Archive for the 'Tories' Category

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April 2019: month of chaos

Saturday, November 10th, 2018

A No Deal Brexit is now highly likely in March

Nothing has changed: words that might well form Theresa May’s epitaph. Unfortunately for her, unless something does, that epitaph will be needed sooner rather than later. With less than five months until the Brexit deadline, both the parliamentary maths and the European diplomacy remain resolutely irresoluble. Nothing has changed.

Some might argue that’s a favourable interpretation; that Jo Johnson’s resignation yesterday indicated the maths are getting worse for the PM but that wouldn’t be quite right. To some extent, these resignations ought to be baked into the figures. We don’t know exactly who’s going to resign, or when, but we do know that passions on Brexit run high and that it will be impossible for the government to satisfy all its ministers in whatever is agreed. Hence, some will walk. This is just the process playing itself out.

Unfortunately, what also hasn’t changed are the other irreconcilable aspects of Brexit. The EU and Ireland still demand an open border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland; the DUP demand no regulatory dealignment between NI and GB; Tory MPs demand the ability to diverge from the EU; the EU insists that its external Customs Union border must be consistent.

The problem here is that the four demands cannot all be met simultaneously but that for a deal to be able to be signed and ratified, the government needs the agreement of all those parties demanding them. Hence, unless something fundamental changes, it’s almost impossible to see how a deal can be done.

Hence the Gordian Knot attempts to solve the problem by changing the rules (or ignoring them); the most popular of which is the second referendum. Quite how this is supposed to come about when the government is understandably adamantly opposed to the idea isn’t clear. Nor is it obvious how a second vote resolves the problem when it’s all-but certain that public opinion would polarize away from any unhappy compromise and toward the extremes of Remain or No Deal. A second vote offers nothing that parliament cannot do now except provide a little more justification for a U-turn should Remain win.

However, the clock has practically run out on the time needed for a new referendum and certainly will have done so by the December summit – and even that might not be when a deal is either done or declared undoable. Article 50 could be extended to enable the vote (if the EU agrees) but there’s a more practical deadline of late May, when the European elections take place: elections Britain would be entitled to take part in if still a member. But it’s still all hypothetical as long as the Tories are in power: no referendum bill will be introduced.

Which means that the can can’t be kicked any further down the road: March 29 really is the deadline, deal or not – and the changes are very much not.

As Jo Johnson pointed out in his resignation statement, a No Deal Brexit would not be a piece of cake. The British government would neither be bureaucratically or logistically ready. In all probability, neither would the countries with which Britain shares its closest transport links.

    It’s entirely possible that the country could see its worst disruption since the Winter of Discontent or the Three Day Week – hardly an appetizing prospect.

That assumes that Theresa May makes it that far. With incoming fire from the DUP and from both wings of her own party (though oddly, not from the Labour front bench), she may not – though the red lines and the parliamentary maths won’t be any different for any alternative Tory PM. They would of course be different for Corbyn but that’s not going to happen unless May seriously errs in her relationship with the DUP.

Ultimately, some form of deal or deals will be done. Practical politics will demand it as the logjam of interests is swept aside by the force of public opinion being confronted with the reality of what No Deal looks like. These might be micro-deals to keep individual sectors running, based on mutual recognition; it might be a comprehensive one based on something like those sections of the Withdrawal Agreement and Future Framework already agreed. Whichever, the talks look highly likely to go down to the wire and beyond.

David Herdson



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Given current polls the Tories shouldn’t be spooked by Corbyn but they are

Friday, October 5th, 2018

The shockwaves of June 8th 2017 continue

The Speccies Isabel Hardman has an excellent piece under the heading “Why the Tories feel so spooked by Jeremy Corbyn”. She argues that some of the messages from the LAB leader have the potential to resonate. She goes on:

I understand that the reason Labour has decided to talk so much about the way capitalism has left certain voters behind is that recent polling carried out by the party found it had strong resonance with groups of voters who feel pessimistic about the future of the country…”

Maybe this is a reflection of how LAB’s manifesto at GE2017 appeared to be so successful in bringing in new voters and driving turnout. The question surely is whether Corbyn’s LAB is able to do the same again on a more successful scale that will enable it to make the gains to get closer to Tory seat totals.

The signs from current polling is that the opposition party is struggling to hold onto to its GE2017 support and is not opening up new groups of voters. Labour is also floundering in Scotland where it was once so dominant. It is also very hard to see which new groups of voters the red team will be able to attract because at the moment they are shedding votes from last time

    The only problem here is that after GE2017 Tory trust in the polls remains badly shaken and that is going to linger right until the next election. So the Tories are going to be extra guarded and not really believe anything until the exit poll at the next election comes out.

But there is a possible benefit – Labour complacency. So many Corbynistas appear to believe that because there was such turnaround in 2017 then the same will happen again. The party exceeded expectations, many of them believe, because the broadcasting rules last meant that Labour was presented more fairly and they can look to that once again.

Maybe it will but maybe it won’t. We know a lot more about Corbyn now and his ratings have nose-dived.

My long-term betting prediction is that the spread betting markets next time will overstate Labour’s eventual seat total.

Mike Smithson




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The Conservatives must join and win the battle of ideas

Saturday, September 29th, 2018

The Thatcherite consensus is dead; the case for choice, freedom and opportunity is not

In full, the United States’ Declaration of Independence is not a very good document. It bears the classic mark of the composite motion, being too long overall and unbalanced in its structure: very nearly half of it is a list of twenty-seven grievances. Fortunately, for history and for the revolutionaries, it was drafted by someone who knew not only how to turn a phrase but where to place it. There may have been more than a smidgen of dishonesty in Jefferson’s assertion (abridged here) that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, with the unalienable rights of life and liberty; that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed; and that it is the Right of the People to abolish unjust forms of government”, but that’s not the point. The point is that he defined what the war was about in words that were inspiring, simple and righteous, and did so at the outset of the document, before people lost interest amid the detail. It is the masterpiece in political framing.

Few political battles have such high stakes but whether physical or electoral, framing the question on which the contest is fought remains critical. In Britain, at the moment, it is Labour who is setting the terms and as such, are gaining for themselves a huge advantage.

The reasons why Labour is evangelising their beliefs and the Conservatives are not aren’t hard to pin down. For one thing, Labour has much more space and time in which to do so. The government is spending a huge amount of time and effort on a policy it doesn’t really want and probably can’t deliver without some – perhaps a great deal of – damage to the country. Domestic politics, where the battle-lines are being drawn, is taking a back-seat. In effect, the Conservatives are still fighting the last war, to a large extent among themselves.

Secondly, there has probably never been as big a gap between the managers at the top of the Tories and the activists at the top of Labour. Governments always tend to grey as their time in office increases, as competent administrators rise and firebrand populists who made their name in opposition fall, but May and Hammond are particularly lacking in any sense of ideological fervour.

By contrast, Corbyn has spent his entire life as an activist: decrying injustices or fighting for (or more often against) some cause or another. These were frequently fringe or unpopular causes – some of his pet topics still are – but allied to the more politically savvy McDonnell, Labour has now put together a superficially plausible critique of society and the economy that appeals to a lot of people because many of the problems he campaigns on, from housing to inequality to funding of public services, have an element of truth in them that resonates with those struggling. And Labour’s the only party proposing change.

And the third part is that the Conservatives have got out of the habit of making the ideological case. Their consensus – the Thatcherite consensus, seemingly cemented in place by New Labour’s conversion to its basic structure – was in place for so long that they have never needed to argue for why the mechanisms that underpin the Conservative model of the economy, public services and society are best. It’s a complacency that can no longer be taken for granted: that consensus is dead.

It wasn’t always like that. In the 1980s, it would be a rare interview when the likes of Thatcher, Tebbit or Lawson wasn’t advocating policy just because it was (in their eyes) effective but also because it was an ethically good thing for people to, for example, own their own homes, keep more of their income or own shares in the nation’s great industries: it gave them both a greater stake in the country and a return on its success. Choice and markets were good because competition drives up choice and quality, and drives down prices (assuming the market works effectively).

In reality, forty years of experience have produced some notorious examples where that model has failed – though usually in implementation rather than concept – and that’s what’s given the Labour left both the opportunity and the confidence to fight back. But without a Conservative leadership ready and able to take to the field on behalf of the moral and practical benefits of individual choice, regulated competition and a smaller state, the argument is in danger of going by default.

    If the Conservatives want to be reasonably confident about their chances in 2022, they need to do a lot more than deliver a satisfactory Brexit and manage the economy effectively. They need to inspire, as Corbyn has inspired.

They need to reconnect with people – particularly the 25-49 age group – whose aspiration and ambition to get on in live is being blocked by structures that the government has the power to reform. Those people need to be able to buy their own house and put down roots; they need to know that their investment in education is worth-while; they need to believe that the thrifty will not be disadvantaged in their old age as against the reckless.

To do that, Theresa May or her successor needs to frame the Conservatives’ own vision of what a fair and successful Britain looks like, what’s preventing that at the moment, how those obstacles will be removed, and – above all – why that journey is worth joining. The Tory top brass might regard those truths to be self-evident but, like Jefferson did, they need to spell them out all the same.

David Herdson



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Confessions of a door to door fireplace salesman

Sunday, June 24th, 2018

The former fireplace salesman becomes another Tory making plans to oust Mrs May.

Today’s Mail on Sunday reports that

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has threatened to sweep Theresa May from power in a bitter Cabinet row over military cuts.

Furious Mr Williamson warned the Prime Minister that if she did not commit an extra £20 billion to the Ministry of Defence then Tory MPs would vote down the next Budget – effectively passing a motion of no confidence in her.

‘I made her – and I can break her,’ Mr Williamson is said to have boasted to service chiefs. 

The furore, described by one Williamson ally as a ‘dogfight at the heart of Government’, erupted after Mrs May announced a £20 billion-a-year boost to NHS spending last week. 

Chancellor Philip Hammond then declared there was no money left for similar boosts to defence, housing or schools spending.

When Mr Williamson said he needed his own £20 billion – a minimum of £2 billion a year extra for the next decade – to avoid damaging defence cuts, Mrs May questioned whether the UK had to be a ‘tier one’ military power.

Mr Williamson hit back that after Brexit it would be even more important for the UK to ‘sit at the top table’ internationally.

Last night a formidable array of political and military figures were lining up behind Mr Williamson in his power struggle with No 10.

They were led by the chairman of the powerful Commons defence committee, who warned that Mrs May could be ‘at political risk’ if she did not ‘do the right thing’ by increasing defence spending.

And the former head of the British Army, General the Lord Dannatt, told The Mail on Sunday that he feared Mr Williamson could be forced to resign over the issue.

This newspaper understands that in a recent meeting, Mr Williamson reassured senior members of the Armed Forces that he was fighting for more funds…

…Up to 20 Tory MPs are threatening to rebel if the Treasury and No 10 cannot find more money for defence. A powerful delegation formed of Graham Brady, the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, along with chairmen of the defence and foreign affairs committees, are planning to meet Mrs May in the coming weeks to urge her to give a generous settlement to the MoD.

One of the few things that seems to unite the current Tory party is the contempt in which Gavin Williamson is held in by pretty much everyone. One Tory said in response to this story “Williamson’s intemperate and frankly bizarre media posturing shows just how unsuited he is for any high office whatsoever. He’s over-promoted and thinks stamping his foot stops him from being found out. It doesn’t.”

So ordinarily I’d expect Mrs May to see off a rebellion from Gavin Williamson, where Mrs May will struggle is that a not inconsiderable number of Tories will find it unpalatable if the UK ceases to be a Tier One Nation on defence.

The Sunday Times says it is entirely possible within the next decade that UK moves from being Europe’s top military power to being the third most important military power after Germany and France as cuts are enacted to deliver the NHS Brexit ‘dividend’. Whilst we cut the Germans and French plan to increase defence spending.

After the Thatcher/Major defence cuts* and the disgraced Liam Fox’s botched Strategic Defence Review you’d have thought Tories would be ok with further defence cuts but this time it might be very different. Indeed a decent opposition could supplant the Tories as the party of defence, but Jeremy Corbyn, with his rich backstory, won’t be able to do that.

For those Tories with leadership ambitions making a stand on defence cuts will play well with Tory members. Mrs May needs as many allies as possible she seems keen to keep on alienating as many people as possible, this is not a viable long term strategy for her, losing her campaign manager will not be a good look.

TSE

*The 1990s defence cuts following the end of the Cold War were described as a ‘Peace Dividend’, the government offering dividends does not have an auspicious history.



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Lady Chope and their daughter must be so proud of Sir Christopher

Saturday, June 16th, 2018

Is TMay having second thoughts about giving him a knighthood?

One thing’s for sure – the MP for Christchurch who was knighted in the last New Year’s Honours, is going to get a lot more media coverage following his blocking on Friday of the private member’s bill to stop what’s known as upskirting.

It is being argued on his behalf that this was more than about the issue itself but that he, and fellow CON MP, Phillip Davies took their action on Friday because they hate private members’s bills and the two have a long record of blocking such moves.

    It is even being said that he didn’t know what up-skirting was.

That maybe the case but that makes the optics look even worse for Chope and his party. Those CON MPs who were WhatsApping their concerns about in the immediate aftermath were absolutely right. This is bad news for the party and is one of those things that will be remembered.

Ministers have, quite rightly from a political standpoint, made clear that legislation will be brought in and that will mitigate to a certain extent some of the damage. No doubt those debates will see one Tory MP after another dissociating themselves from Chope.

As for the 71 year old Christchurch MP this looks set to be the on thing he’ll be most remembered for. More fool him.

Mike Smithson




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This interview is not of someone who will ever be Tory leader or Prime Minister, let alone the next one.

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

For quite some time I’ve been advising laying Gavin Williamson for next PM and Tory leader, somebody once compared him to an incontinent puppy and his media performances seem to confirm that, wherever he goes there’s a great steaming pile of excrement not far behind.

The next Tory leader needs to have good media skills so you know you’ve got major problems when you’re getting savaged by a dead sheep Richard Madeley. All of this stems from Williamson’s non (Prime) Ministerial advice to Russia that they should ‘go away and shut up.’ Willamson’s not the heir to Theresa May, he’s the heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Idiots.

Gavin Williamson’s performance today has to be worst performance on TV since William Shatner covered ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart,’ that’s how bad it was.

TSE

 



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On another planet

Saturday, May 26th, 2018

Rebel Tory MPs have lost a sense of reality if they think an election will improve their position

Politics is supposed to be the art of the possible. In one sense that’s just a truism: that which happens is, by definition, within the bounds of the possible. However, this week’s shown up again that Bismarck’s aphorism is only true to a degree. There are plenty of politicians who are not interested in the possible but only in their own priorities. And there are others who are sufficiently deluded as to believe that their own priorities are possible, against all available evidence.

Dominic Cummings is not a politician, though he is hugely political. The driving force behind the Leave campaign is not a happy man at how the government is going about delivering it – or, as he sees it, not delivering it. In a blog post earlier this week, he made a lot of criticisms of ministers, Tory Leave MPs, civil servants and others about how they have gone about Brexit. Much of that criticism is fair enough but the mistake he makes is far too frequently to ignore the world outside Whitehall. He is not alone in this error.

The truth is that while Theresa May and her team have struggled both to formulate a policy and to implement it, this is only in part down to establishment resistance, poor advice, poor strategy and the other causes Cummings blames. It’s also down to two much simpler things.

Firstly, the government still wants to have its cake and eat it – or at least, it does officially. In truth, it must know that it cannot leave and retain most of the benefits with little of the cost or responsibilities but that doesn’t square with, on the one hand, the commitment to leave, and on the other, the desire not to significantly impede trade and other links.

And secondly, numbers. Corbyn might be offering the Tories a few free passes on Brexit that his MPs would rather he didn’t but even he has his limits. May is clearly being pulled in all directions in part because she hasn’t got a firm grip herself but mainly because she’s constantly having to assuage her own factions in order to ensure she retains a majority.

Which is presumably why the notion of another early election has again reared its head this week, with claims that Tory MPs are preparing for a snap poll this autumn. It may be that this talk is simply a ruse to enable MPs to be reselected for their constituencies as early as possible (if so, this will of itself work against the Boundary Review being approved – MPs with an assured seat will be less likely to destroy it than those who only assume that they’ll be readopted). However, it may be that the talk is in earnest.

The suggestion from the anonymous MP in the Metro was that an election would somehow clear the air. This is the point at which the art of the possible has become the art of delusion.

    Any strongly Leave Tory MP who thinks that their cause would be aided by an early election is on another planet.

In fact, it’s not clear whether the MP even understands the process. He (let’s assume it’s a man) says that a Vote of No Confidence in the PM would probably lead to a general election. That might be true but it’s convoluted. For a start, a VoNC in the PM within parliament wouldn’t carry any constitutional weight; it’s only such a vote in the government that’d matter. Perhaps he’s lazily using one as shorthand for the other. If so, the government would only lose if the DUP withdraw support or if at least five Tories vote against their own party – something which would immediately result in their expulsion, assuming that the government wanted to win.

In this scenario, the Conservatives would be in obvious chaos, without a meaningful Brexit policy (and unable to implement one if it did exist), losing the support of its own MPs or its ally, and suffering serial defeats in the Commons. How could it credibly run an election campaign? What would it be campaigning for? How could it say what it would do? In such a state of paralysis, it would be a sitting duck for Corbyn’s energetic campaign assertions.

On the other hand, if he meant that the Tory MPs would No Confidence the PM, then he’s talking about a party leadership election. While that could in theory be carried out quickly – as those that resulted in the election of Howard and May were – that would almost certainly not be the case if the Tories were deeply divided. We’d be looking at maybe six weeks of a Tory leadership campaign, followed by another five or six weeks of a general election, if the new PM felt, as the MP presumably he would, that a national mandate was necessary.

While under this scenario, the Tories wouldn’t necessarily be heading for the certain defeat that they would if they lost control of the Commons, it’d still take around three months out of what is already a tight negotiating timetable, meaning that the only options then would be to take the deal on offer from the EU (in which case, why bother with the elections), to reject the deal (which would be an exceptionally high-risk and potentially high-cost option), or to request an extension. These options would also be the only ones open to a Labour government, should one form in the late autumn.

So we return to what’s possible. An election this year would very likely lead to a Labour government and/or a Soft Brexit on the EU’s terms – and just perhaps, no real Brexit at all. You’d expect Tory MPs to do everything possible to avoid that outcome. Given that together with the DUP they have a majority, that shouldn’t be too difficult. What isn’t possible is to change things the other way: there simply neither the time nor the opportunity to shift the parliamentary maths towards Leave. Nor is there time to do as Cummings suggests, and ‘rewire’ the mechanics of power in Whitehall, even before considering whether such a revolution would be a wise idea in the middle of the most complex negotiation in generations.

All in all, I think that the 7/1 offered against an election this year (Betfred) is short by at least a factor of three. There is neither the need nor the desire for yet another national poll and it’d be an act of both desperation and foolishness were Tory MPs to trigger one – and while some might be desperate, they’re not foolish.

David Herdson



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A 100/1 tip to be Theresa May’s successor

Sunday, May 20th, 2018

My twin strategies when it comes to betting on Theresa May’s successor is to lay the favourite(s) and back long odds (cabinet) ministers who appear to have potential. The latter has proven a very successful approach with the likes of Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid who were tipped and backed at odds of 100/1 and 60/1.

So the latest addition to the latter list is Matt Hancock, who is currently 100/1 with Ladbrokes to succeed Mrs May. He’s proving to be a very competent minister, as exemplified by the decision this week to limit the stakes of FOBTs to £2.

He’s also certain to receive a good press because of his opposition to Leveson 2 which could have bankrupted newspapers with numerous vexatious complaints from people with politically driven agendas.

The other advantage that Hancock has is he is close to the Cameroon wing of the party who still have a substantial number in Parliament. Before becoming an MP Hancock served as George Osborne’s Chief of Staff so he knows how to work the party and its MPs.

The Cameroon wing of the party are also looking for a standard bearer since David Cameron stood down and Hancock’s views are very much in line with the only man to have won the Tories a majority in the last 26 years and counting.

Like Hunt and Javid, Hancock has all the potential to be a great trading bet, if the Tories are looking to jump a generation Hancock also fits that bill as he is yet to turn 40. A half competent cabinet minister with youth on their side really shouldn’t be a 100/1 chance to succeed Mrs May.

TSE

PS – Another Matt Hancock tip is the 20/1 Ladbrokes are offering on him to be the next Chancellor of the Exchequer.