Nick Hargrave: The capitalism of the future demands a bigger role for the state

Its muscular power is needed to boost share ownership, build houses and tax wealth rather than income. And let’s rule out a No Deal Brexit.

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

Philip Hammond’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference last October is unlikely to be remembered as a rhetorical classic. But it contains within it an important insight for the political fortunes of the Conservative Party and the long-term prosperity of our country.

Speaking to a less than packed hall, the Chancellor of the Exchequer told delegates that Conservatives of the future must:

“Harness the power of the market economy, taking a model which has evolved continuously down the ages, so that the capitalism of the twenty-first century looks nothing remotely like that of the nineteenth – and adapt it once again to speak to the values of a new generation.”

Hammond was speaking to a truth that Conservatives sometimes forget. Capitalism is not a static construct held in aspic. It is an economic system which flexes to meet the challenges of its time – and in doing so renews its mandate from one generation to the next.

This flexible conception of capitalism has been seen in the differing approaches of Conservative governments since the Second World War.

In the 1950s and 1960s, after a landslide defeat in 1945, our party accepted a greater role for state involvement in the running of the economy; spurred on by a gradual realisation that the laissez-faire approach of the 1930s had been an opportunity lost.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Margaret Thatcher burst onto the scene with an articulation of capitalism that was more libertarian and evangelical about the merits of free enterprise – in keeping with its time and a reaction to the drift and decline inherent in state involvement going too far.

The 1990s and 2000s saw the pendulum swing the other way, and voters demand a gentler articulation of the harder-edged approach of the 1980s – with support for a minimum wage, windfall taxes and more investment in the public realm. On this occasion, our party failed to meet this challenge, clinging doggedly to our post event conception of Thatcherism, and paid an electoral price.

The lesson of history is clear. When Conservatives adapt to generational calls for change on our political economy they prosper and own the terms of debate; more than capable of beating a Labour Party whose competence is usually doubted. When they fail to acknowledge the call for change they lose – and only regain power after a period of painful reflection.

If the events of the past couple of years have taught us anything, it is time for Conservative politicians to once again come up with a coherent answer for how capitalism can renew its generational mandate. Specifically, how it can materially improve the British people’s living standards in an economy that is undergoing a technological transformation; one that is increasingly global, that’s conducted online, that’s moving at pace to automation – and which is increasingly flexible in its conception of the nature of work.

It’s this transformation which is fuelling the rise of identity politics in our country – which for all its short-term attractions is unlikely to end well. It’s fuelling divisions between the upwardly mobile and the educated in our vibrant urban centres who are benefitting from this change – and the many in our towns and communities who feel left behind. Between a younger generation which is finding it hard to amass capital – and an older generation who have assets that have appreciated over the years.  It’s why a lot of public and private polling out there indicates that people feel the country is moving in the wrong direction domestically. And it’s why the main thing keeping the current Conservative voting coalition together is the illusory tiger of a Brexit which can never meet the hype – and one suspects will eventually end in disappointment.

So what’s the real answer for Conservatives in how we reinvigorate capitalism in a way that is relevant for the 2020s and beyond – and in the process renew our own mandate to govern? This could be the subject of several more articles, but here are a few core thoughts as follows:

  • First, in politics you must get the tone and definition right before you get into the policy weeds. The platform must feel upbeat, inclusive, and focussed on the guiding prism of a better future for us all to share. Optimism is infectious. This is where I think in hindsight Theresa May got the balance wrong during the period 2016-17.  The framing of the ‘privileged few’ may have been tactically popular, but it was caricatured and created expectations of a reckoning with business that was self-defeating and ceded political space to Jeremy Corbyn. It’s much easier to have difficult conversations with businesses about their responsibilities in the modern economy if you have an overall macro-message that is supportive. 70 per cent carrot and 30 per cent stick feels about right.
  • Second, I think we are going to have come to terms with a more muscular and high spending state over the next 20 years. Critically, that spending and guiding hand must be prioritised on investment in the future rather than pumping cash hand over fist into resource spending. In Treasury, speak this means more ambitious capital programmes than currently on R&D and science, digital infrastructure and transport. Always remember that the jobs, wealth and economic security of 25 years’ time will come from ideas that we cannot even conceive of yet.
  • Third, people have to feel confident they are benefitting from the system. Rather than using Labour language of ‘fixing a broken market’, focus instead on the positive articulation of what a muscular state can do to promote the holding of capital. Spend much, much more on state-backed programmes to build houses, remodel the corporate tax system with the strategic goal of incentivising employee share ownership – and turbocharge the somewhat limp National Retraining Scheme into a massive endeavour for all people in industries at risk of automation.
  • Fourth, we need to be able to pay for this and remain fiscally credible. There is no perfect way to do this but a shift towards wealth over income taxes is broadly the right way to go. This is hard but inevitable. Most realistically this can only come from a new leader at the height of their political powers.
  • Fifth, there is the question of how we maintain our political definition with Labour. I would strongly suggest we do not fall back into an ideological debate about libertarianism versus socialism (if put like that, Britain over the next 20 years is going to go for the latter). Focus instead on the values and language of economic competence and strong leadership, brought to life in the programme above, and the rest flows from there. With the current Labour frontbench this task is inordinately easier than if we were up against a centre-left leadership.
  • Finally, whatever you do – don’t countenance a ‘no deal’ Brexit. It will detract focus from this generationally important task – and will lead to many more years of austerity. This cannot be emphasised enough.

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.

– – – – – – – – – –

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?

– – – – – – – – – –

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.

Phil Taylor: In its bid for bleakness, Labour’s broadcast is both glib and deceptive

Setting flimsy evidence and distorted statistics to a depressing soundtrack does nothing for their credibility.

Phil Taylor is a Conservative activist in Ealing.

In their latest party political broadcast Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party has taken the idea of shroud waving to a new level, trying to pin the deaths of thousands of citizens on the government.

But the numbers it uses are misleading in one case and downright bogus in the other.

The “hard-hitting” film is the third to be made by filmmaker and Corbyn-booster Simon Baker. His first two, “Our Town” and its follow-up “Our Country”, were well-produced and hit emotional buttons expertly. This time Baker is going for the righteous indignation button, and is jabbing it as hard as he can.

The characters you see in the broadcast are not patients, doctors, and nurses in the NHS. They are actors. Many of the factual captions displayed on funereal black backgrounds alongside the images are fictitious too.

Teenage suicides have nearly doubled since 2010

The ugliest part of this is the way Labour is talking up the teenage suicide rate. The UK has one of the lowest suicide rates in Europe. At seven per 100,000 in 2015 it is the fourth-lowest out of 28 EU countries, and only two-thirds the EU average.

UK suicide is at historic lows, with 2017 being the best year in the current data series for male suicide. In its latest report the Office for National Statistics (ONS) did not mention teenage suicide as being of particular note.

These deaths are terrible, but thankfully they are rare: 155 young people in the 15-19 age group took their own lives in England in 2017 (the latest year for which definitive statistics are available). This age group are less likely to kill themselves than any other, older age group.

Labour is picking its data very cynically: 2010 was the best year ever for suicide in this age group in England at 3.2 deaths per 100,000 population – so every other year in the time series is worse.

If you want to call calendar 1998 to 2010 the product of New Labour and 2011 to 2017 that of the Coalition and the Conservatives then the average teenage suicide rate under New Labour was 4.30 per 100,000 of population and it was 4.33 in the later period.

Teenage suicide, as sad as it is, is thankfully a relatively small phenomenon and one that has changed little over the 36 years for which we have readily comparable data. Making it into a political weapon and attaching a sound track to it is, in my view, pretty disgusting.

Health and social care spending cuts have been linked to 120,000 excess deaths in England

The most eye popping claim that Labour tries to nail on is that “austerity” is responsible for 120,000 excess deaths. This claim is based on a lightweight academic paper printed in the British Medical Journal in 2017. The first place to look for evidence of how flimsy the work is is the study itself which notes:

“A limitation was that our study was observational and retrospective, thereby our findings likely capture association rather than causation.”

At the time this was published in November 2017 academics were pretty scathing. For instance, Dr Richard Fordham, Senior Lecturer in Health Economics at the University of East Anglia, said:

“…longitudinal studies are fraught with difficulties in proving causality and despite the best statistical efforts of the authors, one should treat their conclusions with some caution.”

And Prof. Martin Roland, Emeritus Professor of Health Services Research at the University of Cambridge, said:

“…the authors overstate the certainty of this link to funding and are highly speculative about the money needed to ‘save lives’ in future.”

For the first time since World War Two, life expectancy is going backwards in the poorest areas

The paper did not mention or test for the most likely explanation of the excess deaths – the strange fact that the Golden Cohort of those born immediately before the Second World War have enjoyed great longevity, are passing quickly, and the succeeding generation do not seem to be as long-lived. This same effect has been seen in in France, Austria, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands and Switzerland.

The paper extrapolates a benign trend in the run up to 2010, assuming it could have run on for years more. Such trends rarely do. It also assumes that health spending could have continued to increase as it had under New Labour.

Although the paper avoids direct political comment it cannot avoid the fact that this counterfactual was never available. The £20 billion Nicholson Challenge “cuts” had already been kicked off in 2009 by Andy Burnham and numbers of nurses in training had already been throttled back. Furthermore Alistair Darling was promising £46 billion of further cuts to public services if he was still chancellor after the 2010 election.

The BMJ paper was an exercise in statistical voodoo whose numbers have no meaning in real life.

Labour knows that talking about the NHS works well for it. At the last election it offered an impressive-sounding £37 billion to fix its problems. Last year the Conservatives promised to put in an extra £84 billion over the parliament, but even more than doubling Labour’s 2017 offer is – according to Labour – inadequate.

Labour’s bleak, feel-bad movie pulls at the heart strings and and glibly deceives.

Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: May bores for Brexit, and has hopes of dividing and ruling

The Prime Minister assured Labour MPs that she will stand up for workers’ rights.

The Prime Minister’s demeanour, during her frequent statements to the House on Brexit, is that of a teacher who refuses to make her lessons any less repetitive.

Some of us cannot help feeling a reluctant admiration for Theresa May’s pedagogical methods. Her willingness, despite signs of restiveness in the Brexit Studies class, to stick to tried and tested clichés commands our involuntary respect.

If she has said it once that if you do not want no deal you must vote for her deal, she has said it a million times. That is how rote learning works. Here is a leader who is prepared to bore for Brexit.

And yet behind her impermeable facade of double negatives, change can be detected, and even an understanding that she needs to make what she is offering less repugnant.

So today she told Jeremy Corbyn, “I welcome his willingness to sit down and talk with me.” And she went on to suggest that she and the Leader of the Opposition are united in their determination “not to allow any lowering of standards in workers’ rights” when we leave the EU.

Corbyn leant over to consult Sir Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary. Perhaps he wished for advice on how to deal with this implausible claim, or perhaps he just wanted to check what Labour policy is.

May meanwhile suggested that under the Conservatives, “the UK has a proud tradition of leading the way in workers’ rights”.

This led to an outbreak of hilarity among the Opposition. Chi Onwurah, sitting on the bench behind Corbyn, laughed with particular delight. May had said something so absurd – that the Conservatives are the workers’ friend – it was impossible for Labour not to burst out laughing.

The Prime Minister proceeded to say, less humorously, that “we now need some time” to complete the Brexit negotiations, and “we now all need to hold our nerve”.

Corbyn said he had only received the prior copy of her statement to which he is entitled as he left his office: “I can only assume she entrusted it to the Transport Secretary to deliver.”

That joke went down well. Corbyn proceeded to accuse her of “more excuses and more delays” while she runs down the clock, “plays chicken with people’s livelihoods”, engages in “the pretence of working with Parliament”, and claims to care about workers’ rights, although for many Conservatives, “ripping up workers’ rights is what Brexit is all about.”

Ian Blackford, for the Scottish Nationalists, was ruder. He said the Prime Minister’s deal is “a fraud”, and “a catastrophe for Scotland”, and called on her to “put an end to this economic madness” under which the Scots are being “dragged out of the EU against our will”.

As May began, in a somewhat patronising tone, to correct these assertions, Blackford could be heard shouting “that’s not true”, and then “liar”. The Speaker, John Bercow, made him withdraw the word.

Vince Cable, for the Liberal Democrats, said that after reaching out to the trade unions and to Corbyn, May was “no doubt better informed on how Trotsky might have dealt with the Brexit crisis”.

So the Opposition are divided into Trotskyites and anti-Trotskyites. For May, this is promising. She has no need to plunge an ice pick into the back of Corbyn’s head. She can just hope to separate some of his MPs from him by indicating that she is in a better position than he is to produce economic benefits for the workers in their constituencies.

On her own benches, she got mixed reviews. Ken Clarke said we could do a better trade deal with Japan by remaining in the EU, and Anna Soubry accused her of “kicking the can down the road yet again”.

But Owen Paterson thought what she had said was “really encouraging”, and Sir Nicholas Soames declared: “Can I reassure the Prime Minister that I’m holding my nerve like anything.”

So the Prime Minister can still hope to bore her way through to an implausible victory. She remains, one might say, the only game in town, which is exactly what she set out to demonstrate when she stood up today.

An Open Letter to Luciana Berger

Dear Luciana, As someone who spent many years as an activist in the Labour and trade union movement I follow developments in your current party closely. From what I can see you are being constantly hounded by people who currently have control of the Labour machine. You are being attacked both for your policy positions […]

Dear Luciana,

As someone who spent many years as an activist in the Labour and trade union movement I follow developments in your current party closely. From what I can see you are being constantly hounded by people who currently have control of the Labour machine.

You are being attacked both for your policy positions and your Jewish heritage. The recent attempt to put a motion of no confidence in you is as I am sure you realise is a vehicle to ensure that you cannot stand as the partys’ candidate at the next General Election.

I am afraid to say this kind of behaviour is not unusual in the world of the comrades.

In my time as part of that world I regularly experienced bullying and intimidation simply for holding a different point of view to the ‘majority’. Eventually I reached the conclusion that a kind of stalinism was widespread throught the Labour and trade union movement. Democracy when it was practised was deeply flawed.

In the trade unions in particular, internal elections were manipulated to ensure favoured candidates were elected. Those same unions that enjoy a very big say in Labour party policy. Under Corbyn things have got worse not least because he appers comfortable with a supporter base that includes left wing union bosses and Momentum activists many who don’t even believe in parliamentary democracy.

This situation is not likely to change.

I left Labour but I didn’t leave politics. I chose to switch my allegiance to a progressive party that values freedom of speech and tolerates minority opinions within its ranks.

That party is the Liberal Democrats.

Under the leadership of Sir Vince Cable, one of the most principled and decent people in UK politics we are offering strong opposition to Theresa Mays’ cruel Tory government. For me being in this party has been a truly liberating experience. I invite you to join me and the many others who have come to us from Labour.

I am confident that you would be very welcome.

Yours sincerely

David Warren

* David is a member of Horsham and Crawley Liberal Democrats

Lord Ashcroft: “It’s not the apocalypse – calm down.” My Brexit limbo focus groups.

Most of the people in most of our groups – Remain and Leave, Conservative and Labour – thought we would end up leaving with some sort of deal.

Last week’s pause in the parliamentary shenanigans over Brexit provided an opportunity to hear what the voters made of it all. This I did with a round of focus groups, conducted in London, Plymouth, Leeds and Newcastle.

Though few have the time or patience to digest every morsel of Westminster news, their summary of the state of play was always succinct: “Theresa has had to go back to Europe, but they’ve said ‘non’,” was a typical summary. “She’s just collecting air miles. She’s going round in circles;” “As a country we now look very weak and very silly to the rest of the world. It’s come to the point that it’s almost embarrassing.”

“They’ve left their homework until Sunday night.”

People knew that the main sticking point was the backstop, and therefore the Irish border – an issue that seems to many to have been adopted as a convenient obstacle to Brexit and thus blown out of all proportion: “It’s just something for the politicians to talk about, something for the EU to hang their hat on.” Though some were frustrated that “a problem for the Irish” which had barely been mentioned during the referendum campaign was holding up the whole enterprise, people accepted that the problem needs solving.

Even so, many doubted the supposed impossibility of the task: “It’s an absolute red herring. They’ve made it into something it doesn’t have to be;” “Technology can definitely do it. They can find a way. Other people don’t seem to have a problem.” While people knew what the backstop was for, few could explain how it worked – though some had picked up that as things stood “we would never get out of the customs union, they won’t set a date.”

But if the border and the backstop were the proximate cause of the current impasse, the more fundamental reason was that “they’ve left their homework until Sunday night.” Remainers especially argued that the referendum had been embarked upon with little thought given to the potential consequences, let alone a proper plan for leaving the EU: “David Cameron cocked it up. He thought he would win but he lost and off he went.” Everything since had been the “ripple effect”.

For many Leavers, the plan should have involved serious preparations for a no-deal exit from the outset. Despite the now-discarded mantra that no deal was better than a bad deal, “no deal has never really been discussed. If it had been more on the table and the Government had been planning for no deal, it would have put more pressure on the EU;” “When they started digging in their heels, they started backtracking. It was an idle threat that we would leave with no deal.” (As such, it would be foolish to take no deal off the table: “She’d have no bargaining power whatsoever. It’s like someone ringing your doorbell and saying they’re not going until they’ve bought your house. You’d say it was ten million quid.”)

Some felt that for all her exertions, the problem was that Theresa May remained a remainer at heart: “I’d rather have had someone doing it who believed in it.” This had prevented her being tougher in the negotiations and more willing to threaten to leave with no deal if the right terms could not be agreed: “She should have done a Donald Trump.”

Another thing that should have started much earlier was the effort to build a cross-party consensus. Europe did not take us seriously because we were divided; a united front, many argued, would have clarified Britain’s position and put the government in a stronger position to negotiate:

“What they’re doing in parliament now, that’s what they should have been doing before they even invoked Article 50, so parliament agreed on what we were going to the EU with. They’ve done it back to front really;” “People like Jacob Rees-Mogg should be the extremists in the corner, they shouldn’t be leading the debate.” As it was, “she’s now having to bribe Labour MPs up north, to give more money to those councils. It’s crazy really. This is history you’re living through.”

“You should have been talking from the start, you petulant child.”

Of course, a cross-party consensus is not something a government can build by itself. Most thought Jeremy Corbyn was himself a Brexiteer, but that Labour’s own divisions had forced him to appear ambivalent, while the demands of party politics had made him obstructive: “It’s because it’s a Conservative-negotiated deal. It doesn’t matter what the deal is, there is no way they were going to back it because they want to push for a general election. That’s what’s frustrating people – whatever is on that piece of paper is utterly irrelevant, they’re not going to pat her on the back and say ‘well done’.”

Labour would want to avoid losing votes from either leavers or remainers, so “in interviews he will dodge the question in a quite funny obviously dodgy way.” The party seemed to want to avoid being associated with whatever happened: “They think it’s going to be a mess, so they don’t want to own it. So they’re going to hang back and when it goes pear-shaped, blame the Tories.”

If this was understandable, it was not particularly commendable: “We elected them to have an opinion and they’re just not;” “he’s used the UK’s future, the Brexit debate, to score political points.” His refusal to meet the Prime Minister after the vote on the Withdrawal Agreement had stuck in people’s minds on all sides: “Why make that stand then, when everyone else was agreeing to it?” “When he said he wouldn’t talk to her, that was ridiculous;” “He wouldn’t meet the Prime Minister, but he meets terrorist groups!” Some had noticed that Corbyn had belatedly joined in discussions, but “you should have been talking from the start, you petulant child. From the moment the country decided, there should have been a cross-party consensus that OK, this is happening, let’s work together. But they haven’t, they’ve worked against it.”

Several people in different groups – not least 2017 Labour voters – said their initially positive view of Corbyn had waned in recent months as he seemed more and more like just another politician: “The thing that sticks in my mind is when he got on that Virgin train and completely bullshitted, saying it was rammed, and was proven wrong. He had so much egg on his face;” “And when he called Theresa May a stupid woman and said he didn’t. An idiot could see he said ‘stupid woman’. Why would you do that, because everyone knows you’re a liar?” “I’d like to be a fan of his, I really would, but my instinct is that he’s trying to pretend to be something different to the norm, and actually he’s exactly the same;” “My whole family, we loved him. It’s like when you first see Boris, you think he’s really cool, you really warm to him, but both of them have just descended into madness. It’s sad, it’s really sad.”

“May Deal Number 42.”

Most people had at best a hazy understanding of the contents of May’s Brexit deal. Apart from “£39 billion in reparations” and an attempt to “keep some kind of trading arrangement with Europe” – and, of course, the ubiquitous backstop – very few details had sunk in.

There were four main reasons for this. First, people had long ago started to tune out of Brexit news. Second, most of the coverage people did notice seemed to concentrate on the various objections to the deal, making it hard to pin down what was actually in it: “No-one’s any the wiser about what she has worked out. I think everyone’s switched off.” Third, the deal still did not feel like a final proposal: “It’s like a constant working document;” “They keep flipping and changing everything. There is literal Brexit fatigue, where you say OK, she’s got a deal, fine, May Deal Number 42, just get it through. It’s the moving forward I want now, not the whatever deal it is.” Fourth, and perhaps most tellingly, people no longer believe it matters what they think: “Even if we do know everything about it, it doesn’t really make any difference. We’ve got no control over it, have we?”

What people do know is that the deal has been attacked from nearly all sides, which suggests to some that “they wouldn’t be objecting if there wasn’t something that wasn’t quite right with it” and prompts others to reflect that “it was always going to be like this” given that “the EU were never going to make it easy, the Conservatives were never going to do anything brilliant and the other parties are just going against them and causing chaos;” after all, “no-one’s ever going to say it’s an amazing deal, unless we somehow get out of the EU, don’t pay for the divorce and get all the luxuries, which is never going to happen.” At the same time, for all the talk of “Norway Plus Plus and Canada Minus”, few on either side believed there was any prospect of the EU agreeing to substantially improved terms: the choice was between this deal or something very much like it, and no deal at all.

“It’s not the apocalypse. Calm down.”

Most Remain voters were not as terrified about a no-deal Brexit as might have been expected given the increasingly frantic tone of some coverage. There were some qualms, however: “People stranded at airports, suddenly you can’t get avocados, people can’t get antibiotics or insulin. Can’t get Marmite from Unilever. Can’t get literally anything because of just-in-time manufacturing;” “The farmers will be weeping into their smocks, or whatever farmers wear;” “It would be absolute chaos for a good month;” “If we couldn’t get bananas we would get over it but it would be damned annoying. I like bananas.”

More often, people tended to think that predictions of disaster were either wildly pessimistic – the Millennium Bug was regularly invoked – or deliberate scaremongering: “Things are sensationalised to make us feel uneasy. They want people feeling fed up, feeling that they’ve made a mistake, questioning their choices, questioning the reasons they made that decision in the first place.” Any disruption would probably be shortlived: “If and when it came to it, I think the country and the companies within these other countries would pull together;” “If it’s imports or holidays, other countries would soon kick off if all that stopped;” “It’s not the apocalypse. Calm down.”

Real problems were more likely to come from people’s reactions to the scare stories than as a direct result of Brexit: “The country will go into panic mode. It will be Joe Public who causes the chaos. Like when you get an inch of snow and suddenly all the shelves in your corner shop are empty.”

Leave voters were rather more bullish about the idea of leaving without a deal: “We’ve had all this stuff about taking the Queen out of Buckingham Palace in a helicopter because of all the looting. It’s all made up;” “They said it would be a disaster if we didn’t join the euro!” They also argued that it simply wasn’t in Europe’s interests for trade to be disrupted: “Everyone’s making out that we’re going to be ostracised but they still want to trade with us as much as we want to trade with them” – indeed, some argued, the EU’s current intransigence actually confirmed how much they wanted the UK to stay and therefore how much they needed us: “We’re the front wheel of a Reliant Robin.”

Even so, not all Leave voters were gung-ho on this point. On both sides there was a widespread feeling of uncertainty: “I just feel like we’ve got no idea.” Though some plans for no deal may be in place, “the whole process hasn’t instilled confidence. Unfortunately the government doesn’t fill us with confidence, and that’s the problem.”

“This has to come to an end.”

Despite this, very few Leavers and surprisingly few Remainers supported the idea of extending Article 50 to give more time for negotiations. Some said this might help if there were “honest negotiations”, with a clear way forward and a real chance that the situation would be resolved, but otherwise “it’s just dragging it out, prolonging the agony.” Moreover, the new deadline would then be no more real than the old one: “what’s stopping you the next day voting for another extension?” “We will punt it every time.”

What, then, did people expect to happen in the end? They had noted the huge defeat for the deal in the Commons, the lack of movement on the EU side, the seeming intractability of the Irish border question and the continuing divisions within and between the parties at Westminster.

Yet most of the people in most of our groups – remain and leave, Conservative and Labour – thought we would end up leaving with some sort of deal. And whether there was a delay or not, it would probably look more or less like the deal currently on the table, with a few small changes at the very last minute to allow it to get through parliament, even if a few loose ends remain to be tied up afterwards: “It will be at the eleventh hour, but they’ll come up with something;” “The EU will always compromise towards the end. They want their £39 billion;” “They’ll give her the legal assurances she needs to get it through at the very last minute. We’ve seen them do it so many times, like when Greece went bankrupt;” “I think things will move in the next couple of weeks, quite dramatically possibly. I think minds will focus.

Labour’s dumping of its six Brexit tests suggests Corbyn is serious about respecting the referendum result

The most remarkable thing about the votes in the House of Commons on the amendments that sought to frustrate the Brexit process last month was not how close they were but how close the results were to those of the referendum in 2016. On the two most significant wrecking amendments – that in the name […]

The post Labour’s dumping of its six Brexit tests suggests Corbyn is serious about respecting the referendum result appeared first on BrexitCentral.

The most remarkable thing about the votes in the House of Commons on the amendments that sought to frustrate the Brexit process last month was not how close they were but how close the results were to those of the referendum in 2016.

On the two most significant wrecking amendments – that in the name of Dominic Grieve seeking to ensure six and half hours of debate on Brexit in the Commons on six successive Tuesdays on amendable motions and the other in the name of Yvette Cooper seeking to override long-standing Commons Standing Orders and bring a bill which would direct the Prime Minister to seek an extension of the Article 50 period until 31st December 2019 – the percentage votes were exactly the same as those cast in the 2016 referendum: 48% for and 52% against.

Such voting figures in a Parliament that’s predominantly Remain is a testament to the underlying strength of British democracy and the societal robustness of the UK.

Parliamentarians may strut the national stage with the self-importance of those who have the power to legislate, making interminable speeches and debating the finer points of Brexit, but in this drama, it’s the working people who are in the driving seat and they have already written the script.

The EU – who are not used to any form democratic control – find this hugely frustrating. Their frustrations is beginning to boil over as we approach our departure date. With no sign of the British people wavering on Brexit and the prospect of a second referendum all but dead, they resort to abuse and insult talking about a “place in hell” for those who voted Leave, a sure sign of desperation. We are winning, we are leaving the EU, and though tempting, we need not respond in kind.

Jeremy Corbyn’s recent ground-breaking letter to the Prime Minister is the strongest indication that Labour will keep its promise to respect the referendum result to Leave the EU and of Labour’s intention to ensure an orderly departure in March. The letter rightly dismisses Keir Starmer’s farcical six tests and presents no principled opposition to the Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop. All of Labour’s stated demands can be implemented within the current provisions of Withdrawal Agreement.

Some of Corbyn’s demands on workers’ rights and standards, for instance, have already been conceded, and participation in EU agencies and future security are uncontentious. However, having a customs union and close ties to the single market would be difficult for Theresa May to accept and once the caveats that Labour will undoubtedly place on these proposals as far as state aid, VAT and independent trade policy are concerned, it wouldn’t be acceptable to the EU either.

The EU’s initial response welcoming Corbyn’s letter is tactical and has no substance: they would rather deal with May any day of the week than Corbyn, who is fundamentally opposed to everything the EU stands for.

But that doesn’t diminish the letter’s importance. If the Prime Minister goes some way towards Corbyn’s position, such as providing guarantees on workers’ rights, participation in EU agencies and security, while indicating her willingness to consider the other issues in the course of the forthcoming negotiations on our relations with the EU, it would make it all but impossible for Labour to oppose an agreement to which it has no principle objection.

Labour may not be able to support it, but it dare not oppose it for fear of postponing Brexit or reversing it; it may have to go for abstention, either formally or implicitly by making it clear that Labour MPs may absent themselves from the vote. There are enough Labour MPs to ensure a deal is passed by a decent majority.

The threat to Theresa May in such a scenario where she depends on Labour to get the Withdrawal Agreement through is highly exaggerated. Far from weakening her, she would be strengthened by the mere fact that she delivered Brexit as she promised and restored the sovereignty of the British people as demanded by the EU referendum.

And the importance of sovereignty could not be overemphasised or exaggerated. The day after we leave, treaties that we may have signed with the EU becomes treaties between equals – which is not the case while we are still a member of the EU – and as a sovereign state we have the right to re-negotiate or unilaterally withdraw from these treaties, regardless of whether such treaties have escape clauses or not.

The post Labour’s dumping of its six Brexit tests suggests Corbyn is serious about respecting the referendum result appeared first on BrexitCentral.

WATCH: “The fact that Berger should even be subject to a no confidence motion is shameful”, says Blair

The former Labour leader says that Watson is right to say that her local party sjhould be suspended.

8 February 2019 – today’s press releases

Jenny Rathbone Warning Unacceptable – Welsh Lib Dems The Welsh Liberal Democrats have criticised the decision to only give Cardiff Central AM Jenny Rathbone a formal warning following an investigation into anti-Semitic comments she made. Jenny Rathbone had already been readmitted into the Welsh Labour Assembly Group in January whilst the investigation was ongoing. Her […]

Jenny Rathbone Warning Unacceptable – Welsh Lib Dems

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have criticised the decision to only give Cardiff Central AM Jenny Rathbone a formal warning following an investigation into anti-Semitic comments she made.

Jenny Rathbone had already been readmitted into the Welsh Labour Assembly Group in January whilst the investigation was ongoing.

Her remarks about a synagogue in Cyncoed were branded “extremely offensive” by the synagogue’s rabbi Michoel Rose.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds commented:

It’s extremely disappointing Jenny Rathbone has been admitted to the party with only a formal warning for her comments, which were clearly anti-Semitic.

I can only imagine the message this decision sends to the constituents of hers who attend the synagogue she made these offensive remarks about.

The way this entire process has been handled has been a farce, especially the fact Jenny was readmitted into the Welsh Labour group despite still being under investigation.

Jeremy Corbyn and Labour across the UK have consistently shown themselves unwilling, or unable, to tackle the anti-Semitism in their party, now Welsh Labour appear to be doing the same.

There can be no place for anti-Semitism in Welsh politics or Welsh society. That is why Jenny Rathbone should stand down, such views cannot be tolerated from anyone – let alone a sitting assembly member.

Lib Dems: Labour cannot keep playing both sides on Brexit

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake has warned that the Labour leadership “cannot keep playing both sides and get away with it” after John McDonnell suggested Labour would support a People’s Vote, if the Prime Minister does not support Jeremy Corbyn’s demands.

The Shadow Chancellor’s comments come despite Labour sources confirming the party would not in fact automatically back a People’s Vote if May rejected Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit terms.

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake said:

The Labour leadership cannot keep playing both sides and get away with it. One minute they are offering terms upon which they would vote for a Tory Brexit, and the next the Labour party is offering a lukewarm endorsement of plans to give the people the chance to decide.

Jeremy Corbyn and his cronies cannot keep stringing along millions of Labour members and voters who demand the party campaign for a people’s vote now that Labour have failed to secure a general election. The stakes are too high.

There is no deal better than the deal the UK has as a member of the EU. The public deserve the chance to reject this mess with a people’s vote, with the option to stay in the EU.