Sunday, 30 December 2018

Cheers and Jeers #1


This is the first of what will be a weekly round-up of news stories, for which I will offer cheers or jeers (and sometimes even tears). The concept is a straightforward one - I hope you enjoy it!

Cheers to Lib Dems Zuffar Haq and Molly Rennie – not for receiving an MBE but for the decades of service for which they have rightly been recognised.

Cheers to Neville Southall, the former Everton goalkeeper who has been on twitter helping people with mental health-related problems feel better about themselves over the festive period – and working to raise awareness of mental health generally. Well done, Neville!

Cheers to Captain Lou Rudd, who has just become the first Britain to walk across Antarctica solo. And all to honour his friend’s memory.  

Cheers to everyone in the last week who has helped homeless people at what is often a very difficult time of year. So much positive work goes on and we don’t always hear about it – so here’s a HUGE thank you from a former homeless person.

Jeers to the Home Office, which this week told 3million EU citizens living in the UK that they will have to apply for settled status by December 2020. Stella Creasy is absolutely correct, it’s a “pay to stay” policy.

Jeers to Gavin Williamson, who feels Brexit should be an opportunity to pursue some kind of fantasy neo-colonial vanity project.  

Jeers to the Prime Minister for cynically nominating John Redwood for a knighthood. The honours system has been unfit-for-purpose for decades, but this particular nomination questions its very integrity.

Jeers to Fiona Onasanya MP, who used her column in the Peterborough Telegraph to issue a defiant statement immediately following her conviction for perverting the course of justice. Her constituents deserve better than this serial dishonesty. Some self-awareness, humility and perhaps even an apology would have been more fitting than a hypocritical promise to “fight against injustice”.

Tears for June Whitfield, the immensely gifted comedy actor who died this week, aged 93. Thank you for the memories, June.

Tears also for Georges Loinger, whose heroism saved hundreds of Jewish children during World War II. He too died this week, aged 108.

Saturday, 29 December 2018

My predictions for 2019


Image result for 2019For the last seven years I have made some end of year predictions - inevitably some are more accurate than others, but now it’s become a bit of a tradition the purpose is more to entertain friends than make genuine political forecasts (all that went out of the window a few years ago, when politics became a parody of itself). However, I get a few things right as you’ll see from last year’s efforts:

What I got right: the Liberal Democrats’ fortunes, the UK government’s absence of any strategy on Brexit, the chaotic negotiations, Theresa May losing confidence (especially among Brexiteers in her own party) but ultimately surviving, there not being a General Election, the formality of the Russian presidential election, England not winning the World Cup, and Jose Mourinho being relieved of his duties at Old Trafford.

What I didn’t get right: 2018 being Corbyn’s year, UKIP being able to take advantage of Tory failures on Brexit, and the launching of a new centre party.

I've decided to consult my crystal ball again, and have decided to let you know what will happen in the coming year. Enjoy it – before it comes true!

POLITICS

The Liberal Democrats


* It’s going to be a difficult time for the Liberal Democrats. However, our party will continue to make gains in local elections and with Theresa May’s arbitrary deadline of 29th March drawing nearer our opposition to Brexit and demand for a “People’s Vote” will receive significant coverage. For all his qualities, Vince Cable won’t really be able to revitalise the party - fortunately Layla Moran will step up and her positive contributions in the media will help raise the LDs’ profile (as well as her own as leader-in-waiting).

* A huge challenge for the party will be finding the opportunity to talk about issues other than the EU, partly because our identity has become so intertwined with opposing Brexit but partly because the media are interested in little else. The fact that many people have much little understanding of our policy positions will impact on the party’s fortunes, but a spring by-election in which we finish a strong second lifts confidence.

* With no General Election on the horizon, Vince Cable will announce at Autumn conference that he has decided to resign the leadership. Despite the limited field of potential candidates, members are presented with the choice of three alternatives to succeed Dr Cable – Layla, Jo Swinson, and Ed Davey.

The Conservative Party

* There will be a by-election Peterborough following the resignation of Fiona Onasanya (I appreciate she’s putting on a defiant front at present, but I don’t expect her to maintain this). The Conservatives will win this with a majority of less than 100. The Prime Minister will present this as evidence of faith in her Brexit plan, while those with a little more understanding will realise that a combination of the outgoing MP’s conviction for perverting the course of justice and Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of appeal to the kinds of voters needed to sway marginal Con-Lab seats is responsible for the result. (Lib Dems will finish in a distant, but creditable, third place).

* Crucially, Theresa May will manage to persuade Parliament to accept her Brexit deal. The ERG’s failed coup, the PM’s cynical stalling for time, the risks of a no-deal Brexit, fears of a “People’s Vote” and Labour’s spinelessness will combine to ensure that the Prime Minister gets her way.

* This will only provide some temporary relief to the PM, who increasingly begins to look like a “lame duck” – having already announced she intends to stand down before the next General Election. However, Parliamentary approval for the deal will not prevent retrospective criticism of it and very soon after Britain leaves the EU the hypocritical “I told you so”s from Labour benches, as well as the predictable cynical opposition from the more ideological Brexiters, will further damage her standing with the public. The reputational damage has been done and she won’t be able to turn that around.

* In spite of this, the PM will survive. Why? Firstly, the pathetically organised attempted coup by the ERG means she cannot be directly challenged for another year, and it’s unlikely that even the tactically unaware Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nadine Dorries will make the same move twice. Secondly, those who most desire the top job will understand the wisdom of keeping Mrs May in place as the focal point for Brexit-related dissatisfaction, while biding their time in the slow lane – knowing that an opportunity to run for the leadership will present itself in 2021.

* The acrimonious nastiness and in-fighting will not cease on 29th March – indeed, in many respects, the date of leaving the EU only marks a new beginning in tribal hostilities.

The Labour Party

* Labour’s strategy of bringing about a General Election will completely unravel. That Corbyn’s approach has been second-guessed and countered by a Prime Minister of Theresa May’s modest abilities will create a fair degree of anger among Labour supporters – especially those for whom Brexit is anathema. There will be sustained calls for Corbyn to stand down, which he will refuse to do – the effect of this will be to divide Labour at a time when at a time when it needs to provide strong opposition. 

* Will Corbyn survive? Yes, and no. He’ll end the year as Labour leader, but his unconvincing performance over Brexit, and the internal protests that followed, will have damaged him and while he will stubbornly hang on he will never recover. The loss of another Labour seat to the Tories at an end of year by-election will clearly underline the degree to which Labour’s difficulties are far more serious than the Conservatives’.

* Another MP will resign from Labour over its inability to challenge anti-Semitism. This will be greeted by the usual denials, and nothing will change. 

The Scottish National Party

* As the UK leaves the EU, the significant questions on whether/when to call Indyref 2 will reappear. No longer able to play it safe, the SNP will confirm its intention to hold a further independence referendum in the new Parliament.  

* The SNP will be aided by the dismal performance of Richard Leonard. Unhappiness at SNP policy on local government spending and education fails to have a significant effect on the SNP’s standing in opinion polls, with Labour and the Conservatives losing ground.

* The SNP will be the only party in which the leader’s position is beyond question.

UKIP

* Last year I was unable to predict the farce into which UKIP descended (aside from Henry Bolton’s resignation), which was exceptional even by UKIP standards. Under Gerard Batten, UKIP will slide further rightwards, and further into irrelevance. UKIP members uncomfortable with Batten, and Tommy Robinson’s involvement in their party, will leave for other parties (mainly the Conservatives). Batten will himself resign the leadership in the summer, after which Tommy Robinson will successfully campaign to replace him through the use of strong anti-Islamic messages. 

The SDP

* The self-styled “resurgent” SDP will at least register with the media, owing to Patrick O’Flynn’s ability to get sections of the media to take him seriously. Unfortunately for him it’s soon apparent the SDP is a one-man party, and in spite of increasing their candidates in local elections (and fielding them at every by-election) they will fail to make any gains. 

International

*
Angela Merkel will resign as Chancellor later in 2019, and will be succeeded by Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

* Donald Trump will survive, but by the end of the year he will lack any real credibility. The Mueller investigation, the closure of the Trump Foundation and its misuse of funds, the behaviour of those closest to the President (more Michael Cohens will surely emerge) and a President who appears increasingly out of control will lead Republicans – aside from perhaps the most die-hard of Trump supporters – looking to Mike Pence instead.

* There will, of course, be no wall built on the USA-Mexico border.

* Labor will emerge victorious in the Australian General Election, with Bill Shorten replacing Scott Morrison as Prime Minister.

* Viktor Orban will continue to undermine democracy in Hungary, targeting opponents and making threatening gestures towards the EU.

* In spite of media speculation, there will be appetite among the 27 other EU member states to follow Britain’s “lead”. So no – there will be no other countries announcing their own in/out referenda, whatever Nigel Farage may be telling LBC listeners.

* Indeed, the EU elections in May will confirm that the threat of nationalist populism - widely believed to be on the brink of “shaking up” Europe - will be shown to have been grossly exaggerated.

* The border question isn’t the only issue to remain unresolved in Ireland. The Stormont assembly issue will fail to be answered, but Brexit will have an impact – especially in regards the way the DUP are viewed by the NI electorate. Arlene Foster’s hard conservatism, a product of a different time and a different politics, will be shown to have little appeal to large sections of the population – so, while little progress will occur immediately, things will be changing.

* The USA’s departure from Syria will create opportunities for Vladimir Putin to extend his influence, which I fully expect him to take.

FOOTBALL

* Much as I’d love Tottenham Hotspur to win the English Premiership, I suspect Liverpool will be champions this year (yes, I can’t quite believe I’m saying that either). The relegated teams will be Huddersfield Town, Fulham and Cardiff City. Notts County’s 131-year membership of the Football League will end with a comprehensive defeat away at Swindon Town – they will be relegated alongside Macclesfield Town. Promoted from the National League will be Leyton Orient and Wrexham.

* The Scottish Premiership is shaping up to be one of the most interesting in recent memory, but all the same I fear Celtic will prove too strong.  Ayr United and Ross County will be promoted, replacing Dundee and St Mirren. At the other end of the league, a disastrous season for Albion Rovers will see them relegated from the SPFL, being routed in the play-offs by East Kilbride.

IN LIGHTER VEIN...

* Facebook will reinvent itself, combining its existing functions with a vision to become the new Amazon. The transition into retail will go surprisingly smoothly.

* Britain’s exit from the EU, rather than settling an issue, will lead to all kinds of new political uncertainty. George Osborne, constantly encouraging the emergence of a new pro-EU “centre” party, will launch a new “British” Christian Democrats Party in May. Few people will be interested – apart from Tim Farron, who joins immediately.

* India will beat England in the final of the ICC Cricket World Cup. Or, more accurately, England will throw the game away from a seemingly unassailable position. Geoff Boycott will bemoan the English performance, in particular the bowling attack: “My mother has a more consistent line than Sam Curran.”

* The pound’s value will diminish further on exiting the EU. The predicted chaos will ensue. Fortunately the UK will be saved from economic disaster by the new government-owned enterprise, Mrs Leadsom’s Innovative Plum Jam.

* Nigel Farage will join the continuing Liberal Party. He will say that he had considered aligning himself with the Tories if Jacob Rees-Mogg had become leader, but decided instead to commit himself to a “commonsense patriotic party”. He will announce that the only party he now loathes more than UKIP is the “resurgent SDP”.

* As the realities of Brexit will create major problems at British airports, Theresa May will look to deflect criticism by blaming “some fools with a drone”. An official government statement will upgrade this to “some knobhead with a drone”, which the Daily Mail will interpret as implicating Jeremy Corbyn.

* Various scandals will plague Westminster. Labour will be affected by the Fiona Onasanya conviction, further allegations of anti-semitism and a backbench MP suggesting “Jacob Rees- Mogg is actually a nice guy, deep down.” The Conservatives will be rocked by allegations of financial misdemeanours made against several current and former cabinet ministers. Meanwhile, a Liberal Democrat MP will face calls for deselection from elements of the party membership when a privately recorded interview reveals they believe Dr Who is “a bit s**t”, and that Glee Club is “rather undignified silliness”.

Finally, I would like to wish all of you a happy and successful 2019.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Some thoughts on StupidGate

Yesterday's news was dominated by the question of whether Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn did or did not mutter the words "stupid woman" during PMQs.

The alleged insult was not picked up my any microphones in the chamber, and the only video evidence has proved inconclusive with various lip-reading experts failing to conclude whether he said "stupid woman" or "stupid people".

Some very quick thoughts in response to this:

* Politics - and especially PMQs - has now become, for better or for worse, a media circus.

* Whatever Corbyn said, he should simply apologise to the House for using the word "stupid". Unfortunately so far the Labour leader has handled it poorly and allowed himself to become the story. This is a huge mistake. No-one in the media was interested in reporting on Theresa May's petulant and rather juvenile "pantomime" conduct during PMQs once there was a convenient distraction. Corbyn has provided far too many of these opportunities to his opponents.

* The media have rather strange, but well-established, priorities. Jeremy Corbyn will have known this. The media will take any opportunity to have the Labour leader at the centre of any story, so why given them ammunition?

* The Conservative Party outrage is highly hypocritical. The intemperate demands made of the speaker to act immediately were as infantile as they were irregular. Any casual watcher of BBC Parliament understands that evidence must be reviewed. But it was breathtaking that people so concerned about a perceived slight that was heard by no-one seemed completely unconcerned about Nicholas Soames' highly audible "Go back to Skye" comment aimed at Ian Blackford only hours previously.

* The Speaker is clearly unable to intervene when he has not witnessed an incident and, when expert advice fails to provide clarification, must trust the word of the member. This should not surprise anyone with a modicum on knowledge of parliamentary procedure. Of the two incidents, the Speaker's failure to at least caution Nicholas Soames is of much greater concern. He heard Soames' words, as did others in the chamber, and yet did nothing.

* Andrea Leadsom's use of a point of order to re-open an old dispute with the Speaker was petty and unbefitting of someone allegedly leading the House. Her own continued smears against the Speaker, in which she publicly undermined him with allegations of partiality, are far more "unparliamentary" and damaging to democracy than anything Jeremy Corbyn may have said yesterday. (As an aside, her own pejorative comments on Theresa May's inability to have children were far more shameful than anything Jeremy Corbyn has to date said about the Prime Minister.)

* That parliamentary time was found to ask the Speaker to censure the Labour leader, when debates and votes on the future of the country's relationship with the EU are delayed, is an utter indictment of what passes for parliamentary democracy. This was Conservative opportunism in action; nothing more, nothing less.

* If this relative non-incident has confirmed one thing, it is that lip-reading is a very difficult art to master. It proved impossible for even the most experienced lip-readers to determine what the Labour leader said, which I think underlines the challenges faced by those dependent on being able to lip-read. The confusion and uncertainty many of us felt when attempting to decipher what Corbyn had actually said is a daily reality for many deaf people.

* The undeniable reality is that the House of Commons needs to clean up its act, that PMQs has been reduced to a pantomime and "unparliamentary" behaviour tolerated far more than it should be. Instead of the undignified sight of Tories turning on the Speaker for upholding parliamentary procedure, perhaps efforts would be better spent on overdue reform of both procedure and the chamber itself?