James Frayne: Might the UK see its own Yellow Vest uprising?

Let us hope not. It’s unlikely, but not completely impossible. The Government must battle four trends to reduce the risk.

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

We should hope not – violent protest is the last thing we want to see – but could there be the equivalent of a Yellow Vest uprising in the UK? An aggressive, popular campaign against higher taxes, poor services and declining living standards? The closest reasonably recent parallel here was the fuel protests of 2000. But could we see something broader, like we’ve seen in France?

It’s generally a mistake to think you can translate one country’s political, economic and social culture to your own. British people have thankfully (usually) shunned direct, highly confrontational protests; and French politics and government administration are very different. But the Yellow Vest movement is interesting because the issues raised and the language used are similar to those that have been used by protest campaigns here in the last 20 years.

In France, working class and lower middle class people have come together to complain about rising taxes, especially fuel taxes, apparently out of touch elites making decisions that hit them hard in the pocket, and the decline of universal public services. People are right to point out there is no coherent political ideology behind the movement (although, perhaps it would be more accurate to say it doesn’t look coherent to those that think of politics on a classic left-right continuum). But the issues raised are not dissimilar to those that have been raised by fuel protesters, early UKIP campaigners, independent Mayors, and, of course the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

So, could the Yellow Vests arrive here? With the organising power of the internet available to all, you can never say for sure, but it seems unlikely for the foreseeable future. This is for two main reasons. Firstly, most of the working class and lower middle class are only now approaching their upper limits on tax. Many have been saying they’d be happy to pay more tax if they knew it would be ringfenced for the NHS, for example. And, consequently, the polls suggest they supported the Government’s announcement for £20 billion in new spending.

The second reason is that they know that this Government is keeping Jeremy Corbyn out of power. They know, therefore, that this Government is keeping taxes relatively lower than they would otherwise be – and they also (for now at least) doubt Corbyn’s ability to run public services effectively. They still doubt his leadership abilities and his general competence. It’s hard to generate anger against a sitting Government when you know the financial alternative would likely be worse.

But we’re not a million miles away. For such a movement to become viable, four trends would need to continue. The first is that there would need to be a big increase in irritation with spending on unreformed services. While the public gave the Government’s higher NHS spending their support, a giant caveat was attached. This was the clear warning that it had better work and that the NHS had better sort waste and mismanagement out. In focus groups on this issue around the time of the announcement, people were expressing their deep concern about NHS waste. If this spending does appear to go to waste, a backlash is possible.

The second trend is for Government to continue to charge people for services they once considered theirs “by right”. The anger directed at the Conservative Party at the last election over social care is an example of this phenomenon. People hate being made to pay for things that were previously “free”. For Londoners, the introduction of the new Ultra Low Emission Zone might fall into this category. Although it’s a Labour policy, it remains to be seen whether the Government will take some of the blame for “not stopping it”.

Thirdly, the cost of living would need to continue to rise – with significant, visible rises apparently marking a change, rather than a continued gentle increase. One thing the Government will be keeping an eye on is a possible increase in heating bills in early Spring. This might see an uptick and would irritate massively, particularly against the backdrop of a cold winter.

The fourth trend is for a continued disaffection with the political class. This has been developing for two decades now and it bubbles up to the surface occasionally. If a big chunk of the public – and the majority of working class voters – think that politicians have betrayed them on Brexit, they are likely to be much more open to direct protest than they were in the past. Even if we end up leaving the EU in a way that is acceptable to these Leave voters, it’s not impossible they will have concluded that it all happened despite the best efforts of much of the political class.

It’s a reasonable bet that political activists in the UK will try to artificially create a Yellow Vest movement here; it wouldn’t be a shock to see them appear, literally, on a small scale soon. But several things will have to happen before we see a mass movement. As you can see, it’s possible that we will be in such a place at some point. We should hope that the Government takes action to avert such a movement ever gaining ground.

UKIP leader ‘not sure’ how many members of EU parliament he has

UKIP leader said he wants to turn the party into a ‘mass movement.’

UKIP leader Gerard Batten said he was “not sure” how many MEPs his party now has, as he accused former party leader Nigel Farage of being a liar for saying he planned to shift the party to the far-right.

Batten’s parliamentary group in Brussels and Strasbourg has been rocked by a series of resignations from the party, including those of former leaders Farage and Paul Nuttall. Farage said in an article in the Telegraph Tuesday that he was leaving because of what he described as Batten’s “obsession” with far-right activist Tommy Robinson “and fixation with the issue of Islam [that] makes UKIP unrecognizable to many of us.”

Farage remains president of the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group in the European Parliament, which includes Italy’s 5Star Movement among other national parties. Batten announced today that UKIP would be pulling its MEPs out of the group but did not have immediate plans to join another.

“I can’t sit in a group where the president of the group continually attacks me in the U.K. media, which is what Nigel Farage has been doing,” Batten told POLITICO, adding that Farage’s accusations about Batten’s far-right aspirations for UKIP were “lies.”

“I am sickened by the comments that Nigel Farage has made about me because he’s known me for 26 years,” he said. “It’s not far right. I’ve spent 26 years in a democratic party working to restore Britain’s status as an independent democratic state. That doesn’t make me far right.”

Batten has previously referred to Islam as a “death cult” and called for Muslims to be asked to sign a document renouncing parts of the Quran. He survived a no-confidence vote in his leadership Monday that had been brought over his decision to make Robinson — whose real name Stephen Yaxley Lennon and who is a former leader of the English Defence League — an adviser to Batten on rape gangs and prison reform.

Asked how many MEPs his party now has, Batten said: “I’m not sure myself. It’s about five I think left now.”

He said his objective was to transform UKIP into a “mass movement” and said that its membership had recovered from a recent low of 18,000 to just over 26,000 now.

“We are financially stable … we’ve got members flooding in,” he said, adding the size of the MEP group in the European Parliament was not important because they will be “redundant” beyond March next year because of Brexit. “The majority of [the party’s] MEPs have long been held in contempt by the members anyway,” he said.

The party has no MPs in the Westminster parliament.

Read this next: Trump to nominate William Barr as attorney general

Ex-UKIP leader Paul Nuttall quits party

The Euroskeptic party’s current leadership alienates top members by appointing far-right activist Tommy Robinson.

Former UKIP leader Paul Nuttall announced he was quitting the party today, blaming the current leadership’s “catastrophic” association with far-right activist Tommy Robinson.

“I am resigning because the party is being taken in a direction which I believe is harmful to Brexit,” Nuttall, who is a member of European Parliament, said in a statement. “The association with Tommy Robinson will simply appall many moderate Brexit voters and inevitably be detrimental to the cause.”

He is the second former UKIP chief to quit the party in a week, after Nigel Farage resigned for the same reason.

Current UKIP leader Gerard Batten appointed Robinson — real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon — as an adviser on rape gangs and prison reform. Batten on Monday survived a vote of no confidence in his leadership held by the party’s National Executive Committee.

The former leader of the extreme-right English Defence League, Robinson was jailed for 13 months in May for contempt of court, though his conviction was later quashed because of procedural concerns. He has also served prison terms for mortgage fraud and a passport offense.

“Putting Tommy Robinson front and center, whilst Brexit is in the process of being betrayed is, in my view, a catastrophic error,” Nuttall said in his statement. “To conflate Brexit and Robinson at this crucial moment is to put the Euroskeptic cause in danger and I cannot and will not be party to that.”

Nuttall said he would remain in the European Parliament until his term expires.

Read this next: Health secretary: UK to deploy planes to cope with Brexit medicines disruption

“Nigel always wins” was the iron rule of UKIP in-fighting. But no longer – so he is off.

UKIP’s dominant figure tried and failed to keep his party free of Tommy Robinson’s poison. The worst possible people are taking over at the worst possible time.

For many years, and to many people, Nigel Farage was UKIP. In the minds of a lot of voters I suspect he still is, despite it being over two years since his most recent stint as leader.

And for good reason. He played an essential role in giving UKIP its first breakthrough in the 1990s, in sustaining it through many difficult years, and then in its eventual period as a serious electoral insurgency. He became famous in the process, and developed into an instantly recognisable brand.

It must be said that he also worked hard and ruthlessly to ensure he retained his status as his party’s biggest fish, including in several bouts of vicious infighting. “Nigel always wins” was for 15 years or more a pretty good guiding rule of what would happen in any given internecine scrap.

But no longer. Twenty-five years after becoming a founding member of UKIP, the purple peril’s dominant figure has quit.

His given reasons are a grim reflection on the sorry and sickening state of the organisation he used to lead: it has become “unrecognisable”, “fixated” on the topic of Islam, and tainted by the presence of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, AKA ‘Tommy Robinson’, the serially convicted founder of the English Defence League, and his attendant “entourage [which] includes violent criminals and ex-BNP members”.

It is to Farage’s credit that he has decided to leave in protest. While this site merrily tweaked his tail as ‘Sir’ Nigel Farage, and rightly argued that various of his views and decisions were wrong, it should be recognised that an under-reported feature of his work over the years was a sustained effort to fight off attempts by extremists to hijack his party. We often did not agree with Farage’s UKIP, and at times we actively disliked it, but it was a democratic political party which, eccentric and even counter-productive though it may have been, was not a fascist organisation like the National Front or BNP.

His strategic understanding that extremism would doom first UKIP and then Euroscepticism, and his general allergy to anyone of any views supplanting him in control of the party, combined to ensure that while various of his members said some pretty awful things over the years, he did at least act quite severely against far right entryists. The type of threat that he was up against, and his relative success in fighting it, can be seen in what has happened since he surrendered the leadership.

Farage is far from alone in resigning from UKIP due to the growing influence of Yaxley-Lennon and his allies. Well-known figures like Suzanne Evans and Patrick O’Flynn have quit in recent weeks, along with a sizeable number of rank and file members.

The problem is even worse than it first appears: the Tommyrot has not infected UKIP by sleight of hand, or due to unintentionally lax oversight of the party’s policies against entryism. Rather, Yaxley-Lennon has been invited in – warmly feted, even – by Gerard Batten, UKIP’s current leader, who has appointed ‘Robinson’ as an advisor and includes him in decision-making at the highest levels of his party.

Batten, a fellow founder of UKIP alongside Farage back in September 1993, was always somewhat ideologically at odds with his former leader. However, he managed to survive as an MEP since 2004, then steamed through the last two years of chaotic infighting before eventually taking over UKIP unopposed in April of this year.

That clear field is not proving healthy. Where Farage had to defend his leadership position from potential challengers by continually demonstrating electoral progress, Batten appears to feel free to indulge his long-standing hobby-horse of Islam, and has embraced a combination of Robinson’s street-mob politics and the YouTube activism associated with parts of the Trumpish alt-right.

While Farage famously helped Trump to celebrate his election victory in 2016, in more recent times he has exhibited some discomfort about the way in which the Donald’s former guru Steve Bannon has lauded people like the EDL founder.

This discomfort springs from the fact that Farage is not stupid. He may be wrong about various things, but his decades as a professional practitioner of small-party politics means he has a pretty good understanding of the instincts of UKIP’s target voters, and the binary choice between the route Batten is taking and mainstream electoral progress.

His resignation article laments the attendant fall in the bread and butter work of democratic politics – council by-election candidates, local organisers and campaigners on the ground – and touches on the reason it is particularly bad news right now:

‘These are the people organising the ‘Brexit’ march that is now advertised on the Ukip website. My heart sinks as I reflect on the idea that they may be seen by some as representative of the cause for which I have campaigned for so much of my adult life…There was one last opportunity to stop Ukip being part of this probable travesty, which may well inspire violence and thuggish behaviour and, with it, give the opponents of Brexit a chance to lambast Brexiteers everywhere…We are now just a few days away from the most ill-judged political event I have ever been aware of in British politics. The very idea of Tommy Robinson being at the centre of the Brexit debate is too awful to contemplate.’

In other words, Farage fears – rightly – that ‘Robinson’, having hijacked UKIP as a vehicle for his personal jihad, will try to hijack Brexit, and in so doing smear and discredit it with all the vile associations which so many Eurosceptics fought for so long to keep it separate from. Batten has invited the worst possible people in, at the worst possible time for the cause Farage cares about most.

The “one last opportunity” referred to in the above quote was an attempt to get UKIP’s NEC and its MEPs to obstruct Yaxley-Lennon’s appointment, and potentially even unseat Batten in the process. But, breaking that once iron law, Nigel did not win. He lost. And therefore he is off.

This has real world implications, too. The incompetence of Farage’s various successors, and now the bad judgement and poisonous friendships of UKIP’s latest leader, have all-but demolished the party as an electoral threat to the pro-Brexit right of the Conservatives. Batten’s UKIP polls at around four per cent, and I suspect a good chunk of that is people who believe they are voting for Farage.

That weakness bolsters the confidence of Downing Street in trying to ignore the concerns Tory MPs, members and voters have about the Prime Minister’s EU deal. Where Cameron once assumed his critics on the right had nowhere to go, only for UKIP to prove him wrong, May now has reason to think that if UKIP is too unpalatable even for Farage then she really can afford to disdain the Brexiteers.

It’s not impossible, of course, that this might not be his last throw of the dice. Might we see the old warrior return to the field in a new guise, in the hope of establishing a new threat on the right before it is too late? It would be hard, perhaps even impossible, but we can’t entirely rule it out.

Drained of authority? Yes. Rudderless? Certainly. Humiliated? Absolutely. But May’s very weakness is becoming a strange strength.

She looks increasingly like the captive of pro-Remain cross-party MPs working together against the pro-Leave referendum mandate.

  • Good news for Julian Smith.  The essence of the Grieve amendment is that it opens up a path to No Brexit.  Very well, the Chief Whip may be tempted to think.  If pro-Leave MPs believe they have a choice between a Grieve-led No Brexit and Theresa May’s flawed deal, they will vote for the latter next Tuesday.  Conspiracy theorists yesterday evening were suggesting that this reasoning explains why loyalists such as Damian Green and Oliver Letwin voted against the Government and for the amendment.
  • But hang on. There’s bad news for Smith.  Steve Baker and the ERG leadership are having none of it.  Let Grieve table and pass as many motions as he likes, they were arguing yesterday: the Government cannot be mandated by motions.  The Prime Minister can and should tell the Remainers to bog off if necessary.  All she and her government need to do is to hang on until March 29, and Brexit will be duly delivered.  So the ERG and other Brexiteers will vote against the Government next week. Smith’s cunning plan won’t work.
  • And there is worse news for him, too.  Perhaps the Grieve amendment will have an effect at the margins on some Leavers.  But Remainers now have an incentive to vote against May next week: to prod the Commons towards No Brexit.  And the ERG and other Leavers have an incentive, too: to keep the pressure up on May for No Deal, if necessary.  So Smith’s clever plan is in danger not only of not working; it threatens to boomerang back to smack the Whips Office in the jaw.
  • But wait. Yes, there’s good news for the Chief Whip after all.  Even if they band together to vote down May’s deal next Tuesday, the aims of the Remainers and Leavers will be different.  In a nutshell, the drift of the Prime Minister’s Brexit policy, over two and a half years, has been from a Nick Timothy-crafted position with clear red lines…through Chequers and the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson…to the breaking of those lines over Northern Ireland, transition and the backstop.  The policy is softer than it was.
  • So it is now clearly in the interests of the Remainers to keep May in place.  The lesson that Grieve and company will draw from yesterday is: keep pushing.  Working with Labour and other opposition parties, they can use the pro-Remain sympathies of the Commons to their advantage.  A change of leader would probably mean a new Brexiteer Prime Minister, such as Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab or even David Davis, armed with a mandate to defy No Brexit and deliver No Deal. Why would they want that?
  • And it is not clear that Leavers on the Conservative benches have the numbers to depose her.  Jacob Rees-Mogg and Baker couldn’t find them last month.  It might be that, in the wake of a defeat for May next week, Brexiteers decide that enough is enough, and that elusive total of 48 letters is reached then – or even before.  None the less, it isn’t evident that they have enough support to topple May in a confidence ballot (though Mark Harper’s defection from the loyalist ranks may be a sign that her days are numbered).
  • The swing voters are, as ever, the J.Alfred Prufrocks of the backbenches.  According to our count, 181 Conservative MPs voted Remain in 2016, and 129 voted Leave.  Obviously, the Commons has changed a bit since then.  But the average Tory MP is a soft Remainer or moderate Leaver – perhaps with an eye to the Norway option being pushed by some of Grieve’s supporters yesterday.  (Indeed, his amendment can be seen as a pincer movement on the Prime Minister by a makeshift alliance of Remainers and Norwegians.)
  • What stirs more fear in those backbenchers – No Deal or No Brexit? Do they dread most the undoubted difficulties of No Deal, leading to a collapse of confidence in the Government, the loss of their seats, and a Corbyn-led Government – perhaps sooner rather than later?  Or do they fear No Brexit more – and the revenge of a turbulent electorate, cheated of the prize it voted for, which sends the Conservatives the way of the old Christian Democrats in Italy?  There is no away of knowing.
  • At any rate, May’s very weakness is now a strange strength.  Voted guilty of contempt of Parliament; beaten three times yesterday (the first time a government has been so for some 40 years); staring down the barrel of defeat next week, she now leads the weakest government in modern times.  But this very vulnerability is becoming a strange source of strength – or survival, at any rate.  She hangs on because her party can’t agree on a replacement.  Because while it doesn’t like her plan, it can’t settle on an alternative.
  • Could the Cabinet oust her next week?  Perhaps.  But, as recent events have shown, a Prime Minister can impose a plan on a Cabinet that it doesn’t much care for.  She controls its meetings, proceedings and minutes.  Each of her Ministers has their own ambitions and agendas: they do not find it easy to act in concert.  She has ridden out the resignations of two Brexit Secretaries, a Foreign Secretary and a Work and Pensions Ministers.  And called the bluff of the pizza gang of five Cabinet Leavers.
  • Might she resign if beaten next week?  Maybe.  But if she quits as Party leader, she will open the door to a Brexiteer as her replacement.  And it is not clear whether she could simply resign as Prime Minister.  That would put the Queen in a difficult position.  Would the latter then send for, say, David Lidington, or for Jeremy Corbyn and, in either case, on what basis?  Any such move would be resisted by the Palace.  In any event, Prime Ministers tend not to resign.  The last to go willingly was Harold Wilson, and he was ill.
  • So can May go on…and on…and on? Almost certainly not.  Leavers are losing patience with her.  Remainers are using her.  Any dash from cover risks her swift removal – whatever tactical alliances may form to prop her up temporarily.  A tilt to Norway, No Brexit or No Deal risks stirring up those parts of the Parliamentary Party opposed to all three.  The only glimmer of good news comes from her Party’s right – and the departure of Nigel Farage from a UKIP lurching wildly to the fringes (though she has lost the DUP).
  • Finally, ponder the shape of events.  Voters were narrowly for Leave in 2016.  The Commons is still for Remain: perhaps a sixth of it is for Brexit by conviction rather than calculation.  And the long and short of it is that the more time passes – and the deeper the Government’s crisis becomes – the less MPs pay even lip-service to the biggest event in our electoral history.  The tide in Parliament is for Remain.  It moves slowly – even glacially.  But it is carrying the Prime Minister with it.

Nigel Farage quits UKIP

‘The very idea of Tommy Robinson being at the centre of the Brexit debate is too awful to contemplate,’ says Farage.

Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage has quit the party after disagreements with the current leadership.

Writing in the Telegraph on Tuesday evening, Farage said that “with a heavy heart, and after all my years of devotion to the party, I am leaving UKIP today. There is a huge space for a Brexit party in British politics, but it won’t be filled by UKIP.”

He said that “under Gerard Batten’s leadership … the party’s direction has changed fundamentally,” adding that Batten’s “obsession” with far-right activist Tommy Robinson “and fixation with the issue of Islam makes UKIP unrecognisable to many of us.”

Batten appointed Robinson — real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon — as an adviser on rape gangs and prison reform, much to the annoyance of Farage and others in UKIP. Batten on Monday survived a vote of no confidence in his leadership held by the party’s National Executive Committee.

The former leader of the extreme-right English Defence League, Robinson was jailed for 13 months in May for contempt of court, although his conviction was later quashed because of procedural concerns. He has also served prison terms for mortgage fraud and a passport offense.

Farage, who is also a member of the European Parliament, wrote Tuesday that “we are now just a few days away from the most ill-judged political event I have ever been aware of in British politics. The very idea of Tommy Robinson being at the centre of the Brexit debate is too awful to contemplate.”

Read this next: BBC fails to agree Brexit debate format

Iain Dale: Why is the May making her case to 35 million people won’t vote on her deal? And not to 300 or so who will?

Plus: Keep the Brexit TV debate simple. Giving Allin-Khan and Duncan a piece of my mind. And: Carney – we’ve heard it all before.

Iain Dale is an LBC presenter, a commentator with CNN and the author/editor of over 30 books.

When you are fighting a political battle it’s a good idea to identify who your target audience is. I’m therefore somewhat perplexed by the Prime Minister’s strategy to embark on a whistle-stop campaigning tour of the country to sell her Brexit deal to voters.

The point is that the electorate as a whole won’t vote on December 11th – 650 MPs will. Shouldn’t Theresa May’s time be spent convincing her own MPs, rather than the generality of voters, to support her?  After all, they will now decide the fate of her Brexit deal, and indeed her own too.

There are echoes of 1990, when Margaret Thatcher thought her time would be better spent in Paris at a summit of world leaders than in the Commons tea room convincing her backbenchers. That worked out well…

– – – – – – – – – –

Almost as baffling is the Prime Minister’s decision to offer to debate the Leader of the Opposition on TV about the proposed Brexit deal.

Given its importance, I’m not saying that it’s wrong to seek to do so but, given her lack of willingness to debate Jeremy Corbyn directly during the last general election, it shows how desperate Number Ten have become. I suppose it’s the ‘sh*t or bust’ strategy.

Once again, her audience in this debate has to be her 315 colleagues rather than the country at large. A lot of hot air has been expelled on this debate by people desperate to muscle in on it. In the last few days we’ve had the ludicrous sight to both Boris Johnson and the People’s Vote campaign pleading to be let onto the stage too.

No doubt the Liberal Democrats, Greens and UKIP think they should have a representative there too, not to mention the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the DUP. How utterly ridiculous.

May and Corbyn are the only two possible people who can negotiate a Brexit deal at present – the current Prime Minister, or the man who might be were a general election to take place. It would be preposterous to have anyone else on the stage apart from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

– – – – – – – – – –

I was on Politics Live on Tuesday with Rosena Allin-Khan, the Labour MP for Tooting, and Alan Duncan, the Europe Minister.

Rosena is seen as a rising star in the Labour Party and is appearing everywhere in the media. I was, however, slightly disappointed that all she did throughout the programme was trot out the party line and a few vacuous soundbites.

OK, she’s a politician hoping to be promoted, but it was disappointing nonetheless. She argued that there was an exodus of companies leaving this country for the EU, and jobs are leaving the City of London in droves.

Patent nonsense – so I decided to take her on. I simply asked her to name one big company that had left the country because of Brexit. She couldn’t name a single one. Had I been quicker witted, I could have talked about the major Dutch publishing group which has relocated to London, or the fact that Chanel is moving here from Paris.

Alan Duncan also disappointed me by making specious claims about the links between Breitbart, the Leave campaign and the Russians. So I’m afraid he got the benefit of my views as well!

It’s the second time I have been on Politics Live, and I have to say I think it has really found its feet. It’s very different to its predecessor, the Daily and Sunday Politics, and no doubt cheaper to make, but in many ways it is much more watchable, and I suspect it has more ‘stickability’. If you like the guest lineup, I suspect you’ll stick with the whole programme rather than tune out halfway through.

– – – – – – – – –

It’s entirely right for the Bank of England to look at what effect the various forms of Brexit would have on the UK economy. What is not right for it to be partisan.

Mark Carney said he was not making predictions but looking at ‘scenarios’. Utter rot. If that was his aim he’d have modelled the various ‘best scenarios’ too, but those didn’t get a look in.

What about if the Eurozone collapses? What if the Italian banking sector collapses? Wouldn’t we be better off out in those circumstances? I’m afraid I take the Governor’s warnings with a respectful pinch of salt, because we’ve heard it all before.

B.O.Bs v P.A.Ms

It’s the Bored of Brexits versus People against May, as she seeks to snoreathon her way to victory – by persuading MPs that voters have simply had enough.

Once purdah was over, the Remain and Leave campaigns boxed, during the EU referendum campaign, on more or less even terms.  The primary emotions they aimed to stir were fear and anger respectively: anger with Brussels; fear of leaving.  This balance of argument was reflected in the TV debates, in which the mutual stars of both sides were pitched against each other, and to which we will return later today.

The fortnight or so between now and the “meaningful vote” will be nothing like that.  The Prime Minister still commands the bully pulpit of Downing Street, but there will be no Vote Leave or Britain Stronger in Europe campaign to oppose her.  So what is she up to, since there is no referendum on her proposals, and voters have no direct say on them?

The answer is that she hopes to collapse the present majority of MPs against her plan by means of pressure from their constituents.  We are sceptical of claims that almost 100 Conservative MPs are committed to vote against it.  But there can be no doubt that at least 50 are on record as saying they won’t support it.

Add that total to the opposition parties, and Theresa May is up against it.  Furthermore, the evidence suggests that voters have not yet got their heads around her agreement.  According to Lord Ashcroft’s polling, voters “were slightly more likely than not to say they thought the agreement was better than leaving the EU with no deal”.  But “by a 20-point margin, voters as a whole said MPs should “vote to reject the agreement, even if it is not clear what the outcome would then be”.

In some ways, her strategy will clearly be Project Fear Revisited.  There will be apocalyptic forecasts of economic collapse if the deal is rejected.  The Government will surely try to slice and dice these for individual constituencies, and contrast them against claims of higher living standards if the deal goes through Parliament.  But voters have seen Project Fear discredited once, with its warnings of an immediate recession and 500,00 unemployed, and are likely to treat it, second time round, with even more cynicism than before.

However, the Prime Minister has a new card to play.  “The British people don’t want to spend any more time arguing about Brexit,” she said yesterday.  This is the heart of her pitch.  Not an attempt to sell the merits of the agreement, such as they are; but rather, the exploitation of Brexit war-weariness.  “Enough is enough.”  “Get it all over with.”  “Let’s move on.”  “People are sick and tired of it.”  You can see the emotional core of the “campaign”, as May labelled it yesterday, beginning to take shape.  She aims to bore her way to victory.

The Prime Minister is trying to assemble a broad coalition big enough to turn MPs round.  It will include Leavers who think she’s done enough, and who fear No Brexit if her plan fails.  To this audience, May will stress immigration control.  A big slice of it is in Labour-held midlands and northern seats.  It will also take in Remainers who respect the referendum result, and fear No Deal if the deal falls.  To these people, May will push her economic pitch.  Quite a bit of it is in the bluer south-east, plus London.

Above all, the Prime Minister will speak to the unengaged punter who has had enough of the whole business.  These are what Jeremy Hunt yesterday nicknamed B.O.Bs – those Bored with Brexit.  Downing Street will try to paint a picture of a dogged, moderate, determined woman, acting in the national interest, opposed by a band of selfish, opportunistic, Eton-educated men, crazed by fanaticism and (we predict) misogyny.  This message will be projected hard to this audience, and to those Tory members whose instinct is to follow their leader.

Against it will be set another coalition.  It will take in Remainers who want a second referendum, and want to see May’s plan voted down so they can get it; Leavers who hate its central feature – that the UK will be tied to it without a guaranteed means of escape – and would rather risk no deal; Conservative members who don’t like the look of it, and feel ignored and patronised by successive party leaders; Labour activists manoeuvering for a general election; the DUP; the UKIP remnant; Nicola Sturgeon.

Up for play is the biggest group of voters of all – namely, those who treat everything Ministers say with suspicion because they think all politicians are liars.  The Prime Minister will find this demographic to be particularly hard work.  All in all, against the B.O.Bs, the Bored of Brexits, will be set the P.A.Ms – People against May, of which there are rather a lot.  A prize for the first ConservativeHome reader who spots a Government Minister suggesting that Vladimir Putin is actively engaged in bringing the deal down.

Talking of leaders abroad, one group of people we will presumably hear nothing very much from are the Commission plus the EU27: Jean-Claude Juncker, Angela Merkel, Martin Selmayr, and so on.  But this is to fail to take account of Emmanuel Macron, who has helpfully pointed out that the EU expects its access to Britain’s fish to continue post-deal.  Take that, David Mundell!

The essence of the case against the agreement is that no country should sign up to a deal it isn’t free to leave; that this one would dynamite the independent trade policy that should be part of Brexit – and that the package threatens the stability of the UK.  This time round, there is no Dominic Cummings to weaponise it.  Party members will be torn between respect for the leader and dislike of the deal.

So the disparate coalition that opposes the deal has little time to weld itself into a coherent force.  Andrew Adonis must somehow find a way of co-ordinating with Boris Johnson, and vice-versa (a tall order).  It’s B.O.Bs v P.A.Ms – and in between them, the 650 or so people who will decide.

Nigel Farage: UKIP ‘finished’ if it brings in far-right activist

Anti-Islam activist Tommy Robinson should not become member, says former UKIP leader.

Nigel Farage on Friday urged UKIP leader Gerard Batten to step down over his appointment of far-right activist Tommy Robinson as an adviser to the party.

In an interview with BBC’s today program Friday, the former UKIP leader said he was “appalled” by Batten’s decision and claimed it was time to “get rid” of him and “reclaim the party.”

Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, was approached to advise Batten on grooming gangs and prisons. He has convictions for public order offenses, drugs and assault and has been to prison on multiple occasions, including for mortgage fraud.

As founder of the far-right English Defence League (EDL), Robinson is currently banned from joining UKIP. However, the party said earlier this week that Batten is formally seeking to start the process for Robinson to become a member.

Batten has a “sort of fixation with Tommy Robinson and discussing Islam and dragging UKIP into a direction that would effectively be a sort of street activist party,” Farage said.

The move would take the party in a “shameful direction,” he added, saying it would undermine UKIP’s standing as a “non-racist, non-sectarian party.”

Farage also said Batten intends to establish Robinson as a “big player in the Brexit debate,” a move he said “will damage the Leave cause of this country.”

“If [UKIP] continues in this direction, electorally it is finished,” he said.

Read this next: Diplomats puzzled at Theresa May’s Brussels visit

May’s Brexit deal helps to show that British politicians are more honourable and efficient than is claimed

There has been a tendency to suppose that because Britain’s power has declined in relative terms they must have become totally useless.

Why on earth do we run ourselves down so much? A presumption of inferiority, incompetence, decline, failure, humiliation and catastrophe saps our politics.

UKIP is a party dedicated to the proposition that everything has got worse since the 1950s. The Corbynistas are convinced that things in the Labour Party went wrong at the latest in 1983, when Neil Kinnock became leader.

And during the EU Referendum, this propensity to run ourselves down became the driving force of the campaign, with each side denouncing the other in unmeasured terms. The fact that (as we were told) this was a one-off contest, which each side felt it had to win, meant there appeared to be no reason to hold back.

So no prominent figures on either side admitted there might be something in their opponents’ arguments, or expressed the dilemma of floating voters who could see merit both in the view that it is more democratic to run our own affairs as a sovereign nation, and in the contention that we cannot be indifferent to future developments on the continent of Europe, so ought as a matter of common prudence and decency to remain members of the European Union.

We instead found ourselves assaulted by both sides with speculative assertions about the economy which were presented as matters of unquestionable fact. The more one listened to these forecasts, the less one felt one knew about the balance of advantage, for the insulting assumption was that as voters, we were not merely venal, but extremely dim.

You may recall the dreadfully repetitive argument about the number on the outside of the Leave bus. Exposing this figure as a lie was felt to be a sufficient argument against Brexit, for this must demonstrate that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove were such despicable people they could not be trusted with anything.

Ad hominem attack supplanted any consideration of the principles of British foreign policy, and to what extent these can be reconciled with the principles which inform the British constitution. When Boris Johnson was found to have drafted two articles, one in favour of Remain and one in favour of Leave, he was regarded, not as a sane and balanced person who could see merit on both sides of the argument, but as a shameless opportunist who did not believe a word he was saying.

For Remainers, all seemed lost on the night of 23rd June 2016, when it emerged that the Leave side had unexpectedly won the referendum. This led to a great outpouring of anger and hatred not just against Johnson, but against Leave voters, who were denounced as ignorant, backward, racist, flag-waving Little Englanders.

Every kind of barbarity was imputed to them. It was all their fault when foreigners were abused in the street. European civilisation, and European peace, clearly meant nothing to the Leavers, who were so stupid and malign they had also voted to destroy their own jobs by wrecking the British economy.

And every kind of incompetence was attributed to the British Government. As Paul Goodman observed on this site yesterday:

“A dominant narrative in our culture is that British politicians are useless – one shared by some on the right, especially at the crossover point where the Conservative and UKIP activists meet, and some on the left, notably in the Remain coalition for which belief that the Government has bungled the negotiation has become an article of faith.

“On the contrary, the deal shows, as its outlines come into view, that the Prime Minister has got much of what she wanted – including on money.”

Many, perhaps most, Londoners expected the 2012 Olympic Games would be a dreadful embarrassment, blighted by the inability of British politicians to do anything right. The press assumed the story would be of transport and other arrangements going disastrously wrong.

Instead the games went off wonderfully well, for the politicians and administrators who were running the show had learned from mistakes made by other Olympic hosts, and many years of investment were at long last resulting in frequent and reliable trains and buses in London.

When I wrote a volume of brief lives of all 54 British prime ministers from Walpole to May, I lazily assumed quite a few of them would turn out to be duds. But although many of them ended up as failures, very few of them were either stupid or crooked. For in order to be prime minister, you have to command a majority in the House of Commons, which can tell within about three seconds of your standing up to speak if you are incurably thick, and can usually detect dishonesty too. David Lloyd George did not last long after becoming notorious for selling honours.

Donald Trump would have stood no chance of persuading MPs he was a fit and proper person to become Prime Minister. One of the many admirable features of the first past the post system is that Nigel Farage has not even managed to become an MP. Demagogues have never thrived at Westminster.

I refuse, by the way, to regard Sir Robert Walpole as a crook, just because he managed to build a palatial mansion, Houghton Hall, from the proceeds of public office, and gave valuable posts to his family. That was how things worked at that time, and he was abused by the best writers.

Another great advantage of parliamentary politics is the convention, which at first sight may seem merely quaint, that Members are Honourable. Under the rules of the House, they cannot dismiss their opponents as criminals or liars, for the excellent reason that to hold a debate with someone you dismiss as a criminal or a liar is impossible.

British public life includes a wonderful tradition of abuse, upheld at its finest by our caricaturists. But at general elections, the main candidates usually exercise a degree of restraint, for fear of alienating undecided voters. Churchill’s “Gestapo” attack on Labour during the 1945 election was generally reckoned to be a mistake not just in terms of taste, but in terms of votes – a verdict some historians dispute, but with which his most recent biographer, Andrew Roberts, concurs.

The presumption of incompetence which we attach to our politicians is a valuable safeguard against disappointment, and against respecting them too much. A free people needs, if anything, to err on the side of disrespecting its leaders too much.

But there has been a tendency, since the start of the 20th century, to suppose that because Britain’s power has declined in relative terms (a development which was inevitable, once our competitors industrialised), our politicians must also have declined in quality, and must have become, in fact, totally useless.

That is unfair. They are, in general, no more useless than they ever were, and many of the public services for which they are responsible work rather well. We wait each winter for a crisis in the NHS, and perhaps this year we shall get one, but in most respects that service has become better.

A healthy suspicion of the state ought not to spill over into the conviction that it and its servants are totally useless. Otherwise why bother?