NATO. If the EU was genuinely attempting to slow or stop exports/imports to the UK, the UK would almost certainly feel obliged to take retaliatory action, such as removing troops from the East and North of Europe.
  • If there is a Eurozone crisis in the next few years, with the City of London destabilised and alternative centres not yet having emerged, it would be a disaster for the Eurozone’s economy (something that everyone bar France realises).
  • UK support for countries in the Mediterranean on everything from Syrian refugees to Royal Navy helping with the migrant crisis or in Libya would have to end.
  • Potential turmoil in Northern Ireland. While the majority of the blame would fall on the British, it is unlikely that Ireland would welcome having to enforce a hard border.

Most of all, if the EU acts as aggressively as possible it may destabilise the EU itself. Member states are still angry or upset that we voted to leave, but many of them also distrust the European Commission. They will grasp that if it bullies the UK today, it may turn on them tomorrow.

Apart from the impact that even a co-operative WTO exit would have on UK businesses in terms of supply chains etc, an obvious drawback is many of our liabilities seem likely to fall payable regardless. In a Co-operative WTO scenario, we would probably end up paying a large amount to buy goodwill, as well as whatever it takes to help smooth over any costs associated with trade friction in Northern Ireland, in return for fewer checks on small-scale movement of goods and people.

Even with a co-operative EU, there would still be a short-term shock to our economy, even if this, in the long run, is balanced by other gains.

Hostile WTO exit

Despite the points above, the EU may not be able to reach sufficient consensus around a co-operative WTO exit, in which case we face a hostile one.

A hostile WTO deal is not an easy prospect, even if it is not as hard as some ‘stop Brexit’ groups claim. The sloppy claim that ‘the UK is Mauritania’ is incorrectly arrived at by going through the WTO database and seeing which countries have zero additional trade deals on top of WTO rules.

But if country A only has one trade deal with country B, it still trades on WTO rules with the other 190-odd nations of the world. Further, many countries have only limited side deals but manage to trade quite widely with one another under WTO rules around this. There are also general global trade provisions around non-discrimination, and since our framework would be based on the EU’s on day one, we could argue that interpreting the WTO treaty in a way that imposes additional burdens where our rules align is illegal and a hostile act.

That said, we’d have to accept that this scenario is very complicated, hire the best possible (expensive) people, and prepare for a fairly sizeable shock to the economy. A hostile WTO exit also risks spiralling out of control, with both sides reacting to the other’s moves in a chain reaction.

All this is before you even get to practical issues, such as capacity at Dover. The much smaller Dutch economy hired a thousand extra customs staff months ago to cope with the potential consequences of Brexit. We need to press ahead with similar measures, co-ordinate essential supplies like food and medicine, and ensure that, however uncooperative the EU is, the most important goods and services will keep flowing. And time is short.

This is not an ideal situation. It would have grave drawbacks for the EU, but would also cost the UK substantially.

The EEA and a temporary, partial customs union

The third option is the EEA – either formal membership or, more likely, just replicating the relationship. This also probably entails at least a partial temporary customs union membership.

Those such as Nick Boles argue for an EEA option by claiming that it would take us out of the growing political project while maintaining economic ties. No Eurozone. No European army. No common refugee policy. No fisheries and farming. Above all else, an end to ‘ever closer Union’.

EEA and a parallel reduction in non-EU migration could have been enough for many Leave voters in 2016. In addition, some argue that this option could be a stopgap while we consider others. Yet for some Leave voters, it might not be enough to feel the vote in 2016 has been honoured, and it might not entirely resolve the Brexit issue for some Conservatives either.

For the EU, this option would have the benefit of removing a troublemaker without the UK gaining total freedom. The UK would be mostly out rather than mostly in, but it would be hard to see it as a total victory for Leave. Immigration could be restricted (EEA is focused on workers’ movement, not all citizens), but not for most workers. Nor would we have control over areas covered by EU goods and services regulation – as long as we were part of the regime we would be a rule-taker in some areas rather than a rule-maker, with restricted freedom to operate an independent trade policy.

So where will we end up?

None of these options are perfect – and it may well be that the Prime Minister’s deal gets through and attention turns back to domestic politics.

But fairly soon, those opposing the deal need to nail their colours to the mast rather than just continuing to claim we can have the best of all worlds without May’s deal. They need to choose a direction – even if, as the joke goes, they wouldn’t start from here. And they need to be confident they can hold a Government together until March 29th, and persuade the Conservative Party and the wider country to back their proposal. We wait to see if enough MPs believe that to be the case.

Rebecca Lowe: We must not let the state crowd out private virtue

Insisting that our needs are met by the government reduces neigbours to numbers and diminishes our scope for good citizenship.

Rebecca Lowe is Director of FREER—a new initiative promoting economic and social liberalism, based at the IEA, where she is a Research Fellow. She is also an Assistant Editor of ConservativeHome.

I’m going to devote this column to two things I read on Twitter that annoyed me this week. I know we’re not supposed to let such things get to us — but that just seems completely out of touch with reality.

The first thing that annoyed me was a statement made by Manchester City Council, as a series of interlinked tweets (a ‘thread’, as it’s called). Now, I’ll avoid any jokey comments here about there being a lack of precedent for such organisations using social media particularly effectively, because, well, one of the tweets was really just unbelievably brutal.

Its claim was simple: that none of us should give food and drink to homeless people. The reasoning behind this claim was that doing so reduces the incentive for such people to seek official state help.

Now, there are various ways to engage with such a claim. The calm, collected way involves searching out data, and there’s a place for such an approach. However, that approach also completely misses the key point.

This is a point about basic decency. About humanity. Even if it were the case that, on some aggregate measure of addressing total need, the ‘right’ thing to do was always to ignore people’s evident pressing need for sustenance, that cannot be the best — or indeed, truly right — way of assessing this situation. Aggregate measures and end-point calculations cannot be all we care about.

Not only does such an approach fail terribly the crying woman you see outside the tube station at midnight, who ravenously devours the McDonald’s burger and sugar doughnut you buy her because no other food shops are open. It also erodes our instinct to help her. It drives away humanity, and crowds out virtue. It stops us wanting to do the right thing.

The increased burden on the state – to do all, and be all – decreases our choices by putting extreme demands on our income for tax money, and reduces our opportunities to be good citizens, and full members of a shared community. To be human. And it decreases the people we want to help – the people who need us – by taking them out of it all together. By making them a number, rather than a fellow citizen. By counting them out on some greater aggregate score, ignoring that midnight moment of need. I get endlessly frustrated by consequentialist reasoning, but I’ve rarely been angrier that when I read that tweet.

The second thing that annoyed me this week also relates to a lack of awareness around costs when considering ways to help people. And again, the costs here are not just financial. This time it was a tweet – or several tweets – in response to the news that a Premier League football club was attempting to address ‘period poverty’ (when women can’t afford adequate sanitary protection to meet their menstrual needs), by providing free sanitary products in the women’s lavatories on match days.

Unsurprisingly, some people responded to this news by claiming it was hardly the women who could afford to go to first-class football matches who needed such gifts the most. Now, it was neither the misunderstanding that ‘most equals only’, nor the football club’s generosity, that got to me.

Rather, it was the sadly inevitable chorus of subsequent tweets claiming that because women don’t choose to have periods – because their need is not simply a preference – that sanitary products should always be provided to them for free.

First, of course, is the obvious point that no such product is ever ‘free’ (not least because down that path lies slavery, since we’re playing emotive, here), so presumably they mean ‘paid for by the taxpayer’. But, more importantly, this points up a crucial misunderstanding, all too commonly propagated by those who should know better.

Just because you need something – something you didn’t choose to need, or something perhaps even you have a right to – doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t have to pay for it. This is not only because our needs – even our most pressing needs – and the needs of those near to and far from us, are so various that they necessitate prioritisation. (I need food. You need shelter. She needs her slow-growing cancer removed. He needs to know about the ways in which he might be exploited on the internet.)

But it is also because if all of that prioritisation is completely taken away from us, ourselves, then we lose out. Our society loses out. Sure, we might agree that some of these things should indeed be provided by the state in some cases – and no doubt we do agree about that, in perpetuity, on certain basic issues. And on other cases, we deliberate again and again, and adapt and adapt, and then think again, responding to changing times and resources, and more.

But to leave all of that – to leave the question of all of all of our needs, always – to the state and to taxpayers’ expense would clearly be completely infeasible in terms of cost, as well as inevitably unfair, and much more. It would take away something human. It would take away our ability to have a say. Our right as members of a society to do that.

We’d all end up driving Trabants and eating fourth-rate hamburgers – the lucky ones among us, anyway. And we’d also end up with little virtue, and much lost humanity.

Daniel Hannan: May’s deal. It leaves us facing colonial rule from Brussels, of the sort imposed on Bosnia following the Yugoslav war.

Cowardice and lack of vision have brought us to this pass – facing all the costs and obligations of EU membership, but with no voice, no vote and no veto.

Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster. His most recent book is What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit.

Try a little thought experiment. Can you imagine a Brexit outcome so appalling that Leavers would rather stay in than accept it, and Remainers would rather leave cleanly than accept it?

It’s quite a challenge, but let’s have a go. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Britain ended up with all the costs and obligations of EU membership, but with no voice, no vote and no veto. Suppose we had to accept all the EU’s rules – on technical standards, on environmental protection, on labour law – but no longer had any say over what those rules should be. Suppose we had to submit to a trade and tariff regime designed solely to benefit the other 27. I hope both sides could agree that such an outcome would be the worst of all possible worlds.

And yet, if reports are to be believed, that is where the talks have ended up. First, under the transition, we shall explicitly be non-voting members for two years. As Brussels has spelt out with brutal clarity, the only change will be that Britain loses its Commissioner, its MEPs and its vote in Council. Then, under the backstop, that status, or something very like it, will be imposed on us in semi-perpetuity.

Surely no one, Remain or Leave, can favour such an outcome. As regular readers will know, I have been arguing since polling day for moderation. I was prepared to accept any compromise – including EFTA and including Chequers – provided it restored the supremacy of our laws. But the purgatory that now beckons is surely, by any definition, worse than either staying or leaving.

How have we come to this point? Through cowardice and lack of vision, I’m afraid. From the start, our objective was simply to reach a deal – any deal. Our negotiators, shell-shocked by the referendum result, approached the talks in a spirit of damage limitation. They never seriously contemplated walking away, and the other side smelt their desperation.

To be fair, our officials were not helped by the noises coming out of Westminster. How would you expect EU negotiators to react when senior British politicians urge them to hang tough and force a second referendum? We might view Tony Blair, John Major and Nick Clegg as has-beens but, believe me, they are seen in Brussels as men of influence.

So we fell into a pattern. Britain would make some new concession in the hope of unlocking a deal; Brussels would pocket the concession and demand more; and – incredibly – British Remainers would cheer. The UK agreed to hand over more money than was due; accepted the EU’s absurd and illogical sequencing; made an unconditional security guarantee; offered to copy EU standards; and promised not to be more competitive than its neighbours. Each time, the EU brusquely demanded “more movement”. Each time, Britain rushed to comply.

Which brings us to where we are – facing colonial rule from Brussels, of the sort the EU imposed on Bosnia following the Yugoslav war.

I am not one of those Brexiteers who half-favoured no deal all along. On the contrary, I was proposing moderation on this website even before the vote, and have repeated that call many times since. But, paradoxically, Britain’s reluctance to countenance no deal has made such an outcome likelier. We have reached the point where the terms on offer are less attractive than either a WTO-based Brexit or a second referendum.

This last point is critical. I suspect that two contradictory arguments will now be wheeled out before wavering MPs. Europhiles will be told that the deal, backstop and all, is better than “crashing out” on WTO terms. Conversely, Eurosceptics will be told that, if they don’t approve the deal, Parliament might vote to extend Article 50, thus imperilling Brexit. These two lines of argument can’t both be true, of course; and, in reality, neither of them is.

Talking of Bosnia, I recall a conversation some years ago with the EU’s High Commissioner there – the man with the power to sack local politicians if they didn’t toe the approved Brussels line. He told me, in a pleased tone, that the Serbs thought he was too pro-Muslim while the Muslims thought he was too pro-Serb. “If they are all unhappy,” he concluded, genially, “I must be doing something right”. “Or maybe if everyone is unhappy,” I responded, “it’s because you’re doing something wrong”.

Well, that’s the point we reached with these talks. We’re invited to believe that if Boris Johnson and Jo Johnson, from opposite ends of the Brexit spectrum, both oppose the deal, it can’t be too bad. In fact, both Johnsons oppose it because it is a lamentable failure of statecraft. Boris was no Brexit headbanger: he came out for Leave only after the EU refused to give David Cameron any powers back. And Jo is no Remoaner: he has spent two years in government trying to deliver a reasonable Brexit. If neither of them will back the deal, that tells us something.

There is still time – just – to recover our position. As things stand, the backstop has no legal force. The moment it finds its way into a treaty, it will be binding. If any MPs or Cabinet Ministers oppose the current approach, now is their chance to act. There won’t be another.

James Frayne: Less affluent, small-c conservatives in Labour-held seats are the key targets for Tory campaigning

By contrast, the potential audience for a reboot of Cameronism is small and far harder to reach.

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

Lord Finkelstein has been at the heart of debates about the future of the Conservative Party for two decades. A leading figure in the Party’s “modernising” shift in the early 2000s, his voice still carries weight – not least as Chairman of the new Onward think tank. His Times column last week – which explored why Trump has been mostly successful electorally in the US – argued the following: “Appealing more to white voters who are poorer, older and more culturally conservative may change the electoral map, but, unlike with Trump in 2016, not in the Conservatives’ favour. The party would lose marginal seats in prosperous areas while increasing the vote in safe Labour seats it can’t win. In addition, as the country is becoming more liberal, more urban and more diverse, it would be foolish for the Conservatives to become less of each of these things.”

Is he right? Certainly yes about the need to appeal to a diverse electorate in a multicultural Britain (which the vast majority of voters are rightly comfortable with). But what about the rest? We must ask four big questions. Firstly, what is the nature of the seats the Conservatives have a chance of taking? Secondly, what campaign issues would most likely appeal to voters in these seats? Thirdly, are these seats viable long-term Conservative holds (ie once Brexit is settled)? And, fourthly, is it possible to craft a campaign for these voters that has broader, national appeal – rather than alienating those that currently vote Conservative?

Let’s look at the Conservatives’ target seats to begin with – ones where there is a realistic chance of taking them. Looking at the top 100 Conservative targets, where a swing of around eight per cent or less is needed, the vast majority are Labour-held. Of these seats, there are clearly some that fall into the affluent and/or urban category he describes. These include, for example, Kensington, Twickenham, and Oxford West. There are 27 seats where the median weekly wage is higher than the national median wage (of £570). However, on this list of target seats there are 73 where the median wage is at, or lower, than the national median. These include, for example, Bassetlaw, Bishop Auckland, Bolton North East and North West, Burnley, Bury North and South, Darlington, Dudley North, Newcastle under Lyme and Scunthorpe. Some of these average and less affluent seats are in cities, and some are in London. Some are highly diverse. But relatively few of them fit into the sorts of seats he describes as essentially being Labour-held no-hopers – and relatively few that are affluent liberal strongholds.

He is on stronger ground with his concerns about seats the Conservatives are defending. They include places like Finchley and Golders Green, Harrow West, Watford, Hendon and Wimbledon. But, again, they’re a mixed bag. They also include Broxtowe, Stoke-on-Trent South, Bolton West, Telford, Mansfield, Walsall North, Erewash and Sherwood. The Conservatives cannot just dump affluent suburbs and become a working class party. But on the basis of targets to attack and defend, it makes no sense to try to reboot Cameronism.

Let’s look now at the sort of campaign themes that might appeal to these average and less affluent voters. Like it or not, they are more likely to have voted Leave, of course. Furthermore, these voters are more likely to say that immigration, law and order, housing and welfare are top issues for them. They are probably reasonably described as small-c conservatives, as Finkelstein suggests, although they aren’t classic big-C Conservatives. They remain permanently strong supporters of the NHS and don’t back conventional ideas of a small state (much as they distrust politicians). There’s no denying that they would respond better to the sort of campaign that Finkelstein worries about.

Which brings us to the final two questions: are they temporary supporters? And can the Conservatives craft a campaign that prevents the defection of existing supporters?

On the first of these questions, it’s impossible to say for sure but the answer appears to be: not necessarily; in fact, they could be permanent supporters. Many of them have clearly come over to the Conservative Party because they assume the Conservatives support Brexit and Labour does not. However, disaffection with Labour seems fundamental. As I have written many times here, lots of Labour’s traditional working class supporters feel let down by Labour over their perceived weakness on issues like crime, border control and welfare reform. They also consider themselves to be simple patriots, and they find much of Corbyn’s past support for things like Irish Republicanism hard to stomach. And they don’t believe that Labour helped to spread affluence across the country when they were in power. It would be too much – far too much – to suggest the Conservatives have locked these voters down, but they are in contention.

Finally, I strongly believe that the Conservatives can create a campaign that appeals both to voters in these Labour-held seats, as well as to those voters in the vast majority of those they still hold. While the Conservatives’ campaign came unstuck at the last election, it’s easy to forget that Theresa May’s early campaigning as Prime Minister was extremely successful – helping to establish massive leads over Labour. She was always clear about Brexit, even as a Remain voter and campaigner. She didn’t revel in Brexit and ram it down Remainers’ throats. Her approach fused traditional Conservatism with a direct appeal to the sorts of working class and lower middle class voters that fill the sorts of target seats highlighted above. Furthermore, to a large extent, there are regular, encouraging flashes of this sort of successful campaigning now – with the focus on tougher messages on law and order, with more spending for the NHS, and so on.

Finkelstein can’t be right that there is no mileage in going after small-c conservatives in Labour seats. This is surely the best place to look for new supporters and new seats. I also don’t believe that a campaign should necessarily alienate most existing supporters. However, I do agree that such an approach is probably incompatible with an appeal to those urban, very liberal (almost in the American sense of the term) voters that self-consciously define in this way. I just happen to think that there are relatively small numbers of these voters that define themselves aggressively like this – and I fear that most are lost to the likes of Jeremy Corbyn anyway.

Henry Newman: A Brexit deal isn’t certain, but it’s within reach – and it could still make it through Parliament

The process is hard and risky, but it still seems unlikely that the Labour Party would really torpedo an agreement in the last resort.

Henry Newman is Director of Open Europe.

Without a breakthrough on Brexit over the next few days, there may be no November summit, and the prospect of a deal will slip back to December. It will still be possible to get something through Parliament if one is agreed pre-Christmas – and perhaps even into the New Year. But the delay means that some of the Government’s No Deal plans will need to be switched on. I’m told that these are more advanced than is often believed, and that Dominic Raab has taken a particular interest in ramping up preparations since his appointment.

Senior figures in the European Commission are concerned that as No Deal plans are activated (on both sides), there’s a danger that we get set on a slippery path towards such an outcome. No Deal could become self-fulfilling. But many of the mitigation measures for No Deal simply can’t be turned on at the last second.

At this point, it is hard to be definitive about what will happen over the next few weeks. A deal is almost done between the negotiators, with just the backstop left to resolve. The draft Political Declaration is largely agreed, ready and waiting in a Whitehall cupboard. Agreement seems within grasp – as briefings from Brussels to the Financial Times yesterday suggest. But although the Prime Minister is determined to secure a deal, she hasn’t yet been able to get the negotiating teams over the line. On Sunday, the talks reportedly continued until close to 3am, yet left “substantial issues still to overcome”.

It may just not be possible to find a way through. Some have assumed that Theresa May would ultimately cave in. But as Damian Green put it a few weeks ago, a bad version of the backstop would be “worse than no deal”.

There are few MPs advocating No Deal as a preference. And there’s certainly no majority demanding that the Prime Minister just pick up her papers and walking away from the table. But what if May stood up in Parliament and explained how she had sought compromise and considered unpalatable options, but that she simply could not agree to a backstop which divided the UK? Some MPs clearly prefer any deal to no deal, but it’s not clear how Parliament would actually act in a circumstance where a Unionist Prime Minister refused to agree to something she described as unacceptable, particularly if it created new internal barriers.

Overall, Brussels has consistently said that if there’s no agreement on the backstop, there can be no so-called side deals. The Commission say it’s Deal or No Deal. All paths to a deal, they insist, come via a backstop. If we don’t agree to the backstop there can be no other agreements in areas such as aviation, data, or citizen’s rights. Nor can there be a No Deal Plus option unless the EU changes its mind on side deals.

A “No Deal No Deal” – exit without any side agreements – would mean that the EU was willing to treat the UK in a manner akin to North Korea, rather than as a partner and close ally. It’s hard to see this situation lasting, with Ireland in particular in line for a huge economic shock, and an enormous hole blown in the Commission’s budget. Open Europe’s research has shown that over the medium term, No Deal would have a limited effect on the UK’s growth rate, especially if the Government took mitigatory steps. But the extent of the short-term disruption of No Deal, for both the UK and EU, will depend on whether Brussels holds to its no-side-deals mantra.

Although a deal isn’t certain, it’s within grasp. And if it is agreed, and passes Cabinet with the Government still broadly intact, then my hunch is that it will ultimately pass Parliament. Despite Keir Starmer’s insistence on his impossible six tests, the Labour leadership shows little real interest in trying to reverse Brexit. And if the EU (and with them the Irish Government) are happy that the backstop protects Northern Ireland – which by definition they would be if they sign off on a deal – would Labour really turn round and say they disagreed with them? Voting down the deal would also mean attacking jeopardising citizen’s rights and the transition which Labour claim they called for in the first place. We now expect that a Brexit deal will mean a UK customs union for as long as it takes to negotiate a new relationship, which addresses another of Labour’s objections.

It’s always seemed possible to me that Labour ultimately won’t stand in the way of a deal in Parliament. Of course oppositions like to oppose, and there are examples of how in the past Labour was willing to use Europe as a stick with which to beat a Conservative Government. But voting against the Maastricht Treaty didn’t risk imploding our relationship with Europe. And Maastricht hadn’t just been backed by the public in a referendum.

Some MPs like to think that Parliament will step in and control the process both in the event of No Deal and if a deal fails to pass the “meaningful vote”. But can the legislature really force the executive to pursue a path to which it is implacably opposed? Anyway, Article 50 means the UK leaves the EU, deal or not, at the end of March.

That’s not to say that things in Westminster won’t get bumpy – potentially very bumpy – over the coming weeks. It’s likely that if a deal is reached, endless amendments will be attached to the Withdrawal Agreement Implementation Bill. It’s also possible that Parliament initially votes the deal down.

But I believe that if a deal passes Cabinet with the Government broadly intact, it’s likely to pass Parliament eventually, perhaps with rebels on both sides of the chamber. After all, that wouldn’t be too unprecedented: the European Communities Act in 1972 only passed second reading by 309-301 with 39 Conservatives voting against the Government, and 68 Labour MPs backing the Government. The Opposition leader, Harold Wilson, accused the Prime Minister of failing to secure the “full-hearted consent of Parliament” and of not getting “through on Tory votes in a majority of this House”. Heath pressed ahead nonetheless.

Chloe Westley: Jordan Peterson, not modern feminists, speaks for me

Peterson rejects collectivist doctrines, and instead emphasises the importance of the individual. This is why so many people say they have been inspired by his work.

Chloe Westley is the Campaign Manager of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

Much has been written about Jordan Peterson. The Canadian academic has been accused of being ‘sexist’, ‘misogynist’, ‘racist’ and worse of all – a ‘white man’. As a reaction to a recent interview with Peterson in GQ, Marina Hyde published a Guardian piece expressing concern that “Peterson (spent) most of the interview looking like he’s about to urinate out of his face. ”

It’s a wonder that these many compelling and thoughtful counter-arguments have so far failed to debunk Peterson’s academic work. Perhaps if more of his critics had the attention span to look beyond the fact that he happens to be a white man, and listened to what he is actually saying, we would take them more seriously.

For when Peterson challenges the idea of an imposed patriarchy he does so on behalf of women like me. I’ve been told my whole life by modern feminists that I should be resentful of men, that I should fear discrimination at every opportunity, and that the world will always treat me badly because of my gender. Whilst that may be true in some countries, particularly in the Middle East, it’s certainly not the case in modern Britain.

Young women in Britain are being misled by feminists. Take the stories over the weekend based on “Equal Pay Day”. We’re told that there is a “gender pay gap” between men and women, and that this is due to rampant discrimination. But this gap is simply a comparison of the average salaries of men and women: it’s not indicative of any kind of discrimination. Equal pay for equal work is guaranteed by law. It is illegal to pay women less for the same work if they are equally qualified.

The difference in average earnings are more likely down to women’s choices. The ‘pay gap’ between men and women aged between 22 – 39 is virtually non existent, it has fluctuated  between -0.8 per cent and 2.2 per cent during 2015-2017. What is a more likely indicator of the difference in average earnings is that women are choosing, at a certain stage in their life, to raise a family and opt for more flexible or part-time work.

And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. To say that it’s somehow wrong for women to choose different kinds of work to men implies that we are not fully entitled to make their own independent choices. What right do do feminists have to look down on women who prioritise family life over the pursuit of a higher salary at a FTSE 100 company? Feminism used to be about opportunity and choices for women. Now I fear their aim is to socially reconstruct society, regardless of the cost to the rights of the individual.

But whilst the media obsess over Peterson’s views on women and gender, they are actually the least interesting thing about him. His academic contributions are really about how human beings can live in the world with dignity, and without destroying each other.  He explores the history of human societies and theology in order to identify what it might mean to be human, and the best way to preserve human life and prosperity.

At nearly every opportunity, he argues passionately against the doctrines of Postmodernism and Marxism  – and almost any ideology which seeks to destroy and rebuild society in its own image. Marxists aspire towards an ‘ideal’ order of human life, in which unjust hierarchies are torn down and replaced with a utopia of fairness and equality. The only problem is that in order to overthrow the system you have to kill a lot of people. And in the end, you’re left with another hierarchy – one that is based on loyalty to the regime.

Peterson rejects collectivist doctrines, and instead emphasises the importance of the individual. This is why, I believe, so many people say they have been inspired by his work. Instead of seeing people as victims, he praises our potential for greatness and compassion.

But individualism isn’t just about the actualisation of the individual. It’s our defence against evil. Authoritarian regimes have relied on the abdication of individual responsibility in order to rise to power. Things go wrong when enough people absolve themselves of being informed citizens who are awake and capable of stating the truth.

And in order to have informed citizens who are capable of stating the truth, you must protect free speech. On BBC’s Question Time last week, Peterson warned against the dangers of a government regulating speech. There is no question of whether hateful speech exists. It does.

But who decides what to criminalise? In socialist Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro uses a ‘Law Against Hatred’ to imprison political opponents, who are accused of ‘promoting fascism, hatred, and intolerance’. Those who speak out against the regime in media outlets or on social media can be accused of hate speech, and put in prison for up to 20 years. Some of us may dismiss or laugh at ‘Social Justice Warriors’ in the UK, but their attempt to shut down debate and dismiss any opposing argument as ‘fascism’ should alarm us all. This isn’t just a phenomena on University campuses: even an elected politician has pathetically called for me to be banned from TV.

The ad hominem attacks on Jordan Peterson are lazy. He’s not interested in dividing society into group identities, and pitching them against each other: that’s the goal of the identitarian Left. Instead, Peterson offers a thoughtful defence of the individual, and warns against the tyranny of the collective.  It’s not a “patriarchy” that women in the west should fear. It’s Marxism.

Nick Hargrave: We need better political leaders. Here’s how to go about getting them.

It’s good for MPs to do some work outside Westminster. This will not be a quick win in the current political climate, though. So in the interim, here are some suggestions.

Nick Hargrave is a former Downing Street special adviser, where he worked under both David Cameron and Theresa May. He now works at Portland, the communications consultancy.

Looking at many front-rank politicians in our country today, with notable exceptions, it is difficult to feel confident about their leadership qualities.

Leadership is a term commonly thrown about in politics but rarely analysed or understood. Boiled down, it is all about persuading a diverse group of people to follow you towards a common goal, even if their beliefs do not align with yours 100 per cent.  It is an alchemy, honed over time, of charisma, vision and the emotional intelligence to tell honest truths without permanently offending.

That quality is evidently important in Britain right now. For the past two and a half years we have grappled with the aftermath of a EU referendum in which both sides engaged in the brutal simplicity of campaigning – but the implementation of the result was always going to involve the knotty trade-offs of compromise. However, our country has divided further in its values since the vote rather than coming together.

This is because, rather than exhibiting leadership and levelling with the British people about the need for compromise, politicians in Britain have done one of two things.

Some, many of whom now sit outside the Cabinet, have entrenched divisions by arguing that compromise is a dirty word.

Others, including the Prime Minister and many of her current Cabinet, quietly agree that compromise is necessary. But – the odd well-written conference speech aside – they have eschewed making this argument consistently to the country for fear of the political backlash. The process leading to the possible denouement of the Withdrawal Agreement in the next few days (at the time of writing at least) is a good example.

There are structural factors that help explain this decline in political leadership. The professionalisation of politics and the use of marketing techniques to win votes has inevitably played a role; there is a tendency to repeat back what people want to hear, rather than making an argument as to what you believe they should hear. The changing ways in which we consume media, with the echo chamber of social media and the new clickbait culture of many traditional titles, also means it is more daunting nowadays to strike out ground on difficult positions.

But I think there is another big part of the equation: and that is that leadership is something rarely taught in SW1. As any successful leader outside politics will tell you, you can be born with all the raw ingredients, but your ability to take people with you is finely honed over a number of years. It takes formal coaching, it requires defined objectives from those who lead you – and it involves doing increasingly complex tasks as you progress up the ladder so you are not overwhelmed ahead of your time.

This doesn’t happen in politics; there is no career structure.  The bulk of people come into Parliament intelligent, motivated and with plenty of raw potential to be leaders. They spend many years doing valuable work for the country and their constituents. But there is no defined career path that helps them develop the traits that will be useful with executive authority later down the line. And as someone who worked through more reshuffles than I care to remember, promotion is often about more than just how well you have been performing recently.

In previous times, there were factors that mitigated this. It was less socially unacceptable to hold down a job while being an MP; you continued to learn about leadership elsewhere and from your parliamentary colleagues who also had hinterlands beyond Westminster. Over the years, our legislature has also become younger, with people going into politics at an earlier stage of their development. And there is the fact that the route from special adviser direct to MP is a more trodden path (although this has receded a bit recently).

So what should we do about this? Part of the answer, even though it may be unpopular in the short term, is to start making the case that it is good for MPs to do some work outside of the confines of the Palace of Westminster.

This will not be a quick win in the current political climate, though. So in the interim, here are some practical suggestions which do not solve the problem, but would help make things better. I suspect they will not be universally popular in the Palace of Westminster but that is probably no bad thing.

  • The age at which you can become an MP could be higher than it is now. This would  allow our future Cabinet members more opportunities to learn and practice the skills of leadership.  It is ludicrous that someone can theoretically enter Parliament at the age of 18 and enter the pool of potential Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom. For the sake of argument, my preferred minimum age is 35. There could also be a rule that former special advisers must do a defined number of years outside of politics before being applicable.
  • Political parties could do a better job of developing their candidates lists. The criteria for becoming an MP needs to be more tightly defined around the leadership characteristics I have described above. It should not be the only criteria naturally; contribution to the party and your local area will still need to be important. Those who recruit in candidate departments should also have experience of what it is to lead.
  • Ministers once appointed could be held to stretching and specific quarterly objectives by Number Ten to nurture their leadership qualities. It should be written down on the day they are appointed what their delivery priorities are, what they need to do in terms of communication with the party and the country – and what they need to do to demonstrate they are working collegiately and taking people with them. This will lead to inevitable groans that this is HR gone mad. Such groans are often heard outside of politics too. But if the process is well managed and proselytised from the top it usually leads to a better culture and calibre of candidate.
  • Probably most importantly: we need to encourage the brightest leaders of tomorrow to become MPs, because one day one of them will end up at the helm of our country. How best to do this could be the subject of another column in its own right. Pay, the breaking down of social barriers, the culture of political debate and work-life balance are all reasonable points. But the greatest motivation to get involved is usually the example set by those who come before. So let’s start thinking about leadership properly in our politics and get on with nurturing it.

Iain Dale: If we had a government with Cox and Balls

Plus: Crouch’s revenge. Islam’s departure. Brexit, May’s prospective deal and Labour’s internal agonies. And: Trumpety-Trump as the President claims victory.

Iain Dale is an LBC presenter, a commentator with CNN and the author/editor of over 30 books.

Oh, how the Prime Minister may regret crossing Tracey Crouch, who resigned last week as Sports Minister over gambling regulation.

Why? Because Tracey is writing the Prime Minister’s biographical essay for the second volume of The Honourable Ladies, a two volume book I am editing with Jacqui Smith, containing essays about the 491 female MPs elected since 1918. I’m sure that last week’s feeling of complete let-down by the Prime Minister will have no impact on the conclusions which Tracey will draw in her analysis of Theresa May’s career so far.

The main question we should ponder if whether she will have been restored to ministerial office by the time the book comes out next September. Or maybe it should be whether the Prime Minister herself will still be in office.

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So farewell, Faisal Islam. He’s been poached by the BBC as their new Economics Correspondent, replacing Kamal Ahmed, who is taking on a new management role there.

Faisal’s departure from Sky News could well trigger quite a substantial lobby domino effect, depending on who is appointed to replace him. Beth Rigby, currently deputy political editor at Sky must fancy her chances, and I suspect that Sophie Ridge is a leading candidate too.

Another standout internal candidate would be Niall Paterson, who used to be a political correspondent at Millbank, then covered the defence beat and now co-presents the weekday breakfast show.

If they want to look outside their own team, I’d say Tom Newton-Dunn would be a strong candidate. He has been wanting to get into TV for some time and recently lost ou narrowly to Deborah Haynes for the Sky Foreign Editor job.

Of course, whoever gets the job will operate in the long shadow which Adam Boulton continues to cast. He is Mr Politics at Sky, and I suspect Faisal always found it quite difficult to make his own mark. Adam is a giant among political journalists, and there will be some who would happily make a case for him to return to his old job. He was brilliant at it.

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Those of you who have followed this column for some time will realise I have a slightly puerile sense of humour. So be warned, here goes.

It was pointed out to me yesterday that if Geoffrey Cox had been a member of Gordon Brown’s Cabinet, there would have been a Cox and Balls in the same government. Arf arf. And that if Geoffrey had been in Parliament in the 1980s when the Tories held Hayes and Harlington, not only would we have had Cox, but also Dicks – as in Terry Dicks.

And, of course, in David Cameron’s day we’d have had both Cox and Willy (Hague). There is also a very large Johnson on the backbenches. And as for Jeremy Hunt…  [More, more – Ed].

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Tonight, I am supposed to be having dinner with a Cabinet minister. However, I’m prepared for it to be cancelled just in case there is an emergency cabinet meeting on Saturday morning. The speculation is that the Prime Minister has done a deal with the EU over Brexit, and that she will lay it before her Cabinet before putting it to a relatively quick parliamentary vote.

Who knows if these rumours are true? And as to the contents of this deal? Well, obviously I have no idea – but I suspect that it is a deal which no-one will particularly like, but that it will be one which we will all have to live with. I am not a flat earther on it, but I do believe that if we are to stay in the Customs Union beyond the end of the transitional period, it can only be described as Brexit in Name Only.

We have to be able to sign unfettered free trade agreements with countries all over the world. I interviewed Mark Regev, Israel’s Ambassador, on Tuesday, and he told me that scoping discussions with Liam Fox were already at an advanced stage. We need to be able to sign these kind of agreements on January 1, 2021. My suspicion is that there will be many countries who will think that it’s just not worth the candle if we remain aligned to EU regulations beyond that date. I hope I’m wrong.

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Assuming that the Prime Minister can get the support of her Cabinet for a deal – and I’d have thought that this is likely, – we can expect a vote in Parliament around the first week of December.

In the end, it may come down to how many Labour MPs will support any deal struck by May. Clearly, such an agreement wouldn’t meet Keir Starmer’s ludicrous six tests but, since Labour say that a No Deal Brexit is the worst of all worlds, you could argue that it could justify voting for the deal – and then tell voters that this is in the national interest.

I suspect that it won’t happen, but if Labour did go down that road I think they would garner an awful lot of support. My current bet is that the deal will go through because enough of its MPs will vote for it to counteract the Conservative MPs who vote against. That could trigger internal mayhem in the Labour Party.

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I predicted on Monday that if the Democrats won the House of Representatives, Donald Trump would still claim victory. Guess what? They, did – and so did he.

I’m not sure these results really change an awful lot. The Senate balance means that even if the House tried to impeach the President over the next two years, it would fall at the first hurdle.

Henry Hill: Bradley faces another week of fierce criticism over ‘flying visit’

Also: Scottish Tories attack SNP over income tax ‘gap’; no boost for Plaid from new leader; and DUP’s Brexit donation given a clean bill of legal health.

Fresh criticism for Bradley over ’embarrassing’ meeting with local parties

Karen Bradley has had another bad week, with the Northern Irish press excoriating her over an ’embarrassing’ meeting with ocal parties which some present branded a “waste of time”.

The Belfast Telegraph reports that relations between the Secretary of State and local politicians are now worse than ever, something which can only hinder her ongoing bid to get the devolved assembly back on its feet. Last week she challenged them to stop grandstanding and return to government in an op-ed for the paper. There was one small sign of progress when Sinn Fein indicated that they would accept Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, returning as First Minister.

Unfortunately, this is not the only time that Bradley has been accused of not spending enough time at important events, having also been criticised for giving an under-whelming speech at an important UK-Irish event before leaving abruptly. In an editorial the Belfast Telegraph drew withering comparisonsalso between her and some of her predecessors, and another writer reports that “in this deepening crisis, the Secretary of State is being seen more and more as the problem.”

But the pain was at least spread around a little this week. Dominic Raab, the Brexit Secretary, has been strongly criticised by Northern Irish business groups for failing to engage with their concerns over our departure from the EU. He has been pressed on why he didn’t meet representatives of affected sectors, including manufacturing, freight, retail, and food and drink, on a recent visit.

He did however reiterate his commitment that he wouldn’t support any deal which undermined the constitutional integrity of the UK – although Ben Lowry, writing in the News Letter, is deeply sceptical of that.

Scottish Conservatives attack SNP over tax

Nicola Sturgeon has refused to pass on the tax cuts announced in the Budget to Scottish taxpayers – and the Tories have seized the opportunity to go on the offensive.

The Scotsman reports that Jackson Carlaw, who is standing in for Ruth Davidson whilst she is on maternity leave, pressed the First Minister on the fact that Scots now face paying £1,000 extra in income tax every year compared to counterparts in England. He also called Sturgeon ‘out of touch’, and credited that with the Conservatives’ newly-regained strength in what was once the Nationalist heartland of north-eastern Scotland.

One of those new MPs, Andrew Bowie, who represents West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, also criticised the devolved administration’s high tax approach – and was counter-attacked by the SNP for being ‘anti-devolution’, according to the Press & Journal.

In other Scottish Tory news, the Prime Minister has promised them that the UK will be out of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy by 2020, before the crucial Holyrood elections of 2021.

Nationalists call for even war to require devolved consent

The devocrat push to reduce the UK to a dysfunctional confederation continued this week when Plaid Cymru called for the Welsh Assembly to be given a veto on the deployment of British troops overseas.

Fortunately both the Conservatives and Labour figures pushed back against these proposals, according to the BBC, the latter emphasising how it would complicate some of the defence treaties and alliances the UK is party to.

This is one of the first policy stories out of the Welsh nationalists since they elected their new leader, Adam Price, who met with Theresa May in Downing Street last week. Such harder-edged nationalist positions will complicate the hope, nurtured by some Welsh Conservatives, that his leadership might make a Con-Nat pact to oust Labour viable in Cardiff Bay.

ITV have also reported on a new Welsh political poll indicating that, in the words of Professor Roger Awan-Scully, “the installation of their new leader has not generated any momentum for them at all.” It also shows that the Conservatives have sufficiently improved their position relative to 2017 to regain Vale of Clwyd and capture Wrexham from Labour.

In other Welsh news, Wales Online has interviewed each of the three candidates – Mark Drakeford, Vaughn Gething, and Eluned Morgan – vying to succeed Carwyn Jones as Labour leader and First Minister.

DUP donation given clean bill of legal health

In the aftermath of the EU referendum, the Democratic Unionists came under scrutiny from Remain-leaning outlets (primarily openDemocracy) about a substantial donation they received from a group called the Constitutional Research Council.

As well as trying to drum up concern by implying it might have had something to do with the Saudi intelligence services, there was also a slightly absurd effort to persuade people that the DUP even getting involved in mainland campaigning was somehow suspicious.

I dealt with the latter argument at the time – in a UK-wide referendum there is absolutely no reason for the DUP to confine its efforts to Northern Ireland – and this week the Electoral Commission have also ruled that, for all its being ‘dark’, the CRC’s donation was entirely legal.

This comes in the same week that the Information Commissioner dismissed Carole Cadwalladr’s long-running conspiracy theory about illegal collusion betweein Vote Leave and Leave.eu via Cambridge Analytica.