Momentum launches drive to get tens of thousands of students registered for snap election

An urgent voter registration drive to sign up tens of thousands of students in key marginal seats is being launched by Momentum, the pro-Corbyn campaign group.

It argues that younger voters hold the key to victory in marginal seats across the country – including Boris Johnson’s constituency – if a snap election takes places this autumn.

Momentum are to hold events at university freshers fairs and run a Facebook advertising campaign costing thousands of pounds aimed at young people living in key marginals.

It is also setting up a website advising students whether it would be more effective for them to register to vote at their home or their college address.

The group has identified five seats with sizeable young populations where registering 19,000 voters across the constituencies would swing them to Labour.

Labour surge at last election

It is also targeting six seats with large numbers of young people where Labour will defend slim majorities.

A surge in support among younger voters was credited in capturing seats such as Canterbury, where there are two universities, and Warwick and Leamington, home to Warwick University, for Labour in the 2017 election.

Labour’s Ali Milani is standing against Boris Johnson in Uxbridge and South Ruislip

Momentum said it was responding to reports that the Prime Minister was supporting an October poll – before it was blocked by MPs – partly because relatively low numbers of students will have registered to vote.

Mr Johnson’s majority in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency fell from 10,695 to 5,034 at the last election, and Labour believes he is vulnerable because of the youth of his west London electorate as well as demographic change.

Johnson tried to ‘rig election’

Laura Parker, Momentum’s national co-ordinator, said: “Johnson’s attempt to rig the election and stop students from registering is deplorable, and it’s heartening to see so many young people getting registered in response.

“Young people surged to Labour in the last election because we offered a concrete vision of hope.

“They turned seats like Canterbury and Newcastle-under-Lyme red, and we’re going to register tens of thousands of young people in key marginals to make sure they’re part of the movement against this government which treats them with such contempt.”

More than 500,000 people have applied to register to vote since the start of the month, with young people making up the bulk of applicants.

Momentum’s hit list

Conservative marginals with a high concentration of young people

Walsall North (2,601 majority)

Cities of London and Westminster (3,148)

Truro and Falmouth (3,792)

Loughborough (4,269)

Uxbridge and South Ruislip (5,034)

Labour marginals with a high concentration of young people 

Kensington (20 majority)

Newcastle-under-Lyme (30)

Canterbury (187)

Portsmouth South (1,154)

Warwick and Leamington (1,206)

Lincoln (1,538)

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Brexit latest: Tory Brexiteer Nigel Evans claims there are 50 Labour MPs who are prepared to back deal

Tory MP Nigel Evans has claimed that 50 MPs from the Labour Party would be prepared to back a new Brexit deal brought by Boris Johnson.

Speaking to Sky News on Wednesday, the Brexiteer claimed that progress is being made by the Government on finding a new solution to the Irish border issue and that members of the Northern Irish DUP are also onside.

Mr Johnson said that a no-deal Brexit would be a “failure of statecraft” during a visit to Dublin on Monday, despite concerns from some MPs that this is his objective.

Under the terms of a new law, which has been imposed on Mr Johnson by MPs, the Prime Minister must seek an extension to Brexit beyond 31 October unless either a new deal, or a no-deal exit is approved by the Commons by 19 October.

‘We can do a deal’

Nigel Evans said a number of Labour MPs would back the deal. (Photo: Sky News)

Mr Evans told Sky News: “Everybody’s been focusing on whether [Mr Johnson will] break the law. Of course, he clearly doesn’t want to do that.

“Nor does he want to disrespect the views of the British voters in that referendum, and so the way we do that is by seeing if there is a way that we can do a deal. ”

“And I talked to Arlene Foster yesterday who was over for discussions with the Prime Minister, I spoke to Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP, who is incredibly pragmatic at looking for all sorts of ways.

“And we all already know that the Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney has been looking at ways of facilitating the integrity of the single market but away from the border.

50 Labour MPs

Caroline Flint is leading the new group (Photo: Getty Images)

“And so there are all sorts of ways that this can happen. But what we need, and this is the one thing that has been lacking, is political will.

“And I spoke to a Labour MP yesterday, and she told me that there are about 50 Labour MPs who are ready to break ranks with the Labour Party, if necessary, in order to vote for a pragmatic sensible deal that’s going to deliver Brexit.”

Labour MPs Stephen Kinnock and Caroline Flint are trying to build a cross-party consensus for a deal, with support from former Tory ministers such as Rory Stewart.

Mr Johnson is focused on trying to negotiate changes to the backstop, a series of measures that keeps the UK in the Customs Union and Northern Ireland aligned to many EU rules, to prevent a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.

The DUP, who have helped prop up the Tory Government, are opposed to any deal that separates Northern Ireland with the rest of the UK.

‘Economic and constitutional integrity of the UK’

The Prime Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster held talks for over an hour in Downing Street on a way forward on Brexit
The Prime Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster held talks for over an hour in Downing Street on a way forward on Brexit (Photo: REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne)

Ms Foster said after meeting the Prime Minister on Tuesday: “A sensible deal, between the United Kingdom and European Union which respects the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom, is the best way forward for everyone,” she said.

“History teaches us that any deal relating to Northern Ireland which cannot command cross-community support is doomed to failure. That is why the Northern Ireland backstop is flawed.

“During today’s meeting, the Prime Minister confirmed his rejection of the Northern Ireland only backstop and his commitment to securing a deal which works for the entire United Kingdom as well as our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland.”

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The Lib Dems are right – revoking Article 50 is a winning proposition

phil syrpisThe Lib Dems are right to have promised to revoke Article 50, writes Phil Syrpis (University of Bristol). Revocation would ‘make it stop’ – an appealing proposition for those weary of Brexit and who want to focus on domestic politics. Labour should follow suit.

It now looks as though the UK will be heading towards a pre-Brexit general election. Notwithstanding the damage which Boris Johnson seems to be inflicting on the Conservative party and on the UK’s creaking constitution, opinion polls indicate that he might well win. If his plan really is to establish a narrative for a pre-Brexit general election, in which he could cast himself as the man of the people, sticking up for the UK in the face of the intransigent EU and the remain establishment (as I argued here in July), it may be that – contrary to appearances – all is going well for him.

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson. Photo: Liberal Democrats via a CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0 licence

The political debate has focused on the timing of the general election (and in particular on the benefits for the opposition of forcing Johnson to break his 31 October ‘do or die’ promise), and on the possibility of electoral pacts and/or understandings between the Conservatives and the Brexit Party, and between the various political groupings opposed to Johnson. This post concentrates instead on the policy pledges, or manifesto commitments, which each of the main parties might make in relation to Brexit. I argue that Labour’s current position plays into Johnson’s hands. As the Liberal Democrats have just proposed to do, moving from support for a people’s vote to support for revoking the Article 50 notification might inject much needed dynamism into the remain campaign.

The positions of the main parties

It is safe to assume that Johnson will campaign to ‘get Brexit done’. He will claim that he is able to get a good Brexit deal from the EU. If that fails, he is prepared to leave with no deal. A notable feature of this plan is that his Brexit will remain stubbornly undefined. He will, much as he has done to date, attempt to portray himself as the candidate who will meet the aspirations of both those who want to leave with a deal, and those who want to leave with no deal.

One part of the opposition strategy will involve shooting down the Johnson campaign. That should not prove unduly difficult. There is very little evidence to suggest that he is close to getting the sort of deal he says he wants. There seem to be no negotiations of substance with the EU. There is no indication that he has understood the difficulties inherent in leaving the single market and customs union, while at the same time avoiding a border either in Ireland or across the Irish Sea. The EU’s negotiating position will not shift just because the UK is serious about no deal. One of the most pervasive myths is that we can leave the EU without a deal on October 31, or whenever the next iconic date happens to be, and that it will then all be over. Of course, it won’t be over. It will just be the start. Our trade and other relationships with the EU and the rest of the world will need to be worked out.

The other, more difficult, part of the opposition strategy involves making an alternative policy pitch to the people. As things stand, Labour’s position is not an irrational one. It is, though, rather difficult to explain to the public. If elected, Labour will negotiate its own ‘better’ Brexit deal. It will then put the resulting deal to the people in a people’s vote. At that stage, it is not clear whether it would back its own deal or remain, although many in the party have already indicated that they are likely to favour the latter.

So were Labour to win power, it would ask the EU for a further extension, and spend a considerable amount of time negotiating with the EU and formulating a referendum question to be put to the people.

The contrast with Johnson’s position could hardly be starker. He will present himself as the man who will get it done, and cast Labour as the party of delay and obfuscation, of ‘yet more Brexit’. He will be on the side of the people. Labour will be said to be trying to manufacture a new referendum to frustrate the will of the people and engineer it to deliver the result they want.

A shift to revoke?

It is easy to see how an electoral campaign based on a long delay and a people’s vote might play into Johnson’s hands. Those who are fed up with Brexit, and who want this all to be over, may be enticed by Johnson’s promise to get it done.

That is why Labour should follow the Lib Dems in campaigning not for a people’s vote, but instead for revocation of the Article 50 notice (as I first argued here in December 2018).
It is a message which, in its urgency and decisiveness, more than matches that of Johnson. He will say that he will get it done. The opposition can say that, within days, Brexit will be over.

Revoke has grassroots appeal. Over six million people signed the revoke petition. Polls suggest that over 50% of the people now support remain. It is almost unthinkable that we might be heading towards a general election which will be dominated by Brexit and that we will not be afforded the option to vote to ‘make it stop’ and enable politics to move beyond Brexit.

Let me try to deal with the arguments against revocation. The first, and most common, criticism is that revocation lacks a democratic mandate. If the case for revoke is made in the context of a general election, in which the various parties campaign on the basis of their preferred Brexit outcomes, that criticism loses its force. A general election affords parties the opportunity to set out what they want to achieve. Just as it is now possible for Johnson and others to argue for no deal (a huge jump from the referendum and the Conservative position in the 2017 general election), it is also possible for opposition parties to argue for revoke.

Second, it is said that only a people’s vote can provide finality, that without a second referendum there will be ‘unfinished business’, and that what started with a referendum can only be ended with a referendum. This strand of criticism overstates what a second referendum can achieve. Let us say that there was a people’s vote, in which either Labour’s ‘better Brexit’ or the Withdrawal Agreement was pitted against remain; and that remain won. Is the contention that Brexiters would accept that Brexit had been settled? Even though their preferred version of Brexit was not on the ballot paper? The reality is that any decision to revoke Article 50, whether or not it is preceded by a people’s vote, would be contested. Revocation would bring the Article 50 process to an end. But there is nothing to stop a future government with a new mandate making a new argument for Brexit. Scottish politics shows us that it is difficult, if not impossible, to put an issue like this to bed for a generation.

If there is a pre-Brexit general election, it will be because there is no majority within the existing Parliament for any of the rival substantive outcomes of the Brexit process (leaving with a deal, leaving with no deal, and not leaving at all). A general election provides an opportunity to elect a new Parliament, in which the arithmetic will likely be different, and in which the policy positions of the various parties may also be different. The stakes could not be higher. It is time for Remainers to have the courage of their convictions. They should use the general election to obtain a mandate for revoking the Article 50 notification.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor LSE.

Phil Syrpis is Professor of EU Law at the University of Bristol Law School.

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Jeremy Corbyn faces challenge to support second referendum — not a general election

Jeremy Corbyn will face a challenge from his deputy to abandon his support for a snap election and throw his full weight behind a second Brexit referendum.

Tom Watson’s intervention will inflame tensions within Labour ranks over the party’s attitude towards holding a ‘People’s Vote’ on whether to press ahead with leaving the European Union. His comments came amid signs of new momentum across the political spectrum for staging a second referendum as a route out of the Brexit deadlock.

A former Cabinet minister predicted that Boris Johnson could perform a dramatic U-turn and support a plebiscite as an alternative to a general election.

Mr Corbyn favours holding an election as soon as Brexit has been delayed and a no-deal withdrawal has been ruled out.

Tom Watson’s intervention will inflame tensions within Labour ranks over the party’s attitude towards holding a ‘People’s Vote’
Tom Watson’s intervention will inflame tensions within Labour ranks over the party’s attitude towards holding a ‘People’s Vote’ (Photo: Luke Dray/Getty)

Brexit deadlock

In a speech, Mr Watson will argue that MPs should act to thwart a no deal when the Commons returns next month, but should focus after that on securing a referendum before an election.

He will say: “Why are Boris Johnson’s Tory faction so terrified of that? If there is still a majority for Brexit, what do they have to fear? If there isn’t any more, how can it then be democratic to leave, just because there used to be a majority for it more than three years ago, when so many things were so different?”

Mr Watson is effectively saying that an election should not be staged until well into 2020. Mr Johnson has dismissed calls for a referendum, although i understands that he asked for a briefing on the mechanics of how it might be held when he was Foreign Secretary.

Sir Oliver Letwin, who lost the Tory whip for defying Downing Street over Brexit, suggested Mr Johnson could change tack. “Boris has often changed his mind about many things. And that’s one of his advantages, that he is very flexible,” the former minister told BBC Radio 4. He said there was “an increasing number of Conservative and ex-Conservative” MPs now ready to back a fresh referendum.

Speculation was mounting that Boris Johnson could be ready to make a compromise on Brexit
Speculation was mounting that Boris Johnson could be ready to make a compromise on Brexit (Photo: Toby Melville/Getty)

People’s Vote campaign

A source in the People’s Vote campaign told i: “We believe the number of Tories and former Tories supporting us is in the high teens but we believe there is a pool of about 50 who can be won over.”

The campaign is targeting Tories with the message that a fresh referendum would offer an alternative to the prospect of having to choose between a no-deal Brexit and a Corbyn-led government.

Tony Blair also argued that Mr Johnson would be “smart” to hold a referendum instead of an election he could lose. “If it’s no-deal that the government is agitating for, go back and put that and say: ‘Do you want it or do you want to stay?’

“It’s Boris Johnson’s way out. If Boris Johnson was smart he would say ‘OK I’m not blocked in Parliament.

“I’m going to go back to the people and we are going to go back on this specific issue’,” the former Prime Minister said at the launch of the King’s College London International School for Government.

Where they stand

CONSERVATIVES – Boris Johnson has vowed to lead Britain out of the EU on 31 October. He says his preference is to leave with an agreement but will drive through a no-deal Brexit if that proves impossible. An estimated 20 current and former Conservative MPs back a referendum.

LABOUR – Labour’s official line is to support a second referendum in preference to a no-deal Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn has said that in government he would hold a referendum including a Remain option and a “credible Leave option”. There are divisions over whether it should prioritise an early election or a second referendum.

LIB DEMS – The party currently favours a fresh referendum, but could switch to backing revocation of Article 50.

SNP – The pro-Remain party is campaigning for a new referendum.

DUP – It backs Mr Johnson’s pledge to deliver Brexit on 31 October with or without agreement.

Independent Group for Change/Plaid Cymru/Greens – All oppose Brexit and want a new referendum.

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David Skelton: From Gateshead to ‘Ghosthead’, how our towns have declined

David Skelton is the author of Little Platoons: How a revived One Nation can empower England’s forgotten towns and redraw the political map. He founded Renewal, dedicated to broadening Tory appeal.

There’s been an impressive urban renaissance in our great cities. The Baltic in Newcastle, the transformed stations in Manchester and Birmingham, Millennium Square in Leeds and the waterfront in Liverpool, are all testament to this. Sadly, this only tells half of the story. Travel only a few miles from these reborn city centres and there are too many examples of towns that continue to be “left behind”.

Walk only a few miles from the Baltic in “Newcastle-Gateshead” (a phrase that nobody other than marketing men use) and you’ll arrive in Gateshead town centre. As the local newspaper puts it: ‘You will see signs with letters missing, windows without glass and shutters pulled firmly down.’ In 2016, one fifth of the stores in Gateshead town centre were empty, with the Evening Chronicle saying that the town had gone from ‘Gateshead to Ghosthead’.

There are forgotten towns like this all over the country, often blighted by appalling transport links, poor digital infrastructure, a lack of skilled jobs, declining communal spaces and insufficient entrepreneurialism. They have all been more negatively impacted by deindustrialisation and the after effects of the banking crash. Mass immigration from EU accession countries changed the nature of some of these towns almost overnight.

The policy of successive governments has done little to make things better. A focus on linking big cities with London has left many towns exposed, and a fad for out of town shopping and business parks has hollowed out town centres. A myopic obsession with Higher Education meant that government actively encouraged all the talented young people to leave town when they turned 18. This has resulted in what some academics have described as ‘urban shrinkage’, where some towns face both a falling population and diminishing new business growth. It has also produced a deeply divided nation, where GDP per head in the City of London is almost 19 times that in County Durham.

It should have come as no surprise that these towns voted decisively for change in the Brexit referendum. Delivering Brexit is, of course, fundamental to maintaining democratic trust and delivering national renewal, but a first priority of post-Brexit Britain must be to turn these towns around.

It was heartening that the Prime Minister used his first major speech to address these issues. He argued that:

Towns with famous names, proud histories, fine civic buildings where unfortunately the stereotypical story of the last few decades has been long-term decline… Time and again they have voted for change, but for too long politicians have failed to deliver on what is needed.

As I set out in my new book, Little Platoons, we need a transformative agenda to renew long neglected towns:

Delivering world-class infrastructure

Without adequate infrastructure, parts of the UK are doomed to fall further behind. Proper investment in road, rail and digital links into town centres will provide the basis for a vibrant private sector.

Devolution and the creation of ‘prosperity hubs’

Power should be devolved to the local level, whether that be city, town or even neighbourhood. But devolution alone isn’t going to turn around towns that are well behind. Government should give special powers to elected mayors of the towns and conurbations that have the worst levels of deprivation. They should be declared as ‘priority prosperity hubs’ and provided with extra extra powers and resources, with a mandate to do whatever it takes to bring about economic regeneration.

Reviving town centres

The towns with the highest levels of deprivation should be able to charge the lowest level of business rates. Government should encourage community-based regeneration, with a promise to match a multiple of an amount raised locally for innovative regeneration projects. Town centres should be at the core of local economies, with a focus on jobs and businesses being located in the town centre rather than in distant business parks.

Reindustrialisation of forgotten towns

The UK’s productivity has suffered because our economy has deindustrialised more than any other major Western nation. We should explicitly aim for reindustrialisation of many towns. Measures should be taken to incentivise R & D investment and high value manufacturing. Centres for applied research should also be established in some of these towns.

A vocational education revolution

Government should invest heavily in creating world class vocational education, reversing a status quo, where the UK lags behind every other major European country. Towns should be empowered to create a “dual learning” system, where young people from the age of 14 will be able to continue their academic education, but also develop vocational skills in partnership with local employers. Vocational centres of excellence, in partnership with key employers, should also be established within our towns.

We should also move towards a higher minimum wage, lower taxes for workers and more employee share ownership. Such a transformative agenda would help change towns into well connected, high skill, high entrepreneurship locations.

It could also help to redraw the political map. Many towns that once felt an almost familial attachment to Labour have now abandoned a Party that has ignored and belittled them in favour of a metropolitan identity politics. Once staunchly Labour towns, such as Bishop Auckland and Stoke, now dominate the battleground of marginal seats.

The same towns that spearheaded the Brexit coalition could form the basis of an expanded Conservative coalition. Becoming the party associated with the positive transformation of towns could reshape British politics forever, making the Party the natural home for the urban working class in newly rising towns and, with it, recreating One Nation.

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Although I want a Brexit deal, No Deal would now be less risky than even more uncertainty

I campaigned and voted to Remain in the EU because, for all its imperfections, I believed staying in and working on a collaborative basis was better for our country’s future. Like many, I was surprised and disappointed when the majority who voted chose to Leave. But as someone who believes in democracy, I committed to respecting their decision as did the Labour Party in its 2017 General Election manifesto.

I hear those who say the Leave campaign lied about the money promised for the NHS and the ease with which we could depart. However, the Remain campaign also made claims about an erosion in workers’ rights and environmental protection which in reality can be prevented. They also predicted economic catastrophe when there is no such certainty. So attempting to selectively delegitimise the referendum result because of “lies” is not in reality credible.

I opposed Theresa May’s deal because it offered the worst of all worlds. We should do everything possible to leave the EU with a better deal.

However, we cannot go on like this and it is perfectly reasonable to set an end date for negotiations of 31st October. For such a deadline to be meaningful, it is a simple fact that if an agreement cannot be reached, leaving with No Deal will be the only option.

There are a few MPs who believe the referendum result should be respected but oppose leaving with No Deal. However, the vast majority of MPs opposing No Deal or supporting another referendum are hell-bent on overturning the referendum result. They claim to oppose No Deal and/or support a so-called affirmative referendum – but in reality they are determined to thwart Brexit under any circumstances. They know full well that taking No Deal off the table will weaken the UK’s negotiating position.

I did not support Boris Johnson’s decision to reduce the number of days Parliament is sitting by introducing a Queen’s Speech. However, events of the last week have shown that there is sufficient parliamentary time for both debate and emergency legislation.

Leaving with No Deal is an economic risk, but so is continual uncertainty and yet more extensions. Uncertainty has led to business investment and consumer spending drying up. Continued uncertainty is likely to tip us into recession with a devastating impact on jobs and people’s standard of living. This is now at least as big a risk as leaving without a deal.

It is for these reasons that I opposed Parliament taking control of the business from the Government last Tuesday and then voted against legislation which sends the wrong message to the EU about the need to make changes to the existing Withdrawal Agreement.

I want us to achieve an agreement which is fair, but the referendum result must be respected not sabotaged – and we must leave with no more extensions.

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Labour MP John Mann quits to become government anti-Semitism adviser as he heavily criticises Jeremy Corbyn

A veteran Labour MP is to quit to become the government’s anti-Semitism adviser, hitting out at Jeremy Corbyn for allowing his party to become “hijacked” by hate.

John Mann will stand down after almost two decades in Parliament to enter a full-time post acting as an independent government adviser on anti-Semitism matters.

Mr Mann, a vocal critic of the Labour leader, used his exit to make a full-throttled attack on Mr Corbyn, accusing him of giving the “green light” to anti-Semites and allowing them to fester within party ranks.

“Corbyn has given the green light to the anti-Semites and, having done so, has sat there and done nothing to turn that round,” he told The Sunday Times.

‘I’ll never forgive him’

“Every time I go into a meeting with a group of Jewish people, I wince when they raise the issue of the Labour Party and Corbyn.

“It is impossible to overstate the anger that I have about that. He has not just hijacked my political party – he has hijacked its soul and its ethics. I will never forgive him for that.”

John Mann has been a Labour MP for 18 years (Photo: AFP)

The MP for Bassetlaw, Nottingham, added that things have changed since he campaigned for the party in 2017, as he now felt Mr Corbyn was not “appropriate to be prime minister”.

“I can’t do that this time and I’m not prepared to lie to my voters. And neither am I prepared to tell them that Corbyn is appropriate to be prime minister. Because I don’t think he is,” he said.

Mr Mann’s resignation comes as a blow for Labour, which has been embroiled in a crisis over its handling of anti-Semitism complaints in recent years.

The party has sidelined figures including Chris Williamson and Ken Livingstone under pressure to act amid outcry over allegedly anti-Semitic remarks and criticism that it has been too slow to do so.

Motivated by Brexit

Following his departure, Mr Mann will be based in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in an upgraded position first introduced under former prime minister Theresa May to help stamp out anti-Jewish racism.

Read more:

Anti-Semitism on the rise in the UK with 10% more incidents recorded than last year

The Labour Party is yet to respond to criticisms levelled by Mr Mann, a Eurosceptic, but appearing on Sky’s Sophie Ridge programme on Sunday morning, shadow attorney general Baroness Shami Chakrabarti put it down to Brexit.

She said: “Obviously I disagree with John Mann. He’s one of two MPs that voted against the legislation to prevent a crash out [from the EU].

“Obviously he’s very unhappy on those Labour benches at the moment, so he has made his decision and I wish him well in his future work.”

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Labour cannot be a party of Remain if it is serious about radical change

Brexit has energised the centrist political forces that want to remain in the EU, but they have little to show for their efforts. Michael Wilkinson (LSE) argues that Labour should avoid flirting with Remainism if it wants to be the party of radical change and defeat Boris Johnson.

The divisions underlying Brexit are deep and complex, and cut across various social and ideological cleavages. They have revealed splits not only between but within the political parties which are meant to mediate differences and contribute to the production of a political will. They reflect regional and generational as much as traditional Left-Right divides. And the Brexit process itself now raises serious constitutional questions about the relationship among judicial, legislative and executive powers, about the constitution’s fitness for purpose, and even about the location of sovereignty itself – bringing to the surface strong and countervailing currents that usually ebb and flow less vigorously underneath.

anti-Brexit march

At the anti-Brexit demonstration in London, 23 June 2018. Photo: David Holt via a CC BY 2.0 licence

With 31 October fast approaching, things are reaching a climax. The appointment of a new Tory Prime Minister who is more willing to adopt an aggressive negotiating position – within his own party, with Parliament, and with the EU itself – has heightened tensions and also reignited the political embers, re-energising those on both sides of the Brexit divide.

Reactions to the PM’s advice to prorogue Parliament in a manner that pushes constitutional boundaries to their limit have produced a great deal of heat. But the light, as yet, remains obscure. This is because we are not nearing the end of the Brexit saga, not even the beginning of the end, but perhaps only the end of the beginning.

To see why, we need to start disentangling the political and constitutional questions, which, due to the peculiarity of the UK’s uncodified constitution, are mixed up in the day-to-day workings of government and in the normal play of party politics itself. This is especially so with Brexit.

So one might, rightly or wrongly, consider Brexit to be a positive constitutional move, or think that, given the referendum outcome, it is now a constitutional change that must be seen through, but at the same time be strongly politically opposed to the Tory regime represented by Boris Johnson. From this position, one might even acknowledge that any negotiation with the EU requires running the risk of no deal, without thinking no deal to be the best outcome or to be a positive outcome in the short-term. Any government that happened to be in the position of negotiating with the EU would have to retain it as a credible threat, or so the Greek crisis may be thought to have revealed. That it happens to be Johnson in the position of negotiating the deal is unfortunate for those ideologically opposed to him, but can be corrected at the next electoral opportunity, or for those who believe in extra-parliamentary activity, on the streets, the workplace and elsewhere.

But to disentangle the constitutional issue of leaving the EU – the kind of question that arises once in a generation – from the vicissitudes of everyday politics is a challenge exacerbated by other factors, which have less to do  with constitutional law than with the layers underneath the constitutional surface: struggles over political unity, institutional power, political objectives and the social fabric..

Since the Brexit vote, certain divisions, and the positions undergirding them, have entrenched and attitudes hardened. At the same time various splinters have formed. There are no longer, if there ever were, two homogenous blocs facing each other across the Brexit divide. There are however two figures – caricatures perhaps – that can be sketched in a way that may help to discern certain trends. If the Brexit referendum gave some voice to those previously disenchanted with centrist politics – marginalised by neoliberal economics, years of austerity under the Conservative-Liberal coalition, and an establishment that had offered various shades of the same political hue – Remainism has since presented a countervailing reactionary force. It has awakened certain parts of the British (and European) bourgeoisie that were previously passive, their social and economic capital more threatened by the prospect of the Brexit vote than the austerity that preceded it. These two groups are new to the political landscape, making politics very hard to predict.

What we can say for sure is that there has been a high level of volatility in the political representation of the bloc of Brexit voters as a mass – and especially for those who voted Brexit in the hope that it would signal a desire for rupture with the status quo. In the 2017 general election, both major parties campaigned on a promise to deliver the referendum result, committing to leave the EU. As a consequence UKIP, after its extraordinary advance in the 2015 general election, was nearly eviscerated just two years later, with politics reverting back to a struggle between Left and Right in a way that had not been witnessed for several decades. But in the recent European Parliament elections, in the wake of the established parties’ apparent unwillingness or inability to agree to any Brexit deal and refusal to countenance a no-deal scenario – despite that being the logical implication of having approved the triggering of Article 50 in March 2017 – centrism returned with a bang, the newly formed Brexit Party – like Italy’s 5 Star containing elements across the political spectrum – making significant inroads, along with the Liberal Democrats as the unequivocal party of Remain.

Yet although many centrist Remainers have significant social (as well as real) capital and significant representation in the liberal media and the academy, they have not as yet translated this power into concrete political advances. In fact they have suffered a series of setbacks and embarrassments. In 2017, the Lib Dems flatlined on an unambiguously Remain platform. The new centrist party Change UK made more name changes than political headway. For this group more broadly, which includes – along with Conservatives and Lib Dems – many within the Labour party, failure to topple Jeremy Corbyn is perhaps the most conspicuous of all, although they have succeeded in pushing the party to adopt a more aggressively Remainist position, voiced prominently by the shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer.

The Remainists’ response to Johnson’s premiership appears to be to raise the rhetorical stakes but diminish the practical ones, as if the appropriate response to a ‘coup’ is to launch a ‘petition’ or to look to the establishment to sort this mess out: the courts, the Queen, the European Commission or Hugh Grant. Some lament that if only we had a written constitution, these political crises would be avoided, apparently learning little from recent episodes in constitutional democracies from the US to Italy. Others suggest that until a few weeks ago the UK was legitimately lecturing other folk on how to run a constitutional democracy, and bemoan the loss of global influence Brexit would bring. Even some Left Remainers place their Remainism so far above their politics that they refuse to agitate against Johnson with those who advocate ‘Lexit’ (a left-wing exit from the EU).

If the opposition to Johnson frames the current struggle as a battle on the terrain of the constitutional question of Brexit, rather the substantive issues of left-right politics and policy, it may well play into Johnson’s hands and enable him, perversely, to fight on a populist or anti-establishment platform, one that appears to be having considerable success in drawing in voters. This is exacerbated by a curious and troubling political void – not only here but in the rest of Europe too: the fact that the Left, with some notable exceptions, almost entirely vacated the terrain of meaningful Euroscepticism. The third of Labour voters who voted Leave in 2016 would be effectively disenfranchised. Indeed not only those who voted Leave but those who voted Remain or didn’t vote at all, but who consider it imperative to respect the outcome of the Referendum, would be jettisoned, with only the Brexit party offering an obvious refuge.

If the absence of Left leadership on the Leave side was somewhat excusable prior to 2016, considered too unlikely to materialise to warrant serious attention, it has now had nearly three years to mature – not on a speculative terrain, but on a terrain primed by the electorate against political and economic elites, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a rupture from the status quo. Even the self-styled revolutionary Left appear unable to grasp this, lazily dismissing what is unarguably a democratic case as necessarily retrograde and ‘nationalist’.

Instead, the strategy on the much of the Left appears, again, to be essentially negative, to present Johnson as dangerous primarily because he is intent on driving through a no-deal Brexit. But Johnson is not committed to a no-deal Brexit, or perhaps to any kind of Brexit. Johnson, probably committed only to himself and to political power, is willing to risk a no-deal Brexit and certainly wants to be seen to be willing to risk no deal – both for party political reasons and (as he may see it) to improve his bargaining position with the EU. But there is little doubt that a soft or even hard Right Conservative political agenda could be pursued from within the EU. Even a cursory glance at the political landscape across Europe confirms this. And the prorogation of Parliament may actually decrease the chance of a no-deal Brexit, not least since it increases pressure to act with urgency.

What may have changed politically is Johnson’s calculation that he can also, or may effectively be forced to, risk an election – a gamble that effectively sunk his predecessor Theresa May.

If it was no coincidence that Johnson’s advice to prorogue was officially made soon after Labour put a motion of no confidence on the backburner, reaching out to those crying ‘Coup’ but suggesting installing Ken Clarke as PM, its strategic implications were unclear. Some commentators perceived it as a sign of weakness from Johnson. Others as a trap to lure the opposition. But is the trap sprung by pressing for an immediate election or avoiding one?

The logical response is that it would depend on the result. But this knowledge is a luxury politics must do without; and in the current moment predictions are difficult. What will matter for now is whether the message from the opposition, on the streets and elsewhere, is unequivocally about getting rid of Johnson, and implementing a radical political and economic programme, or whether it is boxed into manoeuvring for a fight to stop Brexit.

If there is a trap, it surely lies there. It would see the Labour party embrace Remain, or join a cross-party alliance of Remainists, effectively in defence of the established political system. It would write off half the electorate at a stroke and in the longer term write itself off as a party that presented any real political and constitutional alternative to the status quo. Is that the end of the beginning?

It would be an error to think that Brexit can simply be reversed without serious political cost. But it would also be an error to think that a general election will resolve the deeper constitutional issues underlying Brexit. Although this is true to the extent that the Brexit vote reflected a deeper economic malaise that requires serious redress, some of which has little to do with EU membership, it will not dispel the need to address the basic material constitutional questions of democracy and sovereignty that underpin the current drama. Only then will we be nearing the beginning of the end.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor LSE.

Michael Wilkinson is an Associate Professor of Law at LSE.

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Boris Johnson warns attempts to block or delay Brexit are doomed to failure

Attempts by MPs to block or delay Brexit are doomed to failure, Boris Johnson has told European leaders at the G7 summit in Biarritz.

He delivered the message ahead of Tuesday’s meeting in Westminster where opposition party leaders will discuss ways of preventing a no-deal Brexit after the Commons returns next week.

However, Downing Street said that Mr Johnson had urged leading European figures not to draw “very wrong messages” from British politicians.

An official said: “We are leaving on October 31 with a deal or without. The Prime Minister would prefer it to be a deal but we will be leaving on October 31 and he is very clear about that. He thinks European leaders should not be listening to the very wrong messages emerging from some parliamentarians who think that they will stop Brexit.”

Brexit protests

In an interview with the BBC, Boris Johnson admitted the chance of a Brexit deal is 'touch and go'
In an interview with the BBC, Boris Johnson admitted the chance of a Brexit deal is ‘touch and go’ (Photo: Andrew Parsons/PA Wire)

He added that Mr Johnson had been “repeatedly clear that Parliamentarians and politicians don’t get to choose which public votes they respect”.

Mr Johnson faces a turbulent parliamentary session when MPs return from their break next Tuesday.

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Jo Swinson says that Jeremy Corbyn trying to be emergency PM could jeopardise vote of no confidence

Opponents of a no-deal – who appear to have a parliamentary majority – are preparing moves to scupper his Brexit strategy.

Tuesday’s meeting has been called by the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and will be attended by the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Change UK, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party. However, no pro-Remain Conservatives are expected to be present.

Plan to topple Tories

The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called on opponents of a disorderly exit to meet next week
The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called on opponents of a disorderly exit to meet (Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty)

Mr Corbyn has floated a plan to topple Mr Johnson’s government, install himself as caretaker Prime Minister and block a no-deal Brexit before a general election is held.

Jo Swinson, the Lib Dem leader, will attend the meeting although she has made clear her opposition to put Mr Corbyn in office however temporarily.

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Boris Johnson pork pie claims dismissed as ‘not true’ by Melton Mowbray

Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, said his party would “work with anybody and everybody” to avert a no-deal.

“It’s not about who becomes prime minister in the short-term. In many respects we don’t even need to do that,” he told the BBC.

“What we need to do is stop no-deal and we need to stop the damage that Boris Johnson will do.”

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Former Labour MP Jared O’Mara is arrested on suspicion of plotting fraud

Jared O’Mara, the MP for Sheffield Hallam, has been arrested on suspicion of fraud, it has emerged.

Police raided the backbencher’s constituency office last week, removing computers and documents as part of their investigation.

According to reports, it led to the arrest of Mr O’Mara and his office manager Gareth Arnold on the suspicion of conspiracy to commit fraud.

It is understood the two men were released last Saturday pending further investigation, The Mirror reported. South Yorkshire Police declined to comment.

MP to stand down

It caps a miserable two years in the Commons for Mr O’Mara, who won the seat in 2017 snap election, claiming the seat from the former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.

By October of that year, Labour suspended him over historic online comments he made, which led to him being accused of homophobia and sexism.

In July 2018, the 37-year-old was readmitted into Labour having been given a formal warning but he quit the party that month, claiming he “not been listened to or given a fair investigation”. He has sat as an independent MP since.

Jared O’Mara winning Sheffield Hallam in 2017

Mr Arnold resigned from Mr O’Mara’s office last month, using the MP’s own Twitter account for an expletive riddled rant.

In April this year, he announced he was suspending his constituency work, while he attempted to recruit new staff.

Stand up for constituents

A recent investigation found staff were running the MP’s constituency office without the proper security clearance required by parliamentary authorities.

A spokesman for Sheffield Hallam Lib Dems said: “We have been calling for the resignation of Jared O’Mara for a long time. With crucial votes coming up in Westminster, the people of Sheffield Hallam need an MP they can count on to fight Boris Johnson’s Brexit plans and to stand up for local communities.”

His decision to step down will trigger a by-election, which the Liberal Democrats are confident of regaining.

A spokeswoman for the House of Commons said it was a matter for the local police to comment on the arrest of an MP.

The usual protocol is that the Clerk of the House would be notified by the Metropolitan Police should an MP be arrested.

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Virginia Crosbie: A Conservative victory depends on women voters

Virginia Crosbie is Director of Women2Win, Deputy Chair of Kensington, Chelsea and Fulham Conservatives and the Conservative Policy Forum’s Champion for Social Mobility.

Losing the women’s vote – a trend or a one off?

In 2017, for the first time ever, a smaller proportion of women voted Conservative than men. In the last six decades women have tended to support the Conservatives slightly more than men, and as a Party we have come to rely on the women’s vote.  Was 2017 a one off or is this the beginning of a very worrying trend?

This problem is getting more acute among younger female voters. In the 2015 and 2017 General Elections women, especially those under the age of 40, were more likely than men to vote Labour. In 2017, 73% of women aged 18-24 – nearly three times the figure in 2010 – voted Labour compared to 52% of men.

The trend does not seem to be improving; a poll recently by the think tank Onward found that only 8% of young women (compared to 20% of young men) say they will vote Conservative.

Losing the women’s vote made a significant difference to us in 2017; the Conservatives were only nine seats (excluding the Speaker) short of an outright majority, and a large number of seats were only narrowly lost. In 2017, 97 seats were won by a margin of 5% or less. A small improvement in women’s voting would have meant a lot more Conservative seats.

The women’s vote is becoming increasingly important due to demographics. Women currently make up 54% of the UK electorate reflecting the fact that women have a longer life expectancy than men, and turnout amongst older voters is higher. As the population ages and with women living on average 3.6 years longer than men – the women’s vote is becoming more and more important. Based on statistics from 2017, men and women are equally likely to vote, therefore with the proportion of female voters growing, we have a natural advantage if we can recover our appeal to women.

Winning back the women’s vote

It’s not clear why we are losing the women’s vote, and why we have failed to connect with younger women. Is it because women have been disproportionately affected by austerity? Is it because women are more worried than men about crime, the NHS and the future of the next generation? When I’m out campaigning I’m keen to ask people why they are not voting Conservative. Please can you share the feedback you have had on the doorsteps.

With over 15 million women now working, and with more than 500,000 women giving birth each year, we have an opportunity, an opportunity to ensure that we have the policies in place to support every woman and her family. As a party we have made great strides to improve the workplace for women with gender pay gap reporting, flexible working and greater maternity and redundancy protection. We need to shout about these successes so that young women know these are Conservative successes.

We also need to face up to some difficult questions. With more female MPs and more female MPs driving policy decisions, does this mean that Labour’s policies are more likely to appeal to women? Almost half of Labour MPs are women, whereas only one in five Conservative MPs are women. Labour has forced this figure through with ‘All Women Shortlists’ – something that is against our core Conservative values of hard work and merit. But does the number of women MPs matter? Has this given Labour an advantage? And if this has, what do we propose to do about it?

Increasing political engagement

Women are more likely to be politically engaged if they can vote for candidates they can relate to.  Has this been the key to Labour’s success? In the 2017 General Election the Conservatives fielded 184 women candidates (28.4% of their total) versus 256 for Labour (40.6%). Labour fielded a significantly higher number of women candidates than the Conservatives in seats that Labour already held. In safe seats where Labour had a majority of 20-30% the difference was even more marked with over 50% of candidates being women. Since 1979, an average of 86 seats in each election became available as MPs stood down. As 2017 was a snap election only 31 MPs announced they would not stand for re-election.

Women are significantly under-represented among Conservative candidates, MPs and also councillors. After the 2019 local elections just 30% of Conservative councillors are women. Since local government has a disproportionate impact on women’s lives it would make sense for women’s voices to be better reflected in decision-making.

A higher number of female councillors, candidates and MPs can be interpreted as a sign and driver of political engagement for women. The AskHerToStand cross-party initiative by 50:50 Parliament has been successful in increasing the number of women coming forward to get involved in local politics or Parliament. Has your local association thought of hosting an AskHerToStand event to motivate more women to get involved? If not, then they should do so urgently.

Also, the ‘Make It Your Business’ initiative encourages and supports women entrepreneurs. I’ve hosted four ‘Make It Your Business’ events, and found it a great way to recruit women who do not appreciate that their entrepreneurial values are aligned to Conservative values. Get in touch if you would like to arrange one.

I’m keen to hear your thoughts and what has worked for you. I would especially like to listen to our younger members as to how we can broaden our Conservative base and deliver our message.

Encouraging more female members – a good place to start

I’m keen to help and I am regularly asked by Conservative Associations how they can attract more young members and particularly more women members. Seven out of 10 of our Conservative Party members are male, and we have a long way to go to achieve the parity that Labour, the Lib Dem’s, Greens and the SNP achieve. A good place to start is by supporting women to become association officers. The Party already has so many great initiatives and groups to attract new voters – the Conservative Policy Forum (CPF), the Conservative Women’s Organisation (CWO), CWO Diversity, Conservative Young Women (CYW) and the Young Conservatives (YCs).

Another initiative is for associations to build stronger relationships with universities, and encourage more students to join through student campaigns. I saw first hand how the students from Winchester University Conservative Society worked exceptionally hard to deliver leaflets in the recent local election.

If we are to win a majority in Parliament at the next General Election it is critical that we win the women’s vote. It’s going to take soul- searching and hard work, not just words. I hope this paper opens up the debate and helps us focus on how we can do this. We are missing out on a huge pool of voters and talent for our party. This is not political correctness this is political common sense. By working together to address the gender disparity of voting intentions I hope that it will help us succeed as a party.

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Jeremy Corbyn vows to save struggling high streets by reopening closed shops

Plans to revitalise “struggling high streets” by reopening thousands of boarded-up shops will be set out on Saturday by Jeremy Corbyn.

Labour would give councils the power to take over retail units which have been vacant for a year and hand them to start-up businesses or community projects.

More than 10 per cent of stores in high streets are lying empty as customers switch to online shopping or visiting retail parks.

Town centre vacancy rates are at their highest level for four years, and Labour says an estimated 29,000 shops across the country have been abandoned for at least 12 months.

It has also registered alarm over the preponderance of charity stores, betting shops and fast-food takeaways in areas which previously had a better mixture of businesses.

‘Sorry symbol of malign neglect’

“Once thriving high streets are becoming ghost streets”

Jeremy Corbyn

The plans, which would apply to high streets in England, will be set out by the Labour leader in a visit to Bolton on Saturday.

Mr Corbyn said: “Boarded-up shops are a symptom of economic decay under the Conservatives and a sorry symbol of the malign neglect so many communities have suffered. Once thriving high streets are becoming ghost streets.”

He pledged that Labour would revive “struggling high streets by turning the blight of empty shops into the heart of the high street, with thousands of new businesses and projects getting the chance to fulfil their potential”.

The party’s proposals are modelled on the system of “empty dwelling management orders” which entitle local authorities to put unoccupied houses and flats back into use as homes.

More shops are closing (Photo: Philip Toscano/PA Wire)
More shops are closing (Photo: Philip Toscano/PA Wire)

Free WiFi plan

The initiative follows Labour proposals to provide free Wi-Fi in town centres, halt closures of banks and post offices and improve high street bus services.

Jake Berry, minister for high streets, said the government had cut small retailers’ business rates, was relaxing high street planning rules and launched a £3.6bn Towns Fund to improve local transport links and boost broadband connectivity.

He said: “Jeremy Corbyn would wreck the economy, tax small businesses and scare off the investment needed to help our high streets, meaning more boarded up shops and fewer jobs.

“We will deliver Brexit by 31 October so we can get on with levelling up opportunities across our country and breathe new life into high streets and town centres.”

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A Government of national unity is a non-starter – even if its seven prospective leaders take one day of the week each

The cry goes up for a Government of national unity. Boris Johnson will attempt, after 31st October, to provide one.

But that is not what the advocates of such a Government have in mind. What they actually want is a united Opposition, which can stop Brexit.

Far from uniting the country, they intend to go on dividing it. If they get their way, Johnson will be thwarted, the Brexit Party will flourish and cries of betrayal will be heard across the land.

What chance is there of a united Opposition? The logic set out here last week has not changed. Alastair Campbell’s declaration that he no longer wishes to be readmitted to the Labour Party is but one of many signs that members of the Opposition loathe each other.

The Leader of the Opposition insists, quite understandably, that any uniting should be done under his leadership. Yet most Labour MPs consider Jeremy Corbyn unfit even to lead their own party, let alone to become Prime Minister.

And how many MPs from other parties, distressed by the prospect of Brexit and wishing to do everything they can to avert it, will want to unite under Corbyn’s banner?

The answer to that question is not very many. He is not even a genuine Remainer.

Advocates of a united Opposition therefore suggest that some other leader should be found. Names bandied about include Yvette Cooper, Hilary Benn, Margaret Beckett, Kenneth Clarke, Jo Swinson and Caroline Lucas.

If one adds Corbyn’s name to this list, one finds, conveniently, that there would be one leader for each day of the week.

This would surely be a fair way to settle the matter, if only they could decide who was to have which day.

The most popular day might be Wednesday, when the Leader of the Opposition has the right, if Parliament is sitting, to put six questions to the Prime Minister.

Corbyn has not made a great success of this, and might be glad not to have to do it, but he would be bound to consider any other day of the week a demotion, and if he were to end up being leader on Saturday or Sunday, it would eat into the time he can spend on his allotment.

The more one thinks about how to unite the Opposition, the clearer it becomes that Corbyn is the problem. If Labour had a leader who was good at getting on with members of other parties, the project might just be feasible.

As it is, Corbyn sits there like a dog in the manger, preventing anyone else from having a go, while himself being unable to use the opportunities open to the Leader of the Opposition.

If he puts down a motion of no confidence in the Government, it has to be debated. Perhaps when Parliament returns at the start of September he will do so, but he is being cautious about saying that he actually will.

Nor can his hesitations be attributed solely to the perverse effects of the Fixed Terms Parliament Act, discussed here earlier this week by Paul Goodman.

Even with that wretched Act in force, a no confidence motion might start a process which led to a general election, at which Johnson, a formidable campaigner with a clear Brexit policy, could squeeze the Brexit Party and make hay at the expense of a divided Opposition, with Labour in danger of losing its Remain voters to the Liberal Democrats and its Leave voters to the Conservatives.

No wonder Corbyn hesitates. An early election might well be a disaster for him and his party.

In the resulting vacuum, anguished Tory Remainers such as Dominic Grieve hold anxious discussions with their friends on the Opposition benches, and hope they can come up with something.

Perhaps they can. But that something would not be a Government of national unity. It would be a last-ditch attempt to overturn the referendum result, wreck Brexit and destroy the Government we actually have.

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