by Martin Odoni

Oh dear, what was I saying only a month ago, and back in April 2017?

I do not enjoy saying “I told you so!” At least not when the implications are so dire. But, Conservative Party, I bloody told you so.

Brexit‘ negotiations are facing fresh trouble. Yes, I can imagine what you are thinking. “WHAT?! How’s it possible for Brexit to be in even MORE trouble?!” And that is a fair question after the week we have just witnessed. But sadly, it seems it can. For the Spanish Government, just days ahead of the crucial European Union summit to agree the terms of the UK’s departure, has thrown a ‘Rock’-shaped spanner in the works. Spain is threatening to veto any deal between Brussels and London over the issue of Gibraltar’s sovereignty.

Now, the eleventh-hour timing of this intervention does look somewhat cynical, but the British are in no position to moan about that. Thanks to the breathtaking yobbery of Michaels Howard et Fallon in the spring of last year, the UK was practically inviting Madrid to make trouble at the worst possible moment.

This tax haven could scupper the whole Brexit deal

And let us be in no doubt, this is not some minor portfolio inconvenience.  For most of the text of May’s Brexit plan, a majority agreement at the summit next weekend would be enough to get the deal through to its next stage – scrutiny in Westminster – but there is a hitch. The details over Gibraltar are not a matter for the EU collectively. Last year, Spain got a special clause added in to the European Council’s Brexit guidelines, and it is a very powerful clause; –

No agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom

In every way that matters therefore, Spain effectively has a veto so long as Gibraltar is part of any proposed Brexit deal. And as Gibraltar is part of the UK’s European territories, by definition it will always be part of any Brexit deal.

So next weekend, the British contingent at the summit are going to have to go out of their way to be nice to the Spaniards, hoping somehow to persuade them to play along. And after the way Fallon and Howard openly talked about sending the gunboats in last year, that really will not be easy.

For Gibraltarians, the great majority of whom consider themselves to be Britons, and voted to remain in the EU, this development must be a real cause of consternation. The British Government openly insist it will not let Gibraltar be treated any different from the rest of the UK during Brexit, but say that to the Democratic Unionists, and hear them scoff about how Northern Ireland was supposed to be treated no differently until Theresa May revealed her ‘backstop’ plan.

I am not making light of this, or gloating, by the way. On the contrary, I am very anxious. Leaving the European Union was always going to be a risky enterprise, even if handled well. And it has not been handled well. It has been handled so poorly that it has pushed this country to the edge of a cliff, and a no-deal Brexit would send us hurtling off of it. A big extra hurdle has been added, increasing the danger still further. And once again, we have the Conservatives, and only the Conservatives, to blame for the growing mess into which they are dragging us all.

by Martin Odoni

NB: This is an excerpt from another article published by The Prole Star.

A number of delayed inevitables finally happened this week. With Theresa May at last forced to declare publicly which policy to pursue over ‘Brexit‘, her house-of-cards is teetering. The Democratic Unionist Party, predictably furious to learn that the Prime Minister’s ‘backstop’ plan involved treating Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK, effectively establishing a kind of border in the Irish Sea, have in all-but-words dissolved the alliance agreed after the General Election. A number of May’s own MPs are now in open revolt over Britain not having independent power to end the backstop summarily, with the rumour circulating – perhaps wrongly – that the magic forty-eight letters of no-confidence have already been received by the 1922 Committee, automatically triggering a leadership ballot. Business leaders have expressed unhappiness with the Brexit plan. Opinion polls suggest the Tories have haemorrhaged between 3 and 6 points in around a week due to hardline Brexiteers across the country feeling betrayed by the suggestion that Britain may stay in a Customs Union with the European Union; they appear to be flocking back to UKIP. A ‘Coalition-of-chaos’?

A coalition of conservative chaos

Everything May said Corbyn would be, May has been.

In short, the Government has hit the buffers this week.


by Martin Odoni

Last night’s Mid-Term Election results in the United States have been a mixed bag. The Democrats have won control of the House of Representatives. This development is hugely important, and should not be down-played. However, given the general shape of the campaigns over the last month, they were always going to win that particular battle, and so the more telling measure of their performance is margin-of-victory. In that light, the performance has been underwhelming. At the time of writing (10am GMT), 412 of the 435 results have been called, and the Democrats have only just got past the 218 ‘finishing post’. If they were to win half of the remaining seats, they would wind up with 231, and a majority of 27. Useful, and very significant, but they were hopeful of getting closer to 40.

In the Senate races, the news was not just underwhelming for the Democrats, but pretty bleak. With 35 seats out of 100 up for election, the Republicans gained a couple of seats, bolstering their wafer-thin majority of the last couple of years. With just four races left to call at the time of writing, and two of them projected to go to the Republicans, the Democrats have definitely had a failure there.

The State Governorships were a little like the House – some handy headway made by the Democrats, but nothing dramatic; 7 seats gained from 36 races.

A healthy showing?

Looked at in most contexts, these numbers would be seen as quite a healthy showing by the Democrats. But sadly, in the present context, it is a slight disappointment. The painful truth for the Democratic National Committee is that, after two years of unheard-of chaos in the White House, with staff going through the metaphorical revolving door in train-loads, and persistent corruption, scandal and unconstitutional governance surrounding President Donald Trump, anything other than a Democrat landslide in all three races last night should have been unthinkable. That the gains last night were so modest says a lot about how weak and half-hearted the modern Democrats are. They just seem to lack the stomach for a battle with the Republicans, or to distance themselves from the increasingly hard-line policies, and dirty-fighting authoritarianism, of the ‘Grand Ole Party’.

Part of the reason for that is the ongoing pre-eminence in the party structure of so-called ‘Corporate Democrats’, the US equivalent of the Blairites in the UK Labour Party. The long-running moves towards the right by the Democrats since the late-1980s have made them much the same as the Republicans were back in the 1970s. These points of similarity, resulting from an over-willingness to compromise even on fundamental principles, has made it difficult for the right wing of the Democratic Party to stand up to their opponents with any conviction, because any arguments they raise against Republican policy or behaviour can be applied almost as easily against their own. And like the Labour Party between 1994 and 2015, the Democrats offer ordinary people only sporadically more than just “neoliberalism-watered-down”. They have also shown, again just like ‘New Labour’, a far greater and dirtier willingness to fight their allies on the left of their own party, than to fight their Republican opponents, showing them to be morally inconsistent and unreliable. The US public will not take much hope from representatives with a history like that, and this lack of hope means a lack of mobilisation when the polls open.

Reasons for Democrats to cheer?

Still, there were some reasons in individual head-to-heads for progressive Democrats to cheer, and most of them, most happily, come from the left half of the party. The demise of the thoroughly unpleasant (and probably corrupt) Scott Walker, who lost his Governorship in Wisconsin to Tony Evers, will bring smiles to long-suffering workers across the state. Also of note, two 29-year-old Democrats, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Abby Finkenauer – have become the youngest women ever to be elected to the House of Representatives.

Ocasio-Cortez, in particular, looks a very promising figure on whom the US left can pin future hopes – although before too much pressure is put on her too quickly, it must be recognised that in terms of legislative experience, she is at present still a ‘baby’, and has a lot to learn. But look out for her from about 2024-onwards. She is bursting with energy and potential, and if she fulfills it, she could well be a candidate in the long term for the first female, and first Latino, US President.


Ocasio-Cortez elected

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a young left-wing New Yorker of Puerto-Rican extraction. Her arrival in Congress will be watched with great interest by US progressives.

Also worth a round of impressed applause is Sharice Davids, a gay Native American, who has been elected to the House by the people of Kansas, handing four-term Republican incumbent Kevin Yoder a sound 9.1% bashing at the polls. (I know this is an old Star Wars joke, but “Yoder was clearly not one with the Force this week.” Ahem. Sorry.) Davids is the first Native American, much, much too long in coming, to be elected to Congress.

Sharice Davids elected

Native American Democrat, Sharice Davids, dislodged Republican incumbent Kevin Yoder from Congress this week

So in some respects, it is a worthy election of firsts for the Democrats. But the soul-searching the DNC should have been doing after Hillary Clinton’s completely-avoidable disaster in the Presidential Elections two years ago is still needed.

The threat of Trump

The Democrats have now placed a powerful legislative obstacle in the President’s authoritarian path, and in the nick of time. Not just to weaken his chances of forcing policies through, but for consitutional reasons too. Trump has openly declared a desire to see the US having Presidents-for-life – almost certainly starting with himself. To that extent, I was unconcerned for the most part at the start of this year about his narcissistic self-advancement in office, as I knew there were plenty of checks-and-balances in the US legal system to get in his way. But that changed over the course of this year with the rise of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States. SCOTUS now has a partisan Republican majority, and as it is the body that decides how US constitutional law is to be interpreted, it opens up very dangerous future possibilities, should Trump move to curtail Presidential elections; I would not put it past him.

With all the controversies surrounding Trump, including putative collusion with Russia, it is now possible for the Democrats to start impeachment proceedings against him.

The one worry on that score is, again, the Corporate Democrats’ aforementioned lack of stomach for a fight. They need to find that stomach, and fast, as removing Trump may be the only way of averting the threat his narcissism poses.