Nick Hargrave: Conservative moderates need to help change our Party. Here’s how to start doing it.

Our party will not be able to speak for Britain as it really is, and as it will increasingly come to be, unless we make some efforts to reflect this in our membership.

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.

It is fair to say that Conservatives like me are a little dissatisfied with the direction of our party at the moment..

On Europe, we cannot fathom why our Government is prepared to even countenance burning a sturdy record of economic competence on the altar of No Deal.

On public spending, we sigh about the state of affairs in which no tax rise can ever be countenanced – no matter how sensible, marginal or necessary – to fund our public services.

On immigration and identity, we worry that very reasonable concerns about control have morphed into a less acceptable place; that the United Kingdom will be seen in the years to come as less open, diverse and welcoming because of policies taken too far.

And above all, we are sad that the fundamental Conservative tenets of the nineteenth and twentith centuries – moderation, competence and responsibility – are losing out to dogma and obsession.

The trouble with Conservatives like me is that we have not been very good in recent years in translating this concern into concrete action.

We have tended to write long plaintive articles that despair at our drift away from modernising principles, laced with unkind digs about the composition of our grassroots.  In recent months, this has been accompanied by concerned tutting when Cabinet ministers – who we would previously have identified as sensible – position themselves for a future leadership election by pretending that leaving the European Union without a deal wouldn’t be so bad after all.

This is certainly cathartic. But it’s not a very constructive way of moving forward. Decisions are taken by people who show up; not least on our Leader and future parliamentary candidates. If we want to keep our party anchored in the centre as a moderate force, then we’re going to have to do something about getting people who share our values through the door as Conservative members.

We should establish some clarity on what this means.

First, we should not tie ourselves up in knots on the definition of a ‘moderate’. It inevitably leads to an arid debate on demographics and runs the risk of narrowing the tent rather than broadening it. As a starter for ten, I would simply suggest that the best way of thinking about moderation is balance to reflect the growing values divide in Britain today. You don’t need an academic paper – although there are several you could reference such as the 2017 British Election Study – to understand that there is a growing divergence of opinion on attitudes to diversity, integration and the nation state. The greatest separator of these values is age. Our party will not be able to speak for Britain as it really is, and as it will increasingly come to be, unless we make some efforts to reflect this in our membership. Given that over three quarters of our members are over the age of 45, according to the Party Members Project at Queen Mary University, it is surely sensible now to prioritise recruitment for those under 45.Qu

Second, this is not about building a mass membership movement to take on Momentum. It’s difficult to recruit people to a cause when you have been in Government for nine years and had to take difficult decisions; even more so when your party’s position on Brexit puts off a lot of the people that you are going to need to attract. So let’s be realistic. There are currently 317 Conservative MPs in the Commons. If each were set a target of recruiting one person under the age of 45 a week into the party over the next two years, then we would have over 30,000 new members. Although the total number of Conservative members is a perennially fuzzy question, that would certainly be a substantial voting weight in future leadership elections.

Third, given the national blockage in our politics caused by our departure from the European Union, micro tactics on a constituency level are going to be much more effective at the start of this endeavour than a grand strategic project. It would be nice to position ourselves on a national level with policies that are modern and relevant. But for now I do not think they are going to cut through the communications noise as we move onto the next stage of Brexit psychosis in future relationship negotiations (and if we leave without a deal then this noise will only be intensified).

As just one example of a micro tactic, CCHQ’s young local campaign managers should be responsible for building links on the ground with young local entrepreneurs who are starting up businesses. Most new entrepreneurs will tell you that the things they would value above all are start-up capital, a network of established business people that can mentor – and space to work away from home. It is surely not beyond the wit of humankind for the Conservative Party, with the current assets it has, to assist and build relationships on these fronts.

Fourth, before anyone gets too excited, this is not an attempt to sway the results of the next Conservative leadership election; which one way or another you would expect to come before the year is out. This is clearly going to take more time than that. All I would say to the current crop of Downing Street hopefuls – falling over themselves to promise Brexit unicorns that will disappoint in the long run – is that you might be better off focusing on the next leadership election but one.

Finally, all of this has to be done with good grace and respect. Our current party membership work hard, pay their subs and – although I disagree with a lot of them on some important national issues at the moment – are decent people who care about the future of our country. We need them in the tent. So much of the division in our politics today is driven by the atomisation of the lives we need. We don’t talk face to face as much as we used to, preferring to sit at our screens and retreat to ideological barricades in the comfort of our moral certainty. Getting a greater mix of people into local Conservative associations on the ground, realistic in its scope and clear in its objectives, might be a useful start towards a better dialogue and sustainable electoral success.

Iain Dale: Self-indulgent Remain Ministers, self-deluded ERG MPs

Plus: My exclusive insight into that May Corbyn summit. Why does the BBC indulge Brok? And: Cooper trooper – not so super.

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

Remember those briefings from Remainer ministers that 40 of them might quit if Theresa May didn’t allow her front bench free votes on Tuesday?

Call me old-fashioned, but I must have missed the consequent resignations when this didn’t happen. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting slightly fed up with self-indulgent ministers who go on the media and whine about resigning if they don’t get their own way. (I discussed this in last week’s column.)

They should all be called in to see Julian Smith for interviews without coffee, and told that any repetition will lead to their instant dismissal. If a Chief Whip can’t control Ministers, then none of us can be blamed for writing about chaos at the heart of government.

– – – – – – – – – –

“There once was an MP called Cooper

Who for the cause of Remain was a trooper

Yet for their whinge and her wail

She just couldn’t derail –

So we leave on the 29th, which is just super”

(h/t @BenStoneham)

– – – – – – – – – –

On Monday night, I wrote an open letter on my blog to the European Research Group, and emailed it to most Conservative MPs.

The main thrust of it was to urge them to vote for Graham Brady’s amendment, and to say that their antics were threatening to derail Brexit by leaving the Prime Minister with little alternative but to apply to extend Article 50 beyond 29 March. My fear is that once it is extended, it could lead to Brexit never happening. I won’t rehearse the arguments here, but suffice it to say I didn’t pull any punches. I was expecting quite a volcanic response.

Instead, I was assailed by text after text, email after email from Conservative MPs – including members of the ERG – saying that I was bang on, and that they agreed with me. It demonstrated to me that even though Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker like to present the ERG to the media as a cohesive group, which votes as a slate, this is far from the case.

It’s all very well for them to say we should leave with No Deal, but I’m afraid this implies that they can’t count. As the passing of the Spelman/Dromey amendment proved, Parliament will do anything to prevent us leaving on 29 March without a deal.

Clearly, the rest of the votes on Tuesday weakened the hands of the second referendum campaigners and those who think they can thwart Brexit.  But make no mistake, this week isn’t the end of the parliamentary battle. Only at 11pm on 29 March, assuming we leave, will it be over.

– – – – – – – – – –

I’ve been given an exclusive insight into Theresa May’s meeting with Jeremy Corbyn on Wednesday. Here’s the transcript of their conversation…

TM: Thank you Jeremy. Glad you could make it at last. By the way, what’s that tape measure for?

JC: Oh, Laura asked me to measure the curtains. Anyway, Prime Minister, to the subject at hand: how are you intending to support my good friend Nicolas Maduro?

TM: No, Jeremy, we’re to discuss the Withdrawal Agreement…

JC: I totally agree. You must persuade Donald Trump to withdraw his sanctions against Senor Maduro’s regime. It’s what Hugo would want.

TM: I don’t know what Mr Swire has got to do with anything, but we really must find a way through…

JC: I totally agree. I think it would be great if you could divert £1 billion from the aid budget. In fact, Nicolas has given me this bank account number…

TM: Thank you Jeremy, but I really must insist we talk about what you need from me to support our deal. More workers’ rights? Guarantees on the environment? What’s your price.

JC: I just told you.

TM: You’re caracas.

– – – – – – – – – –

Imagine the outcry if a Conservative or UKIP MEP had been found to have charged constituents 150 Euros to visit them in Brussels. They’d have been metaphorically torn limb from limb by the UK media, including the BBC.

Last week, Politico revealed that’s exactly what the CDU MEP Elmar Brok, so beloved by Newsnight and the BBC, had been doing. On Wednesday, the BBC reported his words reacting to Theresa May’s intention to reopen the backstop.

Katya Adler, their Europe Editor, tweeted: “Elmar Brok, MEP, bursts into English to appeal to UK MPs “Please talk to each other in London before you come to us. We’re united (in EU), you’re not (in UK)!”

She then followed up with this tweet: “Elmar Brok, German MEP appeals to UK for rational dialogue and warns a no deal Brexit will be toughest of all on the UK. To which UK MEP shouts “Auf Wiedersehen!”

Does anyone really think if this had been a scandal-hit British Conservative MP, he or she would have been quoted about anything? I’ve interviewed Brok on my show a few times. It won’t be happening again. Schade.

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If you’re into podcasts, do download Matt Forde’s Political Party podcast with Alastair Campbell and Adam Boulton. They talk about their famous incident just after the 2010 election, as well as tell some wonderful anecdotes from their respective careers. A brilliant listen for a car journey or commute!

Iain Dale: As they prepare to vote next Tuesday, here’s why Conservative MPs should back May’s deal

Plus: Marion Little carries can for CCHQ – and many agents of all parties will think: “there but for the grace of God go I.” And: Am I creepy?

Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.

One of the most common questions I get asked at the moment is: “What’s going to happen next?” As if I know any better than anyone else.

My best guess is that events are going to lead to Article 50 being postponed/extended, which in turn could mean that Brexit never happens. When Conservative MPs weigh up how they are going to vote next Tuesday, one point ought to bear heavily on their minds. if they are Leave supporters. If you vote against the deal, you will be putting any form of Brexit at risk.

For if the Prime Minister’s deal doesn’t pass next week, or whenever it’s brought back afterwards, there seems to be little alternative other than for the Government to request an extension of Article 50, either in preparation for another referendum or some sort of other deal.

We saw the Remain establishment at work on Tuesday and Wednesday, and it’s perfectly clear that the Speaker will leave no stone unturned in helping Remainers in Parliament put every obstacle in the way of Brexit.

Whatever the trials and tribulations No Deal might offer up, these surely couldn’t be worse than this absolute clusterf**k of a parliamentary shambles that Number Ten and the Prime Minister have created.

– – – – – – – – – –

When you’ve had a court case hanging over you for three years, I can only imagine the relief you must feel to be cleared of the serious charges against you. Craig Mackinlay was cleared of election expenses fraud this week, in relation to the South Thanet by-election of  and can now look to the future and put the case behind him.

However, the same cannot be said for Marion Little. I’ve known her for 35 years, and some of you reading this will have come across her in her role as an official at CCHQ.

She was convicted of two counts of intentionally encouraging or assisting an offence. Sentencing Marion, Mr Justice Edis had some harsh words for CCHQ, accusing it of “a culture of convenient self-deception” and “inadequate supervision” which allowed or encouraged Little to break the law. He said that “Mrs Little acted dishonestly by preparing [election] returns she knew were not completed nor accurate. She had presented papers to Mackinlay and his election agent, Nathan Gray, for signing, which “they did in good faith not knowing what she had done”. She had been “carried away by her conviction” that defeating Farage was an “overwhelmingly important political objective”. Marion was given a nine month suspended sentence and fined £5,000.

She will be devastated by this verdict. Whatever the rights and wrongs of what happened, she is a professional party agent who has given nearly 40 years’ service to the party and is respected by all who she’s worked with. It is not for me to question the decision of the jury, but anyone who has had to fill in election returns knows how difficult it can be and, in that particular election, we all know the pressures people were under from above.

So in these circumstances I hope the party rallies round Marion, and offers her any support that she needs. It’s yet another example of someone down the food chain copping it for the sins of others. Perhaps she should have offered greater resistance to the instructions from above, and perhaps she should have spotted the dangers better but, whatever the truth of it, many party agents from all parties will be looking at this and thinking: “there but for the grace of God, go I”.

Let’s face it, the reason this kind of case hardly ever gets to court is because there is an unspoken conspiracy between the three parties to never complain about each other’s expenses. By and large, election expense returns are based not on fact, but are a work of fiction. The spending limits are so ridiculous that agents have to be incredibly creative in order to file a return that comes in a few pounds below the limit. They don’t actually lie – but the ‘notional’ expenses which you have to list often bear little relation to the real amount a campaign actually spends.

So when cases like this come to court, it’s often because they are brought by candidates outside the pseudo-cartel of the three main parties. It’s time for a wholesale reform of election law and, in particular, election expenses rules and limits. If the Electoral Commission had been doing its job properly, this would have been done years ago.

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I decided not to shave over Christmas and, much to my own surprise, opted not to remove the beard when it came to going to back to work. I’ve never been a great fan of beards and am still not convinced I will keep it, but we’ll see.

Who was it who said: “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity”? Well, if that’s the case I probably won’t keep it for very long. I’ve always thought grey beards on middle-aged men look slightly creepy, and even though I keep being reassured that I don’t look creepy, I’m not so sure. Maybe I did anyway!

Iain Dale: Brexit Derangement Syndrome breaks out everywhere. Adonis, Bridgen – and now, alas, Boles. Everyone’s going bonkers.

Plus: Which of Hancock’s Slags should I liaise with? I’m not known as “Uncle Herod” for nothing. And: Here’s hoping 2019 is happier than 2018.

Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.

In my role as a Brexit doctor, I have diagnosed various politicians and commentators with Brexit Derangement Syndrome. It predominantly affects ultra-Remainers. The symptoms are to lose all sense of perspective and say and tweet rather mad things.

Andrew Adonis has it worse, closely followed by Alastair Campbell, Sarah Wollaston and Anna Soubry.

On the Brexit side Andrew Bridgen also suffers from it, and Jacob Rees-Mogg showed signs of symptoms after the vote of confidence in Theresa May, although he seems to have recovered since.

Unfortunately, my good friend Nick Boles has seemingly now contracted it. See above for what he tweeted on Tuesday.

Consider me astonished. Nick isn’t given to rushes of blood to the head, but this was an extraordinary tweet. It’s the sort of view that in normal circumstances an MP would make known to his whip, before the Chief Whip then invites him in for a meeting without coffee.

Either the whipping system is breaking down or Nick’s agenda is to encourage other Conservative MPs to follow his lead as part of a concerted public campaign to ensure No Deal. No one was surprised when Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston indicated that they would do the same thing.

On the same day, another sufferer of Brexit Derangement Syndrome, Chris Patten, described ERG Brexiteers as “Maoists” and “rodents”. Philip Hammond described them as “extremists”. Pot, kettle and black and three words which apply here.

Just image the outcry from hardline Remainers if members of the ERG used that kind of language about them, or threatened to resign the Conservative whip in the event of Article 50 being extended. They would quite rightly question the Conservative credentials of anyone who did this.

This is a time for cool heads. All 317 Conservative MPs are going to have to work together once this is all over (if it ever is) and they should all remember that careless talk costs votes and seats.

Having said that, I might as well save my breath because no one is in the mood to listen or compromise. Both sides are utterly convinced that they are right and that the other is motivated by warped beliefs. How very sad.

– – – – – – – – – –

In 25 days’ time. the meaningful vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal is finally due to be held.

That’s 25 days for the Prime Minister to come up with something to persuade both the DUP and the minimum of 71 Conservative MPs who’ve publicly opposed it.

On the face of it, it looks like a thankless task. But I just wonder… I believe that she thinks it’s still possible to win. I also sense that things are starting to move in her direction. I’ve lost count of the number of Conservative MPs who’ve told me that their Party members and constituents just want them to get on with it and support the Prime Minister.

The key is for her to drag a concession out of the EU, even at the last minute, which she can sell to Arlene Foster. If Foster can bring herself to support the deal, you’d have to expect most Conservative rebels to fall into line, surely? The trouble is that the Prime Minister needs practically every single one to, and whether that’s achievable is a very moot point indeed.

– – – – – – – – – –

The peril of the iPhone autocorrect are a delight to behold. I was texting Matt Hancock the other day trying to arrange an interview for the New Year. I asked him “Which of your multifarious Spads should I liaise with?”

Unfortunately, I hadn’t noticed that what I actually sent him was this: “Which of your multifarious Slags should I liaise with?” His reply? “Jamie – he ain’t no slag!”.

– – – – – – – – – –

I don’t feel at all Christmassy. I hope that changes in the next few days, but I’m not sure it will. The older one gets, and the further away from your childhood you get, it just doesn’t feel the same anymore.

Given that I don’t have kids, I suppose that’s not surprising. However, I will get to spend this Christmas Day with a friend of ours and his two year old. Wish me luck. I’m not known as Uncle Herod for nothing…

I hope you all have a very happy Christmas and that 2019 brings you all that you wish for. 2018 has been a pretty ugly year one way or another. My fear is that 2019 will make 2018 look like a halcyon era…

On that happy note, I bid you farewell until January 11th.

Robert Halfon: A new, magical Conservative leader with presents for all? Sorry – I don’t believe in Santa Claus.

Plus: Bad Tory language. Cutting VAT, Good Conservative news for workers. And: a second referendum – not a People’s Vote but a Cheater’s Vote.

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

Confidence in the Prime Minister

Despite opposing the Government’s Brexit deal as it stands, I voted for Theresa May in last week’s confidence motion. It wasn’t a difficult decision.

First, I didn’t think it was right to change the Prime Minister in the midst of Brexit negotiations.

Second, Theresa May has a great deal of support and sympathy from the public outside Westminster – even from those who aren’t in favour of the deal and want a “clean” Brexit.

Third, I didn’t want to go down in history as a Conservative MP who helped depose an existing Tory Prime Minister: the ties of loyalty that bind us remain still strong.

Fourth, if there is to be a leadership contest, I would like it to be a lengthy one, in which leadership candidates are tried and tested in all parts of the country with national and local media and hustings with members. I found it very difficult to believe the narrative from the coup d’etat supporters, that a new leader could, or should, be selected in two to three weeks.

Besides, even if this was possible, who was this new, magical Father Christmas, who was going to climb down the Commons’ chimney with presents that bring together the Conservative Party, unite Parliament and produce a deal that everyone can rally around? However much I miss them, my days of believing in Santa Claus are far behind me.

Finally, I still have a hope that once Brexit is over with, Theresa May will return to being the Prime Minister she was in 2016 – galvanising the nation in dealing with the burning social injustices in our country.

All this doesn’t mean that I think everything in the Downing Street Garden is rosy. Certainly not. But I was prepared to give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt and don’t resile from that, nor regret it.

Bad Language

I have always believed in the politics of language. It amazes me just how the centre-right has allowed Labour to commandeer the language of compassion and social justice. As The Times highlighted last weekend, Conservatives are associated with ‘austerity’, ‘kill zones’, and ‘a noose’ around the Prime Minister’s neck – terminology that should remain in a Stephen King novel.

All the while, Labour are associated with terms of benevolence, sympathy for those in poverty (John McDonnell’s remarks about Esther Mcvey being long forgotten). The divisions and violent language between different Tory factions make us look more like a Mad Max film than a governing party. If we are not careful, we will re-toxify ourselves late-1990s style – and if we don’t stop, Conservatives will be whacked by voters at the ballot box.

As an aside, it is interesting that Remainers who won’t accept the 2016 result have come up with the ‘People’s Vote’, whereas Leavers, once associated with great terminology such as ‘take back control’ or ‘more money for the NHS’ are now associated with ‘no deal’ (rather than a ‘clean Brexit’), or arguing about the unintelligible ‘backstop’.

Workers Unite

Amidst the fog of Brexit, some lights occasionally shine brightly. Especially when it comes to workers. In the Budget, the Chancellor cut taxes for the lower paid and increased the National Living Wage by 4.9 per cent.

On Monday, Greg Clark announced icing on the cake with a huge strengthening of workers rights – the biggest upgrade for over 20years. There is some great stuff here, including scrapping the Swedish derogation, which brings an end to the legal loophole allowing some firms to pay agency workers less than permanent staff. Prior to this legislation, temps working “anti-social shifts” could be earning as much as £7 less an hour than their permanent counterparts, according to the TUC.

Under the new measures, staff will made aware of their rights on their first day of employment in a statement which sets out eligibility for sick leave, maternity and paternity leave. More powers will be granted to impose harsher penalties on employers for non-payment of wages.

Seasonal workers will also see a boost in holiday pay, with companies now having to calculate holiday pay based on a 52-week period, rather than a 12-week period. Outlined in the Government’s Good Work Plan, employers will be banned from exploiting staff by retaining tips, ensuring that customers can be confident their money is going where they have intended.

All-workers, including those on zero-hours contracts, will be entitled to “request a more predictable and stable contract”, tackling the prevalent one-sided flexibility.

Workers of Britain unite. It is a Tory Britain, not Labour that is really making a difference.

VAT

I’ve written before on ConservativeHome about the EU Withdrawal Agreement meaning that we have to give £39 billion of taxpayers money to the EU. If the transition period is extended by two years, that could be another £10-15 billion a year, on top of the £39 billion.

But there is another elephant in the room. The EU principle of harmonisation entails that, as long as we are in the EU, we abide by the rule that the five per cent rate of VAT on household bills in Britain cannot be scrapped or lowered. Citizen’s Advice suggested that cutting the five per cent rate to zero would save households, on average, £60 a year on their domestic energy bills. If the EU withdrawal agreement goes through, the Government have indicated that the UK will remain compliant with EU VAT laws during the transition period.

Article Nine of the Northern Ireland Protocol sets out a different picture under the backstop arrangements, stating “Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK’s VAT area, with HMRC continuing to be responsible for the operation and collection of VAT, and Parliament for the setting of VAT rates”.

But that being said, the European Scrutiny Committee suggest that the real question is what will happen after the transition period, since the Government is “yet to specify clearly what its actual plans are for a new arrangement with the EU on VAT after the end of the proposed transitional period”. Will hardworking families be paying the higher rates on their household bills – or will we really leave the EU and be able to cut VAT for hardworking families?

Referendum Redux

After glancing at first-edition Sunday Times and Mail On Sunday papers late on Saturday night, I nearly choked on my Lemsip. I was dismayed to read reports suggesting that David Lidington and Gavin Barwell were planning, preparing and talking with opposition MPs about having a second referendum.

By Sunday morning, both Gavin Barwell and David Lidington had responded to my tweet on enquiry – stating that they are opposed to a second referendum. Although the detail of the newspaper reports were not denied (particularly in relation to Cabinet Office planning), it was reassuring to hear the Prime Minister speak robustly in the Commons on Monday, guaranteeing that there would be no further referendum of any kind. A second referendum would not be a People’s Vote, but a Cheater’s Vote.

Happy Christmas and New Year to all Conservative Home Readers.

Iain Dale: It’s going to be a White Christmas – because there are snowflakes, snowflakes everywhere.

Plus: Tory MPs, the world’s most duplicitous electorate. But a certain long-serving woman Labour MP is sending Christmas cards to them all…

Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.

I was surprised by the fact that 117 MPs voted against the Prime Minister on Wednesday – and can’t pretend otherwise. I had thought that the total would be between 80 and 100.

What fascinates me is that there were no ministerial resignations in the runup to the vote. No one will ever convince me that all 95 Government ministers and the various PPSs voted for Theresa May to stay on. I can think of at least two Cabinet members who I would lay money voted against her. Surely any minister who did that would be honour bound to resign?

Apparently not. No wonder the Parliamentary Conservative Party is known as the world’s most duplicitous electorate.

– – – – – – – – – –

I interviewed Jacob Rees-Mogg three quarters of an hour after Graham Brady had announced the result of the ballot. I was rather taken aback by his responses to my various questions. He wasn’t exactly bad-tempered, but he certainly came across as a bad loser. When I put that to him, he was having none of it – but continued to call on the Prime Minister to resign. It was quite extraordinary.

I have sympathy with many of his views on the subject of the Withdrawal Agreement, but there is no future in being an ‘irreconcilable’. Andrew Bridgen gave a similar response, and it is clear that loyalty is a word which has become alien to both of them. It is supposed to be the Tories’ secret weapon. You could have fooled me.

– – – – – – – – – –

Nicky Morgan hit the nail on the head when she said on Peston: “[May] has to realize there are some on our backbenches who are irreconcilable to either having any deal or having anything like the deal that’s on the table.” It’s difficult to see how the Prime Minister can convince the 71 MPs who declared that they would not support her in the meaningful vote that was planned this week to change their minds.  Particularly after her rebuff in Brussels, as reported this morning.

She could possibly convince some of them but it still wouldn’t get it over the line. So what are the alternatives? Norway Plus? A second referendum? It ought to be leaving with what I like to call a ‘clean break’ rather than ‘no deal’, but Parliament will do its level best to frustrate it, even though it passed the legislation which guarantees it.

Quite what happens next is anyone’s guess. Unfortunately, I can see Article 50 being postponed, but all that would achieve is to kick the can down the road again. But the Prime Minister has become a master of that particular art.

– – – – – – – – – –

It is the season of goodwill to all men. And women. And Conservative MPs. Harriet Harman has certainly contracted the Christmas spirit very early. She’s so full of goodwill to Conservatives that she’s sending them Christmas cards. All of them apparently. What can it mean?

Well, perhaps that this long-serving Labour MP wishes to curry favour with Conservative MPs should there be an election to succeed John Bercow as Speaker of the Commons.

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About a month ago, someone suggested to me that I should send out a weekly email newsletter to people who were interested in my various activities. Hmmm, I thought, would anyone be interested? I then signed up to Mailchimp and have now sent out a newsletter on a Sunday evening for the last three weeks. People seem to like it, so if you’d like to sign up just visit http://www.iaindale.com and sign up via the pop-up. You can unsubscribe at any time if I bore you to tears.

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A friend of mine is a comedian, originally from Russia. And there aren’t many of them to the pound. Konstantin Kisin is his name. Last week, he pulled out of doing a comedy gig at a university after being asked to sign a ‘behavioural contract’. This ‘contract forbade him from telling jokes which could be considered anti-religion, anti-atheist, homophobic, transphobic, bi-phobic, misogynistic … and so the list went on. This is apparently increasingly happening on university campuses, supposedly the bastions of free speech.

– – – – – – – – – –

On a similar but unrelated note, I was waiting for a train at Tonbridge station on Wednesday when I overheard a teacher talking to five girl pupils about their trip to the Commons. Their visit was to support Amnesty International’s human rights day. They were meeting John Bercow and various MPs together with their local MP, Tom Tugendhat.

I suggested to the teacher that while they were there she should take the girls across the road to College Green where they could see the huge media presence covering the possible fall of a Prime Minister. Her response astounded me: “Yes, I was thinking of doing that, but I don’t want to cause them any stress.” Jesus wept. Is that what we’ve really come to – where the first thought of a teacher when considering doing anything is will it cause stress? No wonder we’re rearing a generation of politically correct snowflakes.

Stalemate

May wins – but not by enough to break free from her internal opponents. Too strong to fall and too weak to win, she is, if anything, more exposed to them than before.

The editors of this site spare no effort on our readers’ behalf.

Why, we have even offered you exact figures from today’s confidence ballot.  200 votes for Theresa May and 117 against her, we wrote this afternoon, would be a “Problematic Win”: “once the opposition to May climbs above a third of the electorate, it becomes harder to assert legitimacy”.

So it has proved.  A third of the 317 Conservative MPs is 106.  So 117 is a bit north of that – 37 per cent, close on two of them in five.  Furthermore, one must take the payroll vote into account.  Either 62 per cent of the non-payroll voted against her, an indisputable majority.  Or one must let that percentage fall…but raise the proportion of the payroll that opposed her, pari passu.

All in all, this result isn’t bad enough to spur her Cabinet into removing her, as Margaret Thatcher’s did to the then Prime Minister in 1990 (Were its members less timid and had the Tories a majority, matters might be different, especially were the Government not embroiled in the most important negotiation of modern times.)

But nor is it good enough to free Theresa May from the ERG, their allies and the DUP – or from the Conservative Norwegians and second referendum campaigners, for that matter.  And since her vote is a bit lower than expected and the opposition a bit higher, the ERG whips can take a modest bow.  Having apparently predicted the result to within three votes, they have salvaged their reputation for numeracy.

The ERG claims 80 members – a total about which we’ve always been a bit sniffy.  But the lower the number really is, the more support they’ve put on today – in the wake of a rushed ballot, the timing of which caught the group on the hop; of a co-ordinated Twitter blitz on the Prime Minister’s behalf, and of a carefully-crafted appearance by her outside Downing Street, in which she pushed claims about the contest that were, shall we say, debatable.

You will say reply May scooped 63 per cent of the vote, and that her leadership can’t now be challenged for a year.  Quite so.  However, those facts simply open up a new range of problems.  She will have wanted to win by a margin large enough to justify bringing her Brexit deal back to the Commons.  It is very hard to see how this drab result can be treated as a springboard to that effect.

But if it can’t be used to threaten the Commons with No Deal (as in: “my deal or no deal”), it can scarcely be used to threaten the Commons with no Brexit either (“my deal or no Brexit”).  These numbers don’t give her a platform solid enough on which to pivot to postponing Article 50, or a Second Referendum, or Norway Plus.

The Queen is the most powerful piece on the chess board.  And the Prime Minister is the most powerful member of the Government, usual rules permitting.  May retains the title, but cannot move except by putting her side into check.  Her internal opponents can’t no confidence her for the next twelve months.  But she can’t win votes or get legislation through without their help.

Across the board this evening, she and the pawns and knights of the ERG glower and frown at each other.  We have stalemate.

And all the while, Labour watch and wait for the day when they can take on the Queen and her allies themselves – if she’s still in place then.

WATCH: North Korean ovation from Conservative MPs as Brady announces that May has won

The Chairman of the 1922 Executive Committee then reads out the figures. And someone says: “oooh”.

Chris White: A guide to what could happen in the Commons this week

I set out what could happen – and translate what the amendments to the Government’s motion mean.

Chris White was Special Adviser to Patrick McLoughlin, when the latter served as Chief Whip, as well as to Andrew Lansley and William Hague when each served as Leader of the House. He is now Managing Director of Newington Communications.

On Tuesday, the Government will face its toughest test – trying to get its Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament. Eight hours of debate will be followed by a series of votes that will decide the future of the UK, as well as the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party. The stakes could not be higher.

Over 100 Conservative MPs have publicly declared they will vote against the Theresa May’s deal. Yet it is important to remember that there might not even be a vote on the deal. Equally, an amendment could pass which if won, would mean no vote on the Government’s Withdrawal Agreement. Below I set out what could happen, as well as translate what the motions actually mean.

The Government caves in and changes the Parliamentary business, or fails to move the vote, because it knows it is going to lose

The numbers look terrible for the Government, and there have been no MPs who have publicly swapped sides to endorse the Prime Minister’s deal. The reality of the situation is that the Government knows that it is going to lose, and so could decide to pull the vote and seek state that it accepts it won’t get it through Parliament. Graham Brady, Chair of the 1922 Committee, took the highly unusual step of recommending this in the media. This would be highly embarrassing, but would avoid a humiliating defeat, with the Prime Minister forced to go back to Brussels to renegotiate. There are two ways of doing this:

  • Emergency Business Statement: The Leader of the Commons, Andrea Leadsom, either on Monday or Tuesday at the start of Parliamentary business, makes a statement changing the business for the day, pulling the last day of debate and the votes.
  • The Government Minister winding up the debate ‘talks out’ the votes: The business motion for the debate has been cleverly drafted – under section 10 (c), only a Minister may move a closure, which basically means if they are still standing and speaking at the end of the debate, the votes won’t be moved.

An amendment to the Government motion is passed, politically changing the deal

In the table below I’ve listed the 13 amendments tabled so far by MPs. Of these, six will be selected by the Speaker – it’s not certain which he will select, but some have more chance than others – my current thinking is amendments (a) (b) (i) (k) (l) and (m). It’s unlikely that the official Labour one would succeed – amendment (a) – as Tory MPs and the DUP won’t support it, and of the others:

Hilary Benn – amendment (i) explicitly rejects the UK leaving on no deal, and demands the Government move straight to the final Parliamentary debate under the terms of the EU Withdrawal Act. This is the one which the Government lost a vote on last week, which basically means that Parliament is able to direct Government politically which course of action it should pursue. Whilst this isn’t binding under legislation, and the Government could still theoretically leave under no deal terms, it would be politically challenging to do so.

Backbench Conservative – there are three motions which seek to do similar things (b) (e) and (f) – force the Government to place a time limit on the NI backstop, or to reject the backstop. Even if this passed, the UK Government would have to seek agreement from the EU.

Liberal Democrat – amendment (l) calls on the UK Government to hold a second referendum. This would require primary legislation, and even if passed swiftly, such a referendum could not be held within the next 5 months because of the time needed to organise.

No amendments are passed, but the main Government motion fails as well

In this scenario, all votes fail, and the Commons fails to both pass the Withdrawal Agreement, and direct the Government what to do next. This would be hugely damaging to the Prime Minister. Under the EU Withdrawal Act the Government has 21 days to make a statement to the Commons setting out what it plans to do next, and within seven days of that statement the Government must bring forward a motion for the House to consider. This motion can now be amended following the Government’s defeat next week, and the Commons would be able to express a view on what to do next, though this would not be binding on the Government.

What could happen next?

If the Government motion fails, and all amendments fail, then there are several things that might happen:

  • May could face a vote of no confidence in the Commons. Kier Starmer has said that Labour would table a vote, but with the DUP stating that they would support the Conservatives in such a vote, this is unlikely to succeed. If the Government did fall, there would be 14 days for another Government to win a vote of confidence in the Commons, or the country will have a General Election.
  • Conservative MPs put in 48 letters, and the party has to have a confidence vote in the Prime Minister. If 48 letters go in, this would require a swift vote of confidence, where May must win more than 50 per cemt of the 315 eligible MPs. If she lost, the party then has to elect a new leader. Given the incredibly short timescale before 29th March, the Conservative Party would be signing its own death warrant to do this.
  • Labour tries to table a censure motion about May – this is effectively a personal vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, which is what happened recently to Chris Grayling. This would potentially allow Tory MPs to vote against the May without bringing down the Government. However the Government is under no obligation to provide time for an Opposition Day before Christmas, so this is unlikely to happen.
  • The Prime Minister goes to negotiate with Brussels and brings back an amended deal. This would then require the Government to win a vote on its renegotiated deal, using the procedure outlined above.
    If no negotiated deal can pass through the Commons the UK will leave the EU without a deal.

My best guess is that if the Government doesn’t pull the vote, then none of the amendments or the main motion will pass. The Government will then be forced to return to Brussels and try and renegotiate, whilst no-confidence motions in the Government or the Prime Minister are unlikely to succeed due to the dire situation the Tory Party would find itself in. What happens next will depend on whether the Prime Minister can remove either the backstop, or insert a time limit on it, in order for the deal to satisfy enough Tory MPs.

List of amendments before the House – Green means likely to be selected by the Speaker for voting, yellow means a reasonable chance of being selected.

Iain Dale: On Newsnight, I erect my Tower of Power

And: For May, there should be no way back from losing. My Tory leadership straw poll. Cox, a man of substance and integrity. Plus, Tower of Power extra: Dick for Iain.

Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.

We live in momentous times. When I write this column next Friday, Theresa May could not longer be prime minister.

Wednesday next week will be a more interesting day than Tuesday. No-one now expects the Government to win the Brexit deal vote, and the only debate about what will happen is about is the size of the defeat. If the size of the majority against the Government motion is more than 100, it is very difficult to see how the Prime Minister, in all conscience, could stay on. There’s no way back from that, I’d have thought.

But we don’t live in normal times, and we know all about the Prime Minister’s stickability. The Opposition, whatever the size of their win, will no doubt call a vote of confidence. They’d be mad not to. The Government will win it, surely, but it could be a pyrrhic victory.

It must be likely that by midday on Wednesday, Graham Brady will have received the 48 letters needed to force a vote of confidence in May’s leadership. Again, she may well win that vote, mainly because of the absence of a clear alternative leader, but the size of the victory would be crucial. Could she really carry on if more than 100 Tory MPs voted against her? And they surely would.

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Twitter polls aren’t exactly scientific, and are just a bit of fun, but they do attract large numbers of people to vote.

I put up a poll on Wednesday offering people the choice of Boris Johnson, David Davis, Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt as next leader of the Conservative Party. In Twitter polls, you can only offer four choices.

Within 15 hours, nearly 10,000 people had voted. The result? Johnson got 41 per cent, Davis 25 per cent, Javid 21 per cent and Hunt 13 per cent. Make of that what you will.

The important electorate would of course initially be Tory MPs. My guess is that Johnson would not be in the top two. His performance in the Brexit debate this week will hardly have improved his chances.

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Another senior Conservative whose fortunes have fluctuated this week is the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox. His bombastic performance at the Dispatch Box on Tuesday led many to speculate that he could be a dark horse candidate for the leadership. And you could see why.

But less than 24 hours later his body language on the front bench was somewhat different, as Andrea Leadsom announced that the government would heed the vote of MPs and publish the Attorney’s legal advice on the Northern Ireland backstop. He looked a broken man and I wondered whether he might be thinking about resigning.

I’m sure he considered it, but he remains in post. And a jolly good thing too. I am sure he has a massive contribution to make to Conservative politics, and despite what happened this week he is still seen as a man of substance and integrity.

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“Hello, it’s Newsnight here – are you free to come on tonight and take part in a panel with a difference?” said the producer. “What’s the difference,” I asked nervously. “Well, we’ve got a Tower of Power and we want you to explain who the most important players are in what’s going on at the moment by pinning them from top to bottom on our model of Big Ben.” “Oh well,” I thought, “at least it’s not a whiteboard”.

So Paul Mason, Bronwen Maddox from the Institute of Government and I did our best to explain to the audience why we thought MPs were now more important in the process than the Cabinet. They had, to coin a phrase, taken back control. Yes, it was a gimmick, but it proved a very good way of explaining with a visual aid, something which is actually quite complicated. I suspect we might be seeing more of the Tower of Power…

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Each day I spend several hours at LBC preparing for my radio show with my two producers. On Tuesday, I got a bit of a surprise when I was flicking through the list of clips and interviews on our computer system: I saw a clip called ‘DICK FOR IAIN’.

“Well this is going to be a different sort of show,” I thought to myself. I was somewhat disappointed to find that it was a clip of the Cressida Dick talking to Nick Ferrari. Oh well.