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Showing posts from 2017

Who's in charge?

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Not a great morning for Theresa May...but then there probably hasn't been one of those since she called her ill fated snap election.

The Politico playbook sums up the Cabinet problem nicely, with a quick round-up of all the problems currently sitting round Mrs. May's cabinet table.

Then Ian Dunt in politics.co.uk suggests that there is no longer any such thing as a single, co-ordinated British foreign policy, given the apparent free hand being taken by Boris Johnson, Priti Patel and Liam Fox.

Meanwhile James Kirkup in the Spectator blog mercilessly dissects Priti Patel's "clarification" statement, while the Speccie itself concludes that "This may be one of the worst messes ever created by a Cabinet minister", in reference to Boris Johnson's appalling mismanagement of imprisoned Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.  Over at the Times, Matthew Paris is no less sparing.....




There's a general trend on twitter comments about all of this, which goes broadly alo…

Sex scandals....and Brexit?

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There’s never a good time for a feeding frenzy to break over a political system, but it is difficult to envisage many worse times for the British parliament and government than now. 

The two major parties – Conservatives and Labour – are currently trying to come to terms with their post-Brexit referendum statuses.  The Conservative minority government, meanwhile, has yet to exhibit much sureness of touch in its actual Brexit negotiations.  Add to that the natural instability that comes with a minority government, and the populist insurgency that seems to have taken over the Labour party, and you already have a febrile atmosphere in the Westminster parliament.
Into all of this has broken a new and not entirely unpredictable scandal.  It is to do with sexual harassment by MPs towards their employees and its tentacles are embracing both parties as well as having just claimed the scalp of a cabinet minister.
The origins are difficult to pinpoint.  Some suggest that the Harvey Weinstein sc…

The post-election liberal narrative is hopelessly wrong

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There seems to be a popular liberal narrative emerging about the present state of British politics which is largely summed up by (1) the Tories have got us into a mess over the past couple of years and (2) they, especially Theresa May, should apologise for getting Britain into this mess.

Utter bilge.

There may be a number of things Mrs. May needs to apologise for - a poor campaign, an overly insular leadership style, the loss of a number of Conservative seats - but all these apologies need to be directed purely at the Tory party that she leads and its candidates.  Further, an acknowledgement that she has learned lessons from the election and will seek to adapt her premiership to suit those would be helpful and politically adept.  But an apology to the country?  What a fruitless, pointless, unnecessary exercise that would be.

I presume the apology in question that liberal commentators have in mind would be along the lines of saying sorry for calling an election.  Really?  In a democra…

Tone-deaf May is absolutely the wrong person to lead us into Brexit

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If you thought Theresa May was tone-deaf and unresponsive during the actual election campaign, then that's nothing on her performance since.

Following her seriously reduced circumstances I initially thought it was right for her to continue in office.  The electoral arithmetic suggested it as the only viable option, at least until the parliamentary circumstances changed.  She could have chosen to take on board the disastrous result that her cavalier election calling produced and govern as a minority leader but with significant consultation with other parties on Brexit.  That her own Brexit stance - which has been irredeemably, if unilluminatingly of the "hard" variety - would need modifying seemed evident too.

Then came the day after.  The prime minister's speech outside Downing Street was one of the most misjudged exercises I have come across.  She made no reference at all to the lamentable election result.  She simply announced she would be forming a new government…

Lessons from an election

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1.  Don't take the electorate for granted.  Theresa May's party (she abdicated the Conservative name for the duration) did this twice.  It assumed everyone would ignore the opportunistic nature of the election, and that they would then happily respond to a patronising campaign of empty slogans.  Turns out they didn't.

2.  Every vote matters, even under First Past the Post.  Young voters complained about Brexit, but their complaints carried little weight given the fact that many didn't vote in that ill conceived referendum.  This time they voted, and the change has been palpable.

3.  Traditional campaigning still matters.  Theresa May's party thought they could win this with a big data machine and by programming, without variation, key phrases into the political dialogue.  They thought they could avoid real voters with impunity, whether in televised debates or in the streets.  Jeremy Corbyn suffered a media monstering, but built up support through a consistent roun…

Theresa May will be returned as a damaged prime minister

After the scares for the Conservatives of the past couple of weeks, the broad consensus is still that they will return to parliament as the biggest party in the Commons after the election - and by some margin.  Or perhaps, in Conservative campaign terminology, the emphasis should be on Theresa May returning to office as prime minister, since the party itself has had very much second billing in this campaign.

The problem with the way May and her people have decided to run the campaign is that they had no way out once it went bad.  And it did go very bad.  If you are going to relegate the actual party to a virtual afterthought, and insist that your candidates announce on their election addresses that they are "Standing with Theresa May", rather than "Standing as Conservatives", then you do need to be very sure that the product you are selling is up to the billing.  In this instance it wasn't.

While the Tories are clawing back some points in the polls, the latest

AS Politics: Party Divisions - the Conservative Party

The problem with examining Conservative Party divisions is that we tend to still be using out of date terminology.  The party has moved on from a Thatcherite/One Nation division (if it ever really existed in one) not least because the times have changed.  No Conservative leader seriously disputes the need to maintain Thatcherism's principal legacy of a privatised economy and lower taxes (a legacy that even social democrats like Tony Blair undertook to essentially preserve).  The headline issue that split the Conservatives in the post-Thatcher years was Europe, although there was also debate around liberal versus conservative social attitudes and the extent to which public services like health and education should be submitted to the rigours of free market medicine.

The key to determining the direction of the Conservative party lies with its leaders and the best way of understanding Conservative divisions is probably via them.  Unlike its main rivals, the Conservatives are driven t…

AS-level Politics: Party Divisions - The Labour Party

Clause One of the Labour Party's constitution commits it to maintaining a strong parliamentary party:

“[The party’s] purpose is to organise and maintain in Parliament and in the country a political Labour Party.”

Given that Jeremy Corbyn is opposed by 95% of his own MPs (only 15 MPs voted for him in the 2015 ballot; he wasn't required, as the incumbent leader, to check out that support again in 2016), the first obvious division within Labour would appear to be that between those who want to maintain a strong parliamentary party  (the MPs who opoosed Corbyn) and those who want to make it more a grassroots-run organisation (principally Corbyn supporting groups like Momentum and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy).  This New Statesman editorial summarises and comments on the division. 

The policy differences, of course, are severe. The leaking of Labour's election manifesto suggested serious opposition within the party to it.  It has become a fundamentally binary struggl…

Mrs. May and her flawed campaign

The Manchester atrocity hasn't actually persuaded people to forget what a very poor offering Theresa May is wanting to give them.  This is despite the serious efforts of May and her few loyalists, who have been banging on non-stop about security and doing everything they can to remind us all of Jeremy Corbyn's IRA links.  The fact is, though, that people on the doorstep are still interested in policy details that will affect them personally.

This is why the scorchingly bad social policy U-turn is still having an impact.  Tory candidates report a poor and antagonistic doorstep reaction with the U-turn itself having done little to restore any faith in Mrs. May's promises. Meanwhile the Labour party has been making more hay than expected with a range of policies that are basically saying "we know things don't work, so let's go back to a golden age of government intervention".  That works because the first part of the message resonates today and ever faulty m…

Does Diane Abbot deserve the hate?

Having just watched shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbot being interviewed by Andrew Marr, I definitely haven't come away with the feeling that she is a sharp, canny and effective political operator.  She tends to be rambling, anecdotal and cornered by her past comments and attitudes.  At best, she gave a mediocre performance.  What did cause pause for thought however was the rapid vitriol she attracted on twitter.  If you ever think the print media isn't weighted against Labour - and left-wingers like Abbot in particular - then just consider this.

Abbot was asked by Marr to defend herself against the charge that she would be a dangerous Home Secretary.  Beginning a list of several personal factors that she felt were good - or "helpful" - characteristics in a home secretary, she noted that she had worked in the Home Office as a graduate trainee so had knowledge of it from the inside.  She went on to note some others, including working amongst diverse communities.  It to…

What do voters want?

The Nottingham University professor, Steven Fielding, has published two posts on the excellent university politics blog, Ballots and Bullets, dealing with the issue of what voters want - and therefore vote for - in their political leaders.

His first post was written after Theresa May appeared on the One Show.  In explaining why she would take part in a light entertainment magazine show, he noted that not only was she after its audience - some 5 million probably not very political viewers - but also needed to use the show to develop her empathy with voters.  Reasoned argument does not penetrate particularly far in a modern election, and some might dispute that two or three repeated mantras amounts to reasonable argument in any case. What voters are looking for is someone they can both admire as leaders and support as individuals who understand their own circumstances.  Fielding notes Aristotle's argument on "ethos, pathos and logos" in developing his point.

In his subseq…

How voters think....or don't

There was a fascinating piece on the "Today" programme this morning (scroll to 1:20:35).  Listen to these voters try and identify party policies (they mostly fail), and then explain why it doesn't matter anyway.  They may or may not be a representative sample, but these ordinary voters are classic examples of the principle of voting with the gut rather than the mind.  They are happy that they don't really understand any policies, it doesn't matter what detail parties promise as "they all promise the same and never deliver".  The personality of the leader is the most important thing.

Parties spend a lot of time developing their manifestos.  Voters spend a lot of time ignoring them and then claiming the promises don't amount to a hill of beans anyway.  Win the battle of perception and you've pretty well clinched the election.  That's Lynton Crosby's key understanding, and Theresa May - neither particularly strong or particularly stable as …

The failure of Republican leadership

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It is truly stunning that the President of the United States has almost certainly given classified information to the Russians because he loves bragging and has no control over his tongue.  He has himself pretty well admitted this in his latest tweets (here and here).

It is worth taking a moment to think about how extraordinary this is.  The president of the United States gives intelligence to the Russians!  This was the stuff of jokes not very long ago, or far fetched political thrillers.  Now, it's real.

Now consider the reaction of the Republican leaders on the Hill, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.  They hounded Hillary Clinton over her emails (though no significant information was ever discovered to have leaked) and set up numerous committees to investigate the Benghazi Embassy attack.  They portray themselves as American patriots.  With the exception of a half-hearted mention by Ryan, they have had nothing to say on this issue.  No comment on the fact that the president has …

Firing Comey won't hurt Trump

President Trump's sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey, just after a former fired Justice Dept official, Sally Yates, had been giving damning evidence to Congress, is an extraordinary event.  But not unprecedented in style.

Trump has fired Comey while Comey is overseeing an investigation into Trump's links with Russia.  Back in 1973, Republican president Nixon fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox while Cox was investigating Nixon's links to the Watergate break-in.  Reports have not been slow to raise the links, and Democrats on the Hill have quickly referred to the Comey firing as "Nixonian".

Nixon's actions led to his eventual impeachment.   But enemies of Mr. Trump shouldn't be too keen to expect significant retaliatory action against him.  Here's why.

1.  Nixon's actions came after a slow-burning revelation of the internal paranoia of his presidency through initially unregarded reports in the Washington Post.  By the time Cox was fired, …

US Politics - A-level round-up

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Parties
Democrats in the House
While Republicans have effectively divided into two warring parties over the Obamacare repeal, Democrats have retained a strong congressional unity, says the Washington Post’s Daily 202.
Key points:
1-Democrats have voted with consistent unanimity in rejecting repeal proposals, even those up for re-election in Trump states and districts 2-The House Democratic caucus has changed since Obamacare’s passage in 2010.  “Blue Dogs” have been wiped out and the party’s base has moved left; of 34 Democrats who opposed Obamacare in 2010, only 3 are still sitting in 2017 and they are all opposed to GOP repeal attempts. 3-The Democrats are reacting to the so-called Resistance movement’s pressure from outside the House; similar to Republicans and the tea party at the beginning of Obama’s presidency 4-House Democrat Leader Nancy Pelosi acknowledges it is easier to mobilise votes against something than for something and imposes strict discipline on her caucus 5-In a Washingto…

The bleak outlook for liberalism - in all parties

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Labour and the Conservatives have never been particularly hospitable homes for their moderate, centrist members.  Corralled within an insulated party bubble consisting mainly of true believers, the moderate members have often been regarded as potential betrayers, consensual minded types who occasionally find common ground with their opponents; worse, as people who seem too willing to question the orthodoxies of their chosen tribe and challenge some of their heart-held beliefs.  What kept them going was the belief that their party leaderships, whatever they said in public, often shared their own centrist, outward-reaching attitudes.  In a sense they had to, for how else could they expect to govern except with the support of some of that part of the electorate which didn’t traditionally identify with their party?  So for decades in the past century or so, the two parties were, for the most part, led by mainstream centrists. 
Since 1945, the Labour party has had o…

6 quick election announcement takeaways

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1.  Theresa May hasn’t actually called a general election yet.  She can’t.  The Fixed Term Parliament Act leaves that decision with the House of Commons, so in reality the fate of this putative election lies with the other parties (see Lord Norton's short sharp analysis).  If Labour – as Corbyn has asserted – supports the call, along with the SNP and the Lib Dems, then the one thing they cannot do is accuse May of putting party interest before country.  The Act no longer allows her to do that.  Instead, it makes a 2/3rds majority of MPs responsible instead.  Murmurings of turkeys and early Christmases spring to mind, and I do wonder if all Labour MPs are going to sign up to Corbyn’s suicide pact tomorrow.  If they do, then for more than a few it will be a means to hastening their unloved leader’s end.
2.2.  Most forecasts – actually all forecasts – give the Tories a whopping likely majority.  This is pretty solid, and it will take a small political earthquake to dislodge the Tory a…

Is Trump treading Reagan's path?

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Republicans consistently rave about Ronald Reagan as one of the twentieth century's greatest presidents.  There is more than a little yearning for Reagan in their attitudes to Donald Trump. Trump himself is an admirer of the 40th president and sees himself treading the same path.

And Trump may well be right.  I was struck, when reading William Leuchtenburg's chapter on Reagan in his "The American President", just how much there was a similarity between them.  Forget the traditional smiling picture of Reagan, and consider this:

"If the casual observer thinks that Trump’s presidency is headed for the rocks, then reflect for a moment on the actuality of Reagan’s presidency.  His swingeing budget cuts condemned millions to poverty and wretchedness, cutting off millions more from any realistic chance of health care. His tax cuts benefitted primarily the very wealthy.  He sought to weaken the Voting Rights Act and became the first president to veto a civil rights act;…