Iain Dale: Were it not for Churchill, McDonnell might be speaking German. And so could the rest of us.

Plus: Up, up and away – HS2’s costs. Staying down – LibDem poll ratings. Stuck where they are – Labour’s.

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

I don’t know how many of you watched Liam Halligan’s Dispatches documentary on Channel 4 on Monday night, but he raised some real questions about the future of the HS2 project.

It’s cost the taxpayer £4.2 billion so far, but from this year the spending is ratcheting up, and that amount will apparently be spent each year. HS2 now employs 17 – yes, 17 – different PR companies to persuade us that a) HS2 is needed and b) it’s value for money.

As someone who thinks visionary transport projects are much needed in this country ,I think the jury is out on both counts. It’s rumoured that Theresa May wanted to can the scheme on her first day as Prime Minister, but was persuaded not to.

Were it cancelled now, it would be a humiliation for a Government which could do without any further humiliation, and there would be hell to pay for wasting more than £4 billion on a white elephant.

But sometimes you have to do the right thing and seal a political wound. I wonder whether we are at that point, or at least very near it.

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So John McDonnell thinks Winston Churchill is a villain. Good luck in explaining that to working class communities up and down the country, who see know nation’s war leader for what he is and was.

An absolute hero – without whom McDonnell and the rest of us might well be speaking German.

What is it about the Left who love to laud real villains like Chavez, Maduro and the like, yet delight in trying to denigrate the reputation of people who achieved things for this country that they couldn’t even dream of doing in a month of Sundays?

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It amuses met to see Labour supporters on Twitter trying to maintain the myth that Labour is constantly ahead in the opinion polls. The last three polls that I have seen showed a five to seven point Conservative lead. The last poll I saw a Labour lead of more than a couple of points was weeks ago. Even a poll of polls shows a Tory lead of 1.5 points, and that was before the last two Ipsos/MORI and Kantar polls showing seven and five point leads.

Given the shambolic state of the Government, it is incredible that, in what is now effectively a two party system, Labour isn’t way ahead. Yet those Labour supporters are so deluded they daren’t even ask the question as to why that is. They cling to the mantra that they started the last election 24 points behind and on polling day nearly won – nearly being 50 seats behind. This hubristic view that lightning is bound to strike twice may well be their undoing. It deserves to be.

Another polling mystery is why the Liberal Democrats still can’t get much more than ten. They are the only party with a distinctive Brexit message, and they ought to be cleaning up the Remain vote, given Jeremy Corbyn’s clear determination to avoid a second referendum. But they’re not.

Is it down to Vince Cable’s less than charismatic leadership? Is it the fact that their part in the coalition busted their support on the Left? Is it the hangover from the tuition fees debacle? A combination of all three, probably. I expect Cable to stand down in the summer. The leadership contest is likely to be between Jo Swinson, Layla Moran and Ed Davey.

I interviewed Moran for an hour on my show on Tuesday evening, and was hugely impressed. She may be inexperienced, but she comes across incredibly well and has the kind of charisma that a third party requires. She didn’t avoid answering some tough questions very directly. She’s certainly not an Orange Booker, but she is the sort of LibDem who might well appeal to people on the left of the Conservative Party. The Tories would do well not to underestimate her.

Garvan Walshe: Can civil war be avoided in Venezuela?

A wise US president with a clever plan would be able to reduce the risks. But this one may well squander the opportunity for a peaceful return to democracy.

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party. He grew up in Latin America and now runs TRD Policy.

Lacking the persuasive skills of their charismatic predecessor, the leader lives on borrowed time. A disastrous election campaign took away the government’s parliamentary majority. The streets have been filled with opposition demonstrators. Regional allies have turned against their former friend. The administration’s policy provokes only exasperation from economists. Its oil resources are not what they once were. Opposition media are filled with stories of food shortages and stockpiling. Hints are dropped of emergency powers and even the declaration of martial law. European Union leaders have turned up the pressure by demanding concessions by a strict deadline.

But whereas Theresa May managed this week to retain control of Britain’s legislative agenda (the Cooper and Grieve amendments having been defeated thanks at least in part to Labour frontbenchers breaking their whip), Nicolas Maduro is in a much deeper hole.

Having been defeated in elections for the national assembly in 2015, he got his handpicked Supreme Court to anoint a puppet parliament and remains in office as an unvarnished dictator. His security forces torture and imprison opposition leaders while his country goes without food. Three million Venezuelans have fled – to America, Spain and Chile if they can; to Colombia, Peru and Ecuador if they must.

Last week, Juan Guaidó, the young head of the democratically elected National Assembly — himself only installed because Leopoldo López, the real leader, has been placed under house arrest by the regime — declared the presidency vacant, and, under Venezuela´s constitution, proclaimed himself interim president, and demanded free elections.

He immediately received the support of the Organisation of American States, and with it the democratically elected governments of Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica, Peru, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Paraguay and the United States as well as several smaller countries. Britain has followed their lead.

The European Union is due to follow suit. Led by Spain’s centre-left government, they gave Maduro days to agree to hold free elections, and will transfer recognition to Guaidó if, as everyone expects, Maduro digs in with the support of Russia and China.

It’s not a matter of much surprise that Britain’s Labour Party has avoided facing this issue square on. It has instead taken refuge in myths of Cold War era US “intervention”. It allows them to evade the obvious failure of a regime that promised “Socialism in the 21st Century” and which is unable to supply basic services to its people despite owning what are by some measures the world’s largest oil reserves. Yet the bankruptcy of this position, taken by John McDonnell among others, is clear, and has been dismissed by none other than the notorious far-right US Senator, Bernie Sanders.

Far from a US provocation, the Venezuelan crisis is domestic in origin. The Chavez-Maduro regime politicised the oil industry, failed to keep control of law and order, and rather than improving the conditions of the poor, made them far worse. Food, medicines and basic sanitary products are often unavailable. Beset by mass demonstrations and sporadic military revolts, Caracas now relies on Russian and Chinese security assistance to keep itself in power.

The stage is now set for a stand-off between the democratically elected National Assembly and what Pedro Sanchez, the Spanish Prime Minister, calls the “tyrant”. Maduro stays installed Caracas’s Miraflores palace, while his secret police operate from a post-modernist disused shopping centre converted into a warren of torture chambers known as the Helicóide.

The transfer of international recognition to the National Assembly is more than just symbolic. Pursued fully, it would mean that, in the view of the countries that recognise it, the Assembly will be the legitimate representative of the Venezuelan state abroad. Its appointees, not Maduro’s, will be recognised as diplomats. Property belonging to the Venezuelan state can be assigned to it, and not to Maduro’s government. Efforts are under way to transfer oil revenues to its control. Conversely, Maduro and his agents will no longer be, in the eyes of major world democracies and the international financial system at least, legitimate forces of order. They will have been converted into rebels using force to overthrow the legitimate government of Venezuela, as represented by the National Assembly.

This could begin to change the balance of power, but to stand a chance of bringing democracy back to Venezuela, further steps must be taken. What is needed is a diplomatic process to put pressure on the regime to acquiesce in free elections that will continue alongside what will it is hoped will continue to be peaceful popular opposition to Maduro, and the role of the United States will be crucial.

A wise US administration would stay in the shadows, and leave public leadership to Latin American countries, while providing diplomatic heft (in particular in dissuading Russia and China from provocation) and practical and organisational assistance to the regional anti-Maduro coalition. Such discretion would shield Venezuela’s democracy movement from the charges of American imperialism that Maduro has already begun to deploy and which are being enthusiastically if hypocritically relayed by pro-Russian satellite TV.

We don’t, however, have such a wise administration. This one, understaffed diplomatically, incapable of consistent action, with a president beholden to Moscow, and a counterproductive fondness for the theatrical may well squander the opportunity for a peaceful return to democracy in Venezuela. Among the risks facing the world in 2019 we may now have to add further deterioration. Descent into prolonged violence or even low-level civil war now looks all too possible.

Joshua Curzon and Jamie Nugent: It’s high time for Britain to help Venezuela

An open letter to Penny Mordaunt, the Secretary of State for International Development.

Joshua Curzon graduated from Bristol University in 2018 with a Bachelor’s degree in History. He co-founded The Venezuela Campaign in April 2018. Jamie Nugent is a Masters student in Public History at Queen’s University Belfast. He created The Venezuela Campaign during his undergraduate degree at Bristol.

Dear Ms. Mordaunt,

The time has come for urgent British action to help the people of Venezuela. The refugee crisis there is getting worse day by day with 2.3 million people already having fled and another 2 million predicted to leave soon. The refugee crisis is the largest ever experienced in Latin America and is on course to exceed that of Syria, to which Britain has provided very substantial support.

Some may feel that Venezuela is a small country far away of which we know little, but in the age of Brexit we have global interests and global ambitions. Venezuela was once the richest country in Latin America and sits on the largest oil reserves in the world. Since Chavez adopted the anti-market policies that have ruined Venezuela’s economy and led to destitution and misery for its people, Britain’s exports to Venezuela have declined by two thirds. The crisis threatens to destabilise the whole region.

Now is the time of the Venezuelan people’s greatest need. They will remember and appreciate Britain’s friendship and help if it is given today. Neighbouring countries which are having difficulties in coping with the refugee influx, such as Columbia, will also be grateful for our help.

It isn’t clear why we have not yet moved to provide support to the Venezuelan people. It could be because in Britain the Venezuelan crisis is largely discussed in the context of the Labour leadership’s support for the Venezuelan regime and its policies. Perhaps helping Venezuela is seen as a partisan move? If that is true we really need to move beyond such thinking. People are dying and need our help.

The Venezuela Campaign, a grassroots student-led body, would like to propose to you a five point plan to help the Venezuelan people. Venezuela qualifies for official development assistance so DFID could provide assistance from our aid budget.

Firstly, provide substantial assistance to neighbouring states such as Colombia to help them deal with the refugee crisis. This could involve a range of measures such as vouchers for refugees to purchase accommodation and food for a limited period.

Secondly, provide critical medicines whose current absence is leading to prolonged suffering and death in Venezuela. The refusal of the Maduro regime is a problem here, but not an insurmountable one. Delivery could be organised through local NGOs, who are adept in ensuring that vital supplies reach the right people.

Thirdly, heighten the pressure on the corrupt leaders of the regime. The US judicial system is already proceeding to prosecute a number of these, including various relatives of President Maduro, but we could do a lot more to help track down the billions that have been stolen, many of which will have likely flowed through London. As has been done in the case of Nigeria our aid budget could finance the City of London Police and others to undertake the specialist investigations that are required.

Fourthly, we should help civil society in Venezuela. One approach could be to focus on Spanish radio programming in support of democracy and accountable government. Similar ‘voice and accountability’ initiatives are supported by the UK aid programme in a variety of countries.

Fifthly, we should help Venezuelans in planning for post-dictatorship Venezuela. With hyperinflation due to reach 1 million percent according to the IMF and oil production falling to below 1947 levels due to regime incompetence, the end cannot be too far away. But coherent plans will be required to pull Venezuela out of crisis and back on the road to prosperity. British experts have a lot of expertise in this area and could make an important contribution.

We hope that you agree that this plan represents a realistic and achievable set of actions. It won’t solve the Venezuelan crisis overnight but it will help alleviate some of the worst problems, demonstrate British leadership and address the political problems that are at the root of the crisis.

Yours sincerely,

Jamie Nugent & Joshua Curzon, on behalf of the Venezuela Campaign.