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As we approach the slightly later than planned day of reckoning

March 22nd, 2019

Has Britain finally reached a decision point? Still the outcome seems in doubt. Many others are writing about what comes next. But how did we get here?

Failure is an orphan and no one is taking credit for the current mess. There is plenty of blame to go round though and we can dole out lavish helpings.

First of all, we should note that it wasn’t inevitable that there would be a decision point now. No attempt was made by anyone to forge a consensus that would have allowed a mainstream way forward to be identified. The Prime Minister made no attempt to reach out to other parties, she made no attempt to include strands from the defeated campaign in the thinking of what Brexit would look like, she made no serious attempt to engage the EU in this process.  

Nor did any other prominent Leave figure. That would have been a huge challenge, given the way in which the referendum was fought, but the attempt was not made. Remain voters were alternately abused and ignored. This was to be a Tory Leaver Brexit for Tory Leaver people (Kippers welcome by prior appointment).

The paranoia about the motives of Remain supporters was self-fulfilling: there are only so many times that you can be told that you are a traitor or a quisling before you decide that you might as well act as a fifth columnist if you’re going to be treated as one. After the referendum, there was an opportunity to seek to mend fences. Not one prominent Leaver tried.

Even within the Leave grouping itself, no attempt was made to forge a consensus. Rather, each strand of Brexitism pursued its own beliefs. Many comparisons have been made to the Civil War but Leavers have a striking resemblance to the non-conformists then who prioritised their own relationship with the Almighty, prioritising perfection over broad-based compromise.  

At no point did Leavers attempt to reach broad-based agreement on what was most important to them. Because the attempt was not made, everything was treated as equally critical. This does not make for a good basis for assessing whether a negotiated deal meets your objectives: you first need to set your objectives.

Related to this was the failure of self-proclaimed moderate Leavers ever to confront the extremists in their midst. This was smart politics if morally disgraceful during the referendum campaign itself. It was atrocious politics when seeking to build a basis for the future after the result was in. It meant that debate was driven to the extremes (and that those who had supported Remain were steadily alienated more and more). And then the point came when compromise was essential and it could not be secured because those who were required to compromise felt completely validated in their desire to stand firm, having never been challenged on it previously.

The EU has not shown any statecraft either. It has rigidly followed its preferences and now risks, wholly avoidably, having a new antagonistic neighbour for the foreseeable future. However much it can reasonably claim that Britain has been catastrophically led, it has played no constructive part in shaping choices in a way that will lead to a durable settlement. That’s pretty inept.

Mind you, Britain has been catastrophically led. Theresa May has proven a lousy saleswoman for her deal.  She governs by centrifuge. Politics is atomised.

Worse than that, she has actively sought to stop any consensus being built around any other option, even though her own deal has been defeated twice by enormous margins. She has fought against Labour’s alternative approach, against a fresh referendum and against Parliament taking control of the process to seek to hammer out a way forward.

An extension having been granted by the EU, it looks as though the Prime Minister is again going to try to eat up that time in order to threaten Parliament with no deal by running down the clock in order to secure agreement to her twice-rejected deal.  

At the time of writing, it looks as if this gambit will fail. Is the Prime Minister bluffing or is she indeed going to try to take Britain over the edge in accordance with the wishes of the curious flat-earthers that now dominate her party?  

Are MPs going to take the matter out of her hands, and if so how? Last week the motion proposed by Hillary Benn to allow Parliament to take control of the process failed by two votes.  Will MPs find a way to try again? If they do, will they take that opportunity?

Who knows? The course of Britain’s politics for many years to come is going to be determined by a group of below-average politicians acting collectively in a blind panic at high speed.  That should produce good governance. To date, politicians have collectively done what is easy rather than what they think is right. If they continue on that course, Britain will leave the EU with no deal.  

At the death, the EU has done what it can to avoid a no-deal Brexit by offering an extension of the Article 50 period. The Prime Minister, Cabinet ministers and MPs are now going to have to consider whether that is what they think is right.  If it isn’t, they will not have another opportunity.

Whatever is decided, Britain will be broken, furious and divided.  From the wreckage, some way forward now needs to be constructed. But how?

First of all, some kind of consensus is going to need to be constructed. Whoever replaces Theresa May is going to have to find a message that includes more than just Leavers and more than just Remainers if the country is not going to spend decades relitigating the referendum back and forth. The prospects for that look poor and I have no idea what that message might be but that’s where effort needs to start. That means marginalising and confronting the extremes and rewarding moderation.

As of right now, few politicians seem to have begun to think about that challenge.  None have come up with coherent answers. It is especially unfortunate that both main party memberships are now dominated by extremists. This may be an impossible challenge for now. But that’s where they need to start. Are any of them ready for that?

Alastair Meeks





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A possible Westminster by-election opportunity for the LDs – Brecon where the MP has just pleaded guilty to fraud

March 22nd, 2019

It was held by the LDs from GE1997 to GE2015

This morning the MP for Brecon and Radnor, Christopher Davies, pleaded guilty to parliamentary expenses fraud. He awaits sentence. If he receives a custodial sentence of a year or more than he automatically will forfeit his seat in House of Commons.

But if the sentence is any less than a year the new recall procedure, currently in operation in Peterborough, could comes into play and he would have to go if 10% or more of the electorate signed the recall petition.

This is a seat that the Lib Dems first won in 1997 and lost at the 2015 general election when they took a battering nationally at the end of the coalition.

In areas where the Lib Dems have been traditionally strong they are usually well placed to fight by-elections and particularly so in the supercharged political atmosphere that we now have with Brexit. That’s not going to go away whatever happens in the next couple of months.

Everything now is dependent on the sentence that Davis is given. At the referendum in June 2016 Brecon and Radnor voted 52% to 48% to leave almost exactly in line with the national average.

By land area the constituency is the largest in England and Wales.

Mike Smithson




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In the latest from PB/Polling Matters the podcasters try to answer ” What’s going on and what do the public think?”

March 22nd, 2019

 

After a breath-taking week, Keiran Pedley and Leo Barasi sit down and look at the numbers. What do the public think about how Brexit is going, the prospect of no deal and where we go from here? Plus, if a General Election comes, who stands the best chance of winning?

Listen to this week’s episode here:

Follow this week’s guests





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Even though TMay slumped to her worst ever Ipsos-MORI PM ratings & Corbyn has the second worst Opposition leader rating

March 21st, 2019

Never have the views of both CON & LAB leaders been so poor

Just out today is the latest Ipsos-MORI political monitor whicht has the Tories taking a lead of 4% over labour. Last time the two main parties were level pegging.

Also, as ever, included are the firm’s  leader satisfaction number a polling series that is now into its forty-third year. For the Corbyn and TMay the ratings are dreadful. The former has the second worst Opposition leader numbers on record only slightly better than last month which were the worst.

TMay’s ratings were the worst she’s experienced since becoming PM although she has a “lead” over the LAB leader in the sense there his net negatives are 16  points worse than hers.

We’ve never had a time like this when the leaders of the two main parties are simultaneously recording record lows. TMay has had Brexit while Corbyn continues to be hit by the anti-semitism rows which simply won’t go away.

In one sense the Tories are in a better position in that TMay has said she won’t fight the next general election as leader. Corbyn’s still there.

Mike Smithson




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Rendering unto Caesar

March 21st, 2019

Picture credit: Rights Info

At a recent IQ² debate on Brexit, Ian Paisley Jr MP, explained why the DUP was so against the backstop. He was a British citizen entitled to the same rights as all British citizens. This brought the inevitable retort from a certain Jess Phillips about Northern Irish women and gays not having the same rights as other British citizens.

Paisley’s answer smoothly placed the blame elsewhere: Westminster had devolved certain social matters to Stormont and therefore accepted that in respect of those matters British citizens in NI might enjoy different (i.e. fewer) rights than their fellow citizens on the mainland.

The audience’s reaction showed that many did not accept the idea that there could be such a derogation from fundamental rights, devolution or not, for British citizens. Why should a citizen’s rights be contingent on geography? A fundamental right which a British person can only exercise if they live in Barrow rather than Belfast is, some might say, a nonsense.  Well, no doubt the courts will have to opine on this before long.  But for the moment, under devolution, this is the position.

So we come to Parkfield School, Birmingham where Muslim parents have successfully lobbied to stop their children being taught about LGBTQ issues on the grounds that this is incompatible with Islam (though this has been carefully wrapped up as concerns about age appropriateness), the parents presenting themselves and their children as victims of a bullying secular state.

But let’s be blunt.  These parents – and Orthodox Jewish and other Christian parents – are not really bothered about the age at which this is taught or about how it is taught.  They don’t want it taught at all, let alone by a gay teacher, because they believe that their religion should trump all other considerations.

Regardless of the fact that homosexuality and gay marriage are lawful, some religious people consider that this fact and its implications, and even gay people, should be kept away from them and their children.  They claim that this interferes with their rights, even though nothing is preventing them teaching their children the tenets of their religion, when really they object to their views being challenged by other facts and viewpoints being presented.

This is a curious view to take of education whose essence, surely, is to teach children what they cannot learn at home, to introduce them to a world of ideas and knowledge far beyond the confines of family.

They may be British citizens but their religious identity – at least in this regard – is more important. They too are seeking devolution but not via devolved parliaments on the basis of geography but on the basis of religion and as determined by the demands of the most organised and determined group. And, unsurprisingly, such demands always involve reducing people’s rights and freedoms; it is never about giving them additional ones.

Well, if it’s good enough for NI why shouldn’t it be good enough for groups in Birmingham or Bradford or Stamford Hill?

That this question even arises is a measure of Britain’s failure over recent decades to understand that the growth of credal communities with strongly held beliefs at odds with Western values/laws and customs requires more than cliched paeans of praise for diversity and tolerance.

Britain congratulates itself on repealing Section 28 while allowing a far more insidious version of the same thing to spread, through indifference, cowardice and fear.

In a democracy, the key unit is the individual, votes are individual, rights are individual. Individuals are free to choose how they live; their choices should be freely made. Laws are made in Parliament and apply equally to all. If the principle is conceded that someone’s religion or race or any other self-chosen characteristic should exempt a person or group from the rights and obligations others are under, then the principle of equality under the law is damaged, perhaps fatally.

Making rights dependant on group identity devolves power to self-appointed community leaders, usually male, and in a capricious way, often with actual violence (or the threat of it). It means that there are hierarchies of British citizens: those able to exercise all their rights and those whose rights are subordinate to the group they belong to, without them having any say in whether they want this to happen.

It is a form of religious coercive control, sanctioned by the state. It leads to people – usually women, children, gays, atheists, anyone who does not conform to that group’s expectations – being deprived of what they are legally entitled to.  It tends to lead to isolated, enclosed, inward-looking communities, where integration is harder and which can make some of its members prey to extremism. (We were warned of this in 1984 but did not listen.) It can lead to “othering” those who are different, misunderstanding and hatred. This, after all, was the soil in which the DUP was nurtured.

It is a style of governing which is more reminiscent of Britain’s approach to its colonies, mediating with its separate groups of subjects through selected intermediaries, than with a grown-up 21stcentury democracy. It results in a society seemingly determined to root out discrimination and bigotry while oblivious to the fact that allowing religious diktats to determine people’s rights usually results in increased bigotry and discrimination against minorities and the most vulnerable, whether in their own communities or outside. It means that children are deprived of knowledge and help and opportunities which others can take for granted, purely because of where they live or where their ancestors came from.

And it is this last point which is often overlooked: some of those children in Birmingham or in Belfast will be gay or will want to have a life that is different to what their parents expect or want of them or want to question the received opinions around them. They may feel uncertain, isolated, maybe frightened, unsure of who they can confide in. They may be bullied, feel trapped; they may be made to feel wrong for being what they are.

They may want help but not know how to get it; they may feel guilty for not being as their parents expect, for not accepting the life laid out for them; they may have divided loyalties which they are unable to handle or reconcile. They may also be subject to physical harm or threats of it. (In some cases, girls have been murdered for being too Western, for wanting the same life as their friends. Gay men have been forced into marriage with unwilling brides.)

It is immensely cruel to leave children and young people in such a position because we are not willing to say clearly – and enforce – the boundaries beyond which religion cannot intrude, the circumstances in which it must yield to the state. Parents should not be able to withdraw children from any lessons, be they PHSE or music or science or about other religions.  Gays should be free to marry wherever they live.  Women should be able to determine their fertility regardless of their location.

Britain is no longer a country where religion determines law. There are countries where this is the case.  But not here. People are free to believe what they want; they are free to teach their children about their beliefs.  But this freedom does not – and should not – entitle them to deprive their children of knowledge and education and opportunities.

It does not entitle or excuse or justify abuse or cruelty or the infliction of harm. It does not entitle them to deprive others of their rights as citizens. It does not entitle them to demand tolerance for their own rights while denying the rights of or discriminating against others because their justification is religious rather than simple prejudice. 

Bullies are still bullies even if they wear religious garb or claim the privileges of parenthood or of legal powers granted to them. We should not be shy about saying so and about standing up to them.  The right to practise one’s religion, to raise one’s children how one wants are freedoms to be cherished, not weapons to be abused or used against others. It is long past the time this was made clear. 

Cyclefree




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At this critical time a look at matters of Confidence in the political arena

March 21st, 2019

In both senses of the word, confidence lies at the heart of politics. It is certainly the preference of this habitual voyeur of Westminster life. Yet the concept has been distorted beyond recognition by the stresses of Brexit.

Brexit positions cut across most parties, and MPs are clearly torn between their loyalties to their party, their electorate, their local members, the nation, the referendum result, and their consciences. But it is hard not to be cynical about how a number of them have voted.

confidence n. 1. The feeling or belief that one can have faith in or rely on someone or something.

On January 16th 2019, the House voted by 325 to 306 against a motion of no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government. Yet the day before, a huge chunk of those 325 (including the DUP) had voted against the Government’s central policy and purpose, namely the Withdrawal Agreement, when that went down to its historic 230-vote defeat. In previous times a vote of that magnitude would have been framed as a matter of confidence in the government itself, and thus treated with the seriousness it deserved.

It is clear from subsequent developments that a number of MPs could have accepted the deal but preferred not to vote for it. This may have been in the reasonable hope that they could get closer to their own position. Indeed the EU did provide some further legal assurances as a result.

However my overriding impression from both MV1 and MV2 is that these MPs – most of the ERG and many Labour MPs sitting in Leave seats – wanted the deal to pass (eventually) but without getting their own hands dirty by actually voting for it themselves. This is a failure of salesmanship on the part of the PM and a failure of whipping, but it’s also a failure of those MPs to face up to their own responsibilities.

confidence n. 2. The telling of private matters or secrets with mutual trust.

Another casualty of Brexit is this second sense of confidence. To be fair, leaks and briefings have always been integral to politics, but in recent times Cabinet has been practically live-blogged by lobby journalists, as have meetings of the PLP and the 1922 Committee. And Labour’s deputy leader attempted to set up a parallel complaints process, because of his lack of trust in their General Secretary. The EU has also been prone to leaking sensitive details of the negotiating process.

When leaders cannot trust a wider group to keep confidences, then they retreat into their bunkers. This heightens the risk both of groupthink and also PR disasters: the lack of an outside perspective leads them to choose words or actions which can cause unnecessary offence. This in turn makes securing trust from those outside their parties even harder.

“Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.” – Vince Lombardi

It would be foolish to deny that Theresa May and her team could have managed the Brexit process better. Notably, she ought to have sold her deal much more assertively, and made a virtue of the all-UK nature of the backstop (a genuine negotiating win) rather than apologising for it. Given the structural difficulties of negotiating under Article 50 – perhaps something she and others ought to have been more upfront about – I think the deal itself is pretty reasonable.

But many of the criticisms of Theresa May are themselves cynical. To quote Danny Finkelstein in Tuesday’s Times: “they are all easy to say now, while not having been practical to do at the time. Even Labour was against a soft Brexit for a year or two after the referendum. And none of them were advanced by the hard Leavers. Those who argue that Mrs May’s departure is necessary if they or their friends are to back the deal are the same people who supported, indeed urged, her hard line.

We have now ended up in a position where Theresa May appears to have no confidence in the nation’s MPs, and the feeling is clearly reciprocated. The Speaker has clearly lost the confidence of a substantial proportion of the House: enough that he ought to be considering his position too. And the fact that our exit has been allowed to go this close to the wire has damaged the confidence of the country at large in our political processes.

Whichever outcome we get will polarise the electorate still further, with a sizeable minority likely to feel that something has been stolen from them. There is going to be a lot of work – for the next Prime Minister, but also for everyone involved in politics – to restore confidence in the system.

Aaron Bell

Aaron works in the betting industry and is a long-standing contributor to politicalbetting.com, posting under the username Tissue_Price. He stood for the Conservatives in Don Valley at the General Election in 2017.




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Get ready for the no deal Blame Game

March 21st, 2019

There’s little doubt that the Mail’s front page this morning correctly sums up the current position in relation to brexit with just 8 days to go. Given what the EU response was to Theresa May’s request for more time and her ongoing desire to get her deal approved then there must be an increasing chance that No Deal becomes what happens.

If what we have been led to believe a No Deal would entail that looks like a catastrophe which will impact on the lives of millions of people. Inevitably, if this indeed what happens, there’ll be a massive blame game.

Theresa May with her complete rigidity has continued to use everything to just to get her deal through and has not been ready to countenance any change or deviation. Corbyn’s not helped. Last night he refused to attend a meeting of party leaders to try to sort things out because Chukka was there. How petty but perfectly predictable. These events will be remembered.

It was always said that May’s plan to get her deal agreed was to take the nation to the cliff edge with agreement to her deal being the only option. Maybe that will work. She’s certainly not deviating from the plan

In all of this TMay has been hugely helped by the ERG’s move in December to no confidence her. She survived, of course, and at the same time got 12 months immunity from such a move being repeated.

No deal remains a 20% chance in the betting. That might increase during the day.

Mike Smithson




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On a huge day of political betting a no deal Brexit on March 29th move from a 12% chance to 22% in fourteen hours

March 20th, 2019


Betdata.io chart of movement on the Betfair exchange

The other big market movement today

Mike Smithson