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Friday, September 21, 2018

The humiliation of Theresa May

There was a certain inevitability about Theresa May's humiliation at the yesterday's Salzburg summit. Not only has she been handed an impossible negotiating position by the hard-line Brexiteers in her party, who somehow believe that they can still deliver on the lies and half-thought through promises that won them the referendum, but she has destroyed her own room for manoeuvre within the Conservative Party by her ill-advised dash for a majority in the 2017 General Election.

She has also suffered from her own naivety and failure to understand the red lines of her opponents within the EU, who have created a single market which benefits all of them (and the UK too, if only we would realise that) and do not wish to give that up easily. Why would they allow the UK to leave that arrangement and then benefit from it afterwards? To do so would undermine the whole rationale behind the single market apparatus and lead to its inevitable collapse.

The Guardian quotes the Transport Secretary as saying that the EU’s demands on Northern Ireland are “impossible” for the UK to accept. And yet the Good Friday agreement, which the UK Government brokered and signed up to, leaves the EU with no choice but to insist on keeping the Northern Ireland border open. Why do Government Ministers think that there can be any other settlement?

As a result the Chequers agreement is unworkable and unacceptable. It proposes the UK shares a common rulebook for goods and services after Brexit in an attempt to prevent a return of customs checks for goods crossing the Irish border. But the EU leaders believe it will undermine the single market by giving British companies a competitive advantage and pose a threat to the “European project”.

French President Macron is absolutely right when he accuses British Brexiters of lying about how easy it would be to negotiate an exit from the EU on terms favourable to the UK:

“Those who explain that we can easily live without Europe, that everything is going to be alright, and that it’s going to bring a lot of money home are liars,” said Macron. “It’s even more true since they left the day after so as not to have to deal with it.”

Where we go now is a big question. Can May create room within her government to offer more concessions to the EU? Can she find an acceptable solution for Northern Ireland? And if she can't will she be forced to put a 'no deal exit' before Parliament, and see it voted down?

The immediate question though is whether Theresa May can even survive her party's conference? At present a General Election is looking far more likely than a third referendum on EU membership.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Who are the runners and riders in the Tory leadership race?

It is telling that despite there being no vacancy, Theresa May's position is so precarious newspapers and others are already speculating on her successor.

The Telegraph is no exception and they have an exclusive this morning in which they reveal what is described as an explosive internal memo suggesting the Prime Minister will be forced to “stand down soon after March 2019” and detailing the pros and cons of her potential successors.

They say that the excruciating dossier is being widely circulated among Tory MPs and analyses the leadership prospects of her cabinet colleagues and other contenders, including leading Brexiteers Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg:

It emerged as Mrs May is desperately trying to sell her widely criticised Chequers plan to EU leaders in Salzburg on Wednesday evening.

As a sign of the growing mutiny within the Tory party, MPs have been sharing the memo between themselves as they continue to openly discuss the Prime Minister's replacement on WhatsApp.

Written in April but re-circulated in recent days, the dossier - believed to have been authored by a Tory MP - is based on the “assumption” that the 1922 backbench committee will “invite the PM to stand-down soon(ish) after March 2019”.

Advising colleagues to “manoeuver [sic] immediately”, it provides an unflinching assessment of 27 of Mrs May’s potential successors, describing Environment Secretary Michael Gove as being “on manoeuvres”, Chancellor Philip Hammond as “thinking he has a chance” but “not a hope” and Trade Secretary Liam Fox as “fading”.

“Bookies [sic] favourite” Mr Johnson is considered an unlikely successor because “the front-runner never wins” while Mr Rees-Mogg is described as “the party’s favourite” but “unlikely to succeed to the last two”.

The dossier claims former Brexit Secretary David Davis pretends “not to be interested, but is” although the conclusion is he “won’t succeed” because it is “too late”.

His fellow Brexiteer and former leadership candidate Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the House of Commons, is branded “totally unsuitable”, while Home Secretary Sajid Javid - seen as the favourite among younger Tories - is described as “wanting it” but “trying to recover from Referendum positioning error”. Mr Javid voted for Remain but is now trying to present himself as a pragmatic re-Leaver.

So too is Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who the memo describes as a “dark horse, near the front of the pack coming up the rail”. The memo adds: "Note John Major 1990" - a reference to the former Prime Minister’s shock election as leader ahead of Michael Heseltine and Douglas Hurd, his more high-profile rivals to Margaret Thatcher.

Personally, I don't like the look of any of them.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Busting the immigration myths

Yesterday's Daily Mirror comments on an expert report from the Migration Advisory Committee that it says busts some major myths about immigration, many favoured by the far right.

The first myth, that EU migrants live off the state is rebutted by the stark fact that in fact they contribute £2,300-a-year more to the UK than average Britons:

What today's report says: "The average adult migrant from the European Economic Area (EEA) contributed approximately £2,300 more to the UK public finances than the average adult resident in the UK.

"The average non-EEA migrant contributed around £840 less than the average adult resident in the UK."

Far from being a drain on resources the MAC found that European migrants - especially those from EU13 which makes up older members of the bloc - pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits and use in public services.

It's only non-EU migrants, who are already subject to visa controls, who on average contribute less than native Brits.

The second myth to fall is that the number of EU migrants is undermining public services such as the NHS:

What today's report says: "EEA migrants contribute much more to the health service and the provision of social care in financial resources and through work than they consume in services.

"EEA workers are an increasing share of the health and social care workforces though these sectors employ greater numbers of non-EEA migrants.

"There is no evidence that migration has reduced the quality of healthcare."

Thirdly, the claim that migrants are taking all our jobs is also nonsense:

What today's report says: " In this report we assessed the impact of migration on the labour market, including on employment and wages. 

"Taking all the new evidence into account we found that migrants have no or little impact on the overall employment and unemployment outcomes of the UK-born workforce. 

"The impact may vary across different UK-born groups with more negative effects for the lower-skilled and more positive effects for the higher-skilled. However, our robustness checks suggest that these findings are subject to uncertainty."

Fourthly, the claim that immigration pushes wages down is also wrong:

What today's report says: "In terms of wages the existing evidence and the analysis we present in the report suggests that migration is not a major determinate of the wages of UK-born workers. 

"We found some evidence suggesting that lower-skilled workers face a negative impact whi,le higher-skilled workers benefit, however the magnitude of the impacts are generally small."

Finally, migrants are not the *biggest* reason Brits struggle to get a council house:

What today's report says: Here the report is more balanced in favour of Brexiteers - but it makes a very interesting read. It admits migration "has increased house prices", but says this can't be seen in isolation from other government policies.

It also admits increased migration has "reduced the probability of UK-born being allocated to social housing".

But although immigrants are more likely to demand social housing, they're less likely to be allocated it, the report says. 

And it adds: "Manning et al. (2014) conclude that immigration can explain one-third of the reduction in the probability of a UK citizen being in social housing.

"But the reduction in the social housing stock itself has had by far the largest impact on UK-born households, explaining the remaining two-thirds of the reduction in the probability of a UK citizen being in social housing."

I am glad we cleared all that up.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Is Liberal Democrats Conference a turning point?

I was talking to a journalist yesterday who told me that he always enjoys Liberal Democrats Conference because we are so optimistic. It comes with the territory, it really does and yet there is a lot to be optimistic about.

I don't mean the polls of course. It seems that we are still becalmed in the 9% to 10% territory. I have never seen so few journalists at a Liberal Democrats Conference, with the BBC virtually absent altogether, apparently because of budget cutbacks in their political and current affairs departments. And of course we are still light on Parliamentarians, apart from members of the House of Lords, who seem to be lurking in every nook and cranny of the Brighton Centre.

And yet, partly because we have opened up Conferences to all members, we have one of the biggest gatherings ever, and what is more, for the first time since I have been coming to these events over 40 years ago, attendees are much closer to representing the make-up of the general population (well those who voted remain anyway) both in age-range and ethnicity.

The quality of the contributions to debates has been as high as ever, whilst the policy papers and motions are, by and large, distinctive and well-researched. So far, so normal.

Timing is everything and this Conference is taking place at a potential turning point for the Liberal Democrats and the country. Whatever, one thinks of Vince Cable's proposed reforms (some are sensible, some less so) they have generated interest in the party amongst the chattering classes, with a large number of people already signed up as supporters. That does not make us the movement Vince wants but it is a good start.

More importantly, the presence of some significant anti-Brexit campaigners such as Gina Miller, has underlined the party's status as a rallying point for pro-Europeans and as major focus for those wishing to resist the disastrous consequences of us leaving the EU.

With just over 190 days to go until we depart the EU for ever, the campaign for a people's vote (Gina Miller apparently does not like the phrase, and nor do I) has started to really gather momentum. However, whilst the Conservatives remain irrevocably split and Labour continues to sit on the fence, giving succour to Theresa May, it is left to the Liberal Democrats to lead the way.

The party is still struggling to articulate a vision for either a post or no-Brexit UK and that matters a lot. But in many ways that is not a concern for now. Our leadership role in opposing Brexit could prove to be crucial in creating a space whereby we will be heard on other issues. Stepping up the pace in campaigning against Brexit will have wider benefits for the party of Lloyd George and Gladstone.

This though, is a high risk strategy. It may all end in tears, specifically a General Election rather than a referendum, in which the Liberal Democrats will struggle to be heard. The scenario in which Theresa May resists taking her deal to the people and is instead voted down by Parliament is a very likely one. She has said already that the choice for MPs will be what she negotiates or no deal at all. Is that a bluff? Who knows? She is playing a high stakes game with the country's and her own future. So are we.

The Liberal Democrats have jumped head-first into an all or nothing scenario. If the gamble pays off then they may reap huge rewards. If it falls short then who knows what will happen?

Monday, September 17, 2018

Government should be ashamed of position on citizen rights

It is difficult to disagree with the former president of the Confederation of British Industry, who has said that the UK government and European leaders “should be ashamed” that they have not guaranteed the rights of citizens in the event of a no-deal Brexit:

Paul Drechsler said it was an “absolute scandal” that EU citizens in the UK and British nationals in Europe remained in limbo more than two years after the referendum.

“Leaving people hanging by a thread of uncertainty is totally against British values, totally against European values,” he told The Guardian.

“We should be ashamed of the fact that we sweep that aside,” he added.

About 3.8 million EU citizens are residents of the UK and an estimated 900,000 Britons live elsewhere in the EU.

Mr Dreschler said both groups should be given “an unambiguous, unconditional guarantee they will be OK no matter what”. He said the the status of EU citizens in the UK after Brexit was the crucial issue facing businesses in London.

Mr Dreschler, who now chairs London First, an umbrella group of firms in the capital, called or an end to ”lies” about immigration. “It’s time we were honest with people about the positive role and contribution, our industry, research, tech, [migrants] make,”

Celebrating the role of immigrants in our society, their contribution to our prosperity and our economy has been a major theme of the Liberal Democrats Conference so far this week. Our country would grind to a halt without that input and we would all be culturally poorer.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Treasury misplaces Gladstone

Cats do have a tendency to roam so let's hope that the absence of Gladstone from the vaulted confines of the nation's treasury will only be temporary.

Nevertheless, the mouser's wanderlust has made national headlines and a call has gone out for reports from the public of any sightings, the sort of appeal that normally just graces community Facebook groups and pages on a daily basis.
The Guardian claims it is a purritical crisis. They say that the three-year-old cat, known as the most prolific mouse-catcher in government, is believed to have gone missing in the Westminster area. Treasury staff have been told to keep an eye out for Gladstone,, who has more than 15,000 Instagram followers.

Gladstone was adopted from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home in 2016 after a team of six staff agreed to look after him, paying for his food and accessories from out of their own pockets.

There must be many politicians who are envious of his ability to quietly and discreetly disappear in an area which has the highest concentration of journalists and media personnel in the country. But for the sake of all those who love and tend for him, we pray that he makes his way home soon.

Update: he is back

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Tory splits on Brexit hits Conference preparations

The fact that the Tories are to treat leading campaigners for a third Brexit referendum in the same way as Russian diplomats and refuse them passes to their Conference, tells us everything we need to know about the paranoiac, divided and unhappy state of their party.

As the Guardian reports, three leading campaigners for a second Brexit referendum have been refused passes for the Conservative party conference, prompting them to complain that the governing party is suppressing voices it disagrees with:

Eloise Todd, Best for Britain’s director, was among those who were refused passes on Thursday night in a terse email that gave no explanation as to why her accreditation and that of two colleagues was not granted. Russian diplomats have also been refused passes.

“The Conservative party can put their heads in the sand but it doesn’t change the fundamental and unavoidable truth that public opinion is shifting away from Brexit,” Todd said. “A party of government should always be listening – even to voices it may disagree with.”

The paper says that Best for Britain will hold a fringe event at Birmingham outside the secure perimeter, with speakers including Phillip Lee, a Conservative junior minister who resigned over the government’s Brexit policy. The group also plans to buy a wraparound advert in the Birmingham Mail and take out billboards to remind Conservative delegates of their campaign.

However, the suppression of dissenting views within the Tory Party in this way will leave a bitter taste in the mouth of those Conservative MPs who have been campaigning for a rethink and win Theresa May no friends, at a time when she is most in need of allies.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Bashing the rich in Swansea

Just as a follow-up to my anecdote yesterday about Ree-Mogg baiter, Ian Bone, I thought I would see what was available on the interweb about the anarchist's time in Swansea.

There are a number of interviews with Bone, dubbed the 'most dangerous man in Britain' including this piece for the Guardian in which the origins of the Alarm newspaper are alluded to:

Bone had started his first anarchist paper, Alarm, in Swansea. It comprised handwritten sheets of paper with punchy graphics and funny headlines. "There was a lot of corruption in Swansea and we got a couple of council leaders sent to jail. That taught me you could do a working-class paper that people actually liked, as opposed to a leftie paper full of agitprop."

Bone has a blog in which he records many of the events from his activism and of course there is his autobiography, 'Bash the Rich: True Life Confessions of an Anarchist in the UK' Most interesting though is this account by Catrin Saran James who was asked to research, interview and create an oral history archive of Swansea’s anarchistic underground and counter-culture from the late 1960s to the early 1980s for the Trouble Makers Festival held in and around High Street Swansea on 13-16 July 2017.
What I discovered from this account is that a complete set of ALARM!s are held by the West Glamorgan Archive Service. Reading through them could well provide a worthwhile and interesting insight into the political and social history of Swansea in the 1970s, a period that saw two council leaders sent to prison.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Ian Bone - the Swansea connection

The man who door-stepped Jacob Rees-Mogg, his children and his nanny yesterday has been identified as long-standing anarchist Ian Bone. Condemnation of his actions in directly addressing the Rees-Mogg children has been universal and quite rightly so, but Ian Bone has a long history of upsetting the apple cart.

One of Bone's actions was to quiz Rees-Mogg's nanny Veronica Crook, over her pay and working conditions, no doubt a cause close to the anarchist's heart given that his own father was in domestic service, working as a butler.

Ian Bone does have connections with Swansea. He studied politics at Swansea University, becoming an active anarchist throughout the 1960s to early 1990s and set up the anarchist agit-mag Alarm here.

When I became a Councillor in 1984 and wanted to try and open up the council to public questions, one of the objections was that it would only encourage the likes of Ian Bone to disrupt proceedings. The scars ran deep for some councillors over previous confrontations with Alarm and its founder.

My one run-in with Ian Bone took place when I was at Swansea University and a member of the student executive, though we didn't meet directly.

Ian Bone at that time was promoting an 'anti-sexist' band called Page Four. It had initially been called Page Three, but the Sun reportedly threatened legal action. One story is that Bone allegedly alerted the Sun to the issue himself so as to garner additional publicity.

As an executive member it was my job to hold the key to the union building and supervise the concert that Page Four staged in the top floor debates chamber of Union House for insurance purposes. Unfortunately, word soon got around that the band believed that irony was the best way to combat Page Three models and that in line with this approach, their female lead singer would perform naked.

Needless to say the whole thing got out of hand. The hall was packed to over-capacity, mostly with male students who had had too much to drink. A number of sex acts were performed on stage, which wound up the audience even more and then somebody pressed the fire alarm.

The concert ended prematurely and there was a near riot as we attempted to clear the building. An assessment the next morning found hundreds of pounds of damage that the students union had to pay for.

Soon afterwards, I believe Ian Bone moved to London and things quietened down.

Update: According to Bone's autobiography 'Bash the Rich' the fire alarm was set off by Paul Durden, one of the writers who created the film 'Twin Town'

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Welsh Assembly UKIP group splinters further

Surprise, surprise, yet another member of the Welsh Assembly UKIP group has left the party. Is there anybody left in that group?  This time it is the South Wales West UKIP Assembly Member, Caroline Jones.

She has told the BBC that the party's leader Gerard Batten is alienating his members by moving the party to the far-right. She added that UKIP is taking "a direction that I'm not comfortable with". Her resignation means the UKIP group has four AMs left from the seven which entered the Senedd in 2016:

Mrs Jones said Mr Batten was changing the party "to a more far-right position, which a lot of the long-standing members are finding quite unfavourable, including myself".

"I never joined the party to be part of a far-right organisation. I joined the party because I wanted to come out of the European Union. I still do."

"Gerard Batten should listen to all sides and try to mediate and bring people together, as opposed to alienating them", she added.

In response Mr. Batten said: "Her statement is politically correct twaddle to disguise the fact that Mrs Jones is politically ineffective. I wish her well languishing in the outer realms of irrelevance." What a lovely group of people.

It has to be said that Caroline Jones did not appear to have the same problem with Batten and the direction he was taking UKIP in when she was acting leader of the Welsh branch for a few months earlier this year. She also sustained her membership during the EU referendum when UKIP were posting clearly racist propaganda about immigrants.

Far be it for me to suggest that losing the leadership has anything to do with this situation.

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