Category Archives: Labour Party

26 July 1945: the greatest day in Labour history

  • This is lifted directly from RB McCallum and Alison Readman: The British General Election of 1945, chapter XIII The Forecasts and the Result (the first of the Nuffield Studies).

And my copy is an original, as sold (says the wee sticker on the back of the front hard-back) by Collet’s London Bookshop Ltd. 66 Charing Cross Road, W.C.1 Temple Bar 6306.

On 25 July … the ballot-boxes were opened and the service votes and proxy votes verified. The counting staffs were sworn to secrecy and although in many places they must have gained a fair idea of how the voting had gone, the secret was kept. If it was known that night in Fleet Street, it was not even hinted at in the next morning’s press. Since the verification of the service and proxy votes had enabled each ballot-box to be checked, there was less to do next day. It was only necessary to separate the votes according to the candidates voted for and to count them. Results therefore were expected early in the day. The BBC arranged to give the news hourly from midday on the Home Service. On the Forces programme, however, there was a news bulletin at 11.0 a.m. and those who listened in to that had the first inkling of the results, which showed startling Labour gains. The news was also published in frequent editions of all evening papers and, in clubs and such places, on tape machines.

The Daily Express of Friday, 27 July, devoted nearly a page to an admirable and dramatic description of how the results reached its office. Shortly after ten o’clock in the morning the first result came in. South Salford was a Labour gain. Kingston-on-Thames followed, Conservative, no change, but Manchester Exchange was a Labour gain. Two more Socialist gains in Lancashire followed, and Rotherham and Burnley were held for Labour with vastly increased majorities. By 10.25 the first Cabinet Minister had fallen: Mr. Harold Macmillan was out at Stockton-on-Tees by 9,000 votes; Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook’s son, held Holborn but only by 925 votes. By 10.40 the most significant news of the whole election was reaching the office. Birmingham was going Labour. A little later, Sir Percy Harris, the Liberal Whip, was known to have been defeated in Bethnal Green after twenty-three years’ membership. The BBC news to the Forces at 11.0 showed a tremendous swing to Labour. Actually it exaggerated it. A rough calculation at 11.0 suggested that the Conservatives would be reduced to a figure not much over 100. Mr. Brendan Bracken’s defeat was known shortly before 11.0. At 11.15 Mr.Lyttleton was reported to be in at Aldershot, an important survival for the Conservatives. By 11.30 Mr. Ernest Bevin and Mr. Attlee were known to be returned. At the same time news of more Conservative defeats was arriving from Birmingham, where Mr. Amery, the veteran Conservative Minister, had been defeated. By 12.0 o’clock it was clear that the London suburbs were going strongly Labour. The Government had lost 50 seats and the Socialists had gained 55 , the difference being made up by Liberal seats lost to Labour. Just after 12.0 Mr. Morrison was returned at East Lewisham, with a majority of 15,000 , in spite of Mr. Churchill’s visit to the division and his special plea to turn Mr. Morrison out. Sir William Beveridge’s defeat at Berwick was heard of next, and Sir Richard Acland’s in Putney followed. At about 12.20 Mr. Churchill’s return at Woodford was known.

By 1.15 the state of parties was: Labour 196, Conservatives 58. Labour gains 106. Scottish results, nearly always later than English, began to arrive after 1.0. The Liberal National leader, Mr. Ernest Brown, was defeated at Leith. Sir Archibald Sinclair’s defeat in Caithness and Sutherland was not known till 2.15. By 2.30 as many as 544 results were known, and the magnitude of the Socialist victory was clearly evident. The flow of results began to slow down, ending with the Hornchurch division of Essex at about ten o’clock in the evening. The universities had still to come, but they could not affect the general political situation.

Smug Clem & cautious George

When one party decisively defeats another at a General Election, and reverses the situation in Parliament, constitutional practice prescribes that the defeated ministry should resign without delay. Disraeli set this precedent after his defeat by Gladstone in 1868, and Gladstone followed the same course when defeated in 1874. Before 1868 it had been usual for the ministry to wait and meet Parliament, which would record a vote of no-confidence through the House of Commons. A ministry which has lost its majority in the House, but with no other party holding a clear majority, may delay until Parliament meets and gives its decision. Mr. Baldwin followed this course very reasonably in 1923 . But for Mr. Churchill the verdict was clear. The strength of parties in the House had been almost reversed as the result of the Election, and the Liberals, who might have been a balancing factor, reduced to only twelve members. Mr. Churchill decided not to wait even until next day, thereby establishing a new record in speed of resignation. The times were pressing and dangerous, and it was of high public importance that the new ministry should be formed without delay, in order that Mr. Attlee might be free as soon as possible to go to Potsdam to continue the conference with President Truman and Marshal Stalin. Mr. Churchill had heard the results in the map room of the Cabinet at 10 Downing Street. At seven o’clock in the evening he went in a car to Buckingham Palace. He left it at 7.25 having tendered his resignation to the King. Five minutes later Mr. Attlee drove into the Palace court-yard to be received in audience, and to kiss hands on his appointment as Prime Minister. One of the greatest reversals in our political history produced the speediest change of government ever known, and a remarkable example of the continuity of constitutional authority.

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That Portillo moment

The BBC Parliament channel is running the election night coverage of the 1997 General Election.

After these years of four Tory wins in a row, it was uplifting to hear both Ian Duncan Smith and Cecil Parkinson suggesting five in succession was too much to ask. And also agreeing that crashing-out of the ERM, way back in the early months of the parliament, had been the decisive moment when public confidence went AWOL and couldn’t be recovered.

While Stephen Twigg at Southgate is etched on my memory, what I had forgotten is just how tremendous were the swings against Tories in 1997: Portillo was out on a swing of 17.4% — though David Dimbleby, off the cuff, gave the number as “seventeen and a half percent”. Or, another way, over the parliament since 1992, the Tory party in Southgate had mislaid way, way over nine thousand voters.

The applied question in 2020 must be whether the abysmal performance of this Johnson administration can recover from its present slide. There was a seven per cent ‘swing’ against, in the polling over just this last week.

It has been conventional wisdom that Johnson’s majority, some eighty seats, makes him unassailable. Well, well! I remember the Daily Telegraph in October 1959 assuring us that the Labour Party was finished ‘for a generation. Similar opinions were offered after the election wins of Margaret Thatcher. John Major, in 1992, was cock-of-the-walk.

A swing of Portillo proportions would change the 2019 result from Tories 43.5%/Labour 32.2% to something nearer Labour 41%/Tories 35%. And that’s being generous.

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No bigger than a constituent’s hand on the keyboard

There’s a fascinating aspect of the small furore going on in the Tory Party (itself a reflection of a national teeth-grinding outside those hallowed halls).

It’s all the fall-out of the Cummings Affair.

It is generally reported that upwards of forty Tory MPs are now on record to have said the man must go.

If so, we are well into double percentage figures of the 365 Tories returned just last December. The gilt is off the ginger-bread, and the guilt is definitely on. But over a hundred of those 365 have nominal (or better) posts in this government — they are the ‘pay-roll vote’. So far just the one of them, a junior Scottish Office bag-carrier, has jumped ship. At which point we re-calculate and find over 15% of back-bench Tory MPs are none too happy. That proportion will almost certainly escalate rapidly, unless the ship is stabilised — and especially when, next week, the Whips require a show of total loyalty.

So let’s do another calculation, based on no more than historic appreciation and experience.

A couple of days ago, Stephen Bush of the New Statesman did an appreciation of The four Conservative groups that want Dominic Cummings out – and the two that matter. The four are (in my reading and in an unfair gloze of the excellent Bush):

  • the irreconcilable #Brexiteers, the hard men, John Major’s ‘bastards’, the died-in-the-wool and driest Thatcherites, who have soldiered on through one campaign after another, and still dream of seeing a Tory Party fashioned in their uncompromising purity;
  • the Chairs of the parliamentary select committees, who owe their position to the votes of other back-benchers. All have a brilliant future behind them.  But very little else to lose.
  • the men — and it is largely men — elected in 2015 or even 2010, who feel their talent remains unrecognised, and unrewarded. They see less-able types beating them in the cursus honorum, even when — or even because — they lack a Y-chromosome.
  • Prominent among this last group are those who see, and fear the light of the new Starmer dawn. They look at their majority, and wonder …

For many of those, all that glisters is the hope of a knighthood, ‘for public and political services’, at a vanishing point in the futi=ure. Though, that prospect might —just might  — be advanced by a modest and calculated show of dissidence. When the Whips run out of stick, there’s always such a carrot.

Here’s another thought …

Without doubt the Great British Public are pissed off by the lack of pubs, by the camaraderie there and the work-place, and even more so by the lack of hair-dressers and barbers.

We should be amazed tolerance has lasted this long.

But a significant motive has been sheer fear. This CoVid-19 has already achieved an attrition of one in a thousand. Today’s figure of ‘hospital deaths’ is over 38.000 — when we add in the concomitant numbers, those not primarily attributed to Covid-19 or because they chose to die elsewhere, the niumbers may well much greater.

So, a comparison. In 1940-41 the Luftwaffe pulverised British cities with forty to fifty thousand tons of high explosive and incendiaries. That achieved something not greatly above forty thousand dead civilians. In the crudest terms, this viral scourge has compressed the Blitz into less than a trimester (so far).

The Blitz, though, had a very visible cause. Not so with Covid-19.

Group solidarity, team-spirit, we’re all in this together (as the Tesco t-shirts have it) is not going to totally fragment. On the other hand, us-vesus-them was there in the Blitz, and is burgeoning forth now.

Which is the moment-of-danger for any democratically-elected government. Very quickly them-as-is in-charge lose respect. And with respect goes deference. And trust.

So let’s consider, did we need to, the decline in Boris Johnson’s ratings at represented by those infernal opinion polls. 6,041 YouGov interviews re currently giving him a +39% positive and -43% negative approval. Today’s poll was:

So back to the fourth group of Tory MPs, identified above. Does a 4½ per centre swing, in just a few days, make them sweat a bit?

 

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The hole-y Denis Winston Healey

My alter-ego was a (twice) defeated Labour parliamentary candidate. In our second outing, Transport House sent us Denis to speak at an election meeting. We held it, quite deliberately, in the heart of the Tory fastness. As we expected, young Tories piled in to heckle. By the time the blood — that of the young Tories, that is — was all spilled,

And even the ranks of Tuscany
Could scarce forbear to cheer.

For Denis was a warrior, in the classic mould. He was the Royal Engineer who served through the North Africa campaign, Operation Husky to invade Sicily, was beach-master at Anzio, and then through the long Italian campaign. He was the dashing Major, still in uniform, who addressed the Labour Conference of 1945:

Post-War, he was Ernie Bevin’s man in the Labour Research Department. We need to remember how crucial that was, in the first steps to reconstitute the federal West German republic — it was the likes of Healey and trades unionists (Walter Citrine, George Woodcock, Vic Feather) who helped Bevin ensure the FDR wasn’t formed from the fantasies of US Army flacks.

Holes

Long after he left the scene, one Healey truism resonates. It first appeared in a 1964 interviewer The Banker magazine:

Let me tell you about the law of holes: If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

That was soon rubbed down by usage into the cogent:

When in a hole, stop digging.

As ever, American sources suggest theirs got it first:

Nor would a wise man, seeing that he was in a hole, go to work and blindly dig it deeper…

Of course, the original Book of Proverbs preceded them all (27.12):

A prudent man foreseeth the evil and hideth himself, but the simple pass on and are punished.

To which others have added various corollaries:

When your opponent is in a hole and digging, why would you want to take away his shovel?

Though that looks like a variant of the (allegedly) Napoleon Bonaparte view:

Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.

Good to see Healey, or whoever, still guiding the Leader of the Labour Party. Particularly so, at a moment when the whole (Geddit?) Cummings affair is well down into and undermining the Tory foundations.

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23rd May 1945

Everyone knows the significance of 8th May 1945 — VE-Day.

British domestic history should equally mark subsequent dates. 23rd May 1945 is the first of them. It was the end of the wartime Coalition Government.

To be honest, until I reflected enough do this post, I had assumed Labour and Liberals ‘walked’ out of the Coalition. Now it seems just as reasonable that they were ‘pushed’.

Things had been germinating for some time.

Once the War had turned — Stalingrad, North Africa — minds turned to ‘What next?’

Churchill made a broadcast, 21st March 1943,  outlining a post-War Four-Year Plan. The text of that is here. His tone implies caution — and certainly not some grand scheme for a change of political direction:

we must beware of attempts to over-persuade or even to coerce His Majesty’s Government to bind themselves or their unknown successors in conditions which no one can foresee and which may be years ahead, to impose great new expenditures on the State without any relation to the circumstances which might prevail at that time and to make them pledge themselves to particular schemes without relation to other extremely important aspects of our post-war needs.

That was followed up in a susurration of White Papers: these satisfied neither the Labour nor the Liberal Parties. Even so (21 May 1943) the Labour National Executive warned members not to get carried away: the Party’s involvement in the Coalition was more than bringing about military victory. On the other hand:

the work of the Labour Ministers was vital if the influence of the Labour, Trade Union, and Co-operative movements was to have any effect on post-war plans.

The entitlement of ‘difference’

Sidney Silverman was in tune with Party sentiment when, at Annual Conference 1943, he declared the Beverage Report’s pledge on ‘freedom from want’ was:

The basic principle of this Party, the only thing which entitled us at the beginning and entitles us now to regard ourselves as fundamentally different from all other parties.

By the end of 1944 the end was in sight — and that included the terminus of the Coalition. All parties clearly felt the present session of the parliament (a parliament which had persisted since November 1935) was its last. So Churchill, 31st October 1944, moved the Prolongation Bill:

In asking for a prolongation of the life of this Parliament for another year, I doubt very much whether the Parliament will last so long. […]

Let us assume, however, that the German war ends in March, April or May, and that some or all the other parties in the Coalition recall their Ministers out of the Government, or wish to bring it to an end from such dates. That would be a matter of regret, both on public and on personal grounds, to a great many people, but it would not be a matter of reproach or bitterness between us in this Government or in this House once Germany has been defeated.

Look further: Churchill pledges:

there must on no account be what is called a “coupon” election.

No repeat, that is, of 1918. However,

The Conservative Party have a majority of more than 100 above all parties and independents in the present House, and it would therefore fall to us to make arrangements for the inevitable General Election. I cannot conceive that anyone would wish that election to be held in a violent hurry or while we were all rejoicing together and rendering thanks to God for our deliverance. There must be an interval.

The implicit threat is the Tories would be able to delay, even if for a short while, to a time that suited their interests best. That apart, about the most heated point in the debate was the exchange between Nye Bevan and Herby Morrison.

Greeks bearing splits

Then, in December 1944, came the Greek crisis. In truth, few knew what was happening in Greece. In Britain, in Parliament, in the Labour Party, what mattered was the mood-music. It seemed as though a right-wing government was being imposed in Greece. And Churchill’s contribution, in the Commons debate of 8th December, was felt to be inflammatory. It didn’t help that the Left remembered his anti-communism and anti-bolshevism (after all, Uncle Joe Stalin was still an ally). The vote of confidence, with Labour ministers faithfully supporting, went 279-30 for the government — but 118 Labour MPs, the bulk of the non-payroll vote, abstained.

The sheer speed of events in the first quarter of 1945 — between the Red Army entering Warsaw (17 January) and the crossing of the Rhine — focused attentions. Just below the surface, though, there were movements.

Taking up positions

We can easily, from this distance, spot two significant gestures.

One was territorial, and expansionist. On 10th January it became known that Herbie Morrison was switching his constituency: the Labour Party announced he would stand in the Tory-held seat of East Lewisham — and East Lewisham had never returned anything but a Unionist/Tory (the incumbent had a decent near-7,000 majority in 1935). Yet, Herbie had his finger on the pulse, and didn’t take on the impossible.

The other was ideological and negative. The Tory Chairman declared (18 February) that the Party’s platform at the forthcoming Election  would be against nationalisation and bureaucracy: this became the Tory dogma for decades — private enterprise versus nationalisation. The Tories also had Churchill, and adulation of the man was promoted as a national cause.

By early April it was full-on partisan rhetoric: ministers were abusing each other from public platforms.

Pause for thought?

As Germany collapsed, that took attention elsewhere. The feared Nazi ‘Southern Redoubt’ failed to materialise, and surrender might happen at any moment. Hitler’s suicide was known by 1st May, and unconditional surrender on 7th May. National exhilaration meant the withdrawal of Labour and Liberal ministers was felt inappropriate — and it didn’t happen, yet.

There would be a General Election. The only question was when? The Tory view seemed to be to catch the moment, and have one as soon as possible: the Labour and Liberal Parties had no wish to be caught in the great patriotic outburst, and were prepared to delay until the autumn.

The Annual Conference of the Labour Party was to be at Blackpool on 18th May. Opinion was this would be a decisive event. Two days before, 16th May, Churchill intervened: he wrote letters to the other Party leaders suggesting deferring any Election until the end of the Japanese War, or withdraw and have a July Election. That ruled out an autumn date.

The delay until after the fall of Japan was not entirely new: Churchill had — in passing — thrown out the suggestion in that Prolongation Debate the previous year. Even then, Churchill felt any further extension of the over-long 1935 parliament might need some plebiscite.

At Blackpool, the Labour leadership had reviewed the options. There was a closed session of the Conference, and — with just two dissents — it was agreed to reject any continuation until after the Japanese War. Attlee replied to Churchill (21 May) in those terms. He added there were good reasons to have the Election in the autumn: a renewed register (which would be in October), service candidates would be better known, the issues could be better argued.

What went out the window in Attlee’s reply was any referendum, which he considered ‘alien’ to the British system. That, of course, was a line that came back to haunt the Labour Party.

Churchill closes down the exchanges

Clearly the Tory Party saw no advantage unless the Election was brought forward. The very day after Attlee’s letter, Churchill terminated any further to-and-fro. He alleged that Attlee’s letter has cast aspersions, and:

tolerable conditions under which we could work together no longer existed.

What isn’t clear is Churchill’s aim. He had offered his “Four Year Plan’, to be delivered by some form of National Government. In that October 1944 Debate he had expressed confidence that the Coalition would get a renewal of confidence. At the Tory Conference in March 1945 he was desiring a further Coalition, even were Tories returned to power. His notional referendum had to be some form of prevarication.

On 23rd May came the pulling of the plug. Churchill sought audience with the King, and tendered his resignation. George VI must have consulted. Four hours on, Churchill was summoned back and asked to form a new administration. Churchill then requested, and was granted the dissolution of the parliament of 1935.

All of that while the Labour men were still away in Blackpool. They returned to Westminster and cleared their desks. On Monday 28th May, the Labour ministers handed back their seals of office.

Party politics was back, and in earnest.

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Tuesday, 12th September, 2017

Business of the day:

A bank account entry that is clearly wrong. Lady in my Life sorted it.

Some documents scanned for filing. This new Canon TS5050 certainly does the job (even better now I’ve put it on USB instead of wifi — which raises serious questions about just how many wifi channels — clearly too many — there are using the cable-modem).

Cursing the arrogance of seven Labour MPs who defected on last night’s three-line Whip, thus granting the Tories fourteen votes (+7/—7) on the Second Reading of this nasty Brexit bill. Quite how Dennis Skinner, the infamous Beast of Bolsover, shared a lobby with Tories and DUPpers escapes me. Yeah, yeah: it’s the pure cynicism of the Socialist Campaign Group of lefty Labour MPs (long-time stalwart, J. Corbyn). And yeah, yeah: the EU is a nasty capitalist club.

Yet, today we have UK inflation, measured by the much-manipulated CPI, at 2.9%. In old money, under what was the Retail Prices Index (now, like so much else, lurking under a non-acronym as RPIX) that would be 4.6%. Faisal Islam, of Sky News, accounts that as driven by record 4.6% spike in clothing & footwear. And then appends a chart lifted from the Office for National Statistics:

There’s another upward tweak due any day, with the scheduled gouging by the energy companies. Not forgetting that, by some sympathetic magic, hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico necessitate petrol price-hikes in Britain.

A swift segue to Bloomberg, and we find a headline:

  • Year-on-year CPI figure rises to 2.9%, beating median forecast

Got that? It’s a competition; and your actual British peasant just lost again. After years of wages being capped at sub-inflationary levels, here comes your next “beating” for being so naughty.

But — hey! — it’s all part of the feel-good factors derived from loyalty to one’s anti-capitalist “principles”, as a member of the Socialist Campaign Group, and huddling in the Tory lobby at the midnight hour. Over to you, Dennis.

Then there was a stretch of the morning, waiting for Peter/Pierre to arrive. Who he? All will be revealed under the next header.

Book of the day:

One added. One, and a vital one, inexplicably missing (the hunt begins). The rest in order of publication, from 1961 to the present:

And that, ladeez an’ gennelmen, is why not much will be heard of or from me for the rest of the day. I’ll be with Peter (born Pierre) Guillam.

 

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Filed under Britain, Dennis Skinner, fiction, John le Carré, Labour Party, Tories.

Monday, 11th September, 2017

Business of the day:

To be honest, not much.

A need to do an appointment at the other end of  York’s throbbing centre, which took all of an hour. This being Monday, in school term, before the students flood back, the streets are not chokka. Tourists and trippers are less in evidence. Even the usual “musicians”, who come to York so their music may die here, are hardly as numerous.

So a gentle amble there, and a Mercedes Citaro back.

Beyond that, time expanded to fill the void, with the wonders of cyber-space, and a small fret whether my repeat medication prescription has gone through. It has; so I can be dosed up for Helvetian exploration later in the week (watch this space).

There was a quick belt or two in a thread on politics.ie.

Oh, and ordered the new John le Carré from Amazon.

Carte du jour:

Apart from morning muesli, lunch-time Cheddar, and endless tea and coffee, a nice evening repast prepared by the Lady in my Life. It involved baking bits of chicken breast, and miscellaneous root-veg. I try not to get too involved in the process.

Booze of the day:

A definitely worthwhile New Zealand Chardonnay. Those antipodean grapes gave their all in a good cause.

Quote of the day:

The Guardian filleted yesterday’s Mail-on-Sunday for Tom McTague and Tim Ross writing about the 2017 Election Campaign:

The authors also reveal that May rarely visited party workers, fearing that Conservative HQ was “a pit of germs”. “There were quite a lot of germs flying around,” one Conservative source said.

How true. How very true.

Meanwhile, in his fortnightly column for the Miami Herald, Carl Hiaasen seems to be plotting his next novel (or even recycling the essential grief in every one of his novels) :

The aftermath is the most predictable part of any major hurricane encounter. That’s when people desperately turn to the big, bad, bumbling U.S. government.

It’s happening now in Texas, following the heart-crushing devastation from Hurricane Harvey. Politicians such as Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Greg Abbott, who built their careers ranting against the federal bureaucracy, are now singing a different tune: Help!

More than 570,000 Texans have already applied for FEMA grants. Unfortunately, the agency’s Emergency Response Fund will run out of money by the time this column is published, unless Congress (for once) moves fast.

Ironically, the cry for Harvey relief is being led by none other than President Trump, who recently proposed slashing FEMA’s budget by $600 million. Now he’s seeking almost $8 billion in aid for Houston and other flooded communities.

This is typical blow-hard hurricane politics, which is tolerable if the result is getting crucial assistance to the victims.

Cruz’s sneering opposition to the Hurricane Sandy relief package has come back to haunt him. Another hypocrite who voted against the New Jersey aid bill was our own Marco Rubio, who’s already pleading for federal dollars to help Floridians in Irma’s path.

Lingering question of the day:

If the Corbynistas’ shibboleth for selection/nomination is “Are you loyal to Jeremy?” (and I have a definite assurance that is so), have we not arrived at peak cultism? Isn’t that kind of dumb zealotry the slippery slope to drinking the Kool-Aid?

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A quick fisking

Two prefatory notes:
1. Each week-day morning I get three emails:

    • The Times is usually first out of the traps with Matt Chorley’s Red Box;
    • Paul Waugh shrewdly chips in with Waugh Zone, the political lead of HuffPo UK;
    • and, trailing the rear, because he has been mulling yet another excruciatingly-brilliant punning headline, comes the New Statesman‘s Stephen Bush.

2. Back in the days of yore, when social media were in their infancy, we took umbrage at the utterances of Robert Fisk. Because we were so much more intelligent than Fisk, we would “fisk” his columns, with counter arguments.

So, this grey Yorkshire morning, I’m fisking Paul Waugh.

REALITY BITES

Way back in 2010, David Cameron made the Liberal Democrats “a big, open and comprehensive offer” to join him in Government. Tomorrow, Theresa May will make what looks to Labour like a small, closed and limited offer to prop her up in power.

Without exception — and for once even the Torygraph is on board — the commentariat do not like the idea.

May’s relaunch speech has been well trailed overnight and includes a line that she will accept “the new reality” of her loss of a Parliamentary majority. But given her lifelong instinct of trusting only a tight-knit team around her, can May reach out to her own party, let alone Labour and others? May rightly wants to build consensus on areas like social care, but just ask Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham how open to cross-party working she has been in the past. On the Today programme, even the impeccably moderate Damian Green underlined the difficulties of any cross-party working, ridiculing Angela Rayner over the cost of wiping out all student debt. No wonder Labour’s Andrew Gwynne dismissed May’s olive branch, saying “they’re having to beg for policy proposals from Labour”.

We are not — heaven forfend! — to see this as a “relaunch”. Such lèse-majesté would deny the glory of Number 10.

The rest of that paragraph amount to a recital of so many current metropolitan political memes. Memes they may be; but they seem copper-bottomed. The jibe about student debt should not be over-looked: all sides are now coming around to recognising what a total disaster, educationally and financially — as well as electorally, the ConDem government inflicted by cranking up student fees and debt to the highest in the developed world. Predictably, the Tories continue, officially, to impale themselves while, behind the arras, scratching around for a way to climb-down.

If the UK were Germany, we might have seen some sort of ‘grand coalition’ in the wake of the snap election, driven by a sense of national mission to deliver a consensual Brexit (I remember Gisela Stuart floating the Tory-Labour coalition idea if the 2015 election had seen a hung Parliament). But we are not Germany and it takes world wars, rather than impending trade wars, to make our opposing parties work together on that level.

The essential differences between English and continental political practices derive from:

  • the shape of the Commons chamber, itself a distant legacy from the choir-stalls of St Stephen’s Chapel in the Palace of Westminster. Once there are two sides, each individual member of the Commons had to decide whether he (and it was always a “he”) was right of the Speaker (the Administration) or left (Opposition). Not for nothing are the two front benches traditionally two swords’ lengths apart.
  • over the centuries, the main supply of parliamentarians has been the Law, they are a contrarian, disputatious and forensic lot. Each argument has to be set against a counter-argument. Remember Swift’s satire of the Little-Endians versus the BigEndians.

Of course, Jeremy Corbyn’s success so far has been built on vigorously opposing the Tories, not working with them. And everyone in Parliament remembers just how badly burned the Lib Dems were by the Tories in coalition, never given credit for the good stuff, blamed for the bad stuff. May will say tomorrow that through cross-party working, “ideas can be clarified and improved and a better way forward found”. But in fact she’s admitting the reality that just 7 Tory MPs is all it takes to defeat the Government. And critics will say the only true way to get her to make concessions is to threaten rebellion after rebellion.

“Jeremy Corbyn’s success so far“: notice two presumptions there. “Success” in practice amounts to gaining 30 seats when all the indicators were for a possible loss of as many as sixty. However, in all truth, Labour opposition has been remarkably limited: in particular on the #Brexit thing. When 49 Labour MPs voted against the Government to keep the UK in the single market, they were abused and worse by Corbynite supporters.

One person who could more credibly make a genuinely big, bold offer to Labour is David Davis, precisely because he would be trusted by his own side not to sell out on the big principles, while being pragmatic enough on how to deliver them. I’ve said before that DD is the Martin McGuinness of the Brexit movement, capable of compromise without abandoning his supporters’ main strategic goal. And despite errors from key allies like Andrew Mitchell, he looks increasingly like the favourite in any Tory leadership race. Green this morning reiterated David Lidington’s line about “the warm Prosecco problem” of Tory MPs gossiping about the leadership. But Mitchell’s parties feature only the finest Champagne, and DD himself likes a pint of bitter. That’s the kind of cross-class, party consensus that May will need to worry about most.

For little obvious reason — but mainly, one has to suspect, for want of a better — David Davis has emerged as the Tory front-runner for a new leader (and, in the present dispensation, Prime Minister). I cannot help musing the Waugh over-eggs his pudding with the “trusted by his own side”. The ultras on the frothing right of the Tory Party trust no-one but themselves — which is why Theresa May keeps head-bangers and second-raters like Liam Fox and Andrea Leadsom as household pets. As of now, Davis’s key strength is keeping in line. Were he to go rogue, he could easily bring down the whole shebang.

One final, dislocated thought:

John Rentoul (another commentator of value) is, but of course, cocking an ironic eye there. Irony on irony: that Paul Staines (by name and by nature) felt moved to protect “the establishment”.

On Saturday I was at the Big Meeting, the Durham Miners’ Gala. The Red Banners flew free. The Red Flag was sung, and — uniquely — the singers knew more than the first verse and chorus.  Tee-shirts proclaimed ¡No pasarán! and La lutte continue! I even heard a scratch band bash out The Internationale. I could have bought books, badges and posters celebrating Lenin, Trotsky, James Connolly.

It was all festive, and slightly tongue-in-cheek. For all the revolutionary ardor, these subversives were set on little more than getting down the next pint.

And yet, according to Guido Fawkes: they had already won! These north-easterners had voted #Brexit. They were successfully challenging the Establishment.

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Filed under Beer, Britain, British Left, Conservative Party policy., democracy, Europe, Guido Fawkes, International Brigade, John Rentoul, Labour Party, leftist politics., Paul Waugh, politics, socialism., Spanish Civil War, Theresa May, Times, Tories., Vince Cable

Advice to a Pert Young Piece

She’s about to have a major encounter with the electorate.

She’s good. We and she are about to discover how good.

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Yurrup in York

I’m just returned from a public meeting, held by the Labour MP for York Central.

Rachael Maskell is a decent lass — a physio by trade,  a trade union official by experience. She is doing her best.

Because of the upsets in the parliamentary party, she chose to side with the leadership (pro tem.). As a consequence of being one of the “stickies”, she ended up, over-promoted, with barely a twelve-month Commons experience, as the fully-fledged  Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary. Again: she is clearly doing her best.

Both locally, and in the national press, she has let it be known — or any least not denied — she has difficulties with the Three-line Whip on Wednesday’s #Brexit vote. Equally, in her response to this evening’s meeting, she indicated she felt she needed to huddle close to the centre of what goes for “power” in the parliamentary party.

So to the meeting itself.

Rachael began with a (over-)long account of where she felt we were. I have to admit, try as I could, I had heard it all before. It was largely read from a script — which itself raises certain questions.

The followed a long string of speakers from the floor.

What was evident was:

  • without exception, the tone went beyond regret and remain, into the pain and the angst of the thinking middle-classes;
  • very few “new” points or issues arose;
  • nobody was prepared to come out and defend the “leave” option;
  • there was considerable distaste that the whole #Brexit charade had over-written, and was continuing to expunge the real problems of British life, welfare and economy.

More to the crunch:

  • even the odd speaker who declared “support” for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership did so with regret and reluctance;
  • more usually, there was complete scorn  for the present leadership: this was met with more enthusiasm than much else on offer.

If Rachael was assuming there were Brownie-points for loyalty to the current leadership, this alone should have disabused her.

At some personal pain, I remained silent: not my usual posture at such gatherings.

Had I been disposed, my extended thoughts would go on these lines (though, for public consumption, a lot more abbreviated):

A Burkean bit

First I bear the tradition of Dublin University’s College Historical Society. When I was elected as Librarian (a pure honorific), I discovered I had responsibility for a series of well-locked glass cabinets. In there were the minutes and records of the “Hist”, back to its foundation. Which was back to “Burke’s Club” of the 1740s. The “Burke” in this context being none other than Edmund.

I find Burke a rank Tory, and eminently readable. At this juncture, nothing of his is as relevant as his Speech to the Electors of Bristol (3rd November 1774). His opponent had just promised to accept mandates from the electors.

Burke responded:

... government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination …

… authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience, — these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.

Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole.

In the core of that great speech is the well-known maxim:

Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

Which is why I feel enormous sympathy — even some pity — for each and every MP who now has to choose a way through this mire.

Which leads into a second thought.

A horror from recent history

On the substantive motion of 18th March 2003, the House of Commons gave authority to use all means necessary to ensure the disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Tony Blair’s government majority there was 263 (412 to 149). 84 Labour MPs voted against, a further 69 abstained.

Had there been a referendum at that moment — and for months after — the British public would have largely backed Blair: YouGov polling, over 21 samplings, suggested 54-38 in favour of war. After all, the Tory media had told them to do so.

Yet we are now asked unquestioningly to “respect” a 51.9/48.1 Brexit split.

Two conclusions

  1. There are arguments against a “Nay” vote on Wednesday’s #Brexit vote; but they more to do with parliamentary procedures than rights-and-wrongs. To vote “Nay” may apparently inhibit such voters from amending the Bill at a later stage. I’ll accept, too, that such a vote can be construed as a two-finger sign to the “Leavers” — and they have yet to learn the full consequences of their expressed wish.

2. However, to vote “Aye” is more perverse. None of us was clear last June what “Leave” might entail — except the dizzy promises of “£350 million a week for the NHS” and “Take back control”. We are still very much in the dark.

However, Theresa May has helped us to recognise what she expects. It amounts to:

  • either the 26 members of the European Union bow to her will;
  • or she kicks over the table, and walks out;
  • and we are left to pay for the tantrum.

Bottom line:

Abstain. Find an urgent family crisis in Aberystwyth. Be on a reciprocal to central Africa. Whatever.

But abstain. Even at the price of a Shadow Cabinet seat.

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Filed under EU referendum, Europe, History, Labour Party, York