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Tony Blair: Must we love him or loathe him? Don Brind says No

July 17th, 2017

Tony Blair was at his brilliant best in his Sky interview with Sophy Ridge who introduced him as someone people either love or loathe. Blair demonstrated his supreme ability to present evidence and argument in an accessible and compelling way. I didn’t need convincing that Brexit is a looming disaster but it was a joy to hear the case made so impressively.

The big question, though, is whether anyone now listens to Tony Blair? What does he need to do better to influence the debate on Brexit about which he clearly cares so deeply.

In so far as these labels are helpful I think of myself as a Kinnockite. I always bridle at the “Tony Blair won three landslide victories” mantra. This is not to say that Blair wasn’t a skilled leader and a gifted communicator — just that his inheritance from Neil Kinnock, John Smith and Margaret Beckett was a handsome one.

No party was ever in better shape than the Labour party when Tony Blair took over the leadership of the Labour party in 1994. If that was acknowledged by Blair and the Blairites they would boost not diminish his influence.

The 1997 triumph was a long time in the making and involved many people – among them Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Mo Mowlam, Harriett Harman, Clare Short, John Prescott, Peter Mandelson, David Blunkett, Robin Cook and Jack Straw – to name but a few.

There was also one other indispensible ingredient –  a Tory leader who had nose-dived in the polls. It was equally important to Labour’s better than expected result in June.

John Major had been living on borrowed time ever since Black Wednesday in September 1992. Britain’s departure from the European Exchange Rate mechanism exposed Tory economic mismanagement –as Brexit is now exposing how weak and shaky the economy is after seven years of George Osborne and Philip Hammond.

One of the failings of Jeremy Corbyn and his close allies is their unwillingness to defend and celebrate the achievements of the Blair-Brown government. By the same token I believe Blair would do himself a favour if he engaged more seriously with current Labour policy under Corbyn.

Take austerity, where Blair appears to have bought into the Tory caricature of Labour’s programme being all about nationalisation and unfettered public spending. As I argued here  there is a strong economic case for ending the public sector pay cap as part of a drive to get the economy growing.

Austerity is also under challenge on a European level. It’s significant that the new French President Emmanuel Macron is putting German driven austerity under the spotlight.

He said Germany benefits from the woes of other euro countries and warns that the Eurozone cannot survive on such foundations. Monetary union must be rebuilt in a radically-different way. “It doesn’t work because it has brought about divergences. Those that are already indebted have become more indebted: and those that are competitive have become more competitive,”

Blair and Corbyn should be cheering Macron forward.

In his Sky interview Blair lauded the Germans for their industrial strategy. He can be forgiven for not having heard of Labour’s industrial strategy, which deals with many of the issues he is concerned about. One of the failures of the Labour election campaign was that this thoughtful document was launched on the day of the BBC Question Time leader programmes — and so was guaranteed virtually no coverage.

Blair should also reconsider Corbyn’s signature of policy scrapping university tuition fees. His Downing Street head of policy Andrew Adonis,  who was responsible for the introduction of higher fees in 2004 now says “tuition fees at their current level are politically dead,” and should be scrapped.

And for an excellent “warts and all” analysis of Labour’s manifesto the Huff Post article Richard Angell the director of Progress is highly recommended.

“There was much in it that I, and every progressive in Britain, would like to see achieved under a future Labour government, says Angell. “This manifesto will be the blueprint for a future winning Labour manifesto, in the same way, as Stephen Bush at the New Statesman has pointed out, much of the contents of the 1983 manifesto were reiterated in the 1997 successor and then implemented by Tony Blair’s government. I look forward to this happening; I just hope there are not 14 years in the intervening period.”

I would like to see Blair playing an influential role in the debate on Brexit. The danger for him is that he appears muttering “plague on both your houses” from the lofty perch of his global institute  and from television studios. What he needs to do is to engage with the dilemmas and choices the leader of the Opposition. He’s done the job. He knows how hard it is.

Don Brind




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Some numbers that could help TMay’s survival. Another poll, YouGov, has her & the Tories edging back a touch

July 17th, 2017

But still LAB leads

Given how close it is to the last election it is hardly surprsisng that there are so few voting intention polls coming out. Today’s from YouGov is only the second since Mrs. May lost her majority on June 8th and has the gap down just a touch.

CON 40 +2
LAB 45 -1
LD 7 =
UKIP 2-2

This follows the weekend’s Survation online poll which had the LAB lead down to 2% from 6% on the weekend after the election.

TMay is also seeing her “best PM” numbers edging back up a notch. With YouGov she is now back in the lead.

Best PM in latest YouGov
TMay 38%+4
Corbyn 33% -2

Give the fractious state of her party these numbers should ease the jitters just a touch but, of course, the moves are small. TMay has successfuly negotiated the first six and a half weeks since the disastrous result and now she must be looking to get through the summer and conference season.

But she cannot airbrush out of history the fact that she called the election to increase her majority and ended without one at all. In earlier times she would have been toppled within days.

Mike Smithson




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EXCLUSIVE Support for a second Brexit vote is growing and Leavers should be nervous

July 17th, 2017

Keiran Pedley looks at some exclusive polling from Opinium and asks whether Britain really could remain in the EU after all?

As Tony Blair gave one of his characteristically unwelcome interventions in British politics last week many were asking why he bothers. With parties supporting Brexit winning more than 8 in 10 votes at the recent General Election you could be forgiven for assuming that the former PM’s calls for Brexit to be stopped will fall on deaf ears and the issue is settled.

But is it settled? As I wrote immediately after the election the political circumstances have changed since Brits went to the polls. Public opinion is volatile and with a Labour government now a realistic possibility again there is a path – however small – for Remainers to end up in government. For that to happen, Jeremy Corbyn would either have to change his tune on Brexit or be replaced by someone else. One imagines that only a significant shift in public opinion could make either of those things take place. With the former more likely than the latter.

Increased support for another vote

However, there are some signs that public opinion is shifting, albeit gradually. The PB/Polling Matters podcast has been given access to some exclusive polling from Opinium that has tracked support for a second referendum on EU membership once the terms are known since December 2016.

Once we know what terms the government has negotiated, should there be a second referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, where voters can choose between leaving under the terms negotiated or remaining in the EU after all?

 

There is something for everyone here. On the one hand public opinion is still against the concept of another vote on Brexit. However, the gap is now 7 points as opposed to 19 in December. The trend is clear – support for another vote is growing. The cause? Remain voters are increasingly likely to support another vote – as the chart below demonstrates.

However, none of this puts Brexit in immediate danger. The above chart shows that Leave voters are resolute in their opposition to another vote and there is no major political figure (presumably it would have to be a Labour one…) prepared to break ranks and demand one. To suggest that Britain remaining in the E.U. after all is anything more than a long shot would be dishonest.

Yet if I was a Leave supporter I would be nervous.

One aspect the above poll question does not capture is the strength of feeling on the issue. Another question asked by Opinium last weekend attempts to do just that. The public were asked how committed they were to Remain or Leave. The results are below.

Which of the following statements best describes your view on Brexit?

  1. I strongly feel that the UK should remain in the E.U. 34%
  2. I think the UK should remain in the E.U. but don’t feel that strongly about it 12%
  3. I am open minded on whether Britain remains in the E.U. or leaves 8%
  4. I think the UK should leave the E.U. but don’t feel that strongly about it 8%
  5. I strongly feel that the UK should leave the E.U. 33%
  6. Don’t know 6%

What we can see here is that the public appear to be split into thirds. 34% strongly feel that the UK should remain in the E.U., 33% strongly feel the UK should leave and the rest are either lukewarm in their commitment to either side, don’t know or are open minded. Far from there being a ‘52%’ and a ‘48%’, there is in fact a large chunk of people in the middle waiting to see what will happen.

It should be said that right now the strength of feeling is actually on the Leave side. 72% of Leave voters strongly feel that the UK should leave the E.U. whereas 65% of Remain voters strongly feel we should remain. This means that 30% of Remain voters are in this ‘middle third’ on the issue compared to just 22% of Leave voters. If exit negotiations go well then support for Brexit ought to consolidate rather than fall away.

So why did I say I would be nervous if I was a Leave supporter? Well, in the face of growing support for another vote among Remainers, Theresa May’s government is weak. It is not clear that the Conservatives will control the timing of the next General Election and that makes events unpredictable. Meanwhile, we haven’t truly entered the period of ‘Brexit negotiations proper’ yet, we don’t know how they will go and how public opinion will react. Jeremy Corbyn managed to turn Labour’s poll rating round in a matter of weeks during the General Election. Is it so implausible that a similar shift against Brexit could happen in the next two years?

Of course it isn’t. It isn’t difficult to foresee circumstances where Brexit goes badly and a ‘perfect storm’ of support for another referendum and opposition to Brexit itself creeps up on a weak Conservative government. Just as ‘the 48%’ doesn’t exist, neither does ‘the 52%’. A large body of UK public opinion sits in shades of grey on Brexit and events can shift them one way or the other on the issue.

Brexit seems secure – for now

However, I still agree with those that say Brexit being stopped altogether is very unlikely. Such a specific set of events need to take place that it is almost unimaginable. Yet the unimaginable has been so consistently delivered in the past few years I feel we can rule nothing out. The government would be wise to seek some sort of comprehensive transitional arrangement with the E.U. and agree it as soon as possible. Therein lies stability. Without that stability we are the fall of one weak and divided Conservative government away from all bets being off.

Keiran Pedley

Keiran Pedley presents the PB/Polling Matters podcast. You can listen to the latest episode below. He tweets about politics and public opinion at @keiranpedley

Note on the poll: Opinium surveyed a nationally representative sample of 2,005 UK UK adults between the 7th and 11th July. Full tables will appear on their website in due course.

 



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The chart that shows general election campaigns don’t matter (usually)

July 16th, 2017

One of the axioms of British politics is that general election campaigns don’t matter, and the stats in the above chart by Ben Page of Ipsos MORI does back that up, with sub margin of error changes during past campaigns but the 2017 general election campaign really didn’t stick to past conventions.

The question was 2017 an outlier or the beginning of a trend? My instinct is that at the next general election campaign the Tories couldn’t run a worse campaign than 2017 even if they tried, so 2017 was an outlier of a campaign in my view, though I’m assuming neither Theresa May nor the gruesome twosome Nick Timothy & Fiona Hill will be involved in the next Tory general election campaign.

TSE



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Why people voted Labour or Tory at the general election

July 16th, 2017

 

YouGov have released some findings on why people voted Tory or Labour at the general election. After the Tory manifesto that was designed to annoy and upset every voter in the country it’s not surprising that Labour’s policies/manifestos scores higher than the Tories.

What I find intriguing is how many people voted against Corbyn (both in absolute numbers and relative to Theresa May) which should alarm the Tories. If Labour are led by someone who isn’t quite so polarising as Corbyn (or without the interesting backstory) then if all things are equal then Labour should end up as the largest party, maybe even with a majority, at the next general election, that is something David Davis (and anyone else who is trying to topple Mrs May) should be spending time focusing on.

TSE



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I think allies of David Davis are overreaching and going to damage their man fatally. This is becoming very ugly

July 15th, 2017

Whilst the briefing against Philip Hammond continues

TSE



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Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

July 15th, 2017

For the second year running Andrea Leadsom is ensuring Theresa May is Prime Minister.

Last night I observed the unofficial Tory leadership contest is increasing in its tempo and activity, today The Financial Times have more information on it.

Some speculate Mr Davis might be given a “coronation” as the leadership candidate best placed to deliver Brexit, but few Tory MPs believe that a transfer of power would be anything other than brutal and protracted. “There won’t be a coronation while Andrea Leadsom is alive,” sighs one Conservative MP, referring to the ambitious leader of the Commons who made a shortlived bid for the Conservative leadership against Mrs May last year.

Meanwhile, Tory MPs recount how other potential contenders are suddenly clearing their diaries to spend more time with colleagues. “[Chancellor] Philip Hammond had drinks the other night in his office,” says one Tory MP. “It’s not like him.”

Some MPs argue Mr Hammond might act as a stopgap leader — perhaps serving for two years to deliver Brexit before standing aside — but the idea of the Conservatives fielding three prime ministers in a single parliament is seen as bizarre by many. “What would be the point of Philip Hammond?” says one Tory MP. “It’s like deciding you want to change your Volvo and you come back from the garage with…another Volvo.”

So last year Andrea Leadsom effectively made Theresa May Prime Minister and one year on she’s still ensuring Theresa May continues to be Prime Minister because Mrs Leadsom still harbours ambitions to be Prime Minister and won’t allow a coronation. This also does tend to give credence to the reports that after the general election Mrs Leadsom wanted Mrs May to appoint her as Home Secretary or Foreign Secretary.

TSE



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This week’s Euratom row does not bode well for the year ahead

July 15th, 2017

Brexit will obsess the political class and estrange the public

In a week’s time, our MPs will have packed up for the Summer recess and will be settling down to their traditional pass-times of making pleasantries at constituency events, exposing bad taste in casual dress, and long-distance plotting. By the time they return on a full-time basis (they pop back for a week in September before conference season), more than a quarter of the time set aside for Britain’s Brexit negotiations with the EU will have passed.

In the months that follow, Brexit will dominate like no issue since the Financial Crisis; possibly like no issue since World War II. It will be all-encompassing. It will piss off a lot of the public who would really rather politicians concentrated on the NHS, education, policing, the economy or any number of other domestic issues that directly affect their lives but that’s not going to happen: for 2017-18, politics is Brexit.

We’ve already seen the skirmishes. Buoyed by their perceived election success, Labour is on the offensive, with Keir Starmer listing their demands for amendments under the threat of voting down the bill if he can gain some Tory rebels or peel off the DUP. That assumes he can keep all the Labour MPs on board, which is not necessarily a safe assumption. If the Repeal Act fails then existing EU-derived rights may not be protected, which might lead some Labour MPs to believe that a bad bill is better than no bill.

That might be a tactical error. Where it pushes its own agenda, the Labour leadership is likely to expose the divisions in its own ranks as much as (if not more than) those in the government’s. There are many ways from which one can be opposed to something but few from which to support. That’s even more true of Brexit, which necessarily involves picking many least-worst options, than it is usually. Whether even Corbyn is fully aware of those implications has to be doubtful.

But if Labour might struggle where it is advocating a specific course, that’s as nothing compares with the difficulties the government will have. So far, the problems have just been those of principle; from hereon, the splits will not only be between those who think the objective should be one thing or another, but also between those who think that what’s agreed represents a good deal in a practical sense, and those who dissent one way or another.

That’s why tactically, it might be better for Labour to travel lighter and to counter-punch against the government’s position and/or handling: there will always be a left-of-centre criticism available.

In any case, the biggest criticism that could be made at the moment is that its whole Brexit strategy exists best at a conceptual level and isn’t translating into real-world positions, as this week’s row over Euratom suggests. There will be a great many more practical applications of Brexit to come, and a great many more special interest groups with cases to plead.

The year ahead will be hard for the government. There will be little public sympathy for engaging so heavily in a process that is remote to many yet which still adversely affects them; which will be the prompt for endless rows within the Tory Party, within parliament and between the UK and the rest of the EU; which will distract from more practical matters and which may of itself cause an economic slowdown. Theresa May will need to bring balance between the nationalist and business wings of the party, while Labour not unnaturally tries to both exploit those divisions and advocate a different strategy (one which will look better simply for not having been tried).

I don’t expect her to be toppled during it for two simple reasons: firstly, it would be incredibly disruptive and to force a change would be to invite the change taking all the blame for Brexit running into difficulties; and secondly, there’s no obvious alternative who could clearly do a better job and provide a more effective alternative policy. Those conditions may change, in which case she would become very vulnerable, but we’re not there now.

David Herdson


p.s. What will also have passed by the time parliament reconvenes will be the German federal election. That should remove one uncertainty but quite what it delivers remains perhaps the most significant ‘unknown’ on the EU side for now. Merkel should be returned as chancellor (but how often have such assumptions been overturned these last few years?!), but the nature and composition of her coalition is up in the air. The 2013 election produced a grand coalition as the only viable option. That may well be the case again – in which case arch-Europhile Martin Schulz can expect a plum job – but with the SPD polling under 25% at the moment and the FPD likely to make a return to the Bundestag, a ‘Jamaica coalition’ (black-yellow-green) is also possible, which would produce a different dynamic within Germany and, quite possibly, the EU.