Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Life after high office

An excellent blog post which looks at what happens to politicians after they leave office. Theresa May is the central theme, but the net is cast much wider: Losing political office

As is pointed out, the psychological costs of political exit can be high, particularly if you have no 'hinterland'. I remember being at an event where Ted Heath was sulking in a corner and being rude. Dennis Healey read me his latest poem.

Of recent prime ministers, John Major has probably made the best adjustment, in part because he is seen as a fundamentally decent guy and not as bad a prime minister as he was seen to be at the time, surrounded by rampant Eurosceptics.

PMQs today showed what political exit can look like, both the PM and the front bench looked as if they were attending a wake in a morgue, which I suppose they were.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

How the monarch could be dragged into politics

The Queen has sought to be scrupulously neutral in partisan political matters. However, given the continuing political crisis, and the possibility of a constitutional crisis over the suspension of Parliament, it may be increasingly difficult to keep her out of politics, although the Cabinet Secretary and her advisers at the Palace will make every effort to do so. Against this background, Bronwen Maddox of the Institute for Government has written a timely and informative blog post: The role of the monarch

The key point in the article for me was that a future King might behave differently and less restrained. There have been a number of indications that the Prince of Wales might be more activist if and when he succeeds to the throne.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

How should one choose a prime minister?

This blog post from Tim Bale looks at the selectorate of Conservative Party activists that will choose the next prime minister. Unsurprisingly, they are neither demographically or ideologically representative of the population as a whole. Party activists have been called a zealocracy: Party members who will elect prime minister

This has attracted plenty of objections, but how one would do it differently? One argument is that it should be left to MPs who at least know the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates. But does this give too much power to a much criticised political class?

Some would argue that the selection of a new prime minister should lead to a general election. But that is to treat the UK as a presidential system which it isn't. Some would say it is in effect. However, following such a rule would undermine cabinet government even further.

Of course, there may well be a general election within the next year anyway, either from a position of strength or weakness for the new prime minister.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

A crisis for both parties

A very interesting blog post by Deborah Mabbett on the threats facing the existing party system, suggesting that the large two party share of the vote in 2015 was an aberrant result, rather than an indication of a reversion to two party politics: A crisis for both parties

An interesting comment is made about how both parties have an interest in maintaining a two party duopoly, although whether they can achieve that is another question. It reminds me of the first research I did in the late 1960s on the insurgent Scottish National Party in the two new towns of Cumbernauld and East Kilbride.

What was evident was that both the traditional parties felt threatened and were prepared to cooperate to defend the conventional political spectrum.

Friday, 7 June 2019

How does Theresa May compare with other prime ministers?

My attempt to compare Theresa May with other less successful prime ministers over the last hundred years: Disastrous prime ministers

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Brexit damage to social fabric

I was quite surprised when someone questioned on Facebook the fact that I have Brexiteer friends. I couldn't be friends with someone who is a neo-Fascist, racist, homophobic or a misogynist, but in general I wouldn't let politics stand in the way of friendship. One can agree to disagree on such matters, just as one can on religion. I am even friendly with someone who supports Crystal Palace!

I respect that people legitimately hold different views from mine. If we lose that from our society and politics, we are losing something essential to the maintenance of the social fabric and a democratic political system.

In some ways I find the views of hard core remainers more challenging than those of leavers. Some (not all) of them border on the arrogant in the certainty that they are right. Their case often claims to be more evidence based, while for many leavers it is more emotional which is one way of making a political judgment.

Having studied the EU for over forty years, and seen it from the inside as a leader of a EU research project and a UK representative on an EU committee, my problem with its decision-making is not that is a bureaucratic dictatorship, as some claim, but that decision-making is too cumbersome, slow and complex. Perhaps that is unavoidable when one is dealing with 27 member states and three major institutions, not to mention many minor ones. There is still a technocratic flavour to the whole project, despite the often underrated influence of the European Parliament in the trilogue.

Given the time that it has taken to make some reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy which still absorbs far too much of the budget and is dysfunctional from an environmental point of view, I am rather sceptical of 'reform from within' narratives. Big business has far too much influence on outcomes. However, I do think that a more fragmented Europe would be less successful at counter balancing Russia and exerting influence in the world generally.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

The deteriorating fabric of UK politics

With the 13th candidate announcing for the Conservative Party leadership, we now have a baker's dozen wanting the poisoned chalice and eager to join the growing list of Tory leaders brought down by the European question. It's even possible that some candidates will only get their own vote as their nominators may not vote for them. One would think that credible candidates should be required to produce more than two signatures.

Of course, it's a bit like candidates who say they are running for US president but really hope they might be selected as a candidate foe vice-president. Some of them are hoping to get Cabinet posts in returning for pledging their supporters at a later stage (who won't necessarily vote as recommended anyway).

While this comic opera continues, a solution to Brexit is as far away as ever. Indeed, it may no longer be possible to compromise on a soft Brexit that wins grudging acceptance from both sides of the argument. The hard core remainers continue to call for a second referendum, although I don't see this as a viable option if it ever was, while Brexiteers want a no deal exit regardless of the resultant damage which they would see as scaremongering or at worst short term. The EU will not budge on the negotiated settlement, although there is room for manoeuvre on the political declaration.

One possible scenario is a no confidence vote in a new Conservative PM followed by a general election which would probably produce another hung Parliament. One shouldn't get carried away by current poll results as a general election is at least a few months away and getting a quarter of the vote doesn't necessarily get you very far under a first past the post system as other insurgent parties have found in the past.

The threat of a successful bid for Scottish independence has increased. If disentangling a relationship that has lasted for short of 50 years has proved difficult, dismantling one that has lasted over 300 years will be even more challenging, particularly if an independent Scotland was admitted to the EU.

The polarisation in British politics and society may now be hard to overcome and that is not a very happy situation, to say the least. Of course, it's not just about Brexit, but a wider clash between different value systems involving, for example, 'nowheres' and 'somewheres', or between those who are social conservatives/economic interventionists and the more liberally inclined.

If I was younger, I would be thinking about leaving with possible destinations being the western seaboard of the United States (where I have lived and worked), British Columbia (where I nearly went) or Western Australia. As it is, I am stuck with the likelihood of a British version of American culture wars.