Quo vadis, Labour Party, Quo vadis?

I am so angry about the Labour Party’s monumental failure in the 2019 General Election: their worst performance since the 1930s.  And, as a life-long leftist, I’m angry about the many millions who will now bear the brunt of what follows, with an un-restrained Conservative Party in power.  Many commentators have said “we didn’t see that coming”?  Really?  That just shows what a ‘bubble’ they inhabit.  And so I am incandescent that the defeat, if not the scale of it, was actually completely predictable, and that it was therefore avoidable.

I predicted the 2016 Brexit Referendum result; I predicted the 2016 election of Donald Trump; I predicted the 2017 Election result, and the ‘demise’ of Theresa May before the Brexit negotiations concluded, and the likelihood of another election soon afterwards.  Now I’ve predicted the 2019 General Election result.  To be honest my predictions haven’t been 100% accurate in their detail, particularly in the scale of the result this time, but in the broad outline they were right.

I joined the Labour Party to enable Jeremy Corbyn to get elected as leader.  I thought then the Labour Party needed to shift its policies to the left, partly because I had seen how the New Labour project had lost ground, especially in Scotland to a more socially radical SNP.  Then I attended a couple of local branch meetings, and it became clear that dissent and debate was not encouraged there: a distinct “you’re either with us or against us, Corbyn right or wrong” atmosphere prevailed.  I left again, but not before sending an unanswered message to party HQ explaining why.

For more than 2 years I have been saying that Jeremy Corbyn was unelectable, not for his policies but because of his personality and presentation.  I’ve been saying that the Labour Party had 18 months to get themselves into order to fight another election.  When he won the leadership Jeremy Corbyn promised a different approach to Parliamentary business: calmer, kinder, less confrontational.  These were worthy ambitions, but Corbyn repeatedly showed an inability to go for the jugular, to score in an open goal, to show anything approaching street fighting skill.  He was not fleet of foot, and seemed incapable of seeing that a long, detached, closely argued reply to a question left him looking evasive and untrustworthy.  I found myself shouting at him on the TV as often as at some Conservative politician.  He appeared more comfortable in public meetings, but it’s easier to be inspirational with an adoring public.

During the election Jeremy Corbyn said he wasn’t going to join the Conservatives “in the gutter”, but that’s where the fight was won.  When the narrative was about Labour Antisemitism, where was the counter attack on Conservative Islamophobia?  Nowhere.  Of course the Conservative party machine, and its almost exclusively supportive media, was always going to smear him in any way they could.  That’s the real-politik territory: look at what happened to Harold Wilson, Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock and Tony Benn (though Benn never even got to be leader).  If you are going to rock the establishment that’s what they do.  It’s too simplistic to lay all this at the door of Jeremy Corbyn but he gave them a big fat target which they couldn’t miss, and his detractors inside the Labour Party were happy to allow it to happen.  While Conservative messages about him (and John Macdonald his close ally) filled the media space there was no room for an alternative (or supporting) perspective, there was not enough time or column inches. People apparently need information presented in simplistic form (i.e. so many swimming pools for volume, so many football pitches for area) so it was a mistake to deploy long-winded argument.  The Conservative strategy was to repeatedly use short, punchy, alliteration: “Deadlock, Dither, Delay” while Labour spoke about degraded workers rights and chlorinated chicken. It is no use wishing politics, and the electorate, was different. It just isn’t, and Labour failed to recognise that most people form political opinions from what they see in the tabloids, not the multiple pages of essays in the broadsheets. I’ve said this over and over again: politics is visceral not cerebral. For the majority of the voting public, who don’t study history or politics, and who receive their political information in bullet points and slogans, the Labour campaign required you to think and analyse.  Labour even seemed to abandon their 2017 election slogan “For the many not the few” which had traction then. 

The Labour election manifesto was a disaster partly because it was more than a hundred pages long.  Held aloft in public, and unintentionally redolent of Mao’s little red book, it was easily derided and undermined as an unaffordable wish-list.  It was never presented, in the manifesto, as a framework for a 20 year shift in economic planning with a clear and costed plan for the first 5 year term.  It was, in effect, a manifesto for a movement, not for a parliamentary term.  It seemed the ageing part of the electorate which had, by and large, accepted the rationale of “austerity” and getting the public finances under control, sensed it was unaffordable.  The odd thing about this is that, at the same time as parts of the electorate appeared nervous about public financial thrift, other parts were building record levels of personal debt. Some voters were not able to see the sense in government borrowing (and debt) while they were prepared to fund their private lives that way. Older voters are most likely to fund their ‘lifestyle’ from borrowing against their property – through equity release schemes – but don’t see that form of credit as ‘debt’ either.

In an election where the background was of eviscerated public services, a collapsing NHS, underfunded schools, disintegrating social care, increasing crime and failure to detect, increasing homelessness, increasing use of food banks, and economic stagnation Labour should have been a ‘shoe-in’ and yet, in great swathes of the country, in their hundreds of thousands life-long Labour supporters voted Conservative.  People who would never have given a thought where their cross would go didn’t just stay at home, that’s clear from the turnout figures, they didn’t spoil their papers, they actually voted Conservative.  What does that say about the disconnect between the Labour movement (as in activists and leadership) and the voters? Our house received one small leaflet from Labour, shoved unannounced through the letterbox: we heard and saw nothing else from the campaign locally.

Brexit was a factor, yes, but the Labour party failed to see that sitting on the fence would not do:  it simply persuaded neither side of the argument that the party, if elected, would deliver what they wanted. 

  Now the blame game has started, with Labour supporters and MPs (or ex-MPs) sniping at each other.  As soon as the election was called,  ‘soft left’ Labour MPs jumped ship completely to other parties, some decided to leave politics entirely, but it was noticeable that other more centrist Labour figures, like Keir Starmer, Steven Kinnock, and others who decided to stay, were absent from the national campaign but are now magically reappearing in the media as possible new leaders!  I’m not convinced by any of them.

Boris Johnson, the Conservative leader and now secure Prime Minister, has already acknowledged that these Labour voters may have only lent their votes, because of Brexit.  In the vacuum of a leaderless opposition he is already touring the country to make sure the loan is a long term one, and he may succeed.  At my age, I may now never live to see another Labour Government.  “It’s a shame” doesn’t come close.  I feel betrayed; my collective ancestors must be spinning in their graves.  Shame on you Labour, shame on you.  SHAME ON YOU!!

And, finally, for those who don’t know the opening Latin quotation, it translates as “Where are you marching to”.

Why I’ll be Voting Labour on December 12th

I’ve just finished re-watching a DVD about, and by, Tony Benn: “Will and Testament”.  I recommend it highly, even if you think you have no interest in politics. It reminded me of my own history, and of my parents’ and their parents’ histories. It also reminded me of why I’m voting Labour, even though I think a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn may not win.

You might ask “Why are you voting for him if you think he can’t win?” My response is a) I’m not voting for a leader of a political party.  I’m voting for my constituency candidate,  b) I’m a socialist and I believe in what the Labour Party is trying to do with their manifesto.  Leaders come and go, and more than one serving Prime Minister has been replaced by their party while in office anyway, but why would anyone decide their voting intentions on the basis  of wanting to be on the winning side, rather than on principles and policy? That seems to me almost worse than not voting at all.  Not voting is a betrayal of those thousands who have died to win us the right to vote, and those all over the world who still don’t have a vote. I’m not encouraged by the fact that 30% of the electorate couldn’t even be bothered to vote in the Brexit Referendum but, PLEASE, you have to vote.  If you aren’t registered you only have until 23:59 on 26th November to do it. 

Now, back to my DVD.  Jeremy Corbyn is no Tony Benn but he’s been subjected to the same vicious character assassination that Tony Benn (and Michael Foot) was. The same vested interests, the same powerful forces, (and even some in his own party, just as Tony Benn was), have tried to make sure he fails.  It doesn’t matter that the words coming out of his mouth are much the same as those of other socialists in the past, he’s seen as a threat to the establishment.  Well, take no notice.  What is a threat to the establishment is you and me.  Our votes, for our constituency candidate, are a threat.  When I put my bit of paper in the ballot box I’m saying, “I don’t care what you think, I don’t care about the polls and the media, this is what I think”.  It wouldn’t even matter if Jeremy Corbyn lost his own seat, after all he is only one MP, as long as a Labour government was returned.  The choice isn’t Corbyn or Johnson it’s Labour or Conservative.  Left or Right.  The choice is between a party and government with a history of making the poor and defenceless pay for repairing damage caused by the excesses and failures of their policies, and one that doesn’t.  Even the right-of-centre New Labour project didn’t do that.  The choice is not between two people but between two parties whose gut instincts are diametrically opposed.  One imposed “austerity”, cuts in education, police, social care, health, pensions, defence etc., and will do more given the chance.  The other one would roll back austerity, making the people and corporations that caused the mess in the first place pay for cleaning it up.  The choice is between a party that believes having any kind of job (even one with no contract or zero hours) is aspirational, and one that believes secure work, and being paid a living wage for what you do, is inspirational.  The choice is between a party that believes the social and industrial infrastructure of the country should be in private hands, and one that doesn’t.   The choice is between a party that thinks homelessness and food banks are a Dickensian obscenity and one that couldn’t really “give a toss” (Mr Raab please note).  I know what I want.  10 years of Conservatism is more than enough.  Never mind what the Conservatives say they would do, look at what they have done.  Warts and all, I’m voting Labour.

UK Election 2019 – A Prediction of Sorts

I like to think I’m politically ‘savvy’: I’ve always been interested, even active, in politics – whether international, national or local. I have never failed to vote in any election for which I was qualified, whether that be for board members of an organisation, a union executive or a national or international political election. I have ‘blogged’ here many times on political issues and, particularly intensively, during elections. In these blog posts I have often tried to predict the outcome of elections and, to date, have a high success rate. In only three weeks the UK goes to the polls again and this time I’m struggling to make a confident prediction.

Against a background of gross social inequality, and on the back of 10 years of relentless swingeing cuts to publicly funded services, you would imagine that the electorate would be champing at the bit to vote for anyone other than the incumbent, Conservative, governing party. Apparently not: if the polls are to be believed (and that’s always a big ‘if’) the UK may be heading for yet another hung parliament or a Conservative government with a slender overall majority. Why?

Well, for one thing, Brexit. The country was narrowly in favour of leaving the EU, but based on an incomplete turnout and, shall we say, incomplete truth about the consequences and the timing. Parliament was also split on the issue, and not along party lines, but for the UK General Election the offering from the main parties is clear (except for Labour). The Conservatives want to “Get Brexit Done”, the Liberal Democrats want to “Stop Brexit” altogether, and Labour want to renegotiate and put the whole thing “back to the people” – in other words another referendum. So if you want to stay in the EU you vote LibDem don’t you? Well, yes and no. Because we have an outdated “first past the post”, “winner takes all”, system and you want to stop the Conservatives from getting a majority you vote, tactically, for the party most likely to unseat them in your constituency.

There are shades of grey in the other parties that may be standing on your patch: The Brexit Party want a hard-line “clean break” Brexit, as do the UK Independence Party (UKIP); neither have a hope of forming a government and have no real policies beyond Brexit. The Green Party want to stay in the EU, as do the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Welsh Nationalists (Plaid Cymru). In England there are few seats where a huge majority, one way or another, is going to be overturned. The outcome is going to be down to who wins the ‘marginal’ seats – particularly where the marginal consituency is (or rather was ) evenly split on the issue of Brexit.

Of course this election should be about far more than Brexit. As I wrote earlier in this piece, on the face of it, after 10 years of stagnation and dismantling of social services that disproportionately affect the ordinary man and woman, it ought to be no contest. But, as I write this on 23 November, even I am no clearer. The leaders of all the parties have issued their manifestos, and have now faced the TV cameras as never before, most recently in a BBC hosted public Q&A session. It was depressing and I felt, if this is the best we can offer to the electorate, and the wider world, God help us.

Boris Johnson, current PM and Leader of the Conservatives, is energetic but a bumbling fool. His grasp of complex political matters or the reality of the lives of ordinary people is woeful. He doesn’t ‘do’ detail and was shooting from the hip, as always, offering nothing more than generalities and exposing himself as a man who, despite knowing Latin, is ignorant. Time and again, whatever the thrust of a question, he tried to bring the focus of the event to Brexit – and to attacking Jeremy Corbyn (Labour). Jeremy Corbyn came across as detached, patrician and listless. After years in the job he is still not comfortable in front of a camera or speaking from notes; he is a presentational liability. He’s allowed himself to be portrayed as an evasive fence-sitter on contentious issues like another referendum. He consistently fails to understand that the electorate, by and large, doesn’t ‘do’ detail either. They need ‘bullet point’ answers to straightforward questions: the ordinary electorate don’t want to hear a carefully constructed, dispationate, and complicated argument – they switch off. Labour should be the only show in town. They have an exciting programme that points to a different vision of our society BUT, without explicitly setting it in the context of a 15 year plan, Labour has left the door open to it being condemned as unrealistic, utopian, and unaffordable. That’s inexcusable. It all can’t be done at once, and it isn’t meant to be all done at once, but it appears as if it is meant to be because nowhere in the 100+ page document does it say so: the only date refers to Carbon Reduction. Not only that, but the apparently eqivocal position on Brexit is a bear trap that Labour has needlessly fallen into. Another Brexit referendum will be between Leave and Remain, with the two camapaigns, as before, drawing support from all parties. It makes sense then that, as PM, Jeremy Corbyn should remain impartial but why didn’t he just say that Labour MPs will be able to vote, as before, as their conscience dictates. His personal vote will be, as before, between him and the ballot box. This is an entirely defensible position, but instead he’s allowed himself to be portrayed as indecisive or, worse, duplicitous.

I blogged here about this in 2017: see http://www.harrygoldjazz.com/2017/05/09/go-compare-politics-and-labours-train-wreck-tv/

Jo Swinson (LibDem) looked like a school governor standing in for someone else – inexperienced and out of her depth – but her main plank is “Stop Brexit” at all costs. She reminded me of the phrase my dear Mum used to say, “If you scratch a Liberal, you’ll find a Tory underneath”. I can’t imagine any of them going toe-to-toe with Putin, Trump, Kim Jong Un, or any heavyweight world leader. Oddly, Nicola Sturgeon, SNP leader, came across as most assured, but then she’s peripheral (except as a collaborator with Labour or the LibDems in the event of a hung parliament).

All the main parties will maintain, and renew, the UK nuclear deterrent which I personally find disgusting – only the SNP wants it scrapped.

And so to my prediction. With the caveat that there may be a higher than usual number of swing voters and ‘don’t knows’ out there, and a massive number of newly registered (mostly ‘younger’) voters, I believe the LibDems will pick up a few seats in England and Wales, as will the Greens. The SNP will, again, wipe out the Conservatives in Scotland and come close to doing the same to Labour – in Scotland. So, unless Labour can get its act together in the next 3 weeks, or something happens to discredit Johnson personally, he and the Conservatives will win a slender but workable majority.

However if the election does end up in another stalemate, as I increasingly fear it might, then the vacuum left at the heart of our national politics may be filled by another charismatic politician with the power to stoke the burning resentment of the disenfranchised and frustrated. 1933 anyone?

Our National Politics is Broken

The UK is having another General Election, the third in 4 years. Why? You might be forgiven for thinking it’s because of “Brexit”, but that’s not really true. The reason we are, yet again, trooping off to the polls is because our political system is broken and, as a result, incapable of acting decisively in the National Interest.

For generations the UK political system has been ossified by the competition between 2 main ‘blocks’ of self-interest. The Conservatives (a.k.a. the Tories) and Labour. The former is generally perceived to represent the interests of individual, rather than state, wealth whereas the latter promotes collectivism. Our system of elections has (until recently in Scotland) been based on “winner takes all” and “first past the post” voting that, with a few notable exceptions, ends up disenfranchising most of the electorate in a constituency by electing MPs who have garnered fewer votes than the rest of the candidates in that constituency combined.

Instead of winner takes all we could have single transferrable votes, and proportional representation (PR), and many in the wider electorate might then feel their individual votes count for something. It’s no accident that the smaller parties, and independents, are all for PR while the main parties, the great historical ‘blocks’ of power, are completely against it because it would break their control, perhaps for ever.

Voter disinterest is one result of disenfranchisement, with historically low turnout at elections of any kind, and however important. The 2016 EU Referendum, arguably the most significant decision we have been asked to make in 40 years, saw almost 30% of the qualified electorate fail to vote at all. Vox Pop interviews often elicit comments such as “They’re all as bad as each other” and “It doesn’t matter what I vote, they’ll do what they want anyway”. A political vacuum like this is dangerous as it is fertile ground for those who bring a simple message, skillfully presented, a popular promise to “break the mould”, to a group of electors who feel left out politically, socially or economically.

And so, in the UK General Election of 2019, we have the spectre of a populist Brexit Party standing candidates in most constituencies, on the single issue of achieving a “clean break” Brexit. One thing we can say about the existing, party based, political system is that most of the candidates are known quantities. Many will be either the incumbent MP, or a former challenger in that or another constituency; they have been “vetted” and sponsored by their party. They have “form” and they will, more or less, stand by a policy platform agreed by their party conferences. Nobody, so far, has asked questions about the Brexit Party candidates. Who are they, what is their “form”, what do they believe in, and how would they vote on anything other than Brexit? Apart from Proportional Representation, what is the Brexit Party’s policy on The Environment, Education, Health, Security, Defence, Social Services, Housing, Education, Justice, International Development and Aid and Immigration – oh, and the Economy?

Having seen how, for the last 2 years, a handful of Northern Irish MPs of an unrepresentative minority in their own country have controlled events in our ‘hung’ Parliament, how will it be if the Brexit Party does the same in 2020 and beyond? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

How dare they?

It seems that, every day, our Boris led 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 change in policy 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 9 years?  It takes a special kind of liar to keep an earnestly  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, Priti Patel, has now got to sound bullish about a policy of more police, zero tolerance of crime, bigger prisons and longer sentences, defending a broken system that her government has been in charge of for 9 years.  Her predecessor, Sajid Javid (now Chancellor of the Exchequer), when Home Secretary, 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.  At the same time his predecessor as Chancellor, Philip Hammond, said there was no shortage of funds for the police – they just had to be ‘smarter’ about how they spent what they had!  The then Prime Minister, Theresa May, denied that reduced police manpower has anything to do with the rise in crime. In case you have forgotten she was previously the longest serving Home Secretary, so this was happening on her watch then too.  It would seem, then, that Boris is ‘cracking down’ and spending billions (from where?) to fix a problem that apparently has only just appeared.  Where were you Theresa, Boris, Sajid, Priti when the cabinet were deciding these policies? Down the pub?

It’s true the rise in crime (and criminality as a mindset) has many, many causes.  But do they really think we will 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.  I contend that the underlying causes are almost all rooted in austerity: the deliberate policy of the Conservative party (and governments since 2010) 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 grandiose 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 from mugging right 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? When we have rising levels of homelessness, what do we expect? When we have the ever increasing use of food banks, what do we expect?

When 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”? In what looks increasingly like a run-up to a snap election they, the government, may not want us to join the dots. I think we’re better than that, at least I hope so.

Trump’s Motivation: ‘Self’ first and last.

Donald Trump makes so many pronouncements, initiates and then stops policies, that it’s hard to know where he’s coming from. But when he interferes in the politics and trade of other nations, while railing against those who would do the same to the US, you have to wonder about his motivation.

It is plain as a pikestaff (to me) that his primary, possibly only, motivation is ‘self’: what’s good for Donald Trump. The economic and political theory of Capitalism is founded on this attitude: what’s good for the individual is also good for society. Margaret Thatcher thought the same – she even said, in effect, there’s no such thing as society’. But I have no doubt that where the mutual interests of individual and society diverge, in the mind of Donald Trump what’s good for Donald Trump will win out.

So, one has to ask why does Donald Trump want the UK to exit from the EU? Is it out of concern for the UK, or because it’s good for the US, and Trump in particular? Would a fractured and fractious EU be good for Donald Trump, and the US economy (and it’s influence)? On the basis of evidence from negotiating deals with China, Canada, Iran, Mexico, etc., it is reasonable to ask how well would the UK fare in a post-Brexit trade negotiation with Donald Trump when a ‘fair’ Free Deal means whatever Donald wants or else? Why would the President of the United States, on the eve of a formal visit to the UK, apparently support two individuals who want to see the UK’s departure from the EU on any terms or none? Why do both Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, merit his support? Is it because they are a) narcisists and b) have a mutual interest in far-right politics? Certainly Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage have had regular contact with Steve Bannon, the American far-right creater of ‘Breitbart’, and proponent of denying everything and “It’s all fake news” political campaigning.

Yes, but what about Ireland?

Brexit: Take a step back, breathe, and think

Regular readers of Near Horizon will know where I stand on Brexit, but this post is neither pro nor anti Brexit. Wherever you stand, whatever your political allegiances, if what I’m going to say resonates with you, by all means share it with friends.

The resignation of Theresa May, as leader of the Conservative Party (and Prime Minister), changed very little. It was entirely predictable, ever since her attempt to increase her parliamentary majority in 2017 so spectacularly backfired. We need to ‘wind the clock back’ to find the cause of her downfall: In 2016 David Cameron, then Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister, enabled a referendum with no threshold for a result: a simple majority of 1 would have been enough to win either way. Changing a Treaty relationship with the EU (or anyone), built up over 40 years, ought to have had, in my view, a 60% threshold in favour of changing the status quo, but we are where we are.

As a result, a relatively narrow majority to leave the EU (52/48%) when 27% of the electorate failed to vote at all, exposed a faultline in the UK which was not on traditional party lines. Then Cameron resigned and Theresa May took over: a Prime MInister no-one had voted for except her own party. Then she made her first, massive, error of judgement. She invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which set the 2 year clock running to our exit from the EU with no plan in place as to how this would be achieved. The Foreign Office, and other Government civil service departments, had been eviscerated in pursuit of “austerity” after the 2008 financial crash. There were fewer experienced people to support the complex negotiations, once it was known what was being negotiated on.

The following two years showed just how difficult it was going to be, in spite of some Brexit supporting Conservatives saying it would all be easy, “a walk in the park”. It was especially so with a slender (but workable) majority in the House of Commons, but then Theresa May made her second major miscalculation: she called a General election. Only 13 months after taking office, she nearly lost. She did lose her overall majority and had to ally herself with the Northern Irish Unionists, a political disaster, and a disaster for Brexit. An open land border between the EU, in the shape of The Republic of Ireland, and the UK had been a pillar of the “Good Friday Agreement” which brought an end to 30 years of sectarian violence in the island of Ireland. Part of the Good Friday Agreement was devolution of power to a Northern Ireland Assembly, so-called “Power Sharing”, and commitment to keeping the North/South border open. The Northern Ireland Assembly has been moribund for over 2 years due to differences between the main players: Sinn Fein (Nationalists allied to the Republic) and The Unionists (committed to staying in the UK).

Then Theresa May made her next blunder. Instead of reaching out across party lines, to negotiate a Brexit “Deal” which could command support of the whole house, she went her own way. She repeatedly lost votes in Parliament, because large numbers of her own party’s MPs didn’t like some aspect of the “deal” – and especially the status of the so-called “backstop” which sought to square the circle over the EU / UK border – between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland . Despite surviving a vote of no confidence she was finally forced to quit by pressure from her own party “Grandees” – not in the national interest but in party interest.

Then we had the EU Parliament elections, elections which the UK wouldn’t have needed to participate in except the Brexit deadline had been postponed – twice. The results demonstrated yet again how polarised the UK electorate is. The race to replace Theresa May was eventually won by Boris Johnson, voted for by an electorate of 100,000 party members but, almost without exception, those candidates who he faced were from the same cohort of failed (or inexperienced) politicians who supported Theresa May until the ship was irretrievably sinking. A prime choice of PM material in a time of crisis?

A third Brexit deadline, 31 October 2019, was set. Boris Johnson decided that we leave “do or die” but then we had the failed , and illegal, attempt to shut down parliament and force a no-deal Brexit on that date. What is more, parliament forced the passage of a law which is meant to prevent Boris Johnson from taking the UK out of the EU without a deal, and it would appear his tactic is, and has been all along, to push the EU into being “the bad guys” and breaking off negotiations or refusing a further extension to Article 50.

While all this has been going on, the Conservatives have also been trying to goad and bully the opposition parties into calling an early general election. This they don’t want to do because it would create a black hole into which a no-deal Brexit would fall. Boris and his “new” team set about electioneering anyway, promising hundreds of billions of pounds for things which were not Conservative party policy, and had not been agreed by their membership or their conference. However there is no guarantee that an election now, or any time soon, would produce a different mix of opinion in Parliament, unless the Brexit Party won a lot of seats. Whichever way you look at this, we (the UK) are in a mess. Those jubilant Brexit supporters who, in the wake of the Brexit Party’s showing in the EU elections, were chanting that “out means out” and “a clean break ‘no deal’ is fine” cannot answer the simple question: yes, but what about Ireland?

It would appear this is a question that nobody has been able to answer since 2017 as it remains the rock on which the whole Brexit negotiation has been impaled from day 1. Boris Johnson finally tabled proposals to the EU which, he claimed, were reasonable steps towards compromise on the backstop, but which handed the DUP minority a veto over its future operation. It was never going to fly, and the suspicion is that it was never intended to.

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.