by Martin Odoni

So, Theresa May, a war criminal, is stepping down as the Prime Minister of Her Majesty’s United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland. Not because she is a war criminal, but because it is clearly the only way out of the Brexit gridlock she has done so much to create. She will depart 10 Downing Street on the 7th of June.

May was in tears when she made the announcement this morning. But as is so often the case with politicians – especially right wing politicians – the tears will not win any sympathy from my direction. She failed miserably as Prime Minister. She was unceasingly dishonest, evasive, cowardly, and mean-spirited, for reasons well-catalogued elsewhere in this blog. Her relentless boasting that only she could deliver Brexit, and her sneers that Jeremy Corbyn would lead a ‘coalition of chaos’ if he ever got into power, have both had a sorry outcome.

May fails and resigns

The Prime Minister resigns, having failed to see out three years in office, and having never truly established a firm mandate to govern.

But I have to comment on May’s speech announcing her departure, which was as littered with the same bare-faced deceit and hypocrisy that marked her entire stewardship. For her to resort to that even now, when she no longer has a job to cling to only serves to make clear that her dishonesty was no matter of desperation in difficult times. It was, and remains, simply a fundamental feature of her personality. She is leaving her post as Prime Minister anyway, there is no practical purpose left in her continuing to tell blatant untruths. But she did it anyway, because it comes as naturally to her as breathing.

May’s lecturing of others on the importance of ‘compromise’ was vomitous. She was the one who repeatedly refused to speak with Opposition parties throughout the Autumn, and when she finally opened talks with Labour this year, she persistently refused to give any ground at all, insisting that Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer had to surrender to her every demand. Hence why, when May kept going back to Parliament to try and force through her Brexit deal that had already been rejected, it never contained any significant difference in its content. It had simply been reworded to mean the same thing each time. That stubborn refusal to give an inch is the very definition of failure to compromise, while her pretence that the Bill had really changed when it had not was the definition of dishonesty. For her now to lecture the rest of the House of Commons on the virtue of compromise means she deserves a milkshake over her head.

But even more deceitful still was May’s attempt to talk up her administration as a success. None of her claims, be they about job security, housing, environmental policies, mental health care, Grenfell Tower etc stands up to scrutiny. But a most particular reversal of the plain facts was her claim that her Government had delivered “a falling National Debt”.

Beyond absurd. The Office of National Statistics’ last two published totals for the National Debt were published in September last year, and April this year, for March 2018 and December 2018 respectively.  What do they reveal?

The National Debt in March last year was £1,763.8 billion. The figure announced for the end of 2018 was £1,837.5 billion. In other words, the later figure was higher than the earlier figure, therefore the amount has continued to go up. And May says that, “the National Debt is falling”?

Now, as I have pointed out many times in the past, the size of the National Debt – while not unimportant – does not matter nearly as much as the Tories like to make out. But irrespective of that, what May said is still yet another a total reversal of the truth delivered with a mechanical bare face. It is possible to argue that the Debt, as a share of Gross Domestic Product, has fallen. But the problem with that is that the Tories are once again switching measurements whenever it suits them, and without telling anyone.

May resignation speech lie

Theresa May lives in a world of blackwhite, where a rising National Debt means the National Debt is falling.

If, as they should have been, public discussions of the Debt had been conducted in terms of the share of GDP from the time David Cameron became Prime Minister nine years ago, everyone would have known how completely pointless and toxic the Austerity program since then has been.

I would like to think May’s tears as she spoke came from the burden on her conscience that she had scarcely passed a day at Number 10 without deceiving someone, but I reckon it was more just a general haplessness on her part, having to acknowledge her failure to deliver the Brexit, or the “strong-and-stable leadership”, she had guaranteed. She cuts the most crumpled figure of a Prime Minister I have ever seen, and although the only candidates to succeed her from within her party are likely to be even worse, that does not constitute a defence of her. Her resignation may be the only truly right thing she has done as Prime Minister.

So May resigns as she served; by being deceitful, hypocritical, dysfunctional, high-handed, and unable to accept that anything that went wrong was her fault. Amazing how a Prime Minister can be so powerless.

As for the aforementioned Corbyn, that’s two Prime Ministers he has seen off as Leader of the Opposition. Not bad for the guy who was theatrically told after less than a year in the job by David Cameron, “For heaven’s sake, man, go!”

It is the Tory leaders who keep going at the moment, David.

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by Martin Odoni

Yesterday‘s events in the House of Commons were an unspoken acknowledgement of what has been fairly blatant for several years; Brexit just is not going to work out. Oh, I am fairly sure the UK will still be leaving the European Union by one arrangement or another, but it will go poorly, will cause more harm than good, and will not be arrived at by any course the Prime Minister has chosen.

More meaningfully, yesterday was also an unspoken acknowledgement of another reality that will upset few, but worry many by the implications of it; Theresa May is now a PriMINOPrime Minister In Name Only.

Theresa May - PriMINO

Now she has lost all control over Brexit, the last vestiges of Prime Ministerial power have deserted Theresa May.

May’s alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party has essentially been reduced to a bad joke, as the DUP ruled out once and for all supporting her Brexit deal. She lost three more Ministers from her rotting Cabinet – albeit junior Ministers – as they turned rebel to vote against the Government. She faces potentially as many as twenty more Cabinet resignations, and is under pressure from the 1922 Committee to schedule her departure from Downing Street for the near future. But most of all, the House of Commons voted to seize control of the Brexit process from her, a move carried by a decisive rebellion by thirty Tory MPs; the motion was carried by a margin of twenty-seven votes.

Ever since her calamitous performance in the unnecessary General Election she called in 2017, May has been badly hamstrung by the Hung Parliament she blundered into being. There are all sorts of policy areas over which she has had minimal control ever since, and she has experienced some astonishingly bad defeats for a sitting Government. In short, she has barely been a Prime Minister for the last twenty-two months. The one area where she did have a position of dominance, no matter how clumsily and cluelessly she handled that power, was withdrawal from the EU. Given the enormity of that issue, it was sufficient to maintain a convincing illusion that she really is the leader of the nation. Now, at least for a few days, she lacks even that.

Theresa May is therefore only a Prime Minister in name; a sort of ‘Shadow Constitutional Monarch’. She is something that malformed rules make it almost impossible for the ordinary people to get rid of, but that is also so neutered by those same rules that her mandatory presence loses much of its sting. I suggested in December that May had ridden her luck for too long, and it was sure to run out soon. Foolishly running down the Brexit clock as a ‘game-of-chicken’ with Parliament is what has drained that luck away.

Not for the first time, I can almost find it in my heart to feel a little sorry for her, given the hapless, slightly-shrivelled presence to which she has been reduced. But she has to go. For all our sakes, she has to go, and her unstable, log-jammed blancmange of a Government must be dissolved and replaced with one that has function. In times as critical as these, the country cannot afford not to have a Government. It has not really had one for several years. Of course, in many circumstances, that is not necessarily a problem. But with the country on the threshold of leaving the EU, with all the troubles even a ‘Soft Brexit’ (if we are lucky) would cause, these are no such circumstances.

Still, with the Tories clearly now in total despair at May’s loss of control, and at her idiotic, patronising, blame-shifting speech last week, which turned many of them against her, whispers are getting louder about a General Election being imminent.

Gardiner says Election in about five weeks

The Government has pretty much tied itself in knots. An Election is the only real answer.

Everything that has happened, including the near-enough collapse of the Government, was predictable nearly two years ago. Arriving at another Election, as the only way out of the quagmire, has been predictable for at least as long.

230 – wow.

January 15, 2019

by Martin Odoni

Not exactly a shock that Theresa May’s Brexit deal was voted down in the House of Commons tonight, but good grief, did anyone picture such an annihilation? Just 202 MPs voted in favour – and May can count herself lucky that three Labour MPs rebelled to support the deal and get the ‘Ayes’ past 200 – and 432 voted against.

brexit vote in parliament - breakdown

The way they voted, 15th January 2019

This is unprecedented. The size of the Government’s support was comfortably less than half its total opponents. With 118 on the Government benches rebelling, the total number of Tories favouring May’s deal was substantially less than two-thirds. Every Liberal Democrat, every Scottish National Party member, every Plaid Cymru member, every Democratic Unionist, and the sole Green MP, all voted against the deal.

Most of us have known since the details were published that May’s deal was dead in the water – many of us suspected it back in June 2017 come to that – but surely none of us thought that it would be beaten this decisively? My personal projection was that May would lose by about 80 votes, which would still have been a powerful blow, and I thought anything near 200 was on the barest fringe of the possible. But two hundred-and-thirty? That is absolutely extraordinary, and the biggest defeat in the Commons for an incumbent Government ever.

Since the catastrophic Conservative backfire of the 2017 General Election, this administration has been a zombie Government. Now it is not even that. It is no Government at all, it is just a giant hole in the air of Westminster and Whitehall. It has no right to exist, and no function left except to keep itself in office. Having suffered the humiliation of the biggest defeat any Prime Minister has ever conceded, Theresa May, if she truly had any honour at all, would accept that she has to resign. But of course she does not, and so of course, she will not.

This is yet another victory for Jeremy Corbyn of course – he scores a surprisingly large number of them for a supposedly ‘useless’ Leader of the Opposition – and a victory that, had it been achieved by Tony Blair in the 1990s, would have been hailed as one of the greatest in the history of Opposition Leaders. Which of course it is, but as usual, Corbyn is being damned with faint praise at best in the media. He has at last tabled the expected motion-of-no-confidence in the Government, judging rightly that now is the likeliest time for it to succeed – certainly likelier than it was before Christmas. The odds are still against it, especially as Tory rebels and DUP MPs have reaffirmed that they will continue to oppose it. But if nothing else, this move keeps the Government on the defensive at a time when it is reeling.

As for Brexit, where can we go from here? I think the UK now has to apply for an extension to Article-50. We are basically back at the metaphorical ‘drawing board’ in terms of a withdrawal agreement, and that means we need a lot more time than the two-and-a-half months that are left before we have departed the European Union. But even then, the EU are less-than-sympathetic about the idea of renegotiating, after the enormous amount of time May has wasted, and they are now pushing for the UK to abandon Brexit once and for all.

I am as pro-democracy as they come, and I have done my best to accept the outcome of the 2016 referendum. But still, it is getting more and more difficult to argue with the idea of calling the whole wretched business off, is it not?

Oh well. “Coalition of chaos”, and all that.

12th doctor 1st doctor and strong & stable may

More of a joke than ever, isn’t it?

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.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

by Martin Odoni

Remember this?

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Click here for a reminder.

The first action the Conservatives took in the spring of 2017 after activating Article-50 was to threaten war against Spain. This diplomatic masterstroke to precipitate negotiations with neighbouring countries, as the UK prepares to withdraw from the European Union, has rather set the tone subsequently. The Tories have blundered, fumbled, thrashed around, struggled even to come up with a starting framework for creating a new trading agreement, and repeatedly and predictably then tried to blame the repeated logjams on the EU. So much of the eighteen-months-plus since activation of Article-50 has been wasted, and now, alas, we are at the proverbial ‘crunch-point’. Although our official leaving date is 31st March, the effective deadline for completing the broad strokes of negotiations really is this month; the final six months or thereabouts are about fine-tuning the (very, very many) inner details of a new trading arrangement with the EU. We need to get the overall structure of the deal sorted out right now, and I am sure I do not need to tell you that we are clearly not at that point. Workable settlements for the Irish and Gibraltar border problems still have not been found, and negotiations over a new actual trade deal between the UK and the EU have therefore barely got off the ground.

The likelihood is that at some stage over the next six months, the British Government is going to have to ask for an extension to its withdrawal period. I know foam-at-the-mouth Brexiteer fanatics will play merry hell over such a move, insisting it is a cover for cancelling Brexit altogether, but the reality is that we are not going to be ready at the end of March. If we proceed as we are now, the UK will have two options, and both are bad; –

Either the UK crashes out of the EU altogether, and then has to experience the grinding, expensive, bureaucratic frustrations of trading with Europe on World Trade Organisation terms, while having a hard border in Ireland by default, which could trigger a war. Or the UK accepts a bad, under-cooked deal, with an awful lot of kinks and confused minutiae, from the start of April 2019.

The UK really needs to seek an extension, probably at least eight months, before it will be in a position to swallow Brexit without suffering a serious economic ‘choke’. And this, sadly, is where I fear that the UK’s ‘gunboat-diplomacy’ approach to Gibraltar at the outset may come back and bite the Government hard.

If the UK asks for an extension, it can be done, but it needs unanimous approval from the other countries in the EU. Unanimous. As in, agreement by all of them.

Therefore including… Spain.

Now I am not saying that the Spanish Government will definitely be vindictive over the threatening noises made by Michaels Fallon et Howard last year. Pedro Sánchez, the Spanish Prime Minister, is arguably more grown up than the average Tory, and may well choose to be magnanimous. He is an experienced economist moreover, and will know that a deal between the EU and Britain will be in his own country’s interests – especially after years of pointless damage caused to Spain by toxic Austerity. But at the same time, Sánchez might also see an opportunity to ‘strong-arm’ the UK over Gibraltar, knowing as he will that the pressure-of-the-clock is heavier on the British than it is on the rest of the EU.”You want an extension? Okay, give us such-and-such over Gibraltar and I shan’t veto it.” And if the British protest at such opportunism, he can simply shrug and say, “Well, you guys started it!” And he would not be altogether off-his-head to say it.

The stupidity of Conservative rhetoric over the last two years has been a constant nagging worry for anybody following Brexit’s progress. Now the Tories may be in danger of reaping what they sowed. For certain, the Tories deserve no better than to be thrown around in the gales of someone else’s anger. But given the way many in this country have behaved over Brexit over the last three years – some Remainers as well as many Leavers – it is hard to argue that the UK more widely deserves any better either.

by Martin Odoni

The poll news from Survation over the weekend, suggesting that the Labour Party suddenly has a seven-point lead over the Conservatives, is most encouraging for the British left. But I notice many people are expressing a growing exasperation; how come, given the maliciousness, deceitfulness, and incompetence of one of the most chaotically-bad Governments in living memory, the Tories still have over one-third of the UK population’s support?

The former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, takes every opportunity to insinuate that any perceived ‘under-performance’ by Labour is the fault of its present leader. The fact that, in two-and-a-half-years with Jeremy Corbyn as leader, most of the damage has been done by Blair’s centrist allies never merits comment. But let us leave that on one side.

In fairness to Blair, I remain somewhat unsure of Corbyn’s handling of Labour’s, still somewhat vague, policy with regards to leaving the European Union. For reasons well-recorded, the country really needs to stay in both the Single Market and the Customs Union to mitigate the damage of ‘Brexit’ as much as possible. I genuinely think Corbyn would gain more support than he would lose by committing to this path. He also needs to define more clearly what he means by the UK being in “a customs union” with the EU under a Labour Government. Clearly he does not mean the present Customs Union, but that is about all that is clear.

But for all that, I do not think the Tories’ ability to cling to Labour’s coat-tails is particularly down to Corbyn’s non-committal Brexit stance. Professor Simon Wren-Lewis rightly highlights the distortion of the post-Election ‘media-filter’. But there is more.

Voters who transfer between the two big parties are the exception rather than the rule. My suspicion is that the real reason the Tories are still above thirty per cent is that the centrist parties, principally the Liberal Democrats of course, are presently so weak. Thanks to the last two General Elections, the UK is now in another era of ‘Two-Party-Politics’, the last of which effectively ended in 1997.

Historically, whenever the big parties haemorrhage support, it tends to shift to the smaller ones between them, rather than to each other. Since 2015, the LibDems have been in a near-death-spiral, suffering the loss of vast swathes of the student vote, due to helping the Tories force through increases in tuition fees a few years earlier. The Scottish National Party had a massive surge (at the expense of both Labour and the LibDems), but in 2017, they had a significant slump, with their lost support draining mainly to the two big parties again. (Ironically, Scotland, a country that has complained for decades about having Tory governance ‘imposed’ on it by England, is now the country that has given the Tories just enough seats to form some kind of minority Government. Oh well…)

Look also back to 1979 and 1983; –

The fateful moment when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister in the 1979 Election saw a modest Tory majority of 43 in the House of Commons. This resulted from the Tories scoring 13,697,923 in the popular vote. Their vote-share was 43.9%.

In the 1983 General Election, the Tories scored a landslide majority of 142 seats. Their total number of seats was up by 38. The interesting thing is though, they scored 13,012,316 in the popular vote, a loss of over six hundred thousand votes. Their vote-share was also down, to 42.4%.

The reason the Tories did better that year than in 1979 was not that they drained support from Labour; they clearly did not drain support on any significant scale from anyone. It was because the centrist wing of the Labour Party had split off and formed the new ‘Social Democratic Party‘, which went into alliance with the Liberal Party. (This alliance was the precursor to what would become the Liberal Democrats.)

SDP Liberal Alliance

Dr David Owen, who was among the infamous ‘Gang Of 4’ to leave Labour in 1981, eventually became leader of the newly-formed SDP, which allied itself to David Steel’s Liberal Party.

Labour and the SDP/Liberal Alliance split the vote in the left half of the political spectrum, allowing the Tories to gain many seats by default. Although the alliance, in the end, won few seats, it bled a lot of support from Labour, who ultimately lost nearly sixty seats. That is to say, an upstart, surging, centrist alliance took support from Labour, the Tories did not.

(Equally, the LibDem surge in 1997 played a key role in collapsing Tory support.)

At the moment, the centrist parties are not in an ‘upstart’ condition. They are weak instead. The LibDems are short of inspiring spokespersons. The Green Party and Plaid Cymru are both too small. The SNP and the Social Democratic Labour Party in Northern Ireland remain too limited by geographical self-restrictions. Therefore, these parties offer little appeal (or in some cases little access) to the liberal wing of Tory supporters. This also helps explain why Labour’s support is way up in the mid-40% range, for the same reasons; the centrists offer little appeal to the social democratic wing of Labour’s support, which is therefore almost as high as it ever gets.

This is what happens when the UK is in a state of Two-Party-Politics, which in turn is a side-product of deep national divisions. These have been opened up by Austerity and Brexit.

There is only so much that Labour can ever do to dismantle Tory support directly, be they led by a Corbynist left or a Blairite right (which tends to alienate Labour’s core support in any event), not least because a great many Tory supporters are so details-resistant that they would never, under any circumstances, vote for a party wearing red.

Were a resurgence in right-leaning centrist politics to occur – such as the LibDems resurging under a Menzies-Campbell-type figure perhaps – then, given the wretched, extremist shape of the current Government, I honestly think the Tory Party would slump in the polls by another ten points.

It is odd, but frequently true; the left would benefit from a resurrection of the right-of-centre.