Would May agree to go quickly to get her deal through? She may yet hint at it. But watch the small print.

The idea might suit the leadership aspirations of some potential successors. But wishful thinking and stubborn reality don’t mix – at least not in this case.

Some hold Theresa May entirely to blame for the Government’s current condition – and Brexit’s.  They argue variously that she has never believed in it, or else given way to Remainers, or to else to Brexiteers, or else been “adamant for drift”, or else been run by Olly Robbins, or else simply cocked everything up, especially since calling the 2017 election.  Others claim that it is unjust to make her carry the can, amidst a divided Party, Commons, Parliament and Country.  Our own take is somewhere between the two.

Whichever view Conservative MPs take, they should all agree on one point – namely, that there is no sign of May wanting to leave Downing Street.  Prime Ministers almost never go willingly.  The only exception we can think of recently is Harold Wilson – and he was ill, so shouldn’t really count.  No, May looks dug in for the moment, unless there is a long extension.

Perhaps she will surprise us all.  Maybe she will emerge from Number Ten, for no apparent reason, to announce publicly that she is willing to resign.  But we doubt it.  It is more likely that, if the Prime Minister’s back is up against the wall, as it was during December’s leadership challenge, hints will be dropped and briefings given – but no pledge offered of an immediate departure.

Nor is there a means of forcing her out quickly.  There can be no ballot until next autumn. The 1922 Committee won’t move quickly.  Nor will the riven, quarrelling Cabinet.    Its Soft Brexiteers want to prop her up, for fear of Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab succeeding her – and of a new leader firing Philip Hammond.  The harder ones have lost their mojo.

Other potential successors, such as if Jeremy Hunt or Sajid Javid, will not want to spearhead a putsch, or try to – partly on the principle that he who wields the dagger never wears the etc.  (“After you, Saj.”  No, after you, Jeremy.)  So the suggestion that the Prime Minister might be prepared to stand down to get her deal through falls at the first hurdle – namely, that there’s no sign of her playing ball.

Tory MPs will be hunkering down for Meaningful Vote Three this weekend.  It will bring both principle and pragmatism into play, and the calculations they must make are not easy.  We will say more about the choice later this week.  But as they ponder the future, they can surely banish one scenario from their minds – namely, May quitting, during the next few days, in order to let her deal pass.  That might suit the leadership aspirations of some potential successors.  But wishful thinking and stubborn reality don’t mix, at least in this case.

The five Secretaries of State who supported the Green Amendment

As a free vote, this may give us the clearest picture of the divisions at the very top of the Party over how to approach Brexit.

Whilst several senior members of the Cabinet were amongst the 66 Conservative MPs who voted against ‘Malthouse II’, there were Secretaries of State on the other side of the question too.

As a free vote, this Amendment perhaps offers the purest insight into the divisions deepening at the very top of the Party about how best to proceed over Brexit. Excluding junior ministers, they are:

  • Alun Cairns (Welsh Office)
  • Jeremy Hunt (Foreign Office)
  • Sajid Javid (Home Office)
  • Penny Mordaunt (DfID)
  • Gavin Williamson (Defence)

Andrea Leadsom, who attends Cabinet in her role as Leader of the House, also supported it.

Greg Clark, David Gauke, David Lidington, Claire Perry and Amber Rudd are reported to have voted against the motion, with all other Cabinet members abstaining.

Matthew Scott: We don’t need new ‘Tsars’ to oversee the fight against knife crime – we’ve already got PCCs

It would be more effective to make good use of the elected, accountable and effective system that is already in place.

Matthew Scott is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent.

This week Sajid Javid summoned Chief Constables from the forces that police our largest metropolitan areas most affected by knife crime to the second Chief Constables’ roundtable.

Every death is a tragedy, and the violence on the streets is seeing too many young lives end, devastating both families and neighbourhoods alike. The Home Secretary is right to call this a disease; its symptoms are many and varied. But its cure lies in a multi-pronged approach that backs our police, boosts our criminal justice system and empowers Police and Crime Commissioners to prevent and rehabilitate.

The debate on the police settlement cannot be ignored. Over the last ten years, crime has changed, demands are differing and resources have reduced, creating a perfect storm of challenges that have seen our brave officers and staff overstretched. Putting more boots on the ground is therefore something that has to be at the very top of the agenda for fixing this epidemic.

Yes, it takes time for the officers to be recruited and to get them out on the street. Since I was elected in 2016 I have made police numbers a priority. At every opportunity, I have raised the funding necessary to boost the number of officers again. By next year, there will be 450 more police officers in Kent, visible in our towns and villages and increasing their ability to catch criminals and investigate crime. But I’m not alone in this – every PCC who is in a position to do so is raising funds to increase officer and staff numbers again. I wouldn’t increase council tax if I didn’t think I needed to in order to do the right thing – I don’t think my colleagues would, either. Javid is right to push on this issue at Cabinet.

New powers to prevent knife crime are welcome. We also need to empower and support officers again to use the powers that they already have to get weapons off of our streets, and with more colleagues to do it. You can’t oppose stop and search to get elected and support it again when there is a problem to solve – this inconsistency sends the wrong message. It is also possible to make powers like stop and search accountable whilst giving officers the confidence they need to use it, free from the fear of complaints, thanks to body-worn video cameras.

Solving this problem is not just the responsibility of the police and PCCs; we need to address failures elsewhere. Seeing repeat perpetrators of violent crime on the steps of the courts grinning and taking selfies as they’ve walked away with a suspended sentence is a bitter pill to swallow for victims, witnesses and taxpayers. In recent years, efforts have been made to increase the sentences available for violent crimes, including knife crimes and attacks on emergency services workers, but they are meaningless unless they are being exercised.

And if people do go to prison, it has to be a place of meaningful punishment and rehabilitation. Many, but not all, of the perpetrators of knife crime are young when they are caught, which means that at some point, even within their youth, they will be released at the end of their sentence. If violent criminals are off the streets and in prison, we have an opportunity to prevent them from committing more offences and, with the right resources and programmes, the chance to change their lives. Prison hasn’t worked for a very long time, because of what it has become, not because it can’t work.

When they are released, we need to put them into contact with probation and rehabilitation services that work. There is still far too much re-offending post-prison. But there is little if any accountability for the performance of these services. PCCs and others are filling this gap through the provision of mentors.

PCCs are a voice for victims, the vulnerable and the voiceless. We champion the needs of residents, businesses and charities in the areas we represent. We are the golden thread that runs through policing, community safety and criminal justice through our work holding Chief Constables and other agencies to account, providing services for victims and working in partnership with others. We’ve published a summary of our work on violence here.

Therefore we are in a position to tackle some of these difficult challenges – a ready-made vehicle that is both accountable and transparent. We do not need any more unelected Tsars working nationally and detached from local neighbourhoods; we are working with and supporting them every day.

Rather than offer the short-term grants, the Home Office could bundle up the money already on offer, worth at least £30 million a year, and give it to Police and Crime Commissioners to deliver, alongside our own work and the leverage we can gain from other sources. We could also help improve the performance of criminal justice agencies if we were given the responsibility for holding them to account, and the funding for rehabilitation.

Javid has made great strides forward as Home Secretary to get to grips with a challenging Department and serious issues that need addressing. He is getting some traction and backing policing, but we can’t ignore the important sticking points of prevention and police numbers that need action now, as well as the reforms needed from the Ministry of Justice.

Leadsom climbs to the top spot in our Cabinet League Table

Javid almost doubles his rating after his decisive handling of Begum. Meanwhile Rudd, Gauke and Clark all fall. And Grayling plumbs new depths.

It’s that time again – the monthly Cabinet League Table. Who’s up and who’s down?

  • Leadsom leaps to the top spot. This must be one of the most dramatic turnarounds in the history of the League Table. In November, after the Prime Minister’s deal was released, Andrea Leadsom was down in 21st place, with a net rating of -16.3. At the end of December, she put on 50 points, helped by a battle with the ever-unpopular John Bercow, and was up to fifth place, with a net rating of +34.2. In our January survey she had climbed further, up to third place with a net rating of +43. This month she caps that by gaining a further 11.6 points to seize the top spot in the table, with a rating of +54.6. Iain Dale wrote last week about ‘the quiet rise of Andrea Leadsom’, and it certainly seems that her decision to stay in the Cabinet rather than resign has paid off, so far.
  • A great month for Javid. The Home Secretary might have reasonably expected a positive result this month, after his firm stance against Shamima Begum returning to the UK secured the backing of more than three quarters of party member respondents to our survey. He has more than recovered the ground he lost in January, and almost doubles his rating to a very healthy +49.8, rising from eighth to second place.
  • Truss’s rating climbs steadily. November: +15.8. December: +28.5. January: +35. And now February: +39.9. That is a very positive trend for any minister in these rankings, particularly in turbulent times, and her pronouncements on the ‘Corbyn-lite’ nature of Downing Street’s thinking is unlikely to hurt.
  • The Cabinet overall is still in a bad place. Fifteen ministers have ratings in negative territory, having failed to recover from the unpopularity of first Chequers and then the deal itself. The whole Cabinet’s net rating, which stood at almost +1000 a year ago now bumps along at -1.2, essentially a neutral score. That is a miserable verdict from a Party’s grassroots on its top Government team. As we’ve seen above, it’s not all just neutral – some people are doing well, and others badly, but there’s an increasing polarisation. The average rating of the top ten continues to rise while the average of the bottom ten continues to fall.
  • A rough month for anti-No-Dealers Gauke, Rudd and Clark. The three Cabinet ministers who forced the Prime Minister to change tack by pledging publicly to oppose No Deal at all costs recently have all suffered for doing so. David Gauke’s rating falls from -23.8 to -36.6. Amber Rudd’s declines from -35.9 to -48.3. Greg Clark sees his rating fall from -31.8 to -40.8. Having given in to them, the Prime Minister’s rating also slips, down to -40.8.
  • Grayling plumbs new depths. If the ministers above feel bad about their numbers, they can always console themselves that they aren’t Chris Grayling. The Transport Secretary has been jostling with Philip Hammond for the bottom spot in the table for some time now, but opens up a commanding lead as the most poorly rated member of the Cabinet, right down on -60.1. It’s one of the worst scores this League Table has ever recorded.
  • All eyes on Cox. Geoffrey Cox, having risen to prominence (in real life and in the League Table) since the Conservative Party Conference now finds himself taking centre stage in the latter phases of Brexit. He has consolidated his rating at a health +44.7 this month, but with all eyes on him in the coming weeks he has everything to play for. No pressure.

Over three in four Party members back Javid over his Begum ban. Our survey.

We were curious to know how big the proportion of objectors would be, to which the answer is: a fifth.

A big majority of respondents were always likely to back Sajid Javid’s decision.  But we were curious to know how many did not – and prefer, we must presume, to see her return here either to be charged and tried; or put under a TPIM; or under surveillance, or simply to live freely.

To which the answer is: a fifth.  That’s a substantial tally of objectors.  But the Home Secretary none the less has the overwhelming mass of Party members on his side, if the survey is right – over three-quarters of respondents.  It can safely be said that he will have the majority of voters, too.

Our survey. Next Tory leader – Johnson is top again. Here’s why he’s in pole position with minimum effort.

It is striking how little the former Foreign Secretary is doing to maintain his lead. Then again, he scarcely needs to stir – for the moment.

Last month, Boris Johnson led our Next Tory Leader question with 26 per cent of the vote.  This month, he is top with 24 per cent.  Dominic Raab was second with 12 per cent; now he is second with 13 per cent.  Michael Gove was third with nine per cent; this month, he is third with ten per cent.  The mass of potential candidates on single figures ratings continues.  These changes are footling.

It is striking how little the former Foreign Secretary is doing to maintain his lead.  This morning sees his weekly outing in the Daily Telegraph, in which he has pop at the apparently forthcoming Bloody Sunday prosecutions.  Most weeks, it rages against the Government over Brexit.

Otherwise, he is, by the standard of such a master of self-projection, withdrawn.  Although he is not absent from Brexit-related proceedings in the Commons – he quizzed the Prime Minister during her statement of February 12, for example – he is not at the forefront of them either, like say Yvette Cooper or Bill Cash.  For example, he didn’t participate in last week’s debate.

Nor does he appear on BBC Question Time or Any Questions.  Indeed, he doesn’t seem to like being on a panel, and expose himself to the scrutiny of other members, or the chairman, or the audience.  (Though he performed robustly in during the EU referendum TV debates.)  His preferred forum is the big set-piece speech, like that he delivered at last year’s Party Conference ConservativeHome fringe event.

So what is going on?  This site’s tentative answer is that the main obstacle to Johnson’s ambitions is not the voters.  Nor (clearly) is it Party members.  It is Conservative MPs, who may not forward his name to those members for the final stage of a leadership election.  Which is why his priority at present is wooing them.

In the meantime, activists’ confidence in the coherence of the Government is low, and this lowers the ratings of potential rivals.  So the former Foreign Secretary is able to sit it out, enjoying his regular double digit lead in this survey, with other polls also showing him in the lead.

The Daily Telegraph is many party members’ broadsheet of choice, so that weekly column is enough to remind them he’s still alive and kicking.  His main opponent is not hostile MPs or disillusioned Remain voters or Cabinet members.  It is the passing of time – and the prospect of someone else, someone new emerging who is less divisive, less scarred.

Mark Francois: The voluntary party must now save us from ourselves

I welcome the suggestion that local Associations should follow the lead that the National Convention took last weekend.

Mark Francois is a former Defence Minister, and is MP for Rayleigh and Wickford.

Last weekend, the National Conservative Convention, sometimes described as the “Parliament” of the Voluntary Conservative Party, passed the following motion, by an emphatic majority of five to one.

“The National Convention supports the commitments the Prime Minister has made to the country to honour the European Union referendum result of 2016, that having triggered Article 50 we will leave the European Union on the 29 March 2019.

Another Referendum, a delay beyond the European elections, taking ‘no deal’ off the table or not leaving at all would betray the 2016 People’s Vote and damage democracy and our party for a generation.”

It is unusual for the National Convention to debate any substantive motion at all, so this was an event of significance for the Conservative Party as a whole.  Moreover, the voluntary party is arguably its heart and soul. If Conservative MPs are the Party’s “Officer Corps”, then the voluntary party, the Association Officers, councillors, activists and rank and file members are the Party’s “poor bloody infantry.”

They go out in all weathers, sometimes accompanied by their Conservative MP (where they have one) knocking on doors, delivering leaflets in the pouring rain, and engaging with the electorate, in good times and in bad. When the Party is doing well nationally, they tend to do well in local elections as well. When the reverse is true, they are the first to brutally cop it each first Thursday in May.

As an activist and councillor under John Major in the mid-1990s,  I well remember having doors slammed in my face, even in affluent areas. I also clearly recall hard-working, dedicated, local councillors being wiped out each May, simply because of the unpopularity of the party nationally.

In the 1993 County Council elections for instance, we lost every single county in the whole of England, save Buckinghamshire. A few more years of Conservative voters abstaining in their millions during the mid-90s led to our local government base being severely eroded. This was closely followed by one of the worst defeats in our Party’s entire history in 1997, which ushered in the Blair/Brown era. I believe we are now facing much the same fate this May if we carry on as we are.

The People versus the Establishment

However, the situation is even worse than that. The Government’s EU Policy is being dictated, at least day-to-day, by a small coterie of highly pro-EU inclined civil servants, led by the Prime Minister’s Chief Negotiator, Ollie Robbins, who have never really accepted the result of the 2016 referendum and who clearly believe that the British public, having made an obviously thick/bigoted/racist mistake, must now be saved, by their “betters”, from themselves.

Of course these civil servants care not a fig for the thousands of Conservative council candidates who could be wiped out in May; they are meant to be politically neutral after all. Amidst this burning desire effectively to keep Britain in the EU at all costs, they are aided and abetted by a number of senior cabinet Ministers, from Phillip Hammond through to Amber Rudd and a number of equally fanatical junior Ministers, who constantly threaten to resign (but never quite summon up the moral courage to actually do so), plus a relatively small number of ardent Europhile backbenchers, three of whom have recently moved on to pastures new.

Personally, I believe that the division in our country is now morphing, from “Leave” versus “Remain” to “The People” versus “The Establishment.” Put simply, the People voted to Leave and the Establishment, from the senior civil service and some traditional elements of the media, with many fellow travellers in the Commons and the Lords, now formally including the Labour Front bench as well, are doing absolutely everything in their power to stop them from leaving.

This is all despite the expressed wishes of 17.4 million UK citizens – the largest vote for any proposition in British history. The motion above is an expression of the growing anger of the rank and file at this trend but, as the sell-out continues and becomes ever more obvious, I believe that the public will grow increasingly angry too.

The collapse of collective responsibility within the Government

Meanwhile, in Parliament, the Government’s position is becoming increasingly shambolic. Pro-Remain Cabinet Ministers openly defy the Prime Minister – including ambushing her in Cabinet to rule out “No Deal” – and nothing happens. Supposedly Eurosceptic Cabinet Ministers, theoretically greater in number and several of them with future leadership ambitions, mumble disapprovingly into their coffee – but again nothing happens. Meanwhile, junior ministers write polemnical articles, openly opposing policies to which they are signed up as a consequence of the posts they hold – and yet again, absolutely nothing happens.

As everyone in the Commons now knows, any concept of collective responsibility has now completely broken down. Ministers of all ranks basically do whatever they like, without any fear of sanction from Number Ten whatsoever.

This reached truly farcical proportions yesterday, when Alberto Costa, a popular PPS, tabled a motion for yesterday’s European debate seeking to guarantee the future rights of EU citizens living in the UK. This was actually a statement of the Government’s existing policy, as demonstrated by Sajid Javid when he gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee shortly before the debate itself.

However, Alberto was then unceremoniously sacked as a PPS for tabling an amendment , as a PPS, without permission – even though the Government effectively then adopted his amendment several hours later at the end of the debate without a division. This is, to use a technical Parliamentary term, stark-staring bonkers.  In short, A Government which cannot impose discipline on its senior Ministers who oppose Government policy, none the less sacks a popular PPS instead for backing Government policy.

I have been an MP for 18 years and I have never seen anything even remotely like this. It is one rule for Europhile Ministers and another for everyone else. Boris Johnson, David Davis, Dominic Raab, Esther McVey, Steve Baker, Suella Braverman, Shailesh Vara and a host of honourable PPSs all resigned, in accordance with constitutional convention, as they could no longer support the European policy of the Government. By stark contrast, Europhile Ministers now break ranks on a virtually daily basis, but no-one ever resigns – and no-one even attempts to discipline them either.

In the midst of this maelstrom sit the poor, dispirited Whips Office, staffed by dedicated colleagues and led by a fundamentally decent man, Julian Smith, who is desperately trying to somehow keep the show on the road, amidst a near impossible situation.

However, the whips clearly appreciate that, when collective responsibility has already blatantly disintegrated, it is practically impossible to discipline understandably anxious backbenchers, who see Ministers doing whatever the hell they like without any meaningful sanction whatsoever. Do as I say, not as I do, does not generally impress Conservative MPs (or anyone else either).

The Voluntary Party must now save the Day

This brings us back to the Voluntary Party motion, which opposes a second referendum, which would be highly divisive for the country as a whole and which now very clearly distinguishes us from Corbyn and Labour.

The motion also says that “No deal” must stay on the table – which only makes sense. It is the one thing the EU are really frightened of, so why should we throw away our best negotiating card – for nothing? What sensible businessman or woman entering a tough negotiation would ever do such a crazy thing? The National Convention motion offered no qualification about not leaving in the event of No Deal. Indeed, the Manifesto on which I,  and virtually every other Conservative candidate stood at the 2017 General Election, declared that “we continue to believe that no deal is better than a bad deal for the UK.”

I welcome the suggestion, advanced on this site and supported by Jacob Rees-Mogg and others, that local Conservative Associations should now follow the clear lead of their senior Voluntary Party colleagues by debating and passing the same motion, at their Annual General Meetings around the country, most of which will take place during the “AGM season” next month.

This would send a powerful signal to Downing Street and to CCHQ that the Voluntary Party is resolved – and can no longer be taken for granted. It is, after all, the necks of voluntary party members that will be on the block in May if this unforgivable shambles continues and so they should be allowed their say, from Hastings and Rye and Runnymede, right through to Portsmouth North and Bromsgrove.

Summary

In summary, collective responsibility has self-evidently broken down in Parliament and the Government is staggering from one daily crisis to the next. Yesterday’s events in the Commons made that undeniably apparent.

If we extend Article 50, and just kick the can down the road – yet again –  we are likely to see our local government candidates massively punished in the May local elections. Even leaving aside the so-called “Brexit Party” (with which I have absolutely no truck) this punishment will likely be administered by a mass abstention of Conservative voters, over 70 per cent of whom voted to Leave, but who are increasingly incensed by Conservative MPs, including Cabinet and junior ministers, blatantly doing all they can to try and stop us leaving the EU, despite the clear verdict of the 2016 Referendum.

So speaking purely for myself, and not for the ERG, I believe it is time for the rest of our local associations around the country to follow the clear lead of the National Conservative Convention and stand up and be counted before it is too late.  We have spent nearly three years waiting for Brexit. Now is the time for our party members, the poor bloody infantry, to ensure that we finally succeed in delivering it.

Finally, today, February 28, is also D-29.  If we hold our nerve as a Party then in under one month this country will be free. This is a great prize that 17.4 million of our fellow countrymen voted for – and is surely well worth fighting for.

Garvan Walshe: Assailed by police, polls and a triumvirate of ex-generals, can Netanyahu hold on to power?

The odds are stacking ever higher against the man who has dominated his country’s politics for years.

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party. He runs TRD Policy.

As Israelis go to the polls, police investigations are closing in on Balfour Street, and its most famous inhabitant, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel has a system of pure proportional representation in which potential Prime Ministers have two hurdles to clear. First, be the first to be asked to form a coalition (it’s usually enough to be the single biggest party), and then to assemble the 61 votes needed for a majority in the Knesset. 

Netanyahu has dominated this process for a decade. A skilled communicator, perhaps the last of the Clinton-Blair golden generation, he first corrals enough of the right-wing vote into his Likud party, and then deploys charm and extreme pragmatism to bring once and future enemies into his administration.

To assemble his core vote, he deploys hawkish security rhetoric to paint opponents as weak, naive left-wing peaceniks. He then seasons this charge with a generous portion of what in British terms would be anti-Islington populism. It’s a tried and tested formula.

But anti-elite rhetoric wears thin when you’ve been Prime Minister for ten years, and the press has long been filled with stories about your expensive private lifestyle, your wife’s princess-like behaviour and “gifts” of extremely pricey cigars from businessmen of dubious reputation.

And tough language on security doesn’t work at all when your opponent is a slate led by not one, not even two, but three(!) former chiefs of staff of the Israel Defence Forces.

Benny Gantz, the slate’s leader, rammed the message home with all the subtlety of a tank rolling over a car unlucky to find itself in a Hezbollah-controlled area of Lebanon. His first campaign videos, over the top even by Israeli standards, attacked Netanyahu from the right, boasting of how under his (Gantz’s) operation in Gaza “1,364 terrorists” had been killed and parts of the strip had been bombed back to the Stone Age. Gantz calculated that his potential left-wing supporters are so blinded by their hatred of Netanyahu they’d ignore what Oudeh Basharat, a Haaretz columnist, described as an application to be put on trial at The Hague.

Ganz then concluded alliances with Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi, the two other chiefs of staff, and Yair Lapid, who leads a centrist party. There are even family connections. Gantz’s and Lapid’s grandmothers lived in the same apartment block in the Budapest Ghetto during the war. (How long before Netanyahu suggests George Soros is behind the whole thing?)

The product of this work, called ‘Blue and White’ after the colours of the Israeli flag, now leads Netanyahu’s Likud in the polls by five seats.

If the polls hold up, Gantz would have the first go at forming a coalition. More important, the party appears to be able to reach into the “right wing” bloc that Netanyahu had made it his business to consolidate.

This matters because, until this alliance was formed, Israeli politics could be divided into three blocs: the right, led by Netanyahu’s Likud. The left, traditionally led by Labor, but more recently reconfigured in various ways, and including the Arab parties (just under a fifth of Israel’s population is Arab); and the two religious parties, representing ultra-orthodox voters. Since the Oslo peace process of the 1990s, Left and Right have been divided on how to deal with the Palestinians. 

The religious parties, part of the current coalition, mainly focus their attention on public support for their economically marginal communities, where men are supposed to devote their time to studying the Torah and women are disbarred by traditional mores from working outside the home. They have supported governments of either side, though the “Left”, which in Israel draws much of its support from the upper middle class, would prefer to see transfers to people they consider welfare scroungers cut, something the “Right” finds it easier to tolerate.

The latest polling average collated by ‘Knesset Jeremy’  gives Netanyahu and his ideological allies 47 seats and 48 for Ganz and his Jewish ideological allies. Neither is enough for a majority.

The religious and Arab parties are thus crucial. (The Jewish religious parties are polling at 13 seats, the Arab parties at 12.)

The Arab parties will not, ever, support a Netanyahu government; but it is crucial for Ganz that he can appear to have a path to a majority without them. In theory, a coalition between Ganz, his Jewish allies and the Jewish religious parties would give him the slimmest of majorities of 61. In practice, it could count on the further support of the Arab parties and be impregnable. 

Netanyahu, in contrast, would have to obtain the support of both Jewish religious parties to assemble a bare majority. Such is his desperation that he even pressured another right-wing party to merge its slate with that of a party so extreme that the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth alleged that is is financed by a body listed as a terrorist organisation in the United States. While having people officially listed as terrorists linked to a governing coalition does not entirely prevent other countries cooperating with it (it is possible to deal with Lebanon while also proscribing Hezbollah in its entirety, as Sajid Javid was right to do this week), it does complicate matters somewhat.

Netanyahu thus finds himself weakened even before the decision to indict him over three corruption cases has been made. A decision on this matter is expected in the coming weeks, and the traditional practice in Israel is that prime ministers accused of corruption have to resign when indicted.

Up against a triumvirate of generals, behind in the polls, forced to make an alliance with alleged terrorist money-laundering vehicles instead of fighting them, and pursued by the police, does Netanyahu have one last escape left in him? Israelis will decide on April 9th.

Ultimately, Begum is a distraction. The main issue is not terrorists’ brides, but terrorists themselves. Where are they?

The Home Secretary is afloat on a sargasso sea of returning jihadis, human rights laws, bewildering intelligence, gaps in the law – and a shrieking media.

There are three main takes on Sajid Javid’s recent decision to revoke Shamima Begum’s British citizenship.  The first is tabloid. (Good on yer, Saj!)  The second is broadsheet.  (Frightful! Uncivilised!)  The third is merely cynical.  The Home Secretary, this view has it, wins either way.  If the courts uphold his decision, he gets the credit.  And if they don’t, those limp-wristed, bleeding-heart, liberal elite judges get the blame.  Either way, he wins – and up go his ratings in the ConservativeHome Cabinet League Table.

We are as world-weary as the next media outlet.  So we suspect that the impact of this decision on his future leadership prospects will have floated across Javid’s mind.  But one soon grasps, on trying to think it all through, that there is much more to his decision than that.

Let’s start by focusing on Begum herself – this exploited, warped, unrepentant, atypical and seemingly not-very-bright teenager who is evidently as much of a stranger to British norms as she is to the traditional, classical Islam.  She fled Britain when she was 15, married a Dutch jihadi, and reportedly now has a baby, two of her children already being dead.

At one end of the spectrum, she could be brought to Britain and put under surveillance. Or placed on a deradicalisation programme.  At the other, she could, were the condition of the law otherwise, be put on trial under Policy Exchange’s proposed updated treason offence, were it on the statute book.  ConservativeHome is not a legal authority.  However, there’s a good case for believing that there is no present law which renders her likely to be prosecuted successfully – or, were this to happen, for her to be sentenced to prison for very long.  At first glance, the new Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act would catch her for being in a designated area or for encouraging others to join ISIS.  But it only came into effect on February 12, and can’t be applied retrospectively.

The Home Secretary was thus faced with a choice: take Begum back, with no likelihood of Government success in court, or keep her out.  The main risk of letting her return may be not so much her becoming an agent of terror as a magnet for publicity – complete with Al-Muhajiroun, or whatever they call themselves now, Tommy Robinson, Channel 4 guest appearances, and so on.  Maybe Javid could have slapped a TPIM, as the successor to control orders are called, on her – but she might have appealed it, and they are time-limited anyway.

So he decided instead to try to stop her returning.  He could perhaps have done so through a Temporary Exclusion Order, but these don’t usually keep those on whom they are served out of Britain.  Instead, the Home Secretary has revoked her citizenship.  Two points follow.  The first is that the Home Office argues that she won’t thereby be made stateless, which would be illegal.  Its view is that, until Begum is 21, she is a Bangladeshi citizen whether the Bangladeshi government wants her or not (whatever the status of her child).  The second is that the Home Secretary doesn’t seem to be setting a precedent whereby some future autocratic government can, say, force Jews to Israel or Irish people to Ireland.  The Home Office has already deprived scores of people of British citizenship – 104 last year alone.

It’s true that the details of these decisions are obscure.  The department won’t go into details, and it’s not clear whether any girl of Begum’s age who is also of Bangladeshi origin has been so treated previously.  Enquiries get a lot of nod nod, wink wink, couldn’t possibly comment, Tinker Tailer Solider Saj stuff by way of reply – which, in context, is understandable.

But now step back from the Begum case, and consider its wider implications.  The facts are hard to pin down.  But it is claimed that 400 or so jihadis have returned to Britain from SyriaSome 40 have reportedly been prosecuted.  Where are the rest?  Under surveillance?  State assets?  Whereabouts unknown?

It looks as though Javid has been running, like the Red Queen in Alice Through The Looking Glass, just in order to stand still.  The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act was clearly a plugging of previous gaps in the law.

Why did it come into effect only earlier this month?  What happened on the watch of previous Home Secretaries, including the present Prime Minister?  We started with one possible take on Javid’s decision about Begum and end with another.  We began with a picture of a swaggering cynic polishing up a leadership bid.  We end with one of a politician tensely afloat amidst a sargasso sea of returning suspects, human rights laws, blurry intelligence, gaps in the law and a shrieking media – striving apprehensively to negotiate it.

Rachel Wolf: On policy, it’s not the Independent Group that’s driven to the margins. It’s the Conservative Right.

The new group’s platform is not very inspiring – if, like me, you still feel public services could do with improvement. But its biggest problem is it they won’t be very different from the Conservatives’.

Rachel Wolf is a partner in Public First. She was an education and innovation adviser at Number 10 during David Cameron’s premiership, and was founding director of the New Schools Network.

Will the former Conservative and Labour Members of the Independent Group find it easy to come to a consistent policy platform? And will that platform be ‘centre left’ or ‘centre centre’? My answers, in turn, are “yes”, and “there is no longer a meaningful distinction in Westminster between these two”.

To explain why, it’s important to look at the wider policy background.  There’s not been much of policy discussion within the Conservative Party recently. It’s wholly unclear what its domestic agenda would be at the next general election. Brexit dominates.

That will have to change. Anyone who campaigned in the 2017 general election discovered – to their cost – that many voters cared less about Brexit than the Conservative Party did. Doorstep conversations were often focused on the NHS and school funding – where the Conservatives were repeatedly crushed.

People in Westminster are often process, politics, and personality geeks – but the public care more about issues. Miserably, Brexit has whittled the number of domestic policy discussions to almost zero. The environment has become a major policy focus because at least, under Michael Gove, the Conservatives have something – anything – to say (even if that anything now appears to include a strong support for protectionism and tariffs).

Vote Leave, of course, recognised all this. Their arguments focused on the concrete: NHS funding, immigration control. Ideas that would have a direct impact on voters.

So if the Independent Group are to survive – and grow – they will need to make a differentiated case to the electorate on issues that they care about. One of their challenges, in my view, is that the space open for them is not as wide as many think.

While Theresa May talks like a traditional Conservative, domestically her government is increasingly indivisible from one that would be run by a Soft Left (not even necessarily Blairite) Prime Minister. She may have talked about citizens of nowhere, and Gavin Williamson may engage in occasional sabre-rattling, but all the substance points in the opposite direction.

The Conservative Government has become increasingly paternalist (with bans created or looming on public health issues such as sugar; on environmental issues like plastic and ivory; and on activities like social media). Ministers no longer focus on market-based reforms of public services in health or education (many of the interventions made by, for example, Justine Greening on education were completely indistinguishable from those that Gordon Brown and Ed Balls might have made back in their day). The Tories’ commitment to fiscal conservatism remains greater than Labour, but the dividing line is increasingly narrow.

Policies that were once derided when floated by Ed Miliband – such as the energy price cap – are now pushed by the Conservatives. The toughest area of government reductions that can be felt by voters – welfare – is being softened by Amber Rudd and the toughest area of government restriction – immigration – is being softened by Sajid Javid. It is only because Jeremy Corbyn is so extreme (and because all we ever discuss is Brexit) that there remains much distance between the Government and the Opposition. Between TIG and the government? It’s not very obvious.

Let’s take an article written by Chuka Umunna in 2011 in which he makes an appeal for “One Nation Labour” and which includes the two following passages:

“there is no disagreement on the need to address the deficit – despite coalition claims to the contrary. Where the disputed terrain lies is around the speed and depth of reduction and what that means for growth and jobs. “

“What I call “bad capitalism” – unrestrained capital, highly speculative, obsessed with the short term, dismissive of the ties that bind – acts as a barrier to this notion of the good society; whereas “good capitalism” – one that is entrepreneurial and productive with good democratic corporate governance – can smooth the path to a better tomorrow.”

Both of these reflect current government policy.

Now let’s take the Conservative defectors. They themselves sit on the soft left, One Nation wing of the Conservative Party.  All three of the Conservative leavers are critical of grammar schools, and are likely to support a liberal immigration policy. Allen has been a long standing critic of the rollout of welfare reforms. Sarah Wollaston has argued for a long time for much more NHS funding. Soubry is the one who may be most uncomfortable in a centre-left party – she is clearly a supporter of almost everything the Coalition government did, including “austerity”, and she has been an active Conservative for a very long time.

Fundamentally, I don’t think that merging with former Labour members will be a challenge. They will all agree that more money should be spent by the state (including redistribution). They will share a widescale support for state interventionism. There will be mutual antagonism towards some traditional ‘Tory’ policies.

This isn’t a terrible platform for public support (other than on immigration). It’s certainly not very inspiring if, like me, you still feel public services could do with quite a lot of improvement. But its biggest problem is that it won’t be very different from the Conservatives’.

I began this article saying that policy matters. It does – to peoples’ lives and therefore what voters want to know about. The irony seems to me that, actually, the TIG won’t have much new and different to say from the current government (though they might say it in a better way with different sounding people). It is the traditional right, now criticised for driving out Conservatives over Brexit, that has no place in the current domestic policy debate.