Friday, 17 May 2019

How long can a Parliament last:?

My views on the length of the current Parliamentary session: The Long Parliament

Unfortunately, I was unable to sneak in anything about a topic that always mystifies me: the status and the role of the cap of maintenance.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

'Costcutter' election leaflet is disingenuous

The Conservatives are running their EU election campaign on the cheap, given that many of their activists and MPs disapprove of the elections being held and may not even vote for their own party.

I don't find the Conservative leaflet which arrived this morning much more impressive than one offering me a special deal on baked beans. If, as is stated, 'The only party which can get Brexit done is the Conservative Party' why are they talking to Labour? Moreover, many Conservatives think that the backstop in the deal is a trap and what is on offer is BRINO (Brexit in Name Only). Indeed, they argue that it is worse than current arrangements because the UK would have to accept EU rules without having a say in shaping them.

I think Brexiteers would be better off accepting the current offer now and challenging it later if needs be. At least the process would have started.

It is stated that Nigel Farage is 'standing for personal gain'. I am no fan of Nigel Farage, but I do accept that he genuinely believes that the EU is a bad thing and Britain would be better off out of it.

It is stated that if Labour top the poll it would take Jeremy Corbyn 'closer to the Downing Street'. I doubt it; in any case, I expect the Brexit Party to top the poll. Turnout will be around the normal level of 35 per cent, most likely (admittedly tricky to forecast). In some ways the Peterborough by-election will be more significant as it looks as if there will be one 'People's Vote' candidate'.

The Government intends to introduce the withdrawal bill, but I can't see it getting very far, even if an amendment is passed to remove the backstop which the EU would not accept.

My nightmare scenario would be this. May is finally forced out in June. A hard line Brexiteer is elected as Conservative leader (it could be Bozza, but Raab is gaining traction). The new PM goes to Brussels and demands a renegotiation of the agreement. The EU falls about laughing. PM returns to Britain and signals a no deal Brexit. The Government is defeated in a vote of no confidence. A general election is held and another hung Parliament is returned. Deadlock.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

The 1979 election revisited

Yesterday BBC Parliament showed the archived footage of the 1979 general election coverage. Even on a day that was too cold to encourage working in the garden, I am not so sad that I watched it all day, but dipped in and out. It's always odd to see people who then looked very young but are now old or, sadly, no longer with us.

I am going to refer to some of the trivia rather than the very important result about which so much has been written.

An early segment focused on the Isles of Scilly and in particular the island of St. Agnes which is the most westerly polling district in the UK. There were 52 electors and earlier in the decade they had a 100 per cent turnout for an election to the Isles of Scilly Council (nonpartisan but often hotly contested). A young woman and (probably) her mother were shown entering the polling station. Apologies to the current day islanders if I offended them by asking if they could identify the young woman.

There were a few women presenters who seemed to have very cut glass accents by today's standards. We wouldn't refer to older women voters as 'old biddies' today, nor refer to a gay woman who lost her seat as a 'homosexual'. Some things have got better.

I had forgotten that Jim Callaghan was followed round the country by 'troops out' protesters. He had to leave the platform at the declaration at Cardiff after being heckled by Pat Arrowsmith standing for 'Troops Out'. When Callaghan arrived, the young and now famous commentator said, 'The prime minister has had to make an undignified entrance through a back passage.'

There would be far more security today. When Callaghan arrived back at Downing Street after dawn, he was greeted by three gentlemen in evening dress on the pavement opposite.

Robin Day tried to interview Sir Keith Joseph who gave unhelpful one line answers. Even Day eventually had to give up. I remember being in a lift with Sir Keith Joseph at his department. He stared unpleasantly at me the whole way up. I got in a lift with Peter Walker at agriculture, who didn't know me from Adam, but assumed I was one of his young civil servants: 'How are you? How's it all going? Any problems with Europe?'

When David Owen held on narrowly at Devonport, no one foresaw what would happen in the next few years, nor for Shirley Williams when she was interviewed when she lost her seat.

The oddest moment of the night was the declaration in North Devon, a few days before Jeremy Thorpe stood trial at the Old Bailey. Auberon Waugh of the Dog Lovers' Party had been served with an injunction which prevented him from distributing his manifesto 'A Better Deal for Your Dog.'

Given the current success of the Greens, it was interesting to see modest but mildly encouraging votes for the Ecology Party.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

All we can do is pray

Cometh the hour, cometh the man?

It seems to me that what Theresa May is now trying is a de facto National Government and I don't think it will work because it would split both parties and is not in Jezza's interest.

The fate of peacetime national governments in the UK is not a happy one. In the 1918 'coupon' election Lloyd George was able to continue at a head of a de facto national government which soon became mired in scandal. Eventually the Conservatives staged the Carlton Club revolt which resulted in the formation of the 1922 committee and the Welsh wizard went into the political wilderness. BTW, I would recommend Ffion Hague's biography which draws heavily on Welsh language sources.

In 1931 the formation of the National Government split the Labour Party and left them out of office in their own right until 1945.

If the Conservatives and Labour did agree a deal, they would need enough votes to get it through the Commons which would not be easy. I don't think it's in Jezza's interests to bail out the Conservatives. Also, Labour is understandably concerned about May being succeeded by a hard line Brexiteer, although they would fancy their chances against Bozza who has been out voting in non-existent elections.

One thing that has struck me in the last week is how upset many lifelong members of the Labour Party about the party's current situation. As someone who is barred from party membership of any kind, it is difficult for me to appreciate just how they feel. However, many of them worked for the Labour Party all their adult lives (or earlier) and it is a central part of their identity.

Personally, I am getting exasperated by both the hard line Brexiteers and the hard core remainers. The divisions in Parliament actually reflect divisions in the country which are felt in personal relationships. We also have many urgent public policy issues that are being neglected given the bandwidth taken up by Brexit.

The European Parliament elections are very likely to go ahead and I would expect the Brexit Party to come in first. Although I appreciate that the Lib Dems were burnt by their experience with the Social Democrats, the three remain parties have shot themselves in the foot by not having a coordinated strategy, admittedly not easy under the d'Hondt system. The Change UK (or whatever they are called this week) launch was a farce. If you are a new party you need to know what you brand and message is and Farage does.

We are in May, the month of Mary, Queen of Peace. When I go to mass this morning, I expect to be offered the opportunity to pray for Her Majesty's Government and Her Majesty's Opposition, but I have little hope of any prayers being answered.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Extinction Rebellion

A balanced and informative piece on this phenomenon: Disruption can bring social change

A few observations of my own. I found it interesting that some of the protesters criticised organisations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth who were pioneers of direct action tactics on environmental issues. Perhaps they have been overtaken by new forms of action.

In terms of tactics, I did find it odd that public transport was targeted as we need to develop that as part of a climate change strategy. Admittedly, they backed away from disrupting the tube, but what is the problem with the Docklands Light Railway?

The activists claim that the UK Government has done nothing, but it was the first country to pass climate change legislation. Real progress has been made on renewables. Much more needs to be done, but action is also required elsewhere, not least in the United States (some hope), India and China.

The protesters say that their policies are achievable, but certainly not by 2025. For a start, just think of the problems in replacing 24m-26m (figures vary) gas central heating boilers.

Even if the Government did want to engage with them, how does one talk to a movement that has no leadership structure?

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Again no progress on reforming the Lords

Brexit, climate change, knife crime, there are lots of pressing issues apart from House of Lords reform. Indeed, this is one reason why it never gets anywhere. It is always going to be low down the political agenda. However, it looks as if we are moving backwards, even in terms of the relatively limited but necessary objective of capping and reducing its size: Two steps forward, two steps back

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Why MPs should go on holiday

The decision to start the Easter recess has attracted some criticism, but prolonging the session would not lead to a Brexit solution in the short run. If that can come from anywhere, it will be from the talks between the Government and the Opposition, although it is a very slim hope given the distance between them and the risk of splitting their own parties.

MPs are not going to make good decisions when they are exhausted and have been operating in an emotionally supercharged atmosphere. They need time to reflect. They will also not be 'on holiday' but engaging with their constituents, although that could be a rather fraught process. The recess has also been truncated with MPs returning the day after Easter Monday.