Remember, you heard it here first…

Here are my predictions for UK politics in the immediately coming months. I’m not sure about the chronolgy (yet) but:

By Tuesday 19th March the 10 DUP MPs will let it be known they intend to vote for the Brexit deal. Behind the scenes they will have been promised huge additional inward investment from the so-called Brexit Dividend. Arlene Foster, leader of the DUP and defacto First Minister of the moribund Stormont devolved power-sharing administration, will be made a Dame in the 2021 New Year’s Honours list (any sooner would be too obvious). The £480 million she lost in the botched “Cash For Ash” programme will be quietly forgotten.

Mrs May will win round her wavering MPs, and persuade pro-Brexit Labour MPs to back her. The vote will be won.

Mrs May will go to Brussels with a new deal based on the new Northern Ireland reality and secure a delay in Brexit until mid-May.

The day after Brexit it will be announced that the power sharing administration in Stormont is to reconvene, brokered behind the Brexit scenes as part of the deal to get the DUP on-side, under threat of direct rule and pressure on Sinn Fein from the Republic. Sinn Fein will agree that any of their MPs re-elected to Westminster after 2021 will agree to take their seats there.

The UK will leave the EU by 29 May.

Mrs May will depart from Government in June and be made a Dame in the 2019/20 New Year’s Honours list. A ‘caretaker’ leader, until 2021 will emerge and there will be no UK General Election before then.

Pigs will be sen flying in formation along Downing Street.

Donald Trump will become a Buddhist, a Vegan, and ban guns in the US.

The Price of “Democracy”

Over the past 2 years we have heard a lot about “democracy” and “the will of the people”. Here in the UK we are in the final stages of the Brexit process that seals our departure from membership of the EU.

Throughout the process, and negotiations with the EU, much has been said about the risk to democracy if the result of the Brexit referendum is not honoured. Let’s be clear, the “will of the people”, expressed in a first-past-the-post referendum where a sizeable proportion of the electorate failed to vote at all, was at best marginal. 52%/48%.

However, nothing has been said about the risk to democracy posed by a handful of Northern Irish MPs representing the Democratic Unionists (DUP). The UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, called a snap election in June 2017 because she thought that her opposition, The Labour Party, was in disarray and would lose. She had an overall working majority but wanted a bigger one, and she also wanted to wound the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who was not wholly supported by his own MPs.

She actually lost 13 seats and, with them, her overall majority: we got a ‘hung parliament’ instead. What’s more Jeremy Corbyn’s reputation was enhanced, not diminished. Rather than stand down, Theresa May sought a coalition to prop her up but the only party willing, and with enough MPs, was the Democratic Unionists (DUP). It is worth noting that the DUP is anti-abortion, anti Gay marriage, has questionable views on climate change. The DUP represents a minority of the Ulster electorate: in the 2017 UK election they polled (rounded) 290,000 votes out of a potential electorate of 1,200,000. The turnout was 65%. The consequence of her miscalculation, the importance of which cannot be overstated, is that she handed 10 DUP MPs control of the Brexit process. The island of Ireland is divided by a border between the north (Ulster) and The Republic Of Ireland which, despite its bloody history, was ‘open’ because both parties were in the EU and, critically, an open border is a conrnerstone of the 1998 so-called “Good Friday Agreement” which brought an end to 30 years of open armed conflict between the paramilitary wings of the Nationalists (Catholics) and Unionists (Protestants). When the UK leaves the EU the border will again become a land border between the UK and the EU because The Republic will remain a member of the EU, and without an agreement that border will have to be policed in some way. The answer was to cobble together a so-called “Back Stop”. The “Back Stop” is a process by which (in absence of a Brexit agreement) the EU cannot keep the UK in a relationship with the EU, the North cannot be ceded to the Republic, or separated from the rest of the UK, in thought, in deed or even symbolically.

Ever since the 2017 UK election the DUP tail, headed by Arlene Foster, has wagged the UK dog. Before they even signed the agreement to support the UK government, they were promised £2 billion of investment for Ulster (when the rest of the UK was being starved of funds). It was a massive bribe from one unionist party (The Conservatives) to another.

This distortion of “democracy” has also to be seen in the context of the dysfunctional power sharing politics of Ulster. As part of the post-Good Friday Agreement process, government of Northern Ireland was devolved to a power sharing executive and assembly based in Stormont castle. For the past 2 and a half years there has been no administration in Stormont. In November 2016 a scandal emerged surrounding a Renewable Heat Incentive (also referred to as the RHI scandal or ‘Cash for Ash’), signed off by the then First Minister Arlene Foster (yes, the same Arlene Foster) in 2012. Its mismanagement had cost the Northern Ireland Executive £480m. The Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, resigned in protest and that brought the government down. For those unfamiliar with British / UK politics and history, Sinn Fein are Irish nationalists seeking a united Ireland (with the Republic), while Unionists want to be part of the UK for ever. They cannot agree to restart government. Furthermore, Sinn Fein has 7 MPs elected to Westminster but they do not sit there as they refuse to recognise the UK Parliament’s right to legislate for any part of Ireland, and they refuse the loyal oath to the Queen of the UK. If they were to take their seats, the balance of power in Westminster might be affected.

Arlene Foster and the DUP has been instrumental in frustrating Brexit, refusing to support the government because it gives them effective control over the “Back Stop”. What is more, since the failure of Theresa May to secure general parliamentary support for her negotiated withdrawal from the EU, and the imminent danger of an exit without an agreement, Arlene Foster has been visibly shuttling between The Republic and The UK government negotiating God knows what further concessions from both. Arlene Foster’s father was a policeman, and wounded in the ‘troubles’ by the IRA, so her background is unlikely to be conducive to conciliation. It’s not hard to imagine the mistrust in the nationalist community over this.

There you have it, the price of upholding the “democracy” of the Brexit referendum result: £2 billion and counting, a handful of votes, smouldering mistrust on the island of Ireland. The so-called “will of the people” held hostage by 10 MPs, who represent a minority in their own land. Never mind the 60 million of us who live “on the mainland” of Britain, never mind the fragile future of power sharing and peace on the trouble island of Ireland, and never mind (definitely) the £480 million of the ‘Cash for Ash’ scandal. All of this rooted in Theresa May’s personal and political hubris.

So, don’t talk to me about Brexit being a threat to “democracy” or “the will of the people”. If you are worried about either of those you should look west to Ireland, and Ulster.

Deal or No Deal

I couldn’t count the number of times in the last year that I’ve thought about Noel Edmonds’s TV show “Deal of No Deal”. Of course I’m talking about Theresa May’s mantra in relation to Brexit. It has seemed more like a game show than real politik.

In the days leading up to a series of significant decisions in Parliament, which may (or may not) lead to a “No Deal” exit from the EU, I am really puzzled by the Brexiteer MPs saying that an extension to the ‘Article 50’ period risks another referendum and threatens loss of Brexit.

Are those who declare that another referendum is anti-democratic, and that we have already decided, actually afraid that the democratic will of the people may have changed?

I hope there is another referendum, though God knows what the question(s) would be. If there is, I hope we decided to remain in the EU but, most of all I hope the process is transparent, devoid of all the lies that characterised the first referendum, and is set up in such a way that a clear majority of, say, 60% is required to change the status quo i.e. our present membership of the EU. Anything that can turn on a minor majority, either way, will just perpetuate the divisions in the country.

Schools with no toilet paper?

Today we had the unedifying sight of yet another government minister on TV trying to defend the indefensible with the usual, rote-learned, mantras. “Record levels of investment this year and next”, etc.

This time it was a schools minister trying to defend why some schools, in England, are so impoverished by budget cuts that they can’t afford toilet paper (yes, toilet paper) or, in one case, the head Teacher is working in the school canteen, and may have to clean the toilets herself, because she can’t afford to employ staff.

He acknowledged that there are “pressures” but apparently these derive from trying to sort out “the deficit”. There’s that naughty deficit again. Nothing to do with policy then, and no mention of the unanticipated multi-billion hike in tax income announced by the Chancellor last month. Presumably that’s going under the mattress in case we have to fill a Brexit black hole.

He suggested that there was enough money and the problem was, really, one of budget management. He bravely offered to visit any school to help them manage their pennies better. Must be suicidal as well as stupid. It’d be too much to hope for a canteen-applied custard pie in the face – the staff are too polite and, anyway, they probably can’t afford one. Maybe he’d suggest efficiency savings by double use of school writing paper: anything marked ‘B’ or lower goes to the loo? Perhaps in his tiny mind he’d think having to wipe your arse on your work would be an incentive to try harder? How about old copies of the Conservative manifesto? Or maybe it’s just back to slates and chalks, only until “the deficit” is sorted. Tour of the workhouse anyone? Tory twat.

In case you’ve forgotten, Mrs May, I haven’t.

It seems that, every day, our UK government (if you can call it that) is achieving new standards for selective memory. I can’t work out if the ministers and spokespersons who are put front-and-centre to explain away the latest debacle really believe the utter crap they spout. Do they really think our memory, and attention span, is so short that we can’t remember who has been in charge for the last 8 years? It takes a special kind of liar to keep a straight face while talking up some patently bankrupt bit of logic, in fact often there is no logic. However, there is no escaping the conclusion: either they are lying or they simply lack the mental capacity to understand.

The present Home Secretary Sajid Javid has had the brass neck to stand in front of cameras saying that the government will think about and consider all requests from police for additional funding in the face of the crisis of knife crime in our country. The Prime Minister has stood in parliament, this week, to deny that reduced police manpower has anything to do with the rise in crime. In case you have forgotten, our present Prime Minister was previously the longest serving Home Secretary. This was happening on her watch then too. This morning the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, as good as said the police don’t need more money, they just need to be smarter and more efficient. Good grief!

It’s true the rise in crime (and criminality as a mindset) has many causes but they want us to forget that they, the Conservatives, have been responsible for policy in every area that bears on these causal factors. They don’t seem to understand that knife crime (the use of knives in violence) is a symptom of something wider: the police clamping down on that (one type of) crime will only ever be a short term gain unless the underlying causes are dealt with – and that’s not a purely policing issue. The truth is, though, that the underlying causes are almost all rooted in austerity: the deliberate policy of the Conservative party (and this government) to eviscerate public services, and privatise them, under the guise of restoring the public finances. Where they could they shifted the burden and responsibility into the voluntary sector under the grandose title of “The Big Society”. They want us to forget too that the financial crash which preceded austerity was itself the direct result of greedy capitalism.

When young, disadvantaged, people have reduced educational opportunities (because education for many has been stripped of all but the core subjects), when their only sense of belonging is that of a gang member, when rites of passage into their peer group involve crimes up to murder, what can we expect? When there are too few police to respond to any but the most urgent and high value crimes, when there aren’t enough doctors and nurses, teachers, youth workers, social workers, meaningful jobs with long term prospects, and access to support and state benefits ever harder to achieve, what do we expect? Aggression and violence (verbal or physical) is promoted as an acceptable way to behave, whether in film, music, computer games, sport, employment, personal relationships: why should we be surprised when people reach for violence as the way to express and empower themselves?

How dare they, HOW DARE THEY, say they are listening NOW, as if all these crises are new? Why weren’t they listening last year, the year before, in fact every year since the slash-and-burn Conservatives came to power? They were told. We told them. Common sense told them. How dare they act as if “We didn’t see that coming, but we’re listening now”? They, the government, may not want us to join the dots. I think we’re better than that, at least I hope so.