Daily Archives: January 10, 2016

Pressing engagements

There’s a risk of seeming a trifle Mary Poppins here, but in everything that has to be done, there an element of …

Consider how I started Sunday.

There were three outstanding tasks:

  • serially filling a mug from the coffee pot;
  • while navigating the Sunday papers;
  • then devoting the wood-burner’s glass.

Each involved newspapers in one way or another.

I realised that my ritual for the Sundays was to start with The Observer main comment page:


On week-days, a Guardian ritual would start with Doonesbury revisited, then the jokey bits in G2. On a Saturday, with Tom Dyckhoff’s Let’s Move to ., Mrs Cameron’s Diarythen the Review section.  Only then can it be The Times crosswords.


Rawnsley ✔︎ 

This week, he is alpha-plus with his essential assumption about 2016:

Blue on blue, red on red. Welcome to the year of great schisms…

Finally, the realisation is growing that Cameron has painted himself into the tightest of corners with his #Brexit tactics. Back in 2005 he wouldn’t have got the Leader’s job without making a referendum commitment: he had to show Euroscepticism to balance that waffle about “modern compassionate Conservatism“. For a decade he managed to defer, until 7th May 2015, when party management made further equivocation impossible. To that extent, Rawnsley’s paragraphs 4 to 8 are impeccable:

Now that the end of David Cameron’s tortuous renegotiation seems to be sort of in sight, the Conservative party is girding itself to engage in the great showdown over Europe it has spent decades working up to. When the prime minister announces that he is sufficiently satisfied with the terms he has secured that he is recommending continuing membership of the EU, he will probably have the majority of the cabinet behind him. What he will not have is the majority of Conservative MPs or the majority of his party members…

The assertion that two-thirds of Conservative MPs are convinced Outers or strongly leaning that way is more debatable. Many Tory MPs have to face Turnip Taliban associations, particularly so when the local Tory Party has been hollowed out by senescence and neglect. Not surprisingly, such MPs will be Eurosceptic to keep the peace. They may not be so committed when City interests and commonsense intervene.

What that does mean, though, is the fall-out thereof will be great, which Rawnsley has measured the becquerel.

Two recurring nightmares disturb the sleep of even this famously chillaxed prime minister. One is that he loses the referendum, a result that would be such a thunderous blow to his authority that it would very likely also mean his compelled retirement from Number 10. The other nightmare is that he wins the referendum, but in a way that leaves the Tory party irretrievably shattered by the intensity of feeling unleashed during the campaign.

“That’s the real question,” says one close ally of the prime minister. “Can the Conservative party be put together again afterwards?”

The fear is of a narrow victory that is seen as unfair and leaves a seething Tory party in a mood to punish those of its leaders who campaigned to remain in the EU.

Then and now

It will, of course, be a “narrow victory” either way. It won’t be 1975, when only Shetland and Na h-Eileanan Siar voted Out. Even Northern Ireland, despite Ian Paisley’s anti-Papal tirades, voted 52-48 to stay In. So Harold Wilson romped home, 67% to 33%. 

More than that, Wilson won on the argument. I started as an anti-marketeer, following the critiques of Tony Benn, Michael Foot, Peter Shaw and the like. That was also the narrow preference of the Parliamentary Labour Party: in the free vote of 9th April 1975, Labour MPs were against the renegotiated terms 145 to 137, with 33 abstaining. By contrast, only 8 Tories voted against the terms, so they were carried by 398 to 172. I spoke on anti-marketeer platforms. By the end of the campaign I realised I could not in conscience maintain that position. For the only time in my adult life, I did not use my vote.

2016 (or will it slip further, despite Cameron’s brave assurances?) is going to be a much closer split, starting when Cameron has to put his renegotiation to the Commons. This time Labour in the main, and — presumably — the Nationalists will vote In. The two-thirds of Conservative MPs, their DUP clients and other odd-balls comfortably amount to 200+ nay-sayers for starters. The number Labour Europhobes (and there are quite a few: they used to include a certain J.Corbyn in the ranks) could be the swing-shift.

Rawnsley ?

On the other hand, this examiner awards a bare beta to his parallel assumption about Labour’s difficulties:

Labour is far too consumed by its own divisions to be able to mount a critique of anyone else’s leadership. There are many of them, but the most fissile split on the immediate horizon is over the nuclear deterrent. That is what Jeremy Corbyn’s acrimonious and slow-motion reshuffle was really all about.

That’s a point-of-view, and one duly-authorised by Pundit and Guru Enterprises. I’d question its basis.

The main objection most Labour MPs obviously have, to their properly-enstooled Leader, goes far further than any quibbling over Trident. That is the test-question, the shibboleth, but it’s certainly not the business. A good idea might be to consider to which constituency party, which Trade Union, the individual Labour MP defers.

Even then it won’t be clear. Some of the union annual conference votes, which CND exhaustively lists, were either al ing while since, or won by a narrow majority, or both. And how does an MP, from a constituency with an industrial base (there still are a few), reliant on defence orders, vote?

No: Trident is (in Spectator verbiage)  “virtue signalling“. UK defence doesn’t depend on the existence, or not, of a redundant, obsolescent, submarine system. But we won’t save the promised billions by ending it.

The Corbyn/Trident thing is much more visceral. It reflects two well-known moues in Labour history:

Herbie Morrison: “Nye Bevan is his own worst enemy”
Ernie Bevin: “Not while I’m alive he’s not.”

“Why does everyone take an instant dislike to Mandelson?”
“Because it saves a lot of time”

Anyone — like my self — who has had dealings with Corbyn, and more significantly the effluvia which which adhere to him, feel very much the same.

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