Archive for September, 2017

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If the S Times reports are correct it doesn’t bode well for TMay’s survival chances

Saturday, September 30th, 2017

Mike Smithson




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Tomorrow night’s C4 Boris documentary looks set to add to Tory tensions over Theresa

Saturday, September 30th, 2017

Tomorrow night at 10 PM a documentary on Boris Johnson by Gary Gibbon is due to be screened on Channel 4 and judging by some of the extracts so far released it looks set to unsettle CON delegates in Manchester.

This is the start of an article on the programme by Gibbon in The I.

“Several months before the general election, Boris Johnson returned to the Foreign Office after a meeting with Theresa May, flanked by her powerful joint Chiefs of Staff, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill. It was clear to him who was in control – and it wasn’t the Prime Minister. “That’s modern slavery right there,” he told a colleague.

More recently, he’s told allies that the disastrous general election result has left the Prime Minister a shell of her former self. Her mighty aides have been dispatched and the failed snap election hangs over every meeting. Her body language, he has told allies, is shrunken..”

Another extract provides an interesting insight into TMay’s pre-June 8th 2017 managerial style.

“At one National Security Council meeting before the election, one of her Joint Chiefs of Staff had criticised Johnson’s contribution to the meeting. The Prime Minister, closing the meeting, said the policy line was clear and everyone, including Johnson, must follow it. There were echoes of the ritual humiliations Margaret Thatcher meted out to Geoffrey Howe…”

My guess is that leadership speculation will be on the same level or even higher than in 2003 when IDS got the longest conference standing ovation ever less than four weeks before fellow MPs booted him out. The big difference with May of course is that the latter has been tested in an election at which the Tories lost their majority.

Mike Smithson




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With the CON conference starting David Herdson says what’s wanted is vision

Saturday, September 30th, 2017

‘Getting on with the job’ simply isn’t good enough

“I have a dream”, said Martin Luther King, in one of the greatest speeches of the twentieth century. It was a dream he wanted to share and did share, and it was – and is – remembered not just for the eloquence of that initial delivery but for the righteousness and simplicity of the vision.

In doing so, he did what every great political leader does: inspires and reinforces confidence among his or her followers that their cause is worth devoting time, effort, money and possibly even personal safety towards because doing so will achieve a better and more hopeful world. They stand as a beacon of their movement, representative in word and deed of the shared vision that campaigners, converts and old hands alike, believe in.

Not every leader can match the eloquence of a King but that’s beside the point. What every leader can do, and should do, is set the mission, define the values and engender confidence in the journey. There are many reasons for the collapse in the Tory lead this Spring: the defensive Tory campaign set against Labour’s open engagement, the unpopular policies, and the failure of the Tories’ negative campaign all played their part. Behind that was the lack of a driving philosophy to unite and inspire activists and voters.

‘Keeping Corbyn out’ was tactically valid but nothing more; ‘getting on with the job’ – the effective mantra since the poll is almost a conscious disengagement from political engagement.

Indeed, Theresa May is currently showing all the political public leadership of an Accounts Executive making a presentation on the next quarter’s efficiency initiatives. The numbers might add up, the reasoning might be valid but frankly who cares? Who’s listening?

She presented a good case in point this week, when she gave a speech widely reported as strongly defending the free market (that language alone is significant: ‘defending’, not ‘promoting’). However, it received little coverage, not because it was a bad speech or because it was wrongly argued but because it didn’t tie into a higher driving philosophy – and also, frankly, because it was boring.

The sad thing is that when she came into Number Ten, she did lay out what might easily have become the defining tenets of Mayism, which were more or less classical One Nation Conservatism. In particular, she cited the addressing of inequality of opportunity for those from less advantaged households and communities.

There could easily have developed from that the themes of Aspiration, Opportunity and Fairness running through the government’s policies like the proverbial stick of Blackpool rock. Instead, the manifesto that the Tories cobbled together not only failed to pick up on those themes but appeared to actively punish those who’d aspired and taken their opportunities in life, when they were unlucky enough to need the state in later life: hardly fair.

Since the election, such domestic concerns haven’t even had a look in. While it’s understandable that Brexit dominates the government’s thinking, there should still be enough ministers left over to deliver a coherent set of policies that implement a vision of Conservatism in action attractive enough to persuade people to vote for the party on its own merits and not just because Corbyn isn’t trusted.

That, then, is the task before the Conservatives this next week. It will not be an easy one, with Brexit determining one media narrative and cabinet jostling producing another. But that is all the more reason to demonstrate leadership, define that vision, grab the agenda, inspire activists and persuadable voters, and put squabbling ministers in their place. The problem is that often when we wake up, it’s so hard to remember the dream we just had.

David Herdson





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Tory membership reported to have dropped by 40k since GE17 and might now be below the LDs

Friday, September 29th, 2017

A report tonight by the former political journalist of the year, David Henke, says there’s been a huge reduction in Tory members since GE2017 and that the total is down to 100k. In an interview John Strafford, chairman of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy is quoted as saying “the real membership of the party has plummeted to around 100,000” a figure that is well below the 149,500 used by the party in 2013.

“The party is facing oblivion. If you take the fact only 10 per cent of the membership is likely to be very active they will not have enough people on the ground to fight an election – they won’t even have enough people to man polling stations on the day. They are keeping council seats because often the families of the councillors are campaigning with party members to get them re-elected. They simply don’t have the local resources to do this in a general election.”

Stafford says that the membership in in 300 of the Parliamentary constituency parties – nearly half the MPs in Parliament – membership has dropped to 100 people or fewer.

This compares sharply with the 500k+ members that LAB has and the 100k+ that the LDs have now achieved following the big decline in the coalition years,

A particular problem was the rushed nature of the last election which was called, as TMay has admitted, without any preparation. This meant that in seats where candidates hadn’t been selected contenders, in many case, were imposed on local parties. What’s the point of being a member if you are prevented from having a say in candidate selection.

This will all be discussed at a fringe meeting in Manchester on Monday.

Mike Smithson




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In head-to-heads Johnson comfortably beats main contenders in latest YouGov CON members’ poll

Friday, September 29th, 2017

CON members’ take grim view of party’s GE17 campaign

Tory members’ complacent of JC’s chance of becoming PM

Mike Smithson




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New YouGov CON members poll finds fewer than a third wanting TMay to carry on till the General Election

Thursday, September 28th, 2017

And Boris back as top choice of members



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Tories who want TMay out well before the general election are going to have to forcibly remove her

Thursday, September 28th, 2017

First Secretary of State, Damian Green, makes clear she’ll go on

I’ve been of the view since June that TMay’s objective was to try to remain in office to fight the next election which, if she succeeded, would make amends for GE17.

The “she’ll step down quietly after Brexit theory” has never convinced me.

This view is supported today by the minister who is closest to TMay than anyone – her old Oxford friend from decades ago, my old BBC news colleague, Damian Green.

In what appears to be a well planned move Green, in a Spectator interview, he reinforced the comments that TMay herself made during her Tokyo visit last month. Her aim is to to stay at Number 10 and wants to lead the party at the general election.

Green was very complimentary about his boss saying:

“She’s warm, has a sense of humour, she’s good company and she is, as has been observed, fantastically hardworking and conscientious … The more people see that, the better she will do politically,”

These comments run very much against perceptions created during the GE campaign when TMay’s awkwardness and lack of empathy with ordinary voters was often painfully apparent.

Even more the notion that she’s sitting tight is very much out of line with current opinion within the party that has been ready to let her stay on to sort out Brexit but not beyond.

I think Green’s remarks are designed to force an early move possibly from Johnson. The gamble is that this will fail and in so doing would make TMay’s position stronger.

Mike Smithson




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Be careful what you wish for

Thursday, September 28th, 2017

Alastair Meeks on EU politics and Brexit

How they chortled.  For three months, loyal Conservative Leavers have had to endure the taunts of their opponents, sneering at the way in which Theresa May called an unnecessary election to secure a Brexit mandate and mislaid her majority.  And now their nemesis, Angela Merkel, has suffered a similar fate.  Despite many months of polls showing them cruising to a healthy win, the CDU and the CSU tallied just a third of the vote.

One in eight Germans, a very similar proportion to that which voted for UKIP in Britain in 2015 and for the PVV in the Netherlands earlier this year, has voted for the AfD (perhaps it is now standard in the developed world for one in eight of the population to cast their vote on the basis of a native identity that is perceived to be under siege).  The government coalition has collapsed and whatever is put in its place will look almost as delicate as the Conservatives’ tie-up with the DUP.  It turns out that Germany is not immune to populism after all.

There is much to absorb from the German election.  As with Britain and the US, the areas that have voted most strongly for the anti-immigrant party live in areas with few immigrants and with many poor and alienated oldies.  This suggests that the protest is more important than the specific policy.  Both main parties are going to need to consider how to win back erstwhile voters who thought they had been taken for granted.

Fascinating though these questions are, they have only the most indirect relevance for the Brexit negotiations.  The result does, however, have direct relevance in an unexpected and unhelpful way.

Dumbo had his white feather that he believed helped him to fly and before the German federal election some Leavers had grasped tightly the idea that after it was out of the way Angela Merkel would break the Brexit impasse between Britain and the EU.  The Leaver Dumbos had scant evidence for clutching this feather so firmly.  All of the potential parties of government were in unison as to how Brexit should be approached. Confirming Oscar Wilde’s dictum that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, Brexit was not mentioned once in the debate between Martin Schulz and Angela Merkel.  It was simply a non-issue.  Leavers would be as likely to see a change in the political climate if they sought to flap their ears.

The result has proved that no matter how bad things are, they can always get worse.  For any attention that Angela Merkel might have given to Brexit is now going to have to compete with the far more pressing problem for her of forming a viable coalition.  Can she persuade the SPD to be German politics’ piñata for a third time?  If not, can she persuade the Greens and the FDP to play nicely for an unlikely Jamaican three legged race?  These are the questions that are going to absorb her waking hours for the coming weeks.  The limited headspace that she has been sparing for Brexit has just got much more limited.

It doesn’t look as though other EU nations are going to be providing much guidance to the EU’s negotiators either.  France’s president Emmanuel Macron is looking to recast the whole EU in line with an up-to-date Gallic vision: Brexit looks like an incidental to him.  Spain is currently riven over the question of dreams of Catalan nationhood.  The Italians are limbering up for a general election of their own and the Poles are on the EU’s naughty step.  So the EU hierarchy is going to be largely left to its own devices for some considerable time to come.

Time is not a commodity that Britain has in abundance.  Theresa May has sought to kick the can down the road through a transitional deal but this has not yet been accepted, nor can it be until the two sides have some idea what they are transitioning to.

Some avowed Brexiters have taken to demonising the EU negotiating team.  This is not just unwise, it is an error.  The chief problem with M. Barnier and President Juncker is not that they are wont to intransigence but that they have their negotiating brief and have no authority to go beyond it without the approval of the member states.  In order to get that authority, they will need something concrete to present to them.

The British government does not want to be making all the moves.  Nor does the EU.  The present state of affairs is summed up by what the Guinness Book of Records describes as the world’s most succinct word, Mamihlapinatapai, (from the Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego): “a look shared by two people, each wishing that the other would initiate something that they both desire but which neither wants to begin”.  But someone will have to.  It was probably always going to be Britain.  That now looks almost certain.

Alastair Meeks