A big question about Hong Kong – and even bigger ones about migration and China

We have been here before – at least, in a manner of speaking.  In 1989, the then Conservative Government granted British citizenship to some 250,000 people from Hong Kong.  There was a paradox to the decision: Ministers’ intention was not that they should enter Britain under the scheme.  Rather, this was that it would encourage them to stay in Hong Kong, by giving them certainty about their future, thus halting a mass exodus.

The gambit was sparked by doubts about whether China would honour the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, under which the two countries agreed terms for the transfer of Hong Kong, and which was due to come into effect in 1997.  It worked.  Tensions simmered down, and there was no mass take-up of UK passports.

But there has always been a giant questionmark against China’s honouring of the “one country, two systems” provisions within the declaration.  It is highly visible now.  Two years ago, the country’s Foreign Ministry described the declaration as an “historical document, [which] no longer has any practical significance, and does not have any binding effect on the Chinese central government’s management of the Hong Kong”.

It is unlikely that China will presently send troops into Hong Kong, and formally tear up the commitments enshrined in the join declaration.  But the possibility exists, now or in the future: it is currently showing videos of troops massing on Hong Kong’s borders.  This is part of its response to pro-democracy protests, which were concentrated originally on opposition to an extradition bill, under which suspects could be sent to China for trial.  But the aims of demonstrators spread wider: they demand the free election of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive and legislature.

In essence, the settlement left by the joint declaration is unstable. For example, Hong Kong has a legislature of which only half the seats are directly elected.  And although China has powerful incentives not to tear up the “one country, two systems provisions” – which would do its Belt and Road initiative abroad no good – the people of Hong Kong cannot be sure what the future will hold.

Hence the proposal by Tom Tugendhat and others to grant British citizenship to the 169,000 or so British Nationals Overseas in Hong Kong.  Some want a bigger offer: the Adam Smith Institute also proposes to “open up the application process to the 4.5 million Hong Kong nationals”.  Some, a smaller one: the Sun wants Britain to admit “the best and brightest in the small territory”.  It might be that such a scheme would have the same effect as that of 1989: in other words, to encourage people to stay in Hong Kong rather than leave for the United Kingdom.

Then again, it might not – either now or, far more likely, in future.  And the context in Britain has changed since 1989.  Some, very largely but not exclusively on the left, support all migration, pretty much.  Others would welcome a big influx of hard-working, family-orientated, Hong Kongers: this has an appeal for parts of the right.  But even though public concern about immigration seems to have eased off recently, there is reason for caution.

As the Migration Observatory puts it in one of its headline findings: “British views are not favourable towards immigration and a substantial majority would like immigration to be reduced”.  Furthermore, Government policy is in flux.

Boris Johnson wants to scrap Theresa May’s unmet pledge to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands, and promises Dominic Cummings’s fabled Australian-style points system instead.  But it is far from clear what numbers this plan would produce – and numbers, though not everything in immigration debate, are much.  And the system faces a daunting challenge in any event.

The Government now says that in the event of a No Deal Brexit – arguably now the most likely outcome – free movement will end immediately, which would certainly be popular with many voters.  However, it isn’t apparent what system will be used to distinguish between EU nationals who have applied for the new settlement scheme and those who haven’t, to name only the most obvious of the problems bound up with immediate change.

In 1989, Norman Tebbit led a backbench revolt against the passport plan for Hong Kongers. It was less successful than advance publicity suggested.  But there is no guarantee that the outcome would be similar this time round, were the more ambitious of the Hong Kong schemes to be tried.

Ultimately, the problem of how to respond to China over Hong Kong is a sub-set of the problem of how to respond to it more broadly – which points to the wider debate over Huawei, China, our infrastructure and national security.  We could and should, as in 1989, offer some passports to Hong Kongers.  But, as then, the should and must be strictly limited.

Meanwhile, it’s worth remembering that the Joint Declaration is a legally binding treaty, registered at the United Nations.  Which means that third parties have an interest in upholding it, however distant.  In the case of Donald Trump, this might not be remote at all, given his stance on China.

Boris Johnson is due to see Trump soon – and frequently, given the mutual interest in a trade deal.  The former ought to put Hong Kong on the agenda.  Admittedly, the President is no fan of more migration to America.  But it just might be that there is an Anglosphere offer to be made to Hong Kongers on a bigger scale than Britain could make alone.

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A No Deal Brexit. “It’s not going to be the end of the world. But it’s not going to be a walk in the park either.”

ConservativeHome took an early interest in a No Deal Brexit – we have long believed it is a strong possibility – running a five-part series on it over two years ago, and then another almost exactly a year later.

But we have been hesitant in pronouncing on it ourselves.  The range and depth of the issues; the obscurity of whether law would win out over politics in the event of No Deal taking place; what that politics would be, especially on the EU side; the division of responsibility there between local authorities, national governments and the EU institutions themselves; the contestability of information that appears in the media from the UK side; the shortage of its counterpart from the EU one; and, above all, the tendency of all concerned to believe what they want to believe – all this and much more makes reading what would happen in the event of a No Deal Brexit riddlingly hard.

None the less, we believe that it is possible to trace the outline of what might take place, and that it is worth trying to do so, especially in the light of recent leaks about the state of play in UK.

  • One must begin with the fact that No Deal really would mean what it says: in other words, leaving the EU without any agreement at all.  To describe this as trading with its members on WTO terms is accurate but incomplete.  Doing business with another country or group of countries on such terms takes many forms – usually, including side-agreements.  This type would have none.  It would be, so to speak, a minimum WTO arrangement, at least at the start.
  • It is therefore a misnomer to speak of a “managed No Deal” – unless the EU signs up to a Malthouse Compromise or Clean Managed Brexit-type plan.  What the EU has announced to date is a unilateral preparedness programme.  It would be inaccurate to describe this as a series of mini-deals.
  • It also follows that the arrangements on the UK side can only be half the story.  How the EU handles its own half, including the tariff and non-tariff checks on goods from the UK that would follow from us becoming a third country, will be crucial.  In this respect, attention has been focused on the channel ports, especially Dover and Calais.
  • The optimistic view is that the national governments in question, and certainly the ports themselves, have no interest in running any more than minimal checks – and are likely to run down even these in the event of bottlenecks and queues.  This view is pushed energetically and consistently by the Calais authorities.
  • The pessimistic take is that the EU itself – with France, Germany and the Commission in the driving seat – will see No Deal through the lens of politics, not economics.  In this event, it will not be receiving £39 billion from the UK.  And it will require a hard border in Ireland in order to police its internal market.
  • The EU and the national governments will therefore attempt, according to this reading, to maximise tariff and non-tariff checks at the ports (and elsewhere).  Hence the long run of stories, including yesterday’s Sunday Times Operation Yellowhammer details, about queues in Kent – and shortages of fresh food, medicines, fuel, etc.
  • An under-written aspect of the No Deal story is the readiness, or lack of it, on the EU side of the channel.  An organisation no less critical of the Government than the CBI has said that “contrary to some claims, the EU is behind the UK in its plans to prevent the worst effects”.
  • None the less, the possibility of maximum rather than minimal checks on the EU side raises questions about the preparedness or otherwise on the UK side.  Perhaps the best way of estimating this is to follow what Ministers themselves have been saying – or try to, given the element of repetition and confusion in reporting.
  • In April, Chris Heaton-Harris, who had just resigned as a DexEU Minister, suggested that Britain was ready for No Deal: plans for it, he insisted, were “very well advanced”. He went on to criticise what he called “end of the world is nigh” stories – which were concentrated upon claims of maximum checks on the EU side, as above.
  • In June, however, Michael Gove, setting out his stall for the Conservative leadership, implied that we were not ready – calling the October 31 deadline for leaving “arbitrary” and saying that he was “not wedded to it”.  He added that a No Deal Brexit could lead to a general election and a government led by Jeremy Corbyn.
  • Since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, there have been a mass of No Deal preparation announcements, including the following: 500 new border force officials; buying livestock; ramping up HMRC; increasing local authority preparedness; redeploying civil servants; improving lorry paperwork.
  • Put all this together, and questions arise.  Whose assessment of the UK’s preparedness was better – Heaton-Harris’s, or Gove’s?  If the latter was on the money in June, how much has really changed in scarcely more than two months?  If readiness was so well advanced under May, why the welter of new announcements under Johnson?
  • Part of the answer, according to Downing Street and other sources, is that Philip Hammond did the minimum he was obliged to do, by way of No Deal preparation, because he never believed in it as an option – even though he was formally signed up to it, as he was to all other Government policy.
  • Another element seems to be that, whatever may be the case with the Government’s preparations, it is the private sector’s that perhaps should be of most concern.  Some businesses appear to have convinced themselves that a No Deal Brexit will not be allowed to happen; others, particularly smaller ones, may not be across the possibility at all.
  • Gove insists that the Yellowhammer document, with its gloomy assessment of public and private sector readiness for No Deal, is out of date – along with other similar leaks.  The Sunday Times insists that it is very recent.  The Government should clear the matter up by publishing its own up-to-date assessment forthwith.
  • This should also cover the mass of No Deal-related issues other than possible delays at the channel ports and their consequences – such as law enforcement data and information-sharing; financial services; fishing; data; energy supplies; UK citizens in the EU: i.e – the subjects referred to in the Yellowhammer report, and more.
  • There would evidently be no immediate economic upside to No Deal – though Open Europe thinks that the eventual downside “could be reduced to an average reduction in growth of -0.04% a year if the government deploys maximum mitigation measures in the form of unilateral trade liberalisation”.  We make three points in closing.
  • First, the balance of the argument suggests that the EU, noting that the Johnson Government has a small majority and believing, not necessarily correctly, that No Deal will damage the UK more than the EU itself, would seek to apply checks as rigorously as possible – in the expectation that the UK would return to the negotiating table.
  • Second, we are tending to see one side of the picture.  It is not in the interest of the Government to disclose all the mitigation measures it has put in place to prepare for No Deal.  The picture we are being painted of a lack of preparedness may therefore be exaggerated.
  • Third, potential damage from No Deal could be offset by a dramatic programme of tax cuts and structual reform.  But it must be asked whether the present Parliament would agree to this – and what the likelihood is of a government with such a programme winning a sustainable majority at a general election.
  • All in all, the verdict of Roberto Azevedo, the Director-General of the WTO, is surely worth heeding.  His view? “It’s not going to be the end of the world but it’s not going to be a walk in the park either. It is going to be a bumpy road.” He said this in the context of our original point above – that there are different sorts of WTO terms.

To those who claim that there is no mandate for a No Deal Brexit, our response is simple.  A referendum was held on whether or not to leave the EU.  The British people voted for Brexit.  Not for a Deal Brexit or a No Deal Brexit: but, very simply, for leaving itself.

Brexit should therefore take place as soon as possible, no general election having obviated the referendum verdict – and immense damage having been done to the Conservative Party, and to the country itself, by delay.

Lord Ashcroft’s massive post-referendum poll found that the main reason why the British people voted to Leave was because of “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK”.  That rationale is political, rather than economic.

In the event of the very worst No Deal forecasts coming true, we will find out how attached voters are to that take.  Or even if smaller-scale disruption takes place.

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I’m a GNU. How do you do?

Let’s start by returning to the Fixed Terms Parliament Act.  Under its terms, a general election will not automatically follow if Boris Johnson’s Government is defeated in a vote of no confidence,   Instead, there will be a 14 days window in which to form a new administration.  If during these a putative one emerges, it will be subject to a vote of confidence.  Only if that fails will an election take place.

Now let’s look at the current Commons in that light.

It is by no means certain that the Prime Minister would lose a no confidence vote as matters stand.  This is because his opponents cannot be sure that enough Conservative backbenchers and opposition MPs would combine to force him out.  ConservativeHome will look more closely at the numbers later this week.

But if he did, the odds of him then losing a second Commons vote are longer.  To understand why, imagine the following.  Johnson loses a no confidence vote.  The Queen permits him to have a go at forming another government within the 14 day window.  Johnson’s defeat in the vote of confidence that follows would bring about an election, under the terms of the Fixed Terms Act, as described above.  Some MPs willing to oppose Johnson in the original vote of no confidence might therefore be willing to support him in the vote of confidence.  Why?  Because they don’t want to face the voters in a general election.

Of course, the Queen might not allow Johnson to have another go.  But that possibility makes our point in a different way.  The only other plausible Prime Ministerial candidate is Jeremy Corbyn.  And some MPs willing to oppose Johnson in that original vote of no confidence would be unlikely to support Corbyn in a vote of confidence.

In short, they might be willing to turn Johnson out, but not to put Corbyn in.  Again, this site will probe the numbers in detail later this week.

And Corbyn is the only other feasible Prime Ministerial candidate.  Take the talk of Ken Clarke or Harriet Harman as Prime Minister with not so much a pinch as a spoonful of salt.  The J.Alfred Prufrock MPs of the Tory benches aren’t going to back Harman.  And their Labour equivalents won’t support Clarke.  And since Conservative and Labour MPs together form a large majority in the Commons, either outcome lies at the very edge of possibility.

The so-called Government of National Unity or GNU – actually, a Government of National Disunity, since it would exclude all those who want Brexit now – looks like a wildebeest, in the manner of its namesake in the old Flanders and Swann song.  I’m a GNU.  How do you do?

For all these reasons, a no confidence vote will surely be a weapon of the last rather than the first resort for the Prime Minister’s opponents.  They would get a better return by seeking to pass a Bill compelling him to seek a further extension, aided and abetted by the Speaker.  Could anti-No Deal MPs draw up a legally watertight text?  Would Johnson seek an election if such a Bill looked likely to pass?  Would the Commons grant him one?  We may be about to find out.

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The real winners of this abortive ’emergency government’ could be the SNP

At the time of writing, it looks as if efforts to put together a ‘letter-writing government’ – formed with the sole intention of extending Article 50 and then calling an election – are hitting the buffers.

For all the controversy around the handful of Conservative and ex-Conservative MPs who appear willing to discuss putting Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street for that purpose, there aren’t nearly enough of them to offset the ten ex-Labour MPs who won’t countenance installing their former leader.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Stephen Bush estimates that a Corbyn-led ’emergency government’ (the phrasing varies from advocate to advocate) would require 14 Tory rebels just to offset those hold-outs. He then reveals that they can’t even get Dominic Grieve.

As the Labour leadership are extremely unlikely to stand aside to allow a less divisive figure to do the job, the plan looks as if it might be dead in the water. Oddly, the biggest winners of this abortive effort might be the SNP.

Whilst they may no longer hold nearly every seat in Scotland, the parliamentary arithmetic is such that Nicola Sturgeon’s phalanx of Nationalist MPs would be absolutely crucial to any administration capable of outvoting the Conservative/Democratic Unionist alliance in the Commons. Unlike the hole she has dug for herself over independence, the First Minister seems to have used this leverage fairly well.

Unlike the other potential members of the rainbow coalition, the SNP have not ruled out making Jeremy Corbyn the next Prime Minister if that’s what it takes to halt Article 50. This has had several benefits.

First, they have been able to tempt both John McDonnell and, today, Jeremy Corbyn into undermining Labour’s agreed position on the Union and talking up the prospect of a second independence referendum. This has plunged an already-weakened Scottish Labour into civil war, and will likely see its vote squeezed even further as the SNP corral pro-independence voters and unionists consolidate behind Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives.

Second, this stance has allowed Sturgeon to put pressure on Jo Swinson. As the Scottish leader of a left-liberal, pro-EU party, SNP strategists might have worried that a Liberal Democrat revival might further chip away at their post-2014 coalition.

But Swinson’s room for manoeuvre is hindered by the fact that her Party’s main targets are mostly Tory-Lib Dem marginals where Corbyn is toxic. Putting a spotlight on Swinson’s swithering allows Sturgeon to paint the SNP as the best advocates for Scottish Europhiles, at very little cost to herself.

And of course, actually installing Corbyn in Number Ten would allow the Tories to re-run their successful campaign against the spectre of a ‘Lab-Nat Pact’ at the next election, not unhelpful if you think that a government led by Boris Johnson is a booster for independence.

The only possible danger seems to lie in the plan somehow working, and Corbyn entering the election legitimised as Prime Minister and as the hero who thwarted Johnson and his dastardly no-deal plans. But that prospect is probably not keeping the First Minister up at night.

It has now been two years since we first highlighted how the machinations of parliamentary remainers were bolstering those who want to break up the Union. It’s time this truth sank in.

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Brexit and No Deal. The Prime Minister has a policy, and a plan to deliver it. His opponents agree on neither.

As an exercise in political strategy, in which thought is taken for the medium-term, Jeremy’s Corbyn’s latest Brexit gambit makes no sense.  He would be unlikely even to clear the first hurdle: namely, his installation as Prime Minister in the event of Boris Johnson were the latter to lose a confidence vote.

If he did succeed in vaulting it, he would then either face a general election while his party lags in the polls, or a vote of no confidence in the Commons if he tried to delay it.

If he leaped this third bar, and regained office as Prime Minister in the wake of that election, his Brexit policy would be, in so far as it is comprehensible, first to negotiate a “Labour Brexit” that would in all essentials be almost identical to Theresa May’s “Tory Brexit”, which he opposed.

If he overcame that fourth obstacle, he would then seek a referendum offering voters a choice between his “Labour Brexit” and Remain.  Parliament might not approve it – since although Corbyn, in this circumstance, would be Prime Minister, there is no guarantee he would be governing with a majority.

If he mastered fence number five, he would then have a win a referendum majority for the “Labour Brexit”.  Harold Wilson pulled off a similar stunt in 1975.  But he was supporting the status quo – Common Market membership.  Corbyn would be offering a more partisan proposition.  If he lost, it would surely be curtains for him.

But rather than continue to list further hazards for Corbyn’s plan, let this Conservative site concede that although it makes no sense if pondered strategically, it makes quite a bit if viewed tactically.  For a start, it gets him on the front foot again, for the first time since the European elections.  The Labour leader is making the news again.

“Look,” he is saying to opposition MPs in other parties, “you all say you’re opposed to No Deal.  Well, put me in Number Ten and I’ll stop it.  Furthermore, I’ll call an election once that’s done – so you won’t be putting me in for five years.  And if I win it, then you can have your Second Referendum. What’s not to like?”

Now it will be said that a second referendum would go down very badly with voters in Leave-voting Labour seats.  True indeed.  But what else is Corbyn expected to do?  Sure, his wheeze doesn’t work strategically, as we say.  But the key point here is that there is no Brexit policy that works strategically for Labour at all.

Its London, Scottish and University seats generally went for Remain in the referendum.  So did most cities.  But the Party’s small town provincial constituencies were mainly for Leave – though Labour voters in them tended to be for Remain, a view which Labour members usually hold more strongly. Complexity is piled on complexity.

In a nutshell, London, a winner from globalisation, is going one way while its provincial heartlands – usually losers from the process – are going another.  This loss of the industrial working class is a problem for socialist countries across the western world.  It is one to which Corbyn has no answer.

But in the meantime he can at least turn the screw on the Liberal Democrats.  If his main concern is to staunch the flow of votes from Labour to them over Brexit, then this latest initative might just be helpful, and then a bit.  It is already working with the SNP and Plaid Cymru.

Corbyn will make less headway with others – such as the Independent Group for Change, of course. (Remember them?)  The likes of Mike Gape and Chris Leslie left Labour precisely because they don’t want Corbyn as Prime Minister.  They are scarcely likely to put him in Downing Street now that they have left it.

Some other independents, such as Frank Field and Ian Austin, are in the same space.  However, others may not be.  Meanwhile, Jo Swinson has backtracked on her dismissive response to Corbyn’s ploy, and is now offering to meet him for talks.  As are some Tories, including Dominic Grieve and Oliver Letwin.  Guto Bebb is supportive.

But if Corbyn is gaining some ground, Boris Johnson occupies more.  To understand why, stand back from the plots and schemes, and look at the landscape as a whole.  It is true that a majority of MPs in this Parliament have voted against No Deal, the Prime Minister’s option of final resort, and as far as can be seen continue to oppose it.

However, they can’t agree on an alternative policy.  Some still want the Withdrawal Agreement.  Others back Corbyn’s “Labour Brexit”.  Others still hanker after a Norway-type option.  Others want a Second Referendum.  None of these options have succeeded in Parliament, either.

Even more to the point, the anti-No Deal crowd can’t settle on alternative people – that’s to say, on who would form this so-called “government of national unity”.  Some want Hillary Benn.  Others, Harriet Harman.  Or Ken Clarke.  Swinson’s public position is that she herself can be Prime Minister.  Corbyn wants Corbyn.

The Commons may not be sitting, but text messages are fizzing from one sunny clime to another, for all the quiet in the Palace of Westminster. Where’s Yvette Cooper?  Find Rory Stewart. Could David Miliband come back?   Do you have John Major’s number?  Egos are being stroked; options floated; schemes hatched.

But on the one hand we have a cross-party with no leader and no policy, and on the other a Government with both.  Johnson may not have a majority, but he has a case to put to the British people and to wavering MPs, roughly as follows.

“You have a choice, my friends.  It’s either my Government with a clear policy that will honour the instruction you gave us to leave the EU.  Or this divided and disorganised rabble who agree on one point only: namely that, rather than listen to you, they will stick two fingers up instead

“Government of national unity, my foot.  What they’re trying to cook up is a Commons coup – a government that would shut out all those who believe, however reluctantly, that we must stop shilly-shallying around, and deliver Brexit.  Theirs would be a government of national disunity. Don’t let them get away with it.”

Now you may think such an appeal would work, and you may not.  But either way, the Prime Minister has an advantage over his opponents.  He is prepared to embrace No Deal – do or die, it seems.

Corbyn says he opposes it, but won’t make way for someone else in order to stop it.  Swinson certainy does – but not, apparently, to the extent that she would try to halt it by keeping Corbyn in place.  Both put their own parties and positions first. They are saying one thing but doing another.

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How not to destroy Trump and Johnson

Donald Trump and Boris Johnson both have a capacity to provoke torrents of abuse from otherwise moderate, well-behaved people. An article this week for The New York Times raises the question of whether, given the failure of the most vicious insults to have any visible effect on the President’s poll ratings, “the search for a killer line on Mr Trump is a fool’s errand”.

He has been called “a pathological liar”, “a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot”, “ISIL man of the year”, “utterly amoral”, a “narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen”, and a “terrible human being” who has made “disgusting and indefensible” comments about women, to quote but a few of the things said about him by senior Republicans.

I have not gone to the trouble of collecting a comparable series of insults about Johnson. But in the latest London Review of Books, Ferdinand Mount calls him “a seedy, treacherous chancer”, and there is plenty more where that came from.

Trump and Johnson speak well of each other, but are in important respects quite different. Johnson is better educated, more charitable, more favourably disposed towards immigrants, more loyal to the institutions to which he belongs or has belonged, and more anxious to unite people, and to restore friendly relations when he has annoyed them.

But both men have benefited, at various points, from being underestimated by their critics, who perhaps supposed that no one could survive such fierce attacks.

And supporters of Trump and Johnson sometimes get the impression they too are being written off as evil and repulsive people. Hillary Clinton was explicit about this. She said at one of her fundraisers that you could put half Trump’s supporters in “the basket of deplorables”, for they are, in her view, “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic – you name it”.

This is not very good politics. The easy hit of self-righteousness, the casting into outer darkness of one’s opponents and their followers, enables one to avoid the more difficult task of scrutinising what those opponents are saying, and working out which bits of it constitute a legitimate response to the understandable concerns of, say, car workers who worry their jobs are going to Mexico.

Johnson benefits from the same lack of proper scrutiny. In recent weeks he has made announcements on such matters as health spending, police numbers and prisons which might equally well have come from a moderate Labour leader.

The Opposition has been reduced to silence, or to fringe subjects like grouse shooting. It informs us from time to time that Johnson is a liar, but this means it cannot respond to what he actually says. By indulging in character assassination, it has deprived itself of an opponent with whom it could have an argument.

On Brexit, it insists Johnson is leading the country to perdition, but its warnings are often put in such apocalyptic terms that voters wonder whether things are going to be quite as bad as all that; wonder indeed whether it is the Remainers who have lost touch with reality.

The case against exaggerating your opponent’s faults was well put by Tony Blair in his memoir, A Journey. Here is his defence of the gentle art of disparaging understatement:

I defined Major as weak; Hague as better at jokes than judgment; Howard as an opportunist; Cameron as a flip-flop, not knowing where he wanted to go. (The Tories did my work for me in undermining Iain Duncan Smith.) Expressed like that, these attacks seem flat, rather mundane almost, and not exactly inspiring – but that’s their appeal. Any one of those charges, if it comes to be believed, is actually fatal. Yes, it’s not like calling your opponent a liar, or a fraud, or a villain or a hypocrite, but the middle-ground floating voter kind of shrugs their shoulders at those claims. They don’t chime. They’re too over the top, too heavy, and they represent an insult, not an argument. Whereas the lesser charge, because it’s more accurate and precisely because it’s more low-key, can stick.

Trump will probably defeat himself in the end. So perhaps will Johnson. Their opponents seem unable to find the right words.

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Hammond complains about a No Deal Brexit – a policy to which he was signed up if necessary. And undermined.

Philip Hammond’s Times article today is striking not for its content, which reflects what he is already known to believe, but its timing.  Mid-August usually sees the dog days of the Westminster calendar; its quietest period other than the Christmas holidays.  Yet the former Chancellor has chosen to break cover now.

The reason is easy to grasp.  Boris Johnson’s new government is dominating the political news, racking up new policy announcements almost daily: more NHS money, stop and seach, police, skilled migration.  Whatever one thinks of the practicability of some of these plans, they show a verve that departed Theresa May’s g=Government at the same time as Nick Timothy.

There is a sense that the Prime Minister will go for a No Deal Brexit if necessary by October 31, and that his aim is simple while that of his opponents is confused.  Will they go for a No Confidence vote when Parliament returns?  Will they seek to force a futher extension on the Government instead?  Is either gambit practicable?  Do they agree?  Meanwhile, Johnson really seems set on that end of October deadline, “do or die”.  That’s why Dominic Cummings is in place.  He is the man for either – by, as he has found a way of reminding us, “any means necessary”.

Hence Hammond’s rush to print today.  It would be easy to respond by pointing out that if No Deal happens, and its start turns out to be turbulent, the blame will partly, perhaps even largely, lie with him.  After all, the Treasury is the department responsible for oiling the wheels of the Government’s planned response to such an event.  That Sajid Javid is now busy applying the oil is a reminder that his precedessor did not – as fully as he might have done, anyway.  But there was a deeper significance to Hammond’s lack of urgency.

Like the other former Cabinet Ministers who have come out in his support today, the former Chancellor fought the last election on a manifesto that said that No Deal would be better than a bad deal.  Hammond will say that Theresa May’s was not a bad deal, and that the question of No Deal being better should not arise in that context.  But whatever one thinks of the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Agreement, this defence is beside the point.

Which is that the former Chancellor never supported No Deal as a last resort at all.  He believes that it will be deeply damaging – that’s clear from his Times piece today, were his view on the matter in any doubt (which is wasn’t).  His article suggests that Johnson is acting dishonestly in claiming that he wants a deal.  But with all due respect to Hammond, the dishonesty is his: for not preparing fully for an outcome to which he was formally committed – and deliberately at that – at a time when he was the second-most senior figure in the Government.

If he now wants to campaign against a policy which he undermined, so be it.  That is his right.  But if he or any other Conservative MP does not support the Prime Minister in a vote of confidence, they should lose the whip, and thus be ineligible to stand as Tory candidates in any ensuing election.  That is the norm.

Above all, Hammond’s interpretation of the referendum result is at odds with the most natural reading of it.  The ballot paper didn’t ask the British people whether they wanted to leave with a deal or without one: it simply asked them whether they wanted to Leave or Remain.  They voted to Leave.  May’s deal has failed.

And while No Deal might well be economically turbulent, No Brexit would be politically calamitous.  It would be viewed as the present extension is already seen by a mass of voters: as the flicking of two fingers by the Commons at the biggest electoral verdict in our country’s history.  Not to mention the breaking of a pledge given over a hundred times by Johnson’s predecessor: namely, to leave the EU by March 29th this year.

The damage done in consequence to trust in politics – not to mention the smaller matter of the Conservative Party’s electoral fortunes – threatens to be very serious indeed.  It happened on Hammond’s watch.  He may be in the news this morning, but he has none the less had his day.

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A UK-US trade deal. Never mind the economics (at least for a moment). Feel the politics.

“While trade deals have taken on an important political and symbolic value in the context of Brexit,” Dominic Walsh of Open Europe wrote recently on this site, “their economic benefits are typically smaller and slower to materialise than many realise.” This is the place to start when considering a possible UK-US agreement on trade.  Boris Johnson’s enthusiasm for one is as much political as economic: a successful deal would show Britain, as it moves a bit further from the EU, also moving a bit closer to America.

Such a rebalancing is a strategic consequence of Brexit, at least in the eyes of many backers of leaving the EU.  Future trade deals were a Vote Leave EU referendum priority – though it may be significant that the United States was not one of the headline countries named.  Perhaps the reason was a wariness of anti-American sentiment among a section of the voting public.  None the less, the prospect of a trade agreement with the United States was mooted during the 2016 campaign: hence Barack Obama’s line, written for him by Team Cameron, of Britain being “at the back of the queue” for such a deal.

The obstacles to one are formidable.  For while the Prime Minister is bound to view it through the lens of politics, Donald Trump is more likely to do through that of economics – though the one admittedly tends to blur into the other.  America’s approach to such matters as food safety and animal welfare, environmental protection and intellectual property rights is different from ours in any event.  Never mind the red herring of chlorinated chickens – so to speak – or autopilot claims from Corbynistas about NHS selloffs. The real action is elsewhere.  The United States has long had a protectionist streak, and is resistant to opening up its financial services markets, for example.

The conventional view is that Trump is the biggest America Firster of all; that he would drive a hard bargain, that he has the muscle to do so – and that he wouldn’t be in control of an agreement anyway.  Congress could block one if it wished, and might well do so in the event of No Deal, since the Irish-American lobby is as well-entrenched as ever.  It has been a headache for British governments over Ireland-linked matters before: remember the McBride principles.  A different take is that politics may win out in the end, because both Trump and Congress will want a UK trade deal in order to put economic and political pressure on the EU: we will publish more about that later this week.

John Bolton, Trump’s National Security Adviser, is visiting Britain.  He said yesterday that the UK will be “first in line” for a trade agreement post-Brexit – a deliberate counter to Obama’s line.  Bolton will be dangling the prospect as an inducement.  He will want Johnson to take a more resistant line to Huawei than Theresa May did, and for the UK to move closer to America’s position on Iran.  But the possibility of early sector deals – or at least the exclusion of Britain from new pro-protection moves – seems to be real enough.  As with the NHS, policing, immigration and stop and search, so with trade.  Johnson wants progress towards a quick win as a possible election looms.

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So we’ve had NHS, policing and immigration plans from Johnson. Stand ready for a schools spending pledge.

So Boris Johnson has pledged 10,000 new police officers, as well as a raft of tougher-sounding anti-crime policies, an Australian-style points-based immigration system (not to mention the relaxion of migration rules for scientists), and £1.8 billion for the NHS.  It isn’t hard to see where he will go next, and soon.

The remaining element of Dominic Cummings’s favourite set of policies – tax cuts for lower-paid workers – may have to wait for a publicity push, because these would need legislation, and the Government has no working majority.  Though the Prime Minister could try them on the Commons anyway, daring Labour to vote them down, as part of an Emergency Budget in October (if there is one).

What is likely to come sooner is a Government commitment to spend at least £5,000 on every secondary school pupil.  ConservativeHome understands that this announcement is written into this summer’s campaigning grid.  But we need no special briefing to work this out for ourselves in any event – and nor does anyone else.  For why peer into the crystal of Downing Street announcements when one can read the book: i.e: Johnson’s Daily Telegraph columns?

For it was in one of these, back during the Conservative leadership election, that he pledged “significantly to improve the level of per pupil funding so that thousands of schools get much more per pupil – and to protect that funding in real terms”.  The £5000 figure was briefed out separarely.  This promise was one of the two main big ticket spending items of his campaign, the other being that undertaking to raise police spending.

“It is simply not sustainable that funding per pupil should be £6800 in parts of London and £4200 in some other parts of the country,” the former Mayor of the capital wrote.  Just as the NHS spending announcement was framed by a visit to hospitals in Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire, expect any school spending news to be projected by a trip to schools in Leave-voting provincial England: all part of the push to squeeze the Brexit Party.

If that column is any guide, don’t be surprised to see a maths, science and IT element too – which would also be very Cummings – as well as a stress on “giving real parity of esteem to vocational training and apprenticeships”.  There is evidence that these are popular all-round, but especially among older voters.  Gavin Williamson is bound to have a supporting role, just as Priti Patel has had with the weekend’s law and order initiatives, but Johnson will lead.

Like his other spending promises, Johnson’s school pledge may not be deliverable in the event of a No Deal Brexit, and there are inevitably questions anyway about timescale anyway.  But if you want to know what more will be in his campaigning package, look no further.

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“To literally feel terror”

Boris Johnson wants, specifically, to frighten Labour off a no confidence vote and, more broadly, to intimidate the anti-No Deal Brexit Commons coalition MPs return in September.  That means demonstrating that voters are backing him.  That requires improving opinion poll ratings.  And that, in turn, means an August blizzard – yes, such a thing is possible – of policy announcements to prove that his new government “is on your side”.

So to Dominic Cummings’s trinity of an Australian-style points-based immigration system, more NHS spending and tax cuts for lower paid workers we must now add action on law and order.  The new Prime Minister promised 20,000 more police during his Conservative leadership election campaign.  To that we must now add 10,000 new prison places and greater use of stop and search powers, both of which are announced today.

Or rather we would do, if Johnson had a durable majority, and were the future more clear.  The money to fund those new prison places may not be available in the event of No Deal: it could be needed for other measures.  And sweeping changes to sentencing would require legislation, which the Government is in no position to present to Parliament.

None the less, the Downing Street bully pulpit has its uses, and if the Prime Minister wants wider stop and search powers to be available, he is in a position to get his way – for as long as he’s in place, anyway.  Today’s push should help.  As Matt Singh writes, there has already been “a substantial Boris bounce”.  It has largely come off the back of Brexit Party supporters, and this latest initiative is aimed at them (as well as Labour working class voters).

So too was the appointment of Priti Patel as Home Secretary.  ConservativeHome is told that there was a collective intake of breath in Downing Street when she said recently that she wants criminals “to literally feel terror”.  Number Ten need not have worried about how that view would go down.  There is “overwhelming support” for it among the public, according to YouGov.

If Johnson somehow survives the autumn without a general election, or wins one with a majority, a further question will arises about all these spending plans – namely, whether or not they’re consistent with the traditional centre-right commitment to fiscal stability.  The Prime Minister could be forgiven for thinking, given the probability of an autumn poll and the uncertainty of any result, that this would be a nice problem to have.

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How Johnson could play the politics of an economic contraction

Yesterday, another of the Brexit Wars’ endless fronts opened up as both sides tried to put their spin on the news that the British economy shrank in the last quarter.

On the one side, Remainers keen to jump on anything which bolsters their view that our departure from the European Union will bring about severe economic disruption. Arrayed against them are Brexiteers who argue that this is either unrelated to Brexit or at least in part due to the previous administration’s botched efforts to get Britain out.

Who is right? On one level, it scarcely matters. Both sides are sufficiently entrenched by this point that it is difficult to imagine the voter who is politically-engaged enough to register a 0.2 per cent contraction and yet sufficiently agnostic on Brexit for it to swing them one way or the other.

For what it’s worth, experts such as Ed Conway of Sky News and Rupert Harrison, until recently chair of the UK Council of Economic Advisers, seem sceptical that yesterday’s figures were the lip of a precipice. Instead, they both seem to expect the economy to grow again in the third quarter (Q3), with the Q2 dip a result of the unwinding of companies’ No Deal planning, which inflated the Q1 figures.

Moreover, the publishing schedule for this economic data means we won’t even find out if the UK has entered a so-called “technical recession”, i.e. two consecutive quarters of contraction, until after October 31.

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the Government is out of the woods – Conway says that the numbers will be a “challenge” for Sajid Javid to explain, and the Prime Minister won’t want press speculation about economic bad news undercutting his attempt to rejuvenate the Government, and indeed the country, with his new, optimistic style. The UK is also exposed if trading partners on the Continent run into difficulty.

However, there may nonetheless be a few political opportunities in the story.

First, Britain continues to outperform its principle EU rivals, such as France and Germany, on a range of measures, and raising this story with ministers will offer them more opportunities to hammer home this message.

Second, speculation about a recession might lend Boris Johnson more political cover for his clearly-signalled intention to turn on the spending taps. What might once have looked like vulgar pre-election bribes can now be recast, or at least spun, as prudent investments to bolster the economy at a crucial moment. Handy, if you anticipate an imminent election.

Finally, it can bolster the Prime Minister’s push for a decisive resolution on Brexit. Some commentators have noted that certainty around the exit date, even including the possibility of a no-deal exit, is preferable to many businesses than running their stockpiles up and down whilst the Government prevaricates. There is now something to point to which illustrates the economic risks of kicking the can.

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Johnson bypasses the broadcasters to talk directly to voters

Yesterday’s announcement of a relaxation of the immigration rules for scientists from around the world was noteworthy for two reasons.

First, because it’s a good idea, long overdue and likely to be popular.

Second, because of how the message was delivered.

There was a press release, and an accompanying evening news package by the BBC, filmed on a Prime Ministerial visit to a fusion power research centre in Oxfordshire. But before either of those went out, the actual announcement took place online, in a Facebook Live broadcast by Boris Johnson.

The video itself was short, hitting key messages on police and NHS spending before trailing the headline news, leaving the detail for the official release shortly afterwards. The fairly simple set contained a few nods to his fans (and detractors) The flag, the ministerial red box (rapped pointedly when he spoke of getting to work) and, nestled away at the back, a red bus.

No, not that red bus. Nor the now-famous red buses built out of painted wine boxes. Rather a red, double-decker, London bus featuring the Back Boris 2008 logo – a memento of the mayoralty which influenced him so much, placed carefully where a TV had stood earlier in the day.

It’s the use of this video as the first point of announcement for an important policy that is particularly significant. It’s no secret that some political broadcasters have at times been a bit antagonistic, and that there are some tensions in the relationship already. More generally, what every politician really desires is an opportunity to communicate their message directly to voters without edit, limit or interpretation.

Breaking news through a social media broadcast, unfiltered, therefore makes sense. Between Facebook and Twitter this clip was seen by at least 450,000 people throughout the course of the evening, which isn’t bad given there was no pre-publicity to warn the audience in advance. My understanding is that this is a first experiment, and there will be more such broadcasts from the Prime Minister, the audience of which will be closely studied in Downing Street.

In an age which values authenticity, this is an approach with potential, particularly for this Prime Minister. Johnson opens with an invitation, the emphasis on the personal nature of the conversation and the privileged access being offered to viewers: “I’m speaking to you live from my desk in Downing Street”. He has built his career on being distinctive, engaging and entertaining; he’s the Government’s most notable media asset. It would be madness to lock that away behind bland scripts and anonymised official statements.

Previous examples of leaders seeking such direct communication with voters spring to mind, some more successful than others. Stanley Baldwin, the UK’s earliest adopter of broadcasting as a political tool; Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous ‘fireside chats’; Harold Wilson’s sometimes ill-advised penchant for television (complete with the affectation of a pipe); Ronald Reagan’s extraordinary run of over 1,000 daily radio commentaries on current affairs prior to becoming President. David Cameron, of course, had WebCameron – sometimes a bit stagey, but always more at ease than Gordon Brown’s rictus efforts at YouTube. There are lessons from each, and all underscore that no politician can afford to stand still while the media changes around him.

It’s encouraging to see the Prime Minister’s team exploring and trying out new ways to cut through to the electorate. Making sure they maintain message discipline while allowing his personality to show will be the key. Relax it too much and it loses its bite; structure it too closely and it risks looking like a hostage video, turning off fans who want to feel they are seeing their Prime Minister as he really is. Get it right, and these broadcasts could have a really big impact.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Osborne – Brexit’s saviour?

“The reform – enacted by statute in 2011 – was generally interpreted as a typical example of Lib Dem constitutional tinkering and a concession by Cameron to Clegg. In fact, it was a Tory initiative, based on the Conservatives’ assumption that the Conservatives, rather than the LibDems, would be the party that slumped in popularity mid-term. “We have to find a way of stopping Clegg from dumping us,” Osborne told his fellow planners.  The stability of a five-year government was what the markets wanted and the Tories needed.  For that, it was worth trading the traditional right of the Prime Minister to decide the election date.”

(From Matthew D’Ancona’s “In it Together”.)

If the Commons passed a no confidence vote in a government, before the Fixed Terms Parliament Act came into effect, the latter would resign and an election would be called.

That’s what took place in 1979 – on the only occasion since the war in which such a vote has been carried – during the days of James Callaghan’s Labour Government.  He lost by a single vote.  Margaret Thatcher went on to win the election than followed, and then two more.

A key point about the Fixed Terms Act is that it replaces clarity with mystery.  If a no confidence vote in a government is carried, there is no automatic general election under its terms.  Instead, the Commons has 14 days in which to pass a motion of confidence in a new government.  If no such motion is passed in that time, an election then follows.

The Act has no answer to the question: who might try to form such a new government?  The Prime Minister, insistent that he or she can win a vote of confidence within the 14 days?  The Leader of the Opposition, making the same claim?  Someone else?

Its silence was deliberate.  “We left all that to politics,” one source who was involved in drawing up the Act told ConservativeHome.  Another reading of the same words is: “we dumped the Queen in it”.  For she must ask someone to form a government, or at least to try to.

Let us now try to imagine how theory might now work in practice..

Were Boris Johnson to lose a vote of confidence in early September, he might calculate that, if 14 days pass afterwards, no election can take place until after October 31 – whether or not the present Commons can produce an alternative government.  In which case – hey presto! – Brexit will happen.

So he would presumably ask the Queen to give him 14 days to form a new government.  Such a request would not be absurd.  For it might be that some Conservative MPs who voted for a no confidence motion to turn him out might also vote for a confidence motion to put him back in.  Other MPs could do the same, too.

This is because there is a difference between bringing down a government, with no election necessarily following, and not putting in a government, if an election must follow the Commons’ refusal to do so.  To put it more plainly, Tory MPs and others might vote for Johnson second time round, rather than face an election that could return Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister.

“Look, Liz – give me a chance to have another go,” Johnson might say – or words to that effect.  “I can win that vote of confidence: I really can.”

And given the silence of the Act on the matter, the Queen might say…well, she would be entitled to say more or less anything she likes.  She might say: “Good on you, Bozza – more power to your arm”.  Or she might say: “That’s not what I’m told, so I’m firing you – and sending for that nice Mr Corbyn”.  Or she might say: “Do you know what?  I’ve been thinking.  I’m told that the Commons will go for government of national unity.  I rather like the look of that Dominic Grieve.  So I’m going to send for him.”

For Grieve, read Hillary Benn.  Or Ken Clarke.  Or Yvette Cooper.  Or Oliver Letwin.  Or Chris Bryant.  OK, it almost certainly wouldn’t be the last, but we wanted to check that you are still with us.  Anyone for Nick Boles?

The still point in this turning world is that a Prime Minister. must always be in place  The Queen’s Government must always be carried on.  Either Johnson must be allowed to try to form a new government, in the event of this one losing a confidence vote, or someone else must be allowed to have a go.  If the last happens, Johnson will become the first Prime Minister to be sacked by the monarch since William IV dismissed Lord Melbourne in 1834.

So what’s your best guess at what might happen if Johnson loses a no confidence vote, given all the above?

We have no idea.  But the landscape would be less bleak for Johnson in such a circumstance than it might appear.  It is by no means certain that all Labour MPs would back Corbyn in a confidence vote – let alone a majority of the Commons.  Are Grieve and company really bent on installing a Marxist government?

Nor is it obvious that the Commons would vote in favour of a government of national unity headed by some grand panjamdrum.  Most Conservative MPs wouldn’t.  And nor would most Labour MPs, surely: fear of deselection, at the very least, would keep them clinging to Corbyn.

And why would Corbyn stand aside, even for a brief period, so that Sir Hillary Letwin can step forward?  Just imagine Seumas Milne’s reaction to the proposal, plus that of the other three Ms: Karie Murphy, Andrew Murray and Len McCluskey.  Oh, and add a fifth M: Momentum.

So the Fixed Terms Act could turn out, in effect, to allow Johnson a second bite at the cherry – one that would otherwise be denied to him.  The Commons might none the less find a way of extending or revoking Brexit.  But the Prime Minister should be grateful for small mercies.  And for this one he can apparently thank…George Osborne.

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The tartan Quebec?

The first words of our proprietor’s article on this site yesterday, which reported his new polling on Scottish independence, were “in the wake of Boris Johnson’s visit to Edinburgh last week”.  We suspect that there is a link between that fact and the survey’s finding – namely, “the first lead for an independent Scotland for more than two years”.

For on ConservativeHome earlier this year, news appeared of another poll – one that showed dire polling for the man who has since become Prime Minister.  It found Johnson’s ratings north of the border to be so poor “that they incited jaw-dropping astonishment and effectively put the Scottish party on a crisis management footing”.  So reported Andy McIver, a former Head of Communications for the Party in Scotland, and the author of the article in which this claim was contained.

Scotland voted to Remain in the EU referendum, and the Conservatives are weak there.  Of its 59 MPs, only 13 are Tory.  In the Scottish Parliament, the Party has half the number of the SNP’s seats.  Ruth Davidson has worked wonders there – putting a modern face on a Unionist message and taking the fight to Nicola Sturgeon.  Were it not for the revival that she has driven, Jeremy Corbyn might well be Prime Minister today.  Those 13 Westminster seats contained 12 gains: enough to make the Tory-DUP pact sustainable for the past two years.  But the Conservatives have none the less travelled a long, winding and downward road since winning a majority of Scotland’s vote in 1955.

The new Prime Minister is well aware of his standing north of the border: that’s largely why he has styled himself “Minister for the Union”.  It’s also why Scotland was the venue of one of his first visits.  It was not entirely successful – at least, if your measure is the presence of friendly and filmeable crowds.  Johnson will be identified by many Scottish voters not only as a Tory politician, or even as a pro-Brexit one too, but additionally as a pro-No Deal Brexit one.  And according to our proprietor’s poll, 46 per cent of Scots think such an outcome would be disastrous.

Furthermore, these tensions boil over into poor relations between Johnson and Davidson.  As McIver said, “Operation Arse”, an internal push to prevent Johnson from becoming Conservative leader, “was based on a combination of internal polling and Davidson’s own disdain for Johnson”.  We calculate that only one Tory MP voted for him as their first choice.

Now that arse is squashing his opponents (to adapt the image that they themselves conjured up).  The new Prime Minister fired David Mundell as Scottish Secretary – who though not exactly an opponent can scarcely be described as a supporter – and replaced him with Alister Jack.  Mundell knows more about politics in Scotland than most of us are likely to forget, but the rationale for Johnson’s decision was solid.  In the last event, he is committed to No Deal, and Mundell could not have rowed enthusiastically behind such a policy, if at all.

There may be a paradox at heart of the problem – that’s to say, the tensions between Johnson and Davidson, the essence of which is political rather than personal.  Were it not for Brexit, it might be actually easier for the Scottish Party, and that in the rest of the UK, to diverge.  After all, that election success in the 1950s, and earlier ones, were won by a party that styled itself Unionist rather than Conservative, and was in effect a separate organisation.

Some, like Murdo Fraser, want to revive a model of that kind – citing the centre-right’s approach in Canada to Quebec.  Others, like Davidson herself, declare themselves firmly opposed.  There may be other ways of cutting the cake.  On this site, Henry Hill has written that “recent speculation about a part-breakaway by the Scottish Conservatives could furnish a model through which Unionists could part-integrate their Northern Irish fellows, such as creating a Canada-style integrated party or Australia-style permanent coalition for Westminster elections whilst retaining a separate organisation for devolved matters”.

The question is whether or not a different-but-linked Scottish Party, presumably opposed to a No Deal Brexit, could say take one on the matter while Johnson takes another, and thrive none the less.  After all, “most 2017 Conservative voters backed Boris Johnson’s position that the UK should leave the EU on 31 October, with or without a deal”, according to the Ashcroft polling.  Which returns us to where we started.

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ConservativeHome’s 2019 readership has already exceeded the entirety of 2018

We normally confine updates on ConservativeHome’s traffic and readership to an end-of-year update, but today marks a sufficiently remarkable milestone that it’s worth noting in itself.

After several years of repeatedly record-breaking readership figures, 2019 has exceeded even those past performances.

In the year to date, ConservativeHome has now had more unique readers (1,997,032) and more pageviews (over 15.9 million) than the site received in the whole of 2018 – that’s a full year’s traffic in a little over seven months.

We’re currently on 8,700,355 visits to the site, too, which is just 2.4 per cent shy of the entire 2019 total, so it seems that record will also be eclipsed soon.

That’s a huge credit to my colleagues, and all our columnists and contributors, but also to our readers – longstanding and newfound – for their continued interest in and support for ConservativeHome.

Thank you all.

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Johnson recognises the importance of instinct and feeling in the Brexit argument

The Sunday Times said yesterday that though “many thought this would be a leap too far”, Boris Johnson “is starting to look prime ministerial”.

Many people will disagree. But it is noticeable how anxious his critics are to pin labels on him – racist, right-wing, posh – in order to place him in some unacceptable moral category, and condemn him without going to the trouble of listening to what he says.

This urge to reach a definitive view, which excludes other views, is an impediment to understanding what he is actually like.

In his acceptance speech, after it was announced that he had defeated Jeremy Hunt, Johnson sketched his approach to politics:

“I would just point out to you that nobody, no one person, no one party has a monopoly of wisdom, but if you look at the history of the last 200 years of this party’s existence, you will see it is we Conservatives that have had the best insights, I think, into human nature, and the best insights in how to manage the jostling sets of instincts in the human heart.”

Here is a politics which acknowledges emotion, “the jostling sets of instincts in the human heart”, rather than establishing an intellectual orthodoxy before which all else, including human nature, must yield.

To those who crave certainty, this is unsatisfactory. But we have recently been presented with too many certainties. The whole referendum debate was conducted by each side as if it was in possession of the exclusive truth, which demonstrated that its opponents were so many fools or liars.

Here is how Johnson’s acceptance speech continued:

“And time and again, it is to us that the people of this country have turned to get that balance right, between the instincts to own your own house, to earn and spend your own money, to look after your own family. Good instincts, proper instincts, noble instincts. And the equally noble instinct to share and to give everyone a fair chance in life.  To look after the poorest and the neediest, and to build a great society.

“And on the whole, in the last 200 years, it is we Conservatives who have understood best how to encourage those instincts to work together in harmony, to promote the good of the whole country.

“And today, at this pivotal moment in our history, we again have to reconcile two sets of instincts, two noble sets of instincts, between the deep desire for friendship and free trade and mutual support in security and defence between Britain and our European partners, and the simultaneous desire, equally deep and heartfelt, for democratic self-government in this country.”

Noble sets of instincts have to be reconciled with each other. We have argued for generations about Europe, and will go on arguing, because each side has a strong case.

The present Prime Minister will try to reconcile those cases, not achieve a knock-out victory for one or the other.

It is true that achievement of the October 31st deadline will be presented as a crushing victory, and failure to achieve it will be treated as a humiliating defeat.

The conventions of our adversarial system of politics will be respected.

But if we wish to understand what is at stake in this battle, or the mentality of our new prime minister, or his hopes of unifying the nation after Brexit, those conventions are pitifully inadequate.

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Is Johnson aiming for a snap election?

Version one is that, as soon as Parliament returns in September, Boris Johnson will seek, and obtain, a general election.  He will thereby seize the initiative, commit again to leaving the EU by October 31, squeeze the Brexit Party’s vote, and exploit an opposition vote divided elsewhere, in England and Wales, between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.  Although the Conservatives will lose seats in London and Scotland these will perhaps be offset by gains in the Midlands and North.  The sum of this case is that the new Prime Minister must move early before Parliament proves him powerless, now that he has next to no working majority.

Version two is that Johnson hasn’t the credibility, under such a scenario, to squeeze the Brexit Party as much as he needs to.  Instead, he must prove his commitment to that October 31 date.  And he can only do that by going for it, deal or no deal.  Which he must do until or unless the Commons votes that it has no confidence in his Government, or the Philip Hammond/Oliver Letwin/Dominic Grieve/Yvette Cooper continuum, aided and abetted by the Speaker, finds a means of preventing Brexit by the end of October.  At which point, the Prime Minister seeks and obtains an election, as above, and tries to utilise the differences between his opponents.

Which version you believe may depend on, inter alia: how quickly CCHQ can get election-ready; whether you think voters would treat any poll as a referendum on Brexit (as in 2016) or a vote on wider domestic policy (as in the snap election of 2017); what the EU does next; what any Johnson manifesto might say – would it unambiguously commit to scrapping the Withdrawal Agreement? – and, above all, whether it would be too late for an election to stop Britain leaving the EU by October 31 in any event.  A poll by which date Brexit had already happened would obviously be different from one by which it had not – especially if squeezing Nigel Farage’s party is the name of the game.

The political story of this August, unexpected foreign affairs or other crises aside, will be about these alternatives – an election that Johnson either forces himself or is forced on him.  There will be a mass of conjecture and a shortage of facts.  This will be intensified by claims about what Dominic Cummings does and doesn’t think, and he is a man who likes to throw his opponents off balance.  So for what it’s worth, our advice is to stay cool, hang loose, enjoy the summer – and rule almost nothing out.  If you do the last, you may well be imitating Johnson and Cummings themselves, hunkered down as they will be with policy wonks and constitutional lawyers.

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More than 70 per cent of Conservative Party members believe the UK will leave the EU by 31st October

The third and final finding from this month’s ConservativeHome survey of Party members is not very surprising, but important nonetheless.

Over 72 per cent of respondents answered “Yes” to the question “Do you believe that the UK will leave the EU by 31st October 2019?”

We knew that the majority of Tory members voted Leave, that around six in ten voted for the Brexit Party in the EU elections, and that a clear majority voted for Boris Johnson as Conservative leader. We also know that they are feeling fairly optimistic about the next election, since the change of Prime Minister, and newly positive about his Cabinet.

On that basis, you’d expect a high degree of belief in and agreement with Boris’s pledge to deliver Brexit by the end of October among Tory members. The challenge, of course, comes in ensuring the promise – and thereby this weight of expectation – is fulfilled. Fail that test, and every other positive number will tumble with it.

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