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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SEPTEMBER SONG

PMThank God that’s out of the way – summer, I mean; mind you, it’s not as neat and concise as that; these seasons have a habit of overlapping. It may be September 1, but England are playing Pakistan at Headingley, and the schools won’t reopen for business until next week. The party conference season will serve as a prologue to Parliament’s resumption, and that officially starts tomorrow with the Greens. UKIP and the Lib Dems will follow, though these initial get-togethers are not unlike the opening rounds of the League Cup, wherein lower division clubs battle it out before the arrival of the big guns from the Premier League. Decrepit Victorian halls in rundown seaside towns were always the traditional locations for such events, though it’s now more common to hold them in major cities, with their slick and somewhat sterile conference centres reflecting the rise of the professional politician.

As they kick-off the season, both the Greens and UKIP are looking for new leaders, with Natalie ‘Brain-fade’ Bennett (sorry, I have a cold) and Nigel ‘Donald Trump’s my mate’ Farage having fallen on their respective swords; and neither party appears to have a suitably inspiring candidate on hand to supersede them. The Liberal Democrats are next on the circuit, but as the much-discussed imaginary alliance with disgruntled anti-Corbyn Labour MPs has yet to progress beyond the optimist’s drawing board, their Brighton shindig probably won’t attract much attention. If anything, the TUC Congress – taking place between UKIP and the Lib Dems – will perhaps provoke more headlines than the first three party conferences, what with most unions buoyed by the rise of the Corbynistas. When it comes to the actual parties, the Labour and Tory bashes will prove more intriguing.

By the time Labour decamp to the stubborn socialist heartland of Liverpool, Jeremy Corbyn will undoubtedly have been re-elected Labour leader and the party’s ownership by the far left will be complete. Back in the days before specialist Parliamentary TV channels, when your average viewer couldn’t opt out because the party conferences used to take up hours of empty telly time during the day on BBC2, the Labour conference in particular could often provide unlikely entertainment. Between the speeches of the suited and booted MPs, shabbily-clad amateur orators took to the podium and occasionally used the word ‘comrades’ when addressing the multitudes swathed in swirling pipe and cigarette smoke. Bearing in mind the way Labour are going in Corbyn’s capable hands, I have a feeling this year’s conference may well revive that neglected tradition bar the tobacco, which used to give those old conferences the look and feel of a mid-70s Rick Wakeman gig drenched in dry ice, albeit without sequinned cloaks.

The fact that this year’s Labour conference is scheduled to begin the day after the announcement as to whether Jezza or Owen ‘Welsh like Bevan, not Kinnock’ Smith has won the leadership should make it worth watching, if only to see how the split affects events. Household names could well be in short supply, though not necessarily down to the Socialist Workers Party vibe. At one time, Cabinet Ministers who’d lost their seats would pen their memoirs and retire to the Lords; now they appear on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ – though I wouldn’t have expected anything less from such an undignified clueless bruiser as Ed Balls.

Once Labour’s born-again lefty love-in has concluded, it’ll be the turn of the Tories – the nation’s eternal party of government and the first conference with Mrs May at the helm. The fact that the Conservatives recovered relatively quickly following the fallout of Brexit and Cameron’s hasty exit (leaving the clear-up of the wreckage he caused to his successor) doesn’t necessarily mean all is well in the blue corner. May has entrusted the task of wrestling the country free from its European ties to a trio of prominent Brexiteers who don’t apparently care much for each other, and amidst the good will usually exerted towards a new PM she will have to keep an eye on the recently-installed residents of the backbenches who owe their place there to her broom. It’ll be the first real chance the country and the party will have to see her in action now she’s had a little breathing space to get used to her promotion, having returned from the hiking holiday that provoked an especially puke-inducing article of fawning arse-licking in the pitiful excuse for ‘The Independent’ that now exists solely in cyberspace.

The final major party conference will be the SNP’s in a rather late mid-October. Fired-up by the Brexit decision Scotland didn’t vote for, Nicola Sturgeon will milk the indignation of her nation by reviving the subject of a second Independence Referendum whilst carefully not giving the impression it was exactly the result she wanted to exorcise the ghosts of 2014. This in turn will supply Theresa May with another constitutional headache on top of invoking Article 50 – if indeed it ever is invoked.

So, the Silly Season is drawing to a welcome close and the serious business of alternately rescuing and f**king up the country is back with our elected representatives. It may take some time before we know for sure how they’re managing with that unenviable task; but from the point of view of writing on the subject, I’ll be happy not to have to trawl for hours every day, fruitlessly searching for stories with substance, which basically constitutes my daily experience of the past couple of months.

© The Editor

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THIS WRECKAGE

CameronWell, the fallout is proving to be somewhat chaotic, if predictable. The overindulged generation to whom nobody (least of all their helicopter parents) has ever said ‘no’ have already started up another of their tedious petitions to demand a second Referendum because they find it impossible to accept the majority disagreed with them; Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed she’s preparing the ground for a second Independence campaign; Jeremy Corbyn has declared he will fight any challenge from within his own party, seemingly oblivious to the impending catastrophe awaiting Labour should the autumn see a General Election with him in charge; the metropolitan politicians who have received a resounding kick in the goolies still can’t understand why their groins are smarting as they continue to sneer at the voters who abandoned them; the Brexit frontrunners are keen to keep the celebratory festivities going because it serves as a convenient distraction from the fact that they have no idea what they’re supposed to do next; promises of billions raining down on the NHS have quietly been removed from the winning speeches; and furious Remain Conservatives are planning to spike the Tory leadership race by casting Boris Johnson in the Michael Heseltine role, wielding the dagger without a cast-iron guarantee of the crown.

David Cameron’s swift announcement of his resignation ironically mirrored that of Gordon Brown’s in 2010, staged exactly the same way – from the same podium in the same location to the simpering countenance of the missus by his side. It was deliberately timed to catch Boris off-guard, and Dave’s intention to see out the summer at No.10 in the manner of an impotent US President at the end of his second term gives him the opportunity to plot against his expected successor before the 1922 Committee kick-starts proceedings. With the SNP intending to exploit the chaos just as we all knew they would, Cameron could well go down in history as the PM who lost both Europe and Scotland, ranked alongside Lord North (the predecessor who presided over the loss of America in 1783) in an unenviable pantheon of failure. If he can salvage anything from the wreckage, it is to sabotage the succession of the man who has dogged his political career.

One notable absentee from the spotlight since Thursday is the man who could also take some blame for Dave’s downfall, his campaign co-ordinator and ill-advised adviser on tactics, George Osborne. If Cameron is toast, then Gideon is charcoal. The Chancellor’s rightly-derided threat of an austerity budget as punishment for a Leave vote was the last desperate bullet of a man whose barrel is now well and truly empty. If he had any semblance of a conscience, he would go immediately; but, of course, he doesn’t and he won’t. He knows now that the slim hopes of him moving in next-door are completely trashed, so he seems determined to hang on as a caretaker Chancellor in an act of petulant revenge on the party – and country – that rejected his vision.

In normal circumstances, a Prime Minister resigning barely a year into winning a General Election would be the lead story on everybody’s lips; but so dramatic have the last 48 hours been that even this ordinarily top-of-the-bill development seems to have been relegated to B-picture status in the overall scheme of things. I guessed this would happen if the vote went against Cameron, but it still seems surreal that it actually is happening, perhaps because I didn’t really believe we would take the Brexit route. Even on social media, news of Cameron’s imminent departure has been received with a surprising lack of euphoria, particularly by those who have spent the past six years demanding it. Indeed, it must be difficult for the left-leaning anti-Cameron networkers to know how to react, finally getting what they wanted but getting it as a side-effect of everything they didn’t want.

Giles Coren, a man who got where he is not through his own endeavours but through the name and standing of his late father Alan, takes an astonishingly vicious swipe at ‘old people’ in his Times column today, one that smacks of a sullen adolescent blaming his parents for his own failings. ‘The wrinkly bastards stitched us young ‘uns up good and proper on Thursday,’ he writes. ‘From their stairlifts and their zimmer frames, their electric recliner beds and their walk-in baths, they reached out with their wizened old writing hands to make their wobbly crosses and screwed their children’s and their children’s children for a thousand generations.’ The sour grapes whining of a wealthy London-centric celebrity whose presence in Fleet Street is due entirely to nepotism via one of those ‘wrinkly bastards’ is indicative of the Remain cheerleaders’ narcissistic inability to fathom why their fame didn’t swing it.

There are a lot of angry people in Britain right now, not just in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but England too. The yoof are especially incensed because their experience of the democratic process is limited. The fact that voting in any form won’t necessarily ensure the outcome one voted for is something that doesn’t appear to have registered with them and they’re looking for someone to blame. If that means blaming all ‘old people’ or labelling everyone who opted for the contrary position to them as racists, we shouldn’t really be surprised. What makes this remarkable moment in the country’s history equally compelling and frightening is the absence of precedence and the lack of a roadmap laying down the destination of the nation; but the Millennials like everything neatly pre-prepared and packaged, like an app that will tell them what to do. All is up in the air and all is uncertain; and nobody knows what comes next.

© The Editor

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THE END OF THE AFFAIR

vlcsnap-2016-06-24-12h39m46s147So, where to start? Well, we’re out. I didn’t really see this coming, I have to admit. I thought it would be close, but I didn’t anticipate the result we’ve ended up with. David Cameron, barely twelve months into the first mandate a Conservative Prime Minister had received from the electorate in twenty-three years, has announced he’ll be gone by the time of the Tory Party Conference in October, leaving the path clear for Boris. A motion of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn has already been issued by Labour MPs. Nicola Sturgeon has more or less declared she’s preparing for another Scottish Independence Referendum. Martin McGuinness has called for a plebiscite on a united Ireland. I’ve a feeling we’ve only just begun.

There’s been a lot of fatuous waffle so far today about ‘standing together’, about ‘uniting the country’ now that the decision has been made; I don’t envy anyone entrusted with that particular task. The fact is that the result of this Referendum has exposed the bleedin’ obvious, that Britain in 2016 is more divided than it has been at any time since the ideological wars of the 1980s – not just economically or socially, but regionally and nationally. It somehow seems apt that the pound has plummeted to its lowest level in thirty years. Nigel Farage, understandably euphoric this morning, has achieved his lifetime’s ambition and one wonders if he’ll now turn into a pumpkin at midnight. He referred to the result as ‘Britain’s Independence Day’; he was partly right. This isn’t Britain’s Independence Day, though: it’s England’s Independence Day – independence from Scotland, from Northern Ireland, and (eventually) from Wales. What could turn out to be England’s very own Declaration of Isolation has possibly set the ball rolling for the dissolution of the United Kingdom.

How did we get here? A cynical conspiracy theorist could surmise the whole EU issue was a mere smokescreen for a Tory Party plot to oust Cameron and for the SNP to restage 2014’s Independence Referendum; if so, both have succeeded. Dave’s dangerous gamble, perhaps the key selling point of the Tories’ 2015 Election manifesto, is probably the most personally disastrous move by any serving PM since Ted Heath took on the miners in February 1974; he was really left with no option but to walk. The liberal wing of his party represents a small section of Conservative England and it’s reflective of Cameron’s utter ignorance of the world beyond his privileged little circle that he didn’t foresee he had presented the old-school True Blue corners of the country with a golden opportunity to give him a kicking.

But this hasn’t just been a rejection of David Cameron’s brand of Toryism; it’s also been a rejection of all so-called metropolitan politicians of either colour who have ignored and neglected their traditional core support for decades. As divisive as she was, Margaret Thatcher was the last Prime Minister to take the concerns of the ordinary working man and woman into consideration. Cameron has indeed been the heir to Blair, treating anyone that didn’t fall into his preferred demographic with contempt, thus leaving huge swathes of the nation without a voice or party in Parliament. UKIP’s success in both long-time Tory and Labour heartlands – and the phenomenal rise of the SNP – has made this all-too evident. Donald Trump’s emergence across the pond has happened for similar reasons.

The Remain campaign was dominated by celebrities masquerading as those who (like Huggy Bear) are in synch with ‘the word on the street’. Well, they clearly weren’t listening to that word, because the word was ‘Leave’. Maybe if Eddie Izzard had tried to engage in debate with Farage on ‘Question Time’ instead of shouting at him like a hysterical Anne Robinson, those accustomed to dominating a stage rather than sharing it might have come across as less remote to the people they profess to care about than the Westminster Mafia does.

The immense size of the turn-out for the EU Referendum has exceeded any turn-out since the 1992 General Election, and this is a crucial point. Persistent grumbles that there’s no difference between the two major parties have arisen from a belief that whichever party one votes for, nothing changes. The Referendum was different, however. Europe was pretty much a red herring in some respects, for this was a chance to vote against an entire political class, Tory and Labour, that a good deal of the electorate felt abandoned by; and the outcome speaks volumes. Many of those who made their way to the polling booths yesterday don’t bother making that journey during an Election, and this was something Dave didn’t take into account. He’s now paid the price for his aloofness, and no amount of unconvincing tributes to his premiership from the opportunistic old rival now ready to jump into his grave will excise his ultimate failure as a leader from the history books.

And the fact that Labour failed to take a lead in the campaign again underlines the cult factor of Jezza, an appeal that doesn’t stretch beyond the hardcore faithful. The Corbynistas, sentimental old socialists and their gauche social networking children, are the only people in the country who look at the Labour leader and don’t see a professional backbencher out of his depth; the Messiah couldn’t even motivate the Labour vote in his favour when his party isn’t as publicly split over Europe as the Tories. He performed dismally in his first opportunity to prove his mettle, so even if whoever succeeds Cameron goes to the country in the autumn, anyone not deluded by romantic nostalgia for the good old days of the left must be able to see Labour is doomed with him at the helm. What consolation for the Conservatives that must be.

I don’t believe any of those who most vigorously campaigned for a Brexit have the slightest clue about what happens when they take down the Union Jack bunting. The aim was always to get out, not to sit down and navigate a path through the aftermath. I find it hard to feel celebratory with the prospect of a future in the hands of Boris, Gove and Grayling. As I peer through the barbed wire on the White Cliffs and cast my gaze over the silver sea, all I can see is Le Pen and Trump and every other ‘outsider’ capitalising on two decades of neglecting the people by the ruling class. As a human being, I find these extremely scary times to be living in; as a writer, however, I reckon I struck gold…

© The Editor

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THE LAST OF MAY

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-16h26m48s78I must admit the view from this fence is making me rather nauseas. On one side, I have David Cameron, George Osborne, Theresa May, Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson trying to woo me; on the other, I have Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling, Gorgeous George, Nasty Nigel and Boris doing likewise. It feels a bit like joining a dating site and being offered two suitable matches – Ronnie Kray or Reggie Kray. Should I refuse the entreaties of either, the consequences will border on the apocalyptic. Every menace that can befall mankind awaits me – war, terrorism, recession, economic catastrophe, the prospect of England never hosting another World Cup (and that was so odds-on that it doesn’t bear thinking about). And I haven’t even mentioned the numerous journalists and media commentators who usually make me want to pull out my own fingernails lurking on either side. Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right – or, to quote another well-known pop lyric, should I stay or should I go?

The one Armageddon scenario I actually can envisage as a likelihood is that if the UK does vote leave, the SNP will instigate another Independence Referendum; having said that, I think the SNP are looking for any excuse to do so, and will keep doing so until they get the result they want – regardless of the opinions of those Scots who don’t want independence. I should imagine Sturgeon and Salmond are praying the Brexit camp come up trumps; it’s just the situation they’ve been waiting for ever since their grapes turned sour two years ago. But Scotland isn’t the only part of Britain divided; traditional divisions in Northern Ireland are also falling into line with this pattern. Recent surveys suggest Protestants are more likely to vote Remain, whereas Catholics favour Brexit. Anyone believing an official separation from Europe will somehow serve to unite this kingdom anew is clearly too blinded by the desire to give the Mandarins of Brussels a shiner to contemplate the realities of the aftermath.

The current holiday from routine Parliamentary business has seen the Devil make work for many an idle hand during the recess. News bulletins have given air time to toadies singing the PM’s praises and denying the Cabinet split over the EU issue will leave permanent cracks in the united front, as well as others within the Government criticising Cameron with uncomfortable candour and even predicting he will be ‘toast’ if the country votes leave. How anybody can realistically expect Dave to resume working with a group of underlings who have aimed the kind of personal barbs at him that are usually reserved for the Opposition should he still be in a job come June 24 is residing in a land consisting of clouds and cuckoos. Few can carry a grudge like politicians.

I apologise to a degree that this bloody subject has come to dominate the blog of late; but it is such a unique occurrence for a Prime Minister to dispense with collective responsibility within his Cabinet that it makes for good copy. To see Ministers let off the leash, actually saying out loud what they genuinely believe rather than toeing the party line and reading from a script penned by the whips is both a rare insight into the personalities behind the bland, spin-doctored facade and a chance to hear the kind of home truths that are generally the preserve of Westminster mavericks with nothing to lose. I’ve never previously known this happen, not even in the botched ‘Alternative Vote’ cock-up of a few years back; and my seven-year-old self was largely oblivious on the one occasion we’ve been here before.

As has been mentioned more than once, my age at the time of the last occasion in which the Great British Public had their say on the funny foreigners across the Channel negated any interest or real knowledge of what was going on; but had I been asked who the Prime Minister was back then, the name Harold Wilson would have come to me as quickly as any other question I might have been posed. My niece, who is three years older than I was in 1975, was presented with the same poser last week (courtesy of me) and she didn’t know the answer; granted, she didn’t know who the President of the USA was either – which surprised me more, considering Obama’s frivolous celebrity – but is that nature or nurture? Anyway, whatever that says about the society she and we inhabit is immaterial when it comes to doing what Bucks Fizz advised when they themselves made a strident entry into Europe 35 years ago.

For every argument I hear in favour of remaining, an equally valid one is made for leaving. I’ve watched and read as much as someone with a life can over the past couple of months and will no doubt continue to do so right up until the moment I embark upon my trek to the local polling station. I’m not ashamed to admit I’m undecided, for I believe I’m not the only don’t-know out there. Perhaps if one of the camps took a leaf out of the Al Qaeda manual and promised a Paradise with umpteen available virgins as a reward for the right vote, that might swing it. But then the police would be obliged to get involved, and I think they’ve enough ‘historical sex crimes’ to keep their quiet lives busy for the next couple of decades, some even coincidentally stretching back as far as 1975.

© The Editor

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LOCAL VOTES FOR LOCAL PEOPLE II

LondonSo, as they say, the polls have closed and the results are in. How does the return to public office of once-disgraced ex-Tory Minister Neil Hamilton (capturing a seat for UKIP at the Welsh Assembly) reflect the political map of the country? Well, let’s start up at the top. The Liberal Democrats have embarked upon their road to recovery…by maintaining their reliable dominance in the Orkneys and the Shetlands. Not a great surprise, really. After all, former Liberal leader Joe Grimond held one of the most distant Parliamentary seats from Westminster at Orkney and Shetland for over thirty years and was a lifelong supporter of Scottish Home Rule. With the loss of their traditional fan-base down in the West Country, the faraway Scottish isles remain one of the last outposts of liberalism in the UK; had the Lib Dems lost there, they may as well have gone the way of the Whigs. Mind you, the Scottish mainland wasn’t as accommodating, where the party was pushed into fifth place by the Greens.

Nicola Sturgeon and her one pair of earrings (it took a woman to point that out to me) claimed a third straight win for the SNP in the elections to the Scottish Parliament on Thursday – even if, for the first time, the win didn’t give them an outright majority. That’s not really news, though; nobody expected a Nationalist collapse just as nobody expected the bad losers of 2014’s Independence Referendum to stop carping on about another vote on the same subject. One suspects they’ll keep carping on about it, however many times Scotland goes to the independence polls, until they eventually get what they want.

The biggest shock north of the border by far was the fact that the new opposition to the SNP is none other than the Conservative Party. Yes, you heard right. The Scottish Tory has been on the brink of extinction ever since the calamitous 1997 General Election, yet by building on their electoral disaster in Scotland last year, Labour have unexpectedly been replaced by the Tories in second place. It’s certainly a remarkable turnaround in Tory fortunes as well as an embarrassing indication of just how far Labour have fallen in what was once one of their key heartlands, with new Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale faring no better than her hapless predecessor Jim Murphy. Whatever the Labour PR machine says in the days following this latest kick in the tartan goolies, there’s no glossing over the fact that the party is perilously close to being completely finished in Scotland.

Labour remarkably failed to win any of the nine constituency seats in Glasgow, something not even Jeremy Corbyn’s fiercest critics anticipated. Yes, it may be true that the decimation of Labour in Scotland took place while Ed Miliband was at the helm of the national party; but Jezza has managed an impressive achievement by being even less appealing to the Scottish electorate than Red Ed. It’s certainly hard to imagine Labour returning to power without the strength in depth that Scotland traditionally gave them, so the council seats they retained in England seem little more than a mere short-term bulwark against Corbyn’s critics. The fact that HM Opposition tends to gain rather than lose seats between General Elections, a tradition even Michael Foot upheld (as the media keeps reminding us), leaves Labour stuck in an uphill battle to reconnect with voters beyond London and the big northern cities, with Sadiq Khan’s predictable mayoral victory over Zac Goldsmith in the capital reflective of the party’s metropolitan popularity.

At least Labour continues to control Wales, though a 24% swing to Plaid Cymru in the Rhondda leaves Labour facing a considerable hole in its previously-impregnable Welsh fortress. There were also seven regional Welsh seats won by UKIP, including the aforementioned return of Neil Hamilton, celebrating his triumph as usual with his minder…sorry, wife…by his side. The Lib Dems polled badly in Wales, losing all but one of their seats there as well as their Welsh leader Kirsty Williams, whereas the Tories were sandwiched between Plaid Cymru and UKIP, an unappetising snack if ever there was one. Mind you, at least the media focus on the local elections has enabled the Government to bury a bit of awkward bad news following one more post-Budget U-turn, this time on the plans to convert all schools to academies.

Have we really learnt anything from this batch of elections that we didn’t already know, then? The Conservatives suffered less than a party in government usually does; and Labour didn’t experience the national disaster some had predicted, even if falling behind the Tories in Scotland is a once-unthinkable humiliation. Not quite ‘as you were’ in that particular case, but more or less ‘as you were’ everywhere else. Roll on June 23.

© The Editor

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