Thursday, 22 June 2017

About a lot of nonsense

There is an awful lot of nonsense being talked at the moment.

The figures from a week past Thursday give the Tories 318 votes in a Parliament, effectively, of 643, since 7 seats are held by the resolutely abstentionist Shinners. So the Tories are actually only 4 votes short of a majority if every opposition Party votes against them.

But it's not even votes against them. Defeat on a particular issue, even on The Queen's Speech (!), does not bring down the Government given the terms of The Fixed Term Parliaments Act. The only thing which that Act allows for is an election if the Government loses a vote on the specific provision "That this house has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government". Assuming that is not reversed within 14 days, then Parliament is dissolved. That is the only way there can be an election before May 2022 unless the two big Parties collude (as they did in April) by passing a resolution for an early dissolution by a two thirds majority.

Given how well that latter option worked out for the Tories just a fortnight past it is inconceivable they'd exercise it again.

And as I've already pointed out in previous blogs, a vote of no confidence in the Government in the terms required by the Act is much more than it might appear from its literal terms. It is also a vote for an immediate election. It is the case that one or other of the Lib-Dems, The DUP, or the SNP not wanting an immediate election, and thus abstaining on a confidence vote, would see the Tories carrying on in power. All the focus might be on the DUP but it shouldn't have been.

For here I make two observations. The first is that Jo Swinson, now deputy leader of the Lib Dems is on the record as saying they don't want an early election. Although, to be fair, that might change within a year or so.

But the second relates to the position of the SNP. Ian Blackford, their new Commons leader, has said this week that they'd welcome any opportunity to vote out the Tories. But actions speak louder than words in that regard. When the motion for the dissolution was put back in April it passed by two thirds, as required, because both the Tories and Labour voted for it. BUT THE SNP ABSTAINED! Specifically because, as they said at the time, they did not wish an election.

So when they say now, through Blackford, that they are ready to vote out  the Tories at any time, then that, if true, is a change in their position since as recently as April. And back in April a "bad" result for the Nats would be one leaving them with around 45 seats. Such are the wafer thin majorities so many of their MPs now sit on, a "bad result" this time could easily see them reduced to single figures in the Commons. And the clock very obviously ticking on their hold on Holyrood. So the SNP voting for an early election, rather than finding some justification to abstain again? I'd believe it when I saw it.

Which leads me to another canard which is going the rounds. That somehow Holyrood might block Brexit. IT HAS ALREADY BEEN DECIDED AT THE HIGHEST JUDICIAL LEVEL THAT IT CAN'T!

For good or ill the Scottish Government entered the Gina Miller case asserting that Holyrood had the right to be consulted on the Brexit process and the Supreme Court decided unanimously that it didn't. Any Legislative Consent Motion asked of Holyrood would be no more than a courtesy. If consent was declined that could (and presumably would) be ignored and the job just got on with. What could the Nats do other than moan? I suppose they could threaten another referendum. That's worked well for them so far.

So, in summary, the Tories are in power to 2022 if they want to be. They might not get all their legislation through (although even that is doubtful) but in any event they'll still be the Government. And after the last month that status is not something they are going to risk again any time soon.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Numbers and numpties

Imagine politics through the lens of  Game of Thrones. War might be a constant but elections are its battles. Nobody wants to lose the war but in the aftermath of any battle then some of the losing parties might decide that a return to the war of manoeuvre might, in the short or even medium term, be preferable to the immediate re-engagement in a potentially decisive, indeed terminal, contest.

That's where British politics is now. House May, having ridden to battle in grand array, has ended up having its nose bloodied by House Corbyn. It didn't lose but it didn't exactly win either. But since it retains the Iron Throne it has no great desire to imperil that status again anytime soon.

House Corbyn on the other hand continues to have the fleck of battle in its nostrils. Their opponents should return to the field or be forever damned in the.....eyes of public opinion. (The Eyes of Public Opinion being one of these weird religious sects that we'd all just wish would shut up and let us get on with the action).

The problem for House Corbyn is the skirmishers. The skirmishers don't want another battle at all. They nearly lost their lives in the last one, indeed many of their number actually fell.  All the while knowing that, had the outcome been different, it still wouldn't have been they who prevailed. So, to be honest, they'd quite like a bit of peace.

And tellingly, at Westminster if not at Westeros, the resumption of battle turns out to be their call,

The crucial arithmetic at Westminster is not those who are for or against the Tories but those who are for or against an early election. And, in adding up these numbers, House May need not just count on The House of Orange. They can count on the Green House as well, since they don't even recognise the legitimacy of Westeros. And also House Swinson, whose Dauphine told no less than Channel 4 News, but yesterday, that they are also opposed the early resumption of hostilities.

And then finally we have House Sturgeon, who are truly not enthusiastic about having to move from the rhetoric of "'tis just a scratch" to still, even then only hopefully, remaining able to threaten to at least bite somebody's legs off,

The Tories might not have won this election but they most certainly haven't lost it. They could only be brought down by a combination of interests inconceivable in its joint desire for battle. Mrs May should have ignored the DUP. There is no prospect they'd ever contemplate an unnecessary contest that might see House Corbyn triumph. And even if they fell away, there is no prospect that the 35 would allow themselves to be dragooned into the role of the Light Brigade.

In a hung Parliament what is important isn't your majority, its the diversity of your opponents. Angela Merkel, the most powerful politician in Europe, leads a Party five votes short of a majority in the Bundestag. Has anybody noticed?

Sure there might be one person who could assemble an alliance that stretched from the Shinners to the Paisleyites, embracing in between those willing to march to certain death in its cause. But that person's name isn't Jeremy Corbyn. It is Daenerys Targaryen.

Five more years.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Twenty different things.

I spent yesterday and earlier today wondering what to blog about. In the end I couldn't choose so here are just some random thoughts about lots of things. In no particular order and with no particular conclusion.

1. Outwith the special case of Edinburgh South, there was effectively no Labour/Tory anti Nat tactical voting. In most of the seats the Tories took in the North East the Labour vote went up! And in the seats Labour gained the Tory vote went up! The big thing wasn't the other Parties gaining votes (indeed Labour barely did) it was the SNP losing them.

2. Labour's share comprised different people from 2015. We did lose older unionist votes to the Tories but replaced them with younger left wing voters from the SNP.  The Nats consoling themselves that these younger voters would still be Yessers is illusory if there is not going to be another  referendum. In electoral politics the significant thing is that they are now no longer SNPers.

3. The great post 2015 question was whether Labour had lost Scotland forever or whether a popular Labour leader with a  real chance of victory might bring them back. And UK Labour's problem was that, without Scotland, an absolute  Westminster majority looked impossible. That question has been answered. I go on to say below that I don't think there will be a second 2017 election but, if there were, Labour would gain seats in spades. A mere 3.4% SNP to Labour swing brings an immediate 17 seats to us. And a 32/32/32 split result next time would, because of their vote being more evenly spread, result, under First Past the Post, to the Nats  being almost wiped out.

4. The SNP are stuffed (part 1). An independence referendum is off the table for a real generation. It is definitely off the agenda before the next Holyrood poll and that poll it is highly unlikely to produce a pro-referendum majority even if the Nats risk an unconditional pledge in their manifesto.

5. The SNP are stuffed (part 2). What is now the way forward for them? Do they shift their rhetoric to the right (particularly on Brexit) to try and regain the North East or do they shift it to the left in an attempt to hold off the "Corbyn surge" in the seats they still hold? Answers on a postcard please.

6. The SNP are stuffed (part 3). Getting on with the day job will not be simple. Take education (which I suspect all Parties would privately agree was the second reason for their collapse). Something needs done. There is the Labour solution: more teachers; more money; if necessary paid for by higher taxes, and then there is the Tory solution: more innovation; more testing; more power to heedies; more emphasis on attendance and discipline (not just regarding pupils). But you can't make an  omelette without breaking eggs. A move either way will annoy as many people as it pleases. And the losers are always more vocal than the winners. (cf the forthcoming Teacher's strike). A particular problem for a party already decelerating in public standing.

7.The SNP are stuffed (part 4). It's all very well to say "take independence off the table" but, if they do, what is the purpose of the SNP at all? Grievance without even a supposed solution? Good luck with Nicola selling that to the zoomers. Or indeed to anybody else.

8. The SNP are stuffed (part 5). Even her opponents recognise that Nicola Sturgeon is an accomplished politician. But if she loses the next Holyrood poll she would have to go. Except there is literally nobody else in their Holyrood group who would be up to the job of Leader. And now there is nobody in their Westminster group either.

9. The Greens are stuffed. There is considerable anger about how they have allowed themselves to become the wholly owned subsidiary of the SNP, most noticeably by their withdrawal at this election past. I was among those who devised the "Regional AMS" system the Parliament uses. But it was meant to involve only one constituency vote, with the constituency votes then being aggregated to provide additional members as proportionate to the overall result. That somehow got lost during the Convention process, allowing a Party to stand on the list as, essentially, a second choice option for another Party. After the next Holyrood poll the single vote concept should be brought back. And the electoral system is now devolved.

10. The Ruth Davidson Party is over. Ruth has restored the Tory fortunes as required by putting a nuanced difference between herself and the UK Party. That is no longer tenable as "she" is now responsible for the Tories being in power at all. And anyway, she gets herself that the Scottish Tories are still Tories, members of the same Party across the UK. "She" doesn't have MPs. The Tories have MPs, who happen to have been elected in Scotland. She is entitled to gratitude, not least for her role in getting them there at all, but it can't, indeed shouldn't, be blind gratitude. I give, by way of but one example, Brexit. Ruth is for the softest of Brexits. Possibly even for something which is de facto not really Brexit at all. But these Tories who have just ousted the Nats on the North Sea coast are never going to sign up for staying in the Common Fisheries Policy, not least because for them, it was a promise to leave that won them their seats every bit as much as Ruth's efforts.

11. The UK Conservative Party is not about to become the new Ruth Davidson Party. This doesn't have to involve whether she wants to do it, or whether she could win. It's a simple matter of process. In terms of the Conservative Party rules, to even be eligible to stand, you need to be a Member of [the Westminster] Parliament. Ruth is not.

12. The Tories do not need a deal with the DUP. (Part 1).The DUP would never conceivably vote against the Tories in circumstance which meant the result of that vote would mean an election where Jeremy Corbyn might become Prime Minister.

13. The Tories do not need a deal with the DUP  (Part 2). There is no way the SNP would currently vote against the Tories where the result of that vote triggered another election at which the Nats would be almost wiped out. That might change in time but not for at least some time.

14. There will not be an early election. For the reasons I give immediately above, the Tories have a workable majority when it matters, on third readings and confidence votes. And they are helped by EVEL where they have a comfortable overall majority on England only legislation at its earlier stages. There is not going to be a need for an election any time soon, possibly not even for five years. Anyway, the Tories have just disastrously called an early election. It would be a "brave" (in the Sir Humphrey Appleby sense of the word) for any new leader to call another early poll. So they won't. And anyway, fatally wounded though she is, Theresa May will probably hang for a good bit, not least as the Tories would emerge horribly split from any battle to replace her. Yet clearly she personally could not fight another election.

15. Abolishing tuition fees is exceptionally popular. I wrote in my last blog why this shouldn't be a priority. I stand by that. But there is no doubt that it is a hugely favoured course of action.with not only young people but also older adult graduates who simply feel it unfair that this generation has to pay for something they themselves got for free. It propelled the Libs to record numbers in 2010, secured (in a slightly different form) a Holyrood plurality and then majority for the SNP. (Scottish Labour looked at dropping it in 2016 and recoiled at the focus group response). It almost brought Bernie Sanders the Democratic Party nomination. Now it has boosted the youth turnout for Jeremy Corbyn to record levels. Labour can't simply abandon that pledge now. But some way has to be found to pay for it. Because it simply can't can't be justified as an area of expenditure if it comes at the expense of other more pressing areas of education expenditure. Graduate tax anyone?

16. Jeremy Corbyn won't fight another election. He is 68. If it becomes clear there is to be a full term Parliament he'd be 73 by the next election. And proposing to serve until he was 78. He has earned the right to go in his own time but he will go then.

17. Corbyn's legacy will be a more left wing policy platform. You can argue, indeed I would, that Corbyn only did as well as he did because it was "known" that he couldn't win. But that's not what the Party will hear, or our public sector union paymasters. They'll buy into "one more heave/just a 3% swing.. Who knows, particularly if Brexit goes tits up, then perhaps that will work.

18. The Party will unite under a new leader. The centre of the Party's real unhappiness with Corbyn has been his strategy of "no enemies to our left." coupled with "any anti-establishment movement is our movement". Any new leader, even one on the left, will get the damage this does both internally and with the electorate. So they'll stop it. And to be honest, that, together with the prospect of office, will be enough to do the rest.

19. The next leader will be neither Corbynista nor Blairite. Personality has been the key to this election. Perhaps, with the benefit of hindsight, it was the key to Corbyn becoming leader in the first place. But the other key to that was the feeling that none of the contenders could win anyway, so we might as well go down with our colours flying. That has changed. Next time we are picking not just a battling loser but a potential winner. When it comes to any vote, who best fits that requirement will be much more important, to even this expanded Labour electorate, than who is most faithful to the principles of Marx and Lenin.

20. Brexit means Brexit. For good or ill, despite there being no majority for it in the Commons, despite it being an act of astonishing self harm, despite there being a willingness in Brussels to talk, despite all that, it will happen on some terms. It remains the case that no matter how poor a Prime Minister Theresa May has proved to be, thanks to one monumental error of judgement, history will recall David Cameron as being much much worse.

Friday, 9 June 2017

The day after

So, my plan was simple. Watch the exit poll and then go to bed waking up at 4am to see if it came true.

All abandoned when we got that poll, making my decision to schedule client appointments this afternoon.........ill advised.

I did manage to get a  couple of hours sleep and I'll have to struggle through beyond that, so I have a couple of hours to give you my thoughts on the results and their immediate consequence

Firstly, Labour lost.

It was a hugely cheering night for us but we shouldn't lose sight of that. There is no possible coalition that gives us even a minority Labour Government. Never mind its political viability, a coalition of Labour, the SNP, Plaid and the Greens still has fewer votes than the Tories alone. And, anyway, in the short term the Tories can do a fairly easy deal with the DUP ((more on that later) which gives them an absolute majority. That means they will still be the Government at least for a bit, We'll still have the Bedroom Tax and the Child Tax credit cap and "austerity". And that really matters. Elections are about winning, not just running a good campaign. In the cold light of day people will get that.

But the critics of Corbyn were proved wrong to a degree. He did run a good campaign. Although he was helped by the appallingness of the Tory campaign. The turning point, on any view was the Tory u-turn on the so called "Dementia tax". Not only was it an unpopular proposal per se but, coupled as it then was in its reversal  by it highlighting the lack of figures on it (or anything else) in the Tory manifesto, it effectively excused any detailed consideration of Labour's spending plans. These, as spending plans, were popular but they were absurdly unaffordable and, that aside, despite their popularity, were ridiculously chosen beyond the crude purpose of retail politics. It is clear that abolishing tuition fees was immensely popular with young people (a lesson Corbyn's team clearly learned from Bernie Sanders)  but it is ridiculous priority for a Labour Government if its objectives are to reduce inequality and close the attainment gap. It is instead a free giveaway to (mainly) middle class kids at the expense of more urgent calls on the money, even assuming that money was to be ring fenced to education, And the same goes for keeping the triple lock, non means tested winter fuel payments and ruling out any form of inheritance tax to address the crisis in funding care. Particularly in the latter case since there was simply no alternative funding model suggested. Exactly the same could be said for ending the public sector pay freeze. Understandably popular in the public sector but where was the money coming from? But if you promise free things, the recipients will line up to receive them believing the promise is banked and that somebody else will just have to pay for it. As they clearly did.

There is no point maintaining that Corbyn was not hindered by internal opposition to his leadership but it remains questionable if he would ever line up the more realistic parts of the Party to campaign enthusiastically for such a platform in an election we might actually contemplate winning, simply because they appreciate that it would all fall apart, almost instantly, if we ever won.

Anyway, to Scottish Labour. We lost as well. It was great to regain seats but if you had suggested ten years ago that Labour would be celebrating having seven seats in Scotland you would have been in danger of being sectioned. But there was a more sinister element top what happened. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that our campaign was deliberately sabotaged by our own leader. Firstly her decision to rule in council coalitions with the Tories while ruling in ones with the SNP is difficult to fathom except as a deliberate device to alienate potential Tory tactical voters. She then started her "campaign" by giving an interview to the Guardian as good as conceding we had no prospects of doing much beyond holding Edinburgh South. She progressed to making East Renfrewshire one of our target seats not only making sure their would be no informal "division of the spoils" with the Tories but diverting vast resources not only into a contest where success was to be measured by keeping up the Labour vote to the extent of saving the SNP incumbent but also denying these resources elsewhere in the west. In East Renfrewshire we came third. In two seats within ten miles we lost by less than a hundred votes And then finally there was the Tuesday's leaders debate and Nicola's bombshell revelation.  What wasn't important about that was its later denial, it was that for more than half an hour in live debate on the night it wasn't contradicted and even when it was it was only half-heartedly and at the specific prompting of Bernard Ponsonby.

I have always harboured suspicions about Kez. It is undeniable that, to explain the absence of any Party history, she tells us that she had no interest in politics until she reached  twenty three but subsequently was revealed, two years earlier, to have volunteered for the SNP. Which she then "explained" was because  she was contemplating a career in politics. While apparently, contemporaneously, having no interest in it. As they say in my day job, that is not a story that would stand up to much cross examination.

Anyway, suffice to say, Kez needs to go and soon, particularly as we could face another General Election this year.

And so to the Tories. What can you say. Well done Ruth, taxi for Theresa. The achievements of the former can barely be overstated. Not only has she saved the Union, it shouldn't be lost sight of that her twelve gains have also saved the Tory Government, at least for the moment. She is the woman of the hour, both North and South of the border.

But some of the more hysterical commentary should be reined in. The process by which Ruth would become Tory UK leader and Prime Minister would have to start with her becoming an MP and Theresa not being handed the pearl handed revolver before that. Then she would have to want to do it. Then she woukd have to sell her liberal conservatism to the Tory membership. I don't doubt her ability or her ambition but I suspect quite strongly that before she contemplates moving to Downing Street she fancies a sojourn in Bute House. Or at least another attempt at that address. Which I continue to maintain would be in 2020.

And anyway, who would want the job at this moment? With no stable (let alone strong) majority for anything, never mind Brexit, But, more to the point, with no real idea what to do, now, about Brexit? A wee bit more on that later.

But if it's not Ruth, and assuming Mrs May does go, who does become Prime Minister? The extent of the schism in the Tory Party, initially between Leavers and Remainers and now, at least nominally, between hard and soft Brexiters, cannot be understated. May was meant to the bridge candidate. It is difficult to see who else might fulfil that role but victory in a leader takes all competition might just split the Party altogether. The Tories are always cited as the ultimate electoral machine but it is forgotten that they have split twice in the past and on both occasions over trade. Firstly over repeal of the Corn Laws and again over Imperial Preference, It cannot be ruled out the same happening again.

Which leads me to my conclusion in this part. And it is a pretty dramatic one. There is no strong and stable government available within the current Party system. But there is if it fractures. There is, I quite strongly suspect, a substantial majority of MPs who could unite around a common programme. On Brexit, it would start by a withdrawal, temporarily, of Article 50, and a reopened negotiation on British terms of membership inevitably focused on ending free movement which rightly or wrongly, is the real Brexit driving force. If that could be achieved, and if Brussels really wants us to stay it would have to be, then, coupled with other reform, there might develop a case for us staying for which an ultimate electoral mandate could be obtained.

The self same Government would be able to address the security situation, not by abandoning the ECHR but perhaps by seeking a temporary derogation as, it shouldn't be overlooked, France has already done.

In economic policy it might relax "austerity" to a degree and, from the centre, bite the bullet of limited rises in personal taxation as the route to addressing the deficit. It would also rein in the rougher elements of welfare reform.

But this would be a democratic outrage! I hear you protest. Well, yes and no. Because the idea that the Tories just graft on the DUP and carry on is not sustainable, not least because the DUP's commitment to an open Irish border is simply inconsistent with their supposed enthusiasm for Brexit. And if the Nothern Ireland Assembly isn't reconstituted surely direct rule by a DUP containing government would fundamentally undermine the peace process? So the alternative becomes another election. Is that really what people want? And, anyway, suppose it provides the same result?
And anyway, truthfully, the Labour Party is no longer one Party. Had the numbers made it possible for Corbyn to become Prime Minister I very much doubt that some Labour MPs would have been prepared to thole that, And, as I say, the Tories are equally schismed.

So ending the two Party system, even at its moment of returning "triumph", by introducing PR would be the major task of any supposed Government of the centre. In time, Labour's two wings, no, actually halvess,  could then have an honest competition before the electorate. As could the open and closed factions within the Tories. Possibly with one ultimate Party of the centre, possibly not.

We would of course need a Prime Minister. Probably, in recognition of their status as the largest minority  a liberal Tory. Someone untainted by a Westminster record would be ideal. Actually, now I think about it, perhaps I spoke too soon about Ruth Davidson.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The end is nigh.

On Saturday I wrote the vast bulk of what was probably intended to be my last election blog. My intention was to finish the conclusion and then publish it on Sunday morning.

Events later on Saturday however made that inappropriate and indeed having revisited it in light of these events it all just looked so...... trivial.

You do not need to be a conspiracy theorist to understand that the two terrible terrorist atrocities which have occurred during the campaign will inevitably impact on its outcome and not in a way favourable to Labour in its outcome.

I am voting Labour in the reasonable expectation that there is no chance of Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbot becoming Prime Minister and Home Secretary. Were it not for that confidence, for the first time in my life, I would hesitate over that vote.

The first obligation of any administration is the safety of the general public. That is far more important than any economic policy. I simply do not think Corbyn regards that obligation of providing safety as being of remotely sufficient importance and that in itself disqualifies him from the office he aspires to. More important than my view though is the view of those who do consider their vote election by election.

More than three times as many people watched the Ariana Grande concert on Sunday night than had watched the Question Time Leader's debate on Friday (remember that? me neither). More significantly still, half of the entire viewing public watched that second event. When these people vote they are, shall we say, unlikely to regard the prevention of future atrocities as being safer in the hands of a man who called the death of Osama bin Laden a "tragedy" and who required, just before that very concert in fact, to announce a last minute conversion to Police use of lethal force.

We'll know soon enough.

It's been a different election in Scotland. I don't think that is just because of the constitutional issue. People increasingly do understand the major devolved competences and that education and health policy are not actively before the electorate this Thursday. But it doesn't stop them using next Thursday to express an opinion on these matters and, given that the Scottish Government itself now accepts its performance on these issues has been unsatisfactory, it is perhaps no surprise that the electorate thinks the same.

But I explained in my last blog the importance of 38% to the Nats, And we genuinely have no idea if they'll get it. The best you can say is that they'll not be far away up or down. But here is my final gut call on the result. The Scottish polls have been more consistent than the UK ones but with the best will in the world they can't pick up "where" each Party's vote is located and, as I say, even a few points below 40% for the SNP transforms the number of seats in play, particularly in the former Labour heartlands.

And so, in the end I can only go with my gut, coupled perhaps with a bit of wishful thinking.

Tories 14

Labour 6

Libs 4

SNP 35.

Feel free to call me an idiot in the early hours of Friday morning.