THE COALITION OF CHAOS

Once politicians cease to be politicians, it’s interesting how they belatedly come across as human beings; flicking between BBC and ITV coverage on Thursday night, I found the Saint & Greavsie double-act of George Osborne and Ed Balls on the latter quite entertaining and almost forgot why both provoked such loathing in me when they were in power. Perhaps there is a human being lurking somewhere in Theresa May and we won’t see it until she’s out of office; I would imagine most right now are thinking that day can’t come quick enough.

Anyone watching events on TV since Thursday night, albeit with the volume muted, might have found the images misleading. They could have come to the conclusion that Jeremy Corbyn had been elected Prime Minister and that both Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon were reflecting on relegation to the opposition benches. The expressions of the three party leaders mentioned were more a reflection of results catching them all by surprise. Jezza clearly never expected to do so well; May and Sturgeon never expected to do so badly. At the end of the day, Labour may still be in opposition and the Tories and SNP may still be the biggest parties in England and Scotland respectively, but the latter two both misjudged the public mood and paid the price. May is worse off now than when she called the Election and Sturgeon’s obsession with a second Independence Referendum has seen her lose 21 seats.

If the result of last year’s EU Referendum should have taught party leaders anything it was that the electorate don’t take kindly to condescending, smug, self-righteous arrogance in their elected representatives, and given half a chance they’ll reject being told what to do and how to vote by a pampered Parliamentary elite totally detached from their own lives. It would also appear that the antiquated assault on Corbyn by Fleet Street, utilising tired old tactics that seemed to work in the distant 80s, utterly backfired; our newspapers, like our politicians, still labour under the belief that the Sun can win it; it can’t. Few under 40 even buy newspapers now and the huge increase in the youth vote facilitated by Labour’s canny employment of the cyber language the majority of youth speak resulted in the highest turnout since 1992.

Jezza may have provided Labour with what was apparently the party’s biggest increase in the share of the vote since Clement Attlee, but it’s seats that count when it comes to a General Election. Sorry to take us back to February 1974 again, but it’s always worth remembering that Jeremy Thorpe’s Liberals received the largest share of the vote in the party’s history in that Election – greater than even the share they had in the Liberal landslide of 1906 – yet that only resulted in a paltry 14 seats. Similarly, May’s Conservatives won their largest share of the vote since Thatcher’s 1983 landslide this time round, yet their majority was wiped out. A good deal of these statistics could be attributed to the fact that the vote has been less thinly spread in 2017, with the two major parties claiming 82.4% of it, the first time since the 1970 General Election that Labour and Tory could claim such dominance over the other parties.

Were it not for the fact that the Brexit negotiations are imminent, I’ve no doubt Philip May would never have to put the Downing Street bins out again; as it is, the Tories are postponing Madame Guillotine for the moment, but it’s only a postponement. Theresa May is a dead woman walking after Thursday’s result, our own equivalent of a lame duck US President midway through a second term, knowing re-election is out of the question. Yes, her two toxic advisers Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill have walked the plank today (May ‘laying down her friends for her life’, perhaps); but their ex-boss’s brief speech after visiting Brenda yesterday, bereft of any acknowledgement of the disaster she’d presided over, spoke volumes. Theresa May is in serious denial of her own shortcomings, refusing to accept what is evident to everyone else, her own party included.

For all the success Labour managed, the fact remains that this is the third General Election in a row the party has lost; it now has more seats than it has been able to boast since 2005, but had it managed to push the Tories as tight it did under Harold Wilson in February 1974 the outcome of this Election could have been far closer and Jezza could have a more legitimate claim to form a Government than contemplating a half-arsed coalition comprising Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP that still wouldn’t constitute a majority. However, for all the scaremongering stories about Corbyn’s good relations with Sinn Fein – standing alongside Adams and McGuinness well in advance of all the Prime Ministers that have done just that from the Good Friday Agreement onwards – the irony that Theresa May is having to reach out to the Democratic Unionist Party to prop-up her minority administration, a party whose past association with Loyalist paramilitaries is hardly spotless, can’t have escaped Corbyn.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has been in chaos for months now, and the Tories throwing their lot in with the Unionist side, regardless of the traditional ties between the two, hardly looks like fair play from a Nationalist perspective. Playing the impartial broker of the peace process has been the British Government’s role ever since 1998, and May’s desperate move to cling onto power will merely add to the political turmoil in Ulster at a time when the border with the Republic in the wake of Brexit has already provoked enough uneasiness across the Irish Sea. As for the DUP’s conservative stance on issues such as gay marriage and abortion, which has received the most coverage on social media, they’re largely typical of the hardline Protestant mindset in Northern Ireland, just as they are of the hardline Muslim mindset in the rest of the UK (Ooh – Islamophobia!); but that shouldn’t be the reason why this awkward alliance is a worry.

Yet, regardless of how both last year’s Leave vote and the inconclusive result of Thursday’s General Election have served as evidence of just how disunited this kingdom really is, the PM is content to keep churning out the vacuous slogans and sound-bites she thinks will save her own skin at the expense of the country. Considering I avoided predictions when the snap Election was called, I still imagined a Conservative landslide would be the outcome and said as much. I’m glad to have been proven wrong, but God knows what comes next. Only a fool would be a betting man right now, and I can at least admit I’ve never set foot in a betting-shop.

© The Editor

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SCOTCH FROTH

The aim of Sinn Fein is to achieve a united Ireland; the aim of the Scottish National Party is to achieve an independent Scotland; therein lies the basic raison d’être of both political parties. Neither has managed to achieve either aim yet, though the SNP has come closest. The result of 2014’s Independence Referendum, rejecting the SNP’s ‘Braveheart’ fantasy, may have cost Alex Salmond his job, but it was never going to be the end of the story with Nationalists ruling the Holyrood roost. The Brexit vote was the dream result for Nicola Sturgeon, and this week’s announcement by the First Minister that she intends to instigate a rerun of 2014 has been expected ever since the morning of June 24 last year.

On paper, Sturgeon’s demands appear to be economic insanity. With the UK perched on such an uncertain precipice, having endured almost a decade of austerity measures and now facing a protracted withdrawal from Europe, why the hell would the SNP want to jeopardise these uncertainties further by bailing out of a Union that it has done far better from than the Union it wants to throw its lot in with? The bloated beached whale of the EU has been on its arse – to paraphrase a little French – for years; Germany may be flourishing, but Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal tell a different story. That the SNP places a ‘special relationship’ with a struggling continent over its relationship with its nearest neighbour speaks volumes as to its narcissistic agenda.

Sturgeon’s Scotland seeking an alliance with an ailing institution rather than remaining a key member of a county it helped put on the world map says everything one needs to know about the SNP. It doesn’t give a toss about its countrymen and their future; all it can see through its tunnel-vision is sepia-tinted liberation from the Auld Enemy, something that conveniently brushes aside the benefits of a relationship Scotland entered into with shrewd economic foresight 310 years ago.

Scotland didn’t unite with England because – unlike Wales or Ireland – a megalomaniac monarch with anger issues conquered it; Scotland was smart enough to recognise the financial benefits of such a union at a time when its own finances were far from healthy, and the deal that brought hundreds of years of mutual antipathy to an end was sealed by Queen Anne, an English sovereign from a Scottish royal dynasty, the Stuarts. Thanks to the willingness of the Scots to link arms with the bastard English, the collective inhabitants of this violent, quirky, bloodthirsty, ill-tempered and eccentric island were truly united for the first time since the Roman occupation; and what came out of that union surpassed even the global reach of our former Latin subjugators. When Ireland was officially absorbed into the club just under a hundred years later, the journey from Great Britain to the United Kingdom was complete.

The Union was the culmination of a long transformation from warring tribal kingdoms to the mature recognition of the sense in joining together; having done pretty well out of the deal since 1707, one would imagine recognition of that fact along with future Scottish prosperity would be at the forefront of the SNP’s mind; but a party that cynically toys with the tendency of Celts to romanticise and sentimentalise their ancient history is too focused on its one objective to take anything else into consideration, let alone pressing issues in the here and now that even Robert the Bruce would struggle to deal with.

Theresa May’s predecessor at No.10 signed the Edinburgh Agreement with then-First Minister Alex Salmond, which gave Holyrood the power to call the 2014 Independence Referendum free from any Westminster approval, but that only applied to 2014; Nicola Sturgeon needs to seek a similar agreement in order to instigate round two, though it seems highly unlikely the PM will grant it to her when she currently has bigger fish to fry. Besides, despite an upsurge in support for Scottish independence following the EU Referendum, the figures have since slipped back to where they were in 2014 – further evidence that underlines Sturgeon’s willingness to sacrifice the interests of half her fellow Scots for the sake of her own ego.

Nicola Sturgeon fired her anticipated missive at a moment when she, like many observers, imagined Theresa May had her finger on the trigger of the revolver known as Article 50; but by attempting to punch above her weight and dictate the Brexit narrative, Sturgeon may well have gambled on the outcome of a second referendum that polls consistently claim her nation is hardly unanimously in favour of right now. Not that this will concern the First Minister, however; being the leader of a Nationalist party means everything – including a measured response to a delicate situation – is secondary to the overriding obsession of independence, whatever the cost to her country. As long as she can get to play Mel Gibson in drag, the sacrifice is justified.

© The Editor

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HARD TIMES

britannia-statue1Ooh, it’s hard – it’s really hard! Yes, porn-speak infiltrates political discourse and, guess what, the SNP, Sinn Fein and the Lib Dems aren’t happy. Finally, the PM emerges from her Downing Street bunker and outlines her Brexit strategy. It’s only taken Theresa May the best part of six months to come up with some sort of speech to get the classes chattering at Westminster, Holyrood and Stormont, but she’s done it at last.

Yesterday, Our Beloved Leader announced that the UK will be leaving the European Single Market as part of our exit from the EU, confirmation of something that had been anticipated and (in the self-interested case of Nicola Sturgeon) hoped-for. Free movement of goods, services and capital without the free movement of people isn’t going to happen, so the Prime Minister had little option but to include this as a key part of her speech. It goes without saying that prominent Remainers in Parliament took the news badly; Tim Farron described being removed from the single market as ‘a theft of democracy’ and ‘not something proposed to the British people’. In case he’s already forgotten, nothing other than Leave or Remain was on the ballot paper last June; that was the extent of the detail.

The PM said Parliament would indeed vote on the final deal once unveiled, though a majority of votes by MPs and Peers against it wouldn’t alter the deal being enacted, which renders the laborious process of debating the issue in the Commons and the Lords somewhat redundant; I suppose it’ll serve as a token gesture to the Great British Sovereignty that a Leave vote was allegedly intended to return us to the bosom of, and it’ll also waste more time as the negotiations drag on and on, of course.

Along with leaving the European Single Market, the UK will wave bye-bye to the EU Customs Union, with the PM claiming it restricts Britain from being able to cut trade deals with non-EU member states; at the same time, she said she wanted the UK to have a new tariff-free trading relationship with the EU. It looks like Mrs May wants that cake and she’s determined to eat the bloody thing! It was this aspect of the PM’s plans that particularly upset the Nationalist parties in Ulster, with Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd declaring the decision ‘creates a hard border on the island of Ireland’. However, May did add that a crucial element of her intentions for Brexit in relation to Northern Ireland would be that the Common Travel Area between the UK and Eire remains.

At this moment in time, with the power-sharing Executive suspended pending an election, Northern Ireland would seem to have more pressing matters; not so Scotland, of course – according to the SNP, anyway. The PM may have said all the devolved UK administrations would have a part to play in formulating the Brexit strategy, but Nicola Sturgeon wants a ‘special deal’ for Scotland that flies in the face of May’s rejection of the European Single Market. The First Minister may be publicly stressing she believes Scotland remaining attached to the EU is in Scotland’s economic interests, but it’s been evident ever since she succeeded Alex Salmond that she intends to overturn the Independence Referendum result of 2014 at the first opportunity; and now it would appear that Theresa May’s speech has presented it to her.

Perhaps still stung by Obama’s threat of the UK being at the back of the queue when it comes to trade deals should the country dare to exit the EU, the Government now seems to be hinging a lot of post-European optimism on maximising ‘the special relationship’ again. The President-Elect wants to be our friend, or at least that’s what we’ve been led to believe via the Donald’s stated fondness for Britain, his thumbs-up for Brexit and his apparent willingness to do deals with us. Toe-curling snapshots alongside the likes of Farage and Gove probably shouldn’t be taken as an indication that this is where the majority of our global trading future lies, however.

Enthusiastic Brexiteer Boris Johnson has played down any over-reliance on the US by claiming endless other nations will be queuing up to sign trade deals with the UK once the death warrant on our EU membership known as Article 50 has been triggered – well, once the expected two-year process is over and done with. The Foreign Secretary added that ‘we are not slamming the door to migrants or hauling up the drawbridge’. But for all Bo-Jo’s bravura, nothing is as clear-cut as he and his ilk are liable to paint it; and one of the few straws Jeremy Corbyn could clutch at yesterday was his conviction that extricating ourselves from the EU might take a little longer than a couple of years.

Whether that means all those countries forming an orderly queue to trade with us are prepared to wait that long, only time will tell; and all of this is undoubtedly going to take time.

© The Editor

PS We can still console ourselves as to the integrity of our Great British Institutions, however…


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A WHITEHALL FARCE

leatherI envy anyone stupid enough to have thought this would all be done and dusted by June 24 last year. The Brexit saga seems set to run and run as though Brian Rix was at the helm; all that’s missing is a pair of trousers round the ankles, though if I could I’d gladly pay whatever Theresa May’s designer leather pants cost to be spared the sight of them occupying the traditional Whitehall position. The weekend was full of headlines on the subject, beginning with Nicola Sturgeon’s latest desperate attempt to assert what she regards as her authority by aiming another threat in the direction of Westminster.

Acutely aware that the climate isn’t quite ready for a Scottish Independence Referendum she hopes will this time gain her the result to justify both her own career and her party’s existence, Scotland’s First Minister has declared she’s prepared to put a rerun on the backburner if the PM can fix it so that the UK remains part of the European Single Market. Oh, it’s still on the cards, but Sturgeon promises she’ll put it off for a bit – not unlike the Brexit negotiations, then. Yes, they may have opted for Remain north of the border, but in the seven months since the EU Referendum, the majority decision of England and Wales to vote Leave hasn’t seen the upsurge in renewed demand for Scottish independence that Sturgeon anticipated, so it’s hardly a great sacrifice on her part to delay.

It was obvious even before the votes were cast last June that Sturgeon would be praying for the Sassenachs to go for the Brexit option and she wasted little time in exploiting the situation, quick off the blocks by announcing the decision of 2014 would not be one she’d honour for long. However, the First Minister’s opportunism, whilst galvanising the bad losers afresh, has failed to gain many new recruits. The unexpected success of the Tories in Scotland under Ruth Davidson on the eve of the EU Referendum was something few saw coming, least of all Sturgeon; and Davidson is hardly likely to be a fellow cheerleader for a second referendum that could reduce Scotland’s outside economic benefits even further at a time when separation from Europe has already been voted for.

The climate is uniquely conducive to Nicola Sturgeon’s somewhat crass headline-grabbing tactics, though – largely due to the continuing uncertainty over what flavour Brexit the country will go for: hard, soft, crunchy, chewy? One can’t really blame the SNP leader for capitalising on the confusion. It doesn’t help that Theresa May has mostly limited her public pronouncements on the topic by repeating ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and not much more.

In many respects, it’s difficult to think of a previous occupant of No.10 who’s been resident for as long as six whole months keeping such a low profile at a moment when what used to be called ‘strong leadership’ seems so essential. May appears to have taken a strange approach to the job, as if content to keep her head down and hide behind the now-irrelevant mandate achieved by her predecessor until it expires in 2020.

Her reluctance to challenge the fixed parliamentary term established by the Coalition after 2010 suggests a curious lack of confidence in defeating an opposition party more divided than it has been in over thirty years or it says she’s a ditherer. Neither indicates we currently have the forceful figure we apparently need if we are to successfully navigate the minefield that all those European treaties of the 90s marooned us in.

Of course, the weekend saw the first major TV interview the Prime Minister has given on Brexit, probably timed as a riposte to the UK’s outgoing ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers, whose parting gesture was to accuse the Government of ‘muddled thinking’ over the issue; Nicola Sturgeon cannily preempted May’s big moment, and though the PM talked at length, she skirted around clarity by resorting to recycling the empty, sloganeering rhetoric about ‘taking back our borders’ that characterised her years at the Home Office. May says she’ll be ‘setting out more details in the coming weeks’, but many no doubt came away from the Sky chat no clearer on what will happen than they were before it aired.

Negative reactions to May’s vague waffle both from Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, Mr Plastic Man himself, Keir Starmer, as well as the Lib Dem leader (and fellow resident of Planet Mediocre) Tim Farron, were predictable but understandable when nobody seems to really know what comes next. The plain fact is that none of the political class expected this result and therefore didn’t plan ahead for it.

The simplicity of the two choices on the ballot paper when the country spoke on June 23 2016 didn’t specify anything beyond ‘Remain’ or ‘Leave’, which could be seen as a means of duping the electorate into believing it genuinely was that simple or as a case of shrewdly avoiding the technical complexities of an actual exit from the EU, something the Government figured it wouldn’t have to deal with anyway.

Joining what was then the European Economic Community was a long-drawn out affair spanning a decade, and nothing has so far suggested leaving its leviathan successor will be any speedier a process. Naturally, the longer the delays, the more the opportunities for those eager to throw a spanner in the works have to cast doubt on the wisdom of the decision; but, as with the striking railwaymen clinging to their Luddite tendencies amidst the unstoppable encroachment of automation, one cannot help but feel opposition to the inevitable is futile on a level unseen since King Canute took his seat on the beach. It’ll happen; we just don’t know when. And I don’t think Theresa May does either.

© The Editor

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